Freelance Your Way to a Better Platform

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Long before you publish your book—and long after—you should be thinking about your writer platform. How do you build that core audience? How do you enhance your reputation as a great writer, as well as a knowledgeable one? How do you build name recognition? There are countless answers to these questions, but one of the most effective and profitable methods is to write articles and blogs as a freelancer.

In Chuck Sambuchino’s new book, Create Your Writer Platform, he states that the benefit of freelance writing is three-fold. “First off, you are getting paid to write. Secondly, if you’re freelancing for any kind of established publication or website, they already have a built-in audience. … Third, you’re building editor contacts in the media. These editors are the decision makers who choose what books and stories to promote.”

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These are fantastic upsides that can do nothing but boost your career—from helping you network to keeping your wallet from getting too thin—but the hard part can be breaking through. Each magazine and website has specific guidelines and requirements, and there are basic rules of etiquette one must follow, as well as some tough life lessons that writers will learn along the way.

One tip to jumpstart your freelance writing career is to look at your hobbies and creative aspirations—especially those related to your book—and consider whether you have the knowledge to write informatively about those topics. Austin R. Williams, the associate editor of Drawing magazine, says that when submitting a pitch, you should not only know the subject like the back of your hand, but the publication’s needs as well.

“You should be reasonably knowledgeable about the magazine you’re pitching to,” he says. “Read a couple of issues. Get a feel for the types of articles and the editorial voice. If I can tell that a writer is knowledgeable about my magazine, that’s a big thing in his or her favor—even if I’m not immediately on board with the proposal. It may sound obvious, but many people don’t do it.”

This can be especially true with magazines that cater to specific professions and skills, including arts/crafts, cooking, hunting, knitting, gardening, writing, or DIY magazines. Because of this, editors like those at Drawing will put more emphasis on content expertise. But as Williams is quick to add, “Overall writing skills are still of paramount importance.”

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Williams also suggests that one way you can make your portfolio of writing samples stand out is by demonstrating that you can write pieces of varying length. “Often a freelance writer’s samples are either all short or all long. Every article in my magazine has some limitations on their length, and a writer who only does either 200-word bits or 20-page investigative pieces probably won’t work for me. You need to be able to tailor the length of your piece to the needs of the publication, and you want to show up front that you can do that.”

Needless to say, displaying professionalism, patience, and common courtesy will form the bedrock of a freelancer’s career. “Be as gracious as possible in all your interactions,” Williams says. “If you get turned down, thank the publication for the consideration and remind them that you’re available and willing to write about X, Y, or Z…name the sorts of articles you’d be interested to write. It’s a nice way to put yourself forward.”

And as Sambuchino states in his new book, the goal of building a platform is to look forward, not back. “You need articles coming out in the future,” he explains, “so those that read your articles can then find your book.”

For more on how to jumpstart your freelance article writing career—which will go a long way to build your writer platform and promote your future projects—consider Chuck Sambuchino’s Create Your Writer Platform, available now at the Writer’s Digest online bookshop.