FT 066: Become a Successful Freelance Journalist with Kate Parham Kordsmeier
Kate Kordsmeier built an amazing freelance writing career straight out of college. Kate is a food and travel writer who has been published in over 100 publications, gets to travel to cool places, eat fancy foods, and most importantly, is great proof that being a freelance writer doesn’t have to mean spending years carving out an existence and living as a starving artist.
Kate breaks down how she got started and built up her freelancing business, what her lifestyle looks like as a freelance writer, how she juggles her projects and stays organized, and details what actions you can take to start now.
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Kate shares with us:
How she got started:
Kate discovered freelancing while she was a journalism student at the University of Georgia, and what could be more appealing than the prospect of making more money, having more freedom and flexibility, and being your own boss? Especially compared to her short stint as a copywriter working 9-5 in a cubicle after graduating. The cubicle life was possibly the best thing that could have happened to her though, since it inspired her to give freelancing full time a real shot.
She saved up 10 months of expenses and quit her job. She was successful in 3 months. Here's how.
Specific tips for freelance writers:
How to reach out to editors and make the pitch:
It's a numbers game. You have to pitch dozens of places before you get an assignment. Kate has a 3-5% success rate from all her pitches, which is actually really good! Kate pitched specific story ideas and sent letters of introduction to editors and companies to get her name out there and find work. That's thousands of emails, literally. But she never gave up.
Kate pitched to three types of publications: consumer magazines, trade publications, and custom publications. Each type of publication requires specific strategies.
For example, editors at consumer magazines receive hundreds of emails a day from freelancers and publicists and you have to make sure your email stands out. Tip: Editors are more likely to read a freelancer's pitch than a publicist's so make sure you sound like a freelancer. Avoid words like “pitch” and “story idea”. Instead, use words like “query” and call out specific sections of the magazine and be specific about the article you want to write. Try something like this for a headline: “Travel Diary Query from a Freelance Writer.” And don't just write one email and leave it there. Follow up in a a week or two. Editors are busy and have very full inboxes so they appreciate a reminder, but don't hound them either.
Successful pitching is about pitching the right story idea to the right publication to the right editor at the right time. The best pitch is a direct email to the editor. Start by giving a quick introduction about yourself. Then layout a quick story idea in 1-2 paragraphs. End by explaining why you are uniquely qualified to write the piece, such as having written similar stories and specialize in the topic, that you have a journalism degree and understand accuracy and clarity, or that you are personally qualified because you have celiac disease and eat a gluten-free diet so you can write with authority about gluten-free diets. You should also include a link to your portfolio here. And remember, magazines are working on material as much as six months in advance, so make sure you are pitching stories accordingly. For example, you need to pitch Christmas themed articles in the summer not a month before Christmas. Once you get the approval from the editor, you typically have about 2-3 weeks to write the article.
To get into the trade and custom publications, you should start by sending an email introducing yourself and your specialty, including a link to your portfolio. These types of publications often come up with story ideas internally and then look for writers, so this isn't the time to pitch a story. Instead, ask what you can do to help, what their freelancing needs are, whether they like to be pitched specific story ideas or if they pick story ideas from with in. Once you build the relationship and they are open to you, you can pitch story ideas to them.
In the beginning, Kate was working hard to find work and promoting herself. But it paid off. After about 2-3 years of constant pitching, work started coming to her. Editors who she worked with in the past started sending more work her way and she started getting assignments directly from her website SEO.
What to expect to make:
Publications can pay by the word or by the article. Kate has found that most places have a standard rate. International publications tend to pay around $2 per word while regional publications will pay less, around $1 per word. Trade and custom publications also tend to pay around $1 per word. Of course, some pay more, some pay less. After 5 years of working as a freelance writer, Kate has found that she has an average hourly rate of $155 per hour. Some years it is a bit more, some years a bit less.
Being a food and travel writer, Kate also benefits from being invited to cities and restaurants by publicists from the chamber of commerce, visitor bureau, or hotel. These are called media junkets or press trips. She never gets paid to travel there, but they cover her expenses. Kate never promises articles, especially articles promoting that city or attraction. However, she always tries to come up with at least three article ideas for each trip to pitch when she returns to cover opportunity cost. To get these opportunities, you can contact travel PR firms who employ the publicists for hotels and destinations. Introduce yourself, explain who you write for and ask that you be added to the media list and kept in mind for any opportunities they night have. Always be open to story ideas.
High level action plan to get started in freelance writing:
- First off, start your outreach campaign. You need to sell yourself and market yourself before you expect to get work.
- Make a list of 100 publications that you would like to reach out to and are specific to your specialty. Figure out who you need to contact at each of these publications. And maybe make a spreadsheet!
- Then start emailing! Introduce yourself and start pitching story ideas.
How to manage your time and stay organized:
Any freelancer can learn from Kate's amazing time management and organization. Kate spends about 48% of her time writing the stories while promoting herself, pitching stories, and maintaining her website for the remaining 52%. Promoting yourself is critical if you want to get work and eventually have work coming in consistently.
Kate tends to work from 8:00 AM to about 4:00 pm or sometimes 7:00 PM depending on the week and the deadlines. She works 40-50 hours a week on average. But she doesn't have to sit at her desk and whittle away time if work is slow like she would at an agency.
Kate is also a huge fan of spreadsheets, which is why we have so many stats about how much she makes and how many hours she works. She tracks everything! “What gets measured, gets managed,” Peter Drucker. Kate also has spreadsheets dedicated to who she has pitched and when for each story idea so she knows when to followup and when to pitch to someone else. She also has a list of publications she has and wants to pitch to and how successful she has been pitching them. Part of that 52% of time spent not working directly on articles is also spent managing her spreadsheets so she knows where her business is and what she needs to do to reach her goals. This strategy also relieves stress because she can see months down the line if she has any work coming up and can fill in the time long before panicking would take hold.
These management strategies can be applied to any freelancing business.
- Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money by Kelly James-Enger
Find Kate Online:
- On Twitter @kpkords
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