Complacency is rarely an option for a freelance writer. Magazines fold, smaller book publishers get swallowed up by larger publishing houses and websites run short of cash. Therefore, even with nearly 50 published non-fiction books and plenty of web content to my credit, I still find that it never hurts to pick up additional small writing assignments and, more importantly, make new contacts. With that in mind, every few months I peruse the freelance assignments on the job postings boards. Ironically, while the names and faces in the publishing business change very often, the tone and general approach of the freelance writing job sites remains the same.
Many websites and newsletters, such as this one, as well as Sun Oasis and Online-Writing Jobs.com post a variety of jobs from other sources, providing an assortment of possibilities. Sites such as Media Bistro and Journalism Jobs continue to be among the most reputable choices if you are looking for full time work, and they typically have some freelance options as well. Both sites deal with the higher end of the business and usually post only legitimate paying opportunities.
Another good option is to try joining one of the writing associations, such as the American Society of Journalists & Authors (ASJA) or the Writer’s Guild. If you are accepted, you’ll find quality postings from paying sources, typically for short term projects.
On the flip side, there are also plenty of places looking to take advantage of writers or simply sucker you into a “get rich quick” scheme. The once popular late night TV shysters, with their “buy real estate at no money down” gimmicks, are now more content sitting at home hooking in unsuspecting souls through the Internet. A blogger names Chris will tell you how much money he’s making as a freelancer and you can pay to learn his secret to making money, which is essentially getting people to pay to learn his secret to making money.
Other get rich quick schemers will fill up a page with testimonials from those who have made a fortune through their amazing money-making strategies. What you don’t know is that for each testimonial are may be several hundred people who got nowhere with the same “foolproof” methodology. In short, nobody can show you a foolproof scheme for making a fortune as a freelance writer, so don’t get suckered in. Hard work rarely has any short cuts.
There are also a host of bidding sites, such as Elance, among others. The sites post jobs and you can bid on them. Inevitably, someone will underbid significantly and get the job. Therefore, if you want to work for far less than you deserve, this is the place to go. You’ll get arguments from bidding site regulars that it’s a great place to find work. Of course, defining “work” for most people means fair compensation. Sweat shops are also great places to find work, but would you really want to apply?
In other cases, you need to simply look at the postings carefully. Is it from a company or an individual? Companies tend to have websites and reputations to uphold, while individuals are frequently looking for something for nothing, especially those starting up new websites or “zines,” or looking for help writing the next “best seller” or “blockbuster” film script. Proceed with caution and always get money up front if you work with anyone other than a well-known company. Also, make sure magazines have clear writer’s guidelines and contracts before simply agreeing to write an article.
Postings that make no reference to compensation are simply not worth your time. If the poster hasn’t even thought about paying for the work, he or she should not be posting in the first place. Postings that ask for anything more than a resume and samples are also not worth your time. “Send me three ideas” is another way of saying “do my job for me but do it for free.” Unless the job is for a highly reputable company (i.e. Disney or Scholastic), do nothing on spec for a poster. Even when sending clips, make it clear that they are sample clips and not for reposting. Reposting a writer’s samples is not uncommon among the web shysters.
And finally, there’s CraigsList. Almost every freelance writing site today links to some of the CraigsList entries. There is nothing inherently wrong with CraigsList, and to their credit they are taking down more flagged postings than in the past. The problem, however, is weeding through the mulch to find a gold nugget. Since anyone can post, you’ll find jobs ranging from a full time editorial position at Reader’s Digest to a kid who needs help with a homework assignment. You’ll also find posters looking for something for nothing. “Writers are unpaid for a trial period, after which writers receive payment on an article-by-article basis…” comes from a CraigsList posting. The key to CraigsList is to approach with your own set of strict posting criteria.
In the end, you can find freelance work on the web. Unfortunately, the number of quality postings does not match the number of quality freelancers looking for work. With that in mind, you should always keep networking by building new contacts through current ones and seeking out people you would like to meet at magazines or publishing houses. Be proactive and use the freelance boards as your backup source.
Rich Mintzer is an author, journalist and web content writer living in Mount Kisco, New York. It’s just 40 minutes north of the city, but way more trees!