To become a freelancer takes self confidence, self motivation and self accountability. Basically, it’s all up to you. Which can be intimidating and liberating.
Ann Friedman is a successful freelance writer, podcast creator and chart maker. She is also an alumni of the Missouri School of Journalism. Last week she came to campus, on behalf of Mizzou ONA to give a speech, attend a few classes and conduct a master class on freelancing.
I was lucky enough to attend the masterclass and want to share a few of her tips to becoming (and continuing to be) a successful freelance journalist.
- Pitch to a human
As journalists, we are supposed to be able to find information and people. If you can’t find an editor’s contact information, it doesn’t reflect well on your research skills. Occasionally there is a submissions email available on an outlet’s website. However, sending your well crafted pitch into the void without knowing there is a human being on the other end to receive your work is a waste of time. If you are having a hard time finding the exact editor, reach out to the editor with the closest fit. Even if it isn’t correct, it’s still a start.
- Tailor the pitch to the publication
Think about the publication’s audience when crafting your pitch. Remember that the editor is your ultimate client. Friedman said that often freelance pieces are picked up to solve a content problem for the editor. If you pitch is well tailored and specific to the publication, you are indicating to the editor that you consume their product and know the audience well enough to produce a piece that will fit well within the publication.
- Have clips that prove you can do it
This step is obvious, but necessary. An editor picks up a freelanced piece to solve a problem and they don’t have time to babysit the outside journalist. They need to know you have done a successful pieces before and that you will produce a quality piece.
- Include a news hook
Just like other pieces of journalism, they need to have a “Why now?” factor. Editors won’t pick up a piece if it isn’t newsworthy, timely or interesting. Figuring out the pitch’s news hook will help dictate the tone and timeline of the piece.
- Impose a timeline and keep track
When you reach out to a publication to pitch a story, impose a timeline by blatantly saying that you need to hear back by a certain date. This way you can pitch to multiple publications and your time researched doesn’t go to waste. Once you have a story, keep track of your progress in a spreadsheet. Friedman uses an excel spreadsheet to track the story from inception through receiving the invoice. It helps her keep herself and others accountable.