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December 15, 2008

Dish all your professional secrets?

December 15. Day 168.

Ever since moving to San Diego, I've been thinking of branching out and trying to do some freelance writing, before and/or after I finish grad school. Maybe marketing & PR, white papers, trade publications, websites. Maybe something online, since the print world is currently imploding. Basically, anything that would combine words, a keyboard, and a paycheck. Because I love writing, and I need money. Simple. (I have some experience in this domain -- wrote for my college paper, wrote copy for a cosmetics website, and various other gigs. So, why not explore this further?)

A few months ago I called a local freelance writer I found on the Internet and left a voicemail introducing myself as a new kid in town who was interested in learning about her career. (She was one of the people I contacted back in August.) She immediately called me back and left a message. I called her back and left a message. Somehow, we played phone tag an entire month, until we (well, I) stopped trying.

Today, pushed by I don't know what force, I impulsively picked up the phone and called her again.

She answered.

In the span of 23:06 minutes (as my cell phone timer attests), I learned so much about this biz that my head is still reeling. She was so forthright and generous. Every time I thanked her, which was often, she said it was no problem -- she was once a jittery newcomer, too, and people call her all the time for advice.

She told me her most recent rate, six years ago, when she switched from freelancer to in-house: $85 an hour.

She told me that for projects that come to more than $500, I need to ask for 50% up front, due with the signed contract.


Yes, she has her clients sign contracts. She said she'll email me hers.

She told me to trust my gut about people who approach me, since if I suspect they won't pay up, it's probably for a good reason. She's spent too much time chasing charlattans, and hopes I won't make the same mistake.

She recommended two books and a website about how to make a living as a freelancer, all by Peter Bowerman. His site, The Well-Fed Writer, explains that "the words 'starving' and 'writer' are never seen together" -- Excellent!

She told me to get as much experience as possible writing web copy and that Facebook is great for finding contacts and work.

She told me that having a technical background isn't necessary for lucrative technical documents, but it's boring as hell.

She told me about loyalty and ethics -- I shouldn't write about the same topic for different publications or overlap PR with journalism on the same topic.

She gave me the email of an editor at a small but well-paying magazine and told me to include her name in the subject line.

Then she asked for my email and said she'll send work my way.

At the end, I offered to return the generosity however I could. If not professionally, then with translations, or cat or baby sitting, or rides to the airport. She laughed and said we can meet for coffee one day and go from there.

Gained: Where there was darkness, now there is light. And, equally important, I got an example of the kind of professional I hope to be, whatever field I end up in: successful, generous, transparent, resourceful, and busy enough to pass work on to a newbie.
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