Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Freelance Writer

By Marissa Miller

Somewhere between the decline of staff jobs and the rise of sweatpants, freelancing got a bad rap. But it isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to my career.

I’ve never held a staff job, but I’ve worked in offices in full-time capacities, and now I oscillate between full-time editing at a digital publication and full-time reporting for my favorite ones. So yes, the hours are long, but it’s my choice! Bonus: I get to blast the music as loud as I damn well please.

Thinking of making the leap to freelance? Here’s what you need to know before owning your own freelance journalism business (man, that has a gorgeous ring to it).

Create a bonafide work space.
It’s enticing to post up in your bed all day, but my productivity suffers tremendously when I work in a spot I commonly associate with reading a magazine, sipping tea, and ultimately falling asleep. Put on real pants, keep your back straight, pour yourself some strong coffee, and go forth and impress your editor.

Rejection isn’t a sign to give up.
When you’re lucky, editors provide feedback on your pitches (whether they were accepted or not), and you can use that to better craft your next idea. If you’re passionate about your story, a rejection could light a fire under your butt to try again until you determine the angle that fits.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people.
Growing up (before I abandoned the notion of one day becoming a brain surgeon and a manicurist simultaneously), I couldn’t fathom asking people questions for a living. Sure, it’s daunting at first, but think of it this way: You have an excuse to learn about peoples’ beautiful stories first-hand (like the time Kylie Jenner told me she likes to wear blue contacts). So never fear to ask that pressing question—you never know what sorts of fun facts you’ll uncover!

Become a voracious reader.
Sometimes we fall in love with our own words and abandon writing that lives outside of us, which is why it’s important to stay up-to-date with the news. Buy subscriptions to your favorite mags (supporting print media is cool!). Follow brands you love on social media. (@Ed2010 is good place to start; Ed follows countless magazines!) Share them with friends and talk about them. Gaining a broader perspective of the world will enable you to pitch stories with stronger “Why now?” hooks, setting you apart from the competition.

Ed tip: Subscribe to Texture on NIM. It’s an app that gives you access to virtually every consumer magazine for one reasonable price. It’s  the Netflix of magazines!

Get a hobby.
Seriously! Sometimes I get lost in my own world working insanely long hours before I realize it’s been three days since I did something in the self-care realm. Not only does this give your brain a chance to reset, but it helps you feel inspired to pitch a wider range of stories. (With that said, don’t actively seek story ideas in everything you do, since you’ll put yourself at risk for burnout, which is a real thing. Just chill out and take in the scenery. The stories will come.)

Have an emergency fund.
There will be great days, and there will be slow days—maybe even slow months. Prepare for the worst and save up three to six months worth of living expenses before you take the plunge into freelancing. Invest in an accountant to help you come up with a personalized plan. And don’t forget to file your taxes on time! (On the bright side, a portion of your rent and other related expenses count towards your work necessities, so be sure to keep track of everything you pay for with receipts and an Excel spreadsheet).

Be kind.
Of course, you should always stand your ground and negotiate the terms of your contract if they don’t seem fair to you, but you should always be grateful for work. Editors are people too, and if they find you to be pleasant and conscientious, they are more likely to think of you for assignments than they would Grumpy McGrumperson. Same goes for your relationship with other freelance journalists: the industry is cutthroat enough as it is, so help those who’ve helped you. Plus, it’s always nice to have someone with whom you can commiserate over beers.

Marissa is a freelance writer and editor in Montreal who contributes to The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and several other publications. She’s never come across a kale chip she didn’t like. Check her out at marissa-miller.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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