by Chantae Eaton, Alyssa Griffin, Miranda Guerra, Kellen Marler, and Joanna Rangarajan
So, you want to be a writer? Grab a pen to mark-up a notebook or type away on your laptop: congratulations, you’re a writer! But if you want to become a professional writer, that’s a different story. If you aren’t sure where to begin, you’re not alone. The wide world of writing can seem daunting, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances of landing that new writing gig. In the writing world, portfolios trump resumes; potential clients prefer to see a sample in action to build trust. How do you build that trust? By assembling a writing portfolio of your very own!
Language of the Beast
If you’re asking yourself, “what is a portfolio?” don’t fret. A writing portfolio is a collection of writing samples that showcase your writing style. There are a few terms that may throw you for a loop on your portfolio-building journey, but familiarizing yourself with them will help you flourish. Some terms that might pop up are:
- Platform – the chosen media forum used to build your portfolio and connect with an audience.
- Freelance – a temporary, per-job assignment for clients rather than a permanent role.
- Niche – a concentrated area of the market focused on a specific audience, service or topic.
- Voice – unique writing style expressed through tone, point-of-view, phrases and more.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. And today your goal is to do just that—to start.
Tools of The Trade
We live in a digital age, where the days of carrying around a paper portfolio have long passed, and information is available to us at the click of a button. It stands to reason an editor will want to access your work easily. Although building a website where you can showcase your work is ideal, creation and maintenance often come at a price. For novice writers this can be a deal-breaker, but have no fear! Various websites (such as Upwork) offer writers an online portfolio template where they can showcase a compilation of their work, use mentors and apply for writing jobs on their site. Most sites offer a trial or version of their site at no cost to the user, and additional content is available for a nominal fee.
When asked about any tools she found especially helpful in building her portfolio, Nikky Raney, a Freelance Writer and Interview Media Journalist for Moms.com states, “…100% you can use Contena Academy and you even have a coach that will work with you to help you get hired… I have submitted multiple portfolios through Contena and my coach has provided incredible feedback.” Another great resource is Smartblogger.com, which has compiled a comprehensive list of portfolio sites that detail the pros, cons and costs of sites like Contently, Journo and Quiet.ly.
As an aspiring professional writer, one of the fundamental questions you need to ask yourself is “what is my niche?” Do you write fiction? Do you write for scholarly journals? Are you hoping to write for a news publication? Whatever niche you land on, be sure it engages your interests and find compelling topics within that niche to write about. Writings centered around your niche will make up the bulk of your portfolio. Until your prominence as a writer is established, there may be times when you need to step outside your comfort zone and create content that falls outside your niche. Adaptability in these situations is key and devising quality content is imperative in meeting your career goals.
Developing Your Voice
When writing, it’s important to develop your voice. Ask yourself, “could anyone else have written this?” Of course, they could use the same words in the same sequence so technically yes, someone else could have. But is your piece infused with your spirit, uniquely yours and not just echoes of other people? Those are the pieces that will make your writing stand out.
You’ve found your niche and your voice. Now it’s time to get to work. Write often and when you think you’re done, keep writing! As with anything else, the quality of your work will improve the more you practice. You’ll amass a pile of work that you can choose from when composing your portfolio. Never stop writing, creating and updating your portfolio with your latest work because it’ll aid you in putting your best foot forward.
Hitting Pay Dirt for Writing
When starting a new career or venture, the desired result is to make ends meet, if not to become wildly successful. To do that in the writing world requires experience, but to get experience a writer must have published work. How can you conquer this without having published pieces?
We interviewed Sara Barton, a Senior Freelance Copywriter based in Columbus, Ohio, who shared her thoughts on how to get started without being published. Barton states, “I would come up with writing assignments to put in my book [portfolio] to show what I could do. When you’re starting, you don’t have actual, legitimate, produced pieces, so you just kind of have to wing it.”
In other words, coming up with pieces like scripts, or posts that showcase a writer’s prowess is vital in building the foundation of a writer’s portfolio. In time, these speculative pieces can be replaced with published works. Barton also expressed that while she has a website, and a viewer can find her entire portfolio there; it’s not categorized. She feels that a client may see potential in work unrelated to the industry in which they’re hiring.
While writing for free may not be ideal, sometimes it’s necessary. Consider various varieties of payment terms you may come across when signing contracts. These could be terms like Net15 or Net30, which usually cover business days, not calendar days in reference to expected payments. “Net” payment with a number following it is a full payment by 15 or 30 business days after project completion. Placing a monetary value on your time and effort can present a challenge. Be sure to read your contract thoroughly so you understand the guidelines and agree that the terms set forth are equitable.
Being a creative individual means constantly evolving to keep up with the times and staying abreast of the latest technology. When assembling your portfolio, the sky’s the limit and creating bold pieces could just land you your next job! Having a diversified portfolio, even if it’s speculative work, could be what leads a client to hire you over someone else.
Creating a writing portfolio is only the first step in your writing journey. You can continue to grow and find work in various ways and have a thriving career. Not that there won’t be rejection; there will, but how you handle it will make the difference.
To get your work published quickly, you can self-publish. Though this route may not be best suited for everyone, it may be the best avenue to take with certain books. This is especially true if the content is “specific to a niche,” according to Moira Allen. Allen states that with self-publishing, “the author becomes the publisher.” It grants authors the freedom to select the cover design and allows them to get their books onto the market in a few weeks versus the years it might take with a commercial publisher. It also gives the writer control over the entire publishing process.
Companies like Amazon offer publishing options that range from e-books, print, and audiobooks; all done through their platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It allows you to set your price but be aware that you’re signing a contract with terms and conditions. While Kindle has its own audiobook platform, ACX, you won’t be able to publish it on Audible unless you remove it from ACX prior to publishing it elsewhere.
Continuing Your Journey
Now that you’ve added a few extra tools to your writer’s toolbox, it’s time to make some decisions and set forth a plan-of-action. Did you decide that self-publishing is for you? Head over to the self-publishing venue and look at what’s needed to start the process. Ready to build your blog or website? Research the “tools of the trade” like Contena. Think about its content and how you want to appeal to your audience. Will you showcase the many types of work that you do like Barton, or do you prefer offering select pieces that fall within your niche? Find the platform you connect with, so you can broadcast your voice to the world. Let your passion for writing lead you on a journey and you may just find yourself doing the thing you love the most: writing!