Becoming a Freelance Writer, Part II

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Yesterday I wrote about leaving teaching to pursue freelance writing. When I started three years ago, my goal was to be a well-paid freelance writer for national magazines. Eventually, I focused on my area of expertise, education and learning.

Today I want to share with you the basics of freelance writing, what the pay is like, why it’s important to focus on your expertise, plus a fun photoshoot for Parenting Magazine.

Think Strategically! Freelancing is a Business

1. Get published — this is called a clip

This was my first goal so I wrote a few essays that were published in my church magazine. I used those to land my next articles.

I thought of the most famous person I knew –Steve Hess, the Denver Nuggets strength coach — and pitched a local sports magazine my idea of “a day in the life” piece about him. The magazine loved the idea despite my lack of writing cred. (And sports knowledge —shhh.) That article gave me my first real clip!

2. Pitching and face time 

Now that I had one clip, I pitched and pitched the local parenting magazine. I ask everyone I knew if anyone knew the editor and made no headway because the editor never responded to any of my pitches.

A well-crafted pitch takes me hours to research and write. You can visit Women on Writing to read more about writing a magazine query letter.

After months of emailing the editor of Colorado Parent with no response, a friend from Ladies Who Launch told me that the editor would be at her baby products expo. I met (stalked?) the editor in person and a week later got an assignment — and many more in the future. It taught me the importance of face time.

3. Payment…isn’t great

A local magazine like Colorado Parent or Colorado Expression pays about $150 for one article, an article that might take 20 hours to research, and at least eight hours to write and revise. (Long for me because I was so new to this type of writing.) Now that I have quite a few published articles, I only take articles if it’s strategically beneficial (like it’s a feature or it’s a person I want to meet) or just because the topic is interesting to me.

A national magazine pays between $1 – $2 a word which is much better than local.

A blog post can vary widely. I know some writers write for pennies. I won’t. I would say to expect around $100 – $500 per post depending on your experience. (If you’re thinking about freelance blogging, please don’t do it for $15 / a post. You’re really not helping our profession or yourself!!)

4. Focusing is really important

I started out writing about a basketball coach. But, I didn’t know a thing about basketball. What I did knew was learning and education. It took me a bit of time to get myself in the right direction but once I did, focus on my expertise made writing much easier. You can’t do everything well – and frankly, who has the time to research about new things for every article?! Focusing is the key.

4. Breaking into national magazines

I wrote an article for Parenting magazine this winter that ended up getting killed before publication — so sad. However, before I knew of its death, I needed a full-body photograph with a white background. So Parenting hired a Denver photographer to shoot me, my friend, Issac Hinds.

And, since I’m not the most stylish girl around town, I hired my friend, Tina Gill with Worthwhile Style, to help me pick out an outfit. Tina is the nicest, down-to-earth person and isn’t she super cute? We met through Ladies Who Launch.

We met at Nordstroms (my choice) where she’d pulled outfits for me to try on. Here we are in the dressing room.

It was so fun! It only took a few minutes before I found two outfits that looked great. I bought them both just in case.

The day of the photoshoot, I hired another friend from Ladies Who Launch, Sameera Ahmed, to do my makeup before the shoot. Tina talked me into it and I’m glad! Here Sameera is fixing my hair.

Photographer, Issac Hinds, took my pictures and sent them to Parenting magazine.

And, then, my article died . . .

. . . to make room for more necessary parenting information.

But, a big consolation was that I did still make it into a magazine . . . January 2011, Entrepreneur! Trep of the Month thanks to Isaac.

Now for fame and riches?

Not quite but as Pete the Cat says, “It’s all good.” It’s all forward momentum in the right direction.

So now, I’m thrilled to be a regular blogger for, and other blogging clients. Now I can pitch or take assignments here and there when I have time.

I know many of you are writers, too. Are you considering freelancing?


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  1. This is a wonderfully helpful post, Melissa. It’s open and honest. And, while casting a glow on all your determination and never-give-up-ness (keep going!)—it’s encouraging others to do the same. Your photo shoot photos are beautiful.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. To just follow your blog, it seems like these opportunities fell out of the sky and it’s valuable to know how much tenacity it took to land these gigs.

    I liked the stalking story — sometimes you gotta do that. A salesman I interviewed once told me that he rode the elevator in a building for 6 hours waiting to run into the person he wanted to meet. It worked for him; he landed the big account.