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How to become a Freelance Writer

Inspirational independent writer and editor Valerie Coffey (USA) (aided by Stu Noss giving the UK perspective) explains how to become a freelance writer, working for yourself and managing your own destiny.

In part 2 of her ‘How to..’ series, Val explains how to build your image as a  writer and begin to promote your work.

If you’ve not yet read Part 1: The Business of Writing then click here to read it.

Part 2: Building your Image and Promoting your Work

In the modern world image is crucial. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how good your writing is, if you don’t master at least the basics of image and self-promotion then your freelance career is going to go no where fast.

Knowing Thyself

Knowing who you are as a writer is the first crucial step in the journey of building an image. What sort of writer are you? Go on, write it down. What do you want to sell to the world? Because being clear on that is the most important element needed to understand what your image will be. Every genre has its own image profile. For example, have you ever noticed the number of middle aged men who write crime novels and are thus photographed wearing an ill-fitting leather jacket trying to look as tough and moody as their fictional detectives? Or the website of a business writer that has them dressed in a suit, looking professional, probably wearing glasses and holding a pen? The list of examples could go on.

For Stellar Editorial I chose a ‘scientific’ theme with a star field image, a telescope observatory and a generic picture of a computer because those images connect to the fields I work in, namely science and technology. Immediately the first time visitor to my site knows that. It’s instinctive.

The point they make is simple yet extremely powerful; know what market you are pitching at and make sure your image is correct for it. After all would anyone looking for someone to write about business whose image is all about surfing and open necked Hawaiian shirts?

So think it through: what markets are you aiming for and what are the images normally associated with them?

Checking out some examples (or rivals) online always helps. Who is really big in your field? How do they come across?

Build a website

Once you decide to go freelance, you need to market yourself. No one else is going to do it for, not even an agent. In today’s world you the writer have to build that market presence up.

A website is an obvious tool to achieve so many things.

Take a moment to check out this link. Back in 2010/11 the Huffington Post asked its reader which writers had the best websites. The link shows you the seven writers who stood out. Now, you may not have the budget or skills to build the sort of sites they have, but it is worth spending time looking at sites like these and thinking ‘why are they so good’?

Hopefully what you spotted were two fundamental things:

1) They worked visually. Ignore the fancy graphics and expensive web-work and instead think more about how the visuals of the site worked. They weren’t overloaded or too crowded. They were clear and often large, colourful and interesting.

2) The layout was clear and easy to navigate. You can have a lot of content but avoid big clusters of stuff or heavy amounts to text. Keep things organised and as simple as possible.

So it isn’t about money spent on the site, rather how the site works, looks and feels to the user and prospective client. It is after all an extension of you and the place where you  feature your work. A website enhances your professionalism and gives you a link to place in cover emails to prospective clients and employers.

At this juncture you have a choice. A website will give you more flexibility and enable you to collect data about those who view your site. But a quicker and easier way to build a good looking site that provides information is to use a service like WordPress (SolQu Shorts was made using WordPress). As a blogging site with templates you can select a professionally made look and add your own info and work to it easily. Plus it means you can also use your site as a blog to tell the world about what you are up to and working on.

And if you don’t mind your site being called http://www.myname.wordpress.com, then its hosted for free.

But there are real limits to this sort of option. You don’t control how the site works and ultimately how it looks. You also cannot take on external advertising or try and create an online retail space.

The other option is to build a fully fledged website.

You should do a little research on the best choice of a web hosting service to make your website accessible via the Internet. You must choose a web host (i.e., a server) unless you have your own server at home.You may be able to afford  pay a little, but I chose a host that was free; the “cost” is that they place their banner ad across my site. I picked www.GoDaddy.com as the webhost, and picked the domain name of www.stellaredit.com.

The registration of my domain name is the one thing I pay for every year– so that my domain name remains exclusively mine. GoDaddy offers free hosting of my site on their server (although it’s expected to change to a small fee soon; I might be looking for a new, better free host if I feel up to the task of redoing my website).  Things change rapidly, but when I registered and built my website in 2006, paying an annual fee of about $11 included use of a website design-and-maintenance tool called Website Tonight. It was relatively true to its name. Within an evening, I had a pretty cool home page designed that reflected what my business would be about.

With another day or two of work (and a day or two every now and then to build out and update it), and I had a five-page website with a page “About Stellar Editorial,” a page with my “Curriculum Vitae,” and a page with a list of my “Published Samples.”

Over time, I was able to add a Testimonials” page, and in the future will add a page featuring a list of my clients.

My webpage makes me look so successful, that in email correspondence with the Unemployment Office, they asked me about this “Stellar Editorial” that I used in my email signature, as in, “What’s this? Are you hiding employment?” It’s their job to scrutinize my claim. (*Note to self: delete the automated signature when dealing with the state unemployment office!) I had to explain that I wasn’t hiding anything; the website is just a marketing tool to help me find work. When I have part-time work, I report the income to the unemployment office. Mostly, creating this business “shell” is just me trying to look bigger than I am. It works–I look “so” employed that the unemployment office did a double-take.

Get business cards

Business cards! You must be rolling your eyeballs and going ‘that’s sooo 1980’s!’ but hear me out. You’d be amazed how often you meet someone who could help your career along. Perhaps they are looking for someone to update the content of their website. Or maybe they need someone to produce some literature for them. They could even be a big name publisher who is fascinated by the 30 second pitch you gave them.

Then….what next…

Do you scrabble around in your bag looking for a scrap of paper and pen? Or ask if they’d mind you writing your telephone number on their hand.?

If you have nothing to give them, then how will they remember your contact details a day or two later?

Enter the business card, that handy piece of card that has all your contact details on.

Vista Print allowed me to create my own personalized business cards for next to nothing. If you google ‘business cards’ a whole host of sites will come up. Shop around to get the best deal

I ordered 250 free business cards from VistaPrint. I paid $4.95 for shipping, but aside from that, they were free. Everywhere I go, I hand out glossy, color business cards proclaiming Stellar Editorial Services, Professional science writing/editing. I used a picture of a globular cluster and a cool design VistaPrint helped me create. The cards don’t even have a VistaPrint logo on them! One step, and presto-chango–you too, can look very official!

Now you just need a regular stream of work…

 

Fill up that hole in your resume/c.v.

Few people start out as a full-time freelancer. It takes time to build up a client base who will give you regular work and a reputation that will bring new work in. Over the last four years, to help keep afloat during my on-and-off employment, I have been able to do a little contract freelance writing and editing work for various clients. Every job, no matter how small, helps build that resume/c.v.

The resume/c.v. is one of the most crucial pieces of kit the freelancer has. No one, when approaching you for the first time, will offer paid work without seeing your resume/c.v. It’s just not going to happen. And of course, how that resume/c.v. looks is crucially important. What I personally realized early one in my writing career what that, whether or not I actually had contract work, it was very important for my resume to appear as though I’ve never stopped working.

This is my first real piece of knowledge to impart to the ambitious freelancer is – don’t let an “unemployed” hole show in your resume.

People want to see commitment, effort and regular writing. And of course writing regularly, no matter if its paid or not, will help you become a better writer and build up your craft.

So fill that resume/c.v. up with a consulting or contract business, even if its work you have to initially do for free!

 

Reach out

Even if you can get some regular recurring work lined up, contract work is unstable and the pay for writers is still sometimes frustratingly low. Plus it’s difficult to find freelance work or contract work that actually garners a full-time living wage–especially starting out. Lets all be realistic about that.

Networking is crucial (and I will discuss that in more detail in Part 3) and networking with not only those who provide work but also those looking for freelance work is crucial. Many jobs have come my way because fellow freelancer friends have recommended me to employers whose demands they cannot meet (especially if it’s very technical work that needs doing). So be prepared to get out there, make friends and try to influence people.

Unfortunately, making an actual living is critical if you are the head of household, like me, where the bills must be paid from my work alone. My first gig came within weeks of my layoff, when my ex-employer contacted me to finish a book-editing project I’d been scheduled for.

That’s happened several times to me, actually: ex-employers contacted me right after my layoff, hoping I’d finish what I had been working on when I got my pink slip.

If employers, who are forced to conduct layoffs, can get their recently “liberated” employees to complete prior projects as contractors, they get it done a fraction of the expense to the employer. You might be tempted to tell them to take a flying leap off the nearest tall building, but when you’re desperate, that isn’t wise. It’s my policy to never burn any bridges, and take whatever work that comes along, provided the compensation is fair.

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Valerie Coffey is a freelance writer and editor who runs the highly successful specialist ‘Stellar Editorial’.

You can find out more about Stellar Editorial and the services they provide at Stellar Edit

Check out Valeries’ writing blog here to find out more about her amazingly inspirational life story and work.

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Stu Noss is based in the UK and works in the Education Sector.

He also writes part time and runs the specialist publishing company ‘Solqu Creative’.

You can check out his personal blog at the ‘Jardin Soli’

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