How Freelance Writers Can Tell if They're Doing it Right

How Freelance Writers Can Tell If They’re Doing It Right

Carol Tice | 30 Comments

Freelance writer feels confident he's on the right trackWriters are a persnickety group, I’ve learned in my five years writing this blog.

I can tell from all the writers who email me if I have a typo in one of my posts. (And no, I don’t care about the typos.)

But seriously…writers like to do things by the book. We don’t like mistakes.

Writer’s guidelines make us happy. It’s comforting to us to know the proper procedure.

Which is why being a freelance writer can be so stressful. There’s so much gray area!

It’s easy to get bogged down worrying about whether you’re making a mistake in how you’re pitching that editor, or asking about that late payment.

Writers want to avoid embarrassment

Of the thousands of questions writers have asked me over the years, I had the thought recently that they all boil down to one question:

“Am I doing this right?”

Many writers feel there must be a secret playbook out there that reveals the one, right way to pursue freelance writing. And that I’m hiding it somewhere. Would I please share it?

The thing is, there is no one right way. Any time I think I’ve discovered a great a system for querying or doing marketing on LinkedIn that works great, I meet someone else who does the opposite — or thinks my marketing method is bad.

But screwups are inevitable

If you are out there shaking your tail feather marketing your writing a lot, you are bound to screw up. You’ll end up spilling your drink all over your jacket at that networking event, or forgetting the name of someone you met last week and looking like a fool.

You’ll send your query letter to an editor who it turns out got fired that week.

When you try social media, the opportunities for social gaffes are numerous. For instance, at one point I tried to get serious about promoting my blog posts on Reddit.

I kept posting links and being ignored or left weird, rude comments, until one kind Reddit user finally enlightened me that it’s not cool to post your own stuff on Reddit. It’s only for posting other peoples’ stuff you want to share.

Whoops! Oh well.

I went back to using social-media platforms I understand. I was not blackballed by the High Court of Social Media Wizards. I now chat happily with my 9,000 Twitter followers and make friends and find new readers there.

My Google Analytics tells me some wonderful people do share my stuff on Reddit and StumbleUpon, as I get some traffic from those places. I’m grateful they do. Still don’t really get how those sites work.

Luckily, you don’t have to ace everything to find freelance clients.

How you’ll know if you’ve got it

Here’s the basic rule for freelance writers. Ask yourself: Are you doing it?

If you are steadily marketing your services in some way, and learning from your mistakes, and getting better at marketing as you go…then you’re doing it right.

Stop obsessing about whether you know the “etiquette” of how to do everything perfectly and just do.

Trust me, it’ll work out a lot better than sitting biting your nails and not taking action because you’re worried you don’t know the right way to go about it.

Are you doing it right? Leave a comment and tell us the actions you’re taking to move your freelancing forward.


30 comments on “How Freelance Writers Can Tell If They’re Doing It Right

  1. Holly on

    Just this past week I met another writer who immediately asked me “how you do become a freelance writer?” when I told her what I do.

    Doh! I really didn’t know where to start. You are right there is no perfect formula.

  2. Marie on

    This post was exactly what I was hoping to hear! Confirmation to a freelancer’s insanity. Ever since I found your site a couple days ago my bookmark bar has seen an increase in attention! Thank you Carol!

      • Marie on

        You got it! I’d rather work 80 hours a week being a freelancer instead of 40 hours a week working for someone else. If that’s what it takes then bring in on! Away with the bookmark it is! I just hope I don’t forget the URLs. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Megan on

    Dang, I really needed to read this today (and yesterday, and probably tomorrow, too.) I keep making excuses for myself as to why I’m not ready to get out there and market myself, mostly relating to a lack of clips or feeling like I don’t have enough experience. But, I sure don’t feel like returning to office life, and I’m certainly not going to get any of that experience by browsing BuzzFeed all day. Time to hustle!

    • Carol Tice on

      I think you can only get more experience…by getting out there. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Writers get stuck in these negative cycles of “no experience so too scared to do anything…and now longer of no experience and more scared to do anything…” and so on. Instead of act, see what happens, learn, do more, keep perfecting, get it done. Which is the only way to be.

  4. Jennifer Gregory on

    Great post. I used to worry about the same thing. ALOT. But then I am a worrier by nature. The first thing I did was that instead of worrying about results, I would set goals that were in my control instead of goals that depended on other people. So instead of saying I would get 4 assignments this month, I make a goal based on my actions such as I will send out 50 LOI’s this month and reconnect with 10 editors. It almost never fails that if I do my part then the work will come. But setting my goals based on other peoples actions just set me up for disappointment and frustration which result in not doing anything.

    I totally agree that marketing takes time and writers should not expect overnight results. But if you are consistently marketing yourself and not getting results then you probably need to make some changes. Either in your letter, your approach or you need to be targeting different markets or you need some more clips in to get the work you want.

    For example, I was sending out lots of LOIs and getting no response. So after a few months I started tweaking my LOI and sought out some markets that I thought would help me break into the markets that I really wanted. It worked. I would say evaluate your marketing strategy every 3 months or so. If you aren’t getting any traction then you need to make some tweaks. That doesn’t mean totally abandoning what you are doing, but making small changes that will make it more effective.

    • Carol Tice on

      I totally agree. One of the most overlooked areas of marketing is analysis. Is it getting a result? That is how I stopped looking at Craigslist ads – my analysis showed I had never gotten a quality client that way, only crummy ones.

      And you know I LOVE goals you can control. Totally the way to go.

  5. Daryl on

    What am I doing to push my own freelance career forward?

    I think the most important thing is sending out pitches and applying for good freelance writing gigs. I’m still learning a LOT on the best ways to get gigs and what buttons to press in order to increase my likelihood of getting a gig.

    The second most important thing I think I’m doing is guest posting. Not only to extend my reach, but also to work on writing for different markets and segments, which will help to develop my own writing!

    Admittedly, I definitely need to do more of both of these, but I’m getting there.

    • Carol Tice on

      Right on, Daryl — I learned so much about blogging for clients from guest posting. And of course guest posts expose you to new audiences, and sometimes to prospective clients.

  6. Rhonda on

    I’m pitching to a regional business magazine that has no writer’s guidelines. Needless to say, I kept wondering “Am I doing it right?” But I drafted my pitch anyways, knowing that there are some things that are part of every good pitch.

    Our city has a wonderful Writer in Residence program through the library. I managed to speak to our WinR about this magazine since I noticed he had a feature in this month’s edition. His response? The guidelines don’t matter, send them a 3 paragraph pitch.

    That’s it. It really is that easy – which you’ve been saying for some time ๐Ÿ™‚

    As I was talking to our WinR, he called over the editor of another magazine that I would like to pitch to and we talked about how editors are less worried about whether the pitch is perfect and more concerned that the story idea will fit. If it will, they will work with you to get it ‘right.’

    So, I will polish my pitch tomorrow, and send it out. Because it doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect, just that it is good and that I actually hit submit (which I’ve been doing a lot of lately!)

  7. David Gillaspie on

    When you hear advice like this it makes you wonder where it’s coming from.

    Carol, when you break down the one question worth asking you give a freedom I haven’t seen.

    What a nice surprise.

    @Brenda: I get the cooking police all the time. And the laundry police.

  8. Holly Bowne on

    First of all…

    “I was not blackballed by the High Court of Social Media Wizards.” (This line made me laugh out loud! Ha, ha!)

    And second, you’re so right! Almost every question I ask boils down to “Am I doing it right?” And I would say reading blogs like yours and participating in the Den has helped me to move beyond that fear and just do. Thanks for such a common sense post. It’s one of those truths we may know/suspect deep inside but it helps to have you say (write) it out loud.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hoping more writers can let go of the worry about whether they’re following the (imaginary, really non-existent) rules and spend more time simply trying things and seeing what works for them, Holly.

  9. Anne on

    Right on!

    I have two major indicators to tell me how I’m doing. They are:

    1. How much I’m putting in the bank as a result of my freelance work, and
    2. The level of satisfaction (both my own and that of others) experienced as a result of doing the work I do (which is partially, but certainly not wholly, determined by #1).

    Right now I’m feeling pretty good about #2. ๐Ÿ™‚

    #1 is doing OK, but I know I need to be more proactive about seeking out the best gigs. Which means it’s time once again to step out of my comfort zone and risk a little more rejection.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Anne –

      Interesting – I sort of discourage writers from equating marketing activity directly to today’s income, or to look at this month’s income as a referendum on whether you’re doing it right. Because marketing takes time to play out and pay off in better assignments.

      I like writers to just focus on developing a consistent marketing habit. That means you are pursuing freelancing the right way, because it will pay off in a better result in #1 in the end.

      Recently, on a Den call I had a writer tell me she’d taken tons of my courses but still not launched her business. I asked her if she had yet done the most basic low-hanging fruit marketing like connecting on LinkedIn with former editors and marketing managers…and she hadn’t!

      This career will not happen from wishing. Only from action. Taking action starts this being a career and not a hobby, or worse, a low-paying business where you never have quality gigs you enjoy.

      And don’t think of it as “risking rejection.” Rejection is a certainty, if you do any serious marketing. No risk involved.

      Also a certainty that you will not grow your income without that marketing activity. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Marketing is just something freelance writers need to do, like brushing your teeth. Simply needs to happen every week, until you reach the point where you get leads every week from referrals and your website and other inbound methods.

  10. Allen Taylor on

    I too can’t figure out Reddit. I iust don’t get it. But I do like StumbleUpon, though I don’t use it as often as I used to.

    For me, it’s a matter of doing it. I spend several years not doing it and I often ask myself where I’d be if I had. I waited too long. Now it’s forcing myself to do what I know I should do.

    • Carol Tice on

      Like I always say — be a writer, not a waiter.

      There’s way too much worrying and wondering and pondering what the one best place to start is, rather than just starting to put it out there, so that you can learn what works for you.

  11. Ray on

    I feel my success is growing and for this I am very thankful. I believe that one thing for sure, that I am doing right, is expressing gratefulness to my clients. I always thank the client for ‘giving me the opportunity’…I follow up with a thank you email when the assignment is completed and I have been compensated. Common courtesy goes a long way, which brings me to…”thank you Carol for your wonderful emails and articles. I am very thankful for your input and that you are willing to share your expertise.”
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • D Kendra Francesco on

      Thank you notes works for more than writing.

      My daughter bought a trio of various exercise DVD courses on eBay (the full courses, w/ between 10 and 15 DVDs each, plus tips books and recipe books). One was for her best friend, one was for me, and one was for herself (she’s moving to the next level).

      Inside the box, tucked in with the materials, was a lovely, grateful HAND-WRITTEN thank you note from the seller!

      My daughter isn’t a gushy girl, but even that took her breath away for a moment!

  12. Marcie on

    Yes, I am doing it right, but it took at least 2 years to get to this point. Like you said, as long as I continue to market myself and my work, I am progressing. Also, I look forward to my next rejection. That’s the most obvious sign that I’m doing what should be doing in my writing life.

  13. Lynn Silva on

    There’s 2 important things I’ve discovered that are guaranteed to help me grow:

    – Rejection

    These are the most powerful tools I’ve come across thus far. But…in order to access either one of these…I have to stay in motion and keep trying.

    The best part about both of these is that when you do mess up, many times, a more experienced person will email or message you with tips that will help. This adds true value to making mistakes and being rejected. : )

    • Carol Tice on

      I feel like I’m talking so much lately about TAKING ACTION. People keep musing, and asking, and taking courses…but never executing on anything. You get knowledge of how to move forward from action, not from discussion with yourself in a vacuum.

      • Lynn Silva on


        I ‘mused,’ asked and took your courses for months.

        All of it came together when you and Linda had that Headline Tweet Chat. I wanted your help, so I had to blast my headline ideas over Twitter. After doing that, who wouldn’t be ready to query? : ) It was a masterful technique to get people to take action.

        Shortly after that, you really started focusing on the ‘take action’ approach. You’re combining a masterful balance of ‘head stuff’ and ‘heart stuff’ that I continue to benefit from. I’ve only just begun so PLEASE…don’t stop! People are listening!

        I’ve learned that you actually are very humble and don’t expect compliments…so this is NOT a compliment! This is a reader…expressing to YOU…a genuine, ongoing…need. : )

        • Carol Tice on

          Hi Lynn —

          You know what — I loved that tweet chat too! Maybe next time I take guest posts I’ll just take them as Twitter headline pitches…thought that was a great learning tool.

          I DO put a lot of effort into making sure there is a balance of practical how-to stuff and then inspirational posts…it seems like writers need both.

  14. Brenda Spandrio on


    This is so me…In fact, I’ve only recently realized that I don’t always have to use exact and precise measurements for a recipe (the “baking police” still have caught up with me for adding extra cinnamon to my pumpkin roll!).

    The best thing I keep hearing from you, Carol, is “Are you doing it?” (It being whatever I’m “struggling with” — aka avoiding.)

    Thanks again for the encouragement!!

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