Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: How Do I Find Specialty Publications That Pay?

By Nicole Dieker November 11th, 2014

While Writer’s Market is an okay place to get a list of publications, it doesn’t include everything. How do you find “hidden markets,” meaning sites that aren’t listed in Writer’s Market or that are not household names, such as your mention of The Billfold?

—Daniel Pearson

Here’s how I found The Billfold:

I started reading The Awl Network (the tree of sites that includes The Billfold, The Hairpin, The Wirecutter, and Splitsider) a few years ago. I believe I found The Hairpin through Jezebel, since they are both women’s blogs that frequently link to each other, and slowly added other Awl publications to my must-read list.

By the time I first pitched The Billfold, I had been reading it for a very long time and had a good sense of its voice and what its readers wanted. To me, it wasn’t a hidden market; it was a publication I read every day.

The Billfold isn’t listed in Writer’s Market (I checked). Neither is Scratch, Boing Boing, or many of the other online publications that account for a significant part of my freelance income.

Although Writer’s Market is a very useful tool, it is not a great place to discover mid-level publications and blogs. If you’re looking to become a regular writer for a website that posts 10-12 new articles per day—which is a great way to get both a steady paycheck and a steady byline—you probably need to hunt elsewhere.

How do you find these “hidden markets”? One way is to expand your reading list. It’s easy to get caught up visiting the same few websites everyone else reads, but start looking for online publications that focus on your areas of interest or expertise. If you’re interested in the tech scene, there’s The Wirecutter, The Verge, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Inc. If you’re into personal finance, options include The Billfold, the Penny Hoarder, Get Rich Slowly, Consumerist.

So get to know your market. Even something as simple as a search for “best tech blogs” is a good start. On popular sites, pay attention to links that might source material from smaller publications. Read bios to see where your favorite writers contributed in the past.

Once you become familiar with the specialty publications in your field, you’ll be ready to start pitching. As you work your way up the editorial ladder from small blogs to mid-level publications, don’t forget to move laterally as well. As Carol Tice notes on her blog Make a Living Writing: “In this age of consolidation, many publications are part of a publishing family. Condé Nast, for instance, has about 30 magazine and online properties, and several trade publications as well. Once you’ve written for one book in a family, it’s often easier to get a warm referral to an editor at another.”

Figure out whether any of your clients are part of a larger publishing family and ask your editors how you can write for other sites in the network. I’ve had a lot of success working within publishing networks, in part because editors are more willing to work with writers who have already been vetted by someone they can trust.

Here’s another secret: Once your byline gets out there, the “hidden markets” start coming to you. I’ve received several offers from editors at mid-level publications I had never heard of before simply because someone saw my work and invited me to pitch. And since these sites aren’t mainstream, some have turned out to be great clients with plenty of opportunities. Would I have found them on my own? No idea—but I’m glad they came to me.

As writer Linda Formichelli puts it: “There’s a metric buttload of publications out there, just waiting for enterprising writers who think beyond the newsstand.” Or, in this case, beyond your copy of Writer’s Market.

Nicole Dieker would like to remind you all that the Negotiation Challenge, i.e., “try to negotiate a higher rate with one of your clients before December 31, 2014,” is in full force, and that she will share your negotiation stories in an upcoming Ask a Freelancer column. Please send your negotiation stories and your freelance advice questions to

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