I’ve been at the freelance writing game fulltime for a bit over five years now, and I have to admit, despite my decade’s background in the magazine and new media business, the learning curve was, at times, pretty steep.
These days, I occasionally get an email from a freelance newbie or a journalist pal who’s just been laid off, asking for advice on how this all works.
Well, it’s not really something you can encapsulate in an email or even a long lunch. In fact, I taught a four-week mediabistro.com class on writing for new media, and most of the students had never written a query, which really is the basic tool of selling your ideas — and yourself — as a freelance writer. While it’s hard to cram all that info in to a month-long class, there are plenty of resources online for writers looking to learn how to break into the freelance business.
Online forums catering to professional writers were a major help to me when I was just starting out. They’re a low pressure way to learn and absorb information, at your own pace, via conversations with writers frequently dealing with the same issues. But they can be somewhat hard to discover if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are a few that really worked well for me.
Freelance Success: FLX, as it’s known to regulars, is a great online water-cooler of sorts for working writers, with forums dedicated to print, new media, corporate writing and book publishing. It’s a warm environment, with writers ranging from newbies to seasoned vets, all who are definitely willing to share their experience and resources — yes, sometimes even editorial contacts — with their fellow writers. The $99 membership also gets you a weekly newsletter featuring new markets, and a section where you can check out real writers’ queries that worked. Definitely a great place to get your feet wet if you’re trying to get your first few clips, but also a great place to check in if you’re craving that water-cooler chatter while procrastinating on deadline. (I’m not talking about myself there, of course.)
American Society of Journalists And Authors: For writers who are a bit more experienced, ASJA, too, has a great forum, covering markets in print, new media, corporate work and book publishing, as well as watercooler and fiction sections. The forums are limited to members — and membership is limited to writers with significant evidence of publication, whether journalism or books. Plus, you can find ASJA’s backlog of their super-informative monthly newsletter online, too. But one of the real perks of membership is the annual conference in New York, held in late April, where members have the opportunity to pitch editors and agents in the personal pitch sessions, as well as attend panels with editors explaining exactly what they’re looking for. There are also expert-run panels on blogging, social networking, the book business, syndication, and all the nitty-gritty involved in running a freelance business. Two days of the conference are open to non-members, too, and it’s a great way to see whether the organization might be a good fit for you.
Mediabistro.com: While Mediabistro’s online forums leave something to be desired, its Avant Guild does offer some pretty awesome perks for working writers, namely the How to Pitch series, which Mediabistro has been working hard to get up-to-date. The series offers a primer on the market, with the editor’s take on exactly what they’re looking for, lead times, pay scale info and recent freelance pitches that have been accepted. Avant Guild membership also includes the Pitching an Agent column, Q&As with media newsmakers, and a pitches that worked section. Not a bad deal for $50 a year.
ProBlogger: It’s no longer free, but if you’re a blogging newbie, ProBlogger might just be worth the investment. The site really gets you thinking in terms of readership — getting and keeping an audience. Run by professional blogger Darren Rowse, who is proof that you can earn a pretty cush income blogging, the new version of the community offers forums, critique groups, and a crash course in SEO and other blogginess.
WordCount: Michelle Rafter’s comprehensive blog, now in its fifth year, focuses on living and working the freelance life in the digital age. Lots of great scoop here on craft, running a business, technology, and especially how the latest media news effects the working freelance writer. Michelle’s site is especially awesome for new media newbies. Case in point: check out her post on why there’s no such thing as a dumb Twitter questions. plus she runs the annual, always-awesome Blogathon.
uPod: The brainchild of prolific freelance god David Hochman, this writing community is hosted on a Google group. uPod — under-promise, over-deliver is Hochman’s mantra — offers up a daily slice of the freelance life, with discussions on everything from getting started, the magazine business, preventing burnout, story leads, controversies, and of course, how to get work. Best of the Pod? Hochman’s no drama approach, which reminds you, every so often, that it’s just freelancing, not life and death.
I know, I know. These six resources barely begin to scratch the surface. Think something’s missing? Add your favorite online resource for freelance writers in the comments below.