I was reading a post this week in a community forum about an essay writer. She wanted to know how she could find “homes” for her work.
Instantly, I felt strongly that her question revealed the problem. She was writing and storing up essays without any publication in sight. Thus, she was spending all her time wrestling over the writing process instead of focusing some of her time on selling the work.
Her method for selling the finished work was then to ask other writers to find “homes” for the essays. But her job as a writer–or at least as one who wants to earn money from writing is to also research for possible avenues where her work can be promoted and sold. As you know, a freelance journalist rarely just writes. I can’t tell you how much time I spend searching for markets and connecting with editors. But in doing that, I know where my writing can find a home.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with penning essays and then selling them. Some of our best work can come when we’re not writing an assignment under a deadline. But when you’re looking to make a living, you often have to pitch them first. Or at least know where you eventually want to propose the articles. Otherwise, you’re just saying you have a stash of stories waiting to be sold as does everyone else.
Focus on the Pitch Prior to Writing
This is what I see as one of the top problems that new writers face when they’re trying to break into this field. While I’m an advocate of the “just write” mentality, you’re wasting your business resources–and time–when you write without a focus on selling an article or essay. You’re also wasting your time if you try to perfect your work on your own, because an editor may want to make changes to it after they acquire it.
So how do you know a publication will want your article as it is written? Maybe the editor wants to give his or her input for a specific angle. If you write it out and spend too much time “perfecting” it, you will be spending more time on it.
In looking at the writer’s guidelines, a publication may want to buy an essay after it’s completed. But don’t assume it. Many outlets want a thoughtful pitch before you begin writing. The editor wants to hear your idea, add something to it to give you direction, and receive a draft that meets these requirements.
This is a bit different in the essay-writing field, where a lot of publications want to buy essays on spec and are usually paid on a lower scale.
Here’s my advice in this situation: Have a few publications in mind before you start writing away your best stories and wondering why outlets aren’t lined up to purchase them. If you do draft a piece, don’t worry too much about editing it–just get the idea down. Pitch your essays out so you receive an assignment. Editors rarely ask a writer they’ve never worked with what kinds of essays are sitting on their hard drives.
Your time is precious, and so is your creativity. Nothing kills a creative writer like the person with a trove of stories waiting to “find a home.” Shelter cats find homes. Your work needs to be sold if you’re going to be a reputable working writer.
Find yourself a home with a publication and connect with the editors there. Build up your portfolio. Then, hopefully by the time you have that killer essay idea, you only have to write an elevator pitch about it and you will have that awesome, paying assignment already lined up.
Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and journalist living at the Jersey Shore. She worked as a reporter and copyeditor for Gannett before launching her full-time freelance business in 2005. Her work has been published in Parents, New Jersey Monthly, Prevention, Woman’s Day, SheKnows, and Healthline.