The art of forcing my opinions on others via digital media (better known as freelance writing) is something I’ve done for a while now. Like a majestic ship of the line powering its way through the modern digital trade routes (all aboard the ship based metaphor!) I’ve come to know these choppy waters like the back of my own hook hand (Abandon the Freelancing, whilst on the Internetmetaphor, I repeat abandon the metaphor!).

The ability to create a specialty in writing which can be profitable AND fun, is perhaps the “white whale” of a successful and long term writing career. You don’t have to force yourself to fit in to one penguin hole, and should be finding, growing and exploiting your strengths across as many (and/or as few) areas and fields as you want.

So how does one create this writing Shangri-La? By identifying and understanding your strengths, writing markets and specialties.  

Understanding your strengths as a Freelance Writer  

Ask yourself (do you feel lucky?) if you were to make a list of fields/subjects/areas that you know and would enjoy creating content about…

  • What is it, that I know/and or understand about these subject matters – that others don’t?
  • What’s my relevant educational background?
  • Do I have any relevant experiences?
  • What would I want to learn more about when it comes to these subjects?
  • Where does my passion lie?
  • What is love?

Actually write these answers down (you’ll need them later) and don’t be afraid to go into detail if need be.

While “I enjoy writing about Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a useful answer, “I enjoy writing about Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles with the aims of modernising the story for better cinematography” is a very detailed and specific answer which could lead onto articles (Michael Bay’s latest script…) whitepapers and potentially books.

Also jot down all your educational background, jobs and experiences. Even if you never plan to write about them wholesale, they can often provide inspiration, ideas and unique twists to your projects. Sticking with the theme of TMNT, let’s say you once had a job at a comic store – you might call on the experience gained from industry experience (and reading plenty of comics) when you sit down to ruin, I mean “modernise” your master piece.

Identify and understand what markets are open to the freelance writer

The rise of the internet and digital media platforms as a whole have opened up more markets to writers than ever before. From SME’s to blogs and magazines, don’t just limit yourself to the “Big Boys” even though it’s never been easier to reach out to them. Ironically this ease of contact has created steep competition for attention, as such it may be wise to focus on building solid connections and reputations before attempting to break into the big time.

The end goal here isn’t to shy away from the mainstream, simply to build a solid foundation to present yourself upon first. It’s entirely possible to spend more time waiting (and hoping) for assignments rather than completing them and finally getting paid.

Trade/consumer magazines, newsletters, local/regional/corporate/electronic publications, professional journals and newsletters are merely an idea of where to start. Using the almighty internet, look for sites that focus on your area of interest. Consider what you find to be potential chances for publication and useful research material.

Consider your specialties

Not all specialties are profitable/marketable all the time. A number of factors need to be considered when choosing which specialties to start out with:

  • How many potential clients (people, publications and businesses) that maybe interested in your chosen specialities.
  • Do you have something new to bring to the table of your chosen area/field?
  • The potential bottom line of writing for your chosen specialities.
  • How much can you write in that specialty without becoming bored, losing focus or running out of ideas?
  •  Do you stand on equal footing with others in the publishing field in terms of credentials? If not, is it possible to find a co-author who might?

Consider these key points when deciding which of your specialties has the greater chance for success. Long term you need a field that offers both an open market and the interest to maintain your focus.

Acquire allies in the fight against cubicle based oppression

Long before your first query is sent, you need to be building contacts. Research your chosen fields, find fellow professionals, experts, support groups, clubs and organisations (specialist libraries to) don’t simply stop at knowing who, what, why and when these resources are – get in touch, again the goal here is to create contacts.

With some luck, you may discover that some of those “experts” are looking for ghost writers (maybe even co-authors) remember, just because somebody knows a subject matter like the back of their own hand, doesn’t mean they know how to write about it. In addition attempt to find other wild writers working in your field, try making contact – warning, writers in the wild are a lot like Cats.

Commence querying

Create a list of around ten publications/magazines/websites/ [insert your choice here] that you wish to query about potential work to start with. Identify and understand what they need via research of back-issues and the internet. Request submission guidelines and keep in mind, many mainstream or major publication will not accept blind submissions. If you’re dead set on them, it may be better to first build a relationship with the editor.

This will become something you just sort of…do, a forever ongoing process of attempting to find work, while simultaneously attempting to keep overlap as low as possible. Try as many different publications, regions and companies as possible.

Take a little something from each project

Chances are, your first assignments/projects aren’t going to pay wonderful amounts. Sometimes they may not pay at all, unless your already well-known/respected in your field – you’re not going to be the top of the pay bracket from the get go.

The trick then, is to progress to the top at a speed your life is happy with. In order to make this work, try and learn from everything you do, natural aptitude (while very helpful to have) can only take you so far. Hard work, experience and research are needed to help push your way to the top.

Kick, punch and tackle your way to the top by:

  • Discovering a new data/research source (such as: a new contact, book or website) for everything you write, even if you’ve covered that particular area before.
  • Write everything with the intent of improving at least one aspect of your writing, such as cutting down on first draft errors or simply writing quicker.
  • Plan out every requirement your client has clearly, and meet them all (including the deadline)
  • Create a circle of fellow writers, editors and mentors. Join writing groups and create relationships with whoever can help you become a better writer and freelancer.

Keep physical copies for that all important portfolio

Keep everything you’ve published. Keep the original computer files and any printed versions of your work. Keeping a physical portfolio of your work can help in more ways than one, it’s a useful data mine for new articles, refreshing your understanding of a topic and for the intended purpose of showcasing your work.

Physical work requires physical filing, it’s not always simple for a writer to just stop and organise everything. The creation of an effective/efficient filling system will do great things for your productivity and help you build a data mine that’s always within grabbing range.

Save the trees, and your workload

Reworking your old speciality articles can save time and help earn a bit more money out of your previous work and helps save the planet to – less paper (least that’s what I keep telling myself)

  • Assuming you’ve retained the rights to your work, it’s possible to resell an article without having to rewrite it. That means potentially making more money from your work 2 or maybe 3 more time.
  • Combine parts of your older works into shiny and new articles.
  • After you’ve published a number of different articles on the same subject, you could potentially combine them all into a single whitepaper or book. Publishing a book or comprehensive whitepaper on a subject is the fastest way to become recognised as an authority in that field.

Never stop improving

Take any opportunity you can to improve your education on a subject, your credentials or your reputation as potential expert in a field – such as:

  • Improve your education on your specialty, if possible consider a degree or certificate.
  • Consider teaching seminars, classes or even guest lectures (should the opportunity arise) not only will this increase your standings in the long run, but they are often paying opportunities to.
  • Consider attending conventions for your field. They offer unrivalled chances to network and build industry knowledge and contacts.