As of 2010, I’ve been in the freelance writing business for four years. Those four years have seen more tired tears, more “I-might-be-published” happy dances, and more flashes of red editorial rage than I care to count. Is the industry what I expected? Yeah. Sort of. I’ve learned a few realities
of my profession that took me by surprise.
#1. You have to defend the value of your writing-hard.
I’ve lost track of the projects I’ve seen where the wage was $1 per article. People routinely undermine the worth of writing and editorial skills by offering slave labor wages. What’s worse, people accept those offers. I won’t. I believe I have a right to a salary, and I’ve had to let my contracts save me from clients who wanted to get out of fair payments. I spend a lot of time strategizing to compete against the less-talented, more desperate individuals who try to underbid my projects.
#2. Editors sometimes really don’t know what they’re doing.
The writer’s golden rule is always to write what he knows. This goes out the window for an editor. Unless an organization has editors who specialize by topic, an editor can be handed an article and asked to fact check and trim content about which they know absolutely nothing. The result? A frustrated writer who gets ambiguous rewrite requests and has to insist or explain why her content is relevant. Now, in most cases, editors are wonderful, and I thank my lucky stars I have them because they truly make my writing better. Even so, there are times when I’d rather eat glass than change my content again or answer one more question.
#3. Clients aren’t always willing to treat you like a professional, even if you treat them that way.
I once had a client who violated her contract agreement by providing some of my work to a third party without my consent. Another time, a client tried to get away with paying me half of what was stipulated in our contract. As disheartening as these experiences can be, I remind myself that two wrongs don’t make a right-I know my reputation depends on handling these clients ethically.
#4. You’ll need more than writing or editing skills to survive as a freelancer.
Unlike someone who works in an office, I can’t rely on a network of coworkers to bail me out of a snag. Nobody else is going to cover my shift or put together a project schedule. I’m the one who has to handle every bill, invoice and inquiry. Sure, I have the freedom to get up and get a cup of coffee whenever I want, but I don’t have the time to drink coffee. I’m too busy filling the roles of writer, secretary, accountant, marketing director and customer relations specialist.
#5. You will not be sorry you opted out of corporate bureaucracy.
Before I started freelancing, I watched as my coworkers were inefficient, petty or unethical. I took note of how protocol sucked the life out of employees and created conflicts. As a freelancer, I am in an environment where these commonalities of corporations don’t exist. To add sprinkles to my ice cream cone, I also get to call all the shots. Lower anxiety, doing what I love and being my own boss?
Yeah, I’ll take that set to go, please.