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It’s one of the oldest conundrums on a budding writer’s lips: “How do I succeed as a freelancer?”
For the British writer living in the United States, this question might appear at first to have no easy answers. For some, such a career can seem unattainable and unrealistic.
Well, in the words of Douglas Adams, don’t panic; there are several steps you can take to ensure that you maximize the odds of making it as a freelance writer in the U.S.
Lest we forget, America is a very big place. There was a time when writing for a major New York publication from your home in, say, Indianapolis, Indiana, would have been geographically unviable. But one very important development has changed all that: the internet.
Because of the internet, your creative exploits need no longer be confined to your immediate surroundings. Via the medium of a concisely written email, you can now feel empowered to hit up potential clients in Honolulu, Manhattan and everywhere in between.
But such an email would be useless without first having a body of work to accompany the pitch. This is why I highly recommend starting a blog or website (preferably one with a narrow focus) of your own. Whether writing about a hobby, journaling your U.S. experiences, or—like me—researching all of the many UK/US differences, launching your own site is a great way to enhance both your writing ability and your portfolio.
Furthermore, while it may not (initially) be a source of revenue, your website is a good point of reference when networking with other like-minded writers. Before I began contributing to Mind The Gap, I reached out to Toni Hargis—a writer you may be familiar with from this very blog—after she started following my website’s Facebook page. Networking is very important. Toni’s advice helped me considerably, and I soon penned my first article for BBC AMERICA.
On the subject of Facebook, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of social media. Building up a list of dedicated readers on Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+ is probably as important as building up your portfolio. After all, there are a growing number of Anglophiles in the United States who will enjoy what you have to offer. Not only is a targeted readership essential to honing your craft, its presence will later appeal to prospective clients, who will value quality website traffic in addition to quality work.
And when it comes to pitching your articles to said prospective clients, there are certain things to keep in mind.
Firstly, don’t be afraid to play up your Britishness. While having an accent is certainly no guarantee of frequent work, your nationality could be an asset to a publication that is seeking alternative viewpoints within its niche.
Secondly, be mindful of a client’s style preferences. Just because a U.S.-based website has a focus on British culture doesn’t necessarily mean, for example, that it keeps the “u” in “colour.” Everything—from your initial email to your writing samples—should reflect the in-house style of the publication in question.
Finally—and this ties in with the previous point—I recommend taking the time to not just flick through a publication’s archives, but to become an avid subscriber of its future posts. This way, you will familiarize yourself with the website’s main area(s) of focus, making it easier to complement these themes in your own writing.
Of course, finding potential clients is itself a challenge. Perhaps the best and most convenient way to find freelance work is through websites specifically devoted to that cause. The internet is replete with freelance databases, and deciding which one to use depends entirely on the person. For a pretty good list of databases (and advice on how to use them), take a read of this article.
What do you need to begin a writing career in America, especially if you’re British and new here? Join @MindTheGap_BBCA Wednesday, March 26 at 2 pm/et to discuss using hashtag #MindTheChat, and you could win the just-aired Downton Abbey Season 4 on DVD, courtesy of BBC AMERICA Shop!