By Rusty Fischer

The editor of The Buzz On series reveals how to become an expert on almost anything without (really) trying.

By now you’ve probably realized that your dreams of becoming a best-selling author and lunching on the patio of your Bel Aire Tudor mansion in between a massage and an interview with Forbes are taking a little longer than you thought. (If not, what are you doing reading this article?) So, like the rest of us, you are probably in the process of hunting down your latest freelance project in between dashing off to your real job and dashing off yet another query letter to yet another Mega-publisher at yet another posh New York high rise.

Well, to give you a leg up in finding that next freelance assignment, here are a few tips on becoming an expert, even when you think you’re not:

Choosing Your Battles

Okay, let’s face facts: It’s pretty hard to be an expert on everything. And if you’ve ever taken a look at a list of freelance writing opportunities, you’ve noticed that everyone from magazine editors to book publishers, e-zine web mistresses to newsletter news hounds wants an expert:


–Needed: An expert on Tai-Chi for monthly column . . .

–Wanted: Expert auto writer for weekly soap derby newsletter . . .

–Publisher seeks expert on bridal registries for upcoming anthology . . .


You get the picture. So how do you apply for these jobs, or others just as expert intensive, when you don’t have the qualifications? Simple: get them. Let’s look at the three samples above:

Okay, you can’t pronounce Tai-Chi, let alone write a monthly column on it. That’s fine. Realize your limitations and move onto the next listing. Obviously, the time it takes to become an expert on Tai-Chi might not be worth the measly$ 10 a column this listing may be offering. Winning one battle often means walking away from several first.

Soap derbies. Hmm, not a big soap derby race fan are you? Well, hold on a minute. Go through your mental Rolodex before moving on. Let’s say your son, boyfriend, girlfriend, or sister participates in soap derbies as a hobby. There’s your in. Mine these friendly folks for information, or at least enough information to sound like an expert when you make the pitch. If you get the gig, you’ve got them to fall back on for ‘expert’ opinions as you write the column. If you don’t get it, at least you tried.

Finally, let’s look at the expert on bridal registries. Are you married? Ever been to a wedding? Maybe your daughter just got engaged. Maybe you just got divorced. Who knows, either way, weddings, brides, and grooms are something everyone comes into contact with now and again. Don’t let the experience go to waste.

Puffing Up Your Portfolio

So, whether it’s soap derbies or weddings, soap boxes or divorces, you’ve combed through your daily, weekly, or monthly list of freelance writing opportunities and found a few that you’d like to go for. Unfortunately, they all require experts and you’re not. Okay, don’t panic. After all, you’re a writer. Right? So create a character who IS an expert: YOU!

For instance, say there’s a new opportunity for educational writers at some high and mighty software company. They need people to write test items for reading comprehension CD-ROMs or some such thing. The work is steady, the pay is good, and you’d like your portfolio to be a little tech-heavier than it already is. (or isn’t!) So, create a freelance writer who has some educational writing experience:

‘My name is Freda Freelancer and I’d appreciate it if you would consider the writing samples enclosed for your educational software program as advertised on As a veteran educational author, my work has appeared in numerous professional journals, including Parent Power and Kidz Time. My weekly educational column on recycling was a popular favorite in my local newspaper, and my work in public school classrooms has kept me in tune with today’s hot trends and cool lingo for school kids. Thanks in advance for your time and consideration, yadda yadda . . .’

Sounds impressive, right? Is it true? Sure. All of it. Let’s break it down and you’ll see:


  • Educational author: You’ve been collecting essays about your ten-year-old son’s elementary school experiences for years. Writing them makes you an author, and aren’t they all about education? Hey, it didn’t say ‘published educational author,’ did it?
  • Parent Power: Don’t you remember writing that 300-word essay on kids and violent TV for the local giveaway parent magazine? Sure you do. So dust it off and send it in.
  • Kidz Time: Sure, Kidz Time was a failed e-zine put together by a group of your freelancing friends, but the fifty-three folks who subscribed just loved your entertaining kids poem about cockroaches! Photocopy it, and include it.
  • Weekly educational column: Once upon a time, not so long ago, you submitted several reader columns or letters to the editor about recycling, or the lack of it, in your community. Several of them appeared in the same month. If that’s not the definition of a ‘weekly column,’ I don’t know what is.
  • Work in public school classrooms: Hey, you’ve been a room mother or volunteered to supervise field trips for your kids, right? Well, that certainly qualifies as ‘work,’ doesn’t it?


See how that works? Now all that’s left to do is prove it. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable or particularly proud of your published clips from Parent Power and Kidz Time, spend an evening or two working up a new sample that is more along the lines of what the project you’re pitching requires. Don’t worry that it hasn’t been published. Just call it your ‘latest work,’ and make sure it’s your best!

Submit Everywhere!

To make it easier on yourself and add to your ‘expert’ status, start submitting everything you’ve ever written everywhere you can. Newspaper clippings, reviews of consumer products on the Web, letters to the editor of your favorite magazine, these can all come in handy when you go to pitch your expert opinion to a prospective editor or client in the future.

For years I’ve been telling editors that my ‘ . . . essays, ideas, articles and opinions have appeared in such well-respected, national periodicals as Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens . . .’ Is this true? You bet. I’m no liar. However, nowhere does it mention that the material that appeared in both magazines were the simple, easy,$ 50 a pop kind of tips that appear in reader columns such as ‘Holiday Helpers’ and ‘Cooking Quickies.’ Barely a paragraph each, they both had to do with simple and fun alternatives to trick-or-treating on Halloween!

Hardly hard-hitting investigative journalism, but both magazines are biggies in the industry and have helped add to my professional aura from day one. Let’s face it: You ARE an expert! On hard work and determination. On perseverance and ingenuity. Now all that’s left is to become an expert on everything else . . .


Rusty Fischer is the author of FREEDOM TO FREELANCE: The Editor of The Buzz On Series Reveals How To FIND, GET and KEEP Your Next Freelance Job, available for sale as an eBook from

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