5 Tips to Help You Land Freelance Assignments That Pay

Freelance writing is one of the best gigs. You get to be your own boss and write about whatever you want. But freelance writing jobs don’t generally just fall in your lap. Here are five tips that will help you get in the right frame of mind for freelancing and increase your chances for landing assignments.

1. New Angles on Old Ideas

Finding a truly original idea is rare. Most topics have been covered dozens of times in magazines (I’m sure if you look at the history of Parenting you’ll find many articles on potty training). The key isn’t finding a new idea, it’s finding a new angle on a topic that’s important to the magazine’s audience. If you were pitching a potty training article to Parenting, what new twist can you offer? Are there new training methods? Perhaps you found the Guinness World Record holder for the earliest potty-trained baby and know you can interview the parents?

2. Query Early Enough

Some magazines publish a month in advance while others work up to six months in advance. If you wait until October to pitch Martha Stewart Living an article on The Most Fascinating Christmas Light Displays, you’re too late. Keep in mind each magazine’s production schedule when you are querying (Writer’s Market can help you figure out how early to query most magazines).

3. Write a Piece on Spec

Typically when you pitch an article to a magazine editor, you send along your idea in query form and wait for the editor to accept it before writing the piece. If the editor has never worked with you before, he or she may be hesitant to pull the trigger on giving you the assignment. To “write a piece on spec” means to write the entire article before receiving any type of contract. If you submit a completed article for consideration, the editor will be able to see that you can deliver. Also, with magazine staffs at minimal levels these days, a completed piece that’s ready to go is more likely to appeal to a busy editor than a piece that requires a lot of his or her attention.

4. Start by Thinking Small

Breaking into the world’s largest magazines, like Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair, is difficult—they usually build a stable of reliable freelancers they turn to for most assignments. Smaller publications are usually more willing to take a risk on writers they don’t know, so long as the idea is really good. Work on getting freelance gigs in these smaller magazines to build up some experience and credits. These will go a long way when you’re ready to start pitching the big rags (assuming you still want to).

5. Take Risks

Don’t be afraid to walk outside your comfort zone and write on topics you’d never dream you’d write about. One of the best parts of being a freelance writer is that you aren’t confined to any one subject. Keep your eyes and your mind open. You never know where it may lead you.

Want to learn more? Expand your freelance writing knowledge with these great writing books and videos:


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3 thoughts on “5 Tips to Help You Land Freelance Assignments That Pay

  1. BrookeDeLira

    Excellent tips! Another one I’d add is this: Don’t shy away from Web-based freelance opportunities! I work full-time as a freelance writer for a respected platform, writing product descriptions, articles, guides and more for some of the country’s top websites and retailers. I may not be bringing in enough cash to buy a beach house in Rio, but it pays the bills.

    Some would argue that freelance writing is dying as print magazines begin to wane. I disagree. This is the golden age for freelance writers, as long as you’re flexible and willing to put in the work.

  2. paulfcockburn

    Some very good pointers here–especially when it comes to pitching ideas in plenty of time–but I think you’re completely wrong with point 3: even if you don’t already have a publishing history worth bragging about, I would NEVER write an article “on spec”. As a former commissioning editor, that screams AMATEUR to me, especially if you then get basics like length and format wrong!

    If you wish, do include an example of your writing–but make it clear that’s what it is, that it’s not intended for publication.

    The only exception I’d make to the above would be if the editor requests to see the article before making a final decision; while I don’t like doing it, I’ve gritted my teeth, done it and–luckily!–had the articles accepted! But I guess that comes under always giving an editor what they want!

    Also, I’m not entirely sure if I agree with point 4; sometimes, it can be worth going straight for the leading titles, if only because they’re likely to have bigger freelance budgets and more “open” slots–if an idea is good enough, they may well go for it. (Again; this is based on actual experience, albeit with publications with distributions below 100,000.)

  3. Tom Bentley

    Brian, good stuff. I do believe #5 is critical to simply move forward in your writing. You have to have a thin skin, not take rejections or setbacks personally (what’s the point?), and keep putting your work out there while pushing its boundaries.

    I do occasionally write on spec, but only if there’s a good possibility that the piece can be easily reshaped to send to other markets. It’s not helpful to have spent a good deal of time on a piece if there’s only one specific venue that could accept it, and if they don’t, you’re out. Thanks!


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