It only took me a few years of working on the Market Books series to piece together the secret to freelance writing success. One nice aspect of my job is that I get to witness several first-time and career-long successes. And my secret to freelance success has held up time and time again.
In fact, the publishing/media industry has gone through so many technological changes over the past 13 years (my first work on Writer’s Market was in 2000) from more reliance on e-mail to e-books comprising more than 20% of book sales in 2012. And still, my secret to freelance success continues to hold.
So what is this secret anyway?
It’s actually a four-part secret. Some writers can get by with three parts, but the most successful (who aren’t already famous) would receive an A in all four phases.
Here they are:
- Good writing
- Knowledge of writing markets
Let’s take a look at these parts.
Notice I did not say great writing. Great writing is certainly better than good writing, but there are many talented writers who can’t seem to find success. That said, bad writing won’t keep a freelance writing career afloat for long.
Successful freelance writers offer good writing skills at the very least. They may not be grammarians or poets, but they also don’t draw attention to their lack of writing ability with horrible sentence structure and typos.
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Knowledge of writing markets
All writers have a service to offer: their writing. Successful freelancers study the market enough to know where to pitch their services for a better chance at success. In book publishing, literary agents serve this role.
If you know who’s open to your type of writing, you’re already ahead of most writers. This is why so many writers point to Writer’s Market and WritersMarket.com as the source of their success, but our job is to help writers understand the traditional publishing industry.
Successful freelancers, especially ones with sustained success, are professional. This means that they read and follow submission guidelines when they exist. This means they read their contracts and attempt negotiating from time to time. This means they meet their deadlines and hit their word counts.
The opposite of professional is amateur, and it has nothing to do with how much money a writer earns. Amateurs don’t read the guidelines, or they decide their way is better than what’s recommended by the actual gatekeepers. Amateurs don’t hit deadlines; they ignore word counts; and they have poor record keeping skills.
Be a professional, not an amateur.
Persistence works with a caveat. Persistent writers find success if they’re working on the first three parts of this equation too. I know many persistent writers who’ve been “trying” to make it for decades, but they can’t ever find success. It’s sad.
However, the reason is usually that the writer doesn’t believe in revision. Or he doesn’t know his market (or its a moving target depending on his mood). Or she doesn’t follow submission guidelines–trying some cute trick employed by some other successful writer or cited by an editor.
Be persistent. Don’t let rejection rattle you. But always make sure you’re sound in the other three areas of your writing life.
One last secret weapon
Okay. Good writing? Check. Knowledge of markets? Check. Professionalism? Check. Persistence? Super check. What else is there?
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My final secret weapon, which can sometimes make up for a deficiency in one of the above four areas, is passion. As a freelancer, work in areas about which you are passionate.
If you’re into science, write science. If you’re into sports, write sports. It’s a simple concept, but this is why it’s so important. Freelance writing takes a lot of time and energy–so if you want to sustain an entire career writing, you need to find subjects and topics that will bring you joy.
So put these five elements in a can, shake them up together, and start building a super successful freelance writing career today.
Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer
Check out other posts on the freelance life here: