I didn’t have much of a plan when I started freelance writing full-time about a year ago. I was signing up to whatever leads I may find on sites like Elance and Odesk and wanting to build a portfolio that could simply get me more work. As a result, my focus was scattered: a resume here, a few 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 was bad not merely 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 study biologist. I originally started on that path because brilliant science writers like Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Zimmer had opened within the realm of the natural sciences to me with creativity and wit. I experienced 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 following years that are few in that world.
After college and a stint in grad school, I quickly realized that there aren’t many jobs for ecologists into the real world, thus I went along to operate in several other areas. Used to do research in public places health, infectious disease, and neuroscience, while volunteering with all the Audubon Society as well as in community gardens. All the while I became building a powerful foundation that could 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, once I realized that almost all jobs I was landing were in Science and Medical Writing. Not only that, however these working jobs paid significantly more than most of the other jobs I happened to be fighting over along with other freelancers even as we all slashed our bids to 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 resume that is solid. And I could present myself as an expert writer in these areas. As just that: an expert science writer specializing in environmental news, medical writing, research, gardening and green tech so I rebranded myself.
My proposals became more targeted. I became submitting fewer of those, 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 happened to be more comfortable with scientific nomenclature. And clients responded to that. I occupy a great niche: I’m not a med student seeking to generate income 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.
You can find pitfalls to specializing—and it is important to avoid them. Do not make your area of expertise so specific that one can only bid on one sort of job. As opposed to being just a science writer or simply a medical writer, I’m both. But I have a diverse portfolio in both these areas as well. I have many years of experience as a gardener, but am formally trained as an Ecologist. And I also have worked in public places health, but additionally understand molecular biology. If i really could only bid using one among these areas, I would be severely limited in terms of the jobs that might be open to me.
The rule that is first being a successful expert science writer can be drawn directly from Evolutionary Biology. Some of the most successful organisms use a technique called optimal foraging web site behavior: they search for the foodstuff which they know will provide the biggest payoff, but are happy to try to find other types of income in the meantime. As an expert science writer, We have a couple of areas which are my specialty, but I’m not above writing a series of gardening guides if I can’t find a huge job for the 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 I had a background in molecular biology techniques like PCR; how hard could it be with it, and?
Because it ended up liquid chromatography is very complex. In accordance with no direct experience or theoretical training I couldn’t learn them overnight in them. It does not matter just 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. And so the second rule is: don’t believe that being a professional science writer makes you a Science Expert. Adhere to the fields you know very well, and you’ll be quality material that is consistently publishing.
Thirdly, often be on the lookout for possibilities to become better at your work. I no longer act as a researcher in Ecology and Evolution, but that doesn’t mean I ever lost my passion for the topic. I still attend conferences about environmental issues within my area, nevertheless now as a member for the public in the place of a researcher. I never stopped subscribing to magazines that give attention to nature and ecology, and from now on personally i think confident to send query letters in their mind. And organizations such as the National Association of Science Writers have plenty of resources for science writers.
Finally, enjoy it. I love writing, and I also love science. Specializing in science writing has allowed me to take on projects that I find interesting and engaging. I can produce work I’m pleased with, and I’m constantly learning more about the world that is natural.
About the author:
Jim Daley is a freelance writer situated in Chicago. After working as a study 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 process of balancing endeavors that are creative professional freelance writing.