one freelance writer’s guide to getting results

[vc_section full_height=”yes”][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”48 Laws of Persistence: one freelance writer’s guide on getting results (Part 1)” font_container=”tag:h1|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][ultimate_spacer height=”15″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][ultimate_fancytext strings_textspeed=”35″ strings_backspeed=”0″ typewriter_loop=”off” fancytext_strings=”Music writer Trey Alston’s journey has been crazy inspiring to watch. The prolific journalist has written for Complex, VIBE, XXL, PitchFork, DJ Booth, Revolt and more but he didn’t start off at the top. For #blkcreatives, Trey is sharing his personal best practices and tips for navigating life and working his way up as a freelance writer.” fancytext_color=”#000000″][vc_separator color=”turquoise”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

My name is Trey Alston and I’m a music writer for MTV News. It’s a great position with great pay, and I finally have something stable. I come from a vicious year of freelancing, one where you have to wait 30-45 days for each payment. But despite the struggles and wondering if my pitches would be good enough for articles, I had a good year. I learned a lot from editors, journalists I follow and interact with, and lessons from the game itself. I compiled it into 48 Laws like the 48 Laws of Power. Only these aren’t rules to be a dickhead to your family and friends; they’re guidelines on how to get the most out of your freelance journalist career.

Email me if you want to connect further! Want to offer value any other way that I can. We have to stick together. (alstontreyl@gmail.com)

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  • 1. Expect not to receive a response on pitches, prepares you for the eventuality that they may not come.

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I spent a great deal of time pitching out ideas that never came to fruition. Most of the time it was because editors never responded so eventually I just stopped waiting on the responses. Turns out, you feel less shitty that way.

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  • 2. Be courteous to everyone, positions change fast in the field. A staff writer friend that you have could be the editor for XYZ publication tomorrow.

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In the journalism industry, jobs change like we change clothes. There’s always people getting laid off, always people getting hired, yet always more positions to fill. That random person on your timeline may be the editor of the New Yorker tomorrow. I say that to say don’t antagonize random people and don’t make it a mission to offend everyone that you possibly can for a few laughs. It’ll always come back to bite you.

 

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  • 3. Never overestimate your importance. You could build a rapport with an editor who gets laid off, then you’re back to square one.

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True story: I got comfortable writing for a publication and publishing things there nearly every day of the week thanks to my friendliness with an editor. I worked hard there and always made sure to have content ready to go. Suffice to say, they vacated the position and someone else got it and the entire scheme changed. Had I not gotten lucky and had built some rapport with other editors, I would have been shit out of luck. Never think that you’re untouchable or immovable. Who knows what could happen that could have you lost in a sea of emails.

 

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  • 4. Don’t just pitch one publication, pitch many. It helps alleviate the sea of No’s a little better.

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I’ve seen editors say that they don’t like receiving the same pitch as everyone else, but in our defense, we don’t like being ignored like everyone else. Send that pitch to every publication that you want to write for; figure out how to turn people down later after you decide which one you want to write for. Inevitably when people say no (which they will often regardless of the quality of the idea) you’ll have hope for it to be received better at other places.

 

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  • 5. Any payment is better than writing for free. No matter the “exposure”.

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Don’t let the promise of exposure suck you into writing for free if you don’t have to. We do all have to start somewhere. But if that’s the case, go for the publication with the most exposure that you can get. People will ask you to take on projects for them and say that their brand will offer you insane amounts of exposure. In all instances, the writer doesn’t gain anything out of it besides carpal tunnel from typing so much. And then you look like a sucker.

 

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  • 6. With that being said, try to refrain from getting paid less than $125.

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Contact writers on Twitter and check @studyhallxyz to find out how much writers get paid for stories. It’ll surprise you. Not saying that you shouldn’t take low rates if you’re starting off because over time they evolve, but realize that publications will lowball you. Don’t take it, if you can afford not to. Negotiate a rate increase or find elsewhere to publish a piece.

 

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  • 7. Don’t expect people to post your work, you have to earn that right from them.

     

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You can’t expect anyone to promote your work. It’s just like in the music field where artists can’t expect you, their friend, to promote their songs. Earn that respect. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. But there shouldn’t be any hard feelings on either end. (You remember what happened with Meek and Drake, right?!)

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  • 8. Writing editorial is valuable, fuck what anyone says on Twitter.

     

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Like any craft, there are people who like to devalue the hard work of others. The ability to write about an opinion in an intelligent, thought-provoking way is a valuable skill that publications love.

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  • 9. Learn reporting skills and how to incorporate quotes into pieces

     

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Bringing in reporting capabilities helps to make editorial pieces even stronger.

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  • 10. Save your clips to your own website or download. Put on Medium as well. Websites close down all the time and the worst thing you want to be is unemployed without quotes.

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Mass Appeal recently deleted its archive of articles, meaning that their writers were left without proof of experience going forward with their careers. It’s important to save your articles on your own website or a place like Medium that won’t get deleted.

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  • 11. Freelancing can be lucrative but you have to put the work in and stay consistent.

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You can make a good amount of money freelancing. For instance, if a publication pays $200 per article and you file three a week, that’s $2400 at the end of the month. This kind of money isn’t just handed to you. You have to be active in the emails and doing the work.

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  • 12. Cold emailing is the way to go.

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Instead of waiting for a publication to put out its call for new journalists, go ahead and just randomly send in an inquiry. Email that editor. I got hired by both HipHopDX and Pitchfork off the strength of cold emails.

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  • 13. Editors emails addresses, not “pitch” or “submission” ones. Those never get checked.

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I can, with 95% confidence say that editors don’t check out those general pitch inquiry inboxes. If you want to get in contact with an editor, find their publication address. Use some common sense too if you can’t find it. If Karen Lee’s email is karen.lee@musicsite.com and Jimbo Slice’s is jimbo.slice@musicsite.com and you can’t find the address for the lead editor Margaret Flombone, it’s most likely margaret.flombone@musicsite.com

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  • 14. 99.9% of the time you’ll find the emails of editors on Twitter or Google. Look before asking, could make you seem lazy if it’s easily available.

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We all love to tell the world about our job titles, especially in this field. That makes it easy for you to find the email addresses of editors. Google will sometimes hold the answer too. Just exhaust all search options before asking them their address. It’ll make you look lazy if it’s easily found,

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  • 15. If your pitch gets accepted and they ask for a due date, give them something that’s doable then turn it in much quicker. Same day if possible.

     

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Editors will just about jump for joy if they get back quick, clean copy. If there’s a due date of February 20th for a story that you can complete by February 14th, you should have it ready then. If it’s an opinion piece and you aren’t doing anything that day, work on it and send it right back. That immediately sets you apart from the pack.

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  • 16. Just bang out words for a draft then go back and rework it later. Trust me, so much easier to build off of a base than from nothing at all.

     

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That episode of Spongebob about procrastination is very real. It alleviates some pressure when there are words already on paper. Work to write the draft that you need, no matter how bad it is. Then go back and figure out how to spruce it up and develop it into something beautiful.

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  • 17. Don’t be a deadline writer, editors love that (this one HAS to be repeated)!

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Literally, any time before the deadline will make editors enamored with you. Get it in fast!

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  • 18. Come up with five-ten pitches a day, most will be bull but you can build off of a couple.

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Look around you, my friend. There’s news all around you. Try to work up some ideas every day. Five to ten may be a little much, but if you continuously spit them out you’ll become an idea machine. This helps when you need to take edit tests or come up with ideas on the fly.

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  • 19. Your resume is as much your social media presence as it is your bylines. So avoid acting an ass publicly, you won’t realize how many opportunities you’re missing because of it.

     

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There’s a reason why editors often ask for your social media handles it’s because they want to make sure that you’re not a problematic individual before tying themselves to you. When editors and other writers follow you on social media, avoid acting like a douche. It hurts you in the long run.

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  • 20. Treat writing like it is basketball. Writing every day = practicing your jump shot, reading is like practicing your free throws.

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What separates good writers from great writers is the same thing that separates good from great basketball players. It’s the what work that you put in on the off days that shows up when you play. You should be constantly reading and writing. Aside from helping you get better, it helps you to become smarter and more knowledgeable about a variety of topics you can tie into your own work.

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  • 21. Guard your journalistic reputation with your life. Make everything better than your last.

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Always write your best. Never skimp for the sake of timeliness or the ever elusive bag. Different people will see different clips so it’s imperative that each and everyone be the best that you can be at the time.

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  • 22. Don’t feel vilified for celebrating your achievements or making announcements. You work hard in journalism to get established so you have every right

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Do you know how hard it is to constantly write and come up with new ideas and make them sound good not just to you, but to everyone else as well? You’re damn right that you deserve to post and promote your work. That new position that you got from putting in work as a writer for a long time? Feel free to tell the world. Don’t let anyone take away your sense of pride in your achievements.

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  • 23. Keep a spreadsheet of your invoices and expected payments so you don’t forget anything.

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Ah, the game of invoices. You’ll be waiting 30-45 days on most occasions for your payment, not counting the delay for paper checks that come with first time freelancers. It’s easy to lose track of what you got paid for and when it’s coming. Make a spreadsheet that enables you to keep up with it so you can plan those purchases.

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  • 24. Save those genius question tweets for pitches. Don’t give out free game when you could get paid for it. The sharks are always looking for fresh blood.

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I promise you, people are watching you to see what ideas you have so they can put their own spin on them and get paid from them. Save your best ideas for the emails to editors to be safe.

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Read Part 2 of this guide HERE.

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