After a decade as a freelance writer and journalist, editor, instructor and now a blogger, I’ve heard writers ask one question more than any other: How can I get work quickly?
The answer I give is simple: Spend an entire week, anywhere from 50 to 90 hours, doing nothing but marketing. You will get work. And you will get it quickly.
Consider this: Last March, I returned from maternity leave after having my first child and despite having a 2-month old demanding my constant attention, I was able to drum up enough work to keep me busy for a month. Some of it paid quickly, which meant I started getting money right away. The year before, I took a month off to begin a novel and, when I returned, editors, including those from Time magazine and The New York Times, were waiting to give me assignments. This wasn’t a fluke. It was the result of a foundation I put in place by marketing my work early on.
While there is a lot to be said about patience in this business, let’s be real. Sometimes you need the cash, you need the work and you need it now. It helps to know some ways of getting assignments fast because not only will that help you stay afloat financially during rough times, but it also keeps you moving forward emotionally. The following tried-and-true marketing strategies will help even the most reluctant of writers move ahead.
So, are you ready for your Week of Marketing? Let’s begin.
Day 1: Send Out the Rejects
We’ll start easy on the first day by sending out queries that haven’t already found homes. Usually, when a rejection arrives in my inbox, I send off the idea immediately to another editor. But despite my best intentions, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, I’m on a busy spree and don’t get around to finding a new market. Sometimes, I just don’t want to think about the fact that Brilliant magazine doesn’t want to buy my brilliant idea. And sometimes, I lose faith in the idea itself. You probably do the same. Today, go to your inbox and pull out the ideas that were rejected that you never got around to remarketing. Send them out. All of them. And while you’re doing that, remember this tip from Sharon McDonnell, a San-Francisco-based freelance writer who has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, American Way, National Geographic Travel, The New York Times and South China Morning Post: “Editors have such different tastes – one may prefer a quirky, anecdotal, first-person style, others prefer dry and matter-of-fact, some like history, others don’t. Whenever a publication that’s turned me down changes editors, I always re-submit my rejected queries and often win assignments.”
Day 2: Go Bio Hunting
These days, the lucrative assignments are no longer in the magazine world (where an article will languish for months before being published) or in newspapers (that can barely pay their staffs), but in online markets, including web portals, blogs and apps. Where do you find these assignments? They’re certainly not being publicized in writing newsletters and market databases for writers. They’re hiding sneakily in other writers’ bios. Know someone who has blogged for the Wall Street Journal? Check out his or her LinkedIn profile and see if there’s an editor on there who’s open to pitches. Don’t know which companies could hire you to write apps? Look up the names of the app writers on Google and see if you can come up with the app companies they’re working for. “What I like to do is Google ‘by’ and the names of writers (in quotes) I idolize and who write about the same topics I do,” says Kristine Hansen, who writes for Cabin Life, Wine Enthusiast, American Way and Fodors.com, and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea. “I then find out where they are writing and immediately know that (a) the editor might be open to working with freelancers, and (b) it’s a good fit for my platform.” She does this every two weeks when she hits a lull in her work for the day.
Day 3: Do an LOI Blast
Here’s a tactic that Laura Laing, freelancer for Parade, Parents and Pregnancy, and author of Math for Grownups, has used with great success: a Letter of Intent blast, better known as the LOI. “The idea was to send out as many targeted LOI in a short time period,” says Laing. “I researched my target markets on the web, created a spreadsheet to document my progress and wrote a boilerplate LOI. I could usually churn out four or five letters in an hour, which translated to about 30 a week.” While Laing did this for an entire month, you could easily do it for one full day, challenging yourself to come up with as many potential markets as possible and e-mailing them right away. “About eight percent of the editors I contacted responded to me,” says Laing. “From that, I got about five long-term clients, some I’m still working for and some I’m not. So the return on investment was pretty darned good.”
Day 4: Pitch Consumer Mag Ideas to Specialty Markets
These are what I call reprints with a twist. Instead of a bulk marketing effort, let’s specialize. In a spreadsheet, jot down the name of each article you’ve written and next to each write the names of three specialty or trade markets. For instance, I once wrote a piece for a women’s magazine on a women-only train in India. It’s a great women’s story. It’s also a very good general-interest piece. Know who else I sold it to? Trains magazine. As a travel and food-and-beverage writer, McDonnell says she constantly pitches stories on the same country or region to different publications, varying the slant to make several sales. A piece on a unique project for breast cancer survivors goes to women’s interest magazines but could also go to cancer research newsletters. Similarly, that piece on taking one day at a time that you wrote for the parenting magazine could also be a great fit for a magazine for practicing Buddhists.
Day 5: Ask for Referrals
From editors, of course. And from fellow writers. Let’s face it, no writing jobs website is going to dish on how you can get published in The New York Times or which editors are accepting pitches at National Geographic. But you know who might? That writer you correspond with daily on Twitter. That journalist you wrote to three weeks ago to thank for sharing advice on a blog. There’s no secret to this. Give and you’ll get back. I posted on my blog a while ago how I was having a slow month and a reader e-mailed me a list of her magazine contacts saying she’d gotten so much from my blog over the years, she’d be happy to help me out. These were incredibly good markets that I hadn’t considered and so to thank her, I e-mailed her details of my editors at Time and ABC News. Three weeks later, she wrote to say she’d received her first assignment from Time. Lola Augustine Brown, a freelance writer and editor who has been writing for 16 years and has had work published in Redbook, Cosmopolitan,the Toronto Star, Today’s Parent, Canadian Family, Fashion and Flare, asks editors to write her a recommendation on LinkedIn. “Also, when I applied for a health writing grant,” she says, “I asked several editors to write me letters of recommendation. None of them minded doing so in the slightest.”
Day 6: Get Personal
I hate networking but I love getting to know other writers, editors and colleagues. Perhaps it’s because I’m not actively out “networking” that I’ve often found work through people I’d have never thought to ask. Take, for instance, a journalist I met at a dinner party I attended with my husband. I got on with her fabulously. I wrote to her the next day and only then discovered she worked with the NYT. She happily passed on her editor contact details and I landed my first assignment with the Times. Whenever possible, I’ll try to meet editors who are passing through my city or when I’m passing through theirs. I started writing for Time when, after receiving half a dozen rejections, I asked the editor if I could drop by the office to discuss ideas. “I believe [in-person networking] is the best way to network of all,” says Brown. “I attend relevant writer conferences such as those presented by the Society of American Travel Writers and Travel Media Association of Canada and take yearly trips to visit editors in Toronto, where most of the magazines I write for these days are based.” When she did more work in the U.S., she would meet with any New York editor who would see her, whether she’d actually written for him or her or not. “I also look up writers I know online and go for coffee or whatever when I am in their city,” she says. “I love meeting people and feel like a real relationship is so much more useful than a purely online one.”
Day 7: Get Social On Social Media
Since getting out and meeting people actually requires you to change out of your pajamas and set down that coffee mug, don’t ignore the most obvious of networking opportunities: social media. “Twitter has been amazing for me,” says Brown. “I’ve had two editors of top Canadian magazines that I’ve tried to break into for years assign me stories because they’ve been following me on Twitter and like my voice there. I also just landed a job as editor of a new travel website through a Twitter recommendation. I have sent people to look at my LinkedIn profile when they are considering hiring me because I’ve been vigilant about getting editors to write me a recommendation there.” One of Laing’s current clients came from Facebook and has netted her more than $9,000. “A fellow freelancer tagged me in a response to someone else’s status update, announcing that a curriculum development company was looking for more writers/editors,” says Laing. “I reached out and got the job.”
So there you have it. One week of marketing, many months of pay off. Give it a try. You just might get some work, and fast.
Mridu Khullar Relph is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Time, Marie Claire, Elle, Vogue, Ms. and The Christian Science Monitor.