Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rules of Engagement: How I Found Work as a Freelance Writer

In the short time I've spent working/slaving/selling my soul as a freelance writer, I've come to recognize a few things that work, a few things to stray away from, and in general have developed my own Rules of Engagement. How to approach jobs, how to get them, and when its really best to walk away.

Freelance writing in a photo. Notice its the middle of the night. 

Before I get into the thick of it though, I feel I need to clear the air about a few things. I have never held a freelance writing job that paid all of my bills for very long. I had one, for about four months, because that's the world of freelance. Freelance means a contract, which if you read carefully, means your client or bossy-boss has the right to cancel, kick your butt out, at any time. The work isn't always stable, and the pay isn't often something to write home about. For these reasons, I do not recommend living off of a freelance writing gig, because, to put it simply, it really can't be done.

But! If you want to find a freelance writing gig to give your income a little boost, or if you're in school and want a little extra money, freelance writing gigs are a great way to bolster your resume before you graduate. But how to tell the fact from the crap? Here's the deal, as plainly as I can state it.

Rule #1 Get on Craigslist. 
Because its one of the few job-sites today that actually has a telecommuting option. Click it, get into that writing job section, and look everywhere. I mean everywhere. Go to that sidebar on the far right, click US cities (or whatever country your in), and search each and every one. The benefit of telecommuting is it doesn't matter where your boss, you can work for them, so use it to your advantage.

Rule #2 Cover letter confidence.
Write your cover letter the same you walk into a job interviewer - with confidence! Cover every single thing the job description mentions as a necessary skill or responsibility. The phrase "I look forward to hearing from you" is a great way of saying "I'm fucking fabulous, so you should get back to me ASAP."

Rule #3 Proofread everything twice.
There is nothing more embarrassing than applying for a job as a writer, or worse yet, an editor, only to have errors in spelling and grammar in your email. I recommend saving everything you send out as a draft first, walking away for at least ten to fifteen minutes, and reading it again before you email it off. If you have a friend or roomie nearby, get them to read it for you.

Rule #4 Monthly resume cleaning
Its been a month and you still haven't found work. You've applied for dozens of gigs, and your cover letters are kick ass, confident, YOU WANT TO HIRE ME pieces of perfection. Go back and clean your resume. Are your jobs in order of relevance to the position you're applying for? Is there a list of your publications in it somewhere? Could the layout look sharper, cleaner, better? The latest versions of Word have a million and one snazzy resume templates to help you get a little added attention.

Rule #5 Don't do anything for free
Good writing gigs understand that your time is literally money, and as such will pay you, no matter how paltry, for the work you do on a trial assignment. If they say anything about free, either walk away, or demand they sign something so that your work belongs to you and not them. No matter how much they sweet talk you, remember, by doing the work for free you are basically letting them walk away with the words of your labor for nothing, not even credit. For all you know Mr. I Want To Assess Your Skills Before I Hire You has another dozen candidates just like you giving him free work, and as such he or she doesn't have to hire any of you. In short - Demand pay, or walk away.

Rule #6 Demand a 1099
Or better. A 1099 is the all-important freelance contractor form. Any decent business will have one to keep up with their taxes, and so you can keep up with yours. If they offer a W4, even better. Just don't take a job without a signed piece of paper saying they will pay you and it will be known by your government. No papers from them, no work from you. Its as simple as that.

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