How to become a freelance journalist

by Vanessa Plentinger

Writing whenever wherever you want, and only about the topics you're really interested in – Sounds like a dream come true? Then you should consider striving for a career as a freelance journalist. But be aware that with great freedom comes great responsibility and sometimes insecurity. Not only once will your income be irregular and you'll have to work hard to prevail against all the other talented freelance writers. If you still want to continue reading, we're 100 percent sure that you've got it in you to be freelancing in journalism. Check out our tips to achieve your creative goals!

Freelance in Journalism: First steps

Whether you're starting from scratch or are a more experienced writer your journey to become a freelance journalist should begin with a good amount of preparation. Improve your skills by reading books about or take some classes in journalistic writing. Find your niche and the topics you know a lot about and want to cover. Of course, your list of topics you're writing about can expand over time. Last but not least: Do your research! Read as many magazines and newspapers as you can to get familiar with their different writing styles and contents in order to define which publications would suit you best.

Building a brand and a network as a freelance writer

We often believe that we have to make it all on our own and keep forgetting that we're not alone. You're not the only freelancer out there dealing with all of those various challenges that go with it. Join some online journalism communities and get in touch with other journalists around the world. Most of them will be happy to exchange ideas and experiences with you and will share their best advice.At the same time, you will have to focus on your brand's marketing as a freelance journalist. Set up a professional website and corporate social media profiles that represent you and your work in the best and most authentic way. After that don't just wait for clients to find you online but start connecting with publishers and outlets that you already know from former employment (if there are some) and also focus on publications you would really like to work with.

Starting your own business

Working as a freelance journalist means that you have to found your own company in order to be allowed to make money by selling your stories. This is the not-so-fun part that scares a lot of people off, but if you take one step at a time it's easier than you might think:

  1. There are different rules for every country when it comes to the registration of a business. Don’t be afraid to ask other freelancers, family members, who run their own company and are familiar with the process or the responsible authorities for help.
  2. The same applies to taxes. In any case, you should meticulously note down all of your earnings and expenditure in a table that considers the corresponding taxes. Make sure to hold on to all your receipts, contracts, and invoices in order to have proof if the tax office asks for it.
  3. Inform yourself about possible grants offered by the state or other organisations that offer financial support for small business owners and founders
  4. Talking about finances: Create a business plan that contains all the calculated costs including the minimum income that covers all of your expenses.
  5. Get a press pass!  It will grant you access to many places and people that will help your research.

We know it sounds scary to own a business but just trust in yourself and dare to fulfill your dream. You'll learn as you go. Pretty sure Steve Jobs also hadn't figured out everything about running a company when he first started. ;)

Where can freelance journalists find jobs?

No freelancer has ever been hired accidentally. To get jobs you have to actively search for them. Nowadays you'll find most freelance writer jobs online on the publications' websites or on special platforms for freelancers just like The Story Market. Sign up, fill out your profile, apply for one of the offered jobs, or take initiative and ask publishers if they're currently hiring freelancers. Always keep in mind not to sit back and relax after you've been accepted for one job. Look to find as many opportunities as possible to let the paychecks keep rolling in.Besides that, you have to take jobs from different outlets to not slip into false self-employment (working for only one company as a freelancer), which is considered tax evasion and insurance fraud.

How to become a freelance journalist

Pitching your story ideas to publications

Freelancers who already have deep connections with some publications will get contacted and hired by them for new stories again and again. But in the beginning of your career and if you really want to implement your own ideas you will have to pitch them to the editors in charge. Before that you should always check the publication's content to see if your idea is suitable for it. Furthermore you can find information about how they're working with freelance journalists on the outlet's website or by just talking to other writers who've already contributed to it. Have a look at our blog post about pitching articles to high quality publications like The New York Times for all the details. Try to send out as many thrilling and thought-out pitches as possible to increase the chances of getting hired. But maybe don't start with the big players like The Guardian or Forbes and rather try your first pitches with smaller, lesser known outlets. Always take notes on which idea you've pitched to whom so you won't get confused once you've sent out a  lot of different proposals. And most importantly: Don't take it personally when getting rejected. It happens to every freelance journalist. Instead, try to get some feedback from the editors or publishers about why they didn't accept your story idea in order to improve your pitching skills.

What you need to know about freelance contracts and copyright

Every publication has special contracts when working with freelance journalists. They sometimes even use different contracts with different conditions for different writers.These contracts vary in terms and conditions especially regarding the rights they grant to the contributing authors. Before signing any deal, it is important to learn about the meanings of the different clauses in contracts. As this is also a very important topic for our journalist members who want to resell their articles via The Story Market you can find a detailed explanation of the contracts in our blog post about syndicating articles. As always, don't forget to store all your contracts as well as invoices somewhere so you can check them if any legal questions or issues come up.

How to become a freelance journalist

Writing your first story as a freelancer

Even though the road can be challenging for a freelance journalist, there will come the time that you're getting hired for your first article. Time to celebrate and to NOT panic! The pressure can be high to deliver a perfect story so that the publisher will hire you again in the future but that should't affect your writing process or even end up in a writer's block. Follow this little check list and you're going to be just fine:

  • Make sure to get an extensive briefing for the article (e.g. with information about wording, tonality, length, structure) and don't hesitate to ask the responsible editor further questions. This way you won't loose time with trying to figure out how the story should look like and you can focus on the actual research and writing process. Plus: The publishers will be happy and you will spare them and yourself a lot of time with editing in the end.

  • Keep all your materials (like interview recordings, sources, etc.). Most publications even want you to send it to them with the final article.

  • Be very thorough about checking all the facts, mentioning important sources and following a high ethical standard as hopefully a lot of people will read your story and most likely believe what you've written. Spreading fake news or copied stories will not only shed a negative light on the publication and you as a writer but can also lead to legal consequences.

  • Time management is key: As a freelancer, you can define your own working hours. But every job comes with a deadline that has to be met. Maybe write a to do list and create a timetable. Also, count in some time for editing the article before you send it to the editor.

  • Have fun! You're able to do what you love and are getting paid for it. Enjoy all the advantages that come with working as a freelance journalist. :)

What's a freelance journalist's salary?

Most bigger and renown publications have exact guidelines about how much they're willing to pay a freelancer per word. Long story short: You'll have to take it or leave it. But if you are to set the price you can take the different rates from the publications you've worked with or other journalists you know as a basis and also take into account how long it'll take you to finish an article including the time for research, interviews and so on. Stay open minded for negotiating especially at the beginning of building relationships with publications. Connecting with them might be more important than immediately starting off with a higher price. As you get more and more experienced and known, you will be able to adjust your rates accordingly.. Also, note that it may take some time until you can make a full living with freelance writing so maybe consider taking on a side job.

How to become a freelance journalist

How to make more money as a freelance writer

Syndication is the magic word. There are quite a few publications that allow their contributors to resell their work to other outlets after a certain embargo period. And this is where The Story Market steps in: Our mission is to help freelance journalists to earn some extra money by offering their articles to international magazines and newspapers via our marketplace. Additionally, we can ensure the quality of journalism and make the best and most relevant stories travel the world. Check out how The Story Market works for journalists here. We would be happy to welcome you to our growing community of freelance writers. :)

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