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.
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.,
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
To keep the cash coming in, freelancers need to exercise their marketing muscle regularly. This can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply think of promoting yourself as telling a story — your story — using a variety of marketing tools: Website and/or blog: Once upon a time, a simple, static website that rarely changed was ideal for freelancers.