The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing is a how-to manual on the subject by author and editor Zachary Petit. The book discusses all of the fundamentals of freelance writing that an aspiring writer needs to know.
Petit begins by discussing full-time versus part-time freelancing, as well as the different venues for which a freelancer can write. He offers the wise advice to avoid content mills and be open to writing for almost every other type of publication, which would have saved me a lot of trouble had this book been published four years earlier. The second chapter is about what to write and how to get ideas for articles. Again, the advice is sound: go out and find stories rather than expecting them to fall into your lap, use your knowledge and expertise from other disciplines, cover events local to you, express yourself, and never stop studying.
The next three chapters discuss the process of getting a freelance assignment. First, there is the matter of one’s online and offline presence, as well as adherence to stylebooks (which felt like it belonged in the fourth chapter rather than the third). Next, Petit takes the reader through the structure of a magazine and the writing opportunities (or lack thereof) presented by each part. The fourth chapter concludes with a brief discussion of what is necessary to write for major publications immediately. The fifth chapter explains in great detail how to (and how not to) query a publication in order to get a freelance assignment and briefly discusses the typical hierarchy of publishers, editors, assistants, and interns.
The sixth chapter covers everything that a novice writer needs to learn about interviewing people, from the pros and cons of in-person, phone, and email interviews to journalistic ethics to dealing with troublesome sources and celebrities (and both). In general, in-person interviews are better than phone interviews are better than email interviews, though one must take what one can get sometimes. The seventh chapter discusses almost every other type of writing available to a freelancer, such as front-of-the-book content, newspaper articles, feature articles, Q&As, and profile pieces. To Petit’s credit, the puff pieces and hit pieces which are far too common in formerly respectable publications are absent, as new writers should make an effort to be better than that.
The eighth chapter deals with a writer’s relationship with editors; how to treat them, how to think of them, and how to make sure that an article is ready to be seen by them. The most important advice here is to take no criticism personally, eliminate as many errors as possible on one’s own, double-check everything before submitting an article, and realize that editors can be busy people with tight schedules that limit their ability to respond promptly. The ninth chapter concerns the business side of being a freelancer, including proper payment, negotiating contracts, dealing with delinquent clients, avoiding shady clients, and navigating the unique tax situation of being an independent contractor. The book ends with a short conclusion of encouraging words and an appendix which mostly contains more information about writing queries.
Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Petit explains the ins and outs of freelancing as only a veteran of the business can, and it can save an aspiring freelance writer a lot of trouble from learning the slow and hard way.