Have you ever noticed that some of the same freelance writers are published in your favorite magazine issue after issue? Have you ever asked yourself why these writers get repeat gigs? Do you ever wonder what it would take for you to be one of these writers?
Writers who are hired to write more articles for the same publication do three things that most freelance writers don’t. They study the market, develop relationships, and over deliver.
1 They study the market
Successful freelance writers carefully study each magazine they want to write for, so they can pitch articles relevant to the magazine’s readership. They understand that by getting to know the magazine’s readers and the types of articles the magazine publishes, they have a better chance of being hired to write for that magazine. They also know that after the editor purchases an article from them, they will have a chance at repeat business from that editor.
Study the last six issues or more of a monthly magazine and the last 12 issues of a quarterly magazine. This will give you a strong knowledge of reader demographics and the types of articles the magazine has recently published. From this, you will know what to pitch and what not to pitch.
2 They develop relationships
The successful freelance writers I know each make it a point to develop an ongoing relationship with each editor they write for. It’s a lot easier to nurture an ongoing relationship than it is to recruit new clients every month. These relationships will serve you well by helping you get multiple writing gigs from the same publications. As a result, you will build a strong client base, so you aren’t in a constant panic to find more work each time you complete an assignment.
Also, in spite of the proliferation of both online and hard copy publishers, the publishing community is still small and editors talk with one another. You never know when an editor may recommend you to another editor. Or an editor may quit one magazine and go to work for another. If you’re one of her favorite writers, she may ask you to come along with her.
3 They over deliver
If you’re writing an article and you can easily add value with a sidebar, graph, or list, go ahead and do it. The key is if you can “easily” create the sidebar, graph, or list. This is a freebie that you’re providing, so it should only take you a few minutes, not hours, to put together. Your editor may not have the space to use it, however, she will remember that you took the time to provide more information.
On several assignments when I’ve tossed in a sidebar or list, my editors have told me that it made their job easier because they needed to fill an empty space on the page and the item I provided fit.
When you do these three things, editors you work with may even seek you out when they’re in a bind and ask you to write a specific article for their readers, which will increase your income.
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Most writers, being creative types, are loathe to talk about money. They especially dislike when they have to tell a new client their rates or when they have to invoice a client. I know that side of freelancing can be difficult because I, too, struggled with that when I first began freelancing.
If you want to be a successful freelance writer or editor, you must overcome your resistance to talking about and asking for money. You do like to eat, right? I’ll bet you also like to live in a warm home with heat and air conditioning and, well, all the comforts of home, right?
So, as Cher said to Nick Cage in the movie, Moonstruck, “get over it!”
Here are 3 easy ways to present your rate to clients. Feel free to reword them to make them your own and practice saying them until you feel comfortable. When they ask what your rate is, answer calmly and clearly without missing a beat:
1. “My rate is $xx per hour and on long-term projects such as this one, I will invoice you every 2 weeks.”
2. “My rate is $xx per hour and with first-time clients, I require X percent up front prior to beginning work. The remaining X percent will be due Net 15 days (or Net 30 days) upon completion.
Note: If this is a long-term project, instead of the remaining X percent being due upon completion, explain that “upon completing X percent of the project, explain that you will begin billing every two weeks and each invoice is due in Net 15 days (or Net 30 days).” Make sure you choose an approach that works best for each project.
3. If you’re working for a mid-size to large company that has provided you with a purchase order, you know they’ve signaled their intent to pay you. In these instances, I usually say, “My rate is $xx per hour and since we’ll be working on this project/these projects long term, I will invoice you every 2 weeks beginning on (month/day/year).”
These are just a few ways to present your rate to clients. What are some of the ways you present rates to clients? Dip your pen into the inkwell and share what works for you!
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Working on projects for startup companies is the fifth path to technical writing success.
Startups offer an abundance of opportunities for freelance technical writers because they usually have a small in-house staff, so they often need consultants.
When you approach a startup, keep in mind that they may need help in several areas including marketing, sales, advertising, user documentation (manuals), training materials, and web site development.
In addition to helping startups achieve their goals, working as a consultant will provide you with a growing network of future potential clients because employees of startups often spin off companies of their own.
I invite you to dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your startup consulting stories.
As you enjoy the journey to technical writing success, teaching is a path that creates an opportunity for you to share what you know.
The fourth of six paths to technical writing success will introduce you to a broader potential client audience because many of your students may work for companies that hire freelance consultants.
Several teaching venues are available including university extension courses, community college programs, writers groups, writers clubs, city and county education classes, and high school evening classes for adults.
Whenever possible develop the courses you teach. You will have a stronger familiarity with the materials, which will help make your teaching flow.
Another venue for teaching is writers conferences, which may also provide the opportunity to be a speaker, which will increase your visibility.
Please dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your teaching experiences with us.
This is the third of six paths to technical writing success.
Whereas the first path to technical writing success was about specializing in a specific field like computers, scientific analysis, manufacturing, or marketing, this path is about specializing in one or two specific types of documentation, such as user guides, product inserts (usage instructions, assembly instructions), brochures, newsletters, training manuals, grants, annual reports, and so on.
Select a particular type of documentation to write such as user guides, internal documentation, academic research, white papers, or web sites.
If you’re not sure which type of documentation you want to focus on, work as a generalist for at least a year or two. This will give you an opportunity to work on a variety of documentation projects, which may help you decide which path to technical writing success you want to take.
Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us about the types of documentation you enjoy writing.
Here’s the second of six paths to technical writing success: Be a Generalist. This is a good way to begin your freelance writing career if you have not already chosen a specific field of expertise.
When you first begin freelancing, you may need to work on whatever projects come your way to bring in enough income to support your affinity for things like eating good food and living in a warm, comfortable home.
The good thing about being a generalist is it feeds the innate, insatiable curiosity writers seem to be born with—the curiosity that makes us want to know and learn about everything. It also increases your versatility, so you can work on more projects, which has the potential to increase your income.
When I first began freelancing, my clients were in several fields from computers to semiconductors to telephones to lawyers and accountants. Some were small companies with one to 10 employees; others were startups, still others were large, international corporations.
The projects ranged from one-page flyers to newsletters, training materials and courses, product assembly instructions, packaging text, video game marketing, sales brochures, and marketing collateral. This variety of projects and clients provided me with a broad range of experience which subsequently helped me decide which direction to take my consulting business.
Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us about your experiences as a specialist or a generalist.
Last month, I wrote about the many different paths technical writers can take to achieve success. I promised to break each of those paths down in future posts. So, here’s the first of six paths to technical writing success:
Choose a field and specialize in it
There is a demand for technical writers in almost every field of work. And you thought technical writers only wrote about computers!
Technical writers are especially fortunate because the number of areas in which they can specialize is extensive. This is because technical writers create documentation that helps consumers (or users) use a product—any product.
The opportunities are endless: there’s hardware, software, semiconductors, scientific analysis, automotive, manufacturing, marketing, and sales, just to name a few. You name the industry and it probably needs technical writers.
These writers produce documentation like computer user guides, product manuals, assembly instructions, maps, guidebooks, how-to guides, and sales and marketing materials, such as flyers, newsletters, brochures, and even web sites. They may even produce training materials or develop training courses.
Naturally, when you specialize in a specific field, you will be working in a more narrow area. The good news is that when you specialize, you become known throughout the writing industry as a specialist and, if you’re good at what you do, other writers and your clients will become your greatest marketers and recommend you to others who need your writing skills.
Some specialists begin as generalists and some generalists begin as specialists. I’ll talk about generalists in my next post. In the meantime, if you decide your writing path to success is as a specialist, notice which types of projects you most enjoy and begin to explore the possibility of specializing in that area.
Until next time, please dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us if you specialize or are a generalist.
Success comes to technical writers in many ways. Each of them requires focus, writing expertise, and work.
For some writers, writing is difficult, so the road to success is hard work. For others, writing is fun, so the work is easy, almost like play.
There are as many paths to success in the technical writing field as there are writers. Here are 6 of the most common.
1. Choose a field to specialize in, for example, hardware, software, semiconductors, scientific analysis, and more.
2. Work as a generalist in several fields where technical writers are needed.
3. Select a particular type of documentation to write: user guides, internal documentation, academic research, white papers, to name a few.
4. Teach. You can leverage your expertise in a particular technical field to teach others about it.
5. Consult only with startups.
6. Consult only with a particular type of company: local, national, or international corporations.
I’ll expand upon each of these technical writing fields in future posts. Until then, remember that whether you consider writing hard work or play, the road you travel on your journey to success is your choice.
Sometimes it’s crowded. Sometimes it’s the road less traveled. Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us in the comments below about the road you’ve chosen to travel on your journey to success.
New writers and editors often ask me how to set rates for their consulting work. Establishing a set rate for your work is one of the most important things you will do in your business. Does that surprise you? Let me tell you why setting your rate is so important.
The rate you set for the consulting work you do, whether it’s writing or editing, determines your overall income. Your rate also sets you apart from the amateurs and ranks you with the professionals in your field, that is, if it’s a competitive rate.
When I first decided to be a freelance editor and writer, I called several people I knew who were already doing what I wanted to do. I asked them what the current rate was for freelance editors and freelance writers. To do this, I had to, essentially, overcome my aversion to talking about money and ask them what they charged. (This is something you will need to do as well, if you want to join the ranks of professional writers.)
A few (a very few) refused to answer. Obviously, they were even more loath to talk about money than I was. The other writers and editors were happy to discuss their rates with me and to share how they determined what to charge (and when to raise their rates).
After doing this research, I sat down with the data I’d gathered and weighed my experience against that of the more experienced professionals who had so generously shared their strategies and their rates with me. I set my rate and began marketing myself as a freelance editor and writer.
I encourage you to do the same. Ask other writers (or editors, if you’re an editor) what the current rates are for doing the type of work you want to do. Make sure you ask this of pros who are already doing what you want to do. Then sit down with the data you’ve collected and weigh your experience and expertise against theirs to determine your rate.
How do you set your rates? I invite you to share your approach in the comments section below.
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Until next time, Write On!
I’ve sat on both sides of the editorial desk and I’ve learned a few things from being both a writer and an editor.
Writing, even freelance writing, bears similarities to regular jobs. Writers often develop business relationships and even friendships with the editors they regularly work with. However, there are some things writers should not ever tell editors, not even editors they consider friends.
Here are 5 things writers should not ever tell editors:
1. I Hate Writing About This Topic.
Editors appreciate writers who are enthusiastic about their assignments. Although editors know that the most successful articles are written by writers who are passionate about a topic, sometimes they just don’t have a choice. They have to assign a topic to someone who probably is not be interested in it. That’s when they ask one of their trusted writers to help them out. If the writer tells the editor that they dislike or hate the topic they’re going to write about, when the editor needs to assign future articles, the writer may only receive assignments that are in his specialty area.
2. I’m Only Writing for You Until I Get Published Elsewhere.
No one appreciates knowing that they are second choice. Editors know that every writer is looking for their next writing gig. However, only those who are indifferent to others’ feelings would say so out loud. Make each editor you work with feel like they’re the best one.
3. I Only Write Because I Have To.
Editors love what they do and they know that the best writers are those who love to write. They also know that the best writing comes from writers who are passionate about writing and about what they write. So do your best to be enthusiastic, even if you’re only pretending. Who knows? You may talk yourself into liking writing.
4. I Earn More Money Than You Do.
Editors already know this. They don’t appreciate you reminding them. And although technical editors earn more than most editors, they still earn less than technical writers. In spite of the fact that editors already know that writers earn more than they do, they prefer to work with you as part of a team and not think about how much more you earn.
5. Don’t Change What I Write Without Letting Me See It First.
Editors work with many writers. They do not have time, nor do most publications permit their editors to provide writers with a copy of their articles prior to publication.