Answers to the 7 Questions New Freelance Writers Ask Most

Carol Tice

Do you ever feel like freelance writing is some sort of secret club, where everyone speaks a private language you don’t understand?

Feel baffled about the basics of how it all works?

Sometimes when I’m writing about the freelance-writing game, I’m guilty of forgetting that some writers are brand-new to this.

Don’t feel dumb

I’m glad that a few brave newbies are willing to ask about terms they don’t understand, either here on the blog or in the forums on Freelance Writers Den.

And I know for every writer willing to ask me about industry jargon or how things work, there are probably 100 more too embarrassed to say they don’t know.

So I want to back up today and explain some terminology and basic resources on how to take those first steps.

These are the seven questions I’m most commonly asked by new writers:

  1. What is a clip? This term used to mean an article you’d written and had published. We called it a clip because you’d cut or clip it out of the magazine or newspaper it appeared in and paste it into your portfolio. Which was a physical book. Then we saddled up our horse and rode to town…OK, I’m not quite that old. But obviously, the term is a little out of date. Today, we usually collect our clips in a virtual portfolio of links that you create on your writer website, so prospects can easily find and read your work online. This published work we still call clips. Out of habit. Yes, I can totally see why that’s confusing if you’re new here. The important point is, it’s helpful to have a few clips from quality places to convince prospects to hire you…but not essential.
  2. What is SEO? That stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the art of putting key words into your writing at a level of frequency that will help the Web page it appears on rank highly in search engines for those particular words or phrases. At this point, if someone asks if you are an “SEO writer,” you probably want to run the other way. This means you’ll be writing for an audience of search-engine robots, rather than people. And that work almost always pays very poorly.
  3. What is The Writer’s Market? I’m so glad you asked, since I’m on the freakin’ cover of the 2013 edition! (Not making this up — check it out!) Why does this make me feel like the queen of the freelance writing dorks? Because this doorstop-sized volume is the definitive source of market information for everything from magazines and trade publications to book publishers and poetry contests. It’s got a handy survey in the front on what people charge for various types of writing, too, in case you’re baffled on what to bid. If you’re buying TWM, get the online-supported version where you can search their database. Real time-saver.
  4. What is an interview? An interview is the conversation you have with a source for an article. It happens either in person or over the phone. You ask questions, and then listen and take notes while the source answers. Emails are not interviews. If you get answers to your questions on email, you should cite it as such to make clear you in fact did not interview the person, as in: “‘That sucks,’ said Joe Smith in an email response.”
  5. Which editor should I contact at a magazine? Don’t hit anybody above managing editor — an executive editor or editor-in-chief is usually above the day-to-day fray and not reading query letters. If there’s an articles editor or an editor for the specific column you’re pitching, choose them. Otherwise, managing editor is often a good starting place. Of course, you could always just call up the publication and ask them who takes freelance pitches. Whatever you do, don’t send your query to editor@myfavoritepublication.com. Get a real name and email or it’s into the slush pile with your idea, never to be seen again.
  6. What is a pitch? A pitch is your bid to write for a business or publication. It’s usually delivered on email these days, unless the publication insists on snail mail. There are two basic types of pitches, query letters and letters of introduction. A query letter contains a fleshed-out story idea, including a headline and outline of what you’d write. A letter of introduction simply introduces you to a market and explains why you would be a perfect fit to write for their publication or company. Both of these are little art forms of their own, and well worth mastering, as they can open a lotta doors for you and get you many gigs.
  7. Who should I contact at a business to pitch them my writing services? In general — in the absence of any personal connections or inside information on the company’s inner workings — the marketing manager is a good bet when you’re pitching your services as a business writer. You can often scan a company’s press releases to find their name.

I thought about adding one final question to this list that I get a lot: “What is the one, easiest, best, low-cost way to market my writing?” The problem is, there’s no one answer to this one. It depends on you — your personality, and the types of markets you’re going after.

My short answer, without knowing anything about you, is “The way you’re willing to stick with.”

Got another question? Leave a comment and I will strive to answer all comers.

30 Comments

  1. Ali

    I read somewhere that, from time to time, you should write a piece for total newbies. As you said “don’t feel dumb” that’s the feeling you have when writing about something very simple. I enjoyed the post and am sharing πŸ™‚

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Hi all,

    Love the site! I’ve been reading the posts and comments more than I’ve been doing my work.

    I have what may be a naive question, but just when can one call oneself a “freelance writer”? Does one need to have published something? I’m really new to this, and feel like it’s a bit of a fraud if I pitch myself as a “freelance write” without ever having landed a gig. Carol, is this just one of those fears new writer have that we need to get over to market ourselves effectively?

    Thanks for all the insight, and for the willingness you all have to share your hard-won knowledge!

    -Dan

    • Carol Tice

      You can say it as soon as you stop saying “oneself.” πŸ˜‰

      But seriously…I think if you do a few free pro-bono samples for clients, do a good job, and get their recommendations, you’re there. You’ve got a bitty portfolio, you’ve worked with clients (even if it wasn’t for pay)…you’re launching.

      Approach those first clients and tell them you’re looking to start a business in freelance writing, could you do a brochure/web content/etc for them? And take it from there.

  3. Theresa

    Well I can’t wait! Ordered The Writer’s Market a few hours ago (thanks for the direct url to it) and now it’s Amazon’s turn. Shouldn’t be long, all my experiences ordering with Amazon have been great!

    Thanks again for what looks like a PACKED source of info πŸ™‚

  4. Peter D. Mallett

    Hello Carol!
    What do you know you are on the cover of Writer’s Digest. I have my copy right here. I just got my copy in the mail the other day. Funny thing is we both posted today on our blogs and both recommended it. πŸ™‚ I also have a glossary of terms on a seperate page of my blog. It seems many of the things we do for work or hobbies have their own new words to learn. Sometimes it is part of the fun.

    My blog just started a month ago, but I have been writing for some time. I’m glad I found your page. I am bookmarking yours, and I will be back.
    Peter

    • Peter D. Mallett

      Wow,
      butterfingers, I made a typo on my own name. This is my blog in case you wondered why it didn’t come up.
      P.S I enjoyed your article on freelancing in the Writer’s Guide.
      Peter

    • Carol Tice

      I keep having the same reaction peter…”What…am I on the COVER of that? I KNOW that can’t be right…” Next time I walk by. “Dang, there it still is! Is that really there???” I’m considering having a t-shirt made of the cover I’m like so giddy.

      I recommend subscribing to the blog here instead of bookmarking…bookmarking won’t get you all the free goodies and special deals I send subscribers. πŸ˜‰ RSS-ers lose out on that as well. ;-(

    • Peter D. Mallett

      Carol,
      Yes. As I explored around a little I did that too. Looking forward to getting the information.
      Peter

  5. Theresa Cahill

    Hi Carol!

    Love the fact that you are johnny-on-the-spot with this post (I did ask about a glossary for the Den on the last call). It is important to know not just the “formula” for what to do when and how, but also the vocabulary.

    [For instance, one of the things I do is called a solo that others in IM call a “standalone.” Same animal, different name.]

    The “clip” was the one that was throwing me off. I’m thinking… she must mean a “blurb” that writers often put at the top of their articles (if submitting to directories) – which you clearly explain is not the case, thank you!

    So… problem solved πŸ™‚

    Clarice also has a point. I, too, have been doing SEO for 10+ years. If you’re writing blog posts or an About page or whatever content for a website or blog, it is important IF the client wants something stressed, to know how much, how often.

    Typically, keyword density (also calling upon Jon Morrow, who I can thank you for btw) for a keyword/keyword phrase based on approximately 500 words, the writer would use it in the title (if appropriate), in the first sentence and maybe a variation of it within the first “paragraph.” Once, twice, three times tops within the body, and again in the closing sentence. You can play around with the phrase (which gives your writing variety). This would provide a density of around 2-3% (again on 500 words) give or take. That’s not stuffing and search engines will love you πŸ™‚

    So saying you know SEO and how to do it the right way could be a big plus particularly online. But, as you point out, if it sounds more like the potential client is looking for “spun articles” or $5 cheapies… run! LOL!

    However, I did not start out at all to add my two cents to SEO.

    It is the use of terms for this industry that one needs to know (again as so many have said) so we don’t sound like idiots (or cannot respond to a response should the editor use a term or acronym in their reply).

    Also HOLY COW congratulations! To me it is no surprise. Personally I love your style and how you use everyday “speak” in such an interesting way that a person would be a fool not to finish reading what you’ve written.

    And, the comments you get are remarkable and very informative – either making me think, “Oh yeah, I wanted to know that, too” (or just something in passing from the freelance writing perspective).

    (BTW getting out more, refining my ideas, all thanks to being a Den member – I love you all! Off to grab up a copy of The Writer’s Market!)

Related Posts

WordGigs Review — Is It Worth It? (2022)

When it comes to finding writing gigs, there are a million places to choose from. You might be looking for a WordGigs review and trying to figure out whether you should go through the application process to become a freelance writer for their site. This WordGigs...

How to Get Into Gonzo Journalism

If you wanted to learn about how to get into gonzo journalism or the history behind it, you've come to the right place. Originally credited to Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalism is the style of writing where you're covering a topic or event, but you're mixing your...