When I started freelance writing full-time about this past year, i did son’t have much of an idea. I was signing up to whatever leads I could find on sites like Elance and Odesk and trying to build a portfolio which could simply get me more work. As a result, my focus was scattered: a resume here, a series of blog posts there, the occasional ghostwritten eBook.
This worked, in a manner of speaking. But I became losing more bids I had was to bid low and bid often than I was landing—and the main weapon. This is bad not merely for my own main point here but for the freelancer community at large and I also knew it. Eventually, though, as I began to get steady operate in a couple of areas I realized that I experienced a background i possibly could draw on that would permit me to specialize.
Prior to going into freelance writing full-time, I spent a number of years as a study biologist. I originally started on that path because brilliant science writers like Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Zimmer had opened within the world of the natural sciences to me with creativity and wit. I had finally found something worth going to college for. As an undergraduate I fell in love with Ecology—the branch of biology for creative types—and spent the next few years immersed in that world.
After college and a stint in grad school, I quickly realized that there aren’t many jobs for ecologists when you look at the world that is real so I decided to go to work in many other areas. Used to do research in public areas health, infectious disease, and neuroscience, while volunteering with all the Audubon Society plus in community gardens. Even while I became building a stronger foundation that could assist me eventually find my specialization, although i did son’t know it at the time.
Finding my niche
Fast-forward to about six months ago, when I realized that the majority of jobs I was landing were in Science and Medical Writing. Not only this, but these jobs paid significantly more than many of the other jobs I happened to be fighting over along with other freelancers as we all slashed our bids towards the minimum. I already had a portfolio of articles on avian ecology, molecular biology, organic gardening techniques, and public health. I experienced real credentials and a solid resume. And I could present myself as an expert writer in these areas. So I rebranded myself as exactly that: a specialist science writer specializing in environmental news, medical writing, research, gardening and green tech.
My proposals became more targeted. I happened to be submitting fewer of them, but immediately saw a much higher acceptance rate. I knew I was one of the most qualified writers in the room, I could spend more time on my proposals and ask for higher rates because I was only applying for jobs in which. I already knew which buzz words would demonstrate that I was more comfortable with scientific nomenclature. And clients taken care of immediately that. I occupy a great niche: I’m not a med student looking to earn money on the side—I’m a freelance writer. But I’m also not a generalist freelance writer—I’m a professional Science and Medical freelance writer.
There are pitfalls to specializing—and it’s crucial that you prevent them. Try not to make your section of expertise so specific that one can only bid on a single type of job. Rather than being just a science writer or simply just a writer that is medical I’m both. But We have a portfolio that is diverse both these areas as well. We have several years of experience as a gardener, but am formally trained as an Ecologist. And I also have worked in public areas health, but additionally understand biology that is molecular. I would be severely limited in terms of the jobs that would be available to me if I could only bid on one of these areas.
The rule that is first being a successful expert science writer can be drawn directly from Evolutionary Biology. Several of the most successful organisms use a method called optimal foraging behavior: they look for the food that they know will give you the biggest payoff, but they are happy to search for other resources of income for the time being. As an science that is expert, I have a few areas which are my specialty, but I’m not above writing a few gardening guides if I can’t find a huge job when it comes to week.
Secondly, know your limitations. As a case study, whenever I first rebranded my freelance business, I made the mistake of bidding on a job that has been frankly beyond my scope of expertise—liquid chromatography, a laboratory procedure for purifying mixtures. I became vaguely familiar with it, and I also had a background in molecular biology techniques like PCR; how hard would it be?
As it turned out liquid chromatography is highly complex. Along with no direct experience or theoretical training in them, i possibly couldn’t learn them overnight. It doesn’t matter exactly how much training that is scientific have in other areas, or how quick an autodidactic study you are. I ultimately needed to cancel that job and lost a client that is potentially long-term. So that the rule that is second: don’t think that being a professional science writer allows you to a Science Expert. Stick to the fields you understand very well, and you will be consistently publishing quality material.
Thirdly, always be in search of possibilities to become better at your task. I no longer work as a researcher in Ecology and Evolution, but that doesn’t mean I ever lost my love of the subject. I still attend conferences about environmental issues during my area, however now as a member of the public in place of a researcher. I never stopped subscribing to magazines that give attention to nature and ecology, and now personally i think confident to send query letters for them. And organizations like the National Association of Science Writers have a lot of resources for science writers.
Finally, enjoy yourself. I favor writing, and I also love science. Focusing on science writing has allowed us to take on projects that I find engaging and interesting. I could produce work I’m proud of, and I’m best websites to write for constantly learning more about the world that is natural.
Concerning the author:
Jim Daley is a freelance writer situated in Chicago. After working as a research biologist in avian ecology, public health, and infectious disease, he gone back to his first love—writing. He contributes content to science and gardening websites. On his blog, jimdaleywrites, he explores the process of balancing creative endeavors with professional freelance writing.