Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Two Cents on Freelance Writing

People ask me all the time: Is it better to be a freelance or staff writer?

It's such a tough question to answer, since so many variables need to be considered.


How much of a yearly salary would you like to make?

At what stage in your writing career are you?

Are you the breadwinner of the family or a secondary source of income?

Are you single or married?

Where do you live?

How disciplined are you?

Every situation is vastly different.

I've been a freelancer for most of my life and, truth be told, absolutely love the—-at least most of it.

I love being my own boss.

I never get bored writing for the same place over and over again.

And, best of all, I have the ultimate, glorious freedom to write only when I felt like it, even if it was at three in the morning, as long as I hit my deadlines (which I always did).

I'll admit, though, it wasn't always easy.

The freelance life is a roller coaster of making a lot of money one month and none the next, of paying your own health insurance and devising your own retirement plan, of toughly negotiating your own deals, and, maybe worst of all, making tons of cold calls to editors.


To be among the best at freelancing, you must not only be relentlessly aggressive in amassing work (through time-consuming query letters, phone calls, or, preferably, face-to-face meetings) but sometimes, after the work is finally done, being a relentless bill collector as well.

Double yuk!

At my best, I had two contributing contracts at once (which means I got guaranteed dollars for X amount of stories in a given year, whether I wrote them or not, whether the editors liked them or not) and was paid a per-word rate between $1.50 and $3.00 (in contrast to the late Norman Mailer, who received no less than $5 a word).

In a way, I was a freelance "cheater," since I was something between a staff and freelance writer. But, in retrospect, I'm convinced that that's really the only way to do it if you want to make serious dough and have a decent lifestyle, instead of always being on the hustle and struggling for the next month's rent money.

The bottom line is, despite my utter joy freelancing, I wouldn't suggest it to anyone, especially now, with so many freelance budgets since 9/11 having been reduced significantly, if not in the process of being all but wiped out completely.

So in my humble been-there-done-that opinion: Hands down, unless income isn't a priority, try as best you can to land a staff writing job—and all the great benefits (medical insurance, 401K plans, disability and life insurance, etc.) that come along with it.

If you already freelance, you may want to have the end-goal in mind being that you're merely using it as a stepping stone to something permanent.

That's my two cents.

Good luck, no matter what you choose to pursue!

Best always and stay positive,


1 comment:

Sonja Cassella said...

So what's a writer to do if we don't feel in-house is for us? Should we take a day job and then write for fun nights and weekends? Or write ad copy? Do you think the "realities" for freelance magazine writers have changed? I've been telling people they have, but usually I get a doubtful stare of disbelief.