Because I'm asked for advice about writing a lot, I thought I would just get the hell over my self-consciousness and share a few things I've learned. So, me: I've been writing professionally since the beginning of 2008, when I scored a junior writer job at Marie Claire Australia. I still remember how thrilled I was to get that gig! And how terrified. I held a few different roles there over almost four years (features writer, wellness editor) before moving to Cosmopolitan to do maternity leave covers, first as features editor and then deputy editor. That was a fun 18 months (it cured me of any prudishness, let me tell you). When Michael won a green card and we decided to move to LA, I figured it would be a good time to try my hand at freelancing. I had no idea what to expect, no clue whether I could make it work, but I did have a lot of high hopes involving stretchy pants and a spiffy home office. In a couple of weeks I'll celebrate my two year freelancing anniversary, and I'm feeling pretty good about it. I miss working on a fun team, a fabulous brand and somewhere that requires me to brush my hair, but then again, I'm more productive, make more money and don't have to brush my hair. Without further ado, here's some of what I've picked up over the years.
1. Work for free, at first
Unless you get really lucky (in which case the rest of us who put in days, weeks and months interning and doing work experience hate you) suck it up. In this industry, it's a fact: to get your foot in the door, you have to be willing to do the hard, unpaid yards. I interned at the now-closed Madison while at uni, did work experience stints at SHOP and the Australian Women's Weekly, and then interned again at Who after I finished my degree. That's where I worked my butt off, bugged the editor and was recommended for my first job at Marie Claire. Internships are how you learn, and how you become known as that great workie who could be so perfect for that job that just came up. Ask anyone working in mags and chances are they got started on their path through work experience. Oh, and to the workie who once walked out because I asked her to update a spreadsheet of film releases? That's exactly how not to do it. Yes, you're doing menial tasks. Yes, we all had to. Be gracious.
2. And then never work for free (or a low fee) ever again
When someone asks me to write for 30 cents a word or 'exposure', I feel like laughing in their faces. But I don't, because I know that some poor sucker is going to take that job and get stuck in a cycle of crappy gigs and think that's all they're worth. And that's just depressing. It's true that magazines and papers are feeling the pinch and budgets aren't what they used to be, but I choose to save my ideas, time and energy for publications who value good writing enough to pay a decent word rate. They're out there, trust me. (What's decent varies from job to job but I generally decline work that pays less than 80c/word).
Next time an editor tried to lowball you, feel free to send them this:
3. Make your editor's life easy
If an editor doesn't like you, it doesn't matter how good you are, you won't be commissioned regularly. Okay, maybe if you're really great, you'll still get the gigs, but I guarantee that editors prefer to work with people who are low-maintenance and, well, nice. (I know this because I've been both the editor and the writer). The writer who gets on well with the editor (and who turns in clean copy on time) is the one who the editor hands plum assignments to, seeks ideas from and has their name passed on to other editors. Who do you want to be? Thought so. It's simple - people want to work with people they like. Now, I'm not saying you need to be a suck-up, because that's just pathetic. But you do want to be both great at your job and nice to deal with. So, that means being pleasant and responsive on email, not getting shouty if things don't go your way with edits or deadlines or other annoyances, and turning in work that doesn't need hours of editing (because that's not making anyone's life easier, except yours--until you stop being commissioned). There's a difference between being nice and being a pushover, though (I'll save that distinction for part two).
4. Work on the relationships as much as the job
If you haven't guessed already, I believe the human connections you make are just as important as your skill set. So be nice to everyone who crosses your path - it's not only what good people do, it's a savvy career move. People remember how you make them feel (thanks Maya Angelou). They will particularly remember if you were standoffish or rude, and if they're in the room with your potential new boss they will likely share that memory. Trust me, I've been in that room. As a freelancer, it's also really important to have a great network - of editors, fellow writers, people to moan about a late invoice to - not just for the practical support but for the sanity (it also helps if you have a list of go-to people to help you find that perfect chiropractor to quote). My rule? Help people out in the way I'd like to be helped out.
5. Notice what you're noticing
This one I learned at a great writing workshop I did earlier in the year. And it is SO TRUE. If you can tap into that part of your brain that goes, "Ha, I'm married but I freaking love getting onto my single friends' Tinders," or, "Huh, Australian food is popping up all over LA." and recognise those random thoughts as potential pitches, you'll be onto a good thing. This, in my opinion, is where the gold lies. I'm still working on this one, and I feel like doing a cartoonish slap on the forehead whenever I see stories about things that I thought of but didn't join the dots into a large, dotty pitch (okay, bad analogy). Oh, but I was able to sell a story about Australian food in LA after noticing that I was noticing it. So, yeah.
Is there anything you'd like to know about writing, freelance or on magazines? Hit me! Part two coming soon...