By Diana Burrell
Here at the Renegade Writer we get e-mails and queries from readers and/or aspiring writers who are desperate to start freelancing because they are broke, have a disability or illness and can’t work a regular job, or lost their jobs and are down to their last nickels.
They write asking for job leads, an assignment to write on our blog, or free books/tuition to our classes. I know Linda struggles with how to respond to these e-mails because she doesn’t like saying no; I have a hard time saying no, too, but with these requests, there’s a bigger issue going on here that needs to be addressed. Here is what I tell these writers:
1. Freelancing is the worst way to make fast money.
That is, excepting illegal or personally offensive means. It baffles me when someone who is desperate for cash and running on empty thinks that writing will help them out of their financial quagmire.”
One hard-and-fast rule we advise writers not to break is to make sure you have at least six months of income saved up before embarking on a full-time writing career. I’d go further than this and urge you to have a year’s worth of income given how tough it is to survive in the media world right now.
Freelancers who have dozens of years of experience under their belts frequently complain to me about how long it takes to land an assignment, never mind get paid for it. The whole process of assigning/getting paid can take months … even years!
So if you have zero or little experience freelancing, and you’re desperate for cash to pay your light bill, embarking upon a freelance writing career is just about the most ill-advised move you could make to secure your financial future. Think about it. Just because you know how to write does not mean you know how to get published.
You don’t have cash. You don’t have prospects. The valuable asset you do have is Time. So don’t squander this one asset by chasing freelance jobs that even experienced writers are struggling to land: look for work that pays quickly. Sometimes it means selling stuff on Craigslist or eBay, bartering, taking a job that gets you a paycheck in weeks — not months — from now, or developing a new business you can get up and rolling faster than a freelance writing career.
Like many millions of Americans in the past few years, my family has suffered financially. The first thing I did when I found out we were in financial trouble was to assess my business. Any work that wouldn’t or couldn’t pay me quickly, I turned down. I didn’t care how much I loved the editor or the assignment — I said no. (That included writing for this blog.) I needed to spend my time on work that brought income into my checking account NOW, not months from now.
I started looking for more reliable ways to earn money. Yes, I even sold stuff on eBay and Craigslist, as other writers I know in similar circumstances have done. I applied for full-time jobs. I looked for ways to trim our budget, going so far as to give up my car for a year to save on fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs (I live in a bike-friendly town. Plus, I couldn’t afford my expensive gym anymore. Double win!) Fortunately I had enough traction as a professional writer to build other avenues of reliable income that bring in a steady flow of cash each month, but still, we had some tough months for a long time.
2. If you can’t afford to buy our books or a spot in our classes, then you really need to think about another career.
At least once a month we get someone who wants free books or a “scholarship” to our classes. Our books (on Kindle) cost less than $5 each. If you can’t afford to spend $5 on a writing book, this tells us you’re in pretty desperate financial straits. Same with the classes, although they cost more.
If I had a student who signed up and they told me they were spending their last dollars to take my class, no, I’m not going to feel sorry for them and let them take it for free. I’m going to return their money promptly, tell them to use it for food or living expenses, and urge them not to waste time in my class, which will not bring them immediate financial relief. You do not want to build your freelance writing career during desperate times.
3. Editors don’t want to hear about your poor health, limited work opportunities, or other tales of woe.
We see this a lot with writers who want to write paying guest posts for us. It doesn’t make me feel sorry for you and reach for my wallet — it scares me. First, because of all I’ve written above. I’m thinking, “Why the hell does this person think freelancing is the answer”” And second I’m thinking, “Why are they telling me this””
Editors in general really don’t give a crap about your health, your finances, your future job prospects, or really anything about you when they don’t know you. All they care about when they sit down to read your query is the article you’re selling and if it’ll work for their readers. (If you’ve built a working relationship with editors, that’s a slightly different story.)
They don’t want to worry that you’re about to have your phone or Internet turned off (how will you report?) or that you’re about to go for cancer surgery (will you be alive to turn in copy?). I know professional writers who’ve gone through divorce, death of a spouse, death of a child, various cancers, bankruptcies, depression, foreclosure, and more, yet their editors have no idea. When it’s time to get to work, they paste a smile on their face and project an air of confidence and can-do even when they’re crumbling on the inside.
Editors are not your friends. They’re not your confessors. Editors are already wary of hiring someone they don’t know … they’re going to be even more wary of hiring someone whose life is a mess. If you’re still gung-ho about making a go of freelancing, despite everything I’ve written above, at least keep your personal problems to yourself during the querying stage.
Readers, if you were facing a financial crisis or needed to find easy work, would you turn to freelancing? Why or why not? Do you have any tips you can share with readers who need to earn cash fast? Please add your comments below.
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