How I Started Freelance Nutrition Writing (And So Can You)

You may have noticed that things have slowed down a bit here on the blog over the last several months. The reason behind this actually has to do with something really good–and something, in a sense, blog-related. See, I’ve been doing freelance nutrition writing, and a lot of it. Since I’d rather post quality than quantity on the blog, that means my posts here have gotten fewer and further between. Here’s a little bit about how it all came about, along with some tips for other nutrition professionals interested in getting into the world of freelance writing. (And to my handful of regular readers: Don’t worry, I’m still keeping the blog going with recipes and down-to-earth nutrition info!)

Some backstory:

Last August, our family spent almost three months in Germany. During this time, I wasn’t working (unless you count steadily “working” my way through innumerable varieties of German beer–oh, and I was also looking after my kids). Being very new in my career as a nutrition professional, I still hadn’t really determined what path I wanted to take. When you go through any traditional dietetics education, the party line from your program of study is that you have three options for employment: clinical, food service, or community nutrition. (Can I get an amen, RDs and DTRs?) While I knew I didn’t want to work in the clinical or food service settings, I wasn’t exactly sure what my career in “community” (aka public health) nutrition would look like. I did know, however, that my first position out of school would be temporary, that I wanted something part-time, and that I had always loved to write. My English minor back in college meant I had at least some education in doing so reasonably well.

Returning home from Germany, I decided to take a stab at freelance writing to see how it went. Initially, it barely even crossed my mind to start writing nutrition content. Instead, I began with something even closer to my heart: my own journey as a Catholic Christian. My cousin, who is a freelance writer in New Mexico, had turned me on to a couple of websites primarily aimed at Millennial Catholics, Busted Halo and Amendo. Armed with my backlog of blog content and one lonely article I wrote for my church’s Women’s Ministry page, I pitched Busted Halo’s editor, calling myself a freelance writer. I asked if they’d like to publish the story of a foolish decision I made as a young adult. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back–I mean, who was I kidding with this whole “I’m a freelance writer” pose?–but much to my surprise, the editor emailed me back with an acceptance!

And how I got to now…

After the success of my first pitch (and the thrill of seeing my first article in print), I craved more. Here and there, I’d send off a pitch, often into the echoing void of a general submissions inbox, never to hear anything again, but sometimes to a “yes” from a real human being. Pretty soon I made a pact with myself: Every day I wasn’t working–which was one to two days a week–I would pitch a new publication. I read a quick e-book called Make Money as a Freelance Writer, which encouraged new writers to make a list of all the topics you’re an expert in, as well as topics you merely have an interest in. I decided I could comfortably focus on nutrition, general health and wellness, parenting, and spirituality…and maybe some other random topics I just find fascinating, like forensic investigation and 19th century German poets. But, you know, less often.

Over the next few months, I pitched like a mo-fo. Setting aside my deep distaste for unsolicited social interaction, I rattled off cold pitches to dozens of magazines and websites. I emailed local dietitians to see if I could write their newsletters or other content for patients, and I sent out an ad for my services on my local Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chapter’s email listserv. The mornings I didn’t work, I’d go for a walk or a bike ride to clear my head and generate story ideas, then sit down to research a good publication to send to, and off my pitches would go.¬†From September of 2017 to the end of that year, I sent out 40 pitches and received 8 rejections, 14 no-reponses, and 18 acceptances that turned into publications. When I read somewhere that new writers often have around a 10-20% acceptance rate, I felt my hard work had paid off (but those 8 rejections still definitely stung!).

How I get my gigs

At the end of 2017 came what I think of as my big breakthrough: Paid regular work. That December I was offered a weekly contributor position for the women’s lifestyle website Brit + Co’s Health section. Shortly thereafter, a dietitian hired me at a respectable rate to write her monthly newsletter. And in May of 2018 I was hired on to contribute regularly to fitness guru Chalene Johnson’s blog on her 131 Method website. Between these ongoing projects, a monthly kids’ cooking class I teach, and a few other articles every month or so, I was able to quit my in-person job–and am now making double to triple the hourly rate my job paid, while working fewer hours.

So how did all that happen?

Once again, I really have to give my cousin credit. She referred me to numerous Facebook groups where editors post calls for pitches–which I often answered and sometimes ultimately landed. (I also asked others in these groups for editor contacts when I couldn’t track them down). Then a couple of dietitians told me about even more Facebook groups where I found work. For awhile, I also regularly searched through Craigslist and Upwork for writing gigs–getting one decent food-related copywriting assignment–but have since decided pitching my own content is the better route for the type of work I’m looking for.

If YOU want to get into freelance nutrition writing

Maybe you’re a dietitian or DTR interested in getting started with writing, like I was less than a year ago. Judging from the responses I got when chatting with other nutrition professionals at a conference just last week, I believe many RDs and DTRs are drawn to this relatively obscure area of dietetics practice. After all, why shouldn’t we be the ones to give the public reliable health information? Journalists may have great skill in reporting on food and nutrition, but they don’t have the kind of in-depth knowledge a licensed nutrition professional can offer.

Here are my top pieces of advice if you’re looking to start freelance nutrition writing:

  • If you don’t have a blog, create one–even a lil’ dinky one–so you have a landing place for editors to see your writing.
  • Create social media pages for your blog and invite friends to like them. Post often, whether it’s your own blog articles or anything you find intriguing in the realm of food and nutrition. If you post interesting stuff, your following will grow.
  • If you’re in private practice, write your own monthly newsletter. Or offer to write one for a dietetics practice to build up experience and content.
  • Offer to blog for free (for awhile) for local food, nutrition, or restaurant websites.
  • Get into Facebook groups about general and nutrition-specific freelance writing (email me for examples!) These are where you’ll find editors issuing calls for pitches.
  • Search Craigslist and Upwork for nutrition-related writing gigs.
  • Pitch like a pitchin’ fool! And, if possible, don’t pitch to the general submissions email address you find on a publication’s website. Do a little more digging to get the email of an actual editor. (Try Twitter, LinkedIn, or ask in Facebook groups.) You’re much more likely to get a response from a real person.

The work is out there. And with your experience as a nutrition professional, YOU can be the one most qualified to get it. I can tell you, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you do!

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