So many of you that read me are aspiring writers. I’ve decided to do a short series on how I got started in freelance work so that maybe some of you can be inspired by my story.
I was working for Social Security Disability when I found a help-wanted ad looking for freelance writers. A publisher was looking to start a magazine called “Today’s Mississippi Woman”. I responded to the ad with my resume and immediately got a call for an interview.
However, the publisher turned out to be not much more than talk. I asked him questions about the job, and he couldn’t give me specifics on what he wanted or what kind of work I would be doing. He wanted me to come up with ideas for articles instead of assigning me work. So I did over the next three weeks. I developed ideas for three articles and submitted them to him. He loved the ideas and gave me the go-ahead to work on them.
I pulled all my rusty skills together (and my courage) and started making phone calls to the people I had decided to write about. I felt like an imposter at first–writing for a magazine that didn’t even exist outside the publisher’s imagination. However, everyone I interviewed was excited for the publicity and very cooperative.
I wrote the articles by the deadline, sent them in, and waited. And waited. And waited. I got the shock of my life when the publisher called and offered me the editorship of the magazine. It seemed he hadn’t gotten very many people to submit articles and had discovered that the project was beyond his scope of knowledge. I turned him down because I knew I didn’t have the skills needed to do the job adequately. And I waited some more. I finally called him one more time, only to be told the phone was disconnected.
I was not quite crushed, but I was wondering whether I could get some other publications to take the articles I had written. I went to the phone book and looked up newspapers and magazines. My first contact was the Mississippi Business Journal–I called and asked whether or not they took freelance work. I was patched through to the editor, who said, “Sure, we could use another writer.”
I told him about one of the articles I had done, and he asked me to send it on in by email. I worked out how to do that in my wordprocessing program, and I emailed it as soon as possible.
I also called a local parenting magazine pitching the second article I had done. They were also interested in it and asked me to email it. They published on a quarterly basis, so it was a while before I heard that it had been accepted as well.
I took a deep breath and screwed up my courage to call my biggest target yet–the newspaper of record for Mississippi, which was published in the state capital. I got the local news editor, who said she didn’t use freelancers, but she transferred me to the statewide edition editor, who did.
My big hurdle here was to provide clips of previously published material. I hadn’t written for a newspaper since college, and I had lost my collection of clips in one of our moves. Luckily, a cousin of mine was attending college at the university I had, so she went to the library, looked up old copies of the college newspaper, and copied all the articles she could find that had my name on them and mailed the copies to me. I picked the three best and sent them to the editor who had requested them, and she took my final article I had prepared for the women’s magazine.
So that was getting my start. Next time I’ll write about what I learned over the years as a freelancer.