Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Expert Blog: Breaking into the Freelance Writing Industry

By Shailynn Krow

I wanted to spend some time today talking about breaking into the freelance writing industry. A lot of people jump into the freelance writing world and think they are going to make it big overnight. Sure, some people are that lucky, though honestly I have never met or read about these so-called get rich quick writers. Ever heard the phrase “starving writer”? That is more likely than a rich writer happening overnight – to think of it, I started off on the ramen noodle budget diet. You would be surprised what you can do with those noodles and for $0.80 a pop, it is what most writers live off of.

Even famous writers like Stephan King and Michael Crichton had to put in their long hours – and they still put in their long hours today. Too many newbie writers jump into freelance writing and think they are just going to get rich and never work and these are the people that never make it.

Get to Work and Keep Working!
After 10 years of freelance writing I still work long hours. Some days I will work 5am to 7pm, while other days I work three hours. Why? Because I’m a freelancer. Work is never scheduled, never the same and it is always sporadic. You take the work when you get it because tomorrow you might have none. If you waltz into freelance writing thinking you will work when you want and have a scheduled number of hours, you might as well fill up your resume and get a real job. Freelance writing means long hours and never the same schedule. Ask any freelancer and they can tell you that.

Setting Your Own Hours by the Job Not Your Life
You should set your own hours, but by that I mean set up some working hours, but have them flexible. Example? I set myself up from 8am to 3pm for one of my clients. However I have to be flexible depending on the client I get.  Two weeks ago I had a client from China. We certainly do not share the same work hours. To meet with him I had to get on Skype by 4am my time. Did that mean I woke up at 3:55am and dragged myself in robe and no makeup to my computer to chat with my client via video chat? If I had, I doubt I would have been working for them.

Instead, I woke up at 3:00am, hopped in the shower, ate and even drank a cup of coffee all before heading to the computer. I was awake, fresh and clean for my client and more importantly I was alert and professional.

Think of the Competition
I cannot tell you how many writers I have met who are lazy and just figure they will find work later. These are the people that you see at Costco working part-time because their freelance writing career has got them nowhere. I have never taken a side job in my 10 years of freelance writing. Why? Because I know the competition and I strive to beat them every time.

Who are your competitors? Aside from the hundreds of thousands of so-called “freelance writers” in the United States, you are also competing against writers in China, India and other countries – all of which have impeccable work ethic in comparison to U.S. writers.  U.S. writers, in all honesty, are lazy. Deadlines mean nothing to them, they work slow and they don’t know the meaning of hard work. Writers in other countries are willing to do twice as much, twice as fast and for half the pay of U.S. writers. More clients are opting for non-U.S. writers simply because they know they will get their work on time, in bulk and for half the price. Can you blame them?

Start thinking in terms of competition. There are perhaps a few thousand jobs per month available and usually several hundred writers that apply for the same exact position. If you have history of missing deadlines, poor work quality or inability to comprehend simple instructions, you will not make the cut. Your portfolio, client referrals and feedback have to be extraordinary. You have to stand out in a crowd of perhaps 50 to over 100 other applicants. That’s not easy to do – no matter how great of a writer you are.

You Want to be a Writer – So What?
Telling someone you want to be a writer, whether it is a publisher, editor at a newspaper or some random employer looking for some articles, means nothing. I once told an editor I wanted to be a writer. His response?

“So why are you standing here telling me that? Go write something”.

He had a point.

Saying you want to be a writer means nothing to anyone who wants to hire you. You have to write, prove you can write and more so prove you want to be a writer. Standing around saying it doesn’t mean anything. Those that really want to be writers get up, write, get the job done and do what it takes to become a writer. Weird how that works out right?

What is Writing Really Like?
I get a lot of questions from people asking what it is like to be a writer. I tell them it’s a lot of work. You have to read, research and be up-to-date on just about everything. You have to be crafty and witty and take a boring topic and make it interesting  -- not something everyone can do, even real writers. If I can give one bit of advice to those who want to break into freelance writing, here it is:

·         Never be late with your work. It shows you are lazy and undedicated to being a writer.
·         Never be selfish with your work hours. If you want to survive and make a living, you better learn to fashion your hours around that of people hiring you.
·         You want to write? Then quit reading this, quit telling people what you want and sit down and do it.

Freelance writing is a harsh, highly competitive and grueling industry. You will be given horrible feedback, yelled at, and scrounging for work some days. If you love to write and really want to be a writer, however, you will make the most of what you have and you will find just how easy it is to actually break into the industry.

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