I often get asked questions like:
- “How did you get started in freelance writing?”
- “What does a freelance writer do?”
- “How can I get bylines in major publications, like you’ve gotten?”
To be honest, I’ve been out of the freelance writing game for a bit of time, and it is a rapidly changing field. It’s part of the reason that CYC articles and courses focus more on the craft and quality of writing, rather than the logistics of freelancing and writing for clients.
Still, I want to help out folks who are just getting started, since I had professional writers who were willing to help me when I was starting out. Without their guidance and unpaid (or paid only in coffee and baked goods) consultations, I might not be where I am today.
How Did I Get Started in Freelance Writing?
I have written a bit myself on freelance writing and (more pertinently to my current focus as an editor and content strategy consultant) submitting guest posts to various publications:
- What Would It Look Like If I Started Replying to Queries and Pitches With GIFs? (probably one of my favourite articles ever, this is packed with some tough love if you are going to be pitching editors!)
- Lessons Learned From The New York Times Modern Love Column Submission Tips (this one isn’t my advice, it’s what I’ve collected and curated from when Daniel Jones, the editor for NYT Modern Love column used to post submission tips to their Facebook – but applies pretty broadly)
- 15 No-Brainer Tips for Getting Your Guest Post Submissions Accepted (wrote this for a client, Simple Programmer, but again the advice applies pretty broadly)
If you are into podcasts, I used to do one with Jess Ostroff Tyson from Don’t Panic Management called The Managing Editor Show. I’m on the first 20 episodes, though the last 9 she did solo are pretty good as well.
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How Can I Get Bylines in Major Publications, Like You’ve Done?
In regards to building your portfolio and career, I recommend the stair-step approach. I first learned about this from Rob Walling, as it applies to bootstrapping. The concept is simple: think of how you climb a staircase. Sure, you could jump up 6 stairs, or at least it seems like a fun idea to try. But realistically, most of us climb stairs by going up one-stair-at-a-time.
Similarly, I have built my clientele and clips the same way. I started out on the ground, and consciously chose to challenge myself just a bit more with each new assignment/task/client. You will always hear about the outliers who landed a byline in The Washington Post with their first pitch ever, but very few are actual overnight successes.
You can hustle up a staircase pretty quick if you want, but long-term success and reputation generally involve a bit more dedication.
That’s pretty much the best advice I can give, from me, about getting started as a freelance writer — whether you are looking to build out your portfolio or land big bylines and clients.
But I didn’t want to stop there. As I noted before, this field and industry are always changing. And since I’ve been working in it for about a decade, I’m not always aware of the changes for folks who are really just starting out.
So I’ve put together a little lists here of some of the best resources and information sources I would recommend to anyone asking me about their writing career.
Which I’m guessing is why you are here!
Freelance Writing Resources
Looking to build out your freelance writing career or portfolio? Have I got links for you…
- The Write Life
- Make a Living Writing from Carol Tice
- Write to Done from Mary Jaksch
- The Freelancer by Contently
- Best Website Builders by Brad Smith
Writers to Follow and Read
Training & Courses
- Creative Class by Paul Jarvis & Kaleigh Moore (opens only a couple times a year - worth the waiting list signup!)
- Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty
- Poynter Institute
- Creative Live from Chase Jarvis
- Write Your Way to $1K by Elna Cain
- How to Start a Blog That Makes Money (Lessons Learned) by Lars Lofgren
- Creative Class by Paul Jarvis and Kaleigh Moore
- Side Hustle School by Chris Guillebeau
- A Little Bird Told Me by Philippa and Lorrie
- High-Income Business Writing by Ed Gandia
(Can you tell I like books?!)
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
- Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
- Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
- The Freelancer's Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams―On Your Terms by Sara Horowitz
- The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks by Susan Shapiro
If you are here because you want to know what a freelance writer does or what being a professional writer means, I suggest this site. Best of luck.