I didn’t have much of a plan when I started freelance writing full-time about a year ago. I happened to be deciding on whatever leads I can find on sites like Elance and Odesk and trying to build a portfolio that may get me more simply work. Because of this, my focus was scattered: a resume here, a number of blog posts there, the ghostwritten eBook that is occasional.
This worked, in a fashion of speaking. But I happened to be losing more bids I had was to bid low and bid often than I was landing—and the main weapon. This was bad not just for my own main point here but for the freelancer community most importantly and I knew it. Eventually, though, that I had a background I could draw on that would allow me to specialize as I started to get steady work in a few areas I realized.
Before going into freelance writing full-time, I spent a true number of years as a research 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 so in love with Ecology—the branch of biology for creative types—and spent the second few years immersed for the reason that world.
After college and a stint in grad school, I quickly realized that there aren’t many jobs for ecologists into the world that is real and so I went along to work with several other areas. I did so research in public places health, infectious disease, and neuroscience, while volunteering utilizing the Audubon Society plus in community gardens. All the while I became building a powerful foundation that will help me to eventually find my specialization, at the time although I didn’t know it.
Finding my niche
Fast-forward to about six months ago, when I realized that most jobs I was landing were in Science and Medical Writing. Not only this, but these working jobs paid significantly more than most of the other jobs I happened to be fighting over 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 health that is public. I experienced real credentials and a solid resume. And I could present myself as an writer that is expert these areas. Thus I rebranded myself as exactly that: a professional science writer devoted to 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. Because I was only trying to get jobs for which I knew I happened to be one of the more qualified writers in the room, i really could save money time to my proposals and request higher rates. I already knew which buzz words would demonstrate that I happened to be more comfortable with scientific nomenclature. And clients responded to that. I occupy a niche that is great I’m not a med student looking to make money regarding the side—I’m a freelance writer. But I’m also not a generalist freelance writer—I’m an expert Science and Medical freelance writer.
You can find pitfalls to specializing—and it’s important to avoid them. Try not to make your part of expertise so specific that you could only bid using one variety of job. In place of being just a science writer or just a writer that is medical I’m both. But I have a diverse portfolio in both of these areas as well. I have years of experience as a gardener, but am formally trained as an Ecologist. And I also have worked in public places health, but also understand molecular biology. 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 first rule to 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 seek out the meals that they know will give you the biggest payoff, but they are prepared to try to find other sourced elements of income in the meantime. As an science that is expert, We have a couple of areas that are my specialty, but I’m not above writing a series of gardening guides if I can’t find a large job when it comes to week.
Secondly, know your limitations. A laboratory procedure for purifying mixtures as a case study, when I first rebranded my freelance business, I made the mistake of bidding on a job that was frankly beyond my scope of expertise—liquid chromatography. I was vaguely familiar with it, and I had a background in molecular biology techniques like PCR; how hard could it be?
Because it turned out chromatography that is liquid highly complicated. In accordance with no direct experience or theoretical training I couldn’t learn them overnight in them. It doesn’t matter just how much scientific training you have in other areas, or how quick an autodidactic study you may be. I ultimately had to cancel that job and lost a client that is potentially long-term. And so the rule that is second: don’t think that being a specialist science writer allows you to a Science Expert. Stick to the fields you realize very well, and will also be consistently publishing quality material.
Thirdly, often be on the lookout for 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 topic. I still attend conferences about environmental issues try this out during my area, however now as a known member of this public in place of a researcher. I never stopped subscribing to magazines that focus on nature and ecology, and now I feel confident to send query letters to them. And organizations such as the National Association of Science Writers have lots of resources for science writers.
Finally, have fun. I adore writing, and I also love science. Specializing in science writing has allowed us to take on projects that I find intriguing and engaging. I could produce work I’m proud of, and I’m constantly learning more info on the natural world.
About the author:
Jim Daley is a freelance writer situated in Chicago. After being employed as an investigation biologist in avian ecology, public health, and infectious disease, he returned to his first love—writing. He contributes content to gardening and science websites. On his blog, jimdaleywrites, he explores the entire process of balancing creative endeavors with professional freelance writing.