I have written several stories about orchids.

I have written several stories about orchids.

One of the most difficult challenges to building a career as a freelance writer is finding assignments. You need to keep them rolling to provide a steady income.

At the beginning of my career, I had two part-time jobs: One was a fashion copywriter position for a chic department store chain. I learned about it through a newspaper Help Wanted ad. The other was a weekly column about local fashion and beauty happenings for a suburban edition of the Chicago Tribune. Before I decided to write, I worked as a fashion coordinator, trainer, model and makeup artist. The Tribune editor asked a colleague of mine to write the column. She said she was too busy and recommended me. With those gigs, I could cover my bare expenses.

Since then I have written for dozens of editors, publications, agencies and corporations. Many turned into long-term relationships. Here are some of the ways I found them–or they found me. Perhaps they will work for you:

* Going through the Yellow Pages of the Chicago telephone directory and calling every business and enterprise that might use writers. I introduced myself and asked for an appointment to show my portfolio.

* Responding to requests for writers on journalism message boards, especially those run by professional organizations.

* Pitching story ideas to editors at writers’ conferences.

* Reading industry publications to learn about new magazines and contacting the editors. (Start-ups are tricky. Editors need to cultivate a roster of writers, but indie publishers often are underfunded. You might not get paid.)

* Telling public relations account executives who pitched me stories that I was looking for additional work. PR types know a lot about what’s going on at media outlets.

* Cold-pitching editors who don’t know me.

As you become known for producing quality work on deadline, editors and project managers will seek you out. I have gotten assignments and referrals from:

* Other freelance writers who are too busy to take on a particular assignment or who are not interested.

* Friends and acquaintances in the printing, advertising, marketing, public relations and photography industries.

* Editor-colleagues of my editors.

* Editors I have worked for who moved on to other publications.

* Editors who see my Facebook, LinkedIn and WordPress profiles.

* Former students who became editors.

* Adjunct professor colleagues who are editors in their day jobs.

* Members of networking groups I joined.

* People I’ve written about.

These measures have not worked for me, although they could for you: Touting my college and and high school newspaper experience. Neither of editorial positions carried any weight, perhaps because they were well behind me when I choose the freelance path. I have not used Craigslist, Elance or other Internet sites, but I know of writers who have been successful with them.

Where do your assignments come from? Do you have suggestions I haven’t mentioned?

Deadlines

May 5, 2009

The End

When I was a younger writer, I wrote in a constant state of worry. I worried that I wasn’t good enough to finish the assignment I was working on. I worried that the editor wouldn’t like it after it was done. (I knew I wouldn’t.) Then I worried that I wouldn’t get enough assignments to pay my bills. When I got more assignments, I worried that I wasn’t good enough…

In all my years of writing, I have never not turned in a story. That’s why I won’t panic that today is Tuesday and I don’t have a single idea for my column deadline on Friday. I won’t. Really.

Contact me: pmckuen@gmail.com