Five Things to Know About Freelance Writing

How to sell your idea, conceptualize your story, and get your story published in a magazine.

By Guest Blogger: Michael Breedlove, Editor of Winston-Salem Monthly magazine

So you want to be a freelance writer? Assuming you have talent, creativity, and a functioning computer, it’s certainly not impossible—especially when you consider the myriad of media outlets for writers these days (both print and digital). Before you submit a story, however, let’s go over a few basic steps to freelance writing. Regardless of the article’s length and format, there are some universal tips that will help you sell your idea, compose your story, and finish on time.

Winston Salem Monthly1. Conceptualize. Good story ideas only go so far. In order to make your idea compelling (both to the editor and the audience), you’ve got to think of an interesting way to present your data. Sometimes this works by writing a fluid article with multiple subheads. Sometimes this works by writing several small vignettes about a larger topic. Sometimes this works by writing in a Q&A format with a punchy lead. Each story is different, but the important thing is to always keep it engaging and easy-to-follow.

2. Sell your ideas. I often have writers pitch broad story ideas about a general topic. Someone might say, “Hey Michael, can I do a story on the Dixie Classic Fair?” To which I’ll usually say, “Maybe … but what’s the angle?” Instead of sending a vague idea, try selling something exciting and timely. For instance, “Hey Michael, for the October issue, what if we do a story on the Dixie Classic Fair. I’m thinking something like: The Dixie Classic Fair Bucket List: 10 Things every fairgoer should try at least once.” Now that sounds like a story I’d be willing to assign, no questions asked.

3. Structure your story. After you’ve gathered all your quotes and done all your research it’s time to start writing the story — which can sometimes be pretty daunting. This is why I always try to sketch an outline before I start my stories. Think about where you’re taking the story and create a logical trail to get to each of your topics.

  • Beginning: It’s important to think about how you want to lead the story off. A catchy anecdote or punchy quote will typically do the trick. Another good idea is to do a bit of scene-setting. For instance, if the article is about a golf course, maybe start out with the view from the 17th green: how it looks, sounds, smells, etc. Once readers are locked in, you can take them along for the ride.
  • Middle: With magazine articles, you can throw most of the stuff you learned in Journalism 101 out the window. Instead of writing in the top-heavy “inverted pyramid” style, it’s important to have important info spread throughout in the article. To avoid huge blocks of text, you can often break the article up in vignettes or sub-heads; or you can recommend a few pull quotes to draw the readers’ eye.
  • Ending: The length on the article really determines how in-depth your conclusion needs to be. A quick 400-word article can often end with a single summarizing line. However, a longer feature story needs to have a fitting summary or revelation rather than an abrupt ending. One simple way to end an article is to use a quote that summarizes the article’s main point—one that instills a lingering thought or feeling. The idea is to leave readers feeling satisfied with the story and eager to read more of your work.
  • Bonus: While researching, you’ll often come across info that doesn’t seem to work in the main body of the story. Maybe you couldn’t figure out how to transition into it, or maybe the anecdote was too great to be buried in the middle of the thick of an article. Instead of discarding this info, use it to create a catchy sidebar or break-out box. (Trust me your editor will love this.)

4. Hit Your Deadline. At the end of the day, remember the story has to get done. Nothing will distance you from an editor quicker than missing your deadline. When I’m writing I always remember something my mom told me as a kid: It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done. While she was talking about cleaning my room, the same could be said for writing. Get the article as good as you can and then move on with your life.  Sometimes the best thing about writing a story is finishing a story – believe me.

5. Make it worthwhile. There’s a reason why print magazines continue to be a popular in our digital age. It’s because sometimes, instead of searching the web to find info, readers like to have info find them. That’s why it’s important to make all your content engaging and substantial. Readers ultimately want to be entertained and learn something new—they don’t want a rehash of something they can read on a city website or travel blog. So have some fun, take some chances, and don’t be afraid to write in “your voice.” Remember magazine articles aren’t meant to be book reports.

Good luck and happy writing!

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