Secrets worth sharing: Tips and tricks from three successful Canadian freelancers

As part of its ongoing Professional Development series, PWAC Toronto hosted an event entitled “Secrets of Freelancing Success.” Its panel of experienced freelance writers shared—if not secrets, exactly—a boatload of valuable advice. This latest edition in PWAC’s series, which we’ve covered before, really packed ’em in at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (the event was sold out).

We don’t want to give away all the nuggets of wisdom that IJ Schecter, Camilla Cornell, and David Hayes shared (with some help from moderator Dawn Boshcoff), so below we’re sharing our three favourite tips that emerged over the course of the evening.

1 Spend more time on your queries

Cornell noted that time taken crafting queries is never wasted. Writers must shows editors that “Yes, there is a story behind this.” Hayes shared six things that an editor looks for in a writer; among those were great ideas and great research and reporting, both of which should be represented in a good query. He said that, especially when pitching lengthy features, queries should have a beginning, middle, and end, and the editor reading them should get a good idea what the final piece will look like. “The shorter queries with less research and reporting in them get turned down,” he added. Schecter agreed: “Crafting a good query sometimes takes me longer than the piece does,” he said.

2 Ask for more money

“Never forget this is a business,” said Cornell—a sentiment expressed more than once by the panelists.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Cornell said that when she expressed her concern over a Transcontinental contract through letters to editors, the contract didn’t change, but her pay rate did (for the better, naturally). Hayes agreed: “One of our weaknesses is we don’t ask for money,” he said. A simple request to a Toronto Star editor earned him a significantly higher per-word rate for series of articles, he told the audience. Asking is all it takes, and Hayes said this is the time to do it. “Right now is the first time I see it’s possible to negotiate,” he said. Schecter added: “Editors like and respect writers who are wiling to talk about money, because they don’t see it very much.”

3 Develop a personal brand based on performance

Schecter was first to bring up the importance of establishing a “writing brand,” noting that many writers have a hard time marketing themselves. Hayes said that young writers shouldn’t be thinking about doing quality work, not establishing a brand through blogging and tweeting. For both, it seems, the importance of establishing a reputation as a quality writer is paramount and, ultimately, hard work and dedication to one’s craft are worth at least a thousand tweets.

There were many more pieces of advice worth sharing from last night’s event. If you to see more, or want more detail on the above tips, have a look at @PWACToronto‘s tweets from the event.

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