5 Ways to Land Freelance Writing Assignments

Find pitch-perfect hooks for articles on virtually any topic by targeting anniversaries.
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I love anniversaries—and not just the one I celebrate each June with my lovely wife. Newsworthy milestones of all sorts can mean big bucks for savvy freelance writers. Over the years, I’ve landed numerous anniversary-based freelance writing jobs from magazines large and small. The key is to uncover the happenings other writers may not be privy to—and have something fresh to say about them.

Here’s how to do it.

—by Don Vaughan

1. Study up, and know what’s going on when.

Most writers pitch ideas pegged to traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, ask yourself: What big, unique anniversaries will occur this year and, even more important, next year? This kind of advance planning can pay off in a major way.

The U.S. government provides a good overview of upcoming holidays, major anniversaries, and historic dates of interest online at usa.gov/Topics/Reference-Shelf/Calendars.shtml. An Internet search of “anniversaries + [specific year]” can also reveal many potential article angles. The bigger and rounder the number of the anniversary, the hotter the hook. Target these findings first in your queries, because well-known anniversaries are where the competition will be toughest. Then …

2. Explore your personal interests.

We all have things we’re passionate about—and a lot of them have pitch-worthy anniversaries. One idea I wouldn’t have found on usa.gov: I’m a big fan of writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, so I knew early on that 2012 was the centennial anniversary of the first appearance of Tarzan in All-Story Magazine. I pitched various ideas pegged on this seminal pop-culture event to an array of magazines and so far have received three assignments: a 12,500-word oral appreciation for Filmfax; a profile of Burroughs for Famous Monsters of Filmland; and a feature on Tarzan movies for VideoScope.

I’m also a big military history buff, and recently came across a mention of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit on The History Channel. I did a little digging and found that 2012 was the 85th anniversary of NEDU’s founding. I pitched a story to Military Officer magazine. While the unit’s history and accomplishments were certainly newsworthy, it was the article’s anniversary-based hook that sealed the deal.

3. Cast a wide net.

This is a rule of thumb in most aspects of freelancing, but especially with anniversary pieces: You never know who’s planning to cover what, or what special issues are being cooked up that your piece might fit nicely into. I pitched different aspects of the centennial anniversary of Tarzan to everyone from Boys’ Life to RT Book Reviews. I knew I wouldn’t get assignments from them all, but I increased my chances by pitching broadly and appropriately. (Besides, I’ve found that even rejections can open the door to future proposals.) Whenever possible, target both local and national publications—and cater each pitch to its specific market.

4. Avoid low-hanging fruit.

By that, I mean the stereotypical ideas—the first ones that come to mind—that every hack will be pitching related to a specific holiday or anniversary. Instead, find an innovative way to spin the topic that will make your pitch stand out from the others. Rather than pitch a standard profile of Burroughs to Filmfax, for example, I decided to interview famous artists and writers about their appreciation of Burroughs’ works. The resulting article was a unique tribute that also provided me with the opportunity to talk to creators I’ve long admired.

5. Pitch early.

Because of lengthy editorial lead times, most magazines want anniversary-related queries at least four to six months—if not more—in advance. If you’re unsure of when to pitch, consult the publication’s submission guidelines or ask the editor how far out they work. (Also, request the magazine’s editorial calendar for the coming year; it could give you more great ideas regarding appropriate anniversary pitches.) The most successful writers pitch early, and pitch often.

This article on freelance writing gigs, by Don Vaughan, first appeared in the Rule Breaker's Issue of Writer's Digest. Click here to order your copy.

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

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