Probably the best way to start selling articles is to spend 90% of your time preparing (sharpening your ax, as Abe Lincoln would say).
These tips for new freelance writers range from preparation to execution, and are inspired by a reader’s question…
“How would you recommend a newbie to start earning money from writing?” asks Jack on Job Security for Freelance Writers – Tips for a Steady Income. “Where to look for good writing opportunities? My interests are in health, fitness, finance, investment. Currently unemployed, I’m looking to writing full-time.”
You need to treat freelance writing like a business – because it is now your latest, greatest startup! How do entrepreneurs learn how to run a business? They do research. They read. They study successful professionals. They find role models and mentors.
And they keep pitching editors, no matter how many rejections they get.
AND, they keep investing in their writing careers and themselves as freelancers! I’ve read dozens of books on freelance writing; one of my favorites is Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More.
I also really, really like The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success.
Finally, here are a few tips for new freelancer writers…
Best Ways for New Freelance Writers to Start Selling Articles
I think the biggest, most important tip for freelance writers (besides being a good writer) is to find fresh, unique, interesting slants on topics. Magazine editors crave interesting new spins on subjects that have been done to death.
The good news is that once you train your brain to think in fresh, unique, interesting ways, the ideas will come easy. The bad news is that it takes time to learn this skill! Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert…so be prepared to put your time in, fellow scribes.
Think like an editor, not a writer
I learned almost as much by hiring writers for Quips and Tips than I did as an actual freelance writer! In How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish, I describe what I learned as an editor.
Finding fresh, unique article ideas is huge. My favorite quip is that “editors and readers want the same, yet different.” Remember that even though you haven’t written an article on “The Best Ways for New Freelancers to Start Selling Articles”, doesn’t mean the editors of Writer’s Digest haven’t seen the pitch a dozen times a day!
You need to do a lot of groundwork before you pitch a magazine editor an article idea.
Remember that it takes time to build a successful freelance writing career
My first nine months as a freelance writer, I surprised myself by making over $30,000 working part-time. I thought it would be super duper difficult to make money writing, but it wasn’t. If you have unique ideas and strong writing skills, you can easily earning a living as a writer.
That said, however, I now see how important it is to build a solid reputation as a strong, professional freelance writer, to build and nurture relationships with editors, and to learn how the “writing for money” world works. I’ve switched over into blogging for myself full-time because I like it better – and I still get job offers and magazine assignments from editors. The difference is now I don’t chase them.
One of the most “boring but best” ways to start selling articles
Know how to pitch query letters to editors. Of the hundreds of query letters I received from writers, only a few were outstandingly well-written and interesting. Most (about 60%) were fine; 30% were poorly written and grammatically shameful – they begged to be immediately deleted. I acquiesced.
In How to Pitch a Query Letter to Magazine Editors, Sharon Hurley Hall shares some of her best ways to start selling articles.
Before you write or even think about your pitch, make sure you know what type of article you want to write! I’ve pitched feature length articles that were accepted as “front of the book” pieces, and research shorts that turned into round up articles. Read 11 Types of Magazine Articles to Write for ideas.
Show you have access to sources
Here’s a “best practice” tip from my favorite editor at Reader’s Digest. Actually, it’s more of a pitching tip:
“Editors look to see that writers have access to sources – ones that are willing to talk,” she said. “Which usually means you have to talk to a few people up front to get enough info to structure your pitch and make sure your article will work the way you’re presenting it.”
To see what she means, check out this example of a successful query letter to Reader’s Digest.
Embrace editorial input
Do you feel angry, threatened, or unsettled when your words or sentences are edited by your editor – who is your client? Get over it. I’ve learned that – generally speaking – the more a magazine editor makes me fill the holes she’s poked in my article, the better it gets. The editor’s clarifications, questions, comments, revisions can improve your writing.
What slays me is when I interview an expert or source, and he or she fiddles with my writing style and voice. Grrr!! One of my clients requires my medical articles to be approved by doctors, nurses, or other health practitioners before publishing. I understand and appreciate this, but it can send my blood pressure skyrocketing.
To learn more, read 6 Tips for Writing Articles That Editors Will Buy and Publish.
If you don’t know where to sell your articles, read How to Find Online Writing Markets and Write for the Web.
What are your best ways for new freelance writers to find gigs? Got questions? Comments welcome below…