It’s that time of year again! When I take a look back and see how I did.
In 2023, I brought in $112,873.06.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Association Publications: 26%
- Colleges and Universities: 25%
- Business to Business Publications: 23%
- Research Institutes/Hospitals: 9%
- Consumer Publications: 5%
- Freelance Instruction: 2%
Like charts? I have one for you too!
While this is still more than I’ve earned per year for most of my freelancing career, it’s still the lowest dollar amount I’ve brought in since 2018, and $14,000 less than I made in 2022. So what happened? I’ll go into the bad, and then the good, because we do like to end on a high note.
Let’s start with the obvious: at the end of August, my sweet sweet cattle dog Annie Oakley Tater Tot died very suddenly. She was only nine years old (and I wrote about what happened, and the origins of the Rainbow Bridge, for Slate). I was completely flattened with grief, and working was very difficult. I had just taken off the month of July (which we’ll get to in the good), and for most of September and part of October, I did the bare minimum. Usually, I bill between $30,000 and $35,000 a quarter, but for the third quarter of last year? Just under $19,000.
Another thing I haven’t talked about is that I wrote a non-fiction book proposal that didn’t sell. This is the second time it’s happened since I published Running: A Love Story. Despite an almost fight among agents who wanted to rep me, and signing with one of the best in the biz, the publishing industry just wasn’t interested in what I had to offer. I was infuriated about this at the time, but then Annie died, and it didn’t seem so important anymore.
This is relevant to my freelance year because writing that proposal took a big chunk of my time, and I turned down paying assignments to do it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Well, that’s on me. Unless a publisher comes at me with a contract and a check for a non-fiction book, I won’t be going through that again anytime soon.
I took off the entire month of July to drive to California and back with my dog. It was a wonderful trip, and given that Annie died a month after we got back, I’m so glad we had that time together, and that she had one more big adventure. Despite what happened to my income as a result of this good thing (+ tragedy), I will still be doing a big trip in 2024. It’s refreshing to take that time off, and, well, fun!
The good, in general, is that I got back up. In October, after a (grief) trip to Cape Cod, I looked at who I’d been writing for and realized that I was lacking in my bread and butter of college and university work, and that I hadn’t kept up with my marketing efforts even before Annie died, so I went on a marketing blitz. I used Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s tip of five marketing outreaches a day. I followed up on old letters of introduction, sent out new ones, and connected with folks I worked with before but hadn’t in a while. I went to existing clients and pointed out that I had skills they may not have known about, and also asked them “do you know someone who could use a writer like me?”
As a result, I signed three high paying clients in the fourth quarter of last year, two as a direct result of this push (the third came from an editor I used to work with who got a new job and signed me to work with him there). And while I was working on this post, I got two more — again, directly from that marketing push. I also started doing new work for a favorite client, after I told him I could handle some of the assignments he’d have normally given an in-house writer who got promoted. As a result, my income bounced back: I billed over $32,000 for the fourth quarter of 2023, right smack in the middle of my usual range.
I also got the mental health treatment that I needed for severe depression, and while I am still grieving the loss of my best friend, I am back to working full time, running five days a week, and planning adventures for the rest of this year.
I’m not really big on resolutions, but I do have a few takeaways from how 2023 shook out. As you can see, consumer publications is not a big part of my income anymore. That’s by design. I only pitch stories, to specific editors, that I really want to write. I see this as a marker of success. I can afford to be choosy.
I’m comfortable with the mix of income sources, though that could of course change. I would love to write more travel, which used to be my jam. I have a travel piece coming out early this year. So we’ll see if I can make that happen.
I’m vowing to stay on task with marketing, so that if something does happen in 2024, I’ll have insulated myself better than I was before Annie died. I’m sending out a slew of letters of introduction in January, and have a few more tricks up my sleeve to expand in areas where I like to write, which includes business to business publications and those colleges and universities.
I also started writing a novel. I’d picked at an outline in 2021, but I decided to dedicate some time to figure out if I could really make a go of it. I have 14,000 words so far. This does not mean I’ll finish it, or if I do, it’ll get published (I of all people know how cruel the publishing industry can be). But I’m proud of myself for going from “this idea rattling around in my brain” to words on the page. It’s part of my “got bad up” good. Despite 19 (!) years in an industry that by design is one of constant rejection, I’m still here. I’m still willing to be a bit of a dreamer, and try something new.
And, of course, Notes from a Hired Pen has a new home. Let’s see what we can do with this, shall we?
I plan to welcome another dog into my life sometime this year, but I’m not sure when. I adopted Emily, my first dog, when I became a full time freelancer. Her death shattered me too. It’s really a terrible kind of grief. But my life has been so much richer for having dogs in my life, and I know the next one will add to it too.
Thank you for bearing with me during the platform switch, and I’m sure there are still bugs to iron out. Here’s to 2024!
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