I have a group of freelance friends who come to me with their vexing problems. Often, they'll open with an apology: I know you wouldn't do this, but I did so what do I do now? That kind of thing.
Let me tell you: I've learned a lot in my nearly two decades of being a full-time freelance writer, but I make mistakes all the time. ALL THE TIME. Here's three I made recently, and what I learned from each.
1. Didn't clarify an assignment. I work with a school that farms me out to other departments. I've never had a problem with this work because it seems that the main marketing folks and I are on the same page. However, with the last assignment, the department they farmed me out to had different ideas of what they wanted than what I produced, and didn't tell us until after they saw my copy. This could have been avoided if I had, at the start of the a assignment, asked for an outline of exactly what the department wanted. Because I didn't, it created a lot of angst and rewrites. I lost a morning I could have been doing something else redoing the piece. It sucked. I hated it. It also caused a lot of tension between me and the main marketing folks. I assumed that because everything had been smooth sailing before, that we wouldn't NEED to do those extra steps. I was extremely wrong.
Lesson learned: Get the specifics, every single time. The marketing folks and I agreed that we need to do this from now on to avoid this situation in the future.
2. Took work in a field that makes me uncomfortable. When I talk to freelancers about writing for niches, I encourage them to make a list of areas they want to write about/for, but also those they do not. For example, I won't take assignments from companies who work in or publications dedicated to gambling, firearms, alcohol or debt collection. No judgement of folks who do (I was on a panel earlier this year with someone who makes a big chunk of his money writing for casinos, and it was fine!) but none of that stuff is my bag. I recently the mistake of not expanding my list to include a sector I feel weird about. I did one story with a slight gnawing in my gut. I should have stopped there, but I took a second assignment because it was still mildly interesting and the money was good. And guess what, I felt grubby the entire time.
Lesson learned: Trust your gut. I shouldn't have accepted the second assignment. It's too late for that now, but this sector is now on no-no list it goes.
3. Didn't check the submissions guidelines before sending an LOI. I recently went through the American Society of Business Publication Editors list of finalists for their annual Azbee Awards to pick out potential new clients (which is a thing I say to do in my second freelancing ebook, plug plug), then sent them letters of introduction (LOIs). One got back to me right away, asked me what I'd like to write about, and then told me to make sure to read their submission guidelines, which said very clearly that they don't pay. When I asked, she confirmed. I declined to do the story (because of course).
Lesson learned: Not every publication has submission guidelines, but many do, especially in specialized fields. I now check before sending an LOI so I don't waste time on a publication that won't pay me for my work.
Also, because I know some of you like numbers: Out of a 63 page list of Azbee finalists, I sent 16 LOIs to editors over two weeks, most of them on Monday. So far, two have gotten back to me: the non-payer and someone who wanted to interview me for a full time job (I declined). As I've said before about LOIs, you're planting seeds not knowing when they're going to grow. I just got a response FOUR YEARS after I sent an LOI. It can takes time, but I think it's worth it.
Anyway, tl;dr, it's OK to make mistakes, especially when you're just starting out. As long as you learn something about your goofs, you'll become a better freelance writer and business person because of it (because, after all, this is a business).
What I'm Reading
- Bridgerton. I thought season two was great. I know it doesn't have as much sexy times as the first season, but I love a slow burn. I also like romance novels with the "enemy to lovers" trope, which is why I liked the book this season is based on too.
- Rothaniel. I don't watch a ton of comedy, but this HBO special is fantastic. Is it comedy? Well I laughed. But it's also an examination of secrets, what they do to the people holding them, and what you and those around you do when the secret is finally out.