How I Did It: Went From Blogger to Full-Time Journalist

Welcome to the first ‘How I Did It’ of 2019! This week I interview Fiona-who runs Fiona Likes to Blog  as well as being an established journalist. Fiona has written for publications such as Metro, Refinery 29, Happiful and I News and credits her blog for giving her a springboard to becoming a full-time journalist! She recently published her first book ‘Depression in A Digital Age’ and is a real inspiration for those wanting to make 2019 the year they freelance or write full-time. I couldn’t wait to here her tips and advice!

Q: Hi Fiona, can you tell us about when you started blogging and when 
that developed into journalism too?

I started blogging in 2012 a few months after I was signed off work with depression. I had been working in a really stressful management job and going from working 50+ hours a week to being home all day made me feel a bit lost. I started blogging as a hobby really and documented my health and fitness journey as a creative outlet. I always loved writing as a child but didn’t ever think I would do it for a job. In 2016, I changed my niche and focused solely on mental health content and after doing that for 18 months I was asked to write a piece for Heads Together which was a big deal at the time. Then thanks to Jenna, I was tagged in a Tweet from the Metro blogs editor who was looking for mental health writers. I emailed over a few ideas and luckily I was commissioned to write one. I hadn’t planned to get into journalism at all, but now it’s my full time job and actually I don’t blog as much as i would like to anymore. 

Q: The power of twitter! How did you transition from blogging into writing freelance outside of your own site?

I had been trying to monetise my blog for a year and found it incredibly difficult. As soon as I realised that my writing was good enough to be published on websites like the Metro and that I could earn money from it, I almost instantly changed my strategy and started pitching regularly to websites and magazines. I found one regular client who I knew would pay me on a monthly basis to some social media scheduling, then built up a few months’ income before I went full time. 

Q: You’re known for your mental health niche and have written for some amazing publications-how did that niche help you? Would you recommend bloggers focus on their own niche when pitching to publications?

I think in the beginning having a niche can be very helpful. For example, I wouldn’t have been recommended for my first gig at Metro if I hadn’t been a mental health blogger. That’s not to say that you can’t write outside of your niche but I think there’s value in really digging deep into one area of expertise. You get to know the experts to contact, the people with interesting viewpoints, and you know what stories have been done to death. If you keep your ear to the ground in your niche you’re more likely to find new angles and stories that haven’t been explored yet.

Q: Talking of pitching, I know you pitch ALL the time! Any tips on pitching to publications and how often you should do it?

Make sure you pitch a very specific angle. Something that has happened to you personally might have been life-changing but that doesn’t mean that it’s rare or newsworthy. Explain exactly why you have to be the writer tell the story as opposed to a staff writer so this could be a personal connection to the story or even better, an exclusive case study or expert. Don’t be offended if you don’t get a response to your email and don’t be afraid to chase up editors to find out their thoughts. Many of the commissions I’ve had are because I’ve repeatedly emailed editors to remind them about my pitch. Also, don’t be afraid to pitch a few ideas in one email, just keep them short and snappy. 
How often? I would say I send out about 10 pitch emails a week, but if I see a call out from a new editor I will respond specifically to that in addition to any others I’ve sent out that week. 

Q: How do you balance freelance journalism with blogging and your own 

Q: Any tips on getting yourself out there as a freelance journalist in such a busy industry?

I’d like to say I have it all down to a fine art but I’m still learning! My own blog had very much been put on the back burner and only update that when I feel like I have something interesting to say. This past year I spent most of my spare time writing my book and that was incredibly time-consuming but great fun. I think it’s often about tapping into your own strengths and finding your most productive moments. For example, I found it easier to write my book in the library or on a long train journey. It was a passion project so I spent a lot of evenings and weekends writing but I think as a freelancer that’s to be expected. I definitely work longer hours now than I ever did in my previous jobs! I love it though. 

Don’t rely on writing personal essays longterm. There comes a point when you have to get out of your comfort zone and talk to other people and find stories outside of your own bubble. Also, get used to getting no response to your emails and get comfortable chasing up editors. Try and build good relationships with any editors who do respond to your emails and make sure you deliver excellent, accurate copy on time. Also, send photographs of you can too as editors always appreciate having the option to use them.

Q: Do you think a journalism qualification is essential for starting out 
as a freelance writer?

Absolutely not. I think a passion for writing and the ability to seek out good stories is a good start, as long as you’re prepared to work hard. 

Q: Do you have any tips for bloggers who are trying to build a writing 
portfolio? Should they work for free in that case?

I think if you don’t have any published work then you’re going to have to work for free for a while. That doesn’t mean you’re not worth payment, but you need a way to build up proof that you can write. When you send those links to editors they are never going to know that you weren’t paid, so it still shows that you are good enough to be published.  My experience was that I did this for about a year, then as soon as someone paid me I knew my work was good enough and I stopped taking on free projects. You only need one amazing byline to prove that you’re good at what you do. 

Q: You also recently published your first book! How was that process-any 
tips for bloggers thinking of making the leap?

It was totally different but in a good way! There was more room to explore ideas in more depth and be more descriptive which I really enjoyed. I think if you have an idea for a book try your best to really flesh it out, do market research and find out if your idea has already been done. If so, how are you going to provide a new perspective? Write a detailed chapter outline and then write at least one full chapter as a sample then take it from there. I did consider self-publishing but I’m so glad I got a deal with a publisher because getting to work with an experienced editor who really understood my story and my message was invaluable to me. 

Thanks so much to Fiona for sharing some of her invaluable advice! You can find her book ‘Depression in the Digital Age’ on sale on Amazon here.

Inspired by this interview? Read previous interviews in the ‘How I Did It’ series here.

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