5 Freelance Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Monday, August 22, 2016
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One of the biggest pieces of advice freelance writers hear is to keep pitching, no matter how much work you have. The reason for that is because you will most likely reach a few months where you’ll have a dip in income. When you have specific expenses and bills to cover each month, that dip can result in a cash flow problem. I’m just as guilty as the next person in not sending out article queries as much as I should. I was fortunate to do a lot of traveling this summer, and much of it resulted in some great story ideas. But with juggling the travel and trying to keep up with my regular clients, I haven’t sent out any queries all summer. With school starting back last week, I’m starting to feel the strain of not knowing how much income I’ll have coming in through the end of December. So that you don’t fall into the same trap I have, I’ve put together five freelance writing mistakes to avoid.

Don’t get behind on updating your portfolio. Occasionally I post updates on my blogs with links to articles I’ve published, but I’m not as consistent with updating my website or LinkedIn profile, where they would be the most beneficial. This is an important step because a writer’s website is her resume. If an editor is thinking about hiring me, I don’t want them to look me up and see that the last published article on my portfolio is from two years ago.

If you’ve taken an interesting trip somewhere, don’t delay in sending out queries as soon as possible. I recently went to places such as Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, (the retail brainchild of HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines), Washington, D.C., and a lowcountry island in South Carolina where no cars are allowed and only 400 or so residents live. I also have plenty of photos of each place, which I should include in my queries. Which I will begin sending out this week. Seriously.

Don’t get behind on your invoices. Most freelance writers I know send out invoices for their work immediately upon completion. This can help avoid having a gap each month where you are waiting for payments. Please don’t be like me and get behind on doing this, because you’ll end up spending too much time looking through your spreadsheets trying to figure out what you still need to send out, and this messes up the rhythm of any pay cycle you have in place.

Don’t be afraid to turn down work. This may seem contradictory to my advice on not lining up work properly, but you need to be mindful of your time. I accepted an article assignment with a quick turnaround right before going on vacation a few weeks ago, which I probably shouldn’t have done. I had several sources I had to contact, and I didn’t do as much research on the topic because, well, I was having too much fun on vacation. I had to get an extension on the article, which wasn’t a huge deal, but I do feel guilty because I know I’ve held up production on three different magazines that this will be running in, as it’s a shared article. And it could also make an editor less likely to hire you in the future if you can’t deliver what you promised on time.

Don’t be disorganized. I mentioned above I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my assignments. Unfortunately, that’s about as organized as I get these days. My desk is a mess, I can’t find my to-do list, I haven’t filed my e-mails all summer, and last week I had a panic attack in the middle of the night that I had missed a deadline. I hadn’t, but it was a stressful few hours before I hunted through my e-mails for the due date.

I hope these tips have been helpful, and that they don’t dissuade anyone from hiring me! I promise I put a lot of thought into my assignments and work hard, even if I can be a hot mess at times. Do you have any do’s and don’ts for other freelance writers you’d like to share?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is spending a Sunday afternoon catching up on work, because, that’s just how she rolls these days. Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great tips, Renee! I'll admit, I'm a bit behind on my pitching, too. I write for a media company and all I need to do is look at the list of sites, pick one and give them a headline. If I don't put it on my calendar, it doesn't get done. So a tip to myself would be: schedule it into your day and don't get sidetracked!

Margo Dill said...

This is all super advice--especially being organized and knowing what you have out there and what you have due AND if you have invoiced or not. :) SO much of writing is also business sense--it is amazing.

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