Many college students dream of a career in free-lance writing; few realize that they can go a good way towards establishing themselves in the field before they even earn their diplomas. This article will give tips on how to begin earning money as a free-lancer while you are still in college.
Firstly you should realize that the internet is an excellent tool for launching a free-lance writing career. About 80% of all magazine editors expect and indeed like to receive e-mail queries. There also are innumerable web sites with a need for fresh content. Whether you have your own computer or use those in your college’s library, it is a good idea to have a dedicated e-mail address to be used only for activities associated with your free-lance writing. Signing up for a PayPal or some similar online account, which you can then link to your bank account, will make it easy for you to receive payments online.
It is important to understand that you can have multiple writing personalities. Your ultimate goal might be to pen the Great American Novel or win an Oscar for your screenplay; a book or movie review published on a web site is a modest but positive move towards that goal. If you have written a series of articles on dog-training, there’s no reason you can’t write another series on the care of pet lizards or even on the history of the cuckoo clock. A basic ability to string a sentence combined with a facility for research goes at least as far as any specialized knowledge in getting you paying article assignments. You really can write separately but equally well on Mozart, Snoop Doggy Dog, motor oil and travel to the Yucatan peninsula.
Be creative about thinking of topics for your articles as well as markets to which you could sell them. If you left a small town to attend a big city school, approach your home-town magazines and newspapers regarding stories about your experiences at school. If you stayed in your hometown to attend college, approach your local, professional publications to see if they might like you as their on-campus reporter.
Remember that it is generally better to first query an editor apropos of an article idea than it is to write the article and send it in. Why? All magazines and newspapers have an individual character. Each features a writing style, tone and slant particular to it. If in your query letter you demonstrate to the editor that you have comprehended the style, tone and slant of his publication, and also demonstrate that you will be able to write your proposed article in accordance with those factors, you will greatly increase the likelihood of your idea being accepted. By writing an article first and then sending it to many publications, you risk producing an article whose topic is interesting to all but appropriately-written for none.
Hundreds upon hundreds of magazines are aimed at the 18 to 21-year-old demographic and they are constantly in need of material from people like you. Decide which of those college-age publications you would like to write for. Your first step in deciding whether to approach a magazine should be to determine if they work with free-lancers. You might consult the publication’s web site to see if they offer writers guidelines or give some other indication that they do indeed work with free-lancers. You might also call the publication’s editorial desk and simply ask “Do you work with free-lance writers?” Don’t be shy about talking with the person on the other end of the phone. Though you might sometimes get them at a busy moment when they can only answer yes or no and then hang up, you just might get them at a moment when they were thinking “Gee, I could really use a fresh new voice or two.”
After you have determined that a magazine does work with free-lancers, study several of its recent issues. From your close readings of those issues of the magazine, imagine who its typical readers are and remember that you must write for those typical readers.
Generally, it is easier to break into a magazine by writing Front of Book (FOB) pieces. FOB pieces are shorter articles presenting readers with items of interest. As the style, tone and slant of a magazine’s FOB pieces are as individual as those of its feature articles, be sure to have understood what the magazine’s FOB style, tone and slant are. Know that it is entirely normal and expected for free-lancers to send magazine editors a single query with ideas for four or five FOB pieces. You might get an editor who wants you to do all five pieces, or you might get one who wants only one of your ideas. Because editors who have been satisfied with several of your FOB pieces will be more likely to go on to assign you medium and then full-length pieces, and even regular monthly columns, even if you must send out 50 FOB queries to get a single yes, doing so can give a jumpstart to your career as a free-lance writer.
Never underestimate the value of the internet as a free-lance career-building tool. Doing a Google search for a phrase such as “articles needed” can produce thousands of market openings for you. Craigslist.org has writing categories in both its jobs and gigs classifications. Because Craigslist is well-established in hundreds of cities, you literally could wind up working from where you are in California, Texas or New York for an editor in Sydney, Australia.
As with any profession, free-lance writing is multi-faceted and inexhaustible. You will never reach a point where there is no tip from which you could benefit. Read good books on how to free-lance. Join online newsletters for free-lance writers. Talk with other free-lancers about how they have landed assignments.
Making a steady, regular effort to establish yourself as a free-lancer will go a great distance towards ensuring your success in the field. If this is a career you want with all your heart, then vow that you will spend a certain amount of time on it every single day. No doubt about it, college courses are demanding. But if you work steadily on your class requirements, as opposed to pulling all-nighters right before projects are due, you should have an hour or two every day to devote to the development of your free-lance career, with time left over for a social life to boot!
If in your freshman year you succeed in publishing ten articles on web sites and one in a print venue, it is not at all unrealistic to think that by the middle of your senior year you will have managed to publish 15 features at $2,000 each, 100 FOB pieces at $250 each and 200 web articles at between $10 and $200 each. With all of that work to your credit you will have a good foundation for becoming a staff writer on a magazine or newspaper or just striking out on your own as a full-time free-lancer.