how to get workWork - But How?

By Ann Harth


You are writing full time. You crank out books and articles in your favourite genre and are published consistently. Royalty checks are rushing in so quickly that your next investment will be a larger letterbox. The phone never stops ringing and they're hounding you for more…

Or not.

Will you ever reach this stage? It's possible.

Will it just happen if you wait long enough? Doubt it.

Can you make it happen? Definitely.

At this stage you probably have some idea of your writing preferences. Your strengths may lie in writing fiction: historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, adventure or fantasy. You've decided whether you're more comfortable writing for children or adults. Maybe you have a passion for history, science or nature and prefer to write non-fiction. When looking for work, keep your favourite genres in mind, but limiting yourself to these areas will severely limit your choices.

Presumably, you want two things from a writing business: The freedom to write what you want, and an income. If you are passionate about writing sci-fi screenplays and can pay your bills with them, go for it! If, however, you publish the occasional short story in your chosen genre or sell a random article on sea-grasses of the deep, after a week of research diving, you may have to widen your scope.

Like time management, work-search is another area where planning comes into play. Ask yourself these questions:

"How much money do I need to make?"

Your financial situation is a huge modifier. If you have an overflowing bank account, a wealthy aunt or a recent Lotto-win, write what you like. If you have a supportive family or a part time job, you also have some freedom to make writing choices. If, however, you have taken the plunge and must supply groceries, power and fuel each week, you may need to compromise.

"How far am I willing to move away from my preferred writing?"

This brings us to your personal expectations. If you started writing from home because you were determined to only write in one genre or about one subject, you may find that your income is wanting. On the other hand, if you decided to work from home to gain the freedom to make choices and support your specific writing passion, you will be prepared to write what is necessary to continue.

Individual situations will vary. Define your position and drag out my favourite word: balance.

Balance can be can be crucial to running a writing business that makes money but allows you the freedom to follow your passion. Divide your time between preferred writing and paying writing. Ideally, these will merge into one, but for now, they may just overlap.

Don't allow your passion to wallow at the back of the line. This is your motivation for working from home. Don't lose sight of it in the scramble for money. Carve out a specific time each day or each week for 'pleasure writing' (keep in mind that this will possibly become paying work one day). Stick to it. Empty your desk or computer screen of all else. Don't check your emails and don't answer the phone. Put your head down, bum up and write, plot, characterise, research, interview…have fun.

Use the rest of your time to support your habit.

Join professional writing groups.

One of the first steps toward finding work is to become informed. Join the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) and the Writer's Centre in your state. Not only are they a wealth of information, but mentioning a membership on a resume or CV shows your professionalism to prospective employers.

Compile a profile.

When you start looking for work, you will immediately realise that an author profile, biography or CV is needed. Write an outline, stating your relevant experience, education and publishing credits (if any). If your experience or published credits look a touch undernourished, make sure you've included everything. Don't ignore an editorial in a local paper or a short story that was published in a school magazine. As your experience grows, you can drop these, but for now, show them what you've got. Don't forget to add your memberships.

Spend some time on this. It's a valuable tool that will ultimately sell your services. Different jobs will call for different types of experience and different formats when presenting your skills and experience. Some applications say 'Tell us a little about yourself' while others expect a full CV. Your outline can be modified each time you apply for a job.

Study the Australian Writer's Marketplace - or the Equivalent Publication in Your Country.

A huge section of this annual publication is dedicated to magazines and journals. It gives the contact details, readership and submission guidelines for each. Sit down with a highlighter and mark the ones that interest you. Who knows? You may just find a magazine devoted entirely to sea grasses.

Surf the Internet

The Internet is invaluable for a freelance writer, especially if you don't happen to live in a booming metropolis. With your list of skills and experience on hand, log onto your favourite search engine and type in keywords like 'freelance writing', 'writing work' and 'writing jobs'. You can also click into 'advanced search' and use complete phrases: 'write from home', 'finding writing work', 'freelance writing', etc.

Chances are, you will find a number of sites with articles, tips and chat groups all revolving around working as a writer from home. You will also find dozens of freelance writing or work-from-home websites that require you to sign up and send in your profile so that prospective employers can find you. We will talk more about these next month, but for now, we'll concentrate on actively finding work.

Websites that post 'writers wanted' information are often based internationally, but don't let that stop you. A writer's opportunities are countless in the age of the Internet. You may like to check out the following:  This site features FAQs, article and links about freelance writing, as well as regularly updated market listings.  Click on 'Search Markets' in the left-hand column.  'Morning Coffee' has a list of freelance writing jobs and is updated every Tuesday AM. This website offers a free bi-weekly email newsletter with market guidelines  Another website with a free marketing newsletter  and  These websites are homes to the contact information of hundreds of magazines all over the world. Find a few that interest you. Read the guidelines and preferences for stories and then send off a query letter.

These are just a few of the dozens of international freelance writing sites on the web. Take some time to familiarise yourself with a few of them. It's easy to make the mistake of subscribing to everything in site. This often serves to plop dozens of newsletters into your box each day that often sit, unread for weeks. By then the market is cold and useless. Choose one or two that look appropriate for your needs and concentrate on these.

Volunteer your services.

Some of the offers of employment you come across from these sources will ask you for your work experience and/or samples of published writing. A good way to ensure that you can provide these is to volunteer your services. Many small journals and magazines offer little or no pay. This doesn't mean that your work can be inferior, but it can mean that it will be more readily accepted without a long list of publishing credits to your name. Pad your experience with articles for web sites or small publications. Prospective editors aren't going to ask you how much you were paid for each published piece, but they will feel confident that you can deliver if you have a list of published credits in your past.

Keep an open mind.

Above all, keep your eyes and mind wide open. Pay attention to interesting occurrences each day. Take notes. Encourage the innate and natural curiosity that many of us have lost since childhood. Read the news, watch current affair programs. Stay informed, not only about political happenings, but also fashion, food and travel. Enjoy the process of learning and become an expert in anything and everything. Look things up, use search engines and libraries. Become a research whiz.

Then, when you find a journal or magazine looking for articles on fashion trends in the world of country music, you will know how to find information on ankle tattoo fads among C&W drummers. You will be able to put your finger on the interview with Betsy Lee Ross that outlines her preferences for glitter over sequins.

Don't give up

There may be days or even weeks when you feel that you will never again land a paying job. Don't be discouraged. Writing can be a fickle business, one day, one hour can turn your career around. Keep your name out there and keep submitting proposals and queries. Above all - don't forget to send out your favourite manuscripts during your scramble for paying jobs.

With perseverance and dedication, that larger letterbox could be just around the corner.

Next month: Query letters: make the editors want you.

© copyright Ann Harth .


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