Q. I've been published several times as a freelance writer, but how do I move from freelancing to getting assignments directly from editors? Is this something that happens at an editor's initiative, or is there a part that the writer plays too? I've been published in one publication three times. Is this part of the process toward receiving assignments?
A. You are on the right track. Assignments typically come to writers who have been published a number of times in a particular publication, and have shown the editor that they understand the specific needs of the publication, and of their readers. Just be sure the publication you are targeting actually makes assignments. A few just depend on submissions from freelancers. However, most will assign feature articles or articles that reflect the theme of each issue (if the publication is theme oriented), and depend on freelance submissions for the rest.
I would suggest that you do an in-depth analysis of any publications that you would want assignments from, and start sending queries for articles that are closely aligned to their needs. If you display an intimate understanding of the editor's needs, you are bound to be noticed. This is particularly true if you are able to write articles on more obscure topics—but ones that they need. Editors typically are flooded with articles or queries on the more common aspects of their target, so are looking for writers who can come up with related articles that explore something new or unique. As you seek out those publications you would like to write for, look for those that need something you are uniquely qualified to write—or that requires specialized know-how you have. For example, for a publication that targets families, don't offer the same kind of articles they get all the time. Determine how you can make your query stand out because it offers something new and exciting for their readers.
After you have started building a relationship with the editor, and have had a half dozen pieces accepted, it is also OK to let the editor know you are open to assignments, as long as you don't push the issue. But chances are, by the time you reach that point, the editor is likely to bring it up without any prompting from you. Editors are always on the look-out for writers who have proved they can provide what the editor needs, meets deadlines, and has a passion for the needs of the readers.