I joined four other freelancers and publishers on a discussion panel at the Write on Bowen! festival on Bowen Island, B.C. last weekend. Here are some of the tips I gave in a handout afterward:
1. If you freelance full-time, try and have at least three regular clients. That way, when one goes bust, you won’t feel so devastated. On the up side, while publications fold with depressing regularity, new ones continue to start up and give you new markets.
2. Specialize. Become an expert on a really obscure subject, and write on it in depth. If you write wishy-washy features with no clear focus, and pitch them to major consumer magazines, your emails will disappear into the ether.
3. If you live in Canada, don’t rely on the Canadian market alone: it’s far too small, and it’s not freelance-friendly. Pitch to U.S. magazines, webzines, online news and feature websites too.. If you live in the U.S., try Canadian markets as well.
4. Better still, pitch internationally. Try British, Japanese, Chinese markets etc.
5. Don’t obsess about having great clips. Most editors don’t care what you did for someone else – they just want to know if you can write something useful for them. Pitch an idea for an event about to happen, that they haven’t covered, but is right for their publication.
6. Most publications want first time rights or first time North American serial rights. If you write a story on your blog or website, that counts as publishing. Only include these stories after they’ve been published somewhere else (and link to them), or if you aren’t intending to make money from them. For example, if you are blogging to promote yourself and your ideas.
7. Write with the reader in mind, not your ego. Timely news stories that keep people up-to-date or give practical information always have a strong market.
8. Freelance for lifestyle reasons: to have more freedom, to be able to work from home or in coffee shops, or to write the stories you want. If you want or need a steady income, get a staff job. You’ll make more money there.
9. Don’t forget to take a vacation. You may think employers/clients won’t like it, but actually, it’s often the opposite. They are impressed that you are making enough money to take a break. And what’s the point of freelancing, if you are chained to your computer? Just make sure to give clear warning of when you will be away, send an email reminder just before you leave town and stack up stories if necessary.
10. Most important of all, write on topics you are passionate about.