A Veteran Writer Reveals the Best Way to Find Freelance Gigs

A Veteran Writer Reveals the Best Way to Find Freelance Gigs

You probably know that to launch (or grow) a writing career, you need to pitch…and pitch…and pitch.

But pitch whom?

If you’re a magazine writer, there are too many publications out there to wrap your head around — or not enough, depending on your field. (Sheep-farming mags, anyone?)

And, as if finding good pubs to pitch weren’t hard enough, trying to find out whether they actually pay can make your head implode with frustration.

Or say you’re a content writer, blogger, or copywriter. How can you find businesses that could use your services—while weeding out the tire-kickers and cheap-os from the hundreds of possibilities?

Where to find writing clients

If you’re scouring your local newsstand to sleuth out magazines to pitch, or driving around your city seeking good business clients, head straight home, park your car and try these ideas instead.

1. Google

I can hear you now: “Google. Really? How very original.”

But Google is not as obvious a choice as you would think. I can’t even count the number of times a coaching client would say something like, “I want to write for trade magazines for the flooring industry and can’t find any” — and before she’d even finished with her complaint, I would have Googled up a list of a dozen flooring trades.

The trick is to look for directories or lists instead of searching for publications or businesses one by one. Rather than Googling, say, “pet product manufacturers,” try “pet product manufacturers directory.” Chances are, someone else has helpfully compiled a nice list you can use. In this case, it’s the American Pet Products Association Member Directory, which is available to the public.

(By the way, in case you were wondering: There are many, many trade magazines for sheep farmers. Do a Google search and you’ll find them easily!)

2. Writer’s Market (but not for the reason you think)

Writer’s Market is a directory of hundreds of publications that pay writers, divided up by topic. However, the real secret is to use Writer’s Market to find publications that aren’t in Writer’s Market.

Here’s the deal: If you find a magazine in Writer’s Market that looks promising, check to see if it’s put out by a publishing group. If so, look up the company online to see what other magazines they put out; chances are, they have some that aren’t listed in Writer’s Market.

For example, some trade magazine groups publish a dozen or more magazines—and if the one you found listed in Writer’s Market pays a good rate, the other ones probably do too (though this is no guarantee).

3. Industry association membership lists

Many industry associations keep membership lists complete with each member’s contact information. If you join (which may require you to pay a fee), you’ll often have access to the list.

However, do check the organization’s guidelines to make sure it’s okay to pitch other members.

4. The Content Council

Custom content companies create magazines, newsletters, blogs, and more for their clients—and they often hire freelancers, and pay well to boot.

Lucky for us, The Content Council maintains a publicly available list of its member companies searchable by account sector (like Health or Retail), complete with contact information.

5. Trade magazine directories

Trade magazine directories abound online. I like the one on WebWire, which lists hundreds of trade pubs in categories ranging from aviation to workforce management.

Trade directories aren’t meant for writers, so once you find a pub that looks good, you’ll need to visit its website and do some digging to find the assigning editor’s contact info.

6. Right here

You read that right — here on The Write Life you’ll find info on more than 225 publications that pay Freelance Writers.

But do they pay?

By now you should have dozens of markets to pitch, but there’s no point researching and pitching a publication or business if it offers a rate of zero dollars per word (aka “exposure”), no negotiation allowed.

Here’s how to narrow the field of potential clients to the ones that are most likely to be worth your time.

1. Go for the money

Many new copywriters and content writers like to pitch mom-and-pop shops, because they think these businesses will be easier to write for. The bad news is, these tiny businesses usually can’t afford to pay what you’re worth…and the worse news is, they often need a ton of hand-holding because they’ve never hired a writer before.

Look for businesses with $5 million+ in profits, which ensures you’re reaching out to prospects that can afford to pay.

2. Check Writer’s Market (again)

Writer’s Market assigns each publication from one to four dollar sign symbols to indicate how much they pay; with the online version of the service, you can narrow your search to those markets that have, say, two or more dollar signs.

Each publication’s entry also includes more detailed information on pay.

3. Visit the Who Pays Writers website

According to their site, “Who Pays Writers is an anonymous, crowd-sourced list of which publications pay freelance writers—and how much.”

You’ll discover, for example, that Artforum has paid writers from 20-40 cents per word.

4. Ask your friends

If you belong to any writers’ forums, email lists, or communities, ask if any other writers know how much Blog X pays or whether Company Y pays freelance writers.

5. Browse the pages

Take a look at your target magazine’s content and advertisers. You can get a good feel for whether they pay (and how well) by the look of the pub and the readers they’re targeting.

Slick ads for expensive gas grills or top-of-the-line hair care products? Good. Cheap-looking design, typo-ridden articles, and random Google ads? Not so good.

This isn’t a foolproof method — there are plenty of publications that target high-worth readers but don’t pay writers — but it can be a pretty good clue.

Do you have a super-secret trick for finding and qualifying writing markets? Spill the details in the comments!

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Filed Under: Freelancing
Karan Bajaj

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30 comments

  • Invaluable tips! Thank you so much for sharing them!

    As a freelance direct response copywriter, I can add one more: Sign up on mailing lists for companies in your industry.

    For example, I’m on the mailing lists for many health supplement companies, which allows me to receive their sales emails and direct mail pieces. Not only does this help me stay on top of successful promotions in my industry, but it also gives me the information I need to pitch a company with an idea to sell a product better. 🙂

  • Great suggestions!

    I would, however, like to add a little nuance to #1, based on my own experience as a freelance editor: Be open to the mom-and-pop market with all the handholding it requires. You never know what your niche may turn out to be.

    I initially started accepting work from first-time self-published and vanity-published authors simply to fill in time between gigs for commercial publishers, and I discovered how much I actually enjoy the handholding many of these new authors require. It’s true that I’ve had to decline a number of offers because their budget just wasn’t realistic for the work I would have to invest, but I have also been able to find price points and payment plans that have allowed me to work on some delightful projects in which I could take satisfaction in helping writers take their work to the next level.

    Although my experience is in editing, I believe that copywriters may also be able build some wonderful relationships with small businesses or nonprofits who didn’t at first seem like lucrative prospects, if they remain open to the possibility.

    I wish success to you all, AND to your clients!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Sounds like you found a perfect niche, Trish! If you like hand-holding, smaller/newer businesses will be very appreciative of your services. I don’t enjoy doing it with writing clients — just too much hassle — but I do work with a lot of new writers as a coach and really love it!

  • As a fiction writer, freelancing is slightly out of my realm of knowledge, so I just wanted to say thanks for the information you’ve got posted here.

    One thing I’m surprised about is that payment seems to work a little differently in the non-fiction world than it does in the fiction world. I see so many posts of freelancers talking about publishers missing or dodging payments, or (as in your post here) markets that are unclear about what they actually pay.

    In fiction, everything is up front: Token pay per story, pay per word, or percent royalty. You know exactly what to expect in advance. But in freelancing it doesn’t seem as straightforward. Why is that?

    • I find it strange, too, and I’m not sure why it is the way it is. Especially because I’d assume publishers KNOW what they pay per word, article, etc., and yet they sometimes ask for your rates…and then writers feel like they have to play some weird guessing game to figure out what the pub’s typical payment is. (I don’t do that, BTW…I give them a range, and if it’s in their budget, great! If not, that’s OK…they’re not the right clients for me.)

      It seems to be worse with magazines than with corporate clients.

      With corporate clients, they typically ask what you’d charge for project X, you figure out the price you’d charge, you tell them, and they say yes or no (or negotiate). They also tend to pay more promptly than magazines…I’ve never had a corporate client pay late, but with some magazines I’ve waited up to 9 months to be paid.

  • raju says:

    thanks for sharing good tips. I am looking for freelance websites which allow to write on international platform which pay based on our views generated. I found few but they are not that worth and hence looking to get best freelancing website list

  • Usually I never comment on blogs but your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job ,Keep it up.

  • ingrid says:

    very helpful tips, thank you

  • Duke Stewart says:

    You’re right on about the mom and pop deal. If they’re just starting out, then they’re more than likely not going to have a solid marketing budget in place. That’s the inconvenient truth I battle when wanting to help someone in my local community. I’ve made notes about the places you mentioned and look forward to digging into them ASAP. Thanks!

    • Linda Formichelli says:

      Sad but true. 🙂 If you enjoy doing the handholding, that’s great…but if not, I’d target larger businesses.

  • Being new to this “writing life,” I am finding that my previous experiences in business fly right out the window. When I would do a job for someone I knew exactly what was required. I also knew exactly what my compensation would be. In this world, it is like shooting craps. I hope this advice will help me roll a perfect seven. The bottom line is; if I am going to succeed at this game, I have to put in the research. Thanks for the tips!

    • Linda Formichelli says:

      Yes, it’s a whole new industry to learn about! Once you get on a roll, though (haha, another dice joke), it will become second nature. Good luck!

  • Paris Wyome says:

    I have been a freelance biz journalist for many years, particularly for trade publications. So I am aware of most of the above mentioned sources, some better than others. There used to be print directories with all sorts of detailed information about trade and consumer media, TV/radio stations, and newspapers. I believe they can be found online now. Try Googling Cision now about them.

    But the real key to freelance writing money-making success is writing great query letters and sending them to the right person at the right media. Here are 2 good query letter information sources: Make a Real Living as a Freelancer Writer, Jenna Glatzer, and Query Letters That Worked, Angela Hoy. There probably are many other such sources online and others that can be purchased on Amazon.

    • Linda Formichelli says:

      Thanks, Paris! And I have to add to that list The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rocked, available on Amazon and at renegadewriterpress.com. 🙂

  • Paris Wyome says:

    I only write for media that pay well. I find out about payment rates in several ways, not by reviewing the media. Sometimes you can that information from a publication’s web site in its Writers Guidelines or by emailing an editor at the web site/publication that you intend to pitch. I always find out payment rates before I pitch an article idea.

    You could Google something like payment rates writing for consumer publications.

    Here is a link to payment rates for a great variety of media:
    http://contently.net/rates-database/

    • Linda Formichelli says:

      Wow, VERY cool link. Thanks! I’m going to go share it now with my Volume Marketing Challenge participants.

  • Nicholas says:

    I’ve taken time to read this post twice, and I found it interesting because up until now, i have been researching for better ways of getting freelance writing gigs.

    Keep it up.

  • Pam says:

    Great tips. I am going to save this for reference. I am in the beginning stages of my writing life and am appreciating all the advice I am finding!

  • Emily Jacobs says:

    Great advice, as always, Linda, thanks!!

  • There are a few good marketing job sites that seem to be ignored here. I get work from the Warrior Forum (the biggest marketing forum on the planet.
    I belong to several specific Facebook groups where we can share anything because we don’t share with people outside the group. I don’t get a LOT of work through this site but the people alone make it worthwhile.
    Last but not least, I advertise for jobs and also browse jobs available on Gumtree.

  • Monica L Muehsam says:

    Thank you for these tips, they are very helpful to a newbie like myself! I know you have been published in hundreds (thousands?) of publications, but I have a specific question for you if that’s okay. I have a query I think would be prefect for Family Circle magazine, but I checked their writer guidelines and they say queries should be MAILED along with a SASE. Do you happen to know if this is still accurate? Seems crazy in this age of emailing-but who knows!

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