The Art of Freelancing
—By Laura Shebey
.....For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to become an educator. When I was still in elementary school, I vividly remember role-playing with my friends. But instead of playing the usual game of "house" we would play school; I was the teacher. As a high schooler, my desire to become a teacher never dwindled, but now I was also interested in writing. I enrolled in a Journalism course, and towards the end of the course, we briefly touched on freelance writing. Ever since then, I have wanted to learn more about this art.
.....Recently, I had an opportunity to review four books about freelancing: Freelance Forever by Marieta Whittlesey, How You Can Make $20,000 a Year Writing by Nancy Edmonds Hansen, Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert W. Bly, and The Freelance Writer's Handbook by Gary Provost. I also interviewed two freelance writers and editors, Anne Wallingford and KK*. (*By request, interviewee's name has been deleted.)
.....Nancy Edmonds Hanson's book, How you can Make $20,000 a Year Writing (No Matter Where You Live), is an excellent resource for the beginning freelancer. This book takes a step-by-step approach to freelancing, and is written in a very easy-to-follow style. Hanson gives her readers very specific details on what they should expect from themselves as freelancers and also clues them in as to what clients will expect.
.....Right from the first chapter, Hanson makes it clear that it is not necessarily skill that makes a person a successful freelancer, but more of a combination of self-discipline, dedication, and hard work . This is especially true if a person has another job that supplements their freelance writing work. Since there is already an income source coming into the household from a second job, it is much harder for that person to stay focused and motivated to write. However, staying focused and motivated is not as much as a problem for those who only freelance because if they lose their focus, they end up not being able to provide for their families. Not being able to pay the bills is a very real fear for most all freelancers.
.....Another important point that Hanson makes is that beginning freelancers must be able to market themselves. People have to be able to sell themselves when it comes to making others believe in their abilities to write well. According to Hanson, "If you cannot or will not sell your ideas on the open market, freelancing is as unlikely career for you as real estate." . If a writer wants to lure in a client, he or she has to give that client a reason to believe that this writer is best suited for the job. When it comes to freelancing, the competition is great. If writers fails to sell themselves, there will be hundreds of others who will gladly take their place.
.....To become a freelancer, Hanson warns that a person must first be prepared for the inevitable: rejection and failure. Every freelancer receives rejection letters, and while these letters may be more than discouraging at first, they are no reason to give up on the dream of becoming a freelancer. A person who is determined to prosper as a freelancer must maintain a positive attitude at all times and must go into every project with the intention of succeeding .
.....To increase one's odds of succeeding, it is important for a person to not limit himself or herself to just one market. A person must be flexible and willing to accept all work that comes his or her way, no matter how insignificant or low paying the job may seem. Hanson asks her readers to keep in mind that they are the ones looking for work and that the clients they are hoping to work for were not even looking for them. Writers should never assume that their work is perfect or flawless, no matter how good they may be, and they gracefully accept all work that comes their way. .
.....Another recommendation of Hanson's is that when writers are ready to start writing, they must first provide themselves with the right environment—establish a writing office just for this purpose. While lying on the living room floor with a hot cup of coffee may seem enticing, writers will do their best work when seated at their home office computer.
A full-time freelancer deserves an office. That office is symbolic, to be sure. It's a place that local clients can picture you at work, a place that you can casually refer to in conversations with friends who think you're unemployed and editors who call. It's a sanctuary .
.....Hanson also believes there are certain items every freelancer should have in the office: a comfortable chair, a phone, a word processor, files to help promote better organization, a bookcase full of reference books, business stationery with a letterhead, business cards, and personal mailing labels . Having the right attitude and the right environment to work in helps a freelance writer tackle what lies ahead.
.....Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert W. Bly emphasizes the dollar sign that is attached to a writer's work. Bly's book targets those who already freelance, whether part-time or full-time, and focuses on how a freelancer can make all the money he or she deserves. This book is broken down into two main sections: Part 1, How to Build a Successful Freelance Writing Business, and Part 2, Freelance Writing Assignments That Pay Big Money—And How to Get Them. Bly suggests using a brand new approach to writing, commercial writing as opposed to conventional magazine writing, will earn freelancers big money.
.....Similar to Hanson, Bly stresses that every freelancer must have the following three qualifications to make a solid income of $85,000 a year: a new attitude, dedication, and sales ability [4-5].
Whether you handle commercial projects full-time or part-time, you have to dedicate yourself to the task. You must treat the work you do for your clients with respect—not contempt. If you can really muster no enthusiasm for writing an annual report or a corporate brochure or sales letter, your lack of enthusiasm will show in your writing .
.....Towards the end of Bly's book there is a chapter called "Extra Ways to Boost Your Income." According to Bly, one should have another job at the same time one is writing.
Teaching doesn't pay terribly well—in fact, it pays terribly—but when you're starting out (as a freelancer), it's nice to have a regular income, no matter how small. In my first year of freelancing, I taught a course for Westwinds, a private adult-education institute in New York City. Although the pay was paltry, teaching provided much-needed pocket money until my freelance-writing business took off .
.....Reading this chapter left me confused, though, because the information I gathered from additional reading supplements and personal interviews suggested that it is best to have a regular job or career before becoming a full-time freelancer so you have something to fall back upon if freelancing turns out to be not for you.
.....While most freelancing books tell readers all the ins-and-outs of freelancing, and explain how to make it as a writer, Marietta Whittlesey takes a different approach. In her book Freelance Forever, Whittlesey does not emphasize how to freelance, per se, but instead gives advice on how to make it on the business end of freelancing. This book includes topics such as legal advice, tips on money management, interviews with successful freelancers, and more.
.....Many people assume that the life of a freelancer is simple and relaxed, and are drawn to the flexibility that freelancing offers—set your own hours, work at home, and be your own boss. But Whittlesey brings to life the reality of what it is like to be a freelancer, leaving not one aspect to be sugar-coated.
As a freelancer, you are your own employer and employee and your talent is in your product. Nothing that you do in your life is ever completely separate from your work. Your work even extends into your emotional and romantic life. You make all the decisions about your own work. You receive little or no direction from your superiors—the responsibility is all yours. Usually you don't even have the benefit of co-workers with whom to discuss problems. In fact, nothing is made easy for you. You don't have such perks as group health plans, unemployment, and disability income, or employee credit unions. Nor do you have the security of a regular paycheck [xi].
.....What I found especially interesting were two bits of advice Whittlesey shares with her readers. Her first rule for survival is, "Nature doesn't give a damn about you, an individual, no matter how important you seem to yourself [xii]." Her second rule for survival is "…become bilingual: to learn not only the language of your art but also the language of business and commerce" [xii]. When it comes to freelancing, the aspiring freelancer is the one seeking work and trying to build a reputation. Freelancers must do everything they can to get anywhere.
.....The first three sections of Whittlesey's book are very technical and informative regarding the business aspects of freelancing, while the last section, Part IV, Your Mind and Body, concentrates solely on psychological advice for the freelancer, and includes chapters on Health and Nutrition, Time Out (sleep/vacations), The Freelancer Parent (how to work at home with all the stresses of daily life), Freelancing and Your Relationships (work versus love), and Occupational Hazards to the Psyche (coping with writer's block, depression, rejection, and anxiety.) But what perplexes me is that since this book has an entire section on psychological problems associated with freelancing, is freelancing really better than the average nine-to-five job?
.....The last book I chose to review was the 1999 Writer's Market. According to my high school journalism teacher, "For those of you who get involved with freelancing, The Writer's Market will become your new Bible…" This book not only contains listings for 1998 magazine publishers, 1170 book publishers, and a plethora of agents, it also includes chapters on Getting Published, the Business of Writing, Literary Agents, and The Markets.
.....Personally, one of the most helpful subjects was Don Prues' information about query letters. This chapter explains everything one needs to know about writing successful query letters, including sections on "The Ten Query Commandments" and "The Ten Query Sins."
....."The Ten Query Commandments" tells freelancers what every query letter must be—professional, new, provocative, creative, focused, customized, multifaceted, realistic, accredited, and conclusive, while "The Ten Query Sins" explains what no query letter must ever be—wordy, sketchy, presumptuous, egotistical, reluctant, loose-lipped, stubborn, intrusive, inappropriate, and careless . These chapters are great because you can easily refer back to these lists to see where your query letter falls, and you can go back and revise your letter as needed.
.....Another section "What the Clinic Shows You" includes eight sample queries, four of which are deemed excellent, and four of which are ridden with multiple problems. Each of these samples is analyzed in great detail, so the reader can see why the letters are either good or bad.
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© 2000 by Laura Shebey. Edited by Anne Wallingford.
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