writing-pony

Getting on that Writing Pony: A Few Rules for Rookies

My first-ever paid freelance job was writing 300 articles about boobs.

Yes. Boobs.

Specifically, the project called for 300 SEO keyword articles, of 300 words each, for the sum total of $275. I really thought it was going to be a breeze…

I was really, really wrong.

The list of key-phrases (that had to be used verbatim) included every possible way to say breast augmentation there is… and derivatives of each phrase such as “my breast augmentation” and “the breast augmentation.”

Of course, every article was to be checked through Copyscape, so even though I would never dream of plagiarizing, I had to make very sure I didn’t repeat myself too closely.

I cried. I considered quitting. I wanted to burn my bras on principle.

The Lesson

Copywriting lesson
I also learned a lesson… be very careful (as a freelancer and in life) what you sign yourself up for.

There are many freelance jobs out there, just waiting to be snapped up. In fact, there are probably more gigs than writers. As a rookie-writer, you should have no problem getting your feet wet, and once you’ve gotten a few jobs under your proverbial belt, things will seem much smoother.

Until then, here are a few Rules for Rookies that I wish someone had explained to me when I was diving head-first, bells-ringing, into that first project.

The Rules

Read the fine print. No… fine print isn’t always fine, and it isn’t always in the job description. Sometimes you have to ask questions. Just make darn sure that you know what’s expected of you before you agree to any job. Check the writing requirements, the time frame, the budget, the payment method, the revisions policy… everything!

My mistake with the Boob Job… yes, bad pun… was that I didn’t actually see the keyword list before I accepted. I knew that the topic was enhancement surgery. What I didn’t realize was that I would be writing the same basic article 300 times with the expectation of my client being that each article be completely unique.

Be willing to start at the bottom. As a freelance article writer with a lot of experience, a huge portfolio (seriously, I can provide hundreds of articles I’ve written as samples when applying for jobs), and an established reputation, I can pretty much set my own price. I don’t charge an outrageous amount for an article, but the days of 300 pages for $300 are over.

However, this is not where I started. I had to have the portfolio and the reputation before clients were willing to really pay much for my writing. There were clients who wouldn’t even read my samples until I could show years of positive feedback.

I started at the bottom, with the low-paying and usually boring jobs, until I slowly began to climb.

Don’t get discouraged if you have to spend some time accepting those “undesirable” gigs… remember, each one you kick butt at means another happy client to vouch for you in the future.

Save the pickiness for your food. When you’re starting out, you’ll soon discover that you can’t be picky. Competition is fierce, and if you only accept jobs that pay well, interest you, or are fun, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on your own blog, complaining that you can’t get a writing gig.

Once again, the reputation and portfolio have to be there before you can afford to start turning down jobs. In the beginning, a job is a job, and any job is better than no job.

A small disclaimer… no matter how new you are, it is always ok to turn down clients who ask you to do things that are illegal, immoral, or go against your beliefs.

Lying freelancerNever, ever lie about your experience. If a client claims they need an expert on root canals, don’t read some Wikipedia and tell them you’re that expert. Your writing will reveal your misrepresentation, and your feedback/reference rep will be shot.

Just be honest… if someone doesn’t specifically say they need an expert in a certain area, let them know you’re happy to do the research needed to give them the product they want. I’ve learned that most clients are fine with “research-needed” writers…they are just happy to find someone willing to research a topic in order to write with more authority on it!

That said…

Be willing to do some research. No one is an expert on everything. You should know that going into freelance writing means that you will be doing at least as many hours reading as you do writing. Unless you someday manage to get to a level where you can accept only jobs in the niche you know and love best, you will sometimes have to write about things you know nothing about.

Most of the time, you can run a search, read a few articles, and write your findings in your own words. Other times there will be libraries and works cited involved.

Do a good job. This one should speak for itself. I think I’ve established that your reputation and an impressive portfolio is your biggest asset… and you won’t get either by skating through the small jobs with your eyes and attention on the bigger ones on the horizon.

No matter how small the job, how low the pay, or how cringe-worthy (remember the boobs?) the topic, treat every single job like this is the biggest client of your career. Write the very best material you can, be so kind to your clients that they keep coming back for more, and turn in all your work on time… eventually these dues will get you a membership into the Choose Your Own Jobs Club!

Written by Tori F.
I am a freelance writer and photographer with a wild imagination and inspiration in the form of my two minions (my children), a few feline familiars, and a view out my front windows of the wild West Texas canyons.


  • Rek

    You’ve touched a nerve. Here I am on freelance job boards trying to get my feet in, and I find that the topics I would enjoy writing are reserved for well rated writers. I don’t mind what an American writer would rightly consider peanuts, not for me if you take the exchange factor into consideration. But some of the low paying jobs come with obnoxious client behavior which has me screaming murder. It’s like an dirty underworld scenario, I am trotting along now but hope to be cantering in the near future.

    • Hi Rek,

      I sure didn’t mean to hit a nerve, these are just my own observations as a writer who spent plenty of time longing for those interesting jobs that seemed reserved for those with a much longer writing history than myself. It’s frustrating, but most writers find that they have to “pay their dues” in boring and tedious gigs before they can break into the field they really love.

      Don’t sell yourself short, you may be working for peanuts on distasteful projects for now, but each of those peanut jobs mean a reference on your resume…enough of those will mean you can easily apply for the better paying and more fun gigs in the future.

      Hang in there, and keep up the good work. Thank you for commenting, and I wish you the best…one of these days I’ll see your work on a prestigious website or book and know those peanuts finally paid off! :)

      ~Tori