Friday, May 15, 2009

My Freelance Writing Secrets


My Freelance Writing Secrets

Though I’ve spent more than half my career being a freelance writer, I often refer to myself as a “freelance cheater,” since most of those years I either had very steady gigs for USA Today and The Associated Press or was under contract to The Sporting News, Details Magazine, Maximum Golf, and The Village Voice.

Because of my success in this incredibly challenging end of the business, I’m constantly asked by novice freelancers: “What’s your secret?”

The following is a 10-point list of what I tell them:

1) Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride. Even if you're talented, the work sometimes comes in great waves, and then, often without reason, dries up suddenly. That’s the life. Deal with it—develop a tough mindset, keep pushing—or try something else.

2) You must be disciplined. If you can't force yourself to put in at least five hours a day either writing or researching or pitching ideas to editors or interviewing people or studying the craft as well as the business, forget about it. To this day, I’ll sometimes put in 10-hour days.

3) While you're doing one story, you must be securing the next one. You have to continue hustling and keeping the stories—and money—coming in. I’m often working on two things simultaneously, writing one, researching and interviewing for the other.

4) You must get paid by the word, NOT the STORY. Fight as best you can for more money per word (you should never settle for less than 50 cents unless you have little or no talent or little or no experience) and pose to do stories for as many words as possible. I’d rather do a 10,000-word piece for 50 cents a word than a 500-word piece for a dollar a word.

5) You must get chummy with editors. Establish a network of them that you can call on the phone easily. Editors control your fate. Love them—at least for the time you’re dealing with them.

6) Develop an expertise, but also try to be versatile at the same time. This broadens your marketability to the max.

7) Shoot high (or as high as your experience allows at the time). Don't keep trying to publish stories in obscure places that pay little or no money. Go for newspapers/magazines/websites that even your friends outside of writing know. No matter what, keep moving higher and higher. This will, in the process, pressure you into stretching your writing chops more and more.

8) Brainstorm ideas constantly. Your lifeblood is great ideas. You should always have more great ideas than the competition. Editors LOVE writers with great ideas; it takes the pressure off them.

9) Don't be another begging freelancer for too long, but a “contract” freelancer. There’s a big difference. A contract freelancer is considered within the industry the cream of the crop and, pound for pound, they get paid way higher than staff writers. Once you've published around four, five stories with one publication and have been met with rave reviews by the editor, you should press for a “contributing” deal (which is a guaranteed amount of money per story for a set amount of stories). I won’t mislead you. These deals aren’t easy to get, especially in this economy, but it should be on your to-do list down the road. These deals will separate you from the rest of the starving freelancer pack.

10) Don't be discouraged. Everybody gets rejected. Just keep moving forward, leaping over all obstacles to the next editor or publication. I truly believe this is my ultimate secret to success. I’ve never let any rejection, any unkind words, or any mean editor stop me.

Good luck!

Best always and stay positive,

Mike




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4 comments:

Ana V. said...

Thank you very much for sharing this.

thewritecorner said...

Thank you for the great tips, Mike. Being a freelance writer myself, I can understand much of what you have said. Just one thing though - These tips are more for experienced freelance writers than for new ones. If a beginner follows these tips, he/she won't be able to get anywhere.

Horrible Sanity said...

Hi Mike,

I posted a link to this in my blog. Check it out.

scherazade said...

Cheers for that, Mike - it gets hard to remember why we do what we do sometimes, and whether the slog is worth it. A moment of fellowship is much valued.