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What Makes Magazine Writers Successful?

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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Path #6 to Technical Writing Success: Select Companies of a Specific Type

This is Path #6 to Technical Writing Success, however, it is certainly not the end of the list of ways technical writers can achieve success.

Select Companies of a Specific Type
Now that we’ve explored several ways technical writers can achieve writing success and the many types of documentation they work on, we’re going to focus on the types of clients available to you. There are many different types of client companies you, as a technical writer, can work for: local, national, international, large, small, mid-size, family owned, or even one-person companies.

When I first began my consulting business, I worked with pretty much all of the above for the first two or three years. Then I began to narrow the types of companies I wanted to work with until I determined the types of companies that were my dream clients.

Some writers prefer the one-on-one interaction that comes with knowing the owner personally. Others are comfortable working with specific departments or divisions within larger national or international corporations. As you work with each new client, notice the pros and cons of working with each type of company. Eventually, you will find your dream client combination.

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us in the comments below about your dream client combination.

Path #5 to Technical Writing Success: Startups

Working on projects for startup companies is the fifth path to technical writing success.

Startups
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.

Path #4 to Technical Writing Success: Teach

As you enjoy the journey to technical writing success, teaching is a path that creates an opportunity for you to share what you know.

Teach
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.

Path #3 to Technical Writing Success: Develop Specific Documentation

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.

Path #2 to Technical Writing Success: Be a Generalist

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.

Path #1 to Technical Writing Success: Specialize

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.

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What Makes Technical Writers Successful?

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.

The Writing Life, Part 2: Freelancing Without an Agency

In The Writing Life, Part 1—Freelancing With Agencies, I addressed agency work for freelancers. In this post, I’ll cover some of the reasons writers may choose to freelance without an agency. This is the 2nd post in a 5-part series.

Although I enjoyed the agency work I did when I first began freelancing, there comes a time in every writer’s life when it makes sense to freelance without an agency. Why? Because most writers are independent souls, free spirits who feel constrained by the rules and regulations of agency work.

When I decided to branch out on my own, I felt excited, elated, and terrified all at the same time. Amazingly, one of my first non-agency clients was one of my former employers. Shortly after I decided to drop the agency and fly solo, I unexpectedly received a phone call from the manager I’d reported to at the first magazine I worked for. They needed a freelancer to work on a premium product they planned to give to new subscribers.

It sounded like an interesting project. It also felt great to return to familiar surroundings—and at twice the hourly pay I had received as an employee. After that, I was convinced that freelancing without an agency was definitely right for me.

In The Writing Life, Part 3—Why Freelance?, I will share some of the reasons writers choose to freelance.

This is Part 2 in this 5-part series about The Writing Life. To read this series from the beginning, click here. I would love to hear your thoughts about life as a freelancer. What in this series is helping you? What else do you want to know about freelancing? Please leave a comment by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

The Writing Life, Part 1—Freelancing With Agencies

This is the 1st post in a 5-part series on The Writing Life.

When I first began freelancing, I had no clear idea of how to find clients. So I started cold calling companies. More about cold calling in The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients. Shortly after I completed my first two client projects, I accepted a 3-month contract position through an agency.

Agencies that hire and place writers are much like temporary agencies that hire office personnel or laborers. They find clients who want to hire writers, then they negotiate the contract, find and hire the writers, collect the payment, and pay the writers, keeping a percentage for themselves for the work they’ve done.

It’s fair, but it means you’re working for much less than you would be paid if you worked directly with the client. Still, I loved working this way when I was relatively new to freelancing and still learning how to find clients and negotiate contracts. I also appreciated that the agency would go after any delinquent payers. After a while, however, the constraints of working for an agency became apparent and I determined to work for myself because I’d begun to feel comfortable finding clients and I knew I could negotiate a better rate than I was getting from the agencies.

Working with an agency may be a good way for new writers to begin freelancing. Some more experienced writers prefer to work with agencies, so they can concentrate on what they do best and most enjoy—writing—and leave the administrative aspects like finding clients, marketing, and negotiating contracts to the agencies.

In The Writing Life, Part 2—Freelancing Without an Agency, I will share some of the reasons writers choose to freelance untethered to an agency.

This is Part 2 in this 5-part series about The Writing Life. To read this series from the beginning, click here. I would love to hear your thoughts about life as a freelancer. What in this series is helping you? What else do you want to know about freelancing? Please leave a comment by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.