April 4, 2024

CultureMarkets & Free Enterprise

Five Years of Working Professionally in Online Publishing, Here is my Advice to Freelance Writers

By: Remso Martinez

Writers are passionate about their writing, they more than likely want to over deliver, and if you’re good, you know what you’re bringing to the table. The flipside of this though, is that all these things, while good, also represent challenges for editors. 

Whether I was working in commentary or news, sports, politics, or entertainment, all those great things I listed also represented some inverse negatives you don’t really understand until you step up from being a writer and into the editor’s chair. 

The passionate writer may write about something absolutely nobody will read, thus costing the publication money they won’t get back. The writer who wants to overdeliver word count ignores the 500 word limit and delivers you a 1200 word manifesto which means it’ll take them longer to edit which means other people’s pieces may be published late. The “big shots”? Well, they just bring an attitude of entitlement that doesn’t bring with it a guaranteed audience. 

After five years of editing and turning turds into diamonds, here are some of my takeaways from being in the online publishing world from my time as a freelance writer and editor. 

Yes, Even Seasoned Writers Are Asked to Complete Quality Exercises 

Editors and there teams are busy handling a million things per day. Yes, it seems unfair to have you send a portfolio of work and then ask you to complete a sample writing assignment for us, but the truth is we don’t want to untrain bad habits. Did you take time to review our editorial guidelines? Have you looked at our published pieces to determine if you can match our tone and flow? We have you do this because we’re not exactly like all the other places you wrote for previously; we need to know you’re willing to learn and won’t waste time. 

Rates Aren’t Always a Reflection of Value 

I have had writers literally laugh in my face when I’ve given them the rates some publications will pay per piece. Jokes on them because they were the ones complaining about not getting paid for their past submissions in the first place, and as soon as they’re given an offer, they say it’s not good enough for them. 

Rates aren’t a direct reflection of work. It didn’t matter, for example, when I was unemployed and applied for a cashier job at GameStop and carried with me five years of military experience and a college degree, I got paid minimum wage to complete a minimum wage job just like everyone else. 

Rates reflect what a publication can do, just like any other business. 

You’re a Freelancer, Remember You’re One of Many

In a recent position, I had a regular freelancer literally yell at our editor-in-chief and actually demand a rate increase. Here’s the thing, we made it clear at the beginning of our agreement we could not increase rates, but we could increase his cap so he could write more pieces, thus get paid more. We were transparent the whole time with him, but he wasn’t happy. He told us he’d walk, and walk he did. 

We got three people for the same cost of him who are all individually better writers too. Remember, you’re not special. 

Algorithms, Keywords, and Audiences 

Like it or not, Google runs the show. Keywords, trending topics, words/phrases to avoid, all these publications out there rely on being able to get discovered by search engines and not being blacklisted on social media. Keep your ear to the ground and listen to your editor’s knowledge, they’re not keyword stuffing because it’s sexy, they’re keyword stuffing to make sure they don’t lose money on your piece. 

What Your Editor Says Goes 

You might not always agree with your editor, but as a freelancer, what your editor says goes. You’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for their outlet. 

Finally, About ‘Clout’ vs Quality 

I get asked this all the time, so I’m going to make it loud and clear now— yes, editors will choose a less quality writer with a personal brand and following across social media vs a better quality writer who doesn’t exist online. Is this always the case? No, but this is a factor that teams will make when assessing who they want to bring on to write for them. Much like the college degree was a barrier to entry, so is the blue checkmark and a four figure minimum following on social media. 

Writers Write, Period 

Before Hunter S. Thompson wrote “Hells Angels” and introduced his unique gonzo journalism to the world, he wrote straight news copy for a decade. For commentary writers specifically, you’ll have to go through periods of time where you might not write about what you want to write about, you might not even write stuff in your style. The truth is however, that writers write, and if you want bigger opportunities and editors who will vouch for you, you better not stop writing anytime soon.