November - the month I added to my 'failure CV'
It definitely feels like we’re reaching the end of the year, doesn’t it? Most writers I know are flat out, having said yes to almost every project that’s come their way just in case things in the new year slow down or get lean. Despite being a pretty good month overall, November had one enormous down for me - one that really shook me and saw me turn off my computer for a few days.
November - the month I added to my ‘failure CV’
I ended up pitching quite a lot in November.
This wasn’t really my plan - but I’m heading overseas at the end of the year for three weeks with my family and I pitched a couple of ideas to editors about that (yes, I know, despite me saying in September that I wouldn’t try and combine family, holiday and work - the urge to capitalise on any travel is too strong!)
I also have been making sure that my feature article outlets are diversified and I’m trying to break into new publications. Going through the process of pitching new publications and new editors has been such a reminder of how long this process can be when you’re not particularly known to an editor or a publication.
I’m going back and forth with a couple of editors about some ideas, but haven’t got definite commissions yet.
I’ve been pretty busy with my corporate work, and as always, I’m so grateful for this ‘bread and butter’ work. It’s work that I can do fairly quickly, it’s not emotionally taxing or difficult, I love the editors and content marketing managers I work with on these articles, and it allows me that vital breathing (and mental) space to pitch ‘passion’ projects and ideas - like my travel articles.
One of my goals for 2019 is to write more long form travel pieces - articles about people and destinations that I feel really strongly about and that are evocative and lyrical. These pieces take time to craft and I am determined to carve out enough time and space to write articles that make my heart sing.
In terms of feature articles for magazines and newspapers, this month I:
Pitched: 11 (this includes re-pitching ideas that have been rejected)
Commissions from pitches or query letters: 2 (with one ‘I like this idea - check back with me in March’!)
Offers: 5 (where an editor approached me with a commission)
In terms of feature articles for corporate and B2B clients: (I don’t pitch these)
Offers: 19 (15 of these were 400 - 500 word pieces offered by the same client)
Filed: 34 (21 of these were 400 - 500 words articles)
Lowlights of November
Okay. So here it is.
I had a big down towards the end of November.
Earlier in the year the editor at one of my regular publications asked if I’d write an article for them about older women who were still in the workforce.
The editor was after a three different ‘types’ of older women - those who were working because they had to, those who loved work, and those who were working to sustain a certain type of lifestyle. I said yes and set to work finding three case studies.
Well, it was much harder than I initially thought to find three older women who were still working and willing to be named and photographed for the piece. Especially a woman who was working because she had to - as a result of a bad divorce or the like.
The three case studies I found sort of fit the bill, but only one really, absolutely met the criteria of being an older woman (78) who was working.
I found two other case studies (aged 56 and 60) and checked with the editor about whether they were too young, but she said it was fine to proceed.
So I did. The angle changed slightly to “older” women working for the love of it. I wanted to explore if these women had faced any discrimination in the workforce and whether they felt that their age had any bearing on how their working life had unfolded.
So I wrote the piece and filed it.
I must admit, I didn’t give it much thought again until I woke up the day before the article was due to be published in print to a torrent of messages and unhappiness on Twitter.
My article had been published online ahead of the print version with the somewhat unfortunate heading of “Three women over 55 on why they have remained in the workforce”.
Understandably, lots of people were very upset with the headline, which they felt suggested that it was unusual for women to be working past their 50s, and that there wouldn’t be a similar article written about men.
You can imagine my heart sinking as I read all these tweets and messages directed at me. Telling me I needed an education, that they were insulted by my article and that the newspaper should be ashamed of running such a piece.
I knew that I could easily get pulled into all kinds of angry conversations and I just wanted to protect my mental health.
I’m not sure that I did the right thing, but I closed on my computer on Saturday morning, took the Twitter app off my phone and didn’t open it again until Monday.
Despite doing that, the comments and messages I had read whirled around in my head, and I felt exhausted by the attention and anger that was directed at me.
Honestly, I do feel like I made a mistake.
I should have tried even harder to secure older women, and also asked the online editor to change the heading (because so many people just read the heading and not the article).
I do get the unhappiness too. I would have been outraged if I was in my mid-50s and I read an article with a headline like that.
It’s interesting because in the print version that ran on the Sunday, I had people reaching out to me to thank me for the article (including one of the case studies). So I guess, you are never quite prepared for the reaction an article might get.
I anticipated on the Monday I would reply to everyone who messaged me or commented, but I didn’t. I’m still not sure if that was the right thing to do, but I could see that anything I said was going to just get me deeper in and I’m not sure of the good it would have done.
It’s an uneasy and vulnerable feeling though, and in my seven years of freelancing, the first time I’ve had it happen.
Anyway, I’m sharing this with you mostly because of this idea about adding to your failure CV - about the importance of recording rejection, failure, setbacks, and the importance of making it public.
Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, onto the highlights ….
Highlights of November
At the end of last month I let you know that I’m working on my first online course, which is aimed at helping writers masters the skills, strategies and habits they need to earn a great income from their freelance writing.
I received over 60 messages from writers who were interested in participating in my launch course - thank you!
I’m pretty sure I’ve replied to you all and put you all on my “potentially interested in the course” list, but if you sent me an email and haven’t heard from me please let me know. I expect to be in touch with you all in early-mid January to let you know more about the course content, the (reduced) cost and the time line, and then I’ll be looking for a maximum of 12 people to do the course.
I coached lots more writers than usual this month - an average of three or four a week. I know I always say this, but it’s so great getting to spend 1-1 time with these writers, and really do a deep dive on their issues and try to work out strategies and productive ways that they can reach their goals.
I also applied for a short term, freelance gig I saw on Rachel’s List. Even though I’m comfortable with my rates, it’s always a bit scary putting them out there and saying to a prospective client, “This is what I charge.” The good news is that they were keen to work together, but the bad news is that I couldn’t commit to the number of days they needed in the new year (without all my other word grinding to a halt) so I had to let it go.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time this month reaching out to new editors, publications and making new connections. This is such an important part of being a freelancer - building relationships and forever being on the look out for opportunities.
A resource I’d recommend for freelancers
I’ve decided that in each of my monthly reports I’m going to add in a resource that I think would be useful for freelance writers. It might be a blog, a book, a podcast or an article.
Sometimes (like this one) it’ll contain an affiliate link, but as you know, I’m super strict with who my affiliates are - I want to make sure that I only recommend resources that are going to be super valuable for you.
Like lots of us, Roy wasn’t always a writer. Originally from New Zealand, Roy was working as a teacher in the United States when his wife was offered a job in Singapore and then Belgium. They spent five years travelling and working overseas and when Roy returned to the United States, he wondered if there was a way to have a career as a travel writer. He did a short course and the rest, as they say, is history.
Roy has been published in so many magazines, newspapers and digital outlets (we’re talking over 1000 articles) that to call him prolific would be an understatement.
What I love about Roy’s blog is his straightforward, honest advice that is also super practical. I can’t tell you how many times I came back to this article about Roy’s 5-step pitching process for travel stories.
His books are a gold mine too - they cover everything from how to pitch and write about luxury travel, securing a spot on a press trip, and how to write query letters and pitches that sell.
I particularly think the How to land Press Trips and Fam Tours book is super useful because it has sample requests that Roy has used to secure hosted accommodation, tours and meals. Especially this gem when he includes a letter he sent to a Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) ahead of having any firm commissions:
I have attached a list of stories that I will be pitching to magazines. I am only starting my “hunt” today, so have no assignments yet. I have a 90% success rate for getting my travel stories published somewhere, so I anticipate quite a number of these stories panning out. I will keep you posted as assignments come in over the next few weeks.
I love the wording of this!
Dive in to Roy’s blog and do let me know what you think of his resources.
Income report for November 2018
The work continued to come in this month, and while I pitched a fair bit more than usual, I didn’t actually get that many commissions.
Incredibly enough, this month was pretty close to October’s in terms of commissioned and invoiced work.
By the end of November I was commissioned $17,166
I invoiced for $21,972
This takes my total amount of commissioned work for the year so far to $118K.
It’s been quite an astonishing year - I never would have guessed that I would have earned more this year being part time than I did last year when I was full time.
As the year turns the final corner, I’m not sure what December holds, but I’m ever grateful for this community of writers, my work and the relationships that I have built over the last seven years.
And yes, I’m even grateful for the addition to my failure CV. Or at least I’m sure I will be once the sting subsides.
How was your November? Are you adding anything to your ‘failure CV’ this month?