How Does a Writer Get Work? Seven Tips for Would-Be Writers

Writers want work and freak out when it's not thereYou’re a writer. So where’s the work? Getting work is an ongoing task for freelance or self-employed writers. While most corporate wage-slaves only have to worry about getting five or six jobs over a lifetime, a successful self-employed writer has to get that many jobs in a month … or a week. So how do you do it?

First of all, you have to know who’s buying. If you are not aware of places that buy writing, you need to learn it quick. Magazines and newspapers buy writing, but so do businesses, websites, and even professionals. Over the years, I have sold writing to magazines (tough to sell to, good pay), newspapers (easier to sell to, poor pay), blogs and websites (lots of work out there, not high dollar), and doctors (articles), corporate people (resumes), and individuals (letters, reports).

Second, you have to have contacts. You can try to go “cold,” say, approaching a business online or using sites like or Elance, but you increase your chances exponentially if you know the buyer. This does not mean you have to be best friends (in fact, close friends are usually not good for business–but what I call “third tier” friends are–these are folks you know but not all that well). If you have had jobs, contact your old company and your old colleagues. Use social media to locate former classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Tell them about your writing business.

Third, write for free if it is worth the work. For example, let’s say you want to get recognized for writing about gardening. It is not a bad idea to volunteer to write something for the paper (or just write it and send it in on spec) or a local gardening club newsletter or a gardening blog. This build your clip file. But otherwise, I’m not a big proponent of doing freebies. Only work for nothing if it is of value to you to get the clip. (And, yes, I’ve done a lot of free writing over the years.)

Fourth, be business-like. Despite what self-help gurus tell you, you look ridiculous when you are “passionate” about your work. Don’t gush over the editor or go to a business chirping that this is your first big break. Professional writers may love what they do and they are often driven, focused, competent, and even cheerful (well, some of us) but we aren’t giddy. Giddiness, silliness, or acts of “I can’t believe I got this job!” will make you look like an amateur. So sober up, even when approaching clients. This is your work, take it seriously.

Fifth, maintain business hours. A lot of freelancers want flexibility in their career, but you need to be accessible during business hours if you want business clients.

Sixth, get referrals. If you can land one client, it is possible you can get some of his or her friends as clients, too. To get referrals (and that is the mainstay of the business of most professional writers), you must deliver top-notch work, on time, with no excuses and you must be business like and pleasant. People will only refer you to a colleague if they are sure you are not going to embarrass them. And don’t be afraid to ask for a referral by asking a client to give you a recommendation or even asking if he or she has colleagues who might also need writing work.

Seventh, social media for professional writers is LinkedIn, not Facebook. Get a solid LinkedIn profile going (and ask clients to “recommend you” there) and use this to help bolster your credibility. Most business people consider Facebook to be juvenile and frivolous. You can keep your Facebook presence, if you want, but keep it strictly social–don’t make it your writer’s site.

And finally–never get discouraged. Keep calling. Keep emailing. Keep talking. Scour the web for opportunities. It can take a long time for a door to open, but once they start opening, they will start opening.