Call it the fear factor.
When it comes to breaking into new markets, freelancers fear writing queries that are too long, or too short. They fear not hearing back from an editor – or hearing back too quickly (because it means they’re not interested). They fear charging too much, or too little. They fear never making it into their dream publications. They fear all the good assignments are going to better qualified writers.
That’s a lot of worry to dig yourself out of. But it’s possible, especially if you do your homework, network even when you’re not looking for work, and
During the November #wclw writer chat, we talked about writers’ fears and concerns over breaking into new markets.
Here are some of the questions and solutions that were brought up during the chat:
1. Conquer your fears. Freelancers say the fear factor is their #1 concern when approaching a new publication or other potential client. “I get paralyzed by thinking query has to be perfect,” says Louise, an Encinitas, Calif., freelancer. “Also I never know how much research to do in advance.” Instead of shooting for perfection, go for “good enough.”
Freelancer tip: If an editor is interested, they’ll respond – if you explain why an assignment fits their publication and why you’re the writer to do it, and back that up with proof that you can. It might not happen immediately, especially if editors are busy or publications aren’t buying at that very moment, but a smart editors know good writers when they see them.
2. When it comes to queries, longer doesn’t equal better. Nancy Goll, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., freelancer who writes and edits for corporate and legal clients and consumer media, says her biggest concern is “not being sure how long the query should be.”
Freelancer tip: Many editors say keep it to one page, or the equivalent of a one-screen email. Use one paragraph to pitch the idea, the second to explain how you’d research the story, and a third to explain why you should be the one to write it. Personally, when I’m in editor mode, I prefer a one-paragraph pitch – that way I can quickly determine if it’s not a good fit or the publication has already done something similar and communicate as much to the writer and neither one of us has wasted much time.
3. Research prices in advance. “Pricing/bidding rates seem to be all over the place these days and I never know if I’m under, over or right- pricing myself ,” says Mena Grazie, a travel and events writer. She’s right. The advent of blogs and online-only news sites have seen per-word rates tumble for some types of freelance work, while other fees have held steady and entirely new forms of work have emerged – can you say social-media specialist?
Freelancer tip: If you’re going after a specific type of work, whether it’s writing for a regional parenting publication, trade magazine, online news site or advertising copywriting, do some homework on going rates. Organizations such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and FreelanceSuccess maintain pay scale databases. Or ask your freelance friends if they’d share pay ranges for the type of work they do. A copywriter I met through the 2011 WordCount blogathon was up for a website editing gig and because she knew I’d done similar work asked for my input on rates. I took her question to a v.p. of publishing at a major content marketing company, who gave me some great insights that I passed on to my blogathon friend. Remember: you’re not in this alone.
4. Follow up – to a point. If you don’t hear back on a query right away, don’t fret. It doesn’t automatically mean it’s not good, or a good fit. The editor might be on assignment (because these days lots of editors write too), on deadline, or on vacation.
Freelancer tip: If a few weeks pass, follow up by email or text to see what’s happening. If that doesn’t work, follow up again – and explain that if you don’t hear anything you’ll be reaching out to other publications. IMHO, it doesn’t work to follow up by phone unless an editor specifically tells you that’s OK; otherwise, you could come off as pushy.
5. Network. Like the best jobs, some of the best assignments go to writers an editor already knows. Make yourself one of those people.
Freelancer tip: Use social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with editors you’ve worked with in the past, and writers too, since many writers end up working as editors. Connect with everyone, even if they’re not in a position to give you work – you never know who’s on the verge of getting a new job that will have them making freelance assignments. Be sincere: even online, it’s easy to spot opportunists. Connect with people because you like them. Share things you spot that they’d be interested in. On LinkedIn, MenaGrazie founded a freelance networking group called Informed Ideas for Writers. “It’s one of the better LI groups,” Louise says.
6. Learn from fellow writers. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
Freelancer tip – Get together – virtually on in person – with other writers and share do’s and don’ts. Here’s how writers in the November #wclw chat broke into new markets:
- “Went to a conference where I personally met and chatted with the editor.”
- “Found an ad on Gorkana list and then dumb luck.”
- “Well-researched queries have worked best for me.”
- “ I find quirky things, usually buried in academic journals & pitch those to general interest pubs.”
- “Track who’s going where then pitch an editor in a new job when they’re getting organized & might need new writers.”
What are your secrets for breaking into new markets? Please share by leaving a comment.