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There are several ways to find assignments, but they boil down to two very different methods: personal connections and direct pitches. The first method is where you talk to people you already know and find out if you can write an article for them. That's how I got my first freelance article writing jobs way back in 1995. I had a job writing short product summaries for the online department of a publishing company. When that job ended I just walked across the hall to the magazine department and pitched my full-length articles to the editors I had already gotten to know there.
In my case I was already working at a publisher, so my path was pretty obvious, but again, a lot of the market for article writing is in companies and organizations. The best situation is when your colleagues already have a need for articles; you just need to let them know that you're ready to do the job. Now, if you know any editors or publishers, certainly you should tell them that you're available as well. Even if they don't have work for you right away, it's a small community and their good word could lead to work with one of their colleagues.
On that note, don't be shy about putting the word out to your entire network of contacts. If you're writing as a freelancer, I suggest you take a look at my course Freelancing Fundamentals for a little bit more on this topic. But let's say you've exhausted those venues or are trying to write in an area where you don't have any contacts yet. That means you're going to have to pitch the publications out of the blue, what sales people call cold calling. If there's a specific publication you want to write for, you first have to understand its needs.
For that there's no substitute for looking at the publication itself. I talk more about how to do that in the video "Taking on an assignment." If you don't have a specific publication in mind, check out Writer's Market. You'll have to pay to access it, but that could save you a lot of time. If you don't want to pay, there's a good chance your local library has the print version. Now, some publications will actually tell you how they want you to send them your proposals. Just search their websites for the phrase "writers' guidelines" or "submission guidelines." There are also some databases of writers guidelines online, for example the ones at writerswrite.com and freelancewriting.com.
Once you've identified the publication, you'll need to find the right person to pitch. If it's not in any of the sources I just mentioned, check the publication's masthead--that is its list of writers and editors. mastheads.org reposts that information for some of the biggest publications. Then you have to write a really great query letter. Now, that's a big subject in itself, but it breaks down to just three points: first write a meaningful subject line; second get to the point in the first sentence, because editors are busy people; third, say what the article is and why it fits their publication--the more specific you can be the better.
I've written a sample pitch for the example article we are using throughout this course. You'll find it in the exercise files. So, there are other two very different ways of getting assignments. When you talk to your colleagues you'll start out vague and then feel out where there's a match between your writing and their needs. But when you pitch a publication directly you should be very specific. As you get better known, these two worlds will ideally grow together. The hope is that colleagues will get to know your specific strengths and publications will start to pitch you with their ideas.
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