You’ve decided to try your hand at professional writing. Or you’ve been trying, but can’t seem to get your big break. Use these six essential steps before you apply for that next writing job. Just a little foresight and planning can make all the difference and win you the gig.

1. Be very honest with yourself about your intentions, and skill level

Are you looking for experience? To build your resume with clips? To share your opinion and expand your expertise? To get an audience for other projects? Is your writing up to snuff? Do you know how to use spell check and critique your own work? Editing your own work and making sure you can handle critique of others will make you a more sought-after writer. If you can make the editor’s job easier, and are not going to be emotionally destroyed if you receive criticism – you will be a writer that a publication will hang on to.

2. Do you read the publication?

If it’s a magazine, newspaper or website that you frequently read, you probably have a good idea of the tone of the publication. If it’s more than a one-off piece, would you still enjoy writing in that tone in another six months? If you haven’t read the publication that you are applying for, spend some time on research. Don’t just visit the homepage. Read the magazine, paper or online articles. Would you really enjoy writing for the readers of the target job?

3. Get your samples together.

If you have relevant clips and samples to show the prospective editor, all the better. If you don’t have clips in the target area (e.g. technology, or gardening) but have life knowledge on the subject, you can still create samples. You might write a few blog entries on the subject – write them with a journalist’s flair. Submit a few for pay or for free to some online magazine communities. Fact – check. Cite sources. Write like you already have the gig.

4. Review your resumè.

Does it show your latest relevant experience? Include links to your writing samples (college essays too). Make sure your contact information are clearly visible. Use spell check. If you don’t edit your own document that is supposed to get you the job, a publication likely wont have confidence that you’ll properly edit your work for them. Include any writing courses or Writing Coaches you’ve used to hone your craft. Writing college essays for students is legit, so if that’s what you’re good at focus on students as clients.

5. Plan ahead.

Think of at least three articles you would like to write for the site. Include the ideas in the cover letter or query. Keep a copy, if this publication doesn’t hire you, develop query letters amp; outlines for each article idea. You can pitch them directly to appropriate publications and / or have them available for “on spec” or sample pieces.

6. Want the gig, don’t need the gig.

You should already have your bills covered by some other means. Make sure your basic living needs are taken care of, until you get that dream job or have enough freelancing jobs to earn more than what your current “day job” brings in.

Professional writing is a business. And there are best practices that you can use to be a professional, paid writer. Utilize these six tips that I use with my coaching clients to help them grow their writing business. With good habits, some skill, and lots of drive, you, too, can become a professional writer.