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10 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Writing Career

Avoid these stumbling blocks to ensure a successful career

You’re a talented, ambitious and hard-working writer. Difficult editors? High editorial standards? Tough-to-wrangle sources? None of those obstacles faze you.

But that doesn’t mean your writing career is unassailable. Making the following mistakes could mean setting yourself up for failure—no matter how well you write.

1. Only taking ghostwriting assignments

Ghostwritten pieces are typically more lucrative than those under your byline; however, if you only write for other people it’s nearly impossible to build a long-term writing career.

When editors are looking for new writers they often reach out to contributors at the publications they admire. If none of your articles appear under your name you’ll lose out on this valuable source of clients.

Plus, you can’t list ghost-written pieces on your personal website, LinkedIn or Twitter. Without these additions to your portfolio, editors and clients won’t be able to gauge your abilities.

2. Neglecting to form connections

Many freelancers never get to know the other freelancers in their field, beat or geographic area; but, that’s a major mistake. The other writers in your industry can give you advice, send work your way or give you the inside scoop on a client.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to start networking. Every time you come across a writer you admire, send them a quick message via email or social media letting them know you’re a fan. Relationships usually develop naturally from there.

3. Missing deadlines

Nothing will put you on a “do not hire” list faster than missing a deadline. Editors live and die by their editorial schedules, so turning in a story late usually means they need to scramble to fill a slot.

If you are going to need extra time, let your client know as soon as possible. The editor still won’t be thrilled but the more advance notice they have, the less inconvenient the mishap has to be.

It’s also a good idea to explain the reason for the delay. Sources go on vacation, the research takes longer than you’d anticipated, people don’t return your calls, and editors are aware these things happen. If you provide a legitimate explanation for missing your deadline, they’ll be far more likely to view the incident as a one-off.

4. Not proofing your work

If you don’t thoroughly proofread your work an editor will have to labor through the review process, and they will not be happy about it. Editors are extremely short on time. They’re brainstorming new ideas, managing content calendars, collaborating with other freelancers and of course, editing.

An editor is far more likely to keep you on their frequent caller list if they know editing your work will not be a time-intensive chore for them.

Also, be a pleasure to work with in the editing process. If an editor proofs your work and sends it back with comments and suggestions, ensure a quick turnaround time.

Be sure you’ve addressed every edit, because simply ignoring these remarks shows either a lack of attention to detail or an unwillingness to have your work edited.

5. Taking only the “easy” gigs

You know what I’m talking about: the jobs that you can complete with barely any effort. These gigs might seem fantastic, but accepting too many will hold you back.

After all, how many new clients will you earn from a piece that took you 30 minutes to write? And if you’re taking on jobs that don’t challenge you, how can you improve?

In general, you want to strike a balance between relatively undemanding work and “stretch” work. The latter might have a smaller ROI in the short term, but will help you score better clients and work in the long term.

6. Forgetting about your brand

Building your personal brand is crucial. Unlike traditional professionals, who can often apply their skills to multiple industries, most writers must specialize to make a good living.

If you want to write vegan lifestyle articles, you’re responsible for creating a strong reputation in that niche. If you want to take the opposite route and cover the paleo beat, you’ll face the challenge of building up your reputation again in that niche.

What you can’t do? Write about anything and everything. Without a clear focus, you’ll never stand out so you’ll never move into the upper writing echelons.

7. Not planning for promotion

These days, most clients aren’t just paying you for your content, they’re also paying you for your audience. When a piece goes live, you should be sharing it on social media and interacting with your readers.

Of course, not everything you write will be a good fit for every social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn). But if your clients are posting it to social, they’re probably expecting you to pick it up as well.

8. Forgetting about old clients

As your career progresses, it’s easy to lose touch with your first clients. Yet even if you’ve moved on to higher-paid or more prestigious work, keep in contact with them.

An editor could move to a new publication and start looking through her contacts for potential writers. Or perhaps a one-time employer will reach out looking for referrals.

In that case, you could recommend a friend, giving you the opportunity to help two parties at once (double the networking currency!)

9. Keeping your rates static

Asking for more money is scary. What if the client thinks you’re too aggressive? What if they say no?

Okay, what if they do say no? You’ll be in the same position as before. And if a client does react badly to a rate increase, you may want to reconsider if they’re a good publication to work with.

Remember, if you were in a traditional career, you’d be getting regular salary increases.

10. Not Keeping Up With Digital Trends

Another way to set yourself up for writing career success is to keep growing. It would be a mistake to ignore how digital technology has grown to be such an important part of journalism.

It’s important to understand how editing multimedia can differ from editing print and “flat” media, as well as the role of the copy editor in the digital age.


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