Samira Shackle, a freelance journalist for the Guardian, Prospect and others has penned down some important points for all the freelance writers. She is also the Deputy editor for New Humanist. She is currently writing a book on Karachi. After undergoing a horrible fortnight of lay-offs in the industry, she came up with some freelance advice which is definitely going to help everyone in the field.
1. Get yourself a buffer fund. Work out what you would need to cover your basic costs for a month and keep it in a separate account. You WILL get stuck waiting for payments and it is a huge relief to know you can still pay rent. If you use it, top it back up when you can.
2. Pitch a lot, pitch everywhere. Think widely about places you could write for – international publications, online only, special interest mags – and research the kinds of pieces they run (reported, opinion, word lengths, subject matter) and rates.
3. Develop a thick skin. I’m sensitive by nature but don’t take rejection personally. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or have bad ideas. Go back to the editor with new ideas, repurpose the rejected pitch for another mag. I’ve had stories accepted after 2 or 3 rejections elsewhere.
4. That said – don’t just copy and paste pitches. Have a look at where you’re pitching to. This doesn’t have to be hugely in depth, just a quick search to see if your story has already been covered, a browse to see if they run reported features/opinion/whatever you’re pitching.
5. Follow up on pitches. Lots of editors have flooded inboxes so won’t reply immediately or might miss your email, especially if it’s a cold pitch. That doesn’t mean they don’t like it. I usually send a brief to follow up email after a week or so.
6. When pitching, include a brief sentence or two about who you are and what your work history is, with a link to any published work relevant to the publication or story you’re pitching to. Basically, you want to make it as easy as possible for whoever is reading the email.
7. Try out writing for lots of places. The longer you’re freelance, the easier it’ll be to work out which places are not worth your time because the rates are too low for the level of work or because they’re so consistently late to pay. You’ll also get a sense of the balance of work you can manage.
8. Make lists all the time. As you get busier, it can be difficult to keep on top of contesting demands, deadlines, interviews, and admin. No one else is keeping track of your workload and usually, no one is reminding you about what you have to do and when.
9. There’s no shame in not earning all of your money from producing journalism. I’ve almost always had some kind of extra, like (my current job) editing two days a week. I’ve also had phases making 100% of my income through writing/reporting. It’s possible but it’s exhausting. Look into copywriting, teaching, public speaking, doing reports for think tanks, editing shifts etc. They can all bolster your income and provide some stability in an unstable profession.
10. This is basic but be professional. Don’t overpromise what you can deliver. File your copy on time and without loads of typos. If there’s a delay for whatever reason, let the editor know in good time. Be polite. Communicate clearly.
11. Invoice immediately! Plan in time for admin, otherwise you don’t get paid. Remember to factor in the (shitty) fact that most places only pay after publication – so if you’re spending 6 months on a project, that’s 6 months before you get paid. Put money aside for tax.
12. Again, kind of basic, but for me, it’s important to get up, have a shower and get dressed as if I was going to work, even if I’m staying home. If you need to get out of the house to focus, work in a library or coffee shop.
13. It can be isolating to suddenly work on your own, so try to offset that.
14. Enjoy freedom. I like being able to go to the gym in the middle of the day, stop working at 3 pm if I’ve finished, get up and go for a walk if I’m stuck and come back to it later, etc. Freelancing is stressful in lots of ways, so allow yourself to enjoy the benefits too.
Do follow Samira for more tips!