Profile of a Freelance Writer (Generalist)
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career as a freelance writer began quite serendipitously. And throughout
my career I have been able to take advantage of opportunities.
I had been
working for several years as a director of student financial aid (which I
also entered serendipitously, but that’s a whole other story). A good part
of that job involves writing: brochures, consumer information, memos, even
research papers, and I always enjoyed that part most.
lost my job I used my contacts to get hired to help write materials for a
federal training contract. When that project ended, I spoke with another
of my contacts in financial aid – at the Law School Admission Council – who
needed to revise his brochures and create better consumer information.
got started it became clear that instead of just revising the materials he
had, we needed to create a whole book about financing a law school
education. After that book, I approached the Graduate Management Admission
Council and convinced them that they, too, needed a similar book. This led
to several other books on similar topics.
At the same
time I started my own newsletter on college planning. Because I had worked
in the field for so long, I was able to recruit professionals to write many
of the articles. While the newsletter wasn’t very successful, it opened some
doors. One of the people I met at one of the newsletter publishers
association meetings – it’s important to get involved with these types of
organizations – had taken a job with a publisher and asked me if I
wanted to help out there.
For a few
years I worked part time as an editor and subject matter expert at
Peterson’s, which published books on higher education. One of the editors
left there and took a job at Macmillan publishing. And when together we came
up with an idea for a series of books on admission and financial aid, I was
hired as series editor and co-author.
are a published author, the public, including those hiring people, considers
you an expert. It then becomes easier to convince them to hire you. And
that, of course, builds on itself. But there are always those times when
things aren’t quite so rosy. Those are the tough times and you need to do
whatever you need to do.
for example, because I had no work I took a job as a driver. For a few
months on an on-call basis, I drove corporate executives to and from the
airport. During one of those drives, the executive and I talked. And when
he realized that I could write, I applied for and got hired in the company
advertising department as a copy writer. He and I had already
established a relationship. The only thing needed was for me to prove I
could write. I worked there for a year while continuing to freelance.
continues to be bumpy, despite the fact that I have written 12 books. I
am continually marketing myself to just about everyone I know
professionally. Even to those I know from other, non-professional areas.
You just never know where your next opportunity will come from.
college reunion, for example, I reconnected with a friend who has since
hired me several times to work on his company’s materials. At a social
gathering, a friend from financial aid days asked me if I could write
documentation for new software in financial aid. “Of course,” I responded.
And this project led to almost five years of ongoing work within the same
organization. And just the other day I talked with someone at my gym
about what I do and about her work. You just never know.
Last fall I
wrote to my publisher, who had moved up in the company, and asked if she had
or knew of any projects on which I could work. Soon after I was contacted by
one of the editors and, as a result, got a contract to write another book.
of all this is that you must always be looking for opportunities. At the
same time, you don’t want to “market” everyone you meet. That’s a
balance you have to find for yourself.
Here’s how I view it:
You let people
know what you do (i.e. freelance writer)
You let people
know that you’re available for work
indicate an interest, you let them know that a good writer can write on any
to work on your craft
is, I believe, you have to be willing to say yes to opportunities, even if
you’re unsure of your ability to carry it off successfully. You have to
check craigslist.org, monster.com, your local newspapers, and, of course,
inkwelleditorial.com. And you have to let your circle of colleagues know
you’re looking and available for work.
freelancers have difficulty responding to the question of what they charge.
I really like my answer. I say, “it depends.” That sounds like a cop-out,
but I don’t leave it there. I say, “It depends on whether it’s a long-term
or short-term project.” I explain that for short-term or one-time projects I
have to charge more, and that usually goes over well.
other thing about fees is that most people have in mind what they want to
spend. So I ask them and make it clear that a ballpark figure is fine.
They usually respond and if I feel that’s reasonable, I either accept or ask
if they might consider going up a little (you’d be surprised how many times
the figure is higher than what you would have asked for).
If it’s too
low, I will say so – nicely, of course – and say that while I’d like to do
the project, I need a bit more. If they ask how much, then I know it’s now
not a question of whether they’re interested but one of coming up with the
right amount. Since they’ve already given you a starting point, you can
use your best judgment to figure out how much higher they’ll go. And
whether you want to risk losing the job for just a few more dollars.
Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.
lifestyle is more important than money. Of course, that’s easy for me to say
because my wife has a good job and we’re not hurting for money.
Nevertheless, I could get a good job (I’ve actually had some along the way).
But now I enjoy being able to go on trips with my wife who travels
frequently. And I enjoy staying at home, not having to commute. It’s a
tradeoff, of course. You have to like being by yourself. And you have to
enjoy spending half or more of your time marketing yourself – unless you’re
Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. And I have been successfully
working as a writer only because I didn’t have the total responsibility for
bringing home the bacon.
Great Falls, VA
(571) 239-0511 (cell)