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Freelance Success Story

Cancer Survivor's Tale of Freelance Success as a Writer & Photographer

by
Nancy Burchianti

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

I decided to try freelance writing when I was diagnosed with cancer and was too weak to work full time in an office.  It was the best decision of my life because I really wasn't confident that I could make a living freelancing, and I don't believe, but for the circumstances that I would have tried. 

I am fortunate that I worked for seven years at a local newspaper and tried my hand at feature/travel articles while employed there. I also am an award-winning photographer and since most magazines want to include photos, this was a big plus in the magazine industry.

I began with a horse magazine, because I have owned, trained and bred horses for over 40 years. Write what you know. We've all heard that bit of wisdom. Luck had a lot to do with my first assignment. I contacted a popular horse magazine by phone to inquire about their guidelines and the assistant editor answered the phone.  This rarely happens and most editors will NOT take phone calls. They would rather have you query them first by mail or e-mail. But I digress. 

After telling the editor I was available in my area, I mentioned my credentials and he asked me if I would be interested in covering a major horse show event a couple hours' drive from my home.  I didn't even pause to take a breath, and replied "yes".  In fact, I forgot to even ask what they would pay. My immediate goal was to compile a "clip" file. 

Every magazine editor wants to see clips of your previous work. It's a catch 22 situation when you want to begin to strike out on your own and you have no clips to show.  The best thing to do in that case is to write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and save them as "clips". Another great way to begin is to submit to the low-paying or non-paying magazines. These may be magazines just starting out or low-budget publications.  They are much more willing to accept something from an "unknown" writer. 

Writing your story is the easy part. Selling the story to a magazine is the most difficult of all. You have to have a "hook". Something that will catch the editors eye.  But even more important that, is submitting it to the proper genre magazine. The internet is a great tool. I looked up all the freelance writers' positions. I  printed out about two dozen magazines that I felt I would have good luck with. 

It was four months between my first assignment and my second. Then it was just a month, now I'm getting assignments almost every week. If you are currently employed, don't quit your day job, unless you want to starve!

It took me approximately two full years to have enough assignments to keep me paid enough to make a living.  It might have gone faster, had I not been ill at the beginning.  I just couldn't get in gear sometimes to do my homework. Fortunately, I am now cancer-free and raring to go. 

Don't wait to get assignments. Write as many articles as you think you can sell, then go to work sending queries to as many editors as possible. Make certain that the magazine you are submitting to, allows simultaneous submissions. Many do not like the idea of having an article on their desk for possible publication, when the writer has farmed it out to a dozen other magazines. 

Once things get moving along, you can pick and choose the magazines that pay a decent amount for your work. The higher paying magazines are the most difficult to break into. I now am in a position that I can negotiate my fee at the magazines that I do a frequent amount of assignments for. You have to be flexible in this area. 

Most magazines do not pay expenses so whatever your field of expertise, keep it close to home.  Often when I'm on vacation, I think of it as a working vacation and try to find as many things to write about as possible. I have also branched into travel magazines. 

I keep track of all my submissions in a notebook and follow up on them with an e-mail. Waiting is the most difficult because most will have you wait six to eight weeks for a response. Luckily some magazines will accept queries by e-mail and that keeps things moving much more quickly.

You have to have a lot of dedication and self discipline to work as a freelance writer but it's great once the business takes off. I am now doing what I love to do and getting paid for it.

About the Author: Nancy Burchianti; e-mail: ponypal@earthlink.net; phone: 239-543-5878

2006 Nancy Burchianti 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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