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The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success first hit the shelves in fall 2003. We knew we�d hit a home run with the book because we dared tell writers that a lot of rules about freelancing are complete bull doo-doo. That said, we were quite unprepared for the fanfare, the kudos, and dare we say, the adulation, our blood, sweat, and late night coffee-swilling had wrought.
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I recently had a mentoring client ask my reasoning behind sending a sales letter to prospects asking them to request a full information kit — rather than just sending them the full kit right off the bat. You want to wow them with your great samples, right?
And I’ve had other clients who send out letters of introduction (LOIs) and are upset when they don’t get assignments — just editors saying they’ll put the writer in their files, or they’ll get back to her in a few months, or “We don’t have anything right now but please keep in touch.”
I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the purpose of LOIs and sales letters.
LOIs and sales letters do not exist to get you assignments.
They exist to help you build a relationships with people who may buy your stuff.
These marketing efforts are not about trying to entice the prospect to give you an assignment right off the bat, because that probably won’t happen, even if your samples are awesome. Only a very small percentage of prospects will happen to have a writing need right then.
So your goal is to start a relationship with them so you can get in touch every once in a while and be top of mind when they do have an assignment. Wowing the prospect with your sales letter and convincing them to get back to you to ask for your info kit is the start of that relationship…they’ve now reached out to you.
In the case of the sales letter vs. the full info kit, you want to use your sales letter to start a communication with the prospect — to build a relationship — and a great way to do that is to have them get back to you to ask you for something. Then the door is open to send them your kit, follow up, and generally get to know the prospect. If you send your whole thing right off, you’ll have no way to create that opening — many prospects will just file you away or even toss your stuff and then forget about you.
(Not to mention, it’s not very cost-effective to mail big envelopes out blindly.)
In the case of an LOI, you want the editor to request your clips or ask you to stay in touch so you now have an opening to follow up and start building that all-important relationship that can lead to assignments down the line.
When an editor or prospect asks for clips or more information — you win.
So keep sending, and do the happy dance when someone gets back to you to request info. Follow up every couple of months, and you’ll do an even wilder happy dance when you’ve turned that contact into a loyal client. [lf]
By Kinya Shelley.
Recently, I discovered freelance writing marketing tactic that many professional freelance writers have been using for years:
I went to my local Chamber of Commerce to meet my potential clients face to face.
In this setting I had no competition. The marketing was far less frustrating than the scattershot approach, because I knew what my clients needed, and I was prepared to offer it to them.
That’s how I landed ten new clients in a month. My first client paid me $800 up front for two hours of consulting. I didn’t even write anything. I just pointed him in the right direction.
What I did wasn’t special. In fact, anyone can do it. All it takes is a little common sense and courage. Here’s the step-by-step process I used to land ten new clients in thirty days.
Step 1: Research
I Googled my local Chamber of Commerce by typing in the name of my town and state, followed by “Chamber of Commerce.” My local Chamber popped up on the first page. As soon as I was on the website, I did a little browsing around. I wasn’t just mindlessly looking though. I had an agenda:
I dug up information about the Chamber of Commerce.
I needed to answer these specific questions: How does it operate? How old is it? How many members are there? What are the fees to join? How often do you pay?
By being informed about the Commerce itself, I knew what to expect out of its members as well as the Board of Directors. It would also help me tailor my marketing.
I thoroughly searched through the list of members.
I needed to know which local businesses had joined the Chamber. The owners of these businesses know how important it is to market and get new customers, so they’d be more willing to hire a writer. Those are the people I wanted to talk to.
I went through the list carefully from A to Z. I took note of which businesses had websites, and which businesses offered discounts to other Chamber of Commerce members. I also researched the types of businesses on the list. There were dentists, gourmet popcorn shops, even movie theaters. I wanted to find out what these businesses offered to the community, how they stood out from their competition, and what I could do for them. Then I wrote down questions that I wanted to ask each owner that I met.
I had 98 businesses to research. It took me two days to go through them all.
But my local Chamber has a small members list compared to other places. If your Chamber has a really big list, here’s a tip: Narrow down who you want to talk to by searching through each category of businesses and picking out ones that can afford to pay you what you’re worth. For example, if you charge $100 for a one-page ad, you want to look at companies that make enough money so that $100 a page doesn’t seem like a big deal. You may not land them as a client, but you could get a referral to another business in the same earnings bracket – or even higher.
I found out out if non-members can attend events as guests of the Chamber.
My local Chamber of Commerce allows non-members to attend three events a year, but there’s a $10 fee to get in. To me that fee was worth it. It’s nominal compared to how much money new clients could potentially bring in.
Find out if your Chamber does something similar. If they don’t, search the schedule to see if any of the events are open house. Those types of events let potential members mingle with current members, making it a great way to network.
I looked at the list of scheduled events.
I took note of which ones are more likely to draw a bigger crowd. Those are the events I want to attend.
I chose three events, two on the weekend and one charity event. I reasoned that business owners would set aside time on a weekend to go to a Chamber of Commerce event, even if it was just for an hour or so. Of course, everyone loves supporting a charity, and in supporting a cause I would show that I’m willing to use part of what I earned as a writer to give back to the community. Everyone loves hiring a humanitarian.
Step 2: Preparation
Once I had done my research it was time for me to prepare for the events I was going to attend. The first thing I did was make a list of what I needed in order to market myself effectively. It read something like this:
- Business cards
- Letter of introduction
- Writing samples
- Reply cards
- Postage stamps
I had a website, but was – and still is – currently under construction. I didn’t want that fact to deter anyone from requesting information from me. So I put up a contact form on my landing page so that they could request an information packet from me, either through snail mail or email, and ask me questions.
Once I had my business cards made, I put together my letter of introduction and writing samples. My samples had to be diverse. I made sure to include a mock-up of a one-page ad, a newsletter, some informational articles, and a few other pieces of marketing material.
The reply cards I had were simply postcards with postage affixed to them. These are easy to use as reply cards because the person can simply fill in their information and drop it in the mail. It eliminates delayed reactions for mailing; if the postage is already there, the person doesn’t have to set aside mailing it due to a lack of postage.
The envelopes I bought were large manila envelopes. I fixed together five information packets to start out with; I wasn’t expecting a huge response. I put a letter of introduction, copies of my samples, a business card and a reply card in each envelope. I wrote my return address in the corner in the neatest, most legible handwriting I could muster. This was one of those moments I wished I had return address labels, but I made do with what I had.
The last thing I did was pick out my clothes for each event. You may think this is silly, but I wanted to dress for the job I wanted, not the job I had. I was very careful and meticulous when picking out my clothes. I made sure that I was modestly dressed: no cleavage showing, no short skirts, no tight pants, and no extremely high heels. I wanted to leave a positive impression. I wanted people to remember me, not my shoes or what I was wearing. I also made sure my accessories, makeup and hair weren’t flashy, gaudy or inappropriate.
I ran the outfits by my mother. She’s a legal secretary and office manager for a non-profit law firm. They have a set of rules at her job for clothing. She’s in charge of telling people whether their clothing is inappropriate in the workplace. By running the outfits by her, I knew that I’d be dressed to impress.
If you’ve got someone that works in an office environment, you can do the same thing. That became my rule of thumb for these events: If you can’t wear it in a law office, you can’t wear it to a client meeting.
Step 3: Take Action
I’m a natural wallflower. I don’t like to mingle at gatherings, even if the place is full of people that I’ve known for years. But I had to break out of that routine if I wanted to get some clients. For each event, I arrived ten to fifteen minutes early. As soon as I stepped into the door I took the initiative to talk to the first person I saw. I just said “Hi, my name is Kinya.” It never failed to start a conversation.
When people asked me what I did for a living, I told them, “I help businesses communicate with their current and future customers and clients.” They were always eager to learn how.
I didn’t keep the conversation focused on me; I always switched the topic back to their business. This is where the research came in handy. I was already prepared for all the members there, so I asked them questions pertaining to their individual businesses. They were impressed that I knew so much. Many of my conversations lasted ten minutes or more.
At the end of the conversations, I always asked if we could exchange information. Usually we would swap business cards, but if the other person didn’t have a business card I put their name, business name and telephone number in my cell phone.
Step 4: Follow Through
I waited a minimum of three days before I followed up with those I met. If I had their business cards, I went into their place of business to see if they were working. If they were, I told them that it was nice meeting them at the event, and I looked forward to seeing them at the next one. I also told them if they needed anything – anything at all – to just call me.
One person actually called me and asked me if I had “an epic brownie recipe” they could have for a family reunion. I passed along something spectacular with a caramel center and an ice cream topping. She was ever so grateful, and promised to pass my information along to other business owners.
If no one was there, I left a message with the manager on staff. For the ones who hadn’t given me their business cards, I followed up with them on the phone. If they didn’t answer, I left them a brief message.
The results were overwhelming to me: I’ve sent out over forty information packets and gained ten new clients. Two of these clients were referrals.
And I didn’t have to lowball my pricing for anyone. Everyone immediately thought my fees were reasonable, because they recognized how valuable my services were. And, perhaps best of all, I’m the only copywriter they know in the area. By taking these simple steps, I’ve set myself up to not only get new clients, but expand my business.
How about you — have you landed any gigs from attending Chamber events or other networking events? Do you have additional tips on how to make the most of these events? Share your insights in the Comments!
Kinya is a freelance copywriter and public speaker. She enjoys baking, writing fantasy novels , watching cartoons and brushing up on her Latin. Her blog, Nom de Plume Ink, talks about things she’s learning and discovering on the journey to reaching her career goals.
I get a lot of questions from writers on how to use Help a Reporter Out, a.k.a. HARO — the free service that helps journalists find sources for their assignments. So I interviewed HARO founder Peter Shankman to answer all your need-to-knows. Enjoy!
How many people subscribe to HARO e-mails?
Somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 sources, including pass-alongs — and hundreds of thousands of journalists have used the service at one point or another.
Have you ever done a breakdown of what kind of experts or other people are subscribed to HARO?
No, but we’ve found that it’s almost 75 percent small businesses now.
A lot of writers are e-mailing me because they’re confused about the requirement that your website needs to have an Alexa ranking of under one million for you to be able to send a request for sources. They think that their personal writer site needs to have this ranking. Can you explain that a little bit?
The way it works is, if you’re writing for a traditional or understood media outlet, like cosmopolitan.com or Washington Post online, our goal is not to exclude anyone. Unfortunately, what happens occasionally is that people join HARO and say, “I have to do a story for my blog that has two readers.” Journalists writing for Forbes, or any outlet that has a good quality base and quality readership, we have no problem. Use HARO and we love you. We just don’t want to waste sources’ time if it’s for Joan’s House of Blog, you know?
Another question I often get is whether a writer can use HARO if she’s working on a pitch but doesn’t have an assignment in hand and, if so, how to do that.
It’s a tough question. If you’ve used HARO before and we see that and we recognize your e-mail address as having written for traditional or recognizable outlets in the past, you are more than welcome to use HARO for a pitch.
There are no other requirements for posting a request on there except that your media outlet has to be lower than one million in Alexa, right?
Can you offer us some tips on how to write a HARO query that gets results?
The best thing you can do is be as specific as humanly possible. If you want sources in West Philadelphia, make damn sure you put “West Philadelphia.” If you only want sources who know about bridge building and have one arm, make that clear.
Any other tips?
The biggest thing I can recommend is make sure you put your deadline at least a week before your actual deadline. We base HARO on when your deadline is. So if your deadline is Thursday and you put Thursday down as your deadline, HARO is going to most likely run your inquiry Wednesday night.
What else can writers do to make sure they get the best sources?
Keep it short. Keep it simple. That usually works well.
Do you change the titles of the requests or do they go up just as the writer writes them?
No, it’s actually as you write them. We don’t change them at all.
Any tips on writing a title that gets attention?
“Need experts in blank.”
A blessing and a curse of HARO is that writers will put out a request and get 100 responses. What can writers do about that besides make sure they’re specific in their requests?
Start reading the answers. If you get everything you need in the first five replies, just click a filter that sends all the rest of them to a folder so you don’t h
By Steve Maurer.
Yeah, I know. That’s not the most grammatically perfect headline you’ve ever read. In fact, I’m sure that my high school English teacher would be rolling her eyes and throwing her hands up in disbelief, thinking she’d taught me better. Bless her heart! Nevertheless, if you’ve read this far, then that horrid headline has done its primary job: getting your attention.
The three power tips in this article are not concerned so much with improving your writing skills as they are with refining your abilities as a writer. Confused yet? There are boatloads of resources out there to turn you into a perfect punctuationalist or a proficient grammaratician. Some are listed below.
However, this article doesn’t deal with syntax and structure, adverbial clauses, comma splices or even the dreaded dangling marsupial, uh, participle. These tips are meant to improve your confidence level as a writer and, consequently, to transform you into a better one.
The Power of Association
John Donne, the English clergyman and poet, wrote this about the human condition in his work, Meditation XVII:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less . . .
The entire passage, written in 1624, tells of the interconnectedness of people, the idea that each of us has an integral part in the overall community that is humanity. Even you!
Heavy stuff, huh?
Interconnectedness spills over into the world of freelance writing as well. We aren’t monks sequestered away in our candlelit cubicles, slaving away with parchment, quill and ink, feverishly hand-crafting some obscure tome.
Unfortunately, many new writers feel that they must work alone, devoid of human contact, as they attempt to master their craft. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s time to get off the island, my friend.
Successful writers know that association with other writers is vital to growth. No one person knows it all, but we can all grow together by hanging out with others of our own ilk. In the classic 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill outlines the Master-Mind principle used by Andrew Carnegie.
In a nutshell, the melding of minds and sharing of ideas leads to an entity that is greater and more powerful than the individuals alone. Each person’s talents and knowledge contributes to the whole of the experience.
Man, heavy stuff again!
As a new writer, you should start associating with other writers. You can learn from both their successes and their challenges, get some counseling and ask them your burning questions. In fact, you’ll have a great opportunity to do that in a few minutes. At the end of this article there will be a place to make comments.
Many new writers never add a comment, often afraid of looking stupid or uninformed. Understand that the comments section is a safe haven in which to ask questions, request clarification and share your own experiences. Really, you need to write a comment! We need to hear from you!
Remember that you are a piece of the continent too.
I’d suggest that you become part of a writers’ group as well. Three that I belong to and recommend are:
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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Writers have been asking when Carol Tice and I are going to offer another Audit of our two popular e-courses: Freelance Writers Blast Off and 4-Week J-School.
So we decided to offer the Audits again right now, until August 21.
We normally charge $97 for these classes, but for this session we’re letting you pay whatever you want (with a minimum of $30). (Crazy, I know!)
Here’s a little more detail on what you’ll get:
Do you feel you’re earning less than you should because you didn’t go to journalism school — but you don’t want to shell out $30k to attend?
We heard you — and that’s why we created a course that will help you become a more confident writer – fast – and earn big as a freelancer.
- Week one: Story Ideas That Sell. You’ll leave this audio with dozens of strategies and sources for finding story ideas and slanting them to fit specific publications.
- Week two: Newsgathering 101. Watch the webinar as we review writer’s websites and demonstrate the features that make sites attract great clients and want to hire you.
- Week three: Article writing intensive. In this 1-hour webinar presentation, Carol and I share all our best tips for delivering well-written pieces your editor will love.
- Week four: Journalism ethics 101. Worried about getting sued? Don’t know if you’re writing things that could get you in trouble? We go over what you need to know in dealing with sources, quotes, and citing existing materials.
What you’ll get with the 4-Week J-School:
- Each week for 4 weeks, you’ll get a new recording covering all the journalism basics, from finding story ideas to interviewing sources, writing a compelling article and avoiding getting sued
- More than 40 pages of worksheets, tips, and resource links to reinforce your training
- Complete transcripts of each live event
- Bonus 1-hour podcast: Query letters and letters of introduction
- The option to join the Freelance Writers Den separately and use our exclusive mentoring forum to post homework, get feedback — and get your questions answered. (We’ve got the Den open to new members for this Audit enrollment period.)
Freelance Writers Blast Off
Learn how to match your talents and life experience to lucrative writing assignments.
Discover how to find good-paying clients, pitch them, and get the gig.
Study at your own pace.
Skyrocket your income.
- Week one: Matching interests to markets. Listen in as we coach more than a dozen writers
- Week two: Elements of an excellent writer website. Watch as we review writer’s websites and demonstrate the features that make sites attract great clients and want to hire you.
- Week three: All about markets. In this 1-hour webinar, we discuss all of the types of writing gigs available, and the differences between various publication and website types.
- Week four: Smart marketing. In this 1-hour webinar, you’ll get a primer on all of the marketing strategies that get good results, and co
By Rosella Eleanor LaFevre
My first attempt at making a magazine was in sixth grade. My friend and I wrote articles and compiled visuals that we glued to sheets of Xerox paper.
One Sunday I sat at my family’s copier and manually assembled ten double-sided copies of my 30+ page magazine, called RoZgIrl, that I passed out to my classmates the next day at school. I got a rush sharing my work with other people.
Then, as a sophomore in journalism school, I decided to start my own magazine for real. I’d watched magazines succeed and fall apart in my various internships and decided I could do this for real.
M.L.T.S. Magazine, a quarterly online publication that covers lifestyle, education and career topics for young women in college, was launched in June 2011.
It’s been the greatest challenge of my life and the rewards are addictive (being profiled on the Huffington Post was the coolest honor!). Among the many things I’ve learned from starting my own magazine are a few that have informed my interaction with editors at other magazines.
1. Editors are always looking for new writers.
Honestly, I get a little giddy every time a new writer contacts me saying they want to write for M.L.T.S. When I set out to create a magazine, I knew that I couldn’t write all of the articles, gather all the artwork, do the layout and promote the publication and so I did a big recruiting push – contacting j-school listservs and Ed2010 – and I got a lot of nibbles but very few writers stuck around.
Writers are a crucial part of the team and yet no matter how many writers I have, I’m always looking for new ones. I’ve had several writers back out at the last minute so I prefer having lots of writers on tap.
The takeaway: Even if you think there’s no way in heck that you’ll get a response, send that pitch or LOI!
2. Editors love controversy and shock-factor.
When I made that first magazine in sixth grade, I wrote a piece for the FOB fashion section about a classmate who anointed herself chief of the fashion police and made declarative statements about what the girls wore to school. I never used her name but my classmates knew who I meant. As my peers all turned to the same page and I heard whispers, I realized how important controversy can be for getting people interested in your magazine.
After starting M.L.T.S. my focus shifted toward page views and Facebook likes and my boyfriend kept saying, “Publish controversial stuff. Pick an unpopular view and write about it. Get people to notice you.” And he’s right. I need to publish stuff that will get people reading, responding and sharing if I want people to notice my magazine.
The takeaway: Writers might have an easier time breaking into a market if they pitch stories that are controversial or have great shock factor.
3. Editors sometimes need to be reminded that you sent that awesome pitch.
I get a lot of emails on my Android phone and sometimes, I just don’t feel like typing up a long response on its little screen or I want to read your resume and sample clips on my big computer… Then I forget to do those things when I’m next in front of a computer. Lots of times, it takes me a week to get back to writers.
Every now and then, a writer who has emailed me once will
By Barbara A. Tyler
When targeting markets for your queries, do you review their media kits?
Magazines spend time and money defining their audiences and creating a package to attract advertisers. With a little know-how, you can put that research to use and sell your ideas.
To get started, find the “media kit” link on your target market’s website. Most of the time you’ll spot one right away–after all, the magazines want it to be easy for advertisers to find it. If you come up empty on the main page, look under “Advertising,” or less frequently, in “Contact Us.” You can also type the name of the magazine and the words “media kit” (with quotes) into a search engine.
Once you have the kit in front of you, examine these three features before you write your query:
1. MISSION STATEMENT (a.k.a. “Positioning statement”)
What it is: A brief statement that defines the style and tone of the magazine. Editors use the mission statement to keep the editorial focused.
How to use it: Tailor your query to fit their mission.
Consider the opening line from the mission statement for Ladies’ Home Journal: “Ladies’ Home Journal is for women who recognize the importance of taking time for themselves.” Now, compare it to the opening line of Family Circle’s mission statement: “Family Circle celebrates today’s family and champions the women at its center.”
Though both magazines serve women with families, each wants a slightly different spin on the material they publish. For example, your pitch about a spa getaway would be better received at Ladies’ Home Journal, while a query about a round-up of historic destinations for families is better suited for Family Circle.
2. DEMOGRAPHICS (a.k.a. “Audience”)
What it is: A snapshot of the magazine’s readers.
How to use it: Slant your query to match the audience.
A publication’s demographics might pinpoint the basics about their audience. You’ll find Taste of Home’s audience defined in terms of age, marital status, college education, employment, etc. Other publications provide much more detail. For example, The Onion knows 52% of their readers drank beer in the last seven days, and roughly a third of them plan to buy a new computer in the next year.
Let’s say you have a fantastic snack recipe. If the magazine has a large percentage of readers with school-aged children, you might pitch your idea as “Easy Afterschool Snacks.” On the flip side, if your target publication has a readership made up of single women with high-powered jobs, you’d pitch “Quick Snacks to Go.”
3. EDITORIAL CALENDAR
What it is: A monthly breakdown of upcoming features and themes.
How to use it: Pitch them what they want AND need.
The editorial calendar is the freelance writer’s crystal ball when it comes to writing pitches. It tells you what the editor needs and when he plans to use it. A quick scan of Reader’s Digest’s editorial calendar shows planned issues about brain power, food, and miracles.
Queries fitting those themes w
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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Last week Carol Tice of the Freelance Writers Den and I ran a contest…entrants wrote blog posts on what they would do with a free year in the Den.
We got over 40 entries, and they were so good it was hard to pick the winners. We looked for a clear vision, good writing, interesting presentation, personality, and drive.
Here are the winners (you can check out the original post to see the details on all the prizes, including mentoring from me and Carol, the Audit of 4-Week Journalism School (open now for new students!) and our Freelance Writers Blast-Off Class (also open now!), and the basic level of my Write for Magazines course). Congrats to all — and enjoy reading their entries.
1st Place Winners: Tom Bentley of The Write Word (check out the visual funny Tom did, too!) and Jennifer Hawkins of Slashing My Way into Freelance Writing.
1st Runner up: Kasie Whitener of Life on Clemson Road
2nd Runner up: Lynette of ADD Ranger Ramblings
3rd Runner up: Bree Normandin of Black Feathers
Honorable mentions (win a copy of Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide):
Glori Surban of The Not-So-Crazy Introvert, Rosella LaFevre of The Happy Millenial and Megan Harris of MeganWrites.
Speaking of the Freelance Writers Den…it’s open for new members as of today, for just a few days — this will be your last chance to get in before fall. Get access to the forum where Carol, myself, and the skilled mods will answer your pressing freelance writing questions; free entry into weekly webinars; free resources like e-courses and recordings of past webinars; and more.
A couple of weeks ago I ran a Renegade Writer contest exclusively for members of my mailing list:
Five readers who bought a copy of my new e-book — A Renegade Writer Kick in the Ass: 30 Riffs from the Renegade Writer Blog to Help You Bust Your Excuses, Light a Fire Under Your Butt, and Become a More Motivated & Productive Freelance Writer — would win free entry into the Basic version of my Write for Magazines 8-week e-course.
I used random.org to pick the winners, and they are:
Congratulations! Winners, please e-mail me to claim your prize.
Interested in my e-course, but didn’t win the contest? The next Write for Magazines session starts on September 3, and you can learn how to craft a kick-butt query letter for whatever you want to pay, with a minimum of just $30.
Students of my course have landed assignments from magazines like Yankee, GRIT, Washington Parent, Woman’s Day, Spirituality & Health, E: The Environmental Magazine, Wines & Vines, Cottage Living, and more.
Here’s the class schedule:
1. Generating Ideas (assignment: come up with three salable ideas)
2. Finding Markets (assignment: choose one of your three ideas to run with for the rest of the course, and find five magazines to send your idea to)
3. Finding Editors (assignment: find out which editor to pitch at each magazine, plus their contact info)
4. Doing Interviews Part I (assignment: set up as many expert interviews as you need – generally 1 to 3)
5. Doing Interviews Part II (assignment: do the interviews)
6. Writing the Title and Lede (assignment: guess what? ;-> Write the title and lede of your query letter)
7. Writing the Body and Closing (assignment: write the body and “why I am so great” paragraph of your query)
8. Sending Your Query (assignment: get that thing out the door!)
Each lesson comes with additional helpful reading, and you’ll also get twice-weekly motivational e-mails to help you stay on track.
Students keep telling me this is the best $30 they’ve ever spent!
Want to kick-start your freelance writing career, break into your favorite market, or reach the next income level? Read the testimonials, download the FAQ, and sign up for Write for Magazines on the Renegade Writer e-course page.
Thanks, and I look forward to helping you reach your writing dreams!
By Tania Dakka.
After staring at a blank screen for the last 20 minutes, trying to write your next viral post (next, right?), you give in and give up. It pains you to let the blankness win, but you concede.
Next stop. Shower. No sooner does the steaming hot liquid permeates your pore than an idea flits into your head.
No paper. No pen. No help.
And there she goes. Too bad because it was a good one, too!
It Never Fails
Don’t you hate that? You stress and worry over ideas. You waste precious time searching through Facebook and flipping through your lists on Twitter (pretending that you’re going to actually come up with an idea). Then, you look up and the 15 minutes you intended to spend has turned into an hour.
Productivity averted – again.
Trying to generate ideas online is an occupational no-no. You know that.
So you leave your post to “relax” doing something else. And it never fails that as soon as you’re occupied, that great idea pops into your head. But you’re busy so you let it flit on through because you’re – well – busy.
You’re Out of Focus
You’re geared to work when you’re at your laptop. And you spend so much time at it that you just want a break when you’re away from it.
Don’t get me wrong.
We all love freelancing (as much as a piping hot pizza on a Friday night with our favorite beverage of choice). But, the fact remains, as workaholics, we sabotage ourselves by forcing productivity instead of enabling creativity.
That forced focus time creates the habit of letting go precisely when you should be holding on, but we’re too tired to focus when we’re not supposed to be “focusing.”
Learn To Focus Even When You Let Go
Letting go of the plug is the one thing that your brain needs to release all the greatness packed between your ears.
That’s why your shower is your number one idea generator. Not sitting in front your creativity’s arch-nemesis and standing under a stream of bliss loosens the hold that fear and anxiety have on your psyche.
And by forcing yourself away from your desk or laptop and forgetting what you need to do, you’ll release your Inner Creative Beast.
But beware. Releasing the Beast means you have to be ready to capture whatever ideas flow.
I said capture. Not capture and edit – did you catch that?
You’ll be tempted to critique and edit said greatness. Resist. Resist with all you have. Because your perfectionism is going to let that awesomeness fly right past your ears.
Trap your ideas as they happen. Yes, even in the shower.
Create The Habit Of Capturing Creativity Wherever You Are
With the right tools, you can take hold of your most creative and powerful ideas and keep them for when you need them.
Where You Are: In the Shower
If you’re a technology lover, this won’t be the place that you want to use Evernote. Nor is paper and pen going to help you.
But this handy Scuba Slate is just what you need. And at less than $10, it’s a powerful little investment. Hang it on the wall in the shower. And start writing as soon as any idea hits you. Hang up your editor until you towel off.
Another way not to lose any shower gold is recording your shower. Okay, yeah, it’s not for everybody. But it works. I simply turn on the recorder before stepping in and I start talking as soon as the ideas hit. (Warning: let others k
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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By Aubre Andrus.
When I began researching freelance writing and analyzing what it would really take to leave the comfort of the cube, I was astounded at the number of articles, books, and blog posts about jumpstarting a full-time freelance career.
I started to get really nervous – do freelance writers only write about freelance writing? Are there no gigs out there beyond writing about writing?
One year after I launched my full-time freelance writing business, it hit me: Everyone else is just too chicken shit to pull the trigger. That’s why there is so much writing about freelance writing.
It’s really no different from exercising. People subscribe to health magazines and read about new workouts and diet fads in hopes of losing weight. Many of those people will never commit to getting in shape or eating right. They think they’ll lose weight by inhaling words instead of food. That first trip to the gym or down the healthy aisle of the grocery store never happens.
And I think writers are no different.
Even the talented ones who are likely to be very successful as a freelancer prefer to dawdle and over-research what it takes to go out on their own. They dream instead of do. But your dreams will not come true until you step over that first hurdle. Take that first leap. Bust your excuses. Start taking action instead of thinking about it.
Let’s be honest – that first step can be a very scary proposition.
If my fiancé and I weren’t planning on moving a few states away for his new job, I may have never quit my desk job and launched my own writing business. It was the kick in the butt I needed.
I started doing instead of thinking. Gathering clients. Pitching businesses. Applying for gigs online. All I could think was, Drum up enough clients by April or your bank account is toast! All those small steps paid off and I had enough work to go solo by mid April.
After a little over one year of full-time freelance writing, I’m still a bit of a chicken. I started to get comfortable doing projects like social media consulting and getting away from the original goals I had set for myself: writing more books and breaking into travel writing. When I realized this about eight months in, it was the next kick in the butt I needed.
It took me too long to gather the confidence I needed, but I finally pitched my dream magazine: National Geographic Traveler. Lucky me, the pitch was accepted and it was published in this month’s issue. BAM. That felt pretty good. One more hurdle down.
But the hurdles will never stop coming.
At a writer’s conference in New York in January, four (FOUR!) agents told me to send them the book idea I pitched. It’s now June and I haven’t even started the manuscript.
Why? Because I’m afraid! Why am I afraid? I don’t believe that most writers are afraid of failure — I think they’re afraid of success. What if life went exactly your way? What if you had a dream job and got to work on exciting projects that you loved?
The thought is so overwhelming that it’s just easier to dream about it instead of laying the groundwork for it. And it’s hard to imagine that overcoming these small hurdles that lay ahead of us now could yield such big results in the long run. But they can.
There’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote I like: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear
We writing bloggers are always telling you what to do: Study your markets. Build relationships with editors. Market, market, market.
But it can be even more important to talk about what not to do — and how to subtract career-damaging attitudes and practices from your life.
Stop doing this: Over-analyzing.
I recently had a mentoring client who wondered why an editor had rewritten her piece. Was the article that bad? Was the tone not right? The editor asked her to interview one source, but should she have included two just in case?
From the book Women Who Think Too Much, I learned that women especially tend to try to think their way out of situations, which in reality just keeps them mired in the muck of their overactive minds.
Instead of getting stuck in analysis paralysis, take action: Pick up the phone and call the editor to find out why she rewrote your piece, asked you to do something in a certain way you don’t understand, or made a comment you’re just not getting. It’s the only way to find out the truth of the situation.
Stop doing this: Sending LOIs to national publications.
Yes, I extol the virtues of the Letter of Introduction (LOI). They’re great for breaking into trade and custom magazines.
But sadly, they’re not so great at getting your foot in the door at Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Psychology Today, Parenting, or the rest of the glossy consumer magazines — unless you’re über famous.
These publications have hundreds of writers contacting them each week with well thought-out pitches, so if all you have to offer is “Here I am, don’t I rock?” then you’re going to look shabby next to the writers who approach the editors with stellar queries.
Not sure how to write a query letter? The next session of my 8-week Write for Magazines e-course starts in September 3, 2012, and the Basic version is Pay What You Want with a minimum payment of just $30. And…join my mailing list to get a free packet of 10 queries that rocked.
Stop doing this: Complaining about the writing business.
These days, editors who aren’t interested in your idea often don’t respond, even to send a rejection. Content mills pay pennies per word, if that. Some magazines are using citizen (read: free) journalists and bloggers to write their articles. Magazines are going under.
Suck it up.
Smart writers are using these difficult times to their advantage, riding the wave of exciting changes to build their bank accounts.
For example, I make a lot of my living mentoring and teaching writers who are sick of the content mills how to break out of that box and make a living freelancing. I also have mostly stopped pitching newsstand magazines and make most of my writing income from trade and custom publications.
Other writers are finding ways to earn income through their blogs by selling e-books and other products, finding underserved niches for their copywriting, and offering clients new media consulting and services.
The writers I hear complaining the most about the state of writing are the ones who are stuck in the past, mourning the way things used to be.
Ditch the negative and embrace the exhilarating changes that are taking place all around you in this industry.
Stop doing this: Apologizing for
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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It’s the one-year anniversary of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writers Den, where I’m honored to be the Other Den Mother, hosting monthly webinars and answering writers’ questions on the forum.
So we’re having a contest that starts today and ends July 31st. Grand prize — Carol and I are each going to give out one free year’s stay in Freelance Writer’s Den, along with a whole mentoring package designed to kick your career into high gear.
We know that times are tough out there still for many writers, and want to offer an opportunity for those who haven’t been able to afford the Den to get in there.
To enter, here’s all you do:
Do a post on your blog about why you should win a free year in Freelance Writers Den. What would you do with all those resources? What are your goals? What’s been holding you back? (Financial sob stories will not win you points — tell us about your writing journey.)
Come back here and share your headline in the comments of this post on the Make a Living Writing blog, with a link to your post so we’re sure to check it out.
Spread the word about your post in social media. Social sharing volume will be a factor (but not the whole deal) in our judging.
Carol and I will each pick a winner and announce them on our blogs August 1.
What-all can you win? All together, it’s a package that you’d otherwise pay more than $500 for, but you could nab it all here with some standout creative writing.
The prize deets:
1st Place Winners (2) will get:
1st Runner up:
- 1 month free in Freelance Writers Den
- Blast-Off Class Audit
- The J-School Audit
- Admission to Linda’s Basic level of Write for Magazines
- Linda’s and Carol’s ebooks
2nd Runner up:
- 1 month free in Freelance Writers Den
- Linda’s and Carol’s ebooks
3rd Runner up:
- 1 month free in Freelance Writers Den
Best of luck, writers! Don’t forget to go to Carol’s blog and leave us your post link. [lf]
By Steve Maurer.
I am a freelance writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’ve written for clients from Germany to California, all across the United States and in some small towns.
I’m also a freelance writer who doesn’t believe in writer’s block.
More specifically, I don’t believe in that mythical, wraithlike ogre that sucks the life and soul from a writer, rendering him impotent, unable to put words down on paper or screen. Yes, I still have challenges; I just don’t believe that true writer’s block exists.
The reason is simple: I can talk.
After all, writing is nothing more – and nothing less – than the written record of a conversation, whether it’s a speech or a dialog, spoken or unspoken. If you can talk, you can write.
I believe that what some folks call writer’s block is simply the result of a lack of confidence or a lack of motivation. Here are seven proven tips I use to get into the “write” mood.
1. If You’re a Writer, Call Yourself a Writer
Go back right now and reread the first paragraph of this post. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.
Ah, you’re back. Did you see the answer to the confidence problem? It’s in the first five words of the very first sentence: I am a freelance writer. A ton of material has been written about speaking things into existence. It’s powerful. The concept of visualization is often used in sports to improve athletic skills.
Writers are no different. If you’re going to be a writer, then call yourself a writer. Go ahead, say it out loud: I am a freelance writer!
New writers start out excited about making a living with their words. However, doubt sets in and confidence wanes, smashing their dreams to pieces.
I know. This is one hurdle I had to clear myself.
Start calling yourself a writer at every opportunity. Get some business cards that say so. When people ask you what you do, tell them you’re a writer. Hey, they won’t laugh; they’ll believe you. In fact, they’ll probably ask what you write. If you still have job, mention it last, if at all. The more you call yourself a writer, the easier it gets.
And you’ll begin believing it as well!
2. Start by Writing Something Fun
Sometimes you’ll get up and tell yourself that you don’t feel like writing. What you probably mean is that you aren’t ready to get started on your paid writing gigs. No problem; start by writing something fun!
I’d recommend that every new writer start a blog on something they enjoy. I have blogs on gardening and computers, two of my passions. I get up every Monday morning, go out to the garden, take some veggie photos and then usually write a blog post. This gets my creative juices flowing, and viola:
I’m in the mood for words,
simply because they’re near me!
Funny, but when they’re near me,
I’m in the mood for words.
(Sorry about that; I’m an old song buff too.)
Sometimes, I’ll get really sneaky. I pull up several documents that need written, and then I’ll open up my browser in front of them. I write the blog post and when I close the browser the articles are there, waiting for me.
For new writers, there’s an added benefit in having a blog. I post on my one or the other of my blogs once a week. That comes out to 52 articles a year. If you don’t have clips yet, use these posts. In fact, the back of my business card says this:
Take a break and visit these sites for some of Steve’s writing samples.
The computer site and gardening site addresses are listed so the reader can go there and check out
Every writer has his or her own special mark — it’s like a fingerprint, and editors can use it to identify you the way a detective identifies a perp. “She’s 300 words over the assigned word count — that’s Pat for you,” they may say. Or, “It’s just like Darren to call me up in hysterics because I removed a comma.” (Sure, your editors may also peg you as the on-time writer or the best speller ever, but we’re going to concentrate on editor-bugging problems here.)
Read on and answer the questions below to find out if you have a writing foible that may be holding you back.
1. Your article is just about finished. You:
A. Put it aside for a day or two so you can proofread it with fresh eyes.
B. Close your eyes and hope for the best as you hit the Send button.
If you answered B, you’re a Slapdash Scribe.
A misplaced comma doesn’t concern you (though a misplaced check would!), and you believe that double-checking your facts is the fact-checker’s job (hence the name). You may be the most brilliant wordsmith since Nabokov and churn out article ideas that make editors swoon with delight, but if you don’t pay attention to the details, you’ll gain a reputation as a sloppy writer. Here are some things you should double-check before turning in your masterpiece:
- The spelling of your sources’ names. There’s nothing more embarrassing than your editor having to print a correction because you misspelled a source’s name!
- Your sources’ credentials (is that doctor a Ph.D., an MD, or something else?).
- Your spelling. Remember, the spell check function on your computer can’t tell the difference between you’re and your, too and to. (And if yours can, please tell me what the brand is…I’ll buy stock!)
- Statistics. Double-check your math to make sure your stats make sense.
- Your backup materials. Every assertion you make in your article should be backed up by research or by an expert. Include with your article a list of the sources you interviewed and the studies you consulted.
2. How do you feel about alliteration, puns, and jokes?
A. I use them sparingly.
B. Hey, did you hear that one about the duck and the cigar?
If you answered B, you’re a Smart Aleck.
Okay, I have a confession to make: I’m a recovering Smart Aleck. Probably from my stint writing for men’s magazines, which are more wiseass in style than most, I’m a master of the alliterative subhead, the double entendre, and all-around cracking wise.
Luckily, many magazine editors and readers appreciate a dollop of humor. But leaning too much on such trickery is the herald of the lazy writer. Why bother coming up with a meaningful subhead when I can get away with a funny one? Why rack my brain over the perfect conclusion when I can end with a joke?
If you’re a Smart Aleck, ask yourself before penning that amusing simile comparing Martha Stewart to a teakettle: Does this help the reader understand my topic, or am I just filling space? Is there a more meaningful way to say this?
3. How many interviews do you do for your articles?
A. As many as I need to get the scoop and no more.
B. The more the merrier!
If you answered B, you’re an Over-Researcher.
You have trouble getting your articles in on time — or getting your queries out the door — because you’re looking for that one more stat or quote that will make your piece sing. Then you feel bad leaving o
By Tim Hillegonds.
The freelance daydream has been permeating the minds of closet word nerds in corporate America since the invention of the cubicle.
It’s my theory that the first person to be locked inside the three-sided Eradicator of Creativity immediately sat down and started typing query letters—the literary equivalent of digging an escape tunnel with a spoon. There’s just something about vanilla colored walls, industrial carpeting, and annual “Biggest Loser” competitions that has a certain group of us questioning the meaning of our lives.
From inside the cubicle, freelancing looks a lot like Canaan—the land of milk and honey and setting your own schedule. And although there are parts of freelancing that are indeed akin to the promise land, it’s not all manna and miracles. In fact, if the jump from corporate America’s private jet isn’t thought through, the landing can be pretty darn violent.
But, as I’ve learned over the course of the last six months, it doesn’t have to be. And since clichés around taking chances are abundant—and leaving the corporate world to freelance is akin to skydiving—here are three things to think about when taking the ultimate plunge.
1. Check your equipment
I spent ten years in the insurance industry. That’s ten years of making connections, writing emails, saving phone numbers, going to conventions, and putting up those stupid folding booths at trade shows. And while most of the people I met I’ll probably never talk to again, there are a select few people that I stay in touch with.
Prior to leaving the cushy job, take a look around and ask yourself a few of these questions.
- Who can help you once you leave? Mention your plan to a few close colleagues and do everything you can to exploit every connection you have. Assignments can come from anywhere, even the places you’d least expect. You’re last job before you leave is to prime the pump and make it a little easier to land that elusive first job.
- What other businesses do you work with that are potential markets for your writing? In my case, the insurance industry is filled with brokers, appraisers, reinsurance markets, accounting firms, industry periodicals, and a vast array of other businesses and associations. Each one of these is a potential client or market. I’ve got insider industry knowledge that the average writer might not have. Plus, certain people at these companies know me, which means I’m sitting on warm leads, rather than shivering my rear end off on cold ones.
- Can you sweet-talk your media relations (or marketing) specialist into allowing you to write copy once you’ve left? It might seem like a tough sell, but most corporate marketing departments are one-size-fits-all operations. Just because someone holds a position in the marketing department doesn’t mean they know how to write compelling copy. (This is especially true in the insurance industry.) Before you leave, show them what you can do by rewriting a product description or sales one sheet. There’s nothing better than leaving a job and still finding a way to have them pay you.
2. Jump and free-fall
Once you’ve actually made the jump, the fun begins, right? Well, not always. Most people find that freefalling is tough. The structure that you’ve become accustomed to is suddenly gone. You’re now totally self-reliant. Oh, and that nice paycheck you used to get every other Friday? Yeah, that’s gone, too.
Some people panic, but I can assure you, panicking doesn’t help. So, what do you do? Simple: You organize. Remember all thos
You send a pitch to a magazine or website and the editor writes back asking you to send in the full article for consideration.
This is called writing on spec, and it means you write the article with no contract and no guarantee that your article will be accepted or that you’ll be paid.
So…is it worth it to write on spec?
I generally avoid writing on spec due to a bad experience I had early in my career. The editor of a magazine that rhymes with Cat Schmancy asked me to write an article on spec and I agreed. Since the was no deadline and I had other assignments, I put the article on the back burner — but the editor kept emailing me asking when I’d be turning in the piece, so I rearranged my schedule to fit it in.
Two weeks after turning in the article, I got — wait for it — a form rejection. Not even a personal note!
I had rearranged my schedule and spent time on an article on spec, and ended up with a blowoff and no money.
However, if you’re not totally jaded like me, you may still be wondering if there are any times you should write an article on spec.
To determine if it’s worth it, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you a new writer and you really need/want the clip?
- Are you in love with the publication and really, really want to write for them?
- Are you fairly confident that the editor will accept your article?
- If the editor rejects your article, do you have a list of several other good markets you can send it to instead?
If you answered Yes to any of these questions, then you may want to say Yes to writing on spec. But if you answered all of them No, it may be a better idea to turn it down and spend the time you would have spent on the article pitching other markets or writing new queries.
How about you? Have you had a good/bad experience writing on spec? How do you decide whether to write on spec? Share your experiences in the Comments below! [lf]
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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By Isabel Eva Bohrer
As freelance writers, we spend a large part of our time on our own. While some writers choose to rent offices to work alongside other freelancers, others work entirely from home. Creating an inspiring workplace is important, but it will only get you so far.
If you want to advance in your writing career, you will have to network at one point or another. And an ideal way to connect with editors and other writers is by attending writers’ conferences.
What can I get at a writers’ conferences?
Depending on the conference, there’s usually a mix of professional development workshops that allow you to learn not only about global industry trends, but also about the needs of specific publications:
- During discussion panels, editors usually explain how to pitch their particular magazine, with a question-and-answer session at the end.
- Some conferences even allow you to sign up for brief, personal meetings with editors so you can pitch them your ideas.
- Most conferences include an intensive social program, such as lunches and dinners that allow you to talk with potential employers in a more informal setting. Costs for attending vary from conference to conference.
Which writers’ conference should I attend?
Given the wide range of conferences available, you’ll have to narrow down your choices. For example, the ASJA annual writers’ conference in New York City offers over 80 workshops in three days. Topics range from writing about fitness to breaking into the technology market.
Then there are conferences like Travel Classics, which cater specifically to travel writers and as such, offer a very low writer-editor ratio (a maximum of 40 writers to 15 editors; you have to apply to attend). For more, check out Linda’s “Conference Scene” column in Writer’s Digest magazine, where she profiles three different conferences each issue.
When choosing a conference, consider the following factors:
- Location. How much does it cost you to get there? Can you combine your visit with other networking opportunities in the area?
- Duration. How long is the event?
- Size. What is the writer-editor ratio?
- Professional program. Are there personal meetings with editors? If so, do you need to sign up in advance?
- Extra-curricular program. Again, do you need to sign up and/or pay extra for some events? Are there any press tours offered as part of the conference?
- Cost: Are there scholarships and/or early bird rates?
Depending on your goals and financial situation, figure out which conference works best for you, and now get ready to make the best of it.
The early bird gets the worm (the editor?).
Preparation for a conference can start months ahead. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make your travel arrangements. Inquire about media rates.
- Read the full schedule. Find out if there is anything you have to sign up for in advance.
- Figure out your schedule if there is a choice of workshops to attend.
- Start networking with writers and editors via Twitter, Facebook and other forums.
- Prepare possible questions for editors.
- Prepare pitches for meetings
Sturgeon’s Law, coined by sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon, is that 90% of everything is crap.
90% of restaurants. 90% of novels. 90% of blogs. 90% of movies.
90% of writers.
And I believe it. I’ve heard too many horror stories from editors to think that most freelance writers have it together — even the successful ones.
One of my editors recently had to fire two well-known freelance writers because they turned in their articles late. Weeks late, as in this editor had to chase down the work.
Another editor I know had to fire two other well-known writers. One was so bad at interviewing that sources called the editor and complained, and the other refused to do interviews at all — she just wrote everything from her head.
And years ago, an editor from a magazine that rhymes with “dead book” told me that only 10% of writers get in decent copy on time.
Sturgeon’s Law means that even 90% of the writers who are making a living off this are crap. They get by on heavily-edited clips, and move from gig to gig based on the strength of those clips. Sure, it works for them, but wouldn’t it be easier to have just a few editors who hire you again and again than to have to keep starting over from scratch?
Now that I’ve scared the hell out of you, I’m going to allay your fears: Over my 15 years of freelancing, I’ve found a few simple tactics for making sure you’re not one of the 90% of writers editors dread.
1. Get your work in on time.
It pains me to have to say this. I know you know it, but apparently this concept is beyond a good portion of freelance writers. When something is due on August 1, you get it in on August 1 — or earlier. I’ve had editors compliment me on always getting my work in on time, which is kind of sad when you think about it.
I’ve missed one deadline in 15 years. That was because of a calendar snafu I committed — I accidentally put the due date on the wrong day — and even though my editor was fine with it, I was mortified.
Check out these posts for details on how to get your work done on time even when things go wrong:
2. Reread the article specs before you start writing.
It’s easy to forget that the editor wanted you to supply photos, add a sidebar, create a chart, and so on. These details were in the article specs, but many writers — especially old timers who are so used to whipping out articles that they barely glance at the specs — forget to look.
So be sure to look at the correspondence from the editor and your contract before you start researching and writing. That way, you won’t be missing some vital piece of the assignment.
3. Don’t be a freak.
Don’t be a freak or a diva — you know, one of those writers who demands explanations for rejections or whines over every change to his prose. You also want to avoid being one of those writers who follows up on a pitch every single day. Yes, they do exist. Editors talk, and they name names.
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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I get a lot of questions about LOIs, so I decided to create this primer on one of the most valuable marketing tools in a freelance writer’s arsenal.
What is an LOI?
LOI stands for Letter of Introduction, which is basically a letter where you introduce yourself to an editor or prospect and let them know you’re available for assignments. Once you have a good LOI draft, you can use it over and over, tweaking it for each publication.
Who do I send LOIs to?
LOIs work well for trade magazines and custom publications, where the editors often come up with article ideas in-house. They typically don’t work for consumer magazines, whose editors expect full-fledged queries. However, nothing is stopping you from trying them too!
How do I send an LOI?
I’ve emailed my LOIs almost 100% of the time, though you could certainly try mailing yours to stand out from the crowd. I tried the snail mail tactic a few years ago and did get an assignment that way; the benefit to this was I was able to include some nicely-formatted clips.
What are the basic components of a good LOI?
An eyeball-grabbing subject line — that’s also descriptive. I like, “Freelance writer for Health, Women’s Health, Oxygen, Redbook, and more,” where I sub in the magazines that are most relevant to the market’s subject. Another one I use is, “Do you need a pro business writer?” Simple but effective.
Evidence that you’ve read the publication and are not just spamming your LOI. I like to read through the archives and point out an article I enjoyed — or even just mention that I enjoyed reading through the publication’s website.
A lede that gets to the point. When new writers hear they should make a point of mentioning that they read the publication, they often go overboard with fawning compliments. Don’t do this! It makes your LOI sound like a fan letter. Right up top somewhere, mention that you’re a freelance writer.
A question about where they hire freelancers. This one is easy: “Do you assign articles to freelance writers?” or something along those lines. Be creative!
A credentials paragraph where you highlight the benefits the editor will receive by hiring you. That means you don’t go on and on about how much you love writing and how you’ve been writing since preschool and how you would simply die to write for X magazine. They don’t care.
They want to know what’s in it for them. What can you do that few other writers do? Are you a crack researcher? Are you skilled at finding the best sources? Are you good at translating technical topics for a lay audience?
Personality. Don’t be too businesslike or stilted. Most magazines are written in a conversational tone, so that’s the tone you want to strike too. And don’t be afraid to use humor!
A call to action. Don’t leave the editor hanging — what is it you’re writing for? I like to end by asking if I can send clips because it’s a non-threatening way to open the door to a relationship. You’re not asking for anything scary like a phone meeting or an assignment…just if you can send some clips. This is a request it’s easy for the editor to say Yes
By Daisha Cassel
Imagine a “niche writer,” and you might think of someone who is limited. Boxed in. Pigeonholed.
Or maybe you actually envy niche writers because they obviously have years of deep experience in a particular field which they can now apply to their writing. And you don’t.
I haven’t been writing for decades, nor do I have any spectacular educational or career experience in the topic I write about most. I write for a variety of publications, from national and local mags to those entertaining booklets that grocery stores hand out before the holidays. Most importantly, I am able to make more money—and write for a much wider variety of clients—now that I have developed a niche.
Connect the Dots
Sometimes your niche is something you never would have thought about developing. This was certainly the case for me. When I started writing, I had a dream… I had an awesome dream. Lionel Richie would narrate my life through song while I wrote for the big glossies. Focus area? I didn’t need that! I could write about anything!
It went well at first. And then, I got frustrated. Each new piece required research into an area I was completely unfamiliar with. It was interesting and educational, but it was time consuming. When I broke down my hourly rate for these pieces, it wasn’t looking good.
I had written for a national food and lifestyle title when I learned about a new in-store magazine that was being developed for a big grocery store chain. I contacted the editor, flaunting my food mag experience. She immediately assigned me an article. A job had never come so easily.
Shortly after that, I was in another grocery store when I noticed this store had a much larger, very professional looking food-based booklet. I called up the publisher, introduced myself as a food writer, and stated my credentials. By the next week, I had two assignments for the publisher worth a total of $4,000. I had never had an assignment that paid so well.
Wanna know a secret? The articles I had written for the big food magazine—the one I name-dropped to get my other food assignments—weren’t even about food.
But I was familiar with the world of food writing and publication, and I connected the dots… and if you have even a few clips, you can do the same. Maybe you’ve done a round-up of hot new lunch box ideas, a review of a children’s book, and a article for the local newspaper about new policies at the elementary school. Who would be interested in all of these articles? Parents. Why not say you specialize in topics of interest to parents?
Once you’ve narrowed down your niche, it’s time to niche down your pitches.
Go long! Go wide! Go…less obvious!
Linda tells me many of her Renegade Writer students would love to write about a topic close to their hearts. This is a fantastic—having a topic you are truly passionate about is a great start to building a niche. Yet the problem is that many of these would-be niche writers think about markets where they would be preaching to the choir.
Having a niche sometimes means being an ambassador for your special topic. Give some thought to whether your piece would drive the average reader of that publication to action. Let’s say you love dogs, and want to tell the world how great they are. Do you think the readers of Dog Fancy magazine will change their thinking when they read a point-by-point analysis on why dogs are terrific pets? No. Those readers already love dogs, and except for a rare few have already acted on dog ownership.
I mentioned this on my mailing list last week, but thought I’d post it here on the blog as well.
My mailing list subscribers get first dibs on all kinds of goodies, so if you want to be on the cutting edge of Renegade Writer announcements, contests, and offers — as well as get free copies of my e-books 10 Query Letters That Rocked and Editors Unleashed: Magazine Editors Growl About Their Writer Peeves — then join the list today!
The big news is that I’m now paying $50 for guests posts for the Renegade Writer blog. I feel writers deserve pay for their work. I haven’t solicited guest posts in the past, but thought it would be great to have fresh voices on here.
If you’re interested in contributing a guest post, check out the Guest Post Guidelines for info on how to pitch.
I’ve gotten some great pitches and you’ll be seeing these writers’ posts on the blog in the coming months. I hope one of them will be yours! [lf]
By Kayleen Reusser
[Did you know I now pay $50 for guest posts? —Linda]
A few years ago, my husband and I rode the Discovery Riverboat on the Chena River near Fairbanks, Alaska. As a freelance travel writer, I’m always on the lookout for stories and interesting experiences. During the relaxing and informative three-hour trip, I took pages of notes and shot dozens of photos.
Upon our return, I queried my Features editor at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper. Prior to the trip, the editor had not run travel stories, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
The gamble paid off. He had just received permission from the publisher to begin a weekly travel section. My article on the Discovery Riverboat was the first article for the column, complete with three of my photos used to illustrate the article. Over the next couple of years the same editor used dozens of my travel articles.
The best thing about travel writing is you don’t have to live in a beautiful place like Alaska or Hawaii to write travel articles (though it doesn’t hurt!) Fascinating places and events are everywhere. The travel writer’s mission is to be observant and record unique qualities about an area or event so readers will want to go there or at least wish they could.
Here are four ways to land travel writing gigs by thinking beyond been-there-done-that destinations and events.
1. Start local.
Start with where you live. Is a famous landmark nearby? The Johnny Appleseed Festival held each September in Fort Wayne, Indiana, hosts a festival in a park where the famous fruit bearer is buried.
As morbid as it sounds, this event has become one of the highest-attending festivals in the Midwest. It also became the lede for my article that sold to Good Reading Magazine:
“In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a lone grave sits atop a hill in the middle of an empty field. It remains quietly undisturbed during the year until the third weekend in September. Then, more than 250,000 people converge on the area surrounding the grave, paying tribute to the man buried there who gave his life to helping others.”
Attending the festival provided me with loads of sensory details for description so readers could imagine being at the event: noisy cannons firing in the midst of a Civil War military encampment, scents of apple dumplings baking in food booths, children winding through a straw maze, women dressed in mob caps and calico dresses spinning wool under shady oaks.
Capper’s Magazine bought a reprint of the article. A few years later, a blurb about the Johnny Appleseed Festival appeared in my round-up story about area festivals for a Fort Wayne Magazine cover story.
2. Go beyond destinations.
A travel article can also center on a building. Upon returning from a visit to eastern Montana, I queried the editor of Cowboys and Country magazine with a round-up of possible article ideas. He voiced interest in a profile of a restaurant in Billings called The Rex. The building dated to the late 1800s when Buffalo Bill Cody’s chef established an eatery in the Wild West.
My focus was on the history of the place, but the restaurant’s specialty — Montana-raised Rosemary Roasted Buffalo — was a big mention. The editor liked the historic angle and menu details and published the article.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, a travel article can also be about a person. Gene Stratton-Porter was a popular nature novelist who lived in Indiana during the early
I hear this all the time:
“The editor asked me to write up this piece and gave me a deadline, but he didn’t mention pay or rights. When will he tell me?”
Even worse, sometimes I hear:
“I wrote up my article for the editor. How do I know how much he’s going to pay me, and when?”
I don’t know why editors do this to writers. They know we need to know how much and when we’re going to get paid. And yet, many of them will ask me if I want to do an assignment without letting me know how much I’ll get paid.
How much I can expect to earn is of intense interest to me, and plays a huge role in deciding whether or not I’ll take the assignment.
So what can you do when an editor plays coy?
Don’t be afraid to be up-front. If an editor asks me If I’d like to write a 1,200-word article on X, due on Y, I write back, “Thanks so much for thinking of me! Can you let me know how much the assignment will pay?”
I do the same thing when the editor doesn’t mention a contract. “I’m excited to work on this assignment for you! Will you need my mailing address for the contract, or will you be e-mailing it to me?” That’s my passive-aggressive way of saying, “You will send me a contract, right?”
Will the editor get mad and take away the assignment?
Many new writers are so awe-struck when they hear from an editor that they accept assignments without knowing the terms — and they’re afraid that if they ask, the editor will yank the assignment away while emitting an evil laugh.
Trust me: It never happens. What always happens is that the editor says, “We pay $500 on acceptance” or “We pay $1 per word on publication.” (Or, if the editor is one of those who hopes you’ll accept the assignment without asking, the answer is often, “We can’t afford to pay our freelancers, but you’ll get great exposure.”)
How about you? Do you often find that editors give you an assignment without including this vital information? Have you ever accepted without knowing what you’d be paid — or have you ever spoken up and asked? Let us know in the Comments below!
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Yesterday I was reading Loral Langemeier’s Yes! Energy: The Equation to Do Less, Make More, and she mentions that many people have a “be-do-have” attitude, meaning they feel they need to get their mental lives in order and do a lot of thinking before they can take action towards their goals.
I can see this in a lot of writers. They take course after course but never do the homework. They read blogs and ask questions and read books and make plans — but they never take action.
A better way to get started as a freelance writer is to adopt the mantra “do-be-have.” I’ve mentioned here that feelings don’t beget action…actions beget feelings — meaning that you don’t need to be inspired or in the right mindset to take action, but that if you take action, you’ll find that your mindset changes accordingly.
Steve Pavlina calls it “ready-fire-aim.” Many people — new writers especially — get ready, they take aim — and then they aim, aim, aim, without ever firing. Better to get ready, fire, and then re-aim as needed. You may make mistakes, but at least you’ll be moving along the path instead of stuck at the beginning.
Trust that if you just get started with writing up a pitch, building a writer site, or sending out sales letters or letters of introduction, you’ll be able to figure it out as you go along and deal with any issues that come up.
That’s what I did: When I decided I wanted to become a freelance writer, I consulted with one successful copywriter for one hour, read one book on how to write a query letter, wrote a query letter, and sent it out to several places I found in Writer’s Market. I hadn’t even read any of the magazines!
That first burst of action landed me a $500 assignment and launched my career, which has spanned 15 years and which lets me earn full-time income working part-time hours.
I challenge you: Stop thinking and take one step towards your writing goal. Don’t analyze, don’t ponder, don’t overthink, don’t worry — just bite the bullet and get something out there.
I’ll bet it gives you a motivational boost to put even more of your work out there.
Try it now. What happened? Let us know in the Comments!