One of the greatest things about living in America is the ability to create a job out of anything. As of 2014, 53 million Americans identified themselves as freelancers, people who prefer working their own hours for whoever they choose. Many of these individuals are freelance writers and will tell you it’s a tough world out there.
Freelance writing is not for the faint of heart. It requires self-discipline, perseverance, a thick skin and an artful ability to communicate. It requires the ability to accept feedback and make changes to your style and approach. And while anybody can write something, not everybody is cut out to be a professional writer.
As the editor of two websites, I am gifted with the difficult responsibility of accepting and rejecting people’s writing, that many have spent hours crafting. I’ll be honest and say it’s not one of my favorite duties, because I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself. However, in the time I’ve spent in my role as an editor, I’ve found there are common methods that almost guarantee when a contributor’s writing will not get published. Some are the most basic errors that we learn in middle school English class, while others are tricks of the trade. I want to share just a handful of those, in hopes that they assist you on your freelance writing journey.
- You Didn’t Do Your Research. Professional websites and blogs all have their own culture, and their published content is always in line with that culture. Before inquiring with a website on whether they want to publish your work, make sure your writing is in alignment with their style and that your topic matches the existing content. Spend some time researching their audience and determine if you can provide material that will be cohesive with their site. One of the most frustrating jobs for editors is to comb through email submissions that have absolutely nothing to do with their mission statement and content.
- Your Email Inquiry Is Not Personalized. Avoid copying and pasting a standard inquiry email for numerous sites, because we can tell right away that you are just shopping around articles. Please don’t use the phrase “I am an avid reader of your blog,” because everyone uses that phrase, and it’s a dead giveaway that you’ve never actually read anything on their site. You should reference a recent article from the site that you’ve read and comment on how it applied to you in some way (to show that you actually read it)! You can provide links to previously published work, but be advised that editors are hesitant in clicking on them for fear of malicious links (which has happened to me)!
- You Don’t Follow Directions. It’s common practice for websites to have a “write for us” page, which details the steps necessary to become a contributing writer. An editor knows right away when you haven’t taken the time to read it and submit an inquiry that is trying to get around the established protocol. Do not approach an editor and ask her to provide you with topics you can write about. Your job as the writer is to bring a variety of new content to the editor who will then review it, not the other way around. When you reach out, provide three to five article ideas you are willing to write about and make sure they all correspond with existing topics. As tempting as it is to come up with something out of the box, you want to get your foot in the door as a regular contributor first. Once you’re established, you can work with the editor to develop new and unique topics.
- Pieces Are Written To Bring Value To Yourself, Not The Website. It is painfully obvious to an editor when a contributor submits work that is clearly only for their personal gain. Topics that barely graze the surface of relevant material (or not at all), links to merchants in the body of articles, and author bios with banners and ads all scream that a contributor has no interest in bringing a site value. When you do your research (step 1), you should know how to submit a piece that brings value by way of unique content, traffic, and conversions. You may have to go outside your comfort zone, but you’ll only become a better writer because of it.
- You’re Boring. I know, that sounds harsh. But I most often reject contributions because I can’t even get past the first few paragraphs because of boredom. Part of bringing value is developing content that is fresh, exciting, and action-oriented! It should be compelling, easy-to-read, and bring a new perspective. You don’t have to come up with completely new ideas if you can develop existing content in a refreshing way. Before submitting a piece, think “Would I enjoy reading this?”
- Proofread, Proofread, Proofread. Remember those things most of us learned in middle school English class? Grammar and spelling will never be more necessary tools than for a freelance writer, because your livelihood depends on it. Double, triple, and quadruple read your submission for typos and common grammatical errors. Have a colleague review your piece, and let it sit overnight and read again in the morning. If English is not your first language, have someone review it for appropriate use of phrases and verbiage. Proofreading is such an easy way to gain entrance to publication, so don’t forget it! You don’t have to be perfect, but more than one error in your opening paragraph will shut the door on your potential publication.