Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!
In this episode, I talk with freelance journalist and writing coach, Rebecca L. Weber. Rebecca shares her journey to becoming a freelance journalist and gives tips on moving through pesky mindset blocks along the way. She also shares how to best pitch stories to publications to set yourself up for freelance success.
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking charge of your writing career through freelancing, or writing articles to enhance your platform and increase your social proof, then this is the episode for you.
Visit Rebecca’s website: www.rebeccalweber.com
Listen to The Writing Coach Podcast on Apple Podcasts
Listen to The Writing Coach Podcast on Rebecca’s website: www.rebeccalweber.com/podcast
Download the free guide on How to Pitch Article Ideas: www.rebeccalweber.com/howtopitch
Check out Rebecca’s Group Coaching Program: www.FreelanceWriterBootcamp.com
Follow Rebecca on Instagram: @freelancewriterbootcamp
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review. It really does mean the world to me!
Join the Alchemy for Authors Facebook Page here.
Join my newsletter and download your FREE copy of Manifestation for Authors at: https://www.subscribepage.com/manifestationforauthors
Find the full transcript of this episode below.
Episode 39: Pitching to Publications with Rebecca L. Weber
Jo: Hello, hello, my lovelies. How are you doing? So we are nearing the final week of NaNoWriMo and I have fallen incredibly behind with my word count. So I will be working my little tush off all this week to try and play catch up with that.
Now, I know that for many of you listening to this, not all of course, but for many of you, you may dream of one day making a living through your writing. Then, if that’s the case, maybe today’s episode will inspire you.
Today, I’m chatting with freelance journalist and writing coach, Rebecca L. Weber. Rebecca shares her journey to becoming a freelance journalist and gives tips on moving through those pesky mindset blocks along the way. As well as how to best pitch stories to publications to set yourself up for freelance success.
So, if you’ve ever dreamed of taking charge of your writing career through freelancing, or writing articles to enhance your platform and increase your social proof, then this is definitely the episode for you. So take a break from your NaNoWriMo-ing, if that’s what you’re doing right now, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.
Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. So I can’t wait for you to meet today’s guest, whom I think you’re going to learn just so much from. Rebecca L. Weber is a freelance journalist, writing coach and host of the Writing Coach Podcast. Rebecca has covered social justice, the environment, the arts, travel, and more for CNN, the New York Times, USA Today, Dwell, and many others. She’s helped writing clients break into publications like The Guardian, The New York Times, Bustle, National Geographic, the Washington Post, Fodors and Al Jazeera. Rebecca is based in Cape Town, South Africa, near a colony of wild penguins, which I think is just so fabulously cool.
So welcome, Rebecca. I’m so excited to have you join us today.
Rebecca: Oh, thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jo: So I would love if you could start by sharing a little bit about how your writing journey began.
Rebecca: Yeah, well I am one of those people who was a total book nerd as a little kid, like loved reading and writing from a really young age. And I think always sort of imagined that I would be a writer. As a little kid I remember going to the library and being like, there’s all these books so obviously it’s not that hard to be a writer. You know, not that hard to do it. Easy. Like there’s a lot of demand for that kind of thing. Which, you know, has some, some merit. And then I actually sort of took a different pathway. I started off as, I did do an English degree as an undergrad, but then taught for a while and then came to a point in my career, in my education career, that I was uh, not thinking I was not quite on the right track. Like it was close to what I wanted to be doing, but not quite right. And I wound up taking a job as a junior editor where we didn’t have any staff writers. We worked with only freelancers. And once I started seeing what they were doing, I was like, this is really interesting, I think that’s what I wanna do.
And so I started pitching stories on the side and I got really hooked. So I had that day job and I kept pitching and pitching until I felt like, okay, I think I’m okay now to go full-time freelance. And that’s been a long time. I think that’s, um, I think 2004 since I went full-time freelance. So it’s been a pretty long time. That was when I was living in Washington DC. So I should just say that like, you know, at the time, I think it was initially the writing and the idea of putting together story ideas, that really appealed to me. But along the way also became really fascinated with interviewing and just getting to talk to people. And now that I live in South Africa, when I sort of moved to South Africa, it was such an interesting way also to meet people from all different walks of life, that get to ask them all kinds of questions that normally you can’t really ask with that. It was totally appropriate to ask, um, in a role as a journalist. So I really enjoy that aspect of it as well.
Jo: That’s wonderful. That is so neat. When you were first introduced to people who were freelance journalists and that, what was the immediate thing that really drew your attention or that you were kind of attracted to maybe looking at it yourself?
Rebecca: I think that the appeal of it… well, first of all, I didn’t really meet them. I was just getting their, it was all remote, you know. Sometimes we actually still back then got actual snail mail, but it was mostly by email and sometimes by phone conversation. And I got to see how it was that they were presenting stories to the editor, or sometimes the editorial team would say, here’s what we wanna do. And hearing those conversations about how they put together a story idea, the concept, the kinds of details that they wanted to be brought in, and then also how sometimes a story idea would seem just right for a certain kind of person, the way that they thought and the kinds of things that they could bring in, that whole process to me seemed really, really interesting and I, I thought I could do it. The, the team where I worked was totally like, you’re not writing for us. Like, you don’t know what you’re doing. You know, like I had no experience. But I could see, I was like, I think there’s something about this process that seems very, very interesting and engaging.
And so that’s why I started pitching elsewhere because they weren’t gonna have me write for them. Occasionally, I wrote very, very short things, but for the most part, I had to go off to somebody else who didn’t have a preconceived idea about what I could or couldn’t do. It was just like, here’s a story idea, and they’re like, Oh, that sounds good. We don’t know who you are. Go ahead.
Jo: That’s so fascinating to me that your workplace, or where you were at that time, wasn’t supportive of you delving into this area. So what gave you the confidence to just do it anyway?
Rebecca: Well, the first pitch that I got assigned, I was studying this one section, it was like a weekly section in a newspaper that I already read, and was like, Oh, I really like the stories they do each week. And I came across a story that I thought was a really good fit for them. And I remember I kept thinking like, well, why haven’t they done it? Why haven’t they done it? And thinking like, there must be a reason why they haven’t done it. And I wrote up this pitch. And then each week would look to see, have they done it yet? Have they done it yet? And so I was sort of like in that doubt, like maybe, you know, maybe they won’t give it to me. And I came to this point where I was like, I better just send it in because I think this is such a good fit. If it’s not, I need to know one way or the other. And they did think it was a good fit, you know. I don’t know why they hadn’t done it. It probably just wasn’t on their radar. Somebody else hadn’t suggested it. And the way that I presented it made sense for them. And they said, Yeah, you know, like, let’s, let’s give this a go.
Jo: Awesome. So how long was that transition then from being able to have it more as a side hustle, pitching and things like that to eventually become your main income earner?
Rebecca: Yeah. I mean, one, it was on the side. I was always very clear from the very, pretty much from the beginning I was like, I think that I want to do this. And then I became more and more intentional about it. And so from the very beginning I was always trying to pitch places that paid well and that had a wide circulation because I thought if, if I’m gonna leave my full time day job, which was a nice enough job, it just wasn’t that exciting.
Rebecca: Um, you know, if I’m gonna leave that security, I need to not necessarily already be earning a full-time income through the freelancing, but I need to know that I have the ability to market myself. I have the ability to pitch and get assignments. So I don’t remember exactly how long that took, but it was probably like a good year of the, you know, actively trying to build up that portfolio as well as trying to see what worked and what didn’t work. I mean, I don’t wanna say I got lucky with that first pitch because it was a good match, but it was very fortuitous that my first one did get assigned for me because I saw right away like this is possible. This is a pathway that does work.
Jo: Fantastic. So what do you think then was the toughest part of that writing journey for you? What was the toughest part of going out and starting to pitch to other places?
Rebecca: To be honest, at those early stages, I think it was so intriguing to me, so fascinating. I was learning so much about, on the one hand, the freelance side of things, as well as the journalism and how to come up with an idea and how to contact people and how to write it all up in such a way that it makes sense. Those things were so interesting that they really drove me for quite a while. And I think that for me, the biggest challenge was actually a few years in when I sort of had done the things and I was looking for the, what’s the new challenge? And then there was a lull in the market when there was the financial, the previous recession, right, in like, sort of 2008, where a lot of outlets were not looking for new work or they had smaller budgets, and I was just kinda like, that I found challenging because I still had the drive to a certain extent, but the outside circumstances were sort of changing around me. I think that that was the first really big challenge I had to freelancing.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah, it would’ve been, I’m sure. And so as writers, like we’re always faced with a lot of mindset issues or mindset things that can come up and block us from moving forward or make us doubt our abilities and all of that. So when you are in that situation and the outside world really wasn’t aligning with your own ambition towards your goals and what you wanted to do, how did you go about keeping your energy high, your vibe high, to keep on pitching, to not give out, to continue along that path?
Rebecca: Yeah, so I mean, it’s not like it’s every day. It’s just sort of like, Hey, I’m gonna decide my mind’s high is high. It’s perfect. I think there’s just, there has to be a certain amount of awareness of allowing and acknowledging this is more difficult than it was before. And it’s okay that I have more doubt right now than I maybe did before. I think that that’s probably, for me, one of the biggest sort of, if you can say like sort of like personal development through the professional work is learning to see that doubt is part of the process and it’s always gonna come up. And just getting used to the fact that it comes up. And because I don’t get as freaked out by it now, I think that means that it doesn’t come up as much and then even when it does, it’s sort of like, Oh yeah, I’ve seen this before. Not to say that I don’t sometimes get caught up in it, but for the most part I feel like I’ve worked with it a bit better.
I think at that point with the recession, I did feel like I will be able to figure this out. I don’t know how, but sort of kept going. And for me personally, one of the things that shifted was that, and this is kind of weird, this was a poor judgment on my part, but when I moved from Washington DC to to Cape Town, I didn’t wanna tell my editors that I had moved because I thought that they would somehow hold it against me. This is really not a very good mindset that I had. And so I was trying to pretend as if I was in DC even though I obviously wasn’t. And when I let that go and decided to say, instead of just not mentioning where I am, I’m gonna actually step into that and put that, say for example, on my website and let people know that that’s where I am and have something extra offer, things started falling into place more, and then I was actually able to start breaking into more places and doing more ambitious and more interesting work from there.
Jo: How did you build that confidence then to also go to those publications and that, that were maybe a little bit trickier to get into? So did you start with your first publication being something that you thought was maybe a little bit easier before you went to those higher end publications?
Rebecca: Well, for me, the very first place that I pitched, that one that I mentioned, that newspaper, it was an education section. Once a week they did an education section. And as I mentioned, my background was in education, so for me it sort of seemed like a natural segue. I already know about this subject matter. So on the one hand, those issues are already on my radar, but then also I felt comfortable finding out more about it. And for example, I don’t know how it is in New Zealand, but in the States there’s a lot of schools that do not like the educators to talk to the media. It’s just sort of a general rule that they don’t like it.
But in my case, I was often able to make my case and talk to them, let them know I had this background as an educator, da, da, da. And often they would warm to that and they would speak with me. And so I just found it a, a nice segue in. And I think that a lot of people can do that. Doesn’t really matter if it’s a professional background, it might just be an interest or a hobby or whatever thing you’re obsessed with on the internet, you know. That thing that you’re interested in, that can be a segue that you can sort of rest on that subject matter, so that you’re not trying to figure out too much all at once, if that makes sense.
So that allowed me to feel more confident, like I feel more confident reporting on this. And then I did that with other things later on. Like I’ve done a lot of design stories, a lot of architecture stories. And then when I wanted to do a real estate story, that was for the Wall Street Journal, which is one of those publications that made me a little bit like, oh, like I’m not a business person and you know, it’s high profile, whatever. But, I was able to say, it is gonna be a real estate story, but it’s gonna be design-oriented real estate story. And if I could see that as a, as a strength, as a plus, as something that not all of their reporters could do, that would be something that would make it more feasible for me, and also bring something in addition to the readers there as well.
Jo: That’s great. Now you have your own coaching too, where you help other freelance writers. And so what would your tips or first steps be that you would recommend for them if they were just starting out and interested in doing something like this and pitching to other publications and things like that? What’s your first couple of things that you would recommend that they do?
Rebecca: Yeah, so I think the first thing, and this is a little counterintuitive, this is not everybody’s first move, but it’s actually to identify the publication first. I mean, you might already have some ideas, some story ideas that you have in mind, but I think that actually once you identify what the publication is, and you’re really looking at it, not so much as a reader, but the way that you might enjoy it yourself. But to be looking to see what are the kind of stories that they’re doing? What are the angles? How do they approach it? And then really try to analyze it from the point of view of either how you imagine the editor, what the editor might be looking for, and what their readers might be looking for.
Once you have that in mind, then once you start to look for an idea, you can develop that idea for that publication specifically. And I think that that actually makes the process go much more smoothly. Then you’re not caught up in this thing about who am I really writing for or writing it for yourself. And it doesn’t really match what the editor needs. It allows you to sort of have that through. I mean, and I’m sure this is true to a certain extent. It’s different than if you’re writing a book or a novel that’s like purely like an artistic expression, right? Yeah. Like this is more, I think, I think this is a little bit more driven by the market, and so there is room for creativity, but with that particular thing, in terms of like the marketability, you have to understand who it is that you’re writing for. Who the audience is. And that makes all your other decisions line up with that initial decision.
Jo: Now I find that so interesting because I have zero background in journalism and, and pitching to publications or anything like that. My background is in novel writing where it’s a little bit more for me starting out with that passion project or that idea. And then before I get to the physical writing, I do a bit of the market research in case there’s any tweaks that I want to do. And so my first thoughts at pitching, before listening to you was that, oh, I would probably write down a list of all the different ideas, then try and find a marketplace that might suit them.
And so I find it really interesting that you’ve kind of flipped that over and said, No, because it’s more of a market based, I guess, being a freelance writer, you need that income. That’s part of what it’s about. So you find those publications that interest you, and then you start to think of those ideas. So I find that really fascinating.
Rebecca: Look, I mean, you can do it the other way. It just takes longer. Cuz then you sort of, it, especially if you go too far in, like if you’re just writing a few ideas, obviously you know, you’re not spending too much time. You say here’s, you know, sort of the kernel. But if you get too far into that and then you start looking, you’re trying to find something that matches what you’ve already written up, and that becomes really hard if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Are you trying to, if you think about it as if you are a dressmaker, and you’re making couture outfits, you’d first take the person’s measurements and then be like, what’s the right fabric? What’s gonna flatter them? How tall are they? All those kind of things, rather than doing it the other way around. But it obviously can go, it can go either way. And I think that ideally, I mean, one of the things that I’ve done and that most of the people that I work with, not everyone, but one of the things that a lot of people put as a real priority, is finding a client that they can work with for the long, I say long haul, or long term so that they’re not always coming back to who is this gonna be for?
Even think about it a little bit like being a staff writer. You know, the staff writer would be like, I know who our audience is and there’s so many different stories I can do for them, but I have to keep in mind who it is that this publication is geared for. And once you sort of understand what their needs are, then you can write for them again and again and do lots of different ideas for them.
And I think for all of us as creatives, you wanna have some parameters, right? Even if you have the ability to do absolutely anything, you have to start making some choices at some point. Saying no to some things and yes to others. And I just feel like if you’re gonna sell the piece, you’re gonna have to choose the market. So if you do it at the beginning, you just save yourself some hassle later, later on in terms of it making it be a good fit.
Jo: I think that’s such a great idea, thinking for the long term like that so that you’ve got a little bit more stability. Because I would imagine being a freelance writer, you’re a little bit at the whims of the world and yeah. So I think that’s really great creating that kind of consistency and those publications that want to work with you over and over again. And so I would think that creating those really good relationships with those publications would be a huge part of keeping them on board really. So with that in mind, is there particular skills and traits, beyond just writing, that you think makes a good freelancer?
Rebecca: I think being able to make decisions quickly and confidently is actually one of the bigger things that separates out the people who keep stumbling and getting stuck, versus people who are able to say, Look, I’m gonna make a decision. Let’s say, with even that very first thing, you know, should it be this publication or this publication? Okay. Then I’ve picked the publication. So should be this story? This story? Okay. It’s this story. Should it be this person I interview or that person I interview? There’s so many decisions along the way, and if each one is gonna stop you, it’s gonna be very slow. And sometimes people are so concerned that they’re gonna make the wrong decision, that they’re just, they get frozen. Whereas the people who make decisions quickly, and are able to say, You know what? No matter what decision I choose, I’m gonna learn from it. Those are the ones I think, who make the most progress most quickly. I mean, that’s true with the writing itself as well, right? Yeah. You know, if you are like, I wanna try a new kind of intro, I wanna see what it’s like if I use these different kind of words, different kind of sentence structure. If you only gonna use the things that you already feel super confident about, like those might be your strengths. That might be great. But sometimes you wanna see what else you can do.
Jo: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So what’s your recommendation then, if somebody is stuck in that paralysis of being a beginner or trying to be too perfect? Or that imposter syndrome and that, but it’s kind of paralyzing them from moving forward? So maybe they’re just getting too stuck into the market research and not actually putting the pitches out there. Or do you have any tips or advice for people that might find themselves in that horrible spiral a little bit?
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There’s those, those spirals. I can really get you. Like, I feel like there’s ways to look at this, like strictly from the mindset point of view as well as the practical actions. Yeah. I mean like from the practical action we say, you set a limit, like a time limit. Like I can only research this publication for 25 minutes or whatever it is, you know, if it’s 15 or 60 or whatever it is. But you know, you say like, that’s a hard limit and then I have to move on to the next thing. That can be helpful to have that guard rail. But the thing is, is that if you come at it from the mindset of I’m gonna support myself, I’m gonna make good decisions. And if you notice those things, like you mentioned the imposter syndrome, if you can, it’s kind of hard when you’re in the middle of it, but if you can notice what it is you’re telling yourself, I actually find it really useful to write it out, all the things that are coming up. And when you see it on the page and be able to sort of like fact check what’s going on, like back check your mind, is this actually true?
And journalism, well, maybe not every journalist, but, not all outlets, but you’re supposed to fact check the things you’re supposed to see. Like, is this actually verifiable outside? People say that this is accurate, and if it’s not, which usually imposter syndrome type thinking isn’t, then we say, Okay, if this isn’t true, and it’s not helpful, cause it’s leading to this like overwhelm of spinning out and just spending too much time on one step, and trying to get some insight there as to what else you could tell yourself that is actually factually true. And that might be more helpful in terms of allowing you to make that next decision and move forward.
Jo: Yeah, I absolutely prescribe to that. I think that’s fantastic, when you find yourself in that spiral, getting it down on the paper. If you can like, remove yourself and take yourself out of that kind of spiral and everything. And then flipping that script really isn’t it? It’s also looking for evidence that might suggest that you are wrong in your thinking. I’ve talked to a few different authors and writers, and Becca Syme is one that comes to mind, and she always talks about questioning the premise. So whenever we have any thought that, Oh, you have to do things this way, or oh, I’m not very good at doing that, or nobody’s gonna be interested. Then you need to question that idea. To question that thought and look for evidence that might support otherwise. Because we all know, like we can find evidence to support anything, anything, right? But we’re so naturally inclined to go to that negative bias that, yeah, I think that’s a fantastic, fantastic idea.
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. I love that, that phrase that you used just then. I mean, I think that that’s so true. And those kind of phrases, like I have to- It’s always one of those giveaways like, Let’s take a close look. Do you really have to? You might not like the consequences if you don’t. But probably you don’t have to.
Jo: No, no. There’s really, there’s not a lot of things in life that we have to do. Or it’s that should, we should, because we are looking at maybe somebody else’s way of doing things, and well, if they’re all doing it, then I should be doing it that way, which might not actually be a good fit for us. So, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So with your coaching business and everything like that, so am I right in seeing that you coach freelance writers? That’s your kind of niche?
Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the main group of who I work with. I work with people who don’t necessarily identify as writers either. Like the sort of interesting, you know, because there are a lot of people who are like coaches, or entrepreneurs, or students, academics, people who do writing regularly, professionally, but not in that kind of a way. And what’s interesting, I don’t know if you know this, but virtually every journalist also does creative work, like they also are a poet or a novelist, or they want to be.
Jo: And it makes sense, right? Yeah. I’ve always thought of writing as a creative endeavor in whatever form it takes, and it just makes sense to me. Creatives usually have more than one passion. We’re usually quite multi-passionate, and if you’ve fallen in love with a written word, you tend to fall in love with lots of different aspects of it. You’re not usually narrowed down to the one, so that totally makes sense to me. So with these people that come to you, what is your main work that you do with them? So what’s your main coaching practice about?
Rebecca: The most common thing that people come to me for is with this help with, uh, breaking into publications and establishing those long term, those ongoing editorial relationships, and making sure that’s in the context of doing work that matters to them, and to their readers, the world, however they define that. And so we go through these same sort of steps about, you know, identifying the publications that are good fits for them, figuring out what story ideas they want to work on, and how to develop them, and how to present them to the editors in such a way so that they get those assignments. We do it sort of, on the one hand there’s this sort of external set of skills. This is something that most journalism schools don’t teach, and so there’s, there can be a lot of questioning about why don’t I know how to do this? Especially for somebody who’s already had this long career and background. They know how to do the work. They know that they can write the article, but they, there’s a gap between their ability to do the work and to get the assignments.
And so we also address the mindset issues that have cropped up for them, along the way. Yeah, so we do that, both of those things together, both the internal mindset work as well as the external pitching skills. And I think that the, the compliment of those two together allows people to, to move forward and to really be doing the kind of work that they most want to be getting out there.
Jo: That’s fantastic. And I’m all about that. People following their passions and doing those things that feel like they have meaning and purpose to them in whatever form that takes. So that, that is so cool. Now, with the clients that you get, is there maybe a general underlying struggle that you find a lot of them might have or something that’s quite common when they come to you?
Rebecca: Yeah, I mean, you already mentioned for the most part, it’s doubt, imposter syndrome, a sense of not belonging, a sense of things that they’re somehow, somehow their work is not enough, which is usually. A variation that they’re not enough. Most of the people I work with are women, and I definitely see, look, I mean those issues I think are universal. Pretty much everybody deals with doubt. But I think that if you are a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you identify with some other group that’s been marginalized by society, as well as by the media, there have been changes in the media, but it’s still Mm, dominated by, by white men. Right? Like, you know, that’s still the reality.
And so, there’s this sort of, uh, core doubt, like it’s part of the human existence, but then there’s additional sort of gatekeepers that are there as well that make it that additional sort of -the additional layer of work that there has to be done, that you have to get to a certain point to be able to actually put yourself out there, and not have it all be contingent on somebody else validating you. Right? You don’t wanna be in this situation where you feel, a lot of times people think like, oh, if I could only do this one more external thing, then I’ll have made it. Then I’ll feel better about myself. And it’s like, unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. You might feel better when you break into this publication or when you get this book contract, or whatever the goal is, but that doesn’t last. You can feel great for a while and then you sort of revert back to whatever old ways of thinking. So if you can change your thinking now, wherever you are with your writing, about how you feel about yourself and how you feel about your writing, you’ll be able to grow with that as your writing progresses as well.
Jo: I am such a believer of that. I really do think that our beliefs are the core thing we need to get right, if we want to be successful in anything that we do. If we wanna be able to move forward in anything we do. So that whole mindset thing is really like, almost like 90% of the work. Anybody can learn to write and we bring our own different things to that, but you can get taught to write in different ways, and you can learn the tips and tricks to get into different niches and whatnot, but if we don’t have that mindset to support us, then we are not going to get anywhere. Or we will, and then we will fall down because we didn’t maybe get the praise that we wanted, or we got criticism and we didn’t know how to deal with it and that kind of thing too. So I think it’s such a core component, and I would yeah, imagine that anybody in the realm of doing what you’re doing where you coach and work with other writers, that’s gotta be probably a, a big part of what you do, as well is the nuts and bolts of how to pitch and get out there as well.
Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. When I started, to be honest, I, cuz everybody expresses, or at least when I was starting, they expressed they wanted the nuts and bolts. So that’s what I emphasized. And one by one, I saw all of the sort of the mindset issues coming up, to the point that I was just like, this is obviously something that really needs to be integrated. And then the more I offered it, the more I talked about it, the more people would say, Yeah, this is what I need. This is what I need. It’s not that, that you don’t need to have the external skills as well. Yeah. But those can be learned relatively quickly, whereas we often have this old thinking and thought patterns very often from childhood, or I maybe even, you know, infancy, you know, that they usually are very, very deep and they usually predate, I don’t say predate writing because so many people do start writing when they’re young, but certainly, you know, predate freelancing or having your first book published or whatever it is.
Jo: Yeah. And with the mindset things too, is that we can think we’re on top of them and then they come back. So it’s always like a work in progress, isn’t it? Like it’s not something that you’re like, Oh, I sorted that mindset issue, it’s not a problem anymore. I can leave that. But they love to, Yeah, pop their heads back up again and just test us, don’t they? So, yeah. That’s really cool. So, I would assume, this is all an assumption because like I said, I know very little about what you do in terms of that journalism and pitching to magazines, having not done it myself, but I would assume that a lot of people who are coming to you are wanting to make this a career. Am I correct in that? And so they’re looking for creating a strong income base. And we’ve talked about trying to get those publications where we can write for consistently, that want us on board with them. But is there other tips, whether nuts and bolts or mindset that you would recommend for somebody maybe going this route that wants to establish a strong income or earning from this?
Rebecca: Yeah, well there’s a bunch of different things in terms of the, the pitching itself, the things that can help make a pitch really pop out, right? So that can be something like making sure that there’s like a really clear reason why the piece needs to be told now. So a lot of times people think about this as a, as a time hook or a news hooker, like something has just happened. That can work. But for most freelancers, a lot of times freelancers wanna do features as opposed to breaking news. And so you can think about it, there being some longevity can still be hooked to something that’s going on with current events or something that’s happened this year can still be timely. You wanna not confuse your own sense of urgency, like I’ve gotta get the story placed, with the urgency of the story. But for the editor, they wanna bring something in that needs to be pulled now that it’s got a relatively short shelf life and they’re more likely to say yes because they wanna make sure that they get it, that it, you know, that they don’t miss out on that one. And same thing with the readers, that the readers are more likely to read something that isn’t evergreen. Again, different, very, very different than with the novel. I’m sure that with some novels, like there, there is that sort of timeliness. Some just hit the market at the right moment.
Thinking, I guess just generally about what your editor’s gonna need to know to be able to answer their main questions, demonstrate that you understand their tone, their style. You can be thinking ahead about how the story will be told visually. Virtually every publication has got, you know, whether it’s photography or illustrations or videos, like there’s some visual component. So if you can be, you might not be the one who’s actually executing it, but if you can be thinking, hey, this is how visuals could work in, just even a sentence or two about that helps the editor imagine what it’s gonna look like as well. Again, it just shows the editor that you’re with them, positioning yourself as being part of the team and that’s the kind of thing that makes them wanna work with you, not just this one time, but again and again. And then just all the other sort of stuff that’s just sort of, I feel like some of it’s just common sense, but I know that not all freelancers do it in terms of responding reasonably quickly to emails like not, not going AWOL and delivering. If you can’t make your deadline, you let them know ahead of time. You don’t wait until two days afterwards and, you know.
Jo: Yeah. I find it interesting. You say it’s common sense, but it’s things that sometimes when we are in the trenches with it, that we forget. We can get so kind of tunnel visioned about, well, I gotta get this article out, or I’ve gotta do this pitch. Or, I’m onto the next one. Because I would assume also with this, that you want to be consistently pitching as well. Not just do one a week and then leave it for a while or, or whatnot. Sometimes that common sense stuff or things that we think of as common sense, we can just forget about because we are just trying to do the next thing. And so pitching for publications and that, is it quite a fast paced thing where you need to be doing several a week or what does that normally look like?
Rebecca: Well, it does depend on the nature of the kind of work that you do. I was just sort of giving my own biases. I definitely prefer to do features that have sort of, yeah, there’s more time. It’s not that I’m just trying to get them assigned so I don’t have to work on them, but it just, it gives me more time to sort of get things done. I have done some breaking news like it’s done right there. When Nelson Mandela died, I did stories every day. There was like a 10-day period, and that I was really driven to do, was a really unique situation and I wanted to do the stories. And if you couldn’t do them really quickly, you were out of the game, right? You couldn’t submit those a week later, they had to be done the same day. But if you have an idea about what the nature of the work is that you wanna do, if you want things to go a little bit slower pace, in that you just choose those publications and choose those kind of sections. I think it is useful for most freelancers, the way most people work is they wanna have things that they’re in various stages. So as one project is completing, there’s another one coming up. And, yeah, I mean, that’s the way I’ve always preferred to do things as opposed to like, let me pitch everything now, pitch 10 things and then wait to hear and then like have them all come due at the same time. That’s less appealing to me.
But one of the things for sure is that once you start working with the editors, if they have a good experience, that they will then start coming to you and saying, we develop this idea, are you interested in this? And they start to understand what your strengths are and what your specialties, interests are. And then you start having this conversation. It very often can be very casual. Then you start just being able to say like, I’ve got a one or two sentences. What do you think about this? And they’re either like, Yep, do it however you want to, cuz they know that you know what they do and how they approach things. Or they might say, let’s discuss a little bit and figure out how to flesh this out.
Jo: But that’s great. There’s that real human aspect to building those relationships too, which I think is really important with having that longevity. And so I wanted to ask you then, the place where you started as like a junior editor and everything, and they weren’t really interested in you doing this, did they ever want to take you on for any work as a freelance writer?
Rebecca: I never did any work for them as a freelancer. I mean, I did do a little bit of writing for them while I was working for them, while I was there, but, it was very little. And to be fair, I mean, in retrospect they were kind of right. I mean, I was new and they had a huge budget and they worked with people who were really, really excellent at what they did. And maybe they could have mentored me a little bit more than they did. Yeah. But it wasn’t, it actually wasn’t quite a good fit. I, I don’t think I could see the gap so much at the time. I just thought, Oh, I’m ready. I’d like to try. And they weren’t quite ready for me, or I wasn’t ready for them.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But it sounds like it worked out really well in the end anyway. With freelance writing would you also recommend that people also establish their own website or market themselves in some way? Or is it literally just pitching?
Rebecca: I think that at some point, yeah, you do need to put together at least a digital portfolio, if not a website. I don’t think that it’s the first thing that you need to do. So in my case, that first pitch that I sent off, I didn’t have any samples to show them. Right? Like I had to get my first published piece, and then the second one, then third one, I had to sort of build my portfolio. And until you have that work, I don’t think there’s really much point, like I don’t think there’s much point in putting together a whole website. I think that you can get caught up in that and think I have to have a website. The editor is not gonna give you an assignment cause you have a nice looking website. Yeah. They’re gonna give you an assignment cause you wrote a great pitch that’s really just right for them and they’re readers.
And you could also just send them, you know, if your stuff is online, which so much stuff is, you could just send them links or you could have a LinkedIn profile. The website, yes, at some point you wanna get together, but it’s not the first thing.
Jo: Yeah. Now, I think, when we first started corresponding, you had said something about how placing pieces in established publications and things can also help you, or help authors or help people in different realms, grow their platform as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Rebecca: Yeah. Well, so, I just said, you don’t really need a website, right? So some people obviously have huge websites and huge blogs, huge podcasts, and if you have that huge platform, then when you go either to self-publish your book or have it traditionally published, you have that platform. You have those people already that are gonna, you already know that they’re gonna buy your book and be evangelist for you and all that. But if you don’t have that, then placing pieces in outlets that already have that large readership exposes you to them. And depending on the nature, you know, you might be able to have in your bio, have a link to your book or to talk about your book, or at least back to your social media, that kind of thing. And if you’re writing articles that are somehow related to your book or your potential book, it can also then help establish you if you’re looking at a traditional contract of like, look, here’s who I’m writing for, this is who my audience is. You could also think about as your book is coming out, you might be saying, I’m gonna put more attention into getting more pieces out and driving that sort of attention towards sales of the book.
Jo: Yeah, I like that. I can understand how pitching to different publications can also help you build that platform. Even if your intention is not to be a freelance writer, but it’s that you’re in coaching, or like you said, you’re kind of, you’re writing maybe non-fiction books in particular, would probably do really well with that. Where you are hitting those niches and those publications that very similar to what you offered to the world, just to get your name out there with other readers and establish expertise in that realm as well.
Rebecca: Yeah. I was just speaking with actually somebody who’s a novelist. She’s had a number of books done that have been really successful, both models, so self-published and traditionally published. And she was saying how these days it’s all about being on podcasts. Podcasts are the medium that sell books, right? And so that, it’s interesting because you could say, Well, I’ll just go for the podcasts. But if you have a couple of pieces that have been published in recognizable places, it can also help get you onto some of the larger podcasts. Right? It’s just sort of a, a measure of, I don’t know if it’s like, credibility. Yeah. It’s a different kind of, what they say, like social proof, but like not social media proof, it’s just sort of, it sort of helps people vet you. And to say like, Okay, you know, this is somebody who already has this sort of experience and credibility and can help, I think, bring you into different kind of arenas as well.
Jo: That’s fantastic. And I know I’ve seen on your website too, that you do offer, I think it’s a freebie that talks about ways that you can go about pitching as well. Can you talk a little bit about that, like what you offer so people can find it as well?
Rebecca: Oh yeah, sure. So it’s a short PDF guide that goes over some of the things that you really wanna keep in mind when you’re sitting down to write that pitch. I mean, we talked a little bit about some of them, but it just sort of helps walk you through. And those are the same steps, it’s like a mini, sort of like a seed. Like if you plant this seed and give it water and nutrients and whatever it needs, that can grow into, that then becomes my entire program. Right. But it’s sort of like, here’s like the core ideas that you need.
Jo: Yeah. So that’s fantastic. So if people are interested in looking into this further, then of course they can connect with you. Just before you put all your details and that out there though, I want to know what’s next for you. Because you’ve got this amazing podcast that I recommend people go listen to. Because I was just like having a look at it over the last little while and just, yeah, I’m going to be a regular listener for sure, because you have nice kind of bite size pieces as well. Like they’re not terribly long episodes, but very to the point and succinct, which I really enjoy. But you were talking about how a lot of people, uh, with freelance writers and that, also have these creative pursuits. So do you have ideas to write in different arenas on top of your podcast and freelancing and coaching, or what’s your thoughts?
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s not something I usually talk about.
Jo: You don’t have to.
Rebecca: I just dropped the seed, didn’t I? Thank you for what you said about the podcast. That’s very kind. Look, I am definitely somebody who always has really enjoyed fiction and novels. What I read for pleasure for sure. I think that someday, yes, I would like to write a novel. I’m not working on one right now, so yeah, that might be a whole different episode at some point in the future. Right now, to be honest, like I’m working right now, I’m focusing a lot on the podcast, and I’m gonna be running my program ahead next year. So right now I’m just focusing on the next few months and just bringing some of the things that I’ve been doing the last few years up to, I don’t wanna say up to speed cause they are up to speed, but just sort of bringing to the next level. I have a couple other ideas that I’ve been working on that I haven’t introduced yet on the podcast that I really wanna get out there and sort of emphasize, um, in terms of helping people break through like their mindset issues. Because I think that as you said, like so often this is the thing that holds people back. And I think with writers in particular, writers tend to be self-reflective and intelligent and self-aware and all these things. And so sometimes they can use the mindset sort of against the themselves, right? Like they’re aware, like, Oh, I’m holding myself back and it’s my fault. And it’s sort of like they’ve got some awareness and then they’re using against themselves. And then it becomes this whole, you know, additional layer of like shame or guilt. And, and I’d really like to help people see that and sort of be able to, use tools to be able to bring more compassion to themselves as they’re working through these issues, so that they can get to their work. So that they can really focus on the writing that they want to complete and get out there.
Jo: Oh, I think that’s wonderful. We need so much more of that. So I think that’s so good. So how can people connect with you? How can they follow you to learn more about these programs that you’ll be announcing in the future and everything like that? How can they stay in touch with you?
Rebecca: Yeah, the easiest way is just on my website, which I said you don’t need one. At some point you do, but. My website is rebeccalweber.com and the How to Pitch Guide is just that. It’s rebeccalwebber.com/howtopitch, and you can download that for free if anybody’s interested. And there’s links on my website to everything else, the Writing Coach Podcast, to me on social media, my email, anything like that.
Jo: Yeah, and I highly recommend that people go check out, like I’ve seen you on Instagram and your podcast and everything. You’re just a wealth of knowledge. So I think people can get so much out of just connecting with you and following you. So thank you so much, Rebecca. It’s been such a joy having you on the podcast today and learning, yeah, about a field that I just don’t really know much about. So I appreciate you sharing all that.
Rebecca: Oh, thanks so much. It was really a pleasure. I appreciate you having me on, and it was a pleasure on my end to speak with you as well.
Jo: So here are the takeaways from today’s show.
1. Identify the publication you want to pitch to first.
2. Do your research to get an idea of what the editor may be looking for and who your audience is.
3. Then start to look for an idea for that publication specifically.
4. Consider the long-term strategy of finding a client you can work with for the long haul by knowing their audience and what their needs are.
5. Traits of a good freelancer include being able to make decisions quickly and confidently.
6. When paralyzed from moving forward by overthinking or imposter syndrome, set yourself time limits to get things done. Also fact check your inner critic and the things you’re saying to yourself.
7. Do the work of changing your thinking and how you feel about yourself and your writing now. It will make it so much easier for yourself in the future.
8. When pitching, make sure you’re clear about why the story needs to be told now, and include a description about what visuals might work well with your story.
9. Make sure you respond to emails in a timely fashion and let your editor know early if you’re not going to meet your deadline.
10. To make it easier for yourself have multiple projects on the go at varying stages, so as one project is completing you have another one coming up.
11. Build your portfolio before considering creating a website.
12. Writing articles can help with social proof, particularly when going for a traditional publication for non-fiction books or when you have a coaching business or pitching to be on podcasts.
So I hope this episode has inspired you to consider freelancing or writing articles to compliment your author platform. Remember that you can connect with Rebecca and find out more about her coaching through her website: rebeccalweber.com. There you’ll find links to her Freelance Writer Bootcamp, and you can download a free copy on How to Pitch.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, I would really appreciate if you could leave a review on Apple Podcasts or star rating on Spotify. This helps seen traffic my way and keeps this podcast ticking along.
And if you’re wanting to connect with me, find the transcript for this episode, or if you want to check out any of my books, you’ll find all these goodies on my website at jobuer.com. You can also subscribe to my newsletter and download a free PDF copy of Manifestation for Authors: Tips and Tricks to Supercharge Your Author Life Using the Law of Attraction. Just go to subscribepage.com/manifestationforauthors, but as always, you’ll find all these links in the show notes.
So I am wishing you a wonderful week ahead, my friends, and happy writing.