Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fancy Words

Recently, the New York Times After Deadline blog posted about the 50 words that most stump Times readers.

There are some words on there I know and enjoy—I love inchoate, sanguine, and feckless. There are some I would most definitely mispronounce if asked to say them aloud—those foreign terms don't always glide off the tongue. There are a few I'm surprised made the list—hubris, overhaul, laconic. And there are more than a few I've had to look up time and again.

Many of the words are the sort that may be difficult to define when taken out of context. But when they're positioned in a sentence in an article with a specific focus and even tone, I find the information around those tricky words give enough clues for me to muddle through the meaning or at least understand the point the writer is trying to make.

The beauty of reading the Times on the Internet, however, is that I don't have to muddle through. All I have to do is double-click on the word in question and voila! I have a definition from the American Heritage Dictionary.

In the blog post, the question is raised as to whether such words should be used if readers don't understand them or know what they mean.

As Philip B. Corbett writes in the blog post:

But even the most studious readers are likely to stumble over at least some of these words. I don’t suggest banning any of them — in some cases they may be the perfect choice, and we refuse to talk down to readers or dumb down our prose.

Still, we should remember that this is journalism, not philology. Our readers, smart as they are, are often in a hurry. They may be standing on the subway or skimming a story over breakfast. Let’s not make them work any harder than necessary.

It's a good point to remember whether you're writing a news brief or a magazine feature. Beautiful language can enhance any article. But used thoughtlessly or excessively, it does little more than hinder readers and mask the information your article seeks to provide.

Not sure about using a certain word or phrase? If all else fails, remember Strunk & White's timeless advice:

"Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tough 2009? You're Not Alone.

About 40 percent of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released last month by the Freelancers Union in New York.

According to the organization, more than 3 out of 4 freelancers said they've had trouble getting paid over the course of their careers.

And if an article on the topic published today in the Wall Street Journal is any indication, freelancers' struggles with getting payment are far from over.

Are you having difficulty getting paid for work you've done? What are your strategies for getting payment when payment is due?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Project Management for Freelance Writers

Working with overlapping deadlines, juggling research and interviews for multiple assignments, and trying to stay on top of querying are all key in the world of freelancing.

The problem: the more projects you have on your plate, the easier it is for something to get lost in the shuffle. And nobody wants to drop the ball on a project. That's why staying on top of all of your freelance work is so important.

Here's the two-part method I use to stay organized. It certainly isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy, but perhaps it will provide a starting point for creating a method that works for you.

Part One: A Calendar/To-Do List
Go ahead, roll your eyes, all you tech-savvy freelancers.

I use a plain old Moleskine calendar to keep track of my life. I take it with me wherever I go, and when I'm working I open it on my desk to the current week. On the left page, I have the day's to-do list laid out, with key details such as appointments and deadlines highlighted so they're easy to spot.

The moment I get an assignment, I write down the big due date. Then I work backward, breaking down the tasks required to complete the job and assigning them to certain days on the calendar. As I'm doing this, I keep an eye on what else I have going on. So if I have a copy editing project scheduled for Wednesday, I'm not going to add "interview three major sources for story X" that day as well. I'll spread out those interviews throughout the week, or I'll try to tackle them all on Tuesday instead, so my Wednesday isn't overloaded.

On the right page, I have a spot for taking notes on anything and everything that strikes my fancy, from blog post and story ideas to a quick record of phone numbers I need for the week.

And in the front of the notebook, there's a quick-glance yearly calendar where I can keep track of important events. So if someone proposes a deadline, I can flip to that page, see I'll be out of town the week before, and work on negotiating a different due date.

Others choose to use online calendars, such as Google Calendar, which allow them to set up reminders for appointments and deadlines. PDAs, iPhones, and such all offer great organization tools.

Regardless of your method, the key is to stick with it so all the vital information you need is in one place.

Part Two: A Master Project Tracking Document
Once I started freelancing full-time, I began using a master freelance project-tracking document. It's a basic Excel file that allows me to track where I'm at with projects for the entire year. There is a column for each month.

The top half of the spreadsheet is for keeping tracking of any queries or LOIs I send out. I write a brief description of the query, who it went to, and when it was sent. That way, I can open the document on any given day and see which queries I should be following up on and which I should consider sending out to a different publication.

Then, the bottom half of the spreadsheet is where I keep track of booked opportunities. So anytime I agree to take a project, the details (project name, publication or client name, major deadlines) are listed in this portion of the spreadsheet for the month. There's also a column where I input the rate for each project, so I have a running total of my income for each month going at the bottom of the screen.

With these two methods, plus my time-tracking software, I feel like I have a good handle on what I'm doing now and what's on the horizon at any given moment.

What about you? What methods do you use to manage your workload? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Learn More:
Project Management and Editorial Calendars for Freelance Writers (
A Guide to Simple Project Management (Freelance Switch)

Photo: seanmcgrath via flickr

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Professional Memberships

Hey, freelancers. Here's your question of the day: Do you belong to any professional organizations?

I recently joined two: the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). I'm still exploring the benefits of both of these memberships, but already I'm glad I spent the money to join.

For starters, I'm learning a ton just from being on some of the many SEJ listservs, where environmental reporters and editors from across the country and all over the world discuss challenges, issues, and topics relevant to environmental reporting. The SEJ members who contribute regularly are open and honest, sharing encouragement and sources and ideas with one another. But it's not all warm and fuzzy—often, there are debates going on about environmental and journalistic issues, too.

And one of the reasons I joined IRE is for access to its tip sheets, investigative reporting story archives, and publications. The information I'm gleaning from the IRE resources is valuable not only to my work as a freelancer, but also to my studies as a master's student completing my degree in Environmental Journalism & Communication.

Why bother joining, when membership fees can set you back anywhere from $35 to more than $100 a year?

Benefits usually include:
  • camaraderie and connections with fellow professionals
  • a slew of resources and publications you might not otherwise have access to (including newsletters and/or magazines produced by the organization and its members)
  • job listings
  • email discussion lists
  • discounts on conferences, books, and in some cases even things like rental cars and insurance
  • networking opportunities
  • mentoring opportunities
Plus organization members have the chance to take leadership positions and can help develop industry standards and get word out about issues that are important to freelance writers and editors.

Still not convinced? Consider this: Becoming a member of a major professional organization may lend you credibility with fellow writers and potential clients. For many people, that alone makes joining worth it.

Some of the most common organizations that freelancers join include (in no particular order):
Beyond national organizations, you might also look into the benefits of joining a local or regional group, which may boost marketing and networking opportunities and provide more face-to-face support than a national organization.

(Two examples: San Diego Professional Editors Network and the Austin Professional Chapter of the Association for Women in Communications/Freelance Austin.)

I'll talk a bit more later on about how to pick the right organization for you (hint: I wouldn't fork over the cash for every professional membership you can find—be selective!).

In the meantime, what organizations do you belong to? Do you benefit from your memberships? How did you choose which organizations to join?

Please share here!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Way With Words

For those of you word-nerds (that's me! that's me!) or fans of NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me (also me!), I thought you might enjoy a little Thursday distraction.

Over at the Wait Wait ... Don't Blog Me site, blogger Ian Chillag manages to use all of the 119 "newsspeak" words and phrases Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels banned ... in one sentence.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tracking Time (Part II)

Last week, I wrote about the importance of tracking time for freelancers of all types. And I promised to explain more about the possible methods for tracking time this week. So here goes ...

Different people employ different techniques for keeping track of the amount of time they spend on certain projects. These methods vary depending on the amount of time they want to spend actually tracking their work hours, their personalities, the type of work they do, and so on.

My husband, an attorney, has to track billable hours as well. He does so in a very basic way: By leaving a legal pad sitting on his desk (or in his briefcase when he goes to court) so that he can record the start and end time for each task he undertakes for a certain client. He's a detail-oriented, diligent fellow, and so this works for him.

A former boss of mine—also the organized sort—had a great planner open in front of her at all times. She'd jot down start and finish times on whichever day she was on, so then it was easy to see at a glance what she'd done each day.

I know others who keep a spreadsheet open on their computer all day to note and calculate work time by project, like The Copywriter Underground does.

My method used to be rather haphazard—I'd scribble down what time I began on a notebook if I happened to spot one, on a sheet of scratch paper I grabbed from the recycling bin, on my planner if it was handy. It allowed me to track short bursts of work but wasn't very sustainable in the long haul.

So I went on the hunt for a more permanent method, one that would keep me on track in a way a notebook couldn't.

My search began with a bit of Googling, of course. I wanted to see what other freelancers recommended. At Freelance Switch, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits listed a few that sounded like good options. Freelance Design Business highlighted some possibilities too.

But I realized some of the recommendations only worked if you were connected to the Internet. I wanted something I could use anytime, anywhere I had my laptop with me, even if I didn't have WiFi around. And many downloadable apps were made specifically for PC and weren't compatible with Mac, so that reduced the field.

Then I stumbled upon a few posts about a Mac-compatible program called On the Job from StuntSoftware, which came with a 10-day free trial, and decided to give it a try. (That cute little bee up there is the logo for the program, by the way.)

I thought I might not like it and planned to try more, but after I extended my trial for an extra 10 free days I decided it would do the trick, so I purchased it for $39.95.

I know some of you will smirk at the fact I spent money on time-tracking software, but I'm a few months in now and it works.

It's an easy-to-use interface (it actually looks a lot like iTunes) that allows me to sort projects by client, break each project down into its smaller parts, and track time for each part. Plus I can keep all the vital details—contact information, deadlines, rates—right there in the program. If I'm getting paid by the hour, I can see how much I've earned as it tracks time. And with a quick click of a button, the software creates an attractive invoice with all of the information I deem important. Then all I have to do is click one more button to create a PDF of the invoice or another button to email it. Easy as can be.

But the real reason I decided to fork over the money for On the Job is because it knows when I've been away from my computer for more than a few minutes and, as soon as I come back to it, reminds me how long I've been idle. If I forgot to stop timing when I left, I can tell it to delete that idle time. Or I can keep it, or modify the number to make it accurate as needed.

This ensures that six hours and three projects later I don't suddenly discover I forgot to keep track of the day's time. And it keeps me from leaving the timer running when I'm not on the lock anymore.

(Oh, and on occasion it horrifies me into getting back to work when I discover my quick stop in the kitchen for a coffee refill spiraled into half an hour of mail reading and dog petting. When I see how long it has been since I last worked, I'm chastened, to say the least.)

If you use time-tracking software, what's your recommendation? PC or Mac, share here.

(And if you want to find more time-tracking software for Mac, Appstorm has a great list—one basic option is even free, and the rest are reasonably priced.)

[Disclaimer: The opinion above is solely my own. I was not paid or encouraged to promote On the Job or any other time-tracking software by anyone.]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Survey: Mag Editing and Fact Checking Standards Slack Online

As a freelance editor and copy editor, I cringed when I saw yesterday's NY Times article on a Columbia Journalism Review survey of consumer magazines and their web practices, which found inconsistent and rather lax standards in regard to editing and fact-checking online content.

Here's the scoop straight from the article:
  • Copy-editing requirements online were less stringent than those in print at 48 percent of the magazines. And 11 percent did not copy-edit online-only articles at all.

  • A similar trend held with fact-checking. Although 57 percent of the magazines fact-check online submissions in the same way they fact-check print articles, 27 percent used a less-stringent process. And 8 percent did not fact-check online-only content at all. (The other 8 percent did not fact-check either print or online articles.)
As CJR chairman Victor Navasky was quoted as saying in the NYT article: “One of the things that it appears to mean is that there’s this trade-off of standards for speed. The conventional wisdom is that you have to be there first in order to get traffic, and you need traffic in order to sell ads, therefore you do not have time to do conventional copy-editing and fact-checking.”


Today, the PDF of the report became available on the CJR website.

A note to all those consumer magazines that are struggling to squeeze in copy-editing and fact-checking before publishing content to the Web: there are plenty of incredibly talented freelance copy editors, proofreaders, and researchers ready to lend a hand.

You may have to pay us, but trust me, our skills are worth it when it comes to delivering quality content to your readers.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tracking Time (Part I)

I used to resist tracking time.

Of course, I'm diligent about tracking time when I do hourly work. But with projects that involve a flat fee, I haven't been so good about keeping tabs on my hours.

I'm the creative, multitasking sort who often jumps between projects—while I'm working on one project, I may get an idea for a different story I'm working on, so I'll hop over to that document and write things down before I forget. Then I'll jump back into the original project until something else pops in my head.

I may start the day out writing my time down on a notepad, but then four hours and three projects later I realize I didn't keep up with it. After the fact, going back through the day and figuring out roughly how much time I spent on things is frustrating—so often, in the past couple of years, I've just skipped it.

Recently, however, I've come to value the importance of tracking work time—all time, even blogging for no cash and those business tasks like invoicing and following up on queries that don't actually bring in any money directly. Here's why:
  • When someone asks for an estimate of how long a project might take, I can get them a pretty accurate number based on how long I've spent on similar projects.

  • If rates change on a regular project—say, the flat fee for proofreading goes down or I'm getting paid less per word—I can run the numbers to see if accepting the assignment is reasonable given the time it takes me.

  • If I'm swamped and need to cut back on something (if only we all had this problem right now, right?), it's easy to identify the least profitable project.

  • I can keep myself on track—when I track everything including reading RSS feeds and sending emails on a given day, I can determine pretty easily how much time is "billable" and how much isn't. It's great motivation to work more and procrastinate less.
I still slack off on my tracking often, but I'm getting better. One thing that has helped is implementing a time-tracking system. That's what I'll post about next time.

In the meantime, I'm wondering: Do you track time and, if so, why do you do it? What's your method?

If you don't, I encourage you to try it this week. It can be a challenging practice for creatives to get into, but trust me, it's worth it in the long run.

Learn More
Tips for Tracking and Analyzing Your Time Use - Part I (Smartlife)
Four Tips for Tracking Your Time Better (

Photo: ToniVC via Flickr

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

I keep my eyes peeled for freelance work on online job boards, through freelance writing newsletters, wherever I can find possible opportunities.

As usual, there are plenty of online writing opps out there—some worthwhile, some frighteningly underpaid and a bit shady. That's the nature of the game.

But I'm also seeing a lot more proofreading jobs than I used to. I wonder if this is partly because of the economy—more companies are handling writing in-house, but farming out proofreading to someone with fresh, experienced eyes.

Regardless of the reason, it reminds me that when writing jobs are tougher to come by and paying less than before, the freelancers who succeed often are the ones who diversify.

What services can you offer beyond your usual print or online article writing?

Proofreading and copy editing are key components of my freelance business. In fact, at certain times I find I do a lot more of this type of work than I do writing.

I realize, of course, that not everyone has the eye for detail and the grammatical skills needed to become a proofreader or copy editor. If you're interested in pursuing that type of work, however, why not take a class to bone up on your editing abilities? Now is a great time to find an online course or enroll in an editing class through community education or a local college.

The same goes for other areas. If you've dabbled in web or print design before, why not take some classes to improve your skill so you can offer basic design services along with writing? Interested in photography? Maybe now's the time to get serious about it.

I know freelancers who supplement their income by becoming prop stylists for photo shoots, creating craft projects that are featured in magazines (and sold on Etsy), and teaching at local colleges.

Get creative. What skills can you put to use?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting Paid

At what point do you panic over a missing paycheck? How long do you check the mail, waiting for the payment you’re due, before you begin hounding a client? As a freelancer, have you made any hard and fast rules on compensation?

It’s something I’m contemplating this week, as I’m assessing my finances. Then again, it’s something I contemplate nearly every week—and if you rely on those freelance checks to pay the bills, I’m guessing you think about it often too.

I’m blessed to have a number of clients who pay relatively soon after they have accepted my work. With one of my bigger clients, I expect I’ll receive my check just about a month after I invoice. It happens without fail, and I take comfort in that consistency. With another smaller shop, the check usually arrives a week or two after a project is done. And with a few individuals I’ve taken on small writing and editing projects for recently, they’ve paid immediately—we’re talking, as soon as they can write a check and get it in the mail.

But I do have a couple of clients who won’t pay until months—many months—after my story has been published. I’ve tried to assess whether there’s a rhyme or reason as to how soon they pay, and there isn’t. Sometimes, I’ll have a few checks trickle in a few months in a row. Other times, I’ll go months without any pay, even though I’m submitting stories regularly.

I’m sure you’re asking: So why don’t you dump the client if they’re so bad at paying you, Julie?

It’s something my hubby says regularly. In his world, a three-month delay in payment is unacceptable (then again, so is a three-day delay). In his world, I should stop working for them immediately.

But here’s the thing. Despite those slow checks, this client is pretty darn good to work for. I get plum assignments. They come regularly. I typically get a few names of sources to contact when I get the assignment, which makes my job even easier. It’s steady work that requires little stress or upfront wrangling on my part—no queries, no sending clips, the assignments just come.

So for that reason, I’m willing to deal with the inconsistent payments. Occasionally, I’ll send a reminder email to let the editors know I haven’t been paid in a while. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And eventually I do get paid.

In the meantime, I just make sure to scrounge up other work that pays more quickly to supplement those slow checks. And I use these strategies to ensure those other checks keep rolling in at a reasonable rate.

Invoice properly. If the company you’re working with has specific way they like their invoices submitted, make sure you follow their guidelines—exactly. If they have a special form, use it. If they want that invoice submitted by snail mail, get out the stamps. Otherwise, your invoice may come back to you and the whole process begins again.

If there aren’t specific guidelines, be sure to include the most relevant information in a clear, easy-to-read format. Your name, address, phone number, and often social security number or federal ID should be easy to spot. Spell out what the project is, what the rate you agreed on was, and what the total is that they owe you. Make sure you include the date, too.

Say thanks. Whether you include a sticky note with a personal thank you, a standard “thanks for the work” on your invoice, or a few kind words in the email you attach your invoice to, that note of gratitude can go a long way.

Follow up.
If I know a company’s policy is to pay in, say, two weeks, I’ll follow up if I haven’t seen that check in two weeks. Usually this means shooting an email to the editor I worked with, who will check on things. Other times, I may contact the department that sends out checks directly.

Either way, be polite. Don’t write an angry email demanding payment or you’re suing. Don’t rant and rave on the phone. An informal, “hey, I just wanted to check in on that payment” works much better.

Follow up again. Still haven’t received that check? Send another note or make another call. Be a bit firmer this time. Odds are, your payment will come soon.

And if it doesn’t? Consider what kind of battle you’re willing to do. Is it a good client you want to keep, like the one I mentioned above? Then play nice.

Is it one you’ve never worked with before and don’t care to work with again? Then get a bit more aggressive—just remember, the world is a lot smaller than you think and you don’t want word to get around that you’re unpleasant to deal with.

Is it a big check? Then you may want to consult with someone (an attorney, a collection agency) who can help you get your money.

If it’s not that large of a payment, perhaps you're better of calling it a loss, scratching that company off your list, and moving on. (Remember, spending hours trying to get $30 probably isn't the best use of your time.)

What’s your strategy? Any slow- or no-payment horror stories? How long do you wait for a check before following up?

Learn more.
Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Paid–On Time (
How to get paid as a freelance writer in a timely manner (eHow)
Getting paid on time (Freelance Switch)

Photo by Betsssssy via Flickr

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Setting Your Rates

When I first started freelance writing as an undergrad, I couldn’t believe how much I could make for an article. I was fortunate to have the chance to write for a large national consumer pub, and even though I was probably making the least of all of the magazine’s freelancers, it was good pay by my standards. I figured I could only go up from there.

But then I realized that the rates a writer is paid vary considerably from publication to publication—particularly as you move from consumer pubs to custom, regional, local, or business magazines. It gets even trickier when you throw online writing and other forms of writing work into the mix.

There isn’t one set rate I get for my writing and there never will be.

So when I determine what’s reasonable pay, I take a number of things into account.

A while ago, I figured out what my ideal hourly rate would be—how much I need to get paid in order to make enough to pay my bills. It involved taking account of all of my business expenses, my personal expenses, how many hours I can actually bill (remember, you probably aren’t going to be billing a full 40 hours of work each week), and how much I hope to save after paying my expenses.

Handy sites online, such as the rate calculator at Freelance Switch, can help you figure all of this out in no time.

So then, each time a possible writing or editing project comes up, I keep my hourly rate in mind. I estimate how long I think each step in the process is going to take—background research, interviewing, writing, proofreading, communication with the editor, revisions if necessary—and divide the rate the editor has offered (if it’s a flat project fee) by the number of hours I estimate I’ll spend on it. If it’s close to or even more than my ideal hourly rate, I take on the project.

If that proposed fee is quite a bit lower than my hourly rate, I don’t shoot back a “no thanks” right away. As you know, times are tough, and rates for writing and editing work are getting lower and lower. So before I ditch the assignment, I consider whether there are places where I can trim back my time estimate. Can I keep the amount of time I spend researching or interviewing in check and still produce a quality article?

Other considerations come into play too. When the opportunity comes up to write for a publication I’ve been wanting to work with for years, odds are I’ll take on the gig even if it pays a bit less than my ideal (as long as the rate isn't ridiculously low). The same holds true if it’s an assignment for a topic I’m particularly passionate about.

Or, in the case of a writing gig that promises to offer consistent opportunities, I might sacrifice a bit on that ideal rate because getting regular work is worth it. (I write for almost every issue of one publication I started working for a couple of years ago, so the fact that I get such steady work makes up for the slightly lower rates.)

Besides, if the choice is between writing for a bit less pay than usual or having no writing work at all, I’m going to take on the job.

(One caveat about this: I will not go considerably lower than my ideal hourly rate, to the point where I am almost giving my work away for free, except for those instances where I volunteer my writing services to help out with a cause or publication I believe in, or when it helps build my writing business, as with my blogging. Writing mills and the ridiculously low rates they pay are a whole other topic I could spend many posts on, and perhaps I will someday. Suffice to say for now that I will not spend hours working on a project that brings in only a couple of dollars. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about why I don’t support writing mills, my writer-friend Kristine Meldrum Denholm has been posting on the topic recently and makes some great points.)

Then there are those times when a writing assignment comes with special stipulations—perhaps it's a rush job or it requires extra work that my usual writing assignments don't. In that case, I often will increase how much I am willing to take from the usual hourly rate, particularly if it means I'll be getting less sleep or won't have time to devote to other projects.

In other words, coming up with the ideal rate is an inexact science. But at least having that hourly number in mind ensures that I’m not taking on a project that isn’t worth my time.

How do you figure your hourly rate? How low are you willing to go? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Learn More:
How Much Should I Charge (njcreatives)
How to Set Salary Goals (

Photo by Benediktv via Flickr

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's All About the Money, Honey

It’s mid-January. Odds are, if you’re like me, you’ve been doing some goal-setting and planning for the coming year and perhaps even thinking about tax time. It’s hard to do any of that without thinking money.

Money is never far from a freelancer’s mind no matter the time of year. It’s what keeps us going. Money ensures we can pay our bills and live a comfortable life and do what we love. It’s a constant source of stress and worry and occasionally even excitement when a big check, or even a reasonably sized check, arrives.

That’s why, this week, I’m going to post a bit about money—specifically, about writers’ rates (tomorrow) and getting paid (on Thursday).

And, while we’re on the subject, I’d love to hear your thoughts on freelancing and money. What is the best part about the freelancer’s income? What stresses you out the most? Anything you’d like to hear more about? Let me know!

Photo by AMagill via Flickr

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hitting the Stacks

I’m busy pulling together a slew of queries this week. They stem from story ideas I’ve been jotting down in the past couple of months but haven’t had time to think about, and now I’m focused on getting proposals out the door within the next two weeks.

Before the madness of the holidays hit, I began by brainstorming potential publications to pitch my ideas to. Once I narrowed down the list, I headed to the local library and spent time thumbing through past issues of the magazines.

I’m pitching to magazines I haven’t written for before, so this gave me a chance to familiarize myself with them. It also allowed me to keep an eye out for similar stories that may have been done before.

It was a smart move on my part. One of the topics I planned to pitch to a women’s publication had recently been covered—in a different way, but too similar to make publishing another feature on the topic already a possibility. So I went back to the drawing board with that one and thought up fresh ways to approach the topic and new publications to pitch to.

With others, looking through the magazines allowed me to note the appropriate editor to send the pitch to and helped me figure out possible word counts for features, what department the story might fit best in for front of book pieces, and the type of sources and tone the stories in each publication used.

When I left the library, I came away with a page of notes and the confidence that I was sending the right ideas to the right publications.

I know some people don’t believe in querying and others send pitches blind, without any research into the publication, confident their idea will fit even if they’re not totally familiar with the publication.

For me, however, spending the time to familiarize myself is worth it.

It may not ensure that I land every story assignment I propose, but it at least gets me one step closer to success.

And now it's time to get to work on those query letters.

Photo by eclecticlibrarian via Flickr.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Goals

It’s the first workweek of the New Year—a perfect time to stop and reflect on what you accomplished as a freelance writer in 2009 and to plan where you want to take your business in 2010.

I, for one, am grateful for the writing and editing opportunities I had in the past year—my first as a full-time freelance writer and editor.

Considering the state of the economy this year and its affect on publishers large and small, I was fortunate to land a number of steady writing gigs, to have the chance to write for a few publications I had never written for before, to launch my own online travel magazine, and to find copy editing and proofreading work to fill the rest of my time.

At the same time, I’m ramping up for an even stronger showing in 2010. I have been fortunate to have a graduate assistantship position to provide a bit of extra cushion to supplement my freelance writing since August. I’ll have that same cushion until May but, after that, it’s going to be all writing and editing all the time.

My goal, then, is to make the most of the next five months—to finish my master’s degree, of course, but also to position myself so that I have a full plate of freelance work, or as close to it, as I can once my assistantship is completed and I’m fully reliant on my freelance income once again.

That means I’m sending out queries like a madwoman this first couple of weeks before my graduate classes start up again.

I’ll also be working on freelance assignments I already have—this year, I want to sharpen my interviewing and writing skills even more, so I’m at the top of my game.

And I’ll be returning to some of the places I haven’t visited in a while—freelance job writing boards, old contacts in the publishing industry I’ve been out of touch with—to see what other work I can scrounge up.

What did you do right in 2009? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? What are your goals moving forward into 2010? I’d love to hear how you’re gearing up to make this year of freelancing your best yet.