Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First time writer gigs

So you want to start earning a living as a writer. You've always wanted to write, piddled with it, even kept a journal. Your friends say you have a knack for stringing phrases. So you jump online, crack your knuckles and search for great venues for first-time writers. But you can't find anything. Why?

No venue is going to taunt itself as a haven for green, still-learning-the-ropes writers. That identification would mean they produce a less than professional product. Sure, a lot of venues will draw you in to sell you their writing resources, but it's doubtful they'll buy your articles. Who wants to send their child to a novice teacher, or send their relative to a novice doctor, or paint their home via a novice painter?

Do you really want to find markets like that? No, you don't. Because putting such a clip on your resume labels you as novice when you pitch to full-fledged markets months or years later. You don't want your query letter or resume to scream NEWBIE. You want it to say you are a writer. Trust me, it's not the number of years that makes a difference on your writing resume, or the number of articles you've written.

Your reputation rides overwhelmingly on the places you've written for.

If you feel less than worthy of writing for a publication, then you do the following:

1. Study the publication cover to cover (or webpage to webpage), to include the ads. Study several issues. Analyze the voices, the length, the phrasing.

2. Study the publication's competition, just like above.

3. Write practice articles. Lots of them. Have someone you trust compare yours against the published pieces.

4. Find a mentor, editor or serious critique group to rip up your work and force you to rewrite.

5. Write daily.

6. Study grammar and style manuals, like the Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style.

Every piece of work you publish, even on the two-bit, easy, cheesy, amateur or writing mill sites, remains in the world for others to find. You may have written a simple piece on walking your dog five years ago for a homemade newsletter, but a simple Google search may turn it up when the editor of an international glossy considers your pitch on the changing architectural standards of Atlanta.

You can't hide what you publish. Someone somewhere can find it. So skip the first-time writer gigs. No one in the business understands the logic of delivering mediocre work to "first-time writer" venues. What they respect is someone who practices and writes long enough to only submit quality work, who took the time to get it right in the seclusion of their home rather than across the Internet for all to see.


Hope Clark said...

Wow - no comments this time. Did I strike a chord too hard or was it that uncommentable? (Yes, I made up that word.)

Debra Stang said...

Hi Hope,

I always enjoy your blogs. When I got into the freelance business in 2001, I did things completely backwards. I got involved with content mills and keyword sites and wrote some of those hideous, keyword-stuffed articles (which luckily, did not appear under my name). The thing is, I'm not sorry it happened. I learned some good lessons from those sites, like writing under tight deadlines and making an article work no matter how badly the client tried to mess it up. I make most of my money from other sources now, although I still do some keyword writing when I want to earn a little quick cash on the side. I guess everyone comes to freelancing in his or her own way...

Hope Clark said...

No matter how we start, we learn from the experience. That is very true. Glad to see you've grown from it and recognize the lessons. Thanks for the comment.


Acacia Rae said...


I'm just a beginning freelance writer, I started doing it maybe 6 weeks ago full time. It's now my only source of income. I'm a client on various websites such as elance, odesk, and ifreelance. Is that the best way to go about making good money?

Hope Clark said...

Acacia Rae - you have to define good money. You can find writing opps on those sites, but be careful. You can also find scams. I know one writer who makes a decent FT living from Guru.com assignments, but she belongs to the paying side, not the free side, of the program.

Acacia Rae said...


Good money is just something I can live off of. Right now I'm getting people wont want me to write 1000 articles for $300. Is there a better way to go about making money as a freelance writer than these websites?

Hope Clark said...

Better is what makes you happy. $300 for 1000 words is fabulous for a new freelancer. Nothing wrong with actually pitching to magazines or taking on local copywriting gigs in addition to what you're doing. Other than that, keep on keeping on.

Acacia Rae said...


Thanks so much for the advice.