How to break in as a freelance writer, part two

April 29, 2018

Quick FYI: This is a follow-up to my first post about how to break in to freelance writing. You can check out that first post here.


Say you’ve got a great idea for an article or a personal essay, and you’re ready to begin thinking about which publication might want the piece. But you’re also, like, totally uncertain about which publications accept pitches from freelancers and you’re also interested in getting paid for your work (which is a legit thing to want; nobody wants to write for free forever).


No worries. Here are some ways to think about where and whom to send your pitch to, so that you can get on your way to being a widely published writer with a two-book deal and a second home in the south of France and a fascinating, complicated, borderline reprehensible romantic life that makes you the subject of the think-pieces you once wrote. At least that first one, anyway – a widely published writer.


Query your local papers. If you’re just starting out, or if your piece has a particular local flavor, it’s a great idea to first approach your local alt. weekly, your hometown newspaper, or a local/regional magazine. There tends to be less competition at such publications (though not none) and a more receptive attitude toward beginners. The plain truth is, it’s a lot easier to write album reviews or op-eds pieces for local papers than it is to just walk in and do the same at publications with national reach. You’ll also meet great editors, and most of the time you’ll get paid, too. (I swear that freelance rates are virtually the same everywhere, unless you’re writing for a paper of record or the big-time glossy newsstand rags.)


Scroll through Who Pays Writers. The beauty of this site is that it offers a very extensive alphabetized list of national and sizable regional publications that – like you’d expect – pay writers for their work. There are hundreds of publications in the database. Even better, people who’ve contributed to these publications list the rates they received and how soon they were paid after their work was published.


Stalk your heroes – who are they writing for? Pitch those publications. I like to listen to podcasts of journalists being interviewed, in part because then I can pseudo-stalk those journalists and look up all their bylines. Once, I got a fairly big new byline myself because, after hearing one journalist get interviewed, I then pitched several of the publications where she’s a regular contributor. I would never have thought to approach these publications on my own – they just weren’t on my radar. So if there’s a writer you admire, search his or her or their name on your Stitcher app, your Podcasts app, what have you. Or simply listen to the back catalogue of Longform podcasts – these are lengthy, detailed interviews with successful, working journalists. You’ll get a sense of how they work, how they land stories and how you might emulate their success.


Breaking in is hard – insert crying emoji here – but not impossible. And of course the only way to get your emails returned is to pitch at all. I hate that fact as much as anyone, but it’s true. (ICYMI, my pitch template is right here.)


Happy freelancing!

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