Sunday, October 4, 2009

5 Myths about Freelance Writing

5 Myths about Freelance Writing
By Michael P. Geffner

Let me start with a pet peeve, something that continues to boggle my mind—and that’s how much misinformation there is all over the Net about freelance writing.

It makes me roll my eyes, shake my head, and even chuckle sometimes.

But mostly, it makes me terribly sad, because I keep thinking about all the aspiring freelance writers being led astray, thrown wildly off course, maybe forever.

During my weaker moments, it infuriates me enough to where I rant about it occasionally on here or Twitter, even though I know that ranting does little good.

So, what I promise you is this: that at least in this space, I will try to make up for all wrongs out there, replace the bad advice with sound advice.

To that end, I give you:

The Five Myths about Freelance Writing

Myth #1: It's all about query letters, pitching ideas, and resumes.

Fact: In my entire freelancing career, which has produced over 8,000 published stories in mostly big market publications, I've gotten less than a handful of assignments from this approach, as have most of my peers. It's really about having good contacts, a broad network of editors as allies (people you can easily chat up on the phone with an ideas or ideas), and ultimately a great reputation (a writing style that’s both vibrant and unique, an ability to work well with editors and always hit deadlines, etc.). Mind you, this DOESN’T mean you SHOULDN’T query, pitch, or send resumes. I’m a strong believer in throwing as many strands of spaghetti as possible against the wall to see what sticks. Just don’t build all your hopes around getting an assignment upon those approaches alone.

Myth #2: It's impossible to make a living at it.

Fact: I won't lie. It's not easy. I've seen depressing stats about 86% of freelancers earning less than $30,000 a year—and I’m sure that in this economy, the percentage is likely much worse. But if you're talented, work hard, network like crazy and keep building your rep into something sterling, you can definitely break through and beat the odds, making as much as $3 a word or as high as $5,000-10,000 a story. Believe me, it’s possible!

Myth #3: Once you make it, it's a glorious life.

Fact: I'll admit that when it's going well and you're hot, it can be a dream of an existence—prime assignments, awesome travel, no boss hanging over your shoulder, waking up and going to bed when you please. But...on the bad side, it has no 401K plan, no paid health benefits, and no guaranteed income. When things cool off (and, believe me, even for the best of freelancers, it occasionally does), you sweat out paying the phone bill and the rent. Not fun. If you don't have the stomach for that, you need to get a staff position or a day job outside of writing.

Myth #4: It's a constant hustle.

Fact: At the beginning, it most definitely is. But if you're really good, you can move within time into that exclusive realm of “contract freelancer”—or what’s known as GUARANTEED MONEY. If you look at the masthead of magazines, you'll see the categories of “Contributing Writers” or “Contributing Editors” or “Writer at Large.” Those are almost always the contract freelancers, and they're the divas of magazine publishing, getting the most money for the hours they put in. A typical contract guarantees the writer a certain amount of money (as much as six figures) for doing a certain amount of stories in a given year. This is the top of the top of the food chain for a freelance writer, and if freelancing is what you want, then this is the prize you should always have your eyes on. It takes the struggle out of it.

Myth #5: One of the best ways to get freelance work is through online freelance job sites.

Fact: I never did this once. Nor have any of the many major freelancers I know. But if you remember from above, I’m a spaghetti-against-the-wall man. So, please, with my blessings, go for it and good luck!

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