≡ Menu

Ten Years After Breaking In: Christina Katz Answers the Top Ten Questions About Breaking In As A Freelance Writer

Some people think that freelance writing is over but it isn’t. Far from it. Most of the people I know who were making money as freelancers are still making money. But the people who panicked and freaked out when the economy started to tank are not making as much money as they once did. And I have heard that some folks who were once making very nice money are not making such nice money any longer.

In the meantime, down here in the land of I-just-need-to-make-a-reasonable-income, things are just fine. I don’t work with folks who need to make six figures, like yesterday. What I teach is what I have always taught: sane, satisfying, sustainable strategies for writers to start getting published and grow a nonfiction writing career over time.

People think that it’s really, really hard to break into freelance writing. I think the people who teach blogging for dollars love to perpetuate this myth. Speaking as someone who teaches mom writers how to break in as writers, I can tell you that it’s not nearly as hard to break in as it is to move up the ranks right now. It is harder to move up right now because there are a lot more experienced freelancers in the stream to compete with. But at the breaking-in place, there are tons of opportunities just as there have always been a ton of opportunities.

The question that remains is: do you have the chops to get published? These skills can be taught and they are what I teach. Then I watch my students’ results and they consistently demonstrate that the skills I teach work.

Most writers don’t have time-management issues, they have determination issues. In my experience, writing for publication has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with focus and consistency. I see busy writer mamas learning and applying what they’ve learned to create steadily-building writing success year after year all the time.

Here’s my take on the ten most typical questions people ask about freelance writing:

  1. What if I’ve never been published? No problem. There is no need to have been published before to get started.
  2. What comes first, the article or the query? The way I teach beginners, the article comes first. We tackle queries at the intermediate level because articles are so much easier to write than queries. Many of my students turn right around and get their practice articles published, so why not start with the easier form?
  3. Should I write for free? Not in the long run. But if you are a person who just can’t get any momentum going with your writing, I’d rather see you write for free for an editor than not write at all. (Notice I said “for an editor” and then see my answer to #7.)
  4. Should I blog? If you are a busy mom, I’d rather see you write articles for publication for at least six months to a year before you start blogging. I’ve taught bloggers article writing with success but I always treat the two as separate and different because they are.
  5. Will people steal my ideas? At any one time hundreds if not thousands of people are having a similar idea. The person who ultimately wins is the one who writes it down and submits it. You can’t protect every little idea and move forward in your career at the same time. And copyright law is always there if you absolutely need it.
  6. What if I have a great idea for a book? If you have a great idea for a book and you are not yet an established professional writer with a solid platform on that book topic, I’d sit on that idea for a bit. I’d work on writing articles for publication and building a platform. You’d be amazed what you can accomplish in a year. You are so much likelier to get that book deal on the first attempt to pitch it when you are actually ready and can demonstrate that readiness.
  7. Should I write for content mills? Nope, never. (See my response to #10 for more.)
  8. How much money can I make as a freelancer? Well, how well can you write? How fast can you come up with appropriate ideas? How smoothly can you sell your words? All of these things come into play when we are talking about how much you can earn as a writer. Most writers find out how much they can make through actual experience, not promises from other people. Besides people who are promising you a certain amount of money are most likely trying to sell you something.
  9. How long will it take to make any decent kind of money? Again, this comes down to your answers to some questions: How much time do you have to work each day? How consistent will you be? And are you writing to beat some kind of ticking clock? Because if you are writing for money is a really bad idea. Consistently I notice that the moms who make the best money are the most grounded and the least desperate.
  10. What is the best thing I can do to break in? The  best thing you can do is three-fold: learn how to write well enough to compete, find an established writer who can work with you and mentor you over time, put what you learn from each teacher/mentor into immediate action. Then watch yourself progress.

The successful writers I know are all humble and hardworking. If you are thinking you are going to be the exception, you might want to try a different field. If you think there is some magic law of attraction at work or some lucky vs. unlucky game at play, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Success in this field is simply about getting the job done as well as you can again and again and again.

The professional world can always use more good writers. I’ve seen women grow leaps and bounds in self-esteem by flexing their writing muscles, myself included. In fact, I feel there has never been a better time to be a writer. I’ll have more to say on this topic soon.

In the meantime, write on!

Like this post? Subscribe to my Feed!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Carol J. Alexander May 7, 2010, 12:26 pm

    Thanks, Christina, you're so good at keeping my head out of the clouds 🙂

  • jeannevb May 8, 2010, 3:09 pm

    Wonderful article, Christina. I'm breaking into freelance myself, with my first article selling to Writer's Digest. I should add, the relationship with WD was born through Twitter.

    Again, your advice is dead on. Thanks for reaching out and helping.

  • Kelli @ writing the waves May 12, 2010, 1:29 am

    Great advice, Christina. You are so right about the focus and consistency – although being a mom of two young ones, I have some time management issues as well, but I'm working on it. 😛

  • Jessie Haynes May 12, 2010, 3:20 pm

    @Kelli-Christina does have some excellent advice. As a freelance time management writer myself, I have to say that all kinds of our gang have time management issues! What would you say is your biggest time management problem, Kelli? (By the way, I love your name. My sister is named Kelli as well.)
    @Christina-You mentioned content mills, ohhh lawdy where are the content millers ready to attack?
    What is your stance on content networks such as About, Suite101, LifeTips-they have built-in audiences that you get to write to, so do you think that they are good choices for the platform building writer?

  • Fun Mama - Deanna May 13, 2010, 1:14 am

    I may sound completely naive here, but how do you know when something is a content mill? I think some of them are obvious, but I'm writing for someone now, and I'm starting to question it.

  • Fun Mama -Deanna May 13, 2010, 1:16 am

    I have a friend who is an About.com writer, and has been since they started. She's also the published author of about twelve books and is respected in her field. About.com is part of her platform.

  • christinakatz May 17, 2010, 2:07 am

    I don't consider About.com to be a content mill. Do others?

  • christinakatz May 17, 2010, 2:07 am

    For me a content mill is…write for us and you MIGHT get paid. That pretty much defines it for me.

  • christinakatz May 17, 2010, 2:08 am

    My understanding is that, for example, About.com pays a regular rate to its writers, so I would not consider them a content mill. Just to clarify.