A six-figure freelancer on the mistakes that will cost you clients. Some may surprise you.
Sometimes, you don’t get second chances. If you offend an editor, it’s unlikely she’ll send more work your way. If you don’t muster up the courage to ask for higher pay, you won’t get that chance again until a new contract arrives. And if you sell all rights to your work, you write away all future income from the sale of that piece.
These mistakes cost you money. But avoid these common pitfalls and you’ll not only earn more from each sale, but also ensure that you’re developing working relationships with editors who’ll come to you with regular work.
Are you making these mistakes and do they cost you money?
Mistake No. 1: Missing deadlines
Why do so many writers miss deadlines? After all, if you’ve landed an assignment—big or small—wouldn’t you want to get it in before time? You know, so you can impress your editor?
Many writers fall short. They disappear and then come up with creative excuses. Editors do not like these writers, and if you’re in the habit of missing deadlines, it will cost you in money yes, but also in regular work, easier work, and long-term relationships that result in you working fewer hours for bigger paychecks.
Mistake No. 2: Lack of preliminary research
When the editor of a national newspaper wrote in to ask specifics of a project I wanted to cover, I wrote back to her within minutes. I’d done my initial research and even though there were holes that my reporting would fill, I could tell her why it was a good story for her publication and why it needed to be told now. You don’t want to be on the phone with an editor discussing a potential story, and not be able to answer basic questions. It will cost you the assignment. And therefore, it will cost you money.
Mistake No. 3: Not negotiating
Many freelance writers get so excited upon receiving their first national or high-paying assignment that the thought of asking for a little more doesn’t even strike them. Many of them later find out that other writers were paid better for less work by the same publication. Always try to negotiate for a better contract—fewer rights, more pay, payment on acceptance, kill fees, and even a short bio if you can get one. Most editors expect writers to ask for more, so don’t worry about seeming out of line.
Mistake No. 4: Not moving up
Initially, you’ll need those low-paying, short-deadline, payment-on-publication assignments. But take on too many and it will cost you money. You’ll soon be working 90-hour weeks, have no time to pitch for better-paying work, and still have no food on the table. Once you’ve garnered a few clips and some regular high-paying assignments, thank the editors at the smaller publications and move on. Go beyond your comfort zone and start targeting high-paying markets. You can’t live on 30-cents-a-word forever.
Mistake No. 5: Letting off steam
Your editor massacred that beautiful, scathing review you wrote. It now sounds bland and boring, when you wanted it to seem angry and full of personality. You want to tell him exactly what you think, right? Bad idea. While I wouldn’t suggest being a doormat and accepting what happened, I wouldn’t recommend combat, either. Tell him you’re upset, but do it politely. If steam is still coming out of your ears, you can always stop writing for the publication or have your byline removed. But creating enemies will cost you money. You’re hoping for a long, fruitful career. You’ll bump into these people again, at different publications, in different circumstances. Try not to burn bridges.
Mistake No. 6: Not proposing more ideas
This is probably the biggest mistake of them all. In fact, if you don’t learn this, it will cost you money throughout your career. Once you’ve written for an editor, your chances of writing for her again increase substantially. She’s more likely to trust you with more assignments if you come through on the first one. So after you send in your piece, write a thank you note and send her another query. Don’t give an editor time to cool off and forget you. Strike when she knows exactly who you are, how brilliantly you’ve done your job, and how you’ll make her life easier.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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