So you want to be a freelance writer?

February 11, 2015freelance writing

I spent two hours yesterday renegotiating with the IRS an installment agreement. While I was on the phone waiting to speak to an agent, I started thinking about how I got into this tax pickle. It all started getting downsized and getting thrown into freelance world.

I’ve been freelancing for almost twelve years. There have been good years (pre 2008 financial crisis) and some tough years due to the economy.  I often see on Facebook writers who are itching to quit their jobs and freelance. Many of the reasons they give is that they rather work for themselves; they’re not intellectually stimulated by their work. They want to write at home and not have to commute or dress up for their jobs. They want the freedom of choosing projects they like.

All perfectly good reasons, but you need to be realistic what a successful freelancing career demands. So I came up with the following list that will help decide whether the freelancing scenario is right for you:

1. Can you afford to quit your job? Seriously, if you’ve been laid off or downsized, as I was back in 2002, you won’t have any choice but to freelance while you’re looking for a new job. I was fortunate to have had a job that made decent money and had some savings. I found freelancing gigs –in marcomm–that paid well.

2. How much debt do you have? Although, I was paid well with these freelance gigs, I managed to accrue debt because right about the same time I was downsized as director of PR, my partner lost his job. I ended up being the primary income earner for two years. It took me five years to pay off the debt after negotiating with credit card companies. And don’t be fooled that once you’ve paid it off that it won’t return. Keep in mind that economies tank as do freelance gigs. As both my partner and I discovered in 2008.

3. Get used to living a simpler life. I don’t mean like a Tibetan monk, but weigh the costs of entertainment, clothing and accessories, make up and hair styling and so on. As typical New Yorkers we ate out a lot. It wasn’t super expensive, but as foodies we had to try the latest tapas or sushi bar, Ethiopian restaurant, or go out for brunch on Sundays. Thankfully, we know how to cook and invested in good appliances.

4. When you get paid set aside money for yourself and put it in a savings or retirement account. The rest goes to bills, taxes, and if you have anything left over a reward fund for birthday or end of the year.

5. Learn some basic bookkeeping skills. Keep accurate records of all your expenses. Learn what you can write off from your home office to travel expenses to classes to grow your current skills set to software that you need for writing, photography, graphic design and so forth.

6. You’ve been offered an on-site “freelance” jobs. If you are required to work on-site and you have supervisor who dictates hours, provides the office space, and materials, YOU ARE NOT A FREELANCER NOR AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR. THIS IS A JOB. The IRS is very specific about this, and the company should be paying taxes and taking out for SSI.  If a company does this, the IRS has a whistleblower program. Use it. Because you will be screwed in the long-run.

7. File quarterly. It’s a headache, but if you’ve been putting money away it won’t be so painful, plus you won’t be killed by interest and penalties.

8. Don’t depend on one good and consistent gig. Query, query, query so you can have a lot of work coming your way and have a steady stream of income (assuming the client pays promptly).

9. Weigh the opportunity costs of writing a long article for what amounts to pennies per word. Yes, it might be a new market you want to break in, but do you want to spend several hours researching, interviewing, writing and editing for $100.or less.

10. At some point you will be acting like a collection agency. Always invoice when you send your article. Don’t see a check in two weeks? Follow up with a polite email. Still no money? Ask for the accounting department’s contact information. Still no money? Get a lawyer.

None of this is new and has been said many times but they’re worth repeating and reminding yourself. Don’t make the same mistakes I made because I didn’t consider aspects that were beyond my control like the economy or a changing industry. Be smart and treat freelancing as your business. And don’t get discouraged. You can grow your freelance, but it doesn’t happen over night.

Freelancers: Anything else you’d like to add?

Universe, I Need More Work!

March 13, 2014freelance writing

Sometimes when you need something very badly you have to say it out loud so the Universe can hear you. In November, I stood in the middle of my dining room and decided that I wouldn’t turn my nose up at certain PR freelance jobs and said, “Universe, 2014 has to be the year I increase my income.”

A few days, later more work assignments started coming my way.  I also launched my SimplyScrivener niche website because I was inspired by Mridu Khullar Relph’s posts about her own niche website experiment. I’m pleased to note that the site is slowly making some money that pays for the hosting, but it also is generating interest from organizations that want me to teach online courses. So if I had not read Mridhu’s posts, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to launch the site.

Now did the Universe have any play in this? Was it because the economy is pulling itself of the deep pit? Or was it simply being proactive on my part? I suppose saying it out loud that I needed more work psyched me to get busy. Busy generates more busy, and this first quarter has proven to be fruitful.

However, apart from the tutorials, the magazine, and the PR freelance gigs, I still need more work. My move to the Adirondacks is costing a mint and I need to recuperate what was spent, but also increase my income.

Because I’m moving to a completely new area, I’ll be sniffing out potential stories that I hope might make it into big market publications. However, I need some help to get those queries out, to shape these story ideas, to challenge me to go beyond my comfort zone. And what happened today? I receive Mridhu’s newsletter announcing that she’s offering her fabulous 30 Days, 30 Queries online course in April. It’s exactly what I need to jump start my freelance writing and get noticed by editors.

The 30 day schedule runs like this and I’ve highlighted the classes where I know I need the most help:

Day 1: Where Will You Be in 30 Days?
Day 2: The 30 Target Markets
Day 3: Creating Workflow
Day 4: Psychological Barriers and Easy Wins
Day 5: Who Are They? What Do They Pay? What Do They Like?
Day 6: Why The Idea is The Most Important Part of the Process
Day 7: 30 Ways to Package Your Story Idea (Part 1)
Day 8: 30 Ways to Package Your Story Idea (Part 2)
Day 9: 30 Ways to Package Your Story Idea (Part 3)
Day 10: Finding Story Ideas That Sell
Day 11: Brainstorming Techniques for Idea Generation

Day 12: The Sources of Good Ideas
Day 13: Finding Unique Slants to Common Story Ideas
Day 14: The Anatomy of a Query Letter
Day 15: The 6 Traits of Good Query Letters
Day 16: You Ask, I Answer – Part 1
Day 17: You Ask, I Answer – Part 2
Day 18: You Ask, I Answer – Part 3
Day 19: Avoiding Overwhelm and Burnout
Day 20: The Different Types of Query Letters
Day 21: How to Get Quicker Responses
Day 22: The Art of Building Relationships
Day 23: Writing Confident Queries
Day 24: Your Pitches Aren’t Creative Writing, They’re Marketing
Day 25: Staying in Touch With Editors on Social Media
Day 26: 9 More Query Letters That Sold
Day 27: Why Editors Don’t Respond and What To Do When You’re Rejected
Day 28: Why 30 Queries Matter and How Not to Give Up
Day 29: The Marketing Habit: How to Create It, Nurture It, and Stick to It
Day 30: For Every One Yes, You Can Get 30 More

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Mridhu is offering readers who want to take her course a free spot. To get in you can either tweet, write a Facebook update, or blog about the course. Once you’ve done that, email her at or tweet her @mridukhullar to qualify. Fingers crossed that I’m the lucky one!

My Two Writing Jobs

June 24, 2010freelance writing

I’ve mentioned in passing my two writing gigs, but I thought I would dedicate a whole post to the both of them since the reality is that they take a good amount of my time.

If you’re wondering what is it exactly I do at HAND/EYE Magazine here’s your chance to learn how I spend my days. I am the online editor. So what the hell do I do apart from writing articles for the online version? Well, I edit stories from other freelance writers. I research topics and reach out to artists to potentially feature them. Sometimes I ask them to byline their own stories (and most of the time I have to finesse the language), other times I ask questions and ghost write it for them, but  the majority of the time I conduct an online interview with the artist then write the story. In addition, I ask for images, caption them, fiddle with the size if needed, etc. In addition, I have to come up with an editorial calendar, keep it up to date, schedule the stories, and so on. Basically that’s what takes about 85 percent of my time. I don’t deal with any of the tech issues at all. In other words, I don’t frig around with Drupal (I’ve been told not to touch it since it’s so glitchy. Although I have a feeling I could figure it out because I am a dweeb when it comes to figuring out software).

Ten percent of my time is administrative. I’m in charge of updating the subscription list and to mail out copies of the magazine. It’s a dirty job, Keith did it before me, and now it’s my baby. I’m hoping that when we’ve become a huge media conglomerate, I can give this job to someone else. Actually, it’s not that bad. It’s one of those tasks that’s nice to have so I can rest my brain.

Another five percent is trying to come up with ideas of how to increase our subscriber base. We talk about this, I would say, every couple of weeks, but I think between word-of-mouth and FaceBook, we’ve grown a little (or so it seems to me as I input the names of new subscribers on the spreadsheet).

I haven’t been involved with the print issue. YET. But I know that I might have one article in the next one on Haiti (I think it may be an expanded piece on Franz Zepherin).

For a small publication that prints two issues per year, but publishes online 48 weeks, I can say that we are BUSY. VERY BUSY. Lucky for me, though, I can make my own hours and work from home (or at the “office” if I have the desire to have a change of scenery.) I tend to put in my hours from 9 until 5, but I do take breaks here and there (post office, bank, grocery store, walk the dogs or take 30 minutes to exercise). Tonight is an exception. I’m working on a bunch stuff (this is one of those breaks) and I’ll probably call it quits around 10 pm. Do I work on weekends? Yep, pretty much. I usually write an article or two. This weekend looks like I’ll be writing at least three.

The second job is my book review column Dan’s Papers. It’s pretty straightforward. I read a book, and I review it. So far I’ve reviewed four books, and I have one coming up for Monday. Oops, make that four articles to write this weekend.

So that’s it in a nutshell. I write. A lot.  And now it’s time to work on some photo captions.