Starting a freelance writing career can be challenging. Creative careers often attract individuals fueled by passion, without the business acumen to sustain their efforts. Learning how to attract and retain clients, while remaining fulfilled by your work, is a delicate balance that can be achieved by avoiding these common beginner mistakes.
1. Focusing Too Narrowly, Too Soon
You will often hear that the only way to succeed in writing is to pick a niche because the market is so saturated with talent that you must differentiate yourself. The problem with choosing a niche too early is that you risk choosing the wrong one. Over time, your writing interests may change and writing about topics that no longer interest you can easily cause burnout. It is also a tedious process to rebrand your business after deciding to move in a different direction. Narrow your focus after you have taken time to learn about the business of freelance writing and the available writer’s markets.
2. Refusing To Learn New Skills
There are writers who craft stories. Then, there are writers who craft stories, source images for stories, edit the images, publish the stories on a website, compile the stories into an eBook – you get the picture. It takes more than writing talent to succeed as a freelance writer. If you are unwilling to learn new skills, your future opportunities will be limited. Review the submission guidelines for each publication that interests you. Are the contributors required to know AP Style, or submit photos? Do the contributors upload their submissions directly into a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress for the editor? Identify and learn the skills you need in order to meet the basic qualifications.
3. Projecting An Unprofessional Image
The freelance writer’s market is wide open. Many writers will submit articles to any publication that interests them Ò despite the pay. As a new writer, your work may appear alongside the work of writers with extensive bios and impressive portfolios. This makes it even more important for you to exhibit professionalism from the beginning. If they feel you can deliver, an editor will hire you whether you have 1 article published or 100. But, if you do not have a professional e-mail address, website (or webpage), and a winning query letter, it will be harder for you to get your foot in the door.
4. Guarding Your Best Stories
One afternoon, I listened to an aspiring writer describe a fascinating encounter with a famous author. A chance meeting after a book signing gave her the opportunity to soak up some invaluable writing advice over a cup of coffee. “Well, there’s a story you should put on paper and sell!” I cheered.
“That was a private moment, not for sale to the public, “she replied.
Yet, I knew she was unemployed and financially strapped. What stories are you holding on to? Writers find inspiration everywhere, but some of the most intriguing and heartfelt stories are ripped right from the pages of our own lives. You can find a market for them.
5. Wasting Time On The Wrong Opportunities
You were lured into writing for a content mill, or a publication that pays low rates, and you have to write a lot to meet your minimum income goals. You accepted a time-consuming project that paid a lump sum upfront, but now realize the fee was inadequate. Your client pays well, but the work is uninteresting and leaves you with no time to pursue more exciting opportunities.
These three scenarios could leave you feeling undervalued and unmotivated. Determining the right opportunity is more than just a question of pay. Will it inspire you? Will it help your career? Will it give you valuable experience? These are the questions that will help you decide whether the assignment is right for you.
6. Failing To Network
Writing is a solo activity that involves other people. We have to write with our readers in mind and our work will never reach the public unless we reach out to others. Fortunately, reaching readers, publications, literary agents and fellow writers has never been easier. They are now just a tweet or e-mail away. Network with experienced writers who have beneficial information to share. Joining a virtual writing group can help you avoid bad clients, find writing opportunities, learn about business and provide emotional support.
Writing is an activity you love, but freelance writing is a business. Avoiding early errors can help start you on the path to freelance writing success.
Shanon Lee is a contributing author for DivorcedMoms.com and xoJane. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and many other digital publications.
- Signs of bad freelance writing jobs (writemoneyinc.com)