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Freelance Success Story

Freelance Writer and Photographer
E. Lee Griggs

Webmaster Note: See our complete schedule for this series here.

I am a full-time freelance writer and photographer. My primary area of work is writing magazine articles and providing the photographs accompanying these articles.

Many years ago, in a small high school in Virginia, I had the wonderful opportunity of having a teacher who realized that I enjoyed telling stories and writing. He encouraged me to write whenever I had the opportunity. Shortly after meeting him, I had the opportunity of writing for the local newspaper as a high school reporter for the grand sum of one cent a column inch….you can believe that I wrote as many words as possible.

After a stint in the Marine Corps and a vacation trip to Korea and Japan, I returned to civilian life as a student and news reporter for local radio stations. I even started my own news network for radio stations around the Southeastern United States. I would cover news events and report by telephone. Well before the days of satellite TV trucks and fancy video cameras. As I progressed with my educational efforts, I came to realize that writing was my great interest, not going to school but I was smart enough to remember that all the education I could get would only help me in the future.

Not making any appreciable money from writing and photography and having married, I needed to make a living. Two young sons served to incite my interest in making money even further so I went into business but kept on writing on the side whenever I could find the time.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to write stories for a number of magazines and even covered some major news events for the newspapers. I worked as a radio news reporter for a local FM station and even traveled to Texas and worked on a small-town newspaper as the local reporter covering everything from new babies to oil well drilling. I am not sure who went out of business first – me or the local paper, but when the editor decided to close down, I returned to Georgia and a regular job.

Over the years, I kept on writing whenever the opportunity arose, always hoping for the time when I could build my writing business to the point of self-sufficiency. I knew it would take time and marketing but I just never seemed to be able to reach that point.

After being in a number of businesses over the years to enable me to pay my bills and eat now and then, I finally decided to become a full-time writer and photographer. Giving myself a time limit, I began sending out queries on a daily basis to every magazine editor I could find. I set a goal of sending a minimum of twenty queries every week as well as article submissions. Initially, I could have papered the walls of my office with rejection notices. I wrote letters to the Editor of different newspapers, fillers for weekly newspapers, articles on cooking, camping, travel, dogs and cats, law enforcement and anything else I could think of.

After a few months of doing this, I suddenly realized that I was getting more acceptances from editors than rejections. “Chief Of Police” magazine, “Construction News”, “Services” magazine and others began to accept my articles. I began to do more for each of these outlets and my portfolio of clips began to expand. My bill collectors stopped calling and my bank account began to have a positive balance more than two or three days a month.

Sure, like many freelancers, I had my share of “freebies” but they provided bylines and writers bios along with the articles. These freebies helped to build my stock of published clips and I would recommend this avenue to any new and aspiring freelance writer. Just don’t do too many freebies or you may be visiting the local food bank to keep from starving.

I am not sure if I have a particular area of expertise. I write a number of articles for law enforcement magazines and I have published four books on forensics. But, at the same time, I have done profiles, travel articles, articles on architectural projects, interviews and more. Law enforcement is my favorite though. I do enjoy chasing hurricanes and tornadoes and writing about this, but that is a limited market. 

My primary area of expertise is writing what sells. I still send at least thirty to forty queries every month to magazines that I am not writing for. Otherwise, I work by assignment and prefer to do so. I have yet to find a subject that an editor can send me that I cannot write about. Research and interviewing is a pleasure and that makes life easier for me when it comes to writing about any particular subject.

At this point in my life, I make an excellent income from my freelance writing and photography. Public speaking has become another avenue of expression for me and is supplementing my writing income. I speak on identity theft, marketing, and security for home and business plus other subjects.

I give talks at area high schools and colleges on becoming a writer, which helps to strengthen my own beliefs. What you hand out returns many times over. I mentor a number of budding writers by email and telephone and have seen some of them published and moving toward full-time writers.

My advice to anyone wanting to become a full-time freelance writer – set a minimum number of queries to send out every week and hold to this. Write every day even if simply to entertain you. Keep a daily journal. Write down ideas for articles every day. Keep a pad of paper by your bed and carry a small note pad in your shirt pocket for notes. Subscribe to the online newsletters for writers. Subscribe to every group you can find that list potential writing assignments. Read the daily paper and clip out anything that strikes your interest and generates ideas for future articles. Read “how to” books by successful writers and adapt what you can to your own style. Get very familiar with “Google” on the Internet. It is a great research tool.

Last but not least, take the time to see what is going on around you. Stop and smell the roses. Listen to those around you who are senior to you in age – they have wonderful stories to tell and you may just find another interview for an article.

Yes, I had to take jobs and make-work as I was growing and learning. Not everyone will sell a million dollar book or story their first month as a writer. It is probably much more reasonable to have a paying job in the beginning while you write at night and on weekends, but it does help to keep food in the belly while you are building your client list.

You can find a full-time job as a publicist, new reporter, newsletter editor or whatever in the writing profession -- but don’t let the lack of this sort of job stop you. If you have a burning desire to become a writer, you will make it. Something I have lived by all my life; “Whatever the mind of man can conceive of and believe, it can achieve.” If you can see yourself as a full-time, profitable, freelance writer – go for it. 

**Published Freelance Writer. Some publications include,  “Chief of Police” magazine, “National Locksmith Magazine”, “Keynotes”, “Services” magazine, “National Genealogical Society Quarterly”, “Construction Equipment News”, ”Construction Review”, “Blue Ridge Country”, “Time” magazine, Chronicle-Independent newspaper, The State, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Chattanooga News-Free Press, Waynesboro News Virginian and other magazines and papers.  Writing includes technical articles, travel, profiles, genealogy, general interest and political. 

**Freelance Photographer.  Published in numerous magazines including above.

**Authored book on “Forensic Lock Investigation” that has been adopted as a training manual in forensic laboratories and investigative agencies worldwide.

**Authored and published a “Reference Manual for Investigators”.

**Created and taught training courses on marketing, advertising, sales, and employee motivation.

**Public Speaker: topics include identity theft, business and home security, marketing for the small business owner, travel and freelance writing.

Photo Website: http://www.multiserv-enterprises.org
E. Lee Griggs. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

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