5 Ways To Maintain Your Reputation As A Freelance Writer

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Last week I chatted with public relations pro Christina Dick about the wonderful world of freelance writing. Our convo was part of her new podcast “I’m not an expert, but …”, where she interviews all sorts of RVA folks about who they are and what they do. [Give the podcast a listen!] During our discussion we covered a lot of bases — topics like the gig economy, being a self-starter, and breaking into the industry.

One thing I briefly touched on during the interview was reputation. I’d like to take a few minutes here to delve further into reputation because it really is one of the most important parts of being a freelance writer. In all honesty, it can make or break you.

In my freelancing writing workshop I also discuss communication and etiquette, which I sometimes assume is common-sense stuff, but for newbies it might not be. Your reputation as a good, reliable writer rests on a few key things: being kind, turning in your piece on time, delivering on what you promised, responding in a timely fashion to edits, and being gracious during the editing process.

BE KIND

This principle is pretty easy, but you’d be surprised how many people fudge it up. If you don’t operate with The Golden Rule in mind (“Do unto others, as you’d want them to do unto you,” as my mommy used to say) then you aren’t going far in freelancing. Don’t be egotistical. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be rude. No one wants to work with a jerk, especially when there are a ton of other freelancers out there who happily will do the job with a smile on their face.

BE ON TIME

Growing up my mom made sure we were always 15 minutes early for every appointment. This drove me nuts as a kid. As an adult I’m now the uncool person who is the first to arrive at a party. But I’m so glad my mom taught me about punctuality, because people who are late have no respect for you or your time. Turning in your story late also shows editors that you are a bad communicator and aren’t organized.

Life happens though and sometimes we have to push back deadlines. When I was 24 and starting my freelance career I got deathly ill. I got bronchitis, which developed into pneumonia, which in turn led to me checking into the hospital with pleurisy. At the time I was supposed to turn in a big feature story to my editor over at Blue Ridge Outdoors, but my illness wiped me out for weeks. I was so scared that my editor wouldn’t understand. Guess what though? He did! — because he is a kind and understanding human and not a monster. Editors care about their writers! We all get sick. We all have emergencies. Just be sure to communicate what is happening to your editor and they’ll surely understand and adjust deadlines as needed. (If they don’t, then they probably are a monster.)

TURN IN WHAT YOU PROMISED

This seems pretty obvious, but as an editor I’ve had writers turn in stories that weren’t what they originally pitched. Say you pitch and are assigned a travel story about the thriving beer scene in Richmond, but then you start writing the story for the publication and you realize that Richmond’s beer scene actually is dying. Breweries are closing down and beer literally is drying up.

Well, then let your editor know and readjust the angle of your story. Don’t let it get to the point where you sit down to write the story and it no longer makes sense or you have to change the entire direction of your piece. This prevents you from metaphorically punching your editor in the face.

This also goes for word count. For print publications you need to stick to the assigned word count. I still struggle with this 10 years in and have been reprimanded by editors for it. If you are assigned 600 words, don’t turn in 750. Don’t turn in 500 words. Turn in 600 words. End of story.

Also, if you promised extra elements like side bars, infographics or photos, be sure to deliver on what you signed up for.

RESPOND IN A TIMELY MANNER TO EDITS

By timely, I mean according to your editor’s production schedule. It could be by the end of the week. It could be tomorrow morning. It could be by end of day. If you editor doesn’t give you a time frame, be sure to ask.

I once had an editor give me edits on a Friday evening and not tell me she needed them back early Monday morning when the story went to press. I didn’t get them back to her. Don’t put yourself in that position, friends.

ACCEPT EDITS WITH GRACE

This is a hard one. Writing is incredibly personal. After all, it is your voice and thoughts. So when someone edits you, it can be hard not to take it personally. Trust me, I know. Still to this day, a huge edit can sting. It deflates my ego. And it sometimes makes me question if I’m even good at what I do. OMG, AM I?

It may look like your story has been hacked to death, but don’t let all those red marks put you in an existential funk. Editing doesn’t exist to deflate you and make you feel like an idiot. It’s the opposite. It’s constructive criticism and is meant to help you grow and lift you up as a writer.

I once worked with a writer who responded to my edits with extreme passive aggression. During each editing process I felt like I was walking on eggshells because of the back-and-forth email commentary with said person. Finally we went our separate ways because the communication had an air of toxicity to it. Part of writing is editing. If it’s a tough pill for you to swallow, you gotta get over it.

Want to know more about freelance etiquette?  Check out this piece I wrote for MediaBistro where editors at top publications share qualities they look for in writers.

 

Back To Work

Hi All, I’m back! I took three months off for maternity leave, and I’m now plugging back into work. There are a few exciting developments — aside from the baby! — since my return.

1.) I’m back teaching freelance workshops at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. Yay! My first class was yesterday and I have another coming up on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. I’ll also be teaching a workshop during the winter semester (date TBD). Sign up here.

2.) I’m Dwell’s new “Out There” columnist. I’ll be writing a story each week featuring cabins, trailers/campers, treehouses, houseboats, and all sorts of fun, nontraditional residences that get people out experiencing nature. The column kicks off in early September!

3.) I’m coming back to my copy editing gig at The Scout Guide. Each week I fact-check and proofread a batch of spreads for one of TSG’s 60+ publications.

View this post on Instagram

As a storyteller it would be a disservice for me not to share the story behind Velkommen Vintage. • My great grandma Nana Hazel made cross-stitch Velkommen signs that she gave to family members to hang in their homes. Growing up our sign was displayed in the kitchen. And now that I have my own home and family, it proudly hangs in the entryway (seen in above photo). • Velkommen means more than just “welcome” in Norwegian. It means “welcome to my home.” Nana Hazel’s cross-stitch, an heirloom that has been passed down through the generations, seemed like a good place to draw inspiration for my new side gig. The name is a nod to family heritage, heirlooms, reciprocity, memory, and the importance of the domestic. 🏡✨

A post shared by Velkommen Vintage (@velkommen_vintage) on

4.) I’m diversifying work-wise too. I launched a little side hustle called Velkommen Vintage, where I sell stylish vintage furniture and decor via Instagram and Chairish. This is meant to be another fun avenue to bring in some dough, while I’m staying home taking care of Elin.

After I get settled and figure out how to balance my work life and mom life, I’ll be accepting more story assignments. Excited to see what new opportunities come my way!

xo, marissa

What to expect from this blog in 2019

 

Hi Friends + Fam,

For years I wanted to launch a lifestyle blog. So in 2016 I purchased a URL, came up with a cute name (HappyHyggeHome), and then for the next two years I pondered branding, content, design, etc. After years of doing nothing, I finally realized I lacked the vision and confidence to get it off the ground. So, I deleted the URL and moved on.

But after saying goodbye to my nonexistant website, I still felt a longing to create a place online where I could jot down all the ideas that are confined to my head. The other evening when I was tossing and turning with my pregnancy insomnia and general discomfort, I experienced an inward eye moment. It occurred to me that 1.) I can write about whatever I want to without all the hoopla of fancy branding; 2.) I already have a blog (this one!) where my thoughts can live; and 3.) I can be my authentic self right here. What an amazing, freeing realization. I suddenly couldn’t sleep because I was excited!

So rather than creating a “branded” lifestyle site, what will I be doing with this here blog? The thoughts on this blog will be a reaction and counterpoint to millennial lifestyle websites that exist today, specifically in regard to home design and style, which is where my head and pen have been at for the past few years.

Recently I’ve noticed professional publications dumbing down their content for the 20- and 30-some audience. As a millienial who works in the realm of lifestyle publishing, I’m personally insulted by this. Current shelter publications assume its younger readers don’t know chevron from herringbone and modern from contemporary.  Ahem, we do. Those of us who are passionate and curious about design don’t want our content to be diluted. We don’t want blog posts and stories that read like “Lifestyle for Dummies.” We want the real deal: smart stories about inspired design.

I’ve also noticed that shelter publications catering to the millennial crowd aren’t cherry-picking spaces that are worthy of being showcased. Instead I find myself staring at homes that lack in taste and personality, and instead are carbon copies of the same tired, unoriginal trends that exist on every other blog.

With that said, here are a few thoughts on topics I’d like to address on the blog in the near future:

-stop trying to make fetch happen: 5 design trends that need to stop now
-the tao of books: stop styling them and just let them be
-an argument against IKEA hacks

I’m also giving myself room to write about whatever the heck I want to, beause this is my blog and I do what I want. So blog posts also may be about recipes, vacations, cats … who knows! Basically, you can expect to find any lifestyle topic that I already professionally write about (architecture + interiors, arts + culture, food + drink, travel, weddings, etc.) on the blog.

What do you think current lifestyle websites lack that you’d like to see here? Let me know. I’d love to hear.

Happy New Year! xo, marissa 

6 ways to market yourself as a freelance writer

It’s hard to find the time to market yourself when you’re busy writing. The more prolific and successful you are, the less time you have to update your website, push your stories out via social media, and network with colleagues at industry events. But, if you carve out a little time in your routine every day (30 minutes tops), your efforts will go a long way.

As a freelancer who is stuck working from home, here are a few things I’ve made a point to do over the years to help market myself:

1. Put your stories out there. Update your social media with your stories as they are published. With time management in mind, I say “as they are published” so that you don’t sit down one day at your computer and have 20 stories that need to be tweeted out. By constantly adding to all your channels (I’m talking all channels — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) you are increasing your clout and letting people know that you are creatively rich and busy doing your job.

2. School yourself. Over the years I have both attended and taught workshops. It’s good to attend writing classes to help fine-tune your writing, sharpen your editing skills, hear your words read aloud and open yourself up to criticism. If you have the knowledge and experience, teaching writing also is rewarding because mentoring and educating is important for the greater community.

3. Join committees and boards. Make connections with folks in the community by joining committees and boards. Here in Richmond, I’ve made all sorts of great contacts through serving on Faison Center’s junior board and The Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s Craft + Design Committee. The people you meet through other organizations will remember you when they need help with communications, or they might refer you to a friend in need.

4. Keep your portfolio up to date. Back in the day I used to update this WordPress site with every single story I wrote. What a waste of time! Last year a friend turned me on to Contently, an online portfolio that is extremely user-friendly. Just like Pinterest, you copy and paste a web link onto the site and it automatically generates a headline, dek and photo. Rather than wasting time creating a blog post about the stories I write, I now take five minutes each day to upload story links onto my portfolio.

5. Be the conversation. Post relevant content about your industry on LinkedIn. Tweet your reaction to a story on Twitter. Write posts relating to your field and expertise on your blog. As a writer you need to be an active participant in your field, so walk the walk and talk the talk.

6. Do a good job. You could have 10,000 Twitter followers and a killer online portfolio, but honestly, the best marketing is having a good reputation among your colleagues. Recently I’ve gotten some awesome new gigs because editors have passed along my contact to colleagues who were in need of writing and editing help. An editor saying “This writer does a good work” goes a long way. So do a good job. Be nice. And karma will bring you good fortune.

What are your marketing tips? Would love to hear them! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Best, Marissa

The Best Books On Writing

Dear writer friends,

I wanted to share a handful of my favorite books on writing. All these books have had a significant impact on myself as a writer, whether it was reading The Elements of Journalism in class at Boston University or weeping and laughing aloud while reading Stephen King’s On Writing. 

Here’s my top six:

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tim Rosensteil • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Other books I recommend for journalists are the Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists by Robert J. Haiman and The Associated Press Guide to News WritingAnd for those who need style and grammar guides, check out the Allyn Bacon Handbook by Laurence Behrens and Leonard Rosen — and the book every writer needs, The Associated Press Style Book.

What are your favorite books on writing? xx, marissa

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5 Things You Must Do To Break Into Freelance Writing

This past weekend I taught another freelance writing workshop at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, which was attended by a handful of writers who haven’t been published. For those who are interested in breaking into freelance writing, but don’t have any published clips, I’m going to walk you through a few quick steps to help you lay the foundation for a future in writing.

1. Connect with the right people — Whether it’s in your town or across the country, it’s important to get to know people in the industry. Here’s a few ways:

• Join local clubs/groups – Attend industry and networking events to make connections in person.

• Schedule informational interviews – Make appointments with editors to learn about their publication and what kind of stories/voices they are looking for.

• Use social media – On Twitter, follow publications, editors and fellow freelancers. On LinkedIn, connect with people in the industry and follow writing groups.

2. Find a mentor – I can’t stress this enough: having a mentor is key to breaking into freelance writing. They can answer all your questions, provide support and help you navigate this new world. To read about all the benefits of mentorship, read my story on MediaBistro here.

3. Create an online presence – Since you don’t have any published stories yet, you need to create a place where editors can go and read your work. Create a blog where you can showcase your talents. For a comparison of blog platforms, check out this helpful article.

4. Brainstorm story ideas – Keep a journal of story ideas. Start with a big broad list of topics you’d like to write about and then zero in on specific story angles for each subject. Also, keep a running list of the publications you’d like to write for.

5. Pitch stories – Once your blog is up and running with a few posts, and after you’ve come up with a handful of story ideas, start pitching publications. Read my “Intro on How to Pitch Publications” post to learn more about submitting queries to editors. Also check out these online pitching workshops:

• MediaBistro – How to pitch: Start pitching and get published

• The International Freelancer by Mridu Khullar Relph – The Idea Generation Workshop: A step-by-step, proven plan for developing story ideas that sell

If you live here in Richmond, Virginia, check out my freelance writing workshop on August 18. It’s only $35 and it’s jam-packed with a ton of info on the ins and outs of freelancing. Sign up here.

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Resources for Women in Journalism

Recently I’ve had several women reach out to me about pursuing a freelance writing career. So, I figured it might be helpful to create a quick list of resources for women who are looking to pursue a career in journalism and are looking for a little guidance along the way. Here you go!

Poynter is offering free 30-minute career coaching phone calls for women in journalism. More here.

The International Women’s Media Foundation has a list of opportunities on their website for grants and fellowships around the world. More here.

On October 12 through 14, 2018, the Journalism and Women Symposium is hosting its annual CAMP (Conference and Mentoring Project) in Oregon. Check out the lineup of events.

For $149, you can become a member of the Alliance for Women in the Media, which includes all sorts of awesomeness like networking events, online discussion forums, along with access to their exclusive job board and research portal. Sign up here.

Also, a fellow colleague told me about this cool e-newsletter the other day. Every month journalist Betsy O’Donovan e-mails out a long lists of fellowships, grants and awards that journalists can apply to in order to help elevate their career. Sign up here.

Also, if you feel like you need guidance as you establish yourself as a writer, consider a mentorship. Last year I wrote a story for MediaBistro on the importance of mentorship in the communications industry with tips on finding a mentor and maintaining the relationship. Check it out.