Aspiring writers always ask me, “What’s the easiest way to find writing jobs?”
They’re hoping I can send them a link to some magical job board or bidding site where big-name copywriting clients and $1/word magazine editors are posting ads seeking writers.
Well, here’s the thing: There’s an inverse relationship between how easy a gig is to get and how lucrative it is.
So the question is: Do you want to do it the easy way — or the way that will land you assignments?
Where the writing gigs aren’t
Tons of writers flock to job boards and bidding sites, where they fall prey to clients who offer to pay them peanuts.
(That’s a metaphor, but actually, I think a jar of peanuts would be worth more than the cash these writers would earn from a typical article.)
Good clients don’t advertise for writers online because they have professional writers coming to them. For example, you’ll probably never see $1 – $2 per word magazines like Redbook, Entrepreneur or Health posting on job sites. (And if you do see it, it will likely be the case that they’re looking for “citizen journalists” — another term for “unpaid writers.”)
Carol Tice of the Freelance Writers Den likes to say that businesses that advertise for writers are dysfunctional — and not the kind of clients you want to write for if you can help it.
And she’s right: What else would you call clients who are willing to sift through thousands of applications from low-quality writers who are slavering to score $5 for an 800-word article? You’re not one of those low-quality writers, so these clients are not for you.
Yes, there are some paid job boards that vet listings to make sure they pay a decent rate. But those free ones most writers flock to? Not so good.
OK, now I’ve scared the jelly out of you by saying there is no easy way to find writing gigs. But the good news is, if you put forth more effort in seeking out, qualifying and approaching prospective clients, you can land assignments that pay a hundred times what you would make from some content mill that advertises online.
A great truth of freelance writing is:
Shoe leather counts
Here’s an illustrative example. Let’s pretend we’re interviewing the writer who earns mere pennies and the one who makes a good living writing, and have asked each of these writers, “How do you find gigs?”
Here’s what the cheapie writer would say:
“So, I go to sites like Elance and spend a few hours looking through the ads, and I apply to the ones that will pay me at least $5 per article.
“When I get an assignment, I bang it out super fast so I’m making $10 per hour! I spend a lot of time scrolling through ads, and write to a couple of potential clients every week.”
And the writer who rakes in loads of moolah would say this:
“OK, so I search around online and keep my eyes open in the real world for trade magazines I might be able to pitch, since that’s the market I like to write for. I write for the banking and credit union industry, so another thing I do is when I go to a bank or do any banking online, I ask the person working with me what industry trades they read.
“When I find a good market, I read it online and figure out what kinds of articles they run and whether the articles are written by freelance writers, staffers (which means they don’t use freelancers) or industry experts (who typically aren’t paid).
“Then, if the magazine looks like a good match, I write a customized Letter of Introduction that outlines a few targeted article ideas and my credentials. I search through LinkedIn or the magazine’s website to sleuth out the best editor to pitch and their email address, and then I send my LOI to that person.
“I do this non-stop, even if I have a full plate of assignments. I typically earn 50 cents per word — so a 1,000-word article will pay $500. That would take me six hours to research, interview and write, so I’m earning $83 per hour.”
Bake your own loaf
A metaphor I like to use is that many writers go out and pick up crumbs tossed out there by clients who advertise gigs — where they could learn to bake their own entire loaf.
Do you see the difference in the amount of effort the two writers we interviewed expend in landing writing gigs? One works to find high-quality markets to approach and customizes her pitch for each one (that’s the loaf baker), and another waits for markets to extend an engraved invitation asking him to apply for low-paying gigs (that’s the crumb collector). And you know which one makes the big bucks.
If you want the impressive-byline, lucrative writing gigs, you need to go out and get them. Search for businesses in the industry you want to write for. Read magazines at the bookstore, at the library and online. Pore over magazine directories like Writer’s Market.
Learn how to write a compelling query letter and kick-ass Letter of Introduction; these formats are challenging at first, but they get easier the more you do them. Research how to cold call potential copywriting clients. Take the time to qualify your prospects and pitch only those you have figured out will pay you well.
Don’t just wait for assignments to fall into your lap. Make them happen. Bake your own loaf.
Your effort will be paid off in dollars — and you’ll be laughing in the face of the clients who want to pay you pennies.