September - the month of trying new things
2017 has been a bit of an experiment. This time last year my partner and I had finally decided that I would work as a freelance writer full time and he would be the stay-at-home parent. I promised myself that at the end of each month I would review how I was going - was I pitching enough? Marketing myself enough? Writing articles on topics that fascinated me? Was I happy? Most of all I wanted to make sure that I was trying new things in the writing world and this month I definitely have.
September - the month of trying new things
To be a freelance writer you have to be nimble and adaptable. It can be kind of exhausting as you are managing so many things at once - pitches, follow ups, invoices, interviewing, writing, having a niche (or not), productivity - the list goes on.
But it's also exhilarating.
So many opportunities have come my way this month and I'm super grateful for them.
In terms of feature articles for magazines and newspapers, this month I:
Pitched: 5 (this includes re-pitching ideas that have been rejected)
Commissions from pitches or query letters: 2
Offers (where the editor approached me with a commission): 12
But this month has been particularly special because I tried new things - I went on my first group press trip (or 'famil'), tried out a new platform for freelance writers to find work and pitched more new editors (and was commissioned).
Going on my first group press trip
The best part of my working month in September was going on a food and travel famil. I must admit I was slightly apprehensive before I went as this was my first press trip with other freelance writers, editors and journalists. Would we get along? What would they think of me with only five years of part time freelance writing experience and nine months of full time freelancing under my belt?
I needn’t have worried. By the end of the four days it felt more like I had been a mini-vacation with friends. We were looked after so well by the tourism body and by all the hosts at restaurants, cafes, wineries, cheeseries, chocolateries (hard life, I know!)
Even though the days were long (7.30am/8am – at least 10pm each day), I felt invigorated. I love writing about food because you get to meet people who are so passionate about what they grow, produce or create.
From the bush tucker tour where one brave member of our group bit into a wiggling witchetty grub (sometimes it's a definite advantage to be a vegetarian!), to pouring hot chocolate sauce over a chocolate sphere dusted with dried raspberry to reveal a chocolate fondant and ice-cream inside, to breakfast at a café where the owner had us dabbing away our tears as he told us an epic story of family bonds, humility and passion, to the bottles of wine, olive oil and chocolates that we were presented with nearly everywhere we went, to trying pickle beer (I wouldn’t recommend it).
So often I'm in a small room on my phone interviewing these people, but being 'out there', made me realise I need to do it more often. You get a whole other kind of experience and depth to your writing when you meet people face to face and spend time with them.
I know some travel writers complain about their job but really, I can’t help but feel incredibly blessed for that experience, not to mention the friendships I struck up with quality writers, journalists and editors who share similar passions to me.
And best of all, I learnt my lesson from July and made sure I only had minimal articles to file the week following my trip, leaving me plenty of time to write up my stories and pitch new ones.
Trying out a platform for freelance writers
For August and September I tried out the relatively new platform of The Freelance Collective (TFC) - a community of creative Australian freelancers. The founder, freelance journalist Nina Hendy, reached out to me a few months ago to see if I would be interested in doing a two-month (free) trial of the site. I must admit, I was curious.
On TFC, freelancers pay a monthly membership fee ($9) and that means they have a bio page of their own and access to a private Facebook group. The idea is that TFC provides a one-stop-shop for clients looking for great Australian freelance talent.
I felt slightly uneasy about freelancers paying to have their bio listed on a site, but Nina said the plan was to make it as easy as possible for clients to get in touch. And when I thought about it, I pay a yearly subscription to Rachel’s List so was this much different?
So I gave it a go. Within 10 days I had a phone call from a potential client who had found me via TFC and wanted to talk more about me doing some content work for them.
It sounded very promising, but despite me following up a few times, I haven’t heard from him.
And that was it. No more nibbles, emails or phone calls from potential clients.
Within the Facebook group, Nina was incredibly generous sharing potential job leads and opportunities with the group, and there was a real sense of collegiality with people sharing tips, hints and help. I never saw a job posting that I was interested in, but I know a lot of members get regular work through their listing on TFC, but in my two months, I wasn’t one of them.
I had to think about whether I would continue with a paid monthly subscription or not. If you only got one client each year from TFC, it’d probably pay for itself many times over.
In the end I decided not to.
The SEO benefits of having my own website listed on a place like TFC is undoubtedly beneficial, but at the moment, work is fairly steady for me and I'm loving all the feature writing I'm doing.
Who knows? I may sign up again in the future, but it’s not right for me at the moment.
It hasn't all been roses though ...
I’ve had a few hairy moments this month. An editor got in touch to say she had asked a case study multiple times for a photograph and if the case study didn’t provide one, they couldn’t run the story.
The magazine pay on publication so that would mean me losing around $1500.
I reached out to the case study and she sent me countless images that I couldn't use.
Eventually, she sent me a headshot but let me tell you it was so stressful thinking that this article might stumble at the last hurdle.
Another editor sent me back a story that I’ve already spent too much time on and asked me to rework it. She apologised for not giving me a clear enough brief at the time of commissioning, but I actually think it’s my fault for not clarifying the brief with her.
When you've filed an article it can often be bruising to get feedback like that or a request for major revisions, but like they say, 'The editor is always right.'
And as I say to my five year old son (more in an effort to remind myself), they are only mistakes if we don't learn from them.
My income for September
My income has been pretty steady again this month. I was commissioned over $9500 worth of work and invoiced for over $10K.
Finally my income is evening out – while I’ve still got about $3K of invoices that are overdue, I’m getting into a groove of commissions, invoices and income that is pretty reliable.
At the start of the year I would have been glad to just support my family of four with some money left over to go out for dinner now and then. But this has been a huge year with me averaging over $9K of work commissioned each month.
I know lots of you think this is exceptional, but I don’t actually think it is.
I know of other freelance writers earning this much, but they’re just not blogging about it.
As you know, I’m not terribly comfortable talking about money, but I think it’s high time we start challenging the notion that writers have to accept crappy pay and do it for the love of it.
If you are a skilled freelance writer, who meets deadlines and briefs, then you should be getting paid well for your words.
We don’t have the security of superannuation, sick leave or ongoing employment so we need to have adequate compensation for working article to article, invoice to invoice.
With three months left of this year, do you want to join me in trying new things? It might be increasing your hourly rate, looking up from freelancer platforms like Upwork and finding your own clients, taking a course, pitching more - whatever it is, do it.
How was your September? Did you try anything new this month?