Ladies & Gents:
"How are you doing?"
We're asked that a lot these days, right? I'm asked that about me personally, but about my freelance writing business too. It's a weird time to be anyone, but also to be in business for yourself. I get why people are concerned. I'm concerned too! But more than four months into living in a pandemic, writing about a pandemic, and being in business during a pandemic, I have five insights to share.
1. I'm on track to make less money, but that's fine! Last year, my goal was to bring in $96,000. I far surpassed that and grossed $135,000. Right now, I'm on track for $120,000, maybe less. That's more than fine. More than fine. I didn't buy a bigger house or a luxury car because I had a great year last year (though I did buy a second car to compliment my 18-year-old Jeep: an eight-year-old wagon with 100,000 miles on it). I made it through through the Great Recession of 2008 – I learned. I do not live at the max edge of my income. Plus, I'm not traveling like I usually do, so I'm saving money and socking it away. I can afford to make less, which is a huge pressure off my shoulders.
2. I've lost one major client. Or I should say: I'm letting them go. They pulled back on assignments, and they've gotten squirrelly with payments. I'm sad. I love the people I work with, and it's not their fault. I hope things change, but I'm tired of having to follow up with their accounts department multiple times to get my money, and there's always the fear that they'll disappear entirely and I won't get paid. I make sure that no one client makes up more than 25% of my income. I'm glad right now that I've held firm on that (Note: this is not the New York Times, let's not start that rumor).
I've also been less productive, and I'm not giving myself a hard time about it. My top goal is staying alive through a global pandemic (at the same time a member of my family is going through a trauma – he's doing better, thank you for those who asked), so if I don't bill as many hours per week, so be it.
3. But I've made up a chunk of that lost work. I'd been writing for two publications at one of my B2B clients, and they've added me to a third. A few of my clients needed more work from me than usual. And university clients who had put plans on hold are all moving forward again. Trade magazines aren't going away. Alumni magazines aren't going away. They're sticking around, and so am I.
4. Specialized knowledge helps. I'm in demand because I have the expertise to cover different angles of this pandemic. Yes, that's luck – in part. But I also chose to develop niches in health, technology and science not only because they interest me, but also because I figured that the demand for that kind of writing would stay strong.
Plus, not everyone can or wants to write that material, so there's less competition. Sure, a lot of people could write my running column, but could the same number of folks write about the managed service provider market, remote patient blood sampling or building a maintenance workforce for electric trucks? Probably not. Do as many writers seek out that work as they do writing about running? I don't think so. I'm not saying you need to have these specific niches, but finding something to specialize in can help keep you in business when consumer publications are floundering (and that's not something I see getting better anytime soon – O, the Oprah Magazine is shutting down print operations, an announcement that came while I was editing this).
5. I'm still marketing. Editors still need writers, especially writers who can write about what we're living through right now. Editors also need writers for non-related stories because those are happening too. I just pitched two wedding-related stories because guess what: weddings are still happening. Life is still happening. Writing will still happen too. Plus, I still lost a major client. Who knows how many more I'll lose.
What am I doing? The usual: sending letters of introductions (LOIs), following up on LOIs, asking editors if they know anyone who could use another writer, checking in with past clients (often saying I can write COVID-related materials if they need them, which has worked well), finding editors who have moved to other publications and checking in with them there, networking with other writers. It's time consuming (I usually watch movies while I do it), but marketing is planting seeds for future growth, and I expect to be around long enough to harvest.
How are you doing? Do you have questions for me, freelance writer readers? I can answer them in a future issue! Just reply to this email – I'll get it. Unless you're rude. Then I will not reply!
"You Will Probably Hate Camping" for The Philadelphia Inquirer
"COVID-19 is a Catalyst for Remote Sampling and Telemedicine" for Clinical Laboratory News
"Preparing the Maintenance Workforce for Electric Trucks" for Transport Dive
"MSPs Lower Growth Expectations, Focus on Security – and the Future – Instead" for CIO Dive
What I'm Reading
- The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew nothing about asexuality until I watched BoJack Horseman, so I wanted to read more about it. This book fit the bill.
- The Dutch House by Anne Patchett. Lovely! As many people have said. I've thought about it long after I finished it.
- Fup: A Modern Fairy Tale by Jim Dodge. What a weird little book! Someone at a writing camp I taught at recommended it, and I finally read it. Worth it.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. A wonderful YA book I picked up from a Little Free Library.
- Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. I didn't like this as much as I expected. I guess I'm used to hearing him on his radio show, not at book length (I listened to the audiobook). No offense, travel man. But also never ever forget that Steves is a big reason you can legally smoke weed in a lot of states in the U.S.
What I'm Watching
- Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. I've listened to two podcasts about Epstein, but seeing these women talk about what happened to them is powerful and worth watching. What a terrible story.
- Athlete A. Another tough one, about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. What are we doing to our children?
- Julie Bradbury's Wainright Walks. Another show about walking! Just – walking! And what's walked through! Bless the British, honestly (well not for everything, but for this kind of TV. It's on Acorn).
- Captain America: Civil War. I don't get why this is a Captain America movie. It's clearly an Avengers movie.
- What We Do in the Shadows. I housed both seasons of this delightfully weird FX show and am now a full fledged member of the Matt Berry Appreciation Society. If you love the movie, you will love this too. Berry was recently interviewed on Bullseye, and he said he didn't have to audition for the show. He met one of the creators on a movie shoot and he pretty much said "that's the guy." I can see why. Also, the Johnny Daytona episode may have been one of the best comedic episodes of television I've ever seen.
- Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. I love Psych, and I'm glad they did another movie. They could probably do one of these every few years to many people's delights (and it seems the cast really does get along). It's on Peaccock, yes a new streaming service, but the ad-supported version is free. Also, Psych might not be a bad show to binge right now. It's a light mystery show, and very funny.
- Floor is Lava. This is a dumb show, but they know it's dumb, and the players know it's dumb, and it's a delight.
Until Next Time,
Jen A. Miller