With the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) holding its annual conference in a few weeks, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with Alexandra Owens, executive director of ASJA, to get the inside scoop on the conference and what’s going on at ASJA. [Full disclosure: ProfNet is a sponsor of this year’s conference. We hope to see you there!]
Alexandra, I know I’ve told you before that I am a huge fan of ASJA. For those who might not be familiar with it, can you tell us a little about the organization?
ASJA is the professional organization of independent (freelance) nonfiction writers. It was founded in 1948 as the Society of Magazine Writers, but has grown to include nonfiction freelance writers of all kinds.
What are some of the ways in which ASJA helps writers?
ASJA was founded to let writers help one another, and that's still an abiding principle. ASJA members share information about their work, especially what they're getting paid and about markets -- strengthening all.
The ASJA Monthly is a taste of what members can learn: ow.ly/jU94f
And now, with the ASJA Educational Foundation, we're broadening our scope to help all freelance writers, not just ASJA members.
What is the biggest issue facing freelancers today? More competition? Low pay? Something else?
Probably the biggest is the changing industry itself. With the traditional media industry struggling to find a new business model, freelance writers are being tossed about. It's not as simple as low pay or more competition; it's all changing and freelance writers, like everyone else, have to adapt. The good news is that freelancing is, by definition, being able to adapt.
What is the state of payment for freelancers? Are rates getting lower?
That's an interesting question. I'd say rates are not getting lower so much as pay models are changing completely. In some ways "rates" are lower, and in others, they're better. The truth: New media models don't fit into traditional per-word pay metrics. So what are "rates"? Per-click, per-view, per-hour, per-project, and retainer pay models are gaining ground. Writers who know how to navigate them can absolutely improve their income. Traditional media pay rates have not gone up, that's for sure, since 1960 or before.
Should writers ever work for free? Is it ever worth it to do a job for “exposure”?
Ahhh, the HuffPo question! There may be situations where it makes sense. Does a carpenter ever work for a charity, or contribute to a design house? Of course. If the writer has something to gain (besides "exposure," which kills people), donating one's writing may be profitable. But working for free so someone else can profit is, most of the time, simply foolish. It's a personal calculation everyone makes, every time they are asked. But pros get paid for their work, by definition.
If someone is thinking about becoming a freelancer, what should they have in place before even starting?
A financial cushion is critical. Freelance income is uneven in the best of circumstances. Probably the best tool a new freelancer can have these days is a very full basket of connections. Social media is critical. Work comes from many sources, but the No. 1 source is through personal connections and referrals. Don't burn ANY bridges.
We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and we’re noticing more ProfNet queries for corporate writing. Are you seeing that on your side too?
Content marketing, or writing for corporate entities, is nothing new really. There are two things happening now to bring it to the forefront, though. News organizations need new sources of revenue, and offering branded content can be a big one. And brands are seeing opportunity in social sharing, for which they need content to exploit. ASJA is talking about it, for sure. It's part of this upcoming conference, for example. And you'll be hearing about another event taking place later this year focusing completely on content marketing.
Speaking of the upcoming conference, can you tell us more about it?
Of course! #ASJA2013 is our 42nd annual conference in New York, always focused on freelance writing. There are two days open to the public, crammed with educational sessions on a wide variety of relevant topics. Attendees can also have personal mentoring sessions onsite. More than 600 writers, editors, agents, and industry thought leaders will be there to learn from one another.
On Friday, April 26, we have @ajjacobs speaking at the luncheon, who will be wildly entertaining.
Is there anything new for this year’s conference?
We've slowed things down a little; the sessions are longer and breaks are too. People will have time to make friends. We've added field trips, too: On Wednesday, April 24, there's a trip to the New York Public Library for a behind-the-scenes look, and a great walking tour of Grand Central Station is on tap too. (Sign up soon at www.asjaconference.org)
Oh, and ProfNet will be hosting a sponsored session on Friday on "The Art of Sourcing," on how writers can find, pick and work with experts.
Oh yes! We will have yours, as well as sponsored sessions from others. Follow #ASJA2013 for details.
Do you have to be an experienced freelancer, or are there sessions for newbies as well?
All of the sessions at #ASJA2013 are accessible to anyone. People who are new to freelancing may benefit the most, in fact. On April 27, there is a whole track called "Beginners Pluck" on intro issues, and a session geared for former staffers. Anyone can attend just one day, too, making it an affordable -- and extremely valuable -- career investment.
Programming on Thursday, April 25, is limited to ASJA members, but people can still apply and join in time to attend. See what it takes to join at t.co/xshvrweflu. Apply by Monday, April 15, to be an ASJA member by April 25.
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