How I Nabbed My First Paid Writing Assignment

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Like many writers, I was sort of clueless the first time I contacted a magazine in order to see if they would be interested in publishing some of my work.

This was close to fifteen years ago, before so much helpful information was so widely available on the Internet.

I first wrote five sample articles I thought would be a good fit for the magazine. I had been reading the magazine for many years and was familiar with the content. I even felt like I knew many of the writers personally though we had never met. This made it easy for me to write the sample articles. Although the topics I wrote about had never been covered in that magazine before, I was confident that the content would appeal to readers like me.

I then sent the articles to the editor in an e-mail along with a short note introducing myself. Although I was eager to have my work published, I never seriously expected to hear anything back and went about my other business. Then one day, out of the blue, the editor wrote to me telling me that he liked my samples. Could I please combine two of them into one longer article and send it back in by the end of the week?

I got right to work and sent in the new article. Within a day or so, I was told that my article had been accepted, and that I should bill the magazine for $120, which worked out to about 10 cents per word.

The editor also asked me if I had any other ideas I’d like to write about, which led to a regular column with the magazine. They also eventually hired me to be their copy editor, which ultimately launched my career as a full-time professional freelance writer and editor.

I had always dreamed of having my work published, but I didn’t think it would be so easy – or that people would actually be willing to pay for my words. It didn’t take me long to do the math and realize that I could probably make a living at this if I put more effort into learning the business.

Looking back, I believe the approach I took with the above-mentioned magazine was a bit on the amateurish side. I did not follow proper protocol for querying a publication. I also gave no thought to money and did not ask what I would be paid. I spent days crafting five separate articles as samples. My samples were not the right word count and could not fit into one of the magazine’s existing departments. I was a bit insecure and kept asking the editor questions about various matters that probably made me appear ignorant about the business of freelance writing.

At the same time, though, there are a few things I did right. As a regular reader of the magazine, I had a very good understanding of the target audience. I also showed enthusiasm and flexibility when asked to modify my work. I met the deadline I was given and was ready with additional ideas when asked.

In short, I made mistakes, but I was genuine about everything I was doing. I suppose this showed in my correspondence with the editor.

A lot of writers feel nervous when querying new markets. This is certainly understandable, but it is important to remember that editors are people, too. They need writers to supply content for their magazines, and many will guide you along if they want to work with you. In other words, you don’t need to start out with a content mill in order to “pay your dues” – even if you are completely new to the business.

If guidelines are available, follow them closely. But be yourself, too, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes or asking questions. As one of my longtime clients once told me:

“The fact that you are asking questions means you care about the assignment – and that is exactly what makes me feel that I can trust you with this project.”

Have you been paid for your writing? If so, how did you get your first assignment? If not, share what’s holding you back by leaving a comment.

Did you know?

Book One of my Boost Your Freelance Income series lists 201 markets paying 10 to 15+ cents per word to freelance writers. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to freelance writing.

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