Opportunities and Pitching — Tips from the Freelance Survival Series

_MG_4519Learn to sell yourself, accept all paying work, and approach new publications with your eyes wide open.

Those were a few of the messages that came out of the “opportunities and pitching” session at last month’s Freelance Survival Seminar in Toronto. Writers Don Genova and Alison Garwood-Jones spent an hour sharing their experiences and offering advice to a roomful of freelancers

It’s a tumultuous time to be a freelance writer, said Genova. Although more opportunities exist than ever before, there are also more ways for freelancers to be exploited.

He advised writers to approach new magazines cautiously because they often haven’t factored decent writing rates into their operations budgets.

“People die of exposure. We don’t need exposure, we need to pay our bills,” he said.

Garwood-Jones writes features for a variety of magazines but hasn’t written for newspapers since 2009 because the industry has been so unstable. “It’s a lot of work for a lot less money writing for newspapers,” she said.

“It felt like the end of the world” when the internet started driving down rates, said Garwood-Jones, but rates are coming up again in some places. Freelancers need to get creative to hunt down new and emerging opportunities.


Where to find freelance work

• Corporate writing is one of the best places to find work. Corporate writing can become bread and butter for a lot of writers, allowing them to take on lesser paying passion projects. For people who grew up as journalists, it can be a bitter pill to swallow but Genova has found corporate clients very appreciative. It’s great to cultivate those kinds of relationships, he said. Although be cautious if you’re also doing investigative journalism because conflicts of interest can arise.

Corporate storytelling is another place that freelance journalists can sell their skills. Garwood-Jones charges corporate rates — $100 to $120 an hour — to help brands shape their identities.

Advertorial-type features for online magazines are are an increasing source of work for freelancers. You have to throw in product features, said Garwood-Jones, but you also have to interview sources. You pick your sources and you pick your angle, she said, and the pay is good.

Audio is an important area for freelancers. Local shows on CBC are interested in people who don’t necessarily have a journalism background but can tell a good story about a topic of interest. This kind of radio work can turn into a stable source of income. Genova says he acquired his regular radio column because he decided to specialize in food. If you want to regular work, he said, it’s a good idea to find an area of specialty. Listen to the programs on your local station, he advised, and listen for the freelancer. NPR is another outlet that pays well for audio stories.

Podcasting is another possible source of income. Genova produced a regular culinary podcast for a while. He joined forces with some other podcasters in New York and together they managed to get some sponsorship

• Factual TV still needs writers. There are more and more opportunities in television.

• The filmmaking industry is another area where Garwood-Jones has sold her writing and researching skills. This is an area where her previous career in art history has been useful.

It can take a lot of work to hunt down enough opportunities to piece together a full time career in freelancing. But Genova said the magic formula is out there somewhere. Being able to sell yourself is key. “We may be great thinkers, we may be great storytellers, but when it comes to being able to sell yourself, it’s a lot harder,” he said.


How to make the most of the opportunities you find

Genova and Garwood-Jones also offered some advice to freelancers on how to make the most of opportunities when they do come along.

• When you’re starting out, never turn down paying work, said Genova. “Always say yes to paying work even if you don’t know how to do it. And then find out how to do it.”

• Ask for an assignment letter clearly laying out what the editor expects. If an editor doesn’t do this, you do it instead. Send an email describing what you plan to do and when you plan to do it by. That way, if problems crop up or misunderstandings occur, you’ve got something in writing.

• Never base the amount of effort you put into a piece on how much a publication is paying for it. “It’s always your reputation on the line,” said Garwood-Jones.

• If you want an editor to have confidence in you, always meet your deadlines.

• Don’t give away the knowledge and skills you’ve spent money acquiring. “It’s in our power to turn the tables on people and remind them that we’re professionals, too,” said Garwood-Jones. Although more and more people are writing these days, not everyone can craft a story. “We have skills that are quite rare. It’s a craft that takes years to master.”

• There comes a time when you have to stick up for yourself and negotiate for higher rates. “You’d be surprised at how many times they say yes,” said Garwood-Jones.

• When negotiating contracts, said Garwood-Jones, having the support of an agent can be incredibly helpful. She made the difficult decision not to sign harsh contracts, giving up relationships with excellent editors in the process. “We’re all lone wolves,” she said, “but we can give each other the moral courage to not accept those terms. Remember, they need us. Publishers should show more professionalism and more respect.”


Vancouver freelancers will have the opportunity to hear from Don Genova along with freelance writer Joanne Sasvari at the CMG’s November 1st event The Freelancer’s Toolbox. You can read more about the event elsewhere on Story Board and register here.


Posted on October 16, 2013 at 9:11 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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