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Six Freelance Habits That Brand You As an Amateur with Editors
by Jennifer Brown Banks

Of course it goes without saying, that freelance writers seeking creative clients and pay for their say, should put their best foot forward in making first impressions with editors, business owners, and publishers. When submitting proposals, query letters, and letters of introduction, “tooting your own horn” becomes necessary in order to garner attention and gain a competitive edge. However, what you say and how you say it will give tell-tale clues about your professionalism, level of exposure, and your freelance savvy. In fact, it’s as reflective of who you are as your actual writing.

As the former senior editor of a regional publication, I can attest that there are some habits that prevent writers from getting high paid assignments or repeat work. Here are the most common ones:

  1. Not doing required homework—No matter how eloquently you express yourself, if you send a submission that deals with a subject area that’s not typically dealt with by your targeted publication, you’ll come off as a rookie. Just as you would research the history of a corporation for which you would interview for a 9 to 5 gig, you need to look up writers’ guidelines, browse web sites, and purchase sample copies to move forward in the selection process. If you didn’t spend time getting to know them, why should they spend time getting to know you?

  2. Not observing proper protocol—If guidelines state that a “query” is required, or that submissions must be emailed, or that the response time is 6 weeks, you need to honor these rules, no matter how unfair or even ridiculous you might consider them. Not doing so is the quickest way to get fired before you’re hired.  

  3. Not being “polished”—Everybody makes mistakes every now and then. Nobody’s perfect. Still there are some things that are basic in terms of writing ability and skill. Subject and verb agreement is one of them. Also, being able to correctly distinguish homophones like “their” and “there,” too and “to.” Word to the wise—spell check won’t always detect these types of errors.

  4. Making exaggerated claims—There’s a difference between being confident and being cocky. For example, to say your work is “the best in the Midwest”, or “outstanding”, or that you’re the next Stephen King is a little bit egotistical, and many times without merit. Instead, “show don’t tell.” List the titles of national, well regarded publications in which you’ve been published, or projects that received high visibility, or quote positive comments you’ve received from editors and clients. Ideally, the quality of your work should speak for itself.

  5. Not having a website or Blog—An online presence through a website shows that you’re serious about your craft, and that you recognize the importance of this powerful medium. Even if your work appears in numerous publications on other people’s sites, having your own zone centralizes your work, and saves editors time and hassle from following numerous links.

  6. Publishing credits primarily through “content mills”—Where you’ve published is just as important as how often you’ve published. All credits are not considered equal. To start off with places like Associated Content, EzineArticles.com, Helium, and places in this category, are quite fine initially, for a little exposure and writing experience. Just know that they won’t be held highly for serious consideration in most paying gigs. In fact, this was established recently in an editorial by Hope Clark, Editor and founder of Funds for Writers.

By addressing and correcting these six habits, you’ll increase your bottom line and your odds for success in your freelance career.

© Copyright 2010, Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks is the former senior editor of Mahogany Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Business Management and blogs at Penandprosper.blogspot.com

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