New Year’s do-over: Freelancer resolutions you should stick to

You rang in 2013 with writerly enthusiasm and determination. This was going to be the year that you would go after big, bold assignments for top-tier publications. Now that January and February are behind you it’s time to be honest with yourself: you haven’t made much headway. Like quitting smoking or hitting the gym, becoming a better writer better is easier to think about than do. Setting attainable but still-lofty goals is half the battle so we asked several top writers for the New Year’s do-over resolutions all freelancers can, and should, pledge to fulfill by 2014.

 

Resolve to Write Better Pitches

“Freelancers send in pitches that are way too long,” says Seth Stevenson (www.sethstevenson.com), an author and journalist who writes regularly for Slate as well as big-name magazines and newspapers. “Boil your pitch down to two paragraphs that show you understand why that publication’s readers would be interested. Show [the editor] that you could have written 30 pages; show that there is depth behind the pitch. Make the pitch so good that they won’t be able to say no.”

“Study the publications that you want to write for religiously. Read the places that you want to work so that you know the publications better than the editors,” advises veteran freelancer David Hochman (www.davidhochman.com), who has written for Food and Wine, The New York Times and Town and Country, among others. “Surprise editors with pitches that are so on target that they have to accept them.”

“Consider what those ‘top level’ clients need, and demonstrate that you have those skills,” says Kelly James-Enger (dollarsanddeadlines.blogspot.com), author of several books including Ready, Aim, Specialize! and Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success.

 

Resolve to Expand Your Market

“There are a lot of companies that aren’t creating great content that brings people back to their websites or that position them as thought leaders,” freelancer and Forbes contributor Mark Fidelman (blogs.forbes.com/markfidelman) explains. “Approach those companies and ask for positions as bloggers or to write white papers.”

“As a freelancer, you never reach the end. You’re always striving to tackle new markets, new challenges, new ways to make money,” James-Enger says. “A lot of the work I do today is ghostwriting for health, nutrition and fitness experts. I already had experience with publishing books with traditional publishers, but I also did some [print-on-demand] and e-books so I could help clients determine which path might be right for them. Being able to add consulting, not just ghostwriting, to my skills has helped me get higher-paying gigs from clients.”

“There’s not one book contract or one magazine story or one newspaper byline that’s going to make you feel like you’ve arrived, because even after you get those things, you’re on to the next thing and people are saying well, what’s next and you’re only as good as your last byline,” Hochman adds. “So, it’s about setting yourself up with multiple projects that feel like you’re moving forward.”

 

Resolve to Write What (Only) You Know

“Find the one story that only you can tell that that sells on its own merits,” says Hochman.

“Pitch an idea you’re uniquely qualified to write—something you already have some experience or knowledge of,” echoes James-Enger.

“Read and read and read all the time and hunt that great idea. It’s all about that great idea,” says Slate’s Stevenson. “The good news is that if you have a great idea, you can get editors to give you a chance to develop it. Editors are always happy to look at new talent.”

 

Resolve to Improve Your Craft as a Writer

Start a blog or a Tumblr to supplement your pursuit of paid writing assignments. Assemble a catalogue of your best work, and then approach editors with pitch ideas along with links to your online portfolio, Stevenson suggests. “Find publications that will accept your work and make it shine. Really go over the top to make it sparkling and amazing.”

“You have to get really good at writing. You have to get to the point that you create an emotional connection with people,” Fidelman says. “Find engaging writers, then take what matches your style to write your own work.”

“Get off Facebook,” Hochman pleads. “Writer after writer uses it as a time suck. The ‘shifting cost,’ the lag between shifting away from Facebook back to productive work is time lost.”

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About Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson is a freelance writer and research consultant specializing in sustainability, the arts, travel, mental health issues and business. She has been published in Transitions Abroad, Sustainble Cities Collective, JustMeans and tcrBLOG, the online outlet for The Chicago Reporter.

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