Thanks go out to Mike
for asking me the question that led to this post.
I've always wanted to write. After graduating from high school, I earned my diploma in Creative Advertising and Broadcasting. I wasn't prepared for the four-year Journalism or English degree route, and advertising paid better anyway.
Trouble was, it's really hard to get a job in advertising as a writer. I ended up working for Satan
as a production coordinator. Sometimes he'd let me write ads if I had time...or took the work home. ;)
After two years of hell, I started getting offered more and more cash to be a production/project manager for graphic design and printing projects at different companies. It was great money, but I longed to write.
So I started volunteering to work as a writer on some of the projects I was managing. And get asked by friends and family to help with their cover letters, resumes and other written stuff.
In 2002 I quit my job and went to comedy school
for a year...
And discovered that the job market for comedians is even more scarce than for copywriters. Throwing in the towel on both fronts, I took a well-paying project management job at a marketing firm.
I lasted three months. That was in April 2003 - SARS time. I sure know how to pick the right time to walk away from a paying gig.
So I started emailing and calling everyone on my list of contacts, seeing if anyone needed a writer. A few of them did, and I started building my portfolio. I even took on some jobs for free, just to add more stuff.
Then I was approached by Performance In Motion magazine about writing an article about being married to an automotive enthusiast. Instead, I offered them a column
- and they bought it!
Headhunters continued to call for project management gigs, and I kept on insisting on writing work only. Enter Toronto's tourism board
I interviewed for a two-month gig, and warned them that I had other writing projects that I might need to juggle with their projects. They agreed - and kept me on until I left 18 months later to pursue freelancing full time. That was at the end of March this year.
Here's what I can share with others thinking this would be a cool way to work:1. Don't quit your day job
until you are earning enough through your current freelance work to survive. (I have a very supportive husband, literally.)2. Make sure you have more than four clients.
Rely too much on one source of income, and you're screwed when they go under, run out of projects that need writers or hire a relative.3. Don't work for free for longer than you need to.
And if you do work for free, see about using your research to create another article that you can sell. Or insist on having the rights revert back to you upon publication and sell reprints to other markets.4. Network.
Do it. It actually works. The best gigs I've gotten (i.e. clients that pay their bills) have been through referrals by people I've met and connected with. Writing is a lonely business, so keep in touch.5. If you don't ask, you don't get.
Send out query letters. Enter contests. Don't stop. Even when things get busy, you need to pay attention to the months ahead.6. Contracts matter.
Insist on them or something in writing (even in an email) outlining the assignment, the amount you will be paid and when you will be paid. There is a huge difference between "pays on acceptance" and "pays upon publication", especially if the magazine is a quarterly.7. Register with a placement firm
like Aquent (for short-term proofreading gigs) or an Office Temp-type place for data-entry, filing and easy office work. These gigs come in very handy when you need to get out of the house and earn some good money in a day or week.8. Keep on finding new projects.
There are a gazillion markets and clients out there. Check craig's list for opportunities for writers. (I've picked up a few gigs this way, but always beware and most are "low/no pay".)9. Get creative.
Okay, you already are. But if a client wants you to work for free, suggest a barter of some sort. I'm currently working with a client who can't afford to pay in cash, but will help in building my website. How cool is that?10. If you're on the right track, you'll know.
Since April, I have had true moments of absolute panic where I would worry that my total earnings would be $100 for the month. Then I'd get a proofreading gig, or payment for a long-forgotten article would arrive. BONUS TIP: Don't tell people you want to be a writer, tell them you are a writer.
Yes, it's feast or famine, but I haven't been this happy in years. And former coworkers insist that I look 5-10 years younger. Who needs Botox?