Answers to 10 of Your Most Urgent Freelance Writing Questions

Carol Tice

Answers to 10 of Your Most Urgent Freelance Writing Questions. Makealivingwriting.comIf there’s one thing I’ve learned about freelance writers, it’s that you have a lot of questions.

You’re worried about doing stuff wrong.

You’re wondering how the whole freelance-writing game works.

Of course, I answer freelance writers questions promptly, six days a week, for members of Freelance Writers Den…but right now we’re closed to new members.

I used to regularly answer reader emails here on the blog, but I have fallen sadly short on that in recent months. Which I feel bad about.

So I’m bringing back a monthly mailbag feature starting today.

Here are ten interesting questions I’ve gotten recently, and my answers:

I found the marketing manager for a company whose ad I saw on a bus–I thought it was a bit weak when considering their target audience.

So I got in touch and said I’d be interested in working with them, if they’d consider using freelancers. The catch is that they’re already using an agency for both the copywriting and design work on their ads, however the manager is new to this area and was interested in my thoughts.

I don’t want to give away my ideas for free, but at the same time I don’t want to turn away a prospect who might eventually consider a faster/cheaper option than an agency later on–maybe I could even get on a contract to help out with their other copy needs. What do you think would be the best way to position myself for this?–Laura

You’re right that you don’t want to find yourself simply giving up a bunch of free consulting time, Laura. But if you think you’ve got a shot at prying this company away from their agency, I might go in and dazzle them with 15 minutes or a half-hour of conceptual stuff — why the current marketing isn’t working, what you would do different. You don’t want to do mock-ups and write new ads for them on the spot I think, but show them that you get the business better than the agency.

Maybe throw out a marketing idea they aren’t currently using. See if you can find a new project — a white paper download for their website maybe? — they might assign you as a tryout. They might also connect you to their agency…which might use freelancers, too. Doesn’t have to be you or them…could be both.

Just don’t go in and talk for two hours without a contract.

I am just wondering if you know anything or have any thoughts about the website? I am not sure whether to pursue writing jobs listed there or not.–Emily

I don’t look at any bidding sites or online job ads personally at this point, and I’ve never been on this particular site.

Keeping that in mind…I think the answer really depends on how much you want to earn and what your ability is to market your business proactively. states right on the home page their average gig is $200 or less. It seems heavily angled to draw clients looking to pay squat. “Projects start at $30!” the home page screams. Also, they push that businesses “only pay if they’re satisfied.” Sounds like a license to say “I hated it” and rip you off if you ask me.

Anyway, if those rates and terms sound good to you, give it a whirl. But if you have any willingness to go out and find your own clients, you’ll always earn more that way. I personally don’t do any projects at a price lower than $400, so it wouldn’t be for me. It’s hard to make it a living doing a bunch of tiny, one-off, $200 projects.

I’m an Engineer by training and experience.  With 26 years of product development experience I still have people correct my copy. Just yesterday I had a client make corrections to my copy while I sat there and gritted my teeth.  She’s an accountant for god’s sake, how do I know if her thoughts are better than mine or is she just putting her stamp on things?

I need a good writers course with lots of feedback and difficult enough that I will know I can write if I can make it through.  You state there are lots of writing courses to take. Would you recommend the best ones to me?–Mike

You probably don’t need a writing course, Mike — you just need to know that it’s routine for clients to revise your copy. If you’re getting paying clients, I’m going to take a flier and say you can write.

I am wondering about rights for my work.  For a few months, I have been writing 200-300 word articles for an online publication that has about one million readers annually, in which I am able to have a bio with information about myself and my own blog (which I haven’t done yet because I’m also just starting the blog).

However, [the site owner] retains all rights to my articles once I’ve published.

I am not paid for these articles, which I knew going into it.  My question is this: does the benefit of gaining clips and being able to promote my blog to these readers outweigh the fact that I don’t have the rights to those articles and am not paid for them?  I’m just trying to think long-term.  Many of my articles would be considered evergreen, so sometimes I cringe that I can’t use them again.  If the exposure is worth it, though, I may continue.  What are your thoughts?– Stephanie

Let me get this — you are giving away all rights to articles on a busy site that doesn’t pay you in order to promote the blog…that you don’t have yet?

Has this exposure gotten you any client leads? Have you gotten hired for pay off this exposure? In sum, is this exposure working for you?

If not, you want to drop this. You have a few clips on a notable site now, so you’re ready to build your writer website and find paying clients. I definitely wouldn’t give up more evergreen topics for nothing.

The main thing to remember about exposure is…writers can die of exposure. You want paying gigs.

I notice on that your landing page is not your blog. The landing page for my website is my blog.

When editors see my blog first, does it help or hurt my chances of being published? I want to present the most polished, professional image of myself possible and I’m curious if this simple step could be hurting my image.–Debra

That depends on what sort of writing work you’re trying to get, Debra. If you’re focused on getting paid blogging work, having your blog be the home maybe works. Especially if you have a good ‘hire me’ tab.

If you want a variety of writing gigs, I think it’s much stronger to write a static landing page, so you’re not taking a chance on which blog post will be in clients’ faces at the random time they choose to visit. You just want more control over your messaging.

If a website doesn’t indicate which of its editors is best for querying, or if it doesn’t give query / submission guidelines, is it a good idea to first send a short email asking for that info?  Or would it be better to just go ahead and send a query to whatever editor or general contact email I can find?–David

There are really two issues here – finding writers’ guidelines, and finding the right editor contact.

On contacts: Whatever you do, David, don’t email a query to a general email box. You don’t want to be in that virtual ‘slush pile.’ Instead, why not call the publication up on the phone and see if you can wrangle an editor live to ask about guidelines? Sometimes they’ll take the time to chat, and you could end up with an assignment right then. Barring that, try for a managing editor, articles editor, features editor…something along those lines. If I don’t know for sure if I hit the right person, I always just close with “If you’re not the right editor for this query, please feel free to forward it on.”

If you know the publication well, I would just study it and do a query that’s a fit. If not, you might email and ask for guidelines. Just don’t be shocked when your request is ignored. And know that many editors ignore or don’t even know their official guidelines.

I have four questions: First, what do you think about emailing a PR/communications director of a company/organization directly to simply ask if they periodically use freelance writers and giving a quick personal intro to your experience/qualifications? Is that considered intrusive if their email address is available on the company’s/organization’s website?

Second, do you think it’s possible to build your social media presence to a point where you can land lots of work through that?

Third, you mention creating a Facebook fan page to market your business. Do you favor this in place of using your FB personal page?

Last question, I’d just be happy to have a steady part-time writing business. Would making $25k to $30k part time be doable, given time to build up the business?–Chris

1) This is called sending a letter of introduction…and it’s a great way to get gigs. It may be considered intrusive…but you’re going to have to intrude on people’s time a little if you’d like some writing assignments.

2) Since I got $14,000 of work from just one client I got off Twitter last year, and have also gotten clients on LinkedIn, my answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes. You often don’t land it passively on social media, though — you get it by reaching out on social media and approaching prospects.

3) I don’t know what goes on on your personal Facebook page, Chris, but that random stuff is not what I want my prospects seeing first when they check me out. So I have a business page.

4) The answer to this really depends on your background and your drive to make it happen.


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  1. Karen

    Great questions and answers! Some of these same questions have been floating around in my head as well. Especially the one about the letter of introduction. I’m working on crafting one now but was worried that maybe it would do more harm than good. I’m inspired to actually send it out to the list I’ve created now.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Kathleen

    Hi Carol,

    Thanks for all the great answers!

    I am curious to know what your social media strategy is.

    You said: “You often don’t land it passively on social media, though — you get it by reaching out on social media and approaching prospects.”

    So, my question is, how do you approach prospects in social media?

    • Carol Tice

      My favorite reach-out is to tweet, “Are you the right editor to pitch for X type of idea at [publication name]?” Fairly low-risk question they can answer.

      The last time I did that, the answer was “It’s me,” and I got $14,000 worth of work from that editor. Really, it’s worth doing.

      Not everyone will respond…but sometimes they will, and it’ll be well worth the effort.

      • Cathie Ericson

        Newly aTwitter and figuring it out….that tweet will go to all their followers, though, correct? Not that it matters, but just curious.

        • Carol Tice

          No, it’ll be seen by all of MY followers who happen to be scanning tweets at that time (or who scan back to it), Cathie. Which is OK since I don’t care who knows I’m trying to get a gig. 😉

          Unless I’ve sent it as a Direct Message in which case only the editor would see it. But that’s usually not possible with a new connection you’re trying to make, since both parties have to be following each other to make it a private conversation.

          • Cathie Ericson

            Thanks, Carol! I wasn’t sure if MY (short, still building on Twitter!) list saw it or if their list saw it…or perhaps both; guess it doesn’t really matter.

  3. Ronald Sieber

    Den Mother:

    Thanks for putting this up. I like reading Q&A stuff, as I usually have the same questions.

    I’m glad for you that the Den business is booming. Q&A looks to be to be a good, informal way to accommodate the inundation you must be getting from your cubs.

    And, thanks for helping me out, too!


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ron —

      The whole idea for the Den really came from all the questions I got! But I do want to still accommodate questions from nonmembers here on the blog, so glad I’m back in the swing of doing a mailbag feature.

  4. Triniti D.

    I so like your answers to the concerns above. You’re really a writing guru. Keep inspiring others. How long have been helping other with their writing needs?


    • Carol Tice

      Since about 2008 I think…sort of a blur!

  5. Laura

    Hi Carol,

    Whoa! I knew you were busy and so throwing my question out there a while back was sort of a Hail Mary, but what a wonderful surprise to have you not only answer it but feature it in your post today. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and giving me a few other suggestions. I’m taking your advice and outlining a few thoughts on the manager’s current efforts to see if she’d be interested in my suggestions. I’m also going to bring up the fact that I’ve worked with a few local agencies, so maybe she won’t mind putting me in touch with the business she’s been working with. Either way, I think you’re right in that I shouldn’t just let the opportunity pass me by, so I’m willing to sacrifice some time for that. Thank you again!

    By the way, to Chris–I’ve not only emailed communications/marketing directors but cold called them. Rude? I don’t think so. I always introduce myself and then ask if now is a good time for them immediately afterwards (that’s if I even catch them in office, which can be a rarity). I don’t come across as overly entitled, though I do have the confidence to see myself as a professional attempting to help not only myself, but their business. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong when you’re giving them the option to stay on the line or read your email–they can either decline (and it’s almost always polite) or give you a few minutes of their time. Either way, you’ll know if you can be of service without having wasted anyone’s time.

    • Carol Tice

      My pleasure — let us know how that pitch turns out!

  6. Joyce

    Thanks for putting this up.

  7. Emily

    Thanks so much for answering my question, Carol! Your blog is fantastic.

    • Carol Tice

      My pleasure — hope it helped!

  8. Lilibeth

    They asked me to write a 500 word article on a topic they chose, which they said was only a test. I submitted a well-written article and in two weeks, I have not heard anything.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah…about that. Probably a scam. Don’t send sample articles on an assigned topic to anyone.

  9. allena

    In total agreement with all your answers Carol- which is not always the case for me when it comes to :getting started” questions.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Allena — glad to hear I hit it on the head for you!

  10. Jane Johnson

    Hi! I learned a lot from this post. I can relate to some of the questions and you answered them clearly. Thanks. I am amazed at the “power” of Twitter. I think I will start using it more.

  11. Mikalee Byerman

    OK, I have a crazy question — that seems very “rookie,” despite the fact that I’ve been freelancing for almost two decades! Here’s the deal: I always “over-interview,” leaving me with extensive UNUSED notes for stories. So…if you’re assigned a story for a magazine, can you use the notes from that story to write another story that you’ve pitched to another mag? Of course the lede graf would be different, the content would be different…but the topic might be similar.

    An example: I was assigned a story for a regional lifestyle publication about haunted hotels. The story was cut from 1,500 words to 1,000, and I have a lot of great info left over. I’d love to pitch a similar story to a regional travel magazine…but I’m not sure about the protocol. Also, if it’s acceptable, must I reveal to the editor of pitch #2 that I’ve written a similar story for pub #1?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts! 🙂

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