Hunter Journalism alum Angely Mercado is paying it forward by writing about her experience freelancing, getting work published in the New York Times — and how it didn’t change her life.
Mercado, an undergraduate student journalism Aronson Award winner who graduated in 2015, then went on to the CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, has been posting regularly on Medium in recent months, offering advice on how to freelance post-grad and about her experience writing for her dream publication.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Join a network of like-minded individuals and journalists.
- Have more than one hustle.
In order to set yourself up for success when freelancing, having manageable goals and expectations will help.
“A week after I finished my undergrad, I sat down in front of my then-new Macbook and told myself I was going to make a ton of money writing,” wrote Mercado. “But at the time I had no idea how to even do that.”
“[E]very writer starts somewhere, even if it means getting paid only $20 or $30 for a blog post.”— Angely Mercado
Mercado suggests that it may take a while to get a pitch accepted from a major publication, “But every writer starts somewhere, even if it means getting paid only $20 or $30 for a blog post,” she said.
Staying in touch with classmates or other networks of journalists can also keep you motivated while searching for that byline.
“Connecting with other writers, especially those who can give some advice on how to get out of a rut, is an invaluable resource during that first year of post-grad life,” said Mercado.
Freelancing pre-coronavirus could already be a lonely experience while working from home and feeling pressure to optimize every moment for writing. But Mercado suggests finding writers groups online to share the “highs and lows” of the business with.
Finally, having more than one part-time job can take away the financial pressure of freelancing as your sole gig. She added that having a side hustle could even provide excellent material one day for a story.
On writing for the New York Times
Growing up in Queens, Mercado wrote about how she always felt a connection to The New York Times. The publication was in the background of everything she did; steps away from her studies at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and one of its auditoriums the site of her graduation ceremony.
Landing an assignment with the Times didn’t happen right away. Mercado wrote how networking with a series of editors led her to write a personal essay on how her community in Ridgewood helped with neighbors’ child care.
“One good byline does not usually make or break a writer’s entire career. So many of our favorite writers and artists have a list of failures behind them.”— Angely Mercado
Being able to pitch what you know, and putting yourself out there are some of the most important things, added Mercado. Demystifying popular publications can also help you stay on track.
“It takes time and learning well-known publications, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to aim for them,” she said.
While accumulating clips (in school or otherwise), apply for internships as soon as you can, she suggests.
“Try to get an internship at a publication and if that isn’t possible for you (you can’t find a paid opportunity, don’t have enough experience yet, or are unsure about how to find one yet), try to send work to a school publication,” wrote Mercado in her piece “How My Writing Was Finally Published in the New York Times.”
There is life after writing for Times
In her essay, “Writing for the New York Times was Amazing, But it Didn’t Change My Life,” Mercado keeps an optimistic tone on how freelancers move from one job to the next. In the end, Mercado confesses that publishing work in The New York Times is just another part of the job.
“I had finally reached a somewhat life-long goal,” she said. “And I felt the same.”
Mercado added that “one good byline does not usually make or break a writer’s entire career. So many of our favorite writers and artists have a list of failures behind them.”
She also mentioned that some writers may never achieve their career milestone and that’s ok. “Having a tangible byline is one way to get your next byline,” she said.
“So before I completely give up on my other career milestones, I think I’ll send out another pitch,” wrote Mercado. “It might get rejected. The editor might accept it. But that’s ok. I’ll send it anyway.”
[Editor’s Note: For tips and advice on freelance, see our recent report, “Grabbing a Virtual Coffee: How to Freelance During COVID-19.”]