A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Freelance Toolbox

May 15th, 2023 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Finding the fee in freelance

In most circles, it’s considered unsophisticated, uncouth and uncultured — and all of the other shameful “un” words — to talk about the money you make and the way you make it.  I don’t care. Let’s talk about it. As a freelancer, the matter of money involves a labyrinth of considerations, factors and variables, for which there is no universal solution that works for every writer or for every situation.

April 1st, 2020 • Featured, Quill Blog, Toolbox, Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelancers, Unemployment and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act

Can you show a decrease in your journalism income because of the current pandemic? Freelance journalists nationwide including sole proprietors, independent contractors and the self-employed (for example, S Corporation owners) might now be entitled unemployment benefits in their state. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the provisions of the unemployment program have been expanded to help provide temporary monetary relief for freelance journalists and other workers who illustrate a decrease in income resulting from the effects of the current pandemic virus on business operations.

February 18th, 2020 • Quill Blog, Toolbox, Freelance Toolbox, Narrative Writing Toolbox
Excerpt: Tips on organizing notes from “The Craft of Science Writing”

The new book The Craft of Science Writing is a curated collection from The Open Notebook, a primary resource for science journalists. It offers a primer on how to report and write about science, including how to read a scientific paper and how to explain complex concepts and processes clearly.

February 3rd, 2020 • Featured, Freelance Toolbox, Odds and Ends
Studies show…or maybe they don’t

Misinterpreted data and unsubstantiated conclusions plague press and social media. What can journalists do to stop them? Quill asked Rob Pyatt, who has presented workshops focused on teaching critical thinking skills, to chime in on the subject. Pyatt, an assistant professor in the New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics at Kean University, is certified in Clinical Molecular Genetics and serves as a director of the Oxy-Gen Laboratory in Norcross, Georgia. 

September 18th, 2018 • Toolbox, Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox, Freelancing
2017 law means changes for freelancers’ taxes

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) included several provisions that affect how independent journalists are taxed on their business income. We asked Matthew Apodaca, a certified public accountant and executive vice president at NCH Tax & Wealth Advisors in Fullerton, California, to help us understand the current tax situation for freelancers.

November 10th, 2016 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

I recently decided to become a full-time freelance journalist after working in the field part time over the past few years. As a full-time doctoral student, I knew I needed to do something that allowed for a flexible schedule and fulfilled my academic needs as well.

February 17th, 2016 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

I started freelancing nearly a decade ago, before the recession had taken hold. I’d worked at a community newspaper for several years, covering education, neighborhood news and the arts, and I wanted to explore new ground. At the time, it may have sounded risky to trade the downtown office for my sunroom, but the housing market hadn’t yet collapsed.

December 15th, 2015 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

In the last Freelance Toolbox column, I shared my teachable moments in pursuing digs as a freelancer as part of the issue’s Freedom of Information theme. The short version of the article is: learn from my costly mistakes. Do not submit a single word, or even discuss stories at length, without a cast-iron contract.

October 22nd, 2015 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

You’re a freelancer who decided to pursue a dig. You hit some sticky spots along the way. There are a few common issues that freelancers face. Gregg Leslie, legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and SPJ’s Ethics Committee chairman Andrew Seaman weigh in here and in the next issue of Quill on a few legal issues freelancers face.

August 17th, 2015 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

We freelancers live in our own world. So the concept of a shared office space, where individuals and small companies produce from one happy hub — working alongside one another but not necessarily with each other — seems ideal. It seems especially ideal to have access to an office at a discounted rate, with tools and equipment, and every journo’s lifeblood, endless coffee.

April 3rd, 2015 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Once we start digging into freelancing, it doesn’t take long before we find out that editors receive all kinds of queries every week. Even editors of publications with modest circulations receive lots of emails. So getting noticed can be tough, especially when one is just starting out.

February 3rd, 2015 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Travel is more a state of mind and less about where you go. Maybe that sounds New Age-y, but you don’t have to be a swingin’ single backpacker hiking hostel to hostel or a wealthy globetrotter to carve out a growing travel writing career.

December 9th, 2014 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

One of the hardest lessons to learn when freelancers start out is how to charge for services. Those coming out of professional careers may have a different perspective, but I’ve seen personally and among my artist friends that asking for money for a job you love to do sometimes feels like panhandling for spare change.

October 22nd, 2014 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Writing is hard. If writing comes easy, my guess is you’re either doing it wrong or you’re a genius, and I’ve never met a genius. Freelancers are faced with the toughest part of a tough job: finding the story. Beat reporters have the advantage — if you want to call it that — of tending small gardens of public interest, such as cops or schools, in which each blossom might decorate the next day’s publication; but freelancers trod acres upon acres of generally disregarded underbrush.

September 2nd, 2014 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Welcome to the (official) freelance community! You’re taking a bold step along with SPJ. The freelance community is a virtual chapter that meets online, linking SPJ members who are freelancers, no matter their locale. The most powerful thing about SPJ is its breadth.

June 20th, 2014 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Taking a look at the news business, most viewers and readers would assume firms that deal in information are destined for extinction. While large newspapers shutter their operations and broadcast outlets form partnerships and try to consolidate, a few news organizations are staying viable and even turning a profit.

April 9th, 2014 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Recently, I was relieved to finally make good progress on a major assignment. For one brief moment, the only sound in the house was the click of my fingers on the keyboard. Of course, it wasn’t long before the phone rang — it was work-related, and that was the time that all hell decided it would be a good time to break loose.

February 12th, 2014 • Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Last spring, as the September publication of my new nonfiction book “The Nazi and the Psychiatrist” drew closer, I was contemplating what I would do to promote it. A friend and talented social media trainer, Liz Giorgi, suggested we work together to produce a video book trailer.

December 20th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

NOTE: A portion of this column ran previously on SPJ’s SPJ’s Independent Journalist blog. A few months ago, there was breaking news almost in my backyard, and suddenly I had more freelance business than I knew what to do about. I’d just come out of my Norman, Okla.,

October 16th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

SPJ’s Freelance Committee is putting a twist on the three R’s. We want to be more representative of the freelance members in SPJ, be more responsive to their needs and offer more resources for freelancers. To make this new grade, we are reorganizing the more formal, official committee into a community.

September 5th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

After 15 years in the corporate world, I had the opportunity to start a second career as a freelance journalist, and I’ve never looked back. That was nearly 10 years ago, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in our industry since that time, but none more exciting than right now!

June 6th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

A handful of years ago, I lost out on wages when several publications folded amid the recession. In fact, I’m still receiving bankruptcy filings from one rag that went out of business. I wrote a longish piece for another magazine that turned out to be a revolving door for editors.

April 10th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Twenty-one years. That’s how long I’ve been writing professionally. But “writing professionally” might be a misnomer if you subscribe to the strict definitions regarding professional versus amateur. In the Olympics, the lines have sadly blurred. Where we once only awarded accolades and … err … awards for those who excelled in various exhibitions of speed, strength and stamina, we now turn a blind eye to monetary compensation.

February 7th, 2013 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

One thing I miss about having a full-time corporate job is the benefits — sick time, vacation time, health insurance, a retirement plan, etc. It was nice having someone else take care of those pesky but necessary details of life. As a freelancer, I have to provide all of those benefits for myself, or simply do without.

December 5th, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

It’s going to happen to all and any of us: a crisis that interferes with getting work done. I’ll be back with a few insights and tips as soon as I catch up on a deadline that had to be renegotiated due to exactly that … … As I was saying, one assumption is safe for every freelancer to make: Crises will hit when you have the most work to do and the least flexibility for getting it done.

October 3rd, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Journalists dwell in a media marketplace rife with uncertainty. Formerly stable places — newspapers, TV, radio, even some news-oriented websites — struggle with scarce resources and diminishing staffs. Some operations still able to hire, meanwhile, cannot guarantee long-term employment. Get It Now: Download the Freelancer Guide (free for SPJ members) Outside, j-school graduates and seasoned news reporters elbow for sparse jobs, and salaries have shrunk at the same rate as stability.

August 7th, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Note: A version of this column originally ran on SPJ’s blog for freelancers, The Independent Journalist. It was written for the blog — and submitted for the July/August issue of Quill — after Jonah Lehrer’s issues with self-plagiarism came to light in June but before further revelations of made-up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan led to Lehrer’s resignation from The New Yorker in late July.

June 21st, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

Your refrigerator is full, your quarterly taxes are paid, and you’ve got a little money set aside for the client who pays late next month. So what’s next for the ambitious freelancer? The sky’s the limit, I say. This is the time for you to explore new opportunities, try different writing styles or pitch that publication you’ve always wanted to write for.

April 5th, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

The email subject line reads: “Wrapping Up.” It could be a quick editor’s note letting me know my most recent article is ready to publish, but I know better. This particular heading won’t flow through the “Good job; next up?” vein.

February 6th, 2012 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

So-called citizen journalists who enthusiastically write almost (or entirely) for free and their effect on pay rates for freelance work have been heavily discussed. The behavior of such writers, who may not understand the nature of journalistic ethics, is becoming an equally serious concern — and that concern is extending to some freelancers as well.

December 2nd, 2011 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

With so many journalism organizations like SPJ, the Radio Television Digital News Association, Online News Association and UNITY to join (among many others), the budget-conscious freelancer has to choose membership options carefully. She has to ask herself, “What groups should I belong to, how much does membership cost, what benefits do they offer, and what’s in it for me?”

October 4th, 2011 • Quill Archives, Freelance Toolbox
Freelance Toolbox

I know a simple four-word phrase that has helped me earn thousands of additional dollars, and I use it almost every time an editor calls. “Is that rate negotiable?” That question may sound like a strange one, especially to newer freelancers.