one freelance writer’s guide to getting results (part 2)

[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 2)” 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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  • 25. Don’t be consumed with cultivating an image or any of the bullshit outside of just doing the work. You’ll lose precious time and become immersed in a mess that you think looks good, but from the outside looks sloppy.

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There’s a difference between maintaining one’s social image and trying overly hard to create one. Just worry about being polite and doing the work. When you start looking for ways to build an audience and doing questionable things, you become consumed in obtaining a level of prestige that’s hard to reach. It’s best to just stay to yourself and work.

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  • 26. Never argue publicly without being able to back up your claims. How can a journalist debate in an article if they can’t defend their points online?

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Social media, among other things, is a place for debate. Twitter users will attack your very being for your opinions. Since it’s a public space, you should be able to defend your point. So don’t post anything extraordinarily out-of-pocket that you won’t be able to argue about.

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  • 27. Join in relevant conversations to your beat and establish a rapport with like-minded individuals.

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One of the best parts about following journalists on social media is seeing the conversations go on about topics that they are passionate about. If it matches your own focus you should jump in. It helps to establish yourself as well as put you on the radar of people that you want to connect with. A small step, but it works.

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  • 28. Understand what comes with being a staff writer or joining a team before embracing a role. Often times, you have to commit to only one place which means no more freelancing. Make sure you understand what it can do for your career – both good and bad

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Congratulations! You managed to get the staff writer role that you’ve worked so hard for. But now you can’t contribute to this publication or that one, and you have a set quota that you need to meet a month. All of a sudden, it may not sound as enticing depending on what your goals are. Make sure to know what you’re getting yourself signed up for upfront.

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  • 29. Be mindful of the publication that you write for, its audience and prestige. You don’t want any nasty surprises down the line.

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When you write for a publication, you pick up its baggage. You have to know its target audience and its history so that it can’t be used against you down the line.

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  • 30. At the same time, be mindful of what you write.

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Also, make sure your work, similarly, is created carefully. Your arguments will be deconstructed and argumentative people will look for every which way to tear you down. Your facts will be checked. Don’t make assumptions that will get you in trouble.

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  • 31. Turning in clean copy is about the best thing you can do, ever, ever, ever.

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If you make an editor’s job easy, they’ll love you for it. You do this by turning in work that has been reviewed enough to remove its grammatical errors without an editor having to do it for you. It helps them keep things going without having to worry if something is going to be wrong when they get it.

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  • 32. Learn the ins and outs of AP Style. It’ll save your editor a lot of time and make you someone that sticks out.

     

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AP Style is taught in college but surprisingly, many people don’t fully know its ins and outs (myself included sometimes). There are many AP Style resources online that’ll help you when you feel uncertain about how your copy is supposed to look.

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  • 33. Different editors have different editing styles. Some may be too much or not enough for you. Find ones that you like to work with and go from there. Not all are created the same.

     

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Not all editors are created equally. Some may click well with your own writing and editing style while others can make relationships hard to manage. Try to work with everyone but if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to realize that and refrain from working with them.

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  • 34. Not all editors are created equally. Some may click well with your own writing and editing style while others can make relationships hard to manage. Try to work with everyone but if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to realize that and refrain from working with them.

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It can definitely be difficult getting an editor to accept a story. Once you get multiple at one place, take note of that and make sure to go hard with them. Keep building that relationship and making that money.

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  • 35. Use Feedly to find great stories, use Pocket to save them. Follow people up there and find stories they love. Use these to help tailor your writing and strengthen it.

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Websites like Feedly and Apple News help to find various types of news and bring them together for a one-stop shop of stories. You can read these and save them to Pocket which acts as something of a collection device for things you want to read later. As you peruse through Twitter you’ll find articles written by journalists you follow but may not have time to read. Save it with Pocket and check it out later when you have a chance.

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  • 36. Developing a voice comes with repetition and understanding who you are as a writer. Keep going and it will start to develop. This voice attracts readers who will be interested in reading what you write regardless of what it’s about.

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If you read the work of writers like Paul Thompson (@paulxt) or Taylor Crumpton (@taylorcrumpton), you’ll see how their voice makes their work easily identifiable. Your voice matters more than you can ever think. Readers grow to crave this voice and seek your work out. To create this kind of reader base, you should write continuously and work on creating your own voice.

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  • 37. Learn the journeys of other writers. Often times it’s much longer than what you think it is. They can point you in the right direction and give tips.

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From the outside looking in, success in journalism often looks like something fast. But the journey often takes awhile. Ask some writers how they got to where they are and they’ll tell you about just how much stuff they’ve had to put up with to make a decent living. (A great journey to start with? DaTwon Thomas, Editor-In-Chief of VIBE Magazine. Read his interview here.)

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  • 38. Often times, writers won’t have any more success than you will by pitching your name to editors. So if they can’t “put you on” it’s because they aren’t “on” themselves.

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It’s hard to really “put someone on” (make sure they get great writing opportunities) in this industry. Sometimes it’s out of fear of losing opportunities (not me but I’ve heard) and also other times a journalist doesn’t want to put themselves on the line because of a cosign. It’s pretty weak, but that’s just the reality.

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  • 39. Understand that the journalism field isn’t the fashion or music industry. Retweets, followers, and engagement, don’t equate to riches. It all boils down to the hard work and the moves made following that. Don’t expect $100,000 in three months because a piece of yours went viral. It’s a dedicated commitment that can take years. You have to actually love it.

     

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Prominence in journalism works a little different than it does in other media industries. Just because your name may ring more bells than the average Joe Shmoe, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be making more than them. Because of that, it often comes down to being in love with the craft itself instead of the money that could come with it. Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely the ability to make ludicrous amounts of money. But that often takes time and some serious effort. Be prepared to work.

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via GIPHY

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  • 40. Study words that you don’t know. Make a doc and copy and paste words there and look them up. It’ll expand your vocabulary, trust me.

     

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A large part of what makes great writers great is their vocabulary. Not necessarily using complex words, but knowing what others mean through their reading so they can understand articles better. Try and make note of whatever you don’t understand in a piece so that you can use a dictionary and look it up later. It’ll help your writing be more informed.

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via GIPHY

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  • 41. The work doesn’t stop when the article is published. Read it – chances are you’ll hate it and can find things to improve on. Mark those down and prepare accordingly for next time. You’ll constantly improve.

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You’re never good enough to stop trying to improve. Figure out what’s weak about what you last published and it’ll help you to figure out what you need to get better at. Regardless of what your friends or editors tell you, there’s always more improvements to be made.

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  • 42. Note the criticisms that continuously pop up when your work is reviewed or being edited. Make it a commitment to improve on those.

     

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Editors hate telling writers the same couple of things to improve on draft after draft assignment after assignment. For instance, if an editor tells you that you should improve on kickers (great statements to end an article on) you should work on that. If they say to learn AP style, you better enroll in a course at a nearby university.

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  • 43. It’s hard to compare writing styles and levels because everyone is different and starts at different places. With that said, don’t discount your abilities or become saddened if you perceive someone to be “better” than you. They write differently; it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Study their work to see what you love so much about it.

     

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No two people write alike and everyone starts from a different position. Don’t ever compare yourself to someone in a way that puts you down on your own work. It’s nothing that practice and reading won’t fix.

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  • 44. This should go without saying, but never plagiarize or take ideas without giving credit. Not only is it immoral and disgusting, but it calls your journalistic integrity into question and that’s about the worst thing that can happen when your writing is all that you have.

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Journalism’s a lot like academic writing when it comes to plagiarism; do it once and you’re out of here, bud. No one wants a cheater who can get the company in trouble – a liability in other words. Always be original with your work.

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  • 45. The freelance bag comes late and it may not be all that you need to get by. Find the other ways that journalists make money. Copywriting and freelance editing are two popular ways.

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Most freelancers have secondary and tertiary sources of income. Copywriting and freelance editing are two popular options. Don’t let others romanticize the freelance struggle so that you feel you have to only freelance. Get in where you fit in.

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  • 46. Never not send an email. The worst you can literally hear is no. So whether it’s emailing Complex asking if they’re hiring, or emailing Beyoncé to establish a journalistic presence through a new joint website, send it. Often times, just sending the message is what separates the people with jobs from the people that don’t have them.

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You have no idea how common it is to hear people are scared to send an email out of fear of the response – no matter how experienced they are. I emailed Pitchfork one day out of the blue and they emailed me back a few weeks later. Fast forward a few weeks and I flew to New York to meet the team after getting a position with them. Don’t ever second guess sending the email. You have to have the confidence because eventually, that email could get answered.

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  • 47. Remember everyone that you interact with. Learn the way that they move, how they think, and how to deal with them. This helps to maneuver through the field by figuring out how to get around any barriers in the future should you need to interact with them.

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This is probably the most 48 Laws of Power law here. You have to learn and keep in mind how to interact with the various kinds of journalists you come across. Some like to argue, others like to be showered with praise. Some like to strike up a random conversation, others like to be left alone. You’ll run into these same kinds of people over and over and it doesn’t change. It’s best to figure out how they operate early on so when you cross paths with them and others like them, you can make the right decision necessary.

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  • 48. Gatekeepers don’t exist. Your work speaks more than someone’s cosign because you can be bad and get cosigned and an editor still won’t pick you up.

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No one can block you from opportunities, no matter how hard they gas themselves up. Just do the work and network with like-minded individuals and editors and you’ll see the results that you want. Don’t shower these people with praise – they wait on it, rely on it, and are nourished by it.

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Read Part 1 of this guide HERE.

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