If you read the first entry in Blogger Bootcamp and you’re still interested in becoming a freelance writer, well, I feel sorry for you. But, since you’re still here, it behooves me to give you some helpful tips on how to land your first, (probably) low-paying gig.
Get a Blog
You’re much more likely to get a writing gig if you can prove that you’re capable of stringing letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into Buzzfeed Top 10 lists.
So, whether on your own blog, or a popular venue like Medium, write different types of articles to show you’re versatile and up on current trends. For example:
- Review the last movie you saw
- Download a new app and provide a breakdown of its features
- Download a press release from your favorite company, summarize it, but also provide some commentary to make it a little more interesting
- Come up with a couple of Top 10 lists, because you know you’re going to have to write one at some point in this clickbait online world
Think pieces are really big right now, so it might not hurt to find some random topic – the lack of diversity in the Marvel movies, why Doctor Who has endured all these years, why Hannibal is the best show on TV that no one’s watching (seriously, people, get on that) – and get up on your soap box for a little while. If you find you’re really excited about one type of writing, feel free to add more examples of that style. You’re here to showcase your strengths, so there’s nothing wrong with tipping the scales in that direction.
Finally, find a topic you’re passionate about, but which requires you to do some research, and write a 1,500-word feature article. This is a great way to show that you can gather resources, organize them, and make something out of that jumble of information.
If you want to go the extra mile (plus make sure this whole writing thing is really something you want to do), research and write 1,500 words about a subject you couldn’t care less about. Because, unfortunately, writing for the web isn’t always about expressing your innermost feelings; sometimes you have to write just to get paid.
After a few weeks of hard work, you’ll have a nice portfolio to show a prospective editor. And if all of that sounds like a drag, you’re probably going to hate being a writer – so maybe just stick to reblogging stuff on Tumblr instead.
Get a Gig
With a portfolio finished, now it’s time to decide what unwitting website is going to be lucky enough to have you – this raw, untapped talent – added to their staff.
Come up with a list of the websites you’d most like to write for. While it’s probably not a bad idea to start small, feel free to add a few pipedream sites to the list. You have to have something to shoot for, right? But be aware, your feature article, “10 Ways Your Life is Like Sir Nigel Archibald Thornberry’s”, while surely a groundbreaking piece of online journalism, well… Chances are the New York Times isn’t going to hire you right away. (HuffPost, maybe.)
Smaller websites are usually run by one or two people, so the more content they can provide that they don’t have to write themselves, the better. They’ll be more likely to give a beginner a chance than one of the big boys will.
Now it’s time for some good ol’ online stalking. Start following your favorite sites on Twitter. It might not be a bad idea to set up a Twitter list of your sites so they don’t get lost in your feed. That way, you can respond to them and retweet them when appropriate (don’t be a creeper).
Go to those sites and post thoughtful, non-trolling comments, preferably with the same name as your Twitter account if possible. Be a good, supportive fan of what they’re doing. On a small site, they notice these kinds of things, which is a good foot in the door.
Next, find the submission guidelines, usually in their FAQ, and follow the instructions. If they don’t have submission guidelines posted, send an email to the editor. In your email, let them know how much you like the site, that you enjoy the writing, that you find it a welcoming place to comment. It might not hurt to call out a recent article you genuinely enjoyed – this is where being an active member of the site comes in handy. Then, politely ask if they’re accepting submissions. Don’t send your entire resume, but a link to your portfolio isn’t out of line.
Get Thick Skin
Chances are you’re going to get a few rejections during this process. That’s assuming you even get an email response.
Pro Tip: Always interact with editors in a professional manner, even if it’s just a small mom-and-pop website, and especially if they turn down your inquiry. Don’t go off insisting they wouldn’t know raw, untapped talent if it drove a bus over them. It could be that they’re just not looking for new writers at the moment; not that they thought you were a no-talent hack. Maybe if a new position opens up, they’ll get in touch and give you a shot.
More importantly, though, you never know who knows who in this crazy mixed-up world of online socializing. The editor of a major site may be online friends with the editor of the mom-and-pop site. And if you’re a dick to one, there’s a good chance the other is going to hear about it. Don’t burn bridges you’ve never even crossed.
If an editor asks you to jump through a few hoops, don’t take offense. They might ask you to rewrite an existing piece. They might ask for a few story pitches. They might tell you to write a review. They might even give you a deadline for when they want this assignment to be finished. Yes, they’re testing you, so don’t screw it up. And even if you jump through a couple of hoops, there’s still a chance they’re going to say no. That’s the nature of the business and you have to learn to take it in stride. Besides, all the work you generated jumping through hoops can be added to your portfolio, so it’s not a waste of time.
Assuming you have any talent at all, eventually you’re going to find a site that will take a chance on a newbie like you. It may take time, patience, and a thick skin, but if it’s something you really want to do, there are enough websites out there today that you will find a gig.
Unfortunately, I can’t teach you how to write. I can’t teach you how to organize your time to make sure you meet deadlines. I can’t teach you how to come up with story pitches. And I can’t teach you how to “punch up” your writing, whatever the hell that means.
But the longer you write, the better you’re going to get at all of these things.
We’ve covered the basics on how to land a writing gig, so in the next installment of Blogger Bootcamp, we’ll discuss where to go from there. We’ll cover a variety of topics, like marketing yourself, how to handle success (and failure), and how to move up to the next level.