When I stopped using Upwork and similar sites last year, I never went back.
I’ve been writing long enough that I’m no longer interested in producing work for companies or publications that only want me to work “for” them. I’m dedicated to writing WITH companies who treat the creative and publishing process as a team effort. My traditional freelancing experience was the opposite, and I grew to hate it within two years.
But it’s not as easy to find writing jobs when you don’t have a resource like Upwork to provide you with potential options.
Or is it?
I follow many websites, YouTube channels, and other creative media outlets and personalities online. There are several I wouldn’t mind working with on some level, at some point. But they don’t know that. Until I reach out to them directly, anyway.
I haven’t always done this. But once I started, I fell in love with the process.
Here are the lessons I began learning when I gathered up the courage to “just go for it.”
Cover letters are a lot more fun when you’re excited about a possibility.
When you think of writing a cover letter, “fun” is probably the last word you’d use to describe the experience. For me, that changed when I decided to start personalizing my introductions a little bit more. I don’t bother starting every email with “to whom it may concern.” I start each one like the opening line of a novel. You’re trying to get their attention, not bore them before they even get to read what you have to say.
I’ve come to believe that media companies, magazines, and other potential employers for writers and creatives aren’t always looking for the formulaic introductions we were taught to write. They’re looking for a writer who can tell a good story. Why not do that right from the start — even if it’s still a professional email meant to increase your chances of getting a job?
Someday, i might share an example of what some of these emails have looked like for me. But not quite yet.
Most of the time, companies still don’t respond.
A company isn’t obliged to respond to an email you send them, even if they may have “called” for submissions of a sort. I emailed a company last week only after they announced that anyone who wanted to was welcome to introduce themselves, attach their CVs, and see what happened.
I wasn’t expecting to get a response, and still haven’t. I’m not mad about it. They may have opened up their inbox to dozens of “proposals,” but that doesn’t mean they have to — or will — respond to every one. Sometimes, the best you can hope for is that your email was entertaining enough to make them smile a little bit as they sifted through way too many messages. You made the effort. It’s OK if you don’t hear back.
Is it frustrating that you’ll never know why you didn’t get a response? A little bit. But that’s the nature of the business. Most of the time, you’ll never know. You have to learn to live with that and move on.
But if they do, you need to be prepared.
I still often find myself caught completely off-guard when the occasional response does come through. Because usually, the hiring manager or other personnel responding to your original message needs something from you — like, immediately.
Be ready for that. Have a resume and portfolio ready to submit even before you reach out, just in case. Make sure you’re prepared to schedule an interview (if applicable) sooner rather than later. Have your references set up, get ready to write a sample article with a quick turnaround. You don’t usually know if and what they’re going to ask for. Don’t let it catch you by surprise — quick responses are more than desirable.
The only way to build more confidence is to “just do it.”
Believe ir or not, I still get nervous when I do things like submit proposals or reach out to people I really want to work with. There’s always that possibility that a company still won’t want to let you write for or with them, no matter how good or experienced you are. No one likes rejection. And when you send cold emails like these, you’re basically just opening yourself up to it.
But that’s one of the reasons I started doing it more. Whenever it was relevant or practical, of course — I don’t just spend all my time emailing people to say, “Hey, I want to write for you!” The more you do it, though, the easier it gets. Yes, you’ll probably always be nervous. No, rejection never stops stinging. But after a while, you start figuring out the best ways to introduce yourself. How to present your work, experience, and passion in a professional yet “attractive” way. How to “brag” without actually bragging.
Just because you introduce yourself — so to speak — doesn’t mean you’re going to get hired. But there’s nothing wrong with opening yourself up to that possibility. You never know until you try. You’ll never get a chance if you don’t bother taking one.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.