Image: Matthew Loffhagen
This is the second part of a two-part article. To read part 1, click here.
In the first installment of this article, I covered the nitty-gritty, technical side of writing online articles: writing techniques and different ways of structuring your thoughts. As I said then, writing articles online can be incredibly rewarding if you have a passion for the craft. For authors, it’s a great way to keep your skills honed and reach a whole new audience, but it can also be rewarding in a more literal sense. With that in mind, I’ll now take you through some of the business realities of finding work online, including how to pitch article ideas to an editor.
Finding your niche
You may be the kind of person who relishes challenges, like writing about anything and everything, even if the subject is completely new to you. Certainly, by casting a wide enough net, you could take on a lot of work, but the amount of time you’ll have to spend swotting up on things you know nothing about will cost you. When you’re freelancing, the whole ‘time is money’ thing is a very real, stress-inducing specter hanging over you as you type.
‘Write what you know’ is a directive that authors hear a lot, and the same suggestion can be applied to article writing. As well as saving you valuable research time, your writing will be imbued with both genuine passion and natural confidence – two things editors and readers are looking for.Finding your niche encourages confidence and cuts down on costly research time.Click To Tweet
Of course, by ‘niche’, I don’t mean anything too specific. Maybe you’re obsessed with vampire novels set in the Deep South, or perhaps you love golfing holidays more than your own children. Those are great things to write about on your personal blog (and if you can monetize that, then good on you.) If you’re trying to turn it into a profession though, you’ll likely have to expand on those interests to find enough work.
If vampire books are your jam, you could probably transfer that passion to writing about supernatural books in general. And for the holiday-making golfers – could you widen that into writing about the sport as a whole, or even travel writing? You should be able to express your general area in a succinct, marketable way. ‘I write about TV/travel/golf/supernatural fiction’ gives an editor a clear idea of what you can do for them.
Corroborating your knowledge
Even if you consider yourself an expert, it’s always best to corroborate what you’re 99.9% sure you already know. Make sure you use information from places that show their workings, in other words – that link back to the root source.
When writing online, be careful to corroborate what you already (think you) know.Click To Tweet
And guess what? Despite what your teacher/lecturer might have told you, Wikipedia is always a good place to start. Yes, really, you can use Wikipedia. As well as a great place to spread misinformation about celebrities, it’s also a good place to farm sources for research. The trick is to begin with Wikipedia, and then use their sources to check that facts are good enough to use in your own work. If there’s no source, then look elsewhere, or find a new fact you can trust.
This is a vital tip, because if you’re writing for a website or other content provider, they’re trusting you with their reputation. If you’re wrong, it’s not as simple as just correcting yourself; you’ll have embarrassed someone you were depending on for future work.
But where do you find work in the first place? Begin with sites you visit regularly; anywhere you generally enjoy the content. Ideally, aim for sites that match your writing style and publish content focused on your niche. See if they have a ‘Write For Us’ section or any other contact details, and just get in touch, even if they’re not actively asking for submissions.
Even those editors who don’t get back to you straightaway might reach out in the future. Plenty of successful online writers got their break because someone else quit on short notice and the editor had their email address.
Looking for work doesn’t have to be limited to the written word, either. A lot of established sites also have YouTube channels these days, and – despite what preconceptions you have about teenagers making a living from live-streaming video games and shouting at each other – that content needs to be scripted by someone. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the learning curve isn’t as steep as you might think. With many sites pivoting to video content, there’s a lot of work in this area just waiting to be snapped up.You first online work might not be ideal, but it will evolve quickly. Click To Tweet
The other tried-and-tested method is the old-fashioned way. Browse job adverts and find someone who’s hiring. I recommend free job-listing sites like ProBlogger, which also lets you set up email alerts based on the kind of work you’re interested in. These sites are gateways to more permanent work, offering opportunities to become some beleaguered editor’s favorite person in the world. Copywriting agencies are also an option, but you’ll likely need relevant training first.
Once you’ve found a site you’d like to write for, you need to pitch them something. Even if you’re answering a job advert, you’ll still need to pitch them some ideas. An editor isn’t just after someone who can string an interesting sentence together and meet a deadline – they want your ideas and opinions on thing.
As in real life, a lot of getting online work is making things easier for the next person up the totem pole – try to hit the sweet spot of having your own ideas and being willing and able to take instruction.
Most sites will give you specific guidelines on what they want you to send them, but here’s a basic checklist:
- Just like a normal job application, tell them a little about yourself and your relevant experience. Try to also find an aspect of their content that you can honestly say you’re a fan of.
- Send them samples. Relevant ones if you have them; otherwise, just something that shows off your writing skills.
- Pitch them at least one idea, unless they have specific guidance on this. Some publications that are inundated with solicitations, like The Guardian, won’t even read your email if it has more than one pitch in it.
- Take some time browsing through their current content and try to think of something that would look at home amongst it. Take note of their preferred format choice, too – do they specialize in Top Tens? Then pitch them a Top Ten.
- Structure your pitch. Just pitching a title isn’t enough. You need to have a fully formed idea – an elevator pitch – that you can summarize in a few sentences. Tell them the subject, your unique take on it, why you think it would work on their website, and what the takeaway for the reader would be. If you’re pitching a list, give them at least two sample entries. I definitely wouldn’t recommend just writing a draft and sending it to them, because they’re not going to bother reading it.
- It’s fine to recycle rejected pitches. An idea that isn’t the right fit for one site might be perfect for another. It’s bad form to reuse pitches that have been accepted, though.
Be yourself, but leave room to adapt
Most editors will want to hire you for you. They want someone competent, but they also want someone with a distinctive voice and actual opinions about things. Having said that, you should also remain open to adapting your established style here and there to fit the mold of whoever you’re working for. Be mindful of their ‘house style’ and standardized format so your work will look totally at home among their other content. Plus, the less incorrectly formatted subheadings your editor has to fix, the happier they’ll be with you.Make your editor’s life easier and they’ll give you more work as a favor (to themselves).Click To Tweet
If you’re trying to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder, you’ll probably have to do a fair amount for little or no pay before you can make significant progress towards making a decent living. But, all this experience – even unpaid – is still valuable in the long run. Find your niche, develop your style, keep your eye out for job adverts, and keep coming up with great hooks to get an editor to bite.
Do you feel ready to write articles online? Let me know in the comments. Or, for more great advice, check out How To Be A Successful (And Happy) Ghostwriter and Grow Your Author Brand Through Networking. Here’s How.