October 24, 2014

10 Things You Should NOT Ask a Freelance Writer

By now, Mr. Muse and most people in my immediate circle know better than to ask questions of the “why haven’t you published any books yet?” and “when are you getting a real job?” variety. But these types of questions come up frequently when I meet people who aren’t as familiar with the concept of freelancing.

As I suspected, I’m far from alone in this. An informal poll among my Twitter followers and Facebook fans turned up lots of questions we wish people would stop asking already. Here’s a roundup of questions and some (far too cheeky for actual use) answers.

  1. How come you never write for “real” magazines? Several years ago, I had a roommate ask this question, and it bugged the $%@& out of me. (We no longer live together.) She meant “how come you write for all these niche publications I’ve never heard of?” Newstand magazines are only a fraction of all the potential freelance markets, and they are highly competitive. Now that I’ve written for a few consumer magazines, I can say that while the clips are nice, they can take a lot more work for the same amount of money I can earn writing for a trade or custom magazine. I say there’s no shame in these under-the-radar markets!
  2. If you earn $1/word, shouldn’t you be a millionaire by now? If I had a dollar for every time someone asked that, I would be a millionaire. (Not really, but I thought it was a clever retort.) Some magazines pay $1/word, but word counts have shrunk and that per word rate hasn’t increased in decades. Plus, there’s a lot more that goes into an article than the actual writing. There’s also querying, researching, tracking down sources, following up with sources, locating images, fact-checking, rewriting, invoicing, and so on.
  3. How’s the job hunt? (via @tinahernandez) This is a common question, especially now with so many laid-off workers freelancing while they job hunt. But many freelancers (including @tinahernandez and yours truly) have no interest in returning to the 8-6 grind. I usually point out that since I can pick my own projects and make a comfortable living on my own, I don’t need a traditional job.
  4. My kid needs his speech written for school, can you help? (via @salmajafri) I’ve never gotten this one, but I’d be tempted to point out that hiring a professional writer might get the kid an A, but it won’t make him any smarter. (Yes, I know the parent is probably hoping for a freebie, but that’s not how I roll.) @salmajafri is far more generous and told me she might help out with bullet points.
  5. When does your book come out? (via @storyfella) I’ve had plenty of people suggest that writing a book is my golden ticket to success or ask if I have a novel in the works. But books represent only a sliver of opportunity for writers, and the combination of shrinking advances and rising competition make it hard for writers to support themselves solely on books. Sure, many of us have a novel in our heads or on our hard drives, but we also write articles, blog posts, press releases, and catalogues to pay the bills.
  6. Can you edit my _____ for me as a favor? (via @HeiddiZ) In a word: no. We have to support ourselves, too, and too many favors cuts into our bottom line. Sure, I’ve proofread my brother’s cover letters and helped my Mom revamp her resume, but these are close family members who understand that paying work has to be the priority and that they don’t get unlimited freebies.
  7. What are you doing? Why don’t you meet me for lunch? (via Diane Faulkner) Variations on this theme asking requests for rides to the airport, signatures on FedEx packages (that aren’t yours), or helping with other daytime chores. Sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and meet a friend for lunch or help out when someone really needs it, but the presumption that freelancers have nothing better to than sit around waiting for the FedEx guy or meet you for lunch gets old. Fast.
  8. So do you go to the shops/cinema/for a walk/for lunch out all day? (via @HOHWWriter) Similar to #7 but no less annoying. I pointed out to @HOHWWriter that sometimes we do get to do these things during the work day if it’s for an assignment. But it’s far from the leisurely, two martini lunches that some people picture. While scoping out a new restaurant or store, I’m also furiously scribbling notes in the dressing room or coaxing the owner into letting me snap a few photos if she doesn’t have any. Believe me – there is a lot work involved.
  9. Do I get to read/approve the article before it runs? (via @roxannehawn) This is a question that I get from more sources than acquaintances. But it comes up often enough that it deserves a mention. When you show a story to a source, it can turn into a runaway buggy where they’re trying take the reins and rewrite your article to reflect their company agenda. This blog post from Jake Poinier offer a tactful explanation of why sources and PR folks don’t need to see the article in advance. (But as he points out in the comments, asking to confirm quotes is totally acceptable.)
  10. You’re a freelance writer. So does that mean you work for free? (via @JoanneMasonESL) File under: “are you freaking kidding me?!” Enough said.

Anything else you would add? How would you respond to these questions?

Flickr photo courtesy of carolyntiry

Who’s the Boss? You are!

This weekend I met up with a friend from college who has a cushy new consulting job. “My boss is so chill,” she gushed. “We get six weeks of paid time off, and I can take a day off whenever I want.”

I almost choked on my veggie burger and asked for a referral. Almost. “Yeah, my boss can be a real b**** sometimes,” I confided. “She wouldn’t let me take off Columbus Day, and she makes me put in lots of overtime.”

My friend laughed, thinking I was kidding. I wasn’t.

Show of hands: how many of you work harder and longer at freelancing than you did when you were working for the man?

I thought so. Many of us leave our jobs for the flexibility of freelancing, then end up feeling we’re chained to our laptops pounding out query letters and emails to editors (or maybe that’s just me on an especially intense day). Of course, most of this pressure is self-induced, because freelancers tend to be highly driven and hard-working. And we’d rather boss ourselves than have someone else running our lives.

Steph Auteri has a great post reminding us not to skimp on sleep, food, or bonding time. How do you balance your personal needs with your professional drive? When you’re crunched for time, what needs are non-negotiable?

How Not to Impress Your Editors

Diana Burrell over at The Renegade Writer posted a hilarious video parodying British restaurant reviewer Giles Coren. Apparently Coren got his panties in a twist after an editor altered his closing sentence.

The offending word or phrase? A. That’s right – one letter difference! I have to say, I understand Coren’s frustration. The sentence did make more sense the way he originally wrote it. But jeez, is it really necessary to curse the hand that signs your checks?