There are plenty of ways to screw up in the early stages of your freelance writing career. The first way to do it is to give up and stop writing. A good 50% of your competition will give up and go away long before they make it to the freelancer’s dilemma of when to quit the day job.
In my mind, that’s mistake number one, but for those wise enough not to make THAT mistake there are plenty of others to trip you up. Here is a little list of the all-time worst mistakes you can make when actually going after those freelance jobs. If you’re like most writers, you’ve already made at least one of these mistakes starting out, but you can use this list to remind yourself NOT to do these things again—and often these lists inspire you to make lists of your own you can use to further push you in the right direction. Don’t wallow in self-pity if you make these mistakes, just grit your teeth and resolve to do better next time…
Brace yourself for some real doozies here, this is the real deal.
5. Poorly spelled e-mails to the editor are the mark of a rank amateur. I recently got an e-mail with the word “future” misspelled in the subject line and more cringe-making spelling goofs in the body. There’s no way I’d hire someone who wasn’t savvy enough to check over their e-mail to an editor for blatant errors. This e-mail (which I won’t reproduce here to spare the poor young thing who dashed it off, presumably after a six-pack so atrocious was the missive) should have been carefully checked over for ANYTHING that might put a prospective employer off. One shot is all you got….
4. Padding out your thin writer’s resume with content writing disguised as published clips. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: BAD WRITER! NO! NO! NO! Go sit in the corner. Editors don’t respect your Associated Content clips or your Hub Pages stuff. They know there is no editorial review of this content. People who DO click on these writing samples wind up doing it for laughs. Sorry, folks, but if you want to write for REAL money–$100 per published piece and beyond, Associated Content and Hub Pages won’t cut it. You’d be better off writing a few things for free and using THOSE clips to represent your work.
3. Submitting inappropriate clips. Writers, if you are trying to get an editor to hire you for non-fiction work, DO NOT SUBMIT FICTION CLIPS. We don’t care about your prose. Really. Also, those snarky and irreverent articles you wrote for the college newspaper? Don’t even try that crap unless the gig you are applying for wants the EXACT SAME THING.
2. Don’t tell the editor what you want, tell the editor what you can do. Which sounds better to you? “I would love to write for XZY Publications, Inc.” or “I can submit five articles per week on the topic of XYZ as described in your ad.” Let the editor know you have open availability without TELLING them you have open availability. Remember, in the writing game perception is more important than reality. If you tell any editor you can work any time and anywhere, it may appear you spend more time WISHING you were employed as a writer than actually writing. Don’t allow yourself to miss a perfectly legit shot at regular money by conveying the wrong message. Your editor should believe you are busy but able to make time just for them. You should not LIE to your editors, just convey the impression of someone serious about their work.
1. Never admit you don’t have much experience. Never let on that you aren’t an expert in anything–unless that specific expertise is a condition of employment. You can always FIND an expert and interview them, then relate the facts as a result of your interview. Make sure you ARE an expert by the end of the assignment, though. You will need to answer serious questions about your topic, and intelligently too!