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January 4th, 2013

Career Options for Freelance Writers Starting Out

Writers are lucky. They have the freedom to pursue a number of different paths if they are talented and willing to learn a new genre and/or niche. Writing offers flexibility and versatility. When one industry door closes, another can open immediately.

Two changes have occurred that have forever affected the business of writing for those looking to get started with their careers: The development of the Internet, and the closure of newsrooms and print publications. Writers have to find different ways to survive, whether that means working for a corporation, ad agency, or marketing team, freelancing for a number of different employers, or taking the creative route and pitching ideas.

The Freelance Strategist spoke to young four writing professionals on their individual field experience. Here is what they have to say about their writing jobs.

Copywriter

Kara Zuaro is a freelance copywriter for Cook Taste Eat, a website that puts out daily videos on cooking that feature Michael Mina, Tanya Melillo, Michelle Branch, and Rajat Parr. Zuaro, who majored in English and film production, got the job after the CEO of the company, whom she had known for years, was looking for a writer.

The job requirement was a background in food, which she had gained knowledge about through writing restaurant reviews. She says, “Since I was on board from the beginning, my job was also to help create the voice of the site — which needed to be unfussy and conversational but serious about food.”

As a freelance copywriter just starting off, she says a typical salary is $30-$50 per hour, but with experience, a writer could end up making much more than that.

Zuaro doesn’t advise taking on copywriting assignments in a field that a writer is already working in. For example, a food critic should not write copy for a chef. But, conflict of interest aside, she believes that copywriting can offer an established writer new challenges.

“As a copywriter, I don’t have to come up with the topics myself — I don’t have to be constantly brainstorming and pitching ideas — but I do get to be creative in describing the recipes at hand,” she said. “As a journalist who writes about restaurants, I’m writing a narrative and trying to encapsulate the experience of dining in a particular place. At Cook Taste Eat, it’s all about the recipe techniques and the deep flavors of each dish. Focusing on the flavors of the food is definitely making me a better writer, which I’ve carried back into my other work.”

Content Writer/Blogger

These days, many former journalists and reporters are turning to content writing, since business is booming.

Michael Andronico, who has a bachelor of arts in journalism, works as a content writer and blogger for Ajax Union Internet Marketing, located in Brooklyn, New York. He writes blogs and articles for the clients, which include small businesses “who use our services to grow their presence on the Internet.”

He also rewrites the content on clients’ websites to enhance SEO, and occasionally deals with social media. He found the position on Craigslist, and makes $12 per hour. The background required was a degree and writing experience.

Like Zuaro, Andronico sees that although his job isn’t straight up journalism, it is rewarding in a different way.

“Though the content I write here isn’t something I’d put in my portfolio, I believe that writing is a muscle,” he says. “Doing this more technical type of writing has strengthened me as a writer overall, and learning more about how Internet content works is crucial to any type of writer these days.”

He adds, “Don’t be afraid to tackle a job that isn’t 100% what you dreamed of, as long as you can get something worthwhile out of it. It just might give you the experience you need to eventually land that dream job.”

Editor

Tessa Raphael is an associate editor at FOLIO:, a media magazine based in Norwalk, Conn. Her job entails analyzing Google Analytics and traffic reports to formulate strategies and increase traffic/clicks, posting content to the website, and assisting with the management of the weekly online editorial cycle/the monthly editorial line up.

She also writes an average of 6,000-10,000 words per week, manages social media sites, writes articles, builds six weekly newsletters, moderates website comments, edits copy, puts together photo slideshows, creates videos, and speaks at industry events. In college, she majored in journalism and political science.

Raphael says she makes entry-level salary (which can vary, depending on the organization). Since her company is small, she “wear[s] multiple hats” and produces a lot of content quickly.

“All journalists should realize that what we once did is not what we will do in the future, and all journalists should understand how to shoot and edit video and manage a website,” she said. “At the same time, the fundamentals of reporting need to be hammered home. A journalist should know the basics of writing a short web item or a feature-length story. Enterprise journalism is also extremely valuable as is investigative reporting. Asking hard questions to sources and being able to sniff out a good story is also key. A journalist at a modern media company is much, much more than a journalist.”

Scriptwriter

Scriptwriting is more of a gamble, especially if done by oneself and as a part of a staff. Kristofer Wellman, who received a bachelor of fine arts in dramatic writing with a concentration in television, wrote and pitched a 30-minute comedy. He’s now on staff as a production assistant in Los Angeles, but has yet to break into a steady writing gig in Hollywood.

Since entertainment comes in a variety of formats, the money is going to be different if a writer gets his or her script made into a web series, a television show, or a movie.

Wellman said that since every idea has pretty much been done, “what producers are really looking for is strong execution and a writer’s unique, personal take on a given premise. Take any network sitcom or procedural: the originality in sustainable shows usually comes from a compelling voice, not a revolutionary, ground-breaking concept. Producers are looking for the reason why you and only you are the best candidate to take this show to fruition.”

In his experience, pilots are more useful to submit to managers and agents as opposed to spec scripts.

There is no path that is going to get a writer’s work produced, either.

“More writers are being discovered in non-traditional ways (theatre, online content, fiction, etc.) and more value is being placed on a strong, individual voice over the ability to emulate a show,” he said. “Networks are making up for the influx of unexperienced showrunners by pairing them up with seasoned vets who have run their own shows before.”

Top image courtesy of Kutlayev Dmitry/Shutterstock

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