Being new to the world of freelancing myself, I am always interested to hear about those who are successful and how they do it. At college, I felt the tips for freelancing were very stereotypical and generalised and didn’t give us real-life examples or detailed information about how you should approach publications, and the best ways to get in contact.
Jennifer, a recently-trained NCTJ journalist has had a lot of success in freelancing and gave some great practical tips when I asked her about it…
What publications have you freelanced for?
I have mainly freelanced for North American publications and this includes a Canadian magazine called Briarpatch, an environmental journal called Earth Island Journal and an online magazine called CorpWatch which carries out investigations into companies that have committed wrong-doings. I have also written for a local website in the UK called Hastings Online Times.
How do you approach a publication that you have never written before?
The first thing I do is to look at their website and see if they have any contributor guidelines. Many do and it is very useful as they usually tell you who you need to pitch to and what to include, as this can differ from publication to publication. If they don’t have any guidelines, then I’ll find the email of the relevant editor to send my pitch to. And you should definitely do your homework before pitching to any publication and check what they have and haven’t published recently and how you can pitch your idea so it’s a fit for their publication.
What are your tips to successful freelancing?
Don’t take rejection personally and be persistent and tenacious. Pitch, pitch, and pitch again. Your first, second, or third pitch might not be successful but your fourth might be. For example, I pitched to Briarpatch three times and it was on my third attempt that they chose to commission me. Always chase up your pitches. I usually wait a week or two before sending a polite email asking if they have considered my pitch and if still have heard then I might call then on the phone. And it definitely pays to chase-up. When I first pitched to Earth Island Journal, I hadn’t heard anything from them so after a few weeks I chased them up. It turned out that my pitch had been overlooked and they were in fact interested in the article and I got the commission. It is also important to have a specialism alongside being able to turn your hand to writing articles on a range of topics. My specialism is Latin American, human rights, the environment and I am building up a name in those areas. Also, you should definitely get a blog and a web portfolio with your clippings, contact and information about your work and areas of interest and use social media to network.
It is also important to develop your contacts and sources. I have regular people that I go to for a story and make sure that I am also up-to-date with new developments in my area of specialism.
In the early days, you will be writing articles for free but this leads to paid commission. Firstly, it gets you published and you can start developing your portfolio and getting your name out there. It can also lead directly to paid work and editorial contacts. For example, I sometimes write for a non-profit volunteer led magazine and the editor put me in contact with CorpWatch and I have since had a number of paid commissions with CorpWatch.
What are the downsides?
The work can be very insecure and you’re always working to get that next commission. It is not for people looking for security as there is very little of that. And you will find that at times that you’ll have to do other jobs in order to survive. However, I love the freedom that freelancing allows you, writing about what you want write about. You can generally choose your own hours and you can work in your pyjamas if you want!
How do you approach the subject of getting paid? (Asking if it is paid/asking how much/invoicing them, etc.).
Most publications will state on their website whether or not they pay and if they do pay, how much. And, usually if there is no information about this on their website then they will usually tell you what their rates are if they accept your pitch. Sometimes they might ask how much you want to get paid, in which case I go by the NUJ suggested rates. In terms of payment, I invoice them and they usually have their own forms which they send over and you might have to sign a contract. I have never had a problem with late payments and it has always been pretty straightforward but I understand that if you’re a member of the NUJ, they will chase-up late payments on your behalf. It is well worth joining the NUJ, especially as a freelancer.
How have you broadened the publications you write for, is it by word of mouth?
By getting my name out there and using social media to network. I was recently approached by an editor on Twitter and asked if I wanted to contribute to the site she worked for. Also, you can broaden the publication you write for by pitching far and wide and just trying all kinds of publications. If you have an idea, see how you can repackage that idea for another publication. It’s good if you can recycle your ideas.
What is the best way to pitch and idea, and who to?
I always send an email of about 200 words and I make sure that I write the pitch like a mini-article. You’re trying to sell your idea so the best way to do that is to entice the editor to read more. If it a big name publication, I usually keep it snappier and use bullet points because these editors usually get hundreds of pitches a week. Email pitches are better than phone calls as you can demonstrate your writing skills. Also, because editors are so busy they tend to prefer email pitches, although as I said earlier it might be worth chasing-up with a phone call if you fail to get a response via email. The best person to pitch to is the appropriate editor and if you’re not sure who that is because there is little info on their site you can always call and ask who the best person would be to pitch to.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @springreturning
Read her blog: springreturning.com