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

Carol Tice

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.



  1. Daryl

    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

      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.

  2. Rhonda

    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 🙂

    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!)

    • Carol Tice

      What a cool program! Wish my library had something like that! We could certainly do it out here since writers sort of grow like weeds in this region…

  3. David Gillaspie

    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.

  4. Holly Bowne

    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

      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.

  5. Anne

    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. 🙂

    #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

      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. 😉

      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.

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