Traditional freelance writing—querying magazines with ideas for articles—is something I have considered trying my hand at lately. Some freelancers make their living solely through doing this! However, the idea of constantly having to come up with fresh article ideas, querying, and waiting on magazine editors (who are notorious for taking forever to respond) to approve and pay for articles (Not to mention having to conduct interviews all the time. Yikes, my inner introvert just cringed.) sounds like way too much nail-biting stress for me. However, the idea of being able to write articles on subjects I actually really enjoy on the side every now and then and getting paid for them sounds great.
So, I purchased two books published by Writer’s Digest that cover the subject. Both books covered running a freelance business, not just tips on writing and pitching articles, so it was definitely a smart investment.
The first book I purchased was Kelly James-Enger’s book Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. Kelly has been a freelance writer for about two decades. She has also branched out into ghostwriting books, which has allowed her to earn a full-time income on part-time hours (something I was very happy to hear, since I do the same thing through PurpleInkPen). Her niche is health, fitness, and lifestyle, but her advice is invaluable no matter your niche.
The book is set up just like it sounds. There are 101 tips split into sections a couple pages long or just a few paragraphs. She covers pitching, creating a platform, selling yourself, marketing, time efficiency, finances, networking, and business management. It’s safe to say that there is a lot more covered than the tips I am divulging here. I wasn’t completely in the dark about traditional freelance writing or time and business management, but Kelly’s in-depth breakdown and advice taught me so much more than just twelve tips. But you should buy the book and support her in order to find out all of that great stuff.
The following list is simply some quick facts that I was completely naive about and which took me by surprise:
- Pitching the Front of the Book: Referred to as the FOB, the front of the book is the pages in a magazine that come before the features and contains much shorter articles. The FOB is the section you want to pitch articles for starting off, as it is the easiest section to break into.
- Reprints: Kelly makes a substantial side income just by selling reprints. I did not realize that there are magazines (usually, local, regional, and foreign) that take stories that have already been published elsewhere. Some magazines pretty much only publish reprints. But remember, you can’t sell a reprint if the original magazine you sold it to made you sign an all rights contract. Only stories you sold through a first serial rights contract can be resold because the rights revert to you after the story is published in the first magazine. Kelly lists some great resources and ways to find reprint markets in the book.
- Letter of Introduction: Referred to as an LOI, a letter of introduction is a pitch in which you sell yourself as a writer, not an article idea. An LOI is a way to get yourself on an editor’s radar, and hopefully they will approach you with article ideas if you can establish yourself as an expert in a certain niche. Kelly provides a great template for an LOI in the book.
- Payment on Acceptance vs Payment on Publication: This is pretty self-explanatory, but make sure that when you sign a contract you know whether you will be paid once the editor accepts the final version of the story or once the piece is actually published so you know how long it’s going to take to get that money safely in the bank.
- Typical Per Word Rate: 25¢ to 75¢ per word is the professional standard. Bigger magazines go as high as $1. Kelly says never accept anything below 25¢ for a magazine article. The time you will put into pitching, querying, researching, and writing the thing means if you accept lower than this, it won’t be worth the money.
- What You Can Deduct: Internet Access! Yes, that’s right. You can deduct the cost of your internet access as a business expense on your taxes if you are a professional freelancer. There is a whole list of other deductibles in the book.
- Reimbursement of Expenses is Taxable: Taxes are gross, and this makes them even more so. If you accrue expenses during the course of writing the article or any other project (say you had to buy some books for research or had to travel to interview a key source in person), you can have your client reimburse you, but the money they give you for the reimbursement is taxable, so keep that in mind.
- How to Save for Retirement: There are lots of options for self-employed people that I didn’t know about. Look into an SEP, an IRA, or a 401(k).
- Quarterly Taxes: For your first year of freelancing, Kelly advises to save up a quarter of everything you earn because taxes are going to be a bitch at the end of the year. After that, you pay quarterly taxes on January 15, April 15, June 15, and September 15 based on your previous year’s income. Now, my first year of freelancing, I wasn’t full-time, I didn’t have an official business, and I didn’t make enough for any of this to really be applicable. Still, I am so glad I found this out now instead of down the road.
- Fast Research Resources: Need to find an expert or “real person” source for an article and don’t know where to start? helpareporter.com and profnet.prnewswire.com will help you do that. The Encyclopedia of Associations at the library is another place Kelly uses. You can also call associations and universities for expert connections (contact media affairs or PR departments).
- They Kill Your Darlings: A piece can be killed after being assigned, written, and turned in, and you usually just get a percentage of the agreed rate through a kill fee. But, rights revert to you, so sell it somewhere else.
- Editors HATE Phone Calls: They just do. Don’t do it! Email. My inner introvert is a-okay with that.
There are 101 tips in this book, people, and I haven’t even listed a fraction of them. In fact, most of the above facts are just snippets within one of the tip sections. This book is an easy, informative read that I have found myself referring back to ever since I bought it. Thanks to this book, I sent out my first article pitch with confidence. Traditional freelance article writing isn’t what I want to do full-time, but the advice in this book has still been invaluable to my business. If you’re interested, grab it off Amazon and get reading.
P.S. Look out for Part Two coming soon, based on that second book I mentioned briefly earlier.