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Katerina Bryant recaps our short course on freelancing with Benjamin Law.
Making a living and spending quality time at home with your cat doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. Last week we held our third webinar, featuring Benjamin Law (The Family Law, Gaysia) on freelancing. Law was charming - as always - and if you have a spare hour and want to up your freelancing game, you can watch it in its full glory here. If you’re on a bit of a tighter schedule or just want to relive the highlights, however, keep reading.
You Don’t Have to Wait for Ideas to Come to You
When it comes to freelancing, we need to be an ‘ideas factory’. There are lots of ways to generate ideas, be it researching a topic after it comes up at a dinner party or reading international news stories and applying it to Australia.
To generate ideas, Law ran participants through an exercise:
Consider the magazines/websites you read
Identify ten topics you know inside out
Identify ten that you know nothing about but that arouse your curiosity
Law says that while a writer may know nothing about a topic, curiosity is important as, ‘that fuel of curiosity will be what drives you in writing the story.’
Cross-pollinate your lists.
Cross-pollinating means thinking through which topics work for each magazine. If you chose Star Wars, consider how this topic would work (if at all) for a progressive literary journal like Overland compared to how it could be pitched to Frankie. This method cuts out a lot of the issues in coming up with a topic and being unsure of where to place it.
It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Whose Name You Know
Address the editor by name. Dear ‘madam/sir’ isn’t good enough. As Law says, ‘You are going to propose that you can write a whole article and do all this research, have you been able to do the specific courtesy of being able to research what the editor’s name is?’
You can find an editor’s name in the ‘About’ section of the website or the opening pages of a magazine. If you’re looking at print magazines, Law recommends getting your hands on the latest copy as editors can change positions quickly.
Include Your Email Address in Your Pitch
A pitch email should have your contact details: your name, number and website. Law also recommends including your email address as a part of your email ‘signature’. Even though you’re sending it from your email, if you include it in your signature it will allow editors to save your signature (with all of your contact details) to a file. It’s part of making it easy on editors. As Law says, editors are busy people so the easier you can make it for them, the more chance you have of getting a ‘yes’.
Before You Write a Word, Know Your Fee
A professional editor should be telling you from the beginning what your fee will be, whether that is paying by word or paying by story. From there, you have the information you need to decide whether or not it is worth your time. Law advises establishing your pay rates from the outset so you can determine whether you are getting paid or not (as unfortunately while being paid for your work should always be the norm, it often isn’t).
On the topic of working for free, Law told young writers who were considering unpaid work, that ‘there are unscrupulous people who will exploit that.’ He advises young writers to protect themselves through drawing boundaries. Writers should be clear in what they will learn from the experience, whether an aspect of industry knowledge or a byline or two. Once they’ve achieved that, they should leave and look for paid work.
Avoid Becoming Overwhelmed by Listening to Laurie Anderson
Artist and musician Laurie Anderson once said, ‘If I’m trying to decide on a project, it has to have two of the three following things: It has to be fun, it has to be interesting, or it has to make money.’ Law recommends that as a freelance writer, remember you’re going to have jobs come your way that will be neither interesting or fun. If you don’t desperately need the money, consider turning them down. He says, ‘know why you’re saying yes or no to things otherwise it’s easy to get overwhelmed.’
This is not the end of our short courses series. As we prepare the next three, you can re-watch Patrick Lenton’s course on Social Media for Writers or Alison Croggon’s on Grant Writing. Just go to our 'Learn' tab and click 'Short Courses'.
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Katerina Bryant is a writer based in Adelaide. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow, amongst others. She edits nonfiction for Voiceworks and Antic New Writing. Her essay, ‘A Pig in Mud’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers. She tweets at @katerina_bry.
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