Freelance writers make plenty of mistakes as they learn the ropes and develop their craft, but targeting the wrong markets is arguably the biggest freelance writing mistake. If you’re targeting the wrong markets, you aren’t selling any material. Every freelance writer must find the perfect markets for his or her style, voice and expertise. Sometimes this conclusion is reached after months (or even years) of hard labor and rejection.
Shooting Too High
Every young freelance writer wants to land a gig with Better Homes & Gardens or Time Magazine or National Geographic. The reality, however, is that we all have to pay our dues, and that usually means starting out with markets that don’t pay as well as Newsweek. Shooting too high is part of targeting the wrong markets — your eyes get far too big for your stomach and you start querying magazines that probably aren’t going to give you an assignment.
To avoiding targeting the wrong markets in this fashion, try to view your career as a freelance writer objectively. How many clips have you published in other magazines? And do you have what it takes to write for a large publication? It isn’t always about how well you can write; it also has to do with your ability to evaluate a potential market and then provide the type of story a specific publication wants.
Shooting Too Low
Some freelance writers target the wrong market in the exactly opposite way: They shoot too low. They figure that no one would ever want to publish something they created, so they write for publications that either pay very little or don’t pay at all. This can be just as detrimental to your career as shooting too high because clips from disreputable magazines is just as bad as no clips at all. Not only that, but you’re sending the message that it’s O.K. for writers to work for nothing.
When looking for potential markets, find smaller magazines that pay, but that don’t have national coverage or that have specialty niches. This will allow you to build up your craft while still making at least a little bit of money.
Not Playing to Your Strengths
Every freelance writer has strengths and weaknesses that affect the way he or she works and lives. If you play to your strengths, you’ll be able to make the most out of your freelance writing career and you won’t ever feel as though you are stuck in a rut. When you write articles for magazines that don’t interest you or that present problems in your writing, you’re targeting the wrong markets.
If you want to make a career as a freelance writer, you’re going to have to look at each market objectively before you decide whether or not to query it. Order several back issues or look them up online to get a feel for the voice, style and culture of the magazine itself. If the subject matter doesn’t interest you or if you don’t think that the pay rate is commensurate with your abilities, move on.