Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of moderating “Breaking Into Freelance Writing and Book Writing,” a free webinar featuring Randy Dotinga, president of American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA); and Dawn Papandrea, a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, higher education, and family topics.
Dotinga and Papandrea touched on first steps, the financial aspects of freelancing, the biggest mistakes people make, legitimate expectations, how to connect with editors, relationships with other freelancers, and much more.
If you missed the webinar, you can listen to the complete recording here: cc.readytalk.com/play?id=h05yvn
Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:
- Beginners can establish themselves in local community websites, op-eds, or blogs.
- Anyone can freelance. Most editors are concerned about whether you are a talented writer, not about a fancy degree or college.
- Check in with an accountant and get an idea of the quarterly payments and business expenses you can deduct from taxes.
- Freelance part-time on the side of a full-time job. This can help you build clients for the long run.
- Some stories are "quick hits" and shouldn't take up too much time. Don't limit the types of stories you can take on.
- Cold pitching stories isn't reliable income. It’s better to spend time developing a client base to make money immediately.
- Working in a newsroom is the best bet for college grads. There's more opportunity for mentorship and broad experience.
- Editors are more likely to respond to a person they know and trust. It helps your application stand out.
- Don't assume freelancing is easy. Investing in conferences to grow your network is part of finding work.
- Build a connection and mutual trust with the editor before asking for deadline extensions or other conveniences.
- If you're seriously giving freelance writing a try, make sure you have a steady stream of work available.
- Freelance writing is a business. If you treat it like a hobby, you can get taken advantage of.
- Helping others makes it more likely they will return the favor. Share others' work and they will share yours.
- Prepare financially by saving for taxes and other expenses in case a client falls through. It takes self-discipline.
- Educate yourself on how to negotiate terms, market yourself to clients. Make sure projects make sense to your business.
- College grads should learn foundational journalism skills first before jumping into freelancing.
- Never have a chip on your shoulder. It’s possible to make it as a freelancer. Go the extra mile for repeat business.
- Find ways to meet people in person and build relationships. Social media can be a great place to start establishing a connection.
- Find story ideas by joining writers groups and reaching out to experienced freelancers. Learn from others and industry experts.
- As a freelancer, there is no tax taken out of paychecks. You may need a business license -- things freelancers don't expect.
- Be flexible and learn the ropes of what is acceptable and what isn't. Read the contracts and protect your rights.
- Set work hours and stick to them. Be organized, stick to your deadlines and know realistically how long a project might take you.
- How to land your first job: 1) target who you want to write for; 2) figure out whom you're supposed to pitch; 3) find a mutual connection.
- Be resilient. Sometimes you get rejections, sometimes no response at all. Thick skin is crucial.
- Don't get taken advantage of, but be flexible and easy to work with to maintain steady work.
- Don't be rivals. Freelancers need each other for tips, support, finding sources, etc.
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