When an editor called recently to see if I could do a series of stories for an online magazine, I had to turn him down.
The thing is, I only have room for quick pieces here and there, because I’m full up on work.
I have seven larger stories due in the next month or so that have been purchased by major publications. And once a week, I spend the whole day editing and posting nationally-produced blog entries for newspapers.
I was also recently contacted to review just-invented gear for a startup company that creates gadgets for mountain bikers and hikers (my two favorite hobbies).
This weekend, I’m headed on a weeklong river-rafting trip down the Smith River in Montana on assignment for a magazine, and in a few weeks, I head to Saskatchewan on a press trip for a story that will appear in 100 newspapers.
So how did this happen? How did I get here?
For the most part, I never say no to new experiences. If someone asks me to do something that isn’t in my wheelhouse, I figure out how to do it, and fast.
Here are four ways you can make yourself more marketable — and sell more articles — too…
Learn new skills
Photography was never my thing – I’ve always been intrigued, but I’ve also always wanted to be better at it. After I went to Tanzania with Great Escape as a participant rather than an instructor and learned what to do (and not to do), I found that I really enjoy taking photos now, and I also made huge strides in getting better at it.
I’d never even heard of Lightroom – a computer-based photo manipulation tool – but it has changed my life after we learned how to use it on the trip.
In addition, I now have a voice in my head (the instructor’s) telling me how to better compose my shots and how to get the best ones every time. That means I have more and better photos to send along with my stories.
There are so many other skills to add to your set that will increase your appeal, from understanding how SEO (search engine optimization) works on the web to figuring out how to use WordPress. The key, with apologies to Nike, is to just do it.
Pick a niche (or two, or three)
Having a hobby or activity that you’re passionate about will make you more marketable in a big way.
Remember how I’m reviewing outdoor gear and going on a rafting trip? Those are connected to the things I like to do in my everyday life, and now I am able to combine them with writing.
Your interests could involve anything – cats, knitting, playing the violin, fishing.
It’s easy to imagine that these couldn’t possibly relate to what’s going on in the world, but you might be surprised at how many others are interested in the same things. Because you can share information about them authoritatively, that makes you an expert, and way more valuable to publications.
Pick a social media, any social media
Maybe Twitter isn’t your thing – and that’s okay. The reality, though, is that being involved in one of the major social media platforms is a must if you want to participate in mainstream media.
One of the first questions editors ask today when they’re establishing a relationship with you is whether you are engaged in some form of social media; they want to know so that they can get a sense of how you will promote your own work – and thereby their publication.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the big three (the latter is more critical for photographers), but there are others that might interest you more. For instance, Digg and Reddit allow participants to post things of interest, and then the community votes on what’s most interesting, pushing those to the top of the stack.
Also, you should definitely be on LinkedIn – it allows people to find you based solely on your career and your network, which will expand exponentially if you use it properly.
Don’t use your personal Facebook page; make a separate business one. It will be attached to your personal account, but allow you to post stories, photos and updates on your freelance lifestyle without sharing more private photos of family and friends.
Take any and all related jobs
If you have any affinity for editing (and that includes photos), copy writing, proofreading or other skill that’s closely connected to your freelance writing or photography career, don’t hesitate to take those gigs. Not only will they get you in the door, but they also show that you have some of the fundamentals that make you a better writer – which will put you ahead of others who don’t.
This also goes for more tangential career work – for instance, data entry or advertising.
I’ve gotten several stories published after I did some copy- editing for two magazines that kept telling me they couldn’t take my work “right now.” But after I edited their copy, suddenly, spots seemed to magically open up for my writing.
So, adding any of these four dimensions to your repertoire not only will increase the depth of your writing and photography – they’ll increase your chances of getting published.
They look good on a resume, sure, but there’s also word of mouth: Editors talk with each other, and once one knows that you can get the job done, they will pass that information along to their colleagues.
And the next thing you know, your byline or photo credit is out there for all to see.
All of this can happen as soon as you go after it. Read how Theresa St. John got five pieces published within weeks of starting out.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can fund your travels and make an extra income with photography, travel writing, blogging, and more in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Profit From Your Photos: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]