How to Land Your First Freelance Writing Assignments

land first freelance writing assignment

If you’re ready to start making money as a writer but don’t yet have an impressive portfolio, don’t despair. Depending on your skills you might even be able to earn money from your first writing assignments!

For the where, I’ve put together a collection of ninety-one markets for new freelance writers as well as 50+ Writing Markets and Resources, which I’ll email to you if you tell me where to send it:

But what about the how?

Well, you’ll land your first clips in much the same way you’ll land assignments once your career gets rolling, by:

  • Pitching
  • Crafting on-spec articles
  • Sending queries
  • Responding to job postings
  • Approaching markets with an LOI

But before we get to that, there are a few things you’ll need to do if you want these marketing and outreach efforts to be successful.

#1 – Research New Markets Before You Pitch Them

I can’t stress this to new freelancers enough! The #1 complaint of professional editors is that they receive an immeasurable amount of pitches and emails from writers who have clearly not taken the time to acquaint themselves with the publication.

You MUST do this if you want your piece to be assigned!

The good news is that I’ve put together an entire Pre-Pitch Checklist over at Be A Freelance Blogger that shows you what to look for and you can use it for each new publication until it becomes second nature. It will help you land guest posts and print assignments.

#2 – Follow the Submission Guidelines

Whether you’re applying for a position on a freelance job board (like the ones on our Job Boards Worth Bookmarking page) or considering the submission guidelines for the New York Times, you need to follow the directions. Editors see your ability to meet their requirements as an indication of your attention to detail and your capacity to follow instructions-a huge deal when they are working with you remotely.

Keep an eye out for “Use This Subject Line When You Apply” instructions within job board listings.

#3 – Write!

You’re offering your writing skills for hire-so make sure you’re writing regularly to develop your ability! It’s amazing to me how many new freelancers attempt to skip this step. Yes, it’s hard. Yup, you might have to force yourself. Damn straight, it’s the only way to improve. One way writers do this is to create a blog around a personal passion and there are many ways that you can use your blog to support your freelance writing career. If you don’t already, you’ll want to consider building your own blog. (If you are ready, let’s start designing your blog!)

#4 – Be Professional

Freelance writing is more than working at home in your pj’s. You’re a self-employed business owner now. Deadlines aren’t optional and anything less than professional respect in correspondence with your editors and clients will quickly lose you business. Clips or not, I recommend that you begin building your professional website. This way when you DO begin to earn clips you’ll only have to add them. Your website will showcase your services to business contacts and give an immediate professional impression. All day, every day once you set it up.

Now that you’re ready to start taking assignments, let’s look at how you’ll land them.

#1 – The Pitch

Pitches and queries are almost identical but the word pitch is usually associated with a blog post, while a queries is a term mostly used in the magazine and print industries.

When you pitch or query an editor or a publication, you’re essentially emailing them your idea for an article. Some places will accept more than one idea per pitch, while others will want a detailed outline of your article idea. This is why it’s important to read the guidelines.

Other elements that are commonly included in a pitch or query:

An attention-grabbing opening:

Use what writers call a ‘hook’ to grab the editor’s attention. This can be a surprising statistic, a current event that reinforces reader interest, a new scientific finding that creates relevancy for your article or an industry trend that supports your subject.

An email I sent to WOW! Women On Writing opened with this paragraph:

Niche articles are overdone. I admit it. But I’m still going to pitch one because I think newbie writers only hear half the story of what a niche is. The article I’m proposing, Your Niche Is More Than A Topic, would introduce new (and experienced) writers to market and format specialties they may not have considered.

It’s not mind-blowing or anything but it got their attention.

Why readers of the publication will be excited to read your article:

  • Mention that you noticed reader interest on their site on a related subject.
  • Point out any popular posts on related subjects
  • Your article will fill an important content-gap
  • The topic of your article is trending
  • There is recent scientific or statistical data on your subject
  • Someone has made an important breakthrough in your subject
  • You will solve a reader’s problem, save them time or save them money
  • Your article will inspire action

Your article idea, which should include:

  • An attention-grabbing title
  • What research, studies or quotes will you include
  • Any intended interviews (that you will be able to arrange independently)
  • What sub-headings or supportive points you plan to make
  • Your estimated word count
  • Any images or video you will create to accompany your piece
  • The section or department your article is targeting (if applicable)
  • An outline, if preferred or required

Your writing and professional experience

Obviously, if you don’t have any clips yet you won’t be able to include them here-but don’t discount using your real-world experience to land writing assignments. Start by pitching assignments where you can write what you know. You might not have impressive writing credentials just yet but you may very well have work experience or a personal interest in a subject that you can use to earn an assignment.

Once you do begin to build a portfolio, you can use your clips (even the off-topic ones) to gain more work. Point out to new editors that your unrelated-by-niche clips showcase your ability to research, format, write, and interview.

Including clips that your target editor will find impressive. Have you written on this topic extensively before? Point that out by including your links. Have you written in the style of this publication before? Include that sample.

 

Your professional links

When adding your experience to a pitch, include a link to your website (Get one!) and two to three links to your published work, depending on any specifications in the guidelines.

If you’ve landed a contributor position at a publication and they have created an author page for you, (Congrats, first of all!) I recommend using this link sparingly, only where it improves your pitch, and more often when applying for longer-term freelance positions.

You can either bullet-point your writing samples or embed them in the text of query.

As an example, here’s the full email I used to land an assignment from WOW! Women On Writing:

Niche articles are overdone. I admit it. But I’m still going to pitch one because I think newbie writers only hear half the story of what a niche is. The article I’m proposing, Your Niche Is More Than A Topic, would introduce new (and experienced) writers to market and format specialties they may not have considered.

By exploring these twenty-eight types of assignments, readers will discover new career opportunities and can then begin to target the types of work they enjoy. Writers can realistically determine how they spend their work-a-day by pursuing more of the assignments that make them happy.

I believe career writers find their niche while writing, not while deciding what their niche ‘should’ be. You find work you like, you pursue more of it. You want to try a new format, you put yourself out there to take it on as an assignment or you practice on your own to have a sample to show. If you enjoy the process and side-tasks, you promote these services – locally or remotely.

This article will also benefit writers who like to be out-and-about instead of in front of their laptop. I’d like to point out in the introduction that offering local services can help a writer get out of the house and open doors for the outgoing. They can also help new writers gain their first clips.

Writers who want to ‘Go Local’ can join their local Chamber of Commerce, attend expos and networking events, research local business organizations, scout local publication stands, inquire at newspaper offices (yes I’ve done it) and use old-school legwork to build successful writing careers. I’m a laptop gal now but in my younger days…

The niches and markets I’d like to include (with my notes) are:

  1. Journalism/News/Reporting (digital or local, can cover a range of topics but determined by format)
  2. Round-Ups (brief writing, big #, images with caption)
  3. Subscription Incentives (reports, case studies, white papers, goodies)
  4. Ultimate Guides (evergreen topic or fleshed-out round-up)
  5. Restaurant Menus (local, photography partnership/opportunity)
  6. Brochures (b2b, consumer, informational)
  7. Newsletters (subject, community, employee)
  8. Sales Letters (print, format, local or remote)
  9. Landing Pages (practice LP elements with your professional site)
  10. Video Scripts (digital, local or remote, employee training)
  11. Content Creation (contributor positions)
  12. Social Media Posts (local or remote, brief, knowledge of tools)
  13. Reach-Based Affiliations (if you have a large following on your blog/social media and make money through affiliations or reviews)
  14. DIY/Crafts (image-driven steps as you complete a project, watch out for overhead)
  15. Recipe Writer (local or digital, newsletter opportunity for local businesses, beware overhead)
  16. Recipe Videos (pull off a great sample and you can sell these cooking snippets locally and online, overhead and equipment)
  17. Crowd-Funding Campaigns (local or remote, non-profits, break in by volunteering, fund raising, local organizations)
  18. Grant Proposals (local or remote, technical format and attention to detail, requirements)
  19. Technical How-To With Screenshots (Have a blog? Write WP tutorials. Knowledgeable about Canva or any other platform people want to learn? Small business employee tutorials/reference materials)
  20. Procedures and Manuals (local or remote, new software, procedural, emergency, training)
  21. Sales Emails (combination of digital newsletter and sales letter, study funnels and auto-responding systems or sell just the writing service)
  22. Advertorials (local or digital, they look like articles but are labeled and they inform while they sell, slant)
  23. Interviews (local or remote, part of many assignments but can be a specialty, video and podcast opportunities)
  24. Case Studies (can be technical, process-driven or success stories that profile someone’s inspirational story)
  25. Radio Commercials (local or remote, contact local stations about in-house opportunities/referrals, offer to businesses as part of a marketing plan, don’t discount internet radio ads)
  26. Magazine Features/Articles (local or glossy nationals, use to build topic authority and credentials to your portfolio, logos on your professional website, usually combined with blogging/book platform/freelance/content creation)
  27. Guest Posts (remote, digital version of magazine feature, use to direct topic niche strengths, build portfolio)
  28. Local Columnist (local, beat reporter, band reviews, publication can still be digital but you’re reporting on something in your community, maybe even the high-school football games)

I would like to include a clear explanation of each niche, along with what to expect in terms of activity (interviews, images, travel, photography possibilities/partnerships, local marketing) and complementary links: related content you’d like to promote, industry statistics and niche-specific resources.

For the format, I’d like to include a key identifying local and/or remote (L/R) before the text for each niche. It should be a good way to avoid repetition in the text and readers will be able to scan the list for one or the other. A Go Local subheading for applicable niches will include actionable advice and highlight local writing/marketing opportunities. It will also break up the length, as will text boxes that showcase market statistics and source quotes.

To include adequate information for each niche (industry/market trends, sources and useful links) I would like approval for 2,000 to 3,000 words. Though long, I think presenting the niche as a specialty in formatting, project-types and services as opposed to an expert-level-topic-platform will create an evergreen and sharable addition (28 Writing Niches That Are More Than A Topic) to your new bi/weekly features.

My writing about writing has been published on Be a FreelanceBlogger, Funds for Writers, Scribblrs and my own blog, Paid Write. You’re also welcome to review a full list of my articles with links on my website. 

Below my salutations, I’ve included what I believe to be my most appropriate sample. Though it’s not on the topic of writing I think it shows the level of research, formatting and effort I’d like to put into this piece for you.

Thank you for looking over my (lengthy) proposal and considering my work.

Sincerely,

Kristy Rice

KristyRice@RiceKristyTreats.com

Keep It Short

Yes, I know mine wasn’t (because of the outline) but usually when you’re pitching a guest post or querying a magazine, Keep It Concise! Editors have little time and bloggers might even have less. Opening hundreds of pitch emails to come to yours only to find that it is long-winded and text-heavy will earn you an automatic sigh and an ‘Oh, damn.’

Include what you need to but respect your recipient’s time. Simple.

 

 

#2 – On-Spec Articles

Established freelance writers avoid on-spec assignments for the most part but they can be a dream come true for new freelancers looking to earn their first clips.

This is because on-spec assignments require you to write the full piece for submission BEFORE it has been accepted.

To improve the chances of your article being accepted, read through the publication and emulate their format, tone, and style in your piece.

This arrangement allows new writers to get published based on the merit of their article, without the need for clips. Experienced writers, on the other hand, prefer not to write before a piece is assigned.

Keep this in mind as you begin to build your portfolio. Eventually the time will come to phase-out on-spec articles.

If you’re looking for publications that accept on-spec articles, I’ve included plenty of them in the 91 Markets for New Freelance Writers.

#3 – Reply to Job Postings

There are job boards all over the internet dedicated to freelance writing. They’re essentially classified ads for writers and are a great place to land steady work. There’s a whole list of them here on Paid Write. I call them Job Boards Worth Bookmarking.

Different listings will ask you to include different things your submission. These might include:

  • Writing Samples
  • A Writing Test (you’ll be given instructions)
  • Your Interest in Their Publication
  • Your Resume
  • A Cover Letter

Some listings will require you to fill out a digital form or application but most others will ask that you send an email of interest. Again, research each prospective client, keep it concise, and focus on information that will help the hiring editor say, “YES!”

Email Reply Example:

Hi, Amy! I found your ad for a freelance writer on ProBlogger and after seeing the site, I think I might be the candidate you’re looking for. I’m currently writing short (400+ word) content for Devourable. Now that Summer is over and my kids are back to school, I’m working to fill my open availability and return to full time work. I’d be happy to take on 4-10 articles a week.
I have 17 years experience in digital and print media. You can view my full resume and clips on my website. In addition to Devourable, I’ve also worked for Scribblrs, The Talko and had my work featured on Be A Freelance Blogger and elephant journal.
I am excellent with WordPress and submit most of my content and images directly to the platform for my clients.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best Wishes,
Kristy L. Rice

#4 – The LOI

LOI stands for Letter of Introduction and they are exactly what they sound like: a quick yet thoughtful introduction of yourself and your services to editors and prospective publications. They can be a time-saving marketing tool for established writers with open availability or as a way to continue marketing efforts despite ‘being in the weeds’.

Words of Caution: If you decide to use LOIs to promote your services, tailor each letter to the recipient-and I don’t mean by only changing the name of the person you’re contacting. If overused or executed incorrectly, your LOIs can look a lot like B2B spam.

There you have it! With these tools in your freelance marketing arsenal, you’re ready to put yourself out there and earn your first assignments. Just know that as a self-employed writer, you’ll be spending most of the time you aren’t already writing crafting these marketing communications, so…

Welcome to your new workday! 🙂

 

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