Hello! If you’ve found your way to this newsletter, chances are you’re a freelance writer who is determined to make it work. Welcome. You’re in good company.
Today we have a guest post from freelance writer Laura Wheatman Hill. Before we get to that, I’ll quickly introduce myself. Hi, I’m Britany! The creator of One More Question. I’ve been a freelance writer for about two years this time around, following three years as managing editor of a camping magazine. Before that, freelancing! I’ve been in this industry awhile, on both sides of the desk. And honestly, I’ve almost walked away from the whole writing thing a half dozen times. But also, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love this work, and I especially love the community around it. I’ve made all the mistakes, and I’ve kept going—collecting some hopefully helpful wisdom along the way. These days, I share those lessons here, through essays, Q&As, and big round-ups of writing opportunities.
If you’d like to get in on the writing opportunities part, along with monthly pitch feedback and lots of other paid perks, now is a great time to become a paid subscriber! All subscription options are 35% till October 1. And I’d love to have you join us. Any questions about what’s included? Check out the about page or shoot me an email.
Now, let’s get to it…
When you read about freelance writing, you’re going to hear a lot about niche and how important it is to have one. I started out with a "niche" in that I focused on one aspect of my life: parenting.
But once I started landing paid pieces, I realized I was so much more than the "mommy blogger" label I felt stamped with at the start. I used my first parenting pieces to branch out into all kinds of topics. How'd I do it? There's no secret. I had to Pandemic Pivot in every possible aspect of my life, so I did.
I started a blog in 2013 when I was an unemployed teacher, pregnant with my first kid. After my daughter was born and then my son, I kept up my blog for several years. My friends read it and Scary Mommy reprinted one of my pieces, unpaid. When my daughter went to kindergarten, I decided I would try to monetize my writing by giving up on the blog and submitting my pieces to online publications. I got my first paid gig from Filter Free Parents on March 1, 2020, a personal essay about my daughter’s creepy imaginary friend. The piece paid $50, and I felt like a champ.
Cue pandemic. I was home. I was bored and busy. I was depressed and anxious. And I was writing. Soon, I had a handful of pieces at Filter Free and was getting picked up by other parenting and/or humor sites like Slackjaw, a medium publication which pays based on views.
None of these paid much money per article, so I started researching, networking in Facebook writers’ groups, and paying for newsletters like Sonia Weiser’s twice-weekly “Opportunities of the Week” and this one you’re reading. I researched “how to pitch,” learned what a masthead was and how to find it, and started a spreadsheet which detailed the different places to pitch, my pitching history, and whether or not I was invited to pitch again—or if I got “ghosted” by a publication. In the early days, I spent a lot of time organizing my thoughts and resources and learning about new outlets that might want to hear from a mom home with her kids during the pandemic. I started a squarespace site to look more professional.
I also got job postings from Remote where I found a regional parenting magazine posting. These magazines take local or “evergreen” content and pay around $100-200 per original piece and $20-50 for a reprint, such as something that was on your personal blog or ran at a different parenting publication. For that publication, I wrote my first “service piece” about distance learning which blended personal essay with data and advice.
Using that piece as an example as well as my credentials as a teacher, I pitched the academic website, JSTOR Daily, and got my first $300 piece. It wasn’t reported, per se, but it cited research and was my most legitimate piece of journalism at that point.
Breakdown to breakthrough
I took the summer of 2020 off to stay home with my kids, get a pandemic divorce, and have anxiety attacks daily. Once I got settled in my new house, started taking medication, seeing a therapist, and the comprehensive distance learning school year began, I started pitching like crazy. My “big break” was a personal essay about my divorce for Parents. Since Parents is a highly recognized national publication, it opened more doors and made getting parenting pieces placed easier.
Based on the Parents essay, I placed an essay about my experience with getting a prenuptial agreement and, with that, began to pivot away from straight “Mommy-blog” content.
Using my contacts
I developed a good rapport with the editor I worked with at Parents and was able to pitch and place a reported piece which involved interviewing several experts, including medical providers. Around that same time, I was able to place a personal essay with medical sources at a pharmaceutical blog about my history with migraines. Now that editor sends me an assignment about once a month.
Today I have bylines in medical, health, mental health, and other “health” adjacent verticals, many of which relate to parenting and my personal experiences, but some of them are completely reported. I have also written several pieces about finance, which I am by no means an expert in. I placed my first finance pitch by talking about something I had personal experience with: prenuptial agreements. My not being an expert made me more of an asset to these editors because I could write to the audience more authentically.
I think of my journey as sort of a family tree where I took one aspect of my life and turned it into an article which could be used as evidence that I can write another type of article. It went from personal parenting essays and branched into two sections: service parenting articles and divorce content. Service branched into medical, educational, and financial articles which were not necessarily related to my role as a mom. The divorce prompted my adventures in dating while parenting in a pandemic, which led to several bylines. I occasionally place pieces about arts and entertainment, mostly based on my education credentials. And, hello, writing about writing can also lead to some income.
How you can do it: Plan
Let’s say you’re not a parent/teacher. You’re still a multi-faceted person. Everything in your life could be considered some kind of expertise: your hobbies, your lifestyle, your family, your experiences. Of course, you'll have to make decisions about which of those you're willing to tie to work and writing. I’ve had to walk a fine line when writing about my kids and divorce where I am mindful of what personal details I give and what I hint at or omit. I love writing humor but, because it doesn’t usually pay as well as “service journalism,” I do less of it. I still regularly place personal essays and am working on a memoir about my fun-filled pandemic. I have a plan, once kids are settled in school, to work on more fiction. I have some dream publications in mind that I pitch first and would like to make more money as a writer than I did as a teacher.
It’s going to sound a little cheesy and “manifesting”-like but, I am succeeding because I am trying. I am listening and I am learning every day. Also, I am happier now, as a single-mom, work-from-home writer than I was in any of my previous identity iterations. It’s worth it for me, right now at least, to keep going and keep working. I hope that by reading my history and goals, you can clarify your own trajectory and find yourself a cozy niche or cluster of niches to call your own.
A big thank you to Laura Wheatman Hill for sharing this essay. To read more of Laura’s work, check out her website and follow her on Twitter!
I’m offline this week, but paid subscribers will still receive an abbreviated version of the weekly list of writing opportunities tomorrow!