So, the other day, a friend sent me an e-mail, which I’ve edited a bit for her privacy and posted here:
How are you doing lady?! Hey, writing really quick to ask you a couple questions about freelance writing. I know I’ve asked you questions about it before, but it’s been awhile and I wasn’t really ready at the time to start actually doing freelance work. At this point, I am ready and have been looking for positions online. I figured that since you have done some on your own, you are one of the best people to get tips from. [Blogger's Note: She is really being entirely too kind as I am no expert by a long shot, however, I feel compelled to give information whenever I'm asked because it makes me feel good, and I like to be helpful where possible.]
So, basically, one of the main positions that keeps popping up is for [Popular Online Thing]. It’s an online news site where anyone who gets hired by the company can write articles on their specified topic. Like, let’s say I was the Arts examiner for [town], I would find local art events, go to them and write and take photos and publish them to the website. From what I’ve read so far, you are allowed to post the articles in more than one place, as the [publication] doesn’t keep all your content. In looking up info online from people writing, one woman said she is averaging about $10 per every 1,000 page views.
Basically, what I’m trying to figure out is what is legitimate, so I don’t end up wasting my time…Can you help?
Thank you so much!
I love this question, and it came at an interesting time for me because I’m in the midst of reorganizing my own priorities and approach to writing. I’ve given this particular question a lot of thought lately, and I’m happy to have a chance to share my opinions. So, here we go.
Short answer: You can’t lose anything by trying. [added after I wrote a long ass rambling e-mail... ok, now here's the extended "director's cut" answer]
Well, [Popular Online Thing] is a legitimate publication, and it’s one of many right now that are trying this new model of paying writers per page view. I can’t really tell you if it’s a waste of time or not since I haven’t tried it, but it seems to be popular with a lot of writers. It seems you really have to write a LOT of articles and/or spend a lot of time on self promotion to make any notable amount of money on it, so it’s a question of whether you find that work worthwhile.
You may find that the writing you’re doing isn’t really want you were hoping for… say, not as interesting, meaningful, or newsworthy as you would like… I could be wrong. See, I’ve been frustrated lately because I thought I was going into freelance journalism, but it turns out the main publications hiring lately are PR/advertising driven. If you turn in a story with a source saying anything critical of local government of businesses (anything that might hurt ad sales, perhaps?), you may be asked to try and give it a positive spin, which is fine if you planned on working in PR but not so much if you are trying to be a journalist.
I don’t want to be a downer about this, but I’ve gotten quite a reality check lately. Journalism as a whole is in bad shape. It’s in the middle of reinventing itself, and if you have the tenacity to be in the middle of it and see it through, I think there’s something amazing on the other side of this, but in the mean while? One of my close friends from grad school is a long-time writer for [Long-Standing, Highly Respected Publication]. She has been worked to the bone lately, damn near having a nervous breakdown, and she tells me that even at her newsroom, reporters are asked to file two stories a day. Look, when you are working at the level they work at, you really can’t produce quality at that rate. It’s clear that publishers have completely lost sight of actual journalism while trying to save their bank accounts, and the crazy thing is that the approach they’re taking is actually driving them further in the hole because they’re producing BAD WORK.
Ok, I’m ranting, so I apologize for that. I am really not trying to discourage you from trying freelance work but just sharing the things I’ve had to hash out recently. So… realistically, here’s what I advise:
Try the [Popular Online Thing], but only if they have something open that you are interested in and knowledgeable about. It’s not likely to pay tons right off the bat, although I know people who say they make decent money doing it. So, pick something you’ll enjoy working on and make it worth your while.
Meanwhile, ask yourself where you want to go with writing. It seems like you are really multi-talented, so is writing something you feel driven to do as a career, or is it something you just want to try out? Are you hoping to use the [Popular Online Thing] as a step toward working at bigger publications? I think that’s possible if you’re writing about what you want to write about for the long term. So, if you start writing about style and health, it may be a route toward writing in magazines on that topic later. In my case, I realized none of the stuff anyone wanted to pay me to write about was of much interest to me. I started writing for very different reasons, and people don’t pay for poetry, so I’m cutting the freelance thing a bit in order to focus on the aesthetic writing that I really love doing. There is headway to be made in journalism, and if anyone can do it, it’d be someone like you. I lack the drive of a reporter, and I’ve decided that the best thing for my writing is to cultivate what I love.
Hmm… Ok I am seriously going on now, so I’ll just reiterate my point one last time:
-Decide what your goal is with writing
-Cultivate the aspects of writing that you love
-Kick ass, take names, repeat.
Of course, there is another set of advice that I’ve neglected. If you do want to work in journalism, there is one tactic I know works for getting freelance gigs:
Apply for everything. Even if you might be slightly under-qualified, apply. If they like your resume and like your work, you can get a freelance gig out of applying for an editorial position. You just never know what’s out there, so test the water and see what you’ll find. And if you try it out and love it, fantastic. If you hate it, well, that answers that question, don’t it?
Well, team, what do you think? I know at least a handful of my readers and friends here are writers also. How are you handling the changes in journalism? What advice would you give to someone who wants to try freelancing?