Go into freelancing armed with the resources you need to succeed
If you’re already freelancing and looking for a refresher on resources, or if you’re thinking about giving the lifestyle a try (even if it’s part time), here are four different kinds of resources to get you going – with more than a few grains of salt.
Of course the first place most people will look is online, but instead of just plugging “freelance writing” into Google, start with Full Time to Freelance. It’s written by Andrea M. Rotondo, who left a fulltime editor gig in 2015 and has found a better financial life on the freelance end of the business. Aside from her website, which she updates weekly, Rotondo also offers a free course about freelancing.
To scope out potential outlets, check out Who Pays Writers. It’s a website where writers report on their experiences – and pay – at different websites and magazines. It can give you an idea of a publication’s rates, whether or not they pay on time, and how those markets treat their writers. Two caveats, though. One: it’s easy to scroll through the website and, after seeing listing after listing for work that pays less than $.20/word, to come away with the idea that low pay is common, normal and acceptable. It’s not. Two: It’s an anonymously crowdsourced website; read with a dash of skepticism. The listings aren’t verified (which means sometimes the site gets rants like this).
And even though Michelle Rafter no longer updates this site, the archives of Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age are worth a read. The topics she covered, like negotiating rates, turning down bad offers and how to write a letter of introduction, are timeless.
Not all job boards are bad – they’re a place where editors sometimes go to find quality candidates for work they need done. But job boards can also be cesspools, loaded with cheats and con artists looking to get as much work out of you as possible for almost nothing – or nothing at all.
Pete Croatto, a freelancer based in Ithaca, N.Y., has been looking at job boards for 10 years, and recently wrote about it for The Writer. He says that while you don’t need to exclude job boards, make sure they’re not your only source of leads. Instead, he said, “reach out to old editor friends, reach out to a colleague. That has a better chance of landing you a gig than going to an online job posting where who knows how many people are going to apply.”
Boards where he’s found to have the best opportunities: Journalismjobs.com, Freelancewritinggigs.com and Mediabistro.com. I only check out freelance boards occasionally, but I’ve had success at looking at who is posting full-time job opportunities and then pitching myself as a freelancer to fill the gap until they hire someone.
Not everyone hunting for writers will post on job boards. Instead, many post it on their Twitter feeds, or share to their writer guidelines if they’re open to new contributors. I landed an assignment for Buzzfeed, where I’d never written before, when they posted they were looking for mental health pitches (and they just put out a new call for pitches, this time about money and class). So follow places where you hope to write, and their editors, too. Also, while you’re there, a good freelance hashtag to check out: #freelancemafia. You’ll find other freelancers on the platform that way.
ASJA is a 69-year old organization that caters to and advocates for writers who strike out on their own. This includes authors, journalists, copywriters, ghostwriters – people who make a living by writing. You must apply to be a member (and that’s how you get access to their newsletter, message boards and Paycheck, which is where members report pay and experiences at different outlets), but that doesn’t stop you from getting their free newsletter, or going to their conferences. They hold one annually in New York City but also have upcoming events in Chicago and Austin. In the non-member section of their website, they also share “Grievance Self-Help” which is a toolkit for dealing with copyright infringement and payment issues.
Freelance Success is a 25-year-old, more informal organization that I joined 13 years ago when I started freelancing. Little has changed about the look or format of it with a weekly newsletter and message boards, but the information – and the people – therein have been invaluable.
It’s easy to think that freelancers are destined to just be scraping by (I didn’t even need to go far to find another example), but places like Freelance Success (called FLX by members) show otherwise.
“Most FLXers make a pretty good living at this,” said Jennie L. Phipps, editor and publisher. “More than 50 percent earn more than $50,000 a year and about 25 percent earn more than $100,000. A lot of them have backgrounds in some kind of media, but not all.”
The newsletters are helpful (I just landed a new client from one) but it’s the message boards that provide both helpful information and a sounding board.
“You don’t have to tell the world on your Facebook account that you are considering a certain publication or that you got some assignment and can’t figure out how to get paid,” Phipps said. “On the FLX forums, you’ll get expert help and sympathy from a small and friendly group who have been there and done that.” Freelance Success costs $99 a year.
The Renegade Writer books by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell show you every aspect of hanging out your freelance shingle. I’d start with The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success, a comprehensive overall look at the industry that I used as a textbook when I taught freelancing. Next, read From Pitch to Print: How to Sell Your Article Ideas to Magazines, which digs more into the craft of it.
Another book I assigned to my freelance class was Kelly James-Enger’s Six Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money. It’s a practical guide from a freelancer who went from making $17,000 in her first year of freelancing to earning six figures. The book helps you open your eyes to who needs writers, which extends well beyond the newsstand publications and big name websites.
Speaking of money: if you can’t figure how to handle the roller coaster pay that comes with freelancing, you won’t be able to make it in the business no matter how good of a writer you are. For that, I recommend The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers and the Self Employed by Joseph D’Angese and Denise Kiernan. It’s helped me get – and keep – my financial house in order, and it’s a lot easier to focus on the work when you know you’ll be able to pay your bills at the end of the month.