As I sit in my kitchen staring at the blinking cursor on my blank computer screen, the blinking cursor which is beckoning me — begging me — to write something, I find myself speechless. With an inbox full of rejections and a Google docs file full of titles for pieces yet-to-be-written, I wonder who am I to sit here and speak of success. How am I a success story?
Then it dawns on me: Success isn’t perfection; it’s persistence. And in that vein, my friends, I have been successful indeed.'Success isn’t perfection; it’s persistence' @KimZapata Click To Tweet
While I have been writing for numerous years, my non-copywriting, what-I-want-to-do-with-my-life experience began just seven months ago with the start of Sunshine Spoils Milk, a blog dedicated to various women’s issues, from motherhood to mental health. However, it didn’t start as that. In fact, it started as nothing more than a post-New Year’s post; it started as a personal reflection on a troubled year. I didn’t publish it to Facebook or Twitter, and I didn’t plan to do anything with it. It was nothing more than a digital journal. When my second post went live I decided to share it with a small and “select” group of Facebook friends. By the time my third post was shared I was comfortable with my readership, i.e. my husband, my best friend, and four or five others who actually clicked through. Unfortunately, I had made one error when sharing that post: I published it to my full friends list and not my private one. I was outed. My deepest, darkest secrets were hand-delivered to my Facebook family; my online journal became a blog.
Talk about humble beginnings.
Since that time my work has appeared on HuffPost, BLUNTMoms, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, BonBon Break, The Mid, The Good Men Project, and YourTango. I am a regular contributor for Sammiches & Psych Meds, and MomsEveryday interviewed me just a few weeks back about a subject near and dear to my heart, maternal mental health. While I know (like seriously know!) I am lucky, there are also a few things I did, and still do, which make a world of difference. So here are some of the ways I helped myself get published, and paid, more times in 31 days than in 31 years.
1. Learn to embrace both patience and persistence: Every piece has its place. Let me repeat that: each and every article, essay or listicle you write has a home — sometimes it just takes a bit of work to find an open door. This is where patience and persistence pay off, because while acceptances are fantastic, it is what we do with our rejections that matters most. Do we get discouraged and stop submitting or do we use that rejection, and possible rejection notes, to light a fire under our ass?'Each and every article, essay or listicle you write has a home' @KimZapata Click To Tweet
That said, patience and persistence are not traits I can teach you. (I wish I could!) Just keep trying and, as Winston Churchill once said, “never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.”
2. Create a content/editorial calendar: Even freelancers can (and should) create an editorial calendar. While it will not be the standard “I’m publishing X on Thursday and Y next Tuesday” you can still plan out your month. How? Work backwards. Decide what sites you want to be published on, familiarize yourself with their content (if you aren’t familiar with it already), and jot down story ideas based on their focus, i.e. do they favor listicles over narrative essays; is the site geared toward parents or hot rod aficionados? With that information in hand you can tailor an article/essay specifically for them. And once you begin writing be sure to set deadlines (for the first draft, second draft, and final draft) and select you target submission date. Trust me: in our 24/7, on-demand world this pays off.
But wait? What happens if I write an essay specifically for a website and they don’t accept it? Didn’t I just waste my time?
First, don’t fret, and don’t toss it in your virtual trashcan just yet! As I mentioned above, every article and essay has a home. While this piece didn’t land where you planned, it will land somewhere. Most articles can be retooled for another site or, better yet, you can often shop the exact same piece to a similar site — with a similar voice and demographic — unchanged.
3. The 24-Hour Rule: As you know by now, acceptances are great but it is our rejections, and what we do in the face of rejection, that defines us. And let’s face it: The more you are submitting, the more rejections you will receive — unless you are some sort of anomaly. The 24-hour rule is designed to give you an edge, i.e. it gives you something solid to stand on when that “no” comes in and throws you through a loop. The idea is simple: whenever you receive a rejection, reread your piece, retool it (if necessary), and resubmit it — within a 24-hour period. I know what you may be thinking: only 24 hours; that’s insane? And it may be, for you. The point to have a rule in place to keep things moving forward, to keep you and your writing moving forward. (Is 24-hours unreasonable? Consider implementing a 72-hour rule or the one-week rule.)
4. Social networking, peer power, and shameless self-promotion: While social media won’t help you get published, it will help you make connections with fellow writers and editors, grow your readership, and may even help you find the right home for your work. (I’m looking at you Beyond Your Bloggers!) You should post frequently, not just your own content but that of your peers — super important! — and engage your audience on a daily basis. You should be active and your voice should be consistent.
But wait, I’m a writer. Won’t that take away from my writing time?
In short: yes, it will. Even if you queue content weeks in advance, you will need to be active most days of the week. Instead of lamenting the “hours lost,” shift your thinking about social media. You see, you are a one-man show and, like it or not, this means marketing is a part of your job. And yes, social media management is marketing. So instead of seeing it as a distraction, see it as a part of your job and allocate a set amount of your writing time to reading, sharing and commenting on the work of your peers. Not only will you be building relationships, and friendships, with you peers but you may find yourself inspired!
Bonus tip: If you aren’t doing so already, become an active presence in contributor groups for sites you write for/want to write for. Don’t know what a contributor group is? Many websites have a private Facebook group where writers can promote their own work and share each other’s work and where editors can source for content. (The Mid, Scary Mommy, BLUNTMoms, and Mamapedia are just a few of these.)
As you can see BYBer’s, freelance “success” isn’t the result of one thing; it is the culmination of many facets (some I’ve named and some I have yet to figure out). What I have learned it that while it takes great writing, it also takes confidence, a strong network of support, some shameless self-promotion, a bit — okay, a boatload — of determination, and a whole lot of luck.