- Lola Méndez is an independent journalist.
- In 2015, she left her job in public relations to see the world — and she started freelancing.
- She uses an Excel spreadsheet to track her editor contacts, the status of the articles that she's working on, and the pitches she has out.
- In September, she had her first five-figure month.
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My path to becoming an independent journalist has been unconventional. I've always had an unquenchable curiosity and loved essay assignments in high school.
My Advanced Placement English teacher even ridiculed my writing, and disapproved of my tendency to find my own angle into homework assignments. But I'm the daughter of an immigrant — my upbringing gave me grit and thick skin. Rejection has never phased me.
My first internship as a first-semester freshman was with Metromix covering local events in Los Angeles. Later, I worked on The Young and The Restless, writing articles for the virtual fashion magazine that spun-off from the soap opera.
But I fell into public relations after volunteering to work at a fashion show. I loved the experience and started interning for the public relations team that represented the collection. A few months later I decided to pursue a fashion public relations career and moved to New York City to finish my degree in marketing.
In 2015, I resigned from my role as a senior manager at a strategic branding agency. I felt like there must be more to life than living to work and was eager to get to know the world. I saved every penny I could by cooking at home and walking, rather than taking the subway or taxis. I increased my 401K contributions to the highest amount to have savings to fall back on. When I left the country I had $10,000 in my bank account.
My experience in public relations gave me the tools to become a successful freelance writer.
I'm nimble, resilient, and confident in marketing myself. My work as a publicist taught me the value of keeping a meticulous editorial database and detailed tracking doc for pitches. I use similar tools as a freelance writer to track my pitches, articles, and outstanding payments.
I use a simple Excel spreadsheet that I update manually daily. I have a sheet for editor contacts that contains every relevant editorial contact I come across and currently has contact details for 1,925 editors. The second tab tracks the status of my articles and includes the due date, rate, word count, and expected date of payment. A third tab tracks my pitche, sand includes information on when I sent the initial pitch, follow-ups, and the status of the pitch.
I started by writing about fashion and travel, earning $10 for hostel reviews and .05 a word to write packing guides for destinations around the world for Travel Fashion Girl after seeing a job listing in a Facebook group. I began to send cold pitches to travel publications that paid between $25-$75 per article. I had experience pitching publications as a publicist and utilized that skill set to send pitches as a writer.
I met a generous female writer who told me about a virtual community for freelance journalists in 2017.
I gained direct access to editorial contact details and calls for pitches. I became a pitching machine, and responded to every query that aligned with my interests. Many of my pitches were rejected initially but I started to build editorial relationships and was writing between five to ten articles a month.
My key to success is generating many ideas and circulating them around until they land. I often send over 100 pitches each month. I rarely abandon a pitch — even if it takes a year to place the story. Every rejection is an opportunity to continue the conversation.
For example, I usually respond by saying, "Thank you so much for letting me know this pitch isn't a fit. What types of pitches are you currently looking for?" A rejected pitch is permission to send your idea off to another publication — which may end up being a better fit.
Now, my base rate is .50 a word. I often earn $1 a word and once received $2 a word. I've written several four-figure articles.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, publications across the globe froze their budgets for commissioning work from freelance writers — especially for travel verticals.
I lost thousands of dollars of work from anchor clients, and had many commissions canceled due to COVID-19. I pivoted and began pitching stories outside of my usual beats. I sent pitches about entertainment, beauty, and health to any publication I could find that was still commissioning. I was fortunate to work with SELF on their "What It's Like Series," where I interviewed several healthcare workers and other essential workers about how the pandemic was impacting their lives.
From February to August I worked non-stop to make up for the lost earnings, and to distract myself from the chaos unfolding around the planet. The extra effort was draining. I was sending more pitches than ever and got barely anything in response. But as always, I persisted.
My hard work has paid off immensely in September.
By mid-September, I realized I had over $7,000 worth of writing due during the month. I had time for more work and set out to hit a milestone that I never dreamed would be possible — a five-figure month.
In a week I was able to land an additional $3,000 of writing work by tweeting that I was available. Several editors slid into my Twitter DMs with assignments. I emailed editors that had expressed interest in pitches but had yet to commission them and contacted a handful of editors I write for often and asked if they had any assignments I could take on.
In September, I wrote over 60 articles. I don't have a strict time management routine. Some days I work for an hour, other days I work for seven. Some were short trending news pieces and many were in-depth features. I earned between $100 and $950 per article in September. I'm operating a business. Freelance writing is my career — not a hobby. I don't aspire to hit this milestone monthly, but I'm thrilled to have reached this financial accomplishment.
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