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By Chet Dembeck

Less than two years ago, I stumbled upon a secret that has brought me so many freelance assignments that I'm now forced to turn work down. Moreover, most of the freelance assignments I'm offered today come to me effortlessly—without even sending out a query.  

As I write this article, on my desk sits two Internet publications that have offered me multiple writing assignments—if I'll just accept them. Frankly, I don't have the time. Since I discovered the secret, I have been assigned a five-day-a-week column, which not only produces a steady second paycheck, but also establishes me as a pundit. Meanwhile, I hold down a fulltime job as a reporter with a daily newspaper, which I would have never landed—if it hadn't been for the secret.  

The funny thing about the secret is that most writers intuitively know it, but even when it's brought to their attention, they often ignore it. Put simply, the secret to getting unlimited assignments at a higher freelance pay rate is simply this: specialization.  

Disappointed? You probably knew that already. Right? Well, there's more.  

The specialization must be in a growing niche where there isn't an abundance of experts or writers who are familiar with the subject. For instance, if you decide to specialize in movie reviews or celebrity watching or politics—join the crowd. You'll be pumping out dozens of queries to the same old publications, spending your time and your postage only to get boomeranged with form rejection letters that finally arrive after months of waiting. And if you do score an assignment it may be months—or never depending on the solvency of the publication—before you get paid. I know, because I've been there.  

I only wish somebody had given me this secret before I wasted years of brain capital along with thousands of dollars in stationary and postage—not to mention the sheer frustration. I'm giving this knowledge to you freely, knowing full well that less than one-half of 1 percent of you who read this will ever use the secret. But for those of you who do, the results will be instantaneous and convincing.  

What fields should I consider specializing in and how do I go about it, you're probably asking?  

Perhaps the best way for me to explain the winning gameplan is to tell you how I stumbled upon it. I was working as a county reporter with a small weekly newspaper when I got a call from a young woman inquiring if we'd be interested in doing a story about a local company that was growing by leaps and bounds. Not being a business reporter, but desperately needing some kind of story because it was the middle of summer and all the politicos were on vacation, I agreed to visit the company the next day and hear its story.

Technology, technology, technology
The company turned out to be a high-tech startup that was developing satellite surveillance for private companies and the defense department. When I interviewed the president of the company, he told me they were mushrooming so fast that they couldn't find enough qualified people and hoped that our article would get the word out to prospective employees.

The article played on the front page and soon other high-tech companies began to call me. Over the next several months, I visited and wrote stories on small Internet, telecom and software application companies—opening a door to a world I never knew existed. I soon discovered that technology is an exploding niche that has hundreds of subcategories in need of coverage. In the process, I also compiled about half-a-dozen high-tech clips. Using them as fodder, I secured a position as a technology reporter for a major business tabloid, leaving the small weekly.  

Why in the world did they hire me with only six clips you ask? Simple: I knew more than the editor did about high-tech companies and none of the other applicants knew anything. So specialization in a growing niche, such as technology, panned out for me to the tune of a $5,000 increase in pay in just three months.  

In addition to visiting high-tech companies and learning about what they did, I also found several Web sites that made the learning process easier. For instance, Hoovers Online ( ) is a site where you can research thousands of high-tech companies and industries. If you look up a company, the site automatically links you to its competitors, its Security and Exchange Commission filings and its financials. These services are absolutely free, even though Hoovers does offer a premium service. Another site that offers free quotes and profiles of companies is Yahoo! Finance ( Both of these sites also provide the latest news stories affecting high-tech companies. In addition, the many free links to other financial sites found on these sites should give you a plethora of resources to build the knowledge you'll need to specialize in the high-tech niche of your choice.

Testing the waters
Once you find an area of technology that interests you and study it, at first you'll have to shoot out a few queries—if you have no clips in this niche. But instead of sending them out snail mail and paying for stamps, consider using e-mail. That's what I do. I rarely, if ever, send out anything by regular mail—it's too costly and inefficient. Instead, I've developed list of publishers that accept a resume, clips and queries via e-mail. Here's a Web site that's worth its weight in gold: "Monique Cuvelier: Journalism Jobs, Writing and Editing Jobs in Print and New Media." From this site you will be able to find hundreds of online and hard copy publications almost begging for quality submissions. Almost all of them accept E-mail queries.

Focused Specialization
Once you land and complete a few assignments, you should cut and paste your published articles using them as part of an E-mail document that includes a short introduction letter and a resume. This is what I sent to E-Commerce Times ( I applied for a columnist position that the online publication advertised on one of the Internet job boards. Since specializing in high-tech, I had been focusing more on e-commerce, so this job seemed like a natural for me. After submitting two columns, which they agreed to pay me for, I accepted the job to write the column five days a week. Today, I rarely E-mail a query.

Usually, I just send an e-mail resume with some of my clips. Within days, the assignment offers come pouring in.  

You can have the same success, if you'll only commit to following the gameplan, once you accept the secret.

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Last updated 8 Nov 2004 NZST