Recently, I received a note from an aspiring writer of the 20-something variety. Oddly enough, she was asking for my advice. Having just opened what I assume will be the first of many rejection letters from one of the well-known women’s glossies I’m determined to break into, I was rather taken aback: me? Advice?
“But I don’t have a clue!” I exclaimed (to no one in particular. Even after seven months of serial dating, I’m still single). Sure, I’ve reached the point where my income as a freelancer now requires its very own IRS paperwork and the plastic file folder that serves as my portfolio is getting rather crowded but I’m not exactly contending for the Pulitzer Prize.
At least not yet.
But I have learned a thing or two along the way, and for the sake of all those who’ve given me a hand over the years, I’m going to attempt to follow suit.
And so, the first installment of Freelancing 101:
First and foremost, head over to your local library and take a gander at this year’s Writers Market. I wasn’t kidding when I said Writer’s Market is the freelancer’s Bible; it is. And it will tell you nearly everything you need to know, from how to get started to how to write a query letter. It will even give you the names and email addresses of top magazine editors but be sure to check out their websites before getting in touch. I feel like this should go without saying but contact details do change, and many websites also offer writer’s guidelines so you can stop yourself from screwing up before you’ve even left the gate.
Next, once you’ve had enough of the library’s chatty security guard (who doesn’t seem to understand that libraries are supposed to offer space for silent contemplation), make your way to your local bookshop and place an order for your own copy of Writer’s Market. You could, of course, complete this entire transaction via Amazon but if you want to see your bestseller in a shop window someday, you’d better do your part to make sure that your local bookshop doesn’t go out of business in the meantime.
(I say this, of course, after having just retrieved my latest Amazon purchase from the mail slot. Please do as I say and not as I do.)
Once your Writer’s Market has arrived, grab your highlighters and get to work. Sometimes I start with an idea and then search for the right magazine to publish it but sometimes I do the exact opposite. Either way, you’ll want to begin with the low hanging fruit so you can build your portfolio (ie. those magazines without lots of dollar signs after their Writer’s Market listing). Most editors higher up the food chain will want to see your published clips so if you don’t have any, you’re going to have to start off with a few non-paying or low-paying gigs.
If you’re still in college, this can be as simple as writing for your college paper or alumni magazine. If however, you were too busy pursuing a “sensible” career during your undergraduate days and didn’t decide until after the fact that you wanted to write, you’re going to have to think outside the box. Maybe you can write something for the newsletter of an organization you’re involved with? (Or blackmail the editor of your college’s alumni magazine into publishing your work even though you graduated x years ago and have never once contributed to the alumni fund in all that time?). I’m not sure how to go about blackmailing an editor (or seducing an editor for that matter, though I’m sure the latter of these is probably easier) so you’ll just have to get creative until you get your clips.
Perhaps next Wednesday, if eHarmony continues to bore me (and all would-be readers) to death, I’ll write about what to do once you’ve acquired your clips.
In the meantime, as those of you who saw my last Facebook update now know, something rather exciting has happened. So check back tomorrow for all the details (hint: it’s about dating).