By far, the most difficult part of the freelance writing life is finding and winning assignments with editors. Depending on your level of experience, and the size of your rolodex, this may take a considerable amount of effort. If you want to get published, you will need to convince an editor: A) that you are a good writer, B) that you will write things that people will want to pay to read, and C) that your idea is viable for the publication in question. Strike out in any one of these three categories, and your article will never ink a page or pixelate a screen. So, you need to learn how to approach an editor.
Relevance, Relevance, Relevance
It is tempting to come up with an article idea either because it is easy, or it interests you, and then carpet bomb any conceivable paying publication with requests to let you write it for them. I have rarely had articles accepted by employing this method. A much better scenario is finding publications that you are interested first, seeing if they accept freelance articles second, then stalking them for a while. Read their latest articles and posts, see if you can match their tone and target audience. Pay attention to the kinds of articles they like to run. Then send a query based on your reconnaissance.
Who You Know
Like everywhere else, it doesn’t hurt to know some folks. If you’ve worked in the industry relevant to the publication, broaden your network to include a few editors. Editors like to take articles from people they know and trust. Ergo, you should become known and trusted. If you strike up a good relationship with an editor in real life or through the query process, don’t let that relationship die. You never know how it may help you out in the future, or who may come knocking when they need a new piece.
Follow the Rules
This is the most important rule of all. When you find a publication that takes freelance work, do them a favor by following their submission directions. Don’t get caught with your pants down by doing a shoddy job of listening to instructions. All of life is like third grade. Listen to the teacher and you’ll go far. Do not submit any more or any less than the official guidelines request. Follow them to the letter. Don’t disqualify yourself by being creative or lazy.
What You’ve Done
The more experience you have with a given topic, the more likely an editor is to trust you with it. If you have a PhD in marine biology, are recognized in the field, and have literally written the book on this thing, then you are probably a shoo-in for an article on that topic. With lesser experience comes less trust. Not to worry, previously published credits count in the trust factor. If another editor has trusted you on a topic, if makes it that much easier for the next person to do so.
Do a good job building your portfolio from small, unpayed writing gigs on up to the bigger guys. Do an excellent job every time so your writing samples stand out from the pack. The more prestigious your credits become, and the more targeted your pitch is to the specific niche of the publication, the more likely the editor will take you on.
A Bit of Luck and Fairy Dust
In the end, even if all your ducks are in a row, the editor may still choose to pass. There isn’t anything you can do about this. Just start scoping out a new publication interested in the same things you are and start over. Eventually you’ll strike gold.