In the pre-2020 world, pursuing a full-time career in freelance writing for a writer of color seemed like a far-fetched dream. Like many other industries, the freelance writing industry is still heavily white-dominated and it has been like this forever. The diversity among the published authors in the freelance writing space saw a historic spike in 2020, as a response to the worldwide #blacklivesmatter protests that uncovered the lack of inclusivity across many industries.
Since then, the publishers and editors have turned the limelight on underrepresented and the lesser heard voices and stories. To support this new wave of change, many digital publications, communities, platforms, and educational resources for diverse writers are created. This is a huge step in encouraging writers of color to hone their skills, learn the tricks of the trade, and build a full-time career in freelance writing.
Running your freelance writing business as an underrepresented writer may seem daunting because of the competitive nature of the industry which is saturated with skilled, and native English-speaking writers. These tips on kicking off a career in freelance writing as a writer of color will ensure that you are off to a successful start.
Pitch Your Own Stories
The stories of cultures, lifestyles, and opinions of people of color have not been shared widely in international publications. This gives the diverse writers an edge in bringing unique personal stories and reported journalism from underrepresented communities to the mainstream media. In order to get your first gig as a published writer with little to no prior writing experience, pitching your own unique stories that have a high acceptance rate is always a good idea. Another way to incorporate your diverse stories into journalism is by using them as examples of how common western norms are perceived in different cultures.
Negotiate Negotiate Negotiate
Underselling services as a freelancer is a pretty common thing that is sadly being exploited by many publications. But for the writers of color, this exploitation is especially true. For a long time in the writing industry, writers of color struggled to get quality paid opportunities and when it eventually happened, in hopes of getting any paid work at all, writers often sell their services at a very low rate. Negotiation is crucial to building a sustainable career in freelance writing. It is a common practice for writers to negotiate their rates with the editors, so never think that negotiating will result in the rejection of work from the editor.
Join a Diverse Writer’s Tribe
When starting out in the freelance writing industry, one thing that would substantially leverage your reach to the editors and enhance your writing skills is a community of writers at the same career level as you are. There are plenty of digital diverse writers’ communities like Writers of Color, a Twitter group where you can find daily call-outs for pitches for diverse writers directly from editors. Think In Ink is a great writers’ resource website run by a group of award-winning POC authors, poets, and journalists where you can find free learning resources.
Stress Over English Writing Competency
One of the most common mistakes emerging writers of color face that restricts them to start writing is stressing over their English language skills. While it is very important to have a strong command of the language one wants to write and build a career in, self-doubting oneself for being a non-native English writer is never going to help. Reading the work of other writers in your niche helps in understanding the kind of tone and structure you can follow. A rule of thumb here is to avoid using fluff or complex vocabulary. Writing in conversational English is the best approach while honing your English language skills.
You Are Not An Imposter
Writers of color are used to being hired for low quality and low paid work through freelancing platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com. It is quite easy to start feeling like an imposter when starting out your writing career due to the long history of prioritization of native English speaking writers over diverse writers. Repeated rejections and being used as cheap labor for low quality work can impact the mental health of the writer resulting in triggering imposter syndrome when their work is commissioned for a competitive rate. The increased demand for diverse writers in the industry now is helping writers of color to overcome feeling like an imposter and pursue writing as a full-time career.
Don’t Say Yes to Everything
For writers who are just starting there is a strong urge to say yes to every single assignment that is being offered. It is ok to be ambitious to work more to add a new byline to your name or to earn more money, but it is important to remember that it is okay to reject work if you are buried neck deep in work, don’t feel like in the best mental space to write, or if you lack the expertise to do justice with the assigned work. No editor will take it to their heart if you reject an offer made by them. To excel in your writing career, creating your authority in a defined niche and a writing style is crucial to long-term success rather than writing anything and everything that is being offered to you.