This guest post is from Janelle Harris, Fabulous N’ Frugal’s DreamGirl and The Write or Die Chick. With more than 35 publications under her belt, she shares her wisdom on how to break into the freelance writing game. In this post, she answers the question, “For black women wanting to be freelance writers like you, where should they start? What should they do?”
Everyone’s journey is different, so I don’t think there’s one thing you should do to get started. Some people are adamant that you should go to journalism school, others say it doesn’t really matter. I’m one in the latter, obviously because I didn’t go, though I was an English major. I get asked this question a lot. I absolutely love what I do. It’s a gift to be able to move people to emotion and action, and I get to leave a legacy of words, which is so awesome I can’t even describe it. That said, I would definitely advise:
1. Diversify who you write for. Take on private clients like nonprofits and small businesses, register to become a government contractor, pitch stories for magazines and blogs. There are benefits to all of them, but most importantly, you set yourself up to consistently have checks coming in. Magazines are notoriously slow to pay, as are some clients. So spread your talent far and wide, even if you have a niche as a writer.
2. Be prepared for feast or famine. You have to be able to handle risk of making $10,000 in one month and maybe $800 the next. Start building a little savings cushion before you George Jefferson walk out of your job. So many, many times I wanted to flip my desk over and be like, “I’m out this biz-itch” at work but I knew I wasn’t prepared, so I had to sit down in my little slacks and my little rolling chair and shut up until I was.
3. You have to be hungry. You’re always chasing someone—an editor to follow up on a pitch, an accounting department to figure out what happened to a check, an interview that you need to nail down or one that didn’t call or show up when they were supposed to. That’s part of the job. But your diligence pays your bills, builds your platform and opens your opportunities. I rode my Essence editor’s hindparts for weeks before I got my first assignment there. I didn’t nag. I don’t think I did, anyway. I was really polite and conversational and just stayed front of mind until she called me like, “I have an assignment for you.”
4. One last thing—you have to have a thick skin, especially in the age of hairtrigger responses on blogs and online mags. You can write about something random and seemingly harmless, like how much you hate pantyhose or your favorite flavor of Starburst and someone, somewhere will take offense to it and call you a talentless hack because of it. You learn that folks are not only crazy, but they’re passionate in their crazy. And if they’re really looped, they’ll seek you out on social media or email and tell you about yourself. So you have to be prepared that once you get out there, you’ll really be out there, especially if you leverage any kind of opinion.
Frugalistas!– Did you get that? Great. Now put it into action and make us proud.
Wonderful tips. You’ve inspired me to pitch.
Even more inspired…never heard about government contracting. Off to research!