For some who pursue a career in journalism or writing, their goal is to work full time for a single publication (print or online) or as an author writing their own series of books and texts. However, increasingly more and more writers and journalists are freelance writing. Freelancers, also referred to as “stringers” in the news world, are their own boss and write for a variety of publications and media sources. Typically a freelance writer will specialize in a particular discipline, such as news, arts & entertainment or technology, but some branch out and cover many different subjects and fill different roles, from newspaper columnist and magazine feature writer to ghost writer and web content copywriter.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
Determination, hard work, discipline and openness to constantly refining one’s craft are all needed for a successful freelance writing career. However, hands down, it is extremely advantageous for a prospective freelance writer to complete a journalism or communications degree. (Someone who wishes to be an author, script writer or ghost writer would also benefit from an English degree or creative writing courses). Not only do such programs allow students to learn and practice essential skills required for their future profession and participate in experiential internships – having a journalism degree will also help you stand out amongst other writers when editors are going through the piles of pitches they receive. Often a communications or journalism degree program will also offer a freelance writing course.
Before and as you pursue your journalism degree, you should be continuously seeking out and gaining experience. This may mean volunteering for your school newspaper, writing a blog, going to events and writing reviews or coverage pieces (for practice and possibly a publication) or interviewing friends and family to practice conversing with subjects for an article. Get in the habit of writing every day, even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes in the morning. Some days will be easier than others.
Freelance Writing Job Description
For freelance writers, not one day is alike. One day you might be interviewing a subject or researching leads, whereas on another day you may be writing and editing your work. Here is a list of some of the duties that are part of a freelance writing career:
- Pitching story/article ideas to editors of print and online media
- Meeting with clients (in person/phone/online) to discuss their ghost writing needs
- Researching background for a piece you are writing
- Revisiting your work and making improvements/edits before submitting
- Organizing your work schedule (especially if you are writing for multiple clients/editors at once)
- Marketing your services (through direct contact, setting up a website, attending networking events)
- Continuously learning through attending specialized courses, asking for feedback or teaming up with a mentor
- Other possible duties include transcription, photography, editing
Pros and Cons of Freelance Writing
A life of freelance writing can be very fulfilling and has many perks. However there are some downfalls to not having a steady 9-5 job. Here some examples of pros and cons:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most people who pursue a writing career are choosing to work as freelancers; in fact the BLS estimates 70% take this route. Although any writing position is competitive, a journalism or communications degree coupled with hard work (and a willingness to put in extra hours until established) can guarantee your successful entry into the freelance writing world. From now until 2018, the number of positions for authors and writers are expected to increase by 15%, states the BLS. The median salary for non-freelance writers was around $53,000/year, adds the BLS. However, a freelance writer’s salary is difficult to quantify since it is based on a per project basis (either by the word, page or entire project). It depends on how hard a freelance writer works to find publications and clients to write for. Once established, a freelancer will have editors and clients approaching them and will evolve into only completing higher paying assignments, for more prestigious publications.