Monday, 30 June 2014

Going It Alone

A couple of my students have recently asked my advice about becoming a full time freelance writer, and I thought I would pass on to you some of the comments I’ve offered to them.

Don’t Do It! 
Okay, I’m joking. Or am I? Seriously, though, do think about it. If you’re in paid employment, think about what you’re giving up: regular hours, regular salary, regular paid holiday, regular everything, regular life!

Have A Nest Egg To Fall Back On.
Selling an article, or a short story, may give you confidence, but it doesn’t generate a regular income. When you’re starting out it can take time … a lot of time … to build up a reputation. I’m talking a couple of years here, not a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the gas bill still needs paying, as does the council tax, food needs buying, and if you have a car you need to pay your road fund licence, and insurance costs, and that’s before you’ve stuck any petrol in the darn thing. Selling an article for £250 gives you a good confidence boost, but that’s not going to cover all of those expenses listed here, let along all of the other expenses you have. If you can, have at least two, if not three years’ worth of living expenses set aside in a savings account.

Have Specialisms
You’re not a writer, you’re an expert. So what are you an expert on? I write about walking, British Travel, writing, humour, dogs and occasionally finance. Why? Because that’s what I have a lot of experience in.  Telling an editor you’re a writer isn’t enough. They want experts who can write. And if you’re writing fiction, you need to be an expert in story-telling, and an even better expert in coming up with plenty of ideas!

You Need To Be A Self-Starter And A Finisher
When you’re self-employed as a freelance writer, there’s no boss yelling at you to do something. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. You have to want to get up in the morning and you have to want to start work (even if you don’t really want to … remember, there’s no such thing as sick pay for self-employed freelance writers). You need to be organised, be able to prioritise your workload so that you can complete a job on time … because it’s only by completing a job on time that editors will trust you to deliver a job on time again. Being self-motivated means getting a job finished as well as getting a job started.

Be Prepared For Tight Deadlines
Timescales for projects are determined by editors, who are pressured into those timescales by many other factors in their job. If you pitch an idea to an editor, be prepared to hear nothing for weeks on end and then get an email out of the blue asking for the complete job in the next 48 hours. It might not be what you planned for the job, but if that’s what’s being offered to you, then that’s what you deliver … that’s assuming you want the editor to come back for more … which, if you like eating on a regular basis … is usually a good thing.

The Customer Is Always Right
Whatever the editor wants, the editor gets. If the editor asks you to submit your work on pink paper, in Comic Sans font at 8 point font size, with capital Zs instead of spaces, while you’re wearing a tutu on your head - no matter how ludicrous that seems to you - that’s what you deliver to the editor. The sales maxim is true - the customer is always right … especially if you want paying. If you won’t deliver what the customer wants … there are plenty of other suppliers out there willing to step in and deliver instead.

Enjoy The Experience
Above all though, learn to enjoy the experience … even when you are still up at 3am because you’re trying to meet that 9am deadline and the first draft just doesn’t want to come. Every job has its good days and bad days. It’s the same with being self-employed.

Ultimately, It’s All Down To You
You are everything. You are the main go-to chap/chapess when something goes wrong. You are the IT department. You are the finance department. You are the legal department when one of your customers doesn’t follow their own contract. If you need something to happen, you need to be the person to make it happen. No colleague will step up to the plate and offer to take it off you. 

I Did That!
But at the end of the day, because you’re responsible for everything, you have the right to that sense of smug satisfaction when things work out that you did that. And if you did it once … you can do it again!


Good luck.

11 comments:

  1. You need to plan ahead. I spent a couple of years reducing my outgoings and creating an exit plan that would allow me the time to develop projects and not starve! It's unlikely anyone can just opt out - but plan it and plan it carefully, then it can happen. Those few years can also provide a breathing space - how badly do you want that dream?

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    1. I agree, Helen. I started planning a few years beforehand, but was extremely fortunate when my first book sold well. I still made sure that I had a good financial cushion behind me though, before making the break.

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  2. I agree with Helen. You also need to define your boundaries - freelance writer encompasses a wide variety of clients and markets. Do a SWOT analysis, and also look at how you want to work (for agencies, directly with clients, B2B or B2C, etc.). Preparing the ground will pay great dividends if you decide to take the plunge!

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    1. Good advice, Derek. Yes, knowing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths!

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  3. Thanks, Simon. Will try harder

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  4. I am only able to be a full time writer as mine is not the only family income.

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    1. Having another income source does make a huge difference, doesn't it? Interestingly, Val McDermid recently commented that if she were starting out as a writer now, she wouldn't be able to make a career from it, because of the way the world of publishing has changed.

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  5. Good advice, Simon! Like Wendy, I'm lucky enough to have 'support' in that my partner worries about paying the mortgage and the bills BUT I still have to supplement my income from writing by working (from home and part-time) in a job that has nothing to do with writing, but which brings in a few hundred pounds a month. I just couldn't afford to live on what I earn from writing and teaching - at least, not yet!

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  6. Good advice, Simon! Like Wendy, I'm lucky enough to have 'support' in that my partner worries about paying the mortgage and the bills BUT I still have to supplement my income from writing by working (from home and part-time) in a job that has nothing to do with writing, but which brings in a few hundred pounds a month. I just couldn't afford to live on what I earn from writing and teaching - at least, not yet!

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  7. Thank you, Simon. Your advice is a reminder to me that, as the main, and somtimes sole, breadwinner in the house, I need to stay focused on the day job while developing a writing portfolio in parallel.

    It should be obvious, but I still needed that reminder.

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