Monday, January 22, 2007

Finding Financial Success

My question today is regarding pay rates. I have freelanced for the past two years (part time) for a trade magazine and have been getting steady increases with every article that I write for them. My problem is that I am currently freelancing full-time now, and trying to get my feet off the ground by sending queries to other magazines, but the bulk of my writing (about four articles per month) is still for the trade magazine. At $450 per article, that's only $1800 per month. When I read the other day that your first year you made around $35,000, I was wondering how you managed to do that. Obviously you were either writing more articles per month than I am or getting paid more for the ones you were writing.

So now the question...If I'm going to be able to make the kind of money I'm hoping to, how many articles per month should I be writing? How many queries should I be sending out each week? How fast should I be able to finish an article of say around 2000 words? Should I be concentrating on FOBs and not so much on feature articles at this time?

Obviously I'm not going to quit writing for the trade magazine right now, since I have steady income (though paltry), but I would like to know what I need to do (in your opinion) to get "up to speed" to see an income of about $35,000 this year.

Good - and complicated -questions. To answer your first one, during my first year freelancing, I took on a variety of work, and certainly, the bulk of the 35k that I brought in was NOT from magazine work. As I've mentioned in the past, to really earn a living at freelancing, most writers expand their business beyond the mags. So that year, and for about two or three years that followed it, I also did a lot of PR and marketing work for small businesses, as well as worked on retainer for one of the larger PR firms in the city. This supplied me with a steady stream of checks and also gave me time to keep pitching mags, which was what I really wanted to do.

How do you get to your desired income level? Well, in addition to expanding your client list with some corporate work (if possible), I'm going to suggest something scary. But it has worked for SO many writer friends I know. And that's to pare back on the trade writing. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of writers who are tied to lower-paying jobs finally saying, "This isn't my end goal, and I need to focus on that end goal, and in order to do that, I need to ditch the ball and chain that's tying me down." And once they do this, their careers really soar. The problem with these trade assignments is, I assume, that they're cutting into the time that you'd spend pitching other places, AND they might lull you into a sense of complacency...after all, you have this steady stream of work coming in, do you really need to get your ass out there and find new markets? In your case, I don't know that you need to cut ties entirely, but maybe take on one or two less stories a month. Or, better yet, only pitch (or accept) those stories that already cater to your area of expertise and thus will take less time to write. I started doing this a few years ago: these days, I rarely tackle a story for which I know squat. It simply takes too long for me to research. Instead, I pitch (and accept) articles for which I already have a list of contacts, am already familiar with the general research, and already have a relatively good idea of the tips that need to be provided. And this saves an enormous amount of time.

Which gets back to one of your questions: how long should it take you to write a 2000 word story? Really, there's no concrete measure of this. What I think is a better question to ask is: how much per hour should I be making so that this story is worth my time? When I was doing PR, I got paid about $100-150 an hour for my time. (Keep in mind that I live in NYC, so these rates are probably higher than standard.) So this set the bar for what I needed to earn with my magazine work as well. If a $300 dollar FOB took me 4 hours, it simply wasn't worth it. But if a $2000 feature took me ten hours, then it was. See where I'm going with this? If that 2000 word story takes you weeks on end to write, it's probably not earning you enough to be worthwhile, even if it seems lucrative upon accepting it.

Your final question deals with FOBs vs. features. I've advocated pitching FOBs in the past because I think they're an excellent way to break into the major markets. So sure, definitely devote some time to those pitches. But again, I think it's really about being able to juggle a variety of things: pitching FOBs, writing a few trade articles that won't suck up all of your time, drumming up some well-paying corporate work, and networking with editors and other writers. Freelancing is really about being a master juggler - you need to have a lot of balls in the air in order to be successful. It sounds like you're well on your way - getting those crucial first clips are key, and congrats on that! Now, just brainstorm ways to expand your business and make better use of your time, and you'll be hitting your target income in no time. did some of you guys make that leap from fledgling writer to being able to pay the bills? I know there are a lot of successful freelancers out there...chime in!


Lisa Bakewell said...

Thank you, Allison, for taking the time to answer all of these questions. You've been MOST helpful! Lisa

Anonymous said...

Developing that corporate relationship was key for me, too. Biggest reason, after the increase in pay: it can mean not having to pitch anymore. I have assignments on a regular basis, even though I'm a freelancer. Say goodbye to the wasted time working up queries and pitches that may never fly...

Julie said...

Hi Allison,
That was a really informative post. I am also trying to divide my time between getting corporate clients (I have a background in marketing writing) and pitching to consumer magazines(no clips yet). I was wondering if you ever had editors question you about conflicts of interest because you were pitching stories and representing PR clients. I would never mix the two, but i don't want any perceived conflicts either. This is most relevent in terms of how I should set up my website. Should I have 2 separate sites for corporate writing services and freelancing? Should I link between the two? How do you toe the line, so to speak? Maybe this is a question for another post...