How a Writer Finds Work


is the central issue of a freelance writer’s life—the ability to find work and the desire and ability to do it. When I first began freelancing, 40 years ago, finding the work wasn’t much of a problem. I wrote for anyone who was willing to publish my articles (even if they didn’t pay me), which included the newspaper for which I sold advertising space, the magazine I was later hired to run, and assorted publications here and there. The desire to do the work was a given; in fact, desire is an understatement. The ability aspect was shaky in those early years and again when I started my own business. In both situations, I knew how much I didn’t know, first, about writing and, later, about all the kinds of writing I would be called upon to do.

Each aspect of work presents its own challenges but none so much as having enough work to keep one financially afloat. Some people seem to be blessed in this area. Their companies downsize them out of their jobs but hire them back as consultants. Those core clients are sometimes enough to support a writer while he or she is building a business around them. Others specialize in specific industries or subject areas, such as sports, travel, agriculture, healthcare, training, science, or technology. They build h3 reputations in those niches and attract assignments like magnets.

Many of us, however, have to struggle to land enough big projects or well-paying clients to sustain us. If you doubt it, just check out all of the Websites devoted to helping writers find, promote, or sell their work. The list is long, but the advice is pretty much the same. The “secret” of landing assignments or clients or selling an article, a short story, or a book is an organized, ongoing marketing effort. The key words here are organized and ongoing. If that were easy we would all be doing it and drowning in work. But it isn’t easy, for many reasons.

One is that, when we do have work, we devote every ounce of energy and moment of time to doing it. It is only when we make the deadline, send it out the door, and let out a sigh of relief that we may notice an absence of other work to do. We’ve been so busy working that we didn’t have time to fill the pipeline. The result is often sheer panic followed by frantic phone calls to clients, prospects, editors, other writers, and sources. Obviously, we should have been marketing all along. But it is difficult to find the work, do the work, service clients, keep in contact with editors, send out bills, pay bills, and the myriad tasks it takes to run a business. Add to that the fact that we may have a life of some kind, and it all seems next to impossible. When and how are we supposed to do it all?

The point is that we must do it, or we won’t last very long in this business. Although everything may seem equally crucial, let’s focus on only one aspect: finding work. What does an organized, ongoing marketing effort entail, and how can you fit it into your already overflowing schedule? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be proactive, not reactive.

    Don’t wait until the pipeline is empty to suddenly start getting your name out there. If you create some sort of a direct mail, follow-up marketing plan, it may take you weeks to land a job. By that time you’ll feel and sound desperate, which will come across in your correspondence and conversations. The best time to “job hunt” is when you have a job and aren’t in a panic to find one.

  • Think of marketing as one of your two top priorities

    —the other being writing. If it’s at the top of your list, staring you in the face every day, you are more likely to do it. Decide how much time you need to do it right, and schedule that in your planner. At first, it may seem an interruption in your workflow, but eventually you’ll find it to be both valuable and a necessary break from work, work, work.

  • Develop a system of organization.

    It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to be used. There are many client management and scheduling programs available; in this age of computer technology, using white index cards and a calendar is like writing on parchment with a quill pen. If you learn and correctly utilize any of these programs, you will save time and never accidentally misplace a contact or forget to make an important phone call.

  • Keep your name and message in front of people

    —with reminder cards, regular e-mails, brochures, a Website, advertising, print or on-line newsletters, press releases, regular phone calls, networking, and face-to-face meetings. Overwhelming? Not if you carve out even an hour a day to market and do it in a purposeful way.

  • Try to enjoy yourself.

    Going places, making contacts, talking to people, focusing on what others need, instead of selling yourself, can be rewarding and fun, if you use a light touch. Even if you don’t consider yourself an extrovert, the more you do this, the more natural it will seem. That’s when it ceases to be “work.”

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