Five Myths About Freelance Writing
1) That it's all about pitching ideas and query letters and resumes.
In my whole freelancing career, I've gotten less than a handful of assignments from this approach. The reality is: It's all about having a great reputation, mutual contacts, and a network of editors as allies (people you can easily hit up on the phone).
2) That it's nearly impossible to make a living at it.
I won't lie. It's not easy. In fact, I've seen depressing stats about most freelancers not even earning $30,000 a year. But if you're talented and work hard and network like crazy and keep building your rep, you can definitely beat the odds. At my best, I was making as much as $3 per word and anywhere between $5,000-$10,000 a story (which doesn't include getting expensed to go to places like Mexico and Vancouver and all over the U.S.).
3) That once you make it, it's a glorious life.
I'll admit that when it's going well and you're hot, it can be a dream of an existence. Prime assignments. Great travel. No boss hanging over your shoulder. No hours when you have to wake up and sleep. But...on the bad side, no 401K plan with matching money, no paid health benefits, and when it cools off, you sweat out paying the your phone bill and the rent. If you don't have the stomach for that, you need to get a staff job.
4) That it's a constant hustle.
At the beginning, it most definitely is. But if you're really good, you can move within time into the exclusive realm of "contract freelancer." If you look at the masthead of magazines, you'll see the categories of "Contributing Writers" or "Contributing Editors." Those are usually the contract freelancers, and they're the divas of the publication, getting the most money for the hours they put in. A typical contract guarantees the writer a certain amount of money (as much as six figures) for doing a certain amount of stories. This is the top of the top for a freelance writer, and if freelancing is what you want, then this is the prize you should always have your eyes on.
5) That in order to get freelance work you need to buy Writer's Market or Google for freelance sites, etc. Never did this once. Nor have any major freelancers I know, and I know a ton. Although Writer's Market is a fine tool for the rank beginner to learn the freelancing landscape, my advice is this: Go to your local Barnes & Noble or Borders, check the magazine racks for publications you'd like to work for, and start copying down titles, addresses, and names of editors. Follow this by writing letters of introduction to editors, expressing how much you'd like to work for this magazine, and that you're going to call them on such and such a day to discuss this. Cold calling is nerve-wracking, but it's the best way to establish a close relationship with an editor. Just make sure you have five ideas to hit them with when they ask, "So what do you have for me?"