Often times when I tell people I’m a freelance writer, they comment on how great it is that I get to right about whatever I choose. But the truth is, being a writer and writing for a living are two different things.
Whether you’re writing a feature story or a novel, you have to get those pieces published before you can get paid, and publishing on any level is a business. In business, you have to produce a product you can sell or you’ll end up having to close your doors.
When I first became a full-time freelancer, I wrote down every realistic market I planned to pursue. For me realistic meant those publications where I already had a contact. I had been covering transportation issues for a number of years, so it made sense to continue on that path and rely on the expertise I had gained. Given that my freelance income has now surpassed my full-time income, it was a wise choice.
One of the biggest benefits of pursuing an area of expertise is that I don’t spend a lot of time pitching articles that may or may not get picked up. Since a well-crafted pitch letter can sometimes take as long to write as an article, skipping that step is a huge plus. At this point in my career my assignments usually come via a phone call or an email from an editor saying he needs a feature on a certain topic. We’ll email a bit about potential sources and the angle, and then I get right to work.
On a personal level, I would love to spend more time writing essays and pitching parenting magazines, but I know that I will likely spend more time on those projects and see less money. As someone who writes for a living, I choose to focus on getting the most bang for buck. My goal is to create products I can sell, and I think that is the key difference between those who write and those who write professionally.