The one goal no freelance writer ever mentions
If you have taken one of my classes or worked with me one-on-one, I’ve asked you in one way or another about your freelance writing goals. Doing so ensures clarity and specificity so that we can recalibrate as necessary. While the details are important to the individual, over time I’ve seen general patterns of desire emerge: writers want to cover a particular topic, to reach a financial goal, to quit the day job, to achieve a high-profile byline, to learn to sell queries, to help readers.
You know what goal I’ve yet to hear?
“One day I want to write for markets that nobody’s ever heard of.”
I get it. It’s not on my own list of goals either, although writing for relatively unknown publications is a regular part of my strategy that helps me achieve most of my other goals, such as writing about topics that I’m passionate about at a deep level and on a regular basis.
Let’s be clear: there’s unknown in the mainstream sense and there’s unknown in the oblivion sense. Writing for an obscure blog that gets 18 unique visitors monthly is not a career-building strategy. Writing for a dedicated audience who follows a publication catering to an engaged niche can be personally rewarding as well as lucrative.
If you have industry training or practical experience, use it to your advantage. My master’s degree was in education, not journalism. I’ve traded on my knowledge of the field to write for educator-specific publications. Knowing the issues and jargon allows me to understand what my sources are talking about in the first place, and to quickly dive in with the assumption that those readers understand issues and terminology that would sound weird and complicated to a layperson.
Be expansive in your search for new markets. When you develop a specialization, these are the publications that your sources are familiar with, and are more likely to read them than the so-called general interest publications with declining readership. Think trade publications and content marketing gigs in addition to straight journalism in print and online. For strategies and resources on where to find lesser-known, but high-quality publications, download your free PDF copy of my eguide, “Create Your Ultimate Editorial Contact List.”
Repurposing material for a trade and a mainstream publication can be a win-win. Reselling stories in an era when publishers increasingly want all rights is complicated further by online proliferation: even if you have the right to resell your story, it’s probably all over the internet anyway, and therefore less salable. Reslanting is far more effective, and especially so when writing for radically different audiences: the insider and the outsider. The reporting for the niche pub will be more intense–if it’s your beat, you already know the questions, the terminology, the players, and you can cut to the chase because your readers are already half way there too. Then you can take that deeper knowledge and unpack it for somebody who is brand new to the secret world of public health app designers, competitive nail polish artists, or retro cycling.
Don’t get overly hung up on big-name bylines. When I was starting out, I thought that if I could drop certain publication names, it would make all the difference. In reality, an editor would rather assign a great pitch to somebody with no credits than to somebody with stellar credentials and a half-baked idea. Having a few well-known credits can lend credibility. But many high-prestige publications—especially online—pay rates that aren’t sustainable, and/or are so competitive that writing for them regularly is out of reach for now.
While it’s fine to want to build up an impressive client list, no one assignment needs to fulfill all your freelance writing goals at once. And while you may still not intentionally want to write for pubs unknown by the wider world, learning to see this as an effective strategy can mean for economic and scheduling stability. Just as readers of niche publications are often loyal, so too are their editors.
For practical strategies on where to find lower-profile but high-quality publications, download a free copy of “Create Your Ultimate Editorial Contact List.”