Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dear Mike: How did you make it as a freelance writer?

Member Question: How did make it as a freelance writer? Isn’t it a tough way to make a living?

Mike: Tough is an understatement. It’s nearly impossible to survive without doing something else that’s not writing related. I did it by cheating a little. I’ll explain. For most of the 14 years I freelanced solely, I wasn’t a “real” freelancer” in the strict sense. I was never a writer hustling from story to story, publication to publication, fee to fee. I was a “contract freelancer.” Or what you see in mastheads as Contributing Writer or Contributing Editor. Big difference. I was contractually guaranteed a chunk of money and several stories every year. Of course, I earned this privilege. It’s not easy to nail one of these deals. You have to build a reputation and deliver copy so unique that no one else can replace you. That gives you what I call “the hammer.” Without this hammer, you’re always begging for work with pitches and query letters. And that’s an exhausting and, I believe, losing proposition. During my best times, I was signed to as many as three contracts simultaneously. So while I might’ve technically been a freelancer, I never worried about where my next story, or meal ticket, would come from.

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