You Never Know… By Brad Cook

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I built my freelance career on those three words. “You never know,” I’d say to myself as I followed up on a job opportunity, hoping it would lead to paying work that I could add to the other paying work I was doing. Eventually, I hoped, that pile of paying work would allow me to become a full-time writer and toss my day job.

Looking back, those three words have dictated my choices ever since I graduated from college in 1992 and moved from New Jersey to California with nothing more than a couch to sleep on at a friend’s apartment, some clothes and personal possessions, and a little money. I have to confess that I didn’t have much of a plan other than getting a full-time job to pay the bills and starting my freelance career.

Admittedly, I floundered for a while. My day jobs included stints at a comic book shop, a non-profit corporation, and a software company as I wrote freelance in my spare time and dreamed of making my living through words.

Remembering that time-worn axiom, “Write about what you know,” I turned my interests in comic books into paying articles for a variety of print and online magazines. Usually I contacted the editors directly and pitched a story about a writer or artist whose work I admired. The pay wasn’t great, but my efforts earned me free admittance to comic book conventions and I was able to deduct my comic book purchases from my taxes. It also allowed me to network in the industry and even publish a few short comic book stories in the small press.

One day, I saw an ad for videogame reviewers in Zentertainment (it’s important to look everywhere for work, not just the usual places). I had no experience writing about games, but I had plenty of experience playing them, so I took the plunge. Even though the pay was pitiful, I worked hard and became an invaluable asset to the site I worked for. When the guy who was in charge left and went to Apple Computer to take over videogame marketing for them, he put me in touch with the editor of their games site.

I’ll never forget the day I had lunch with that editor and she asked me how much I wanted to write a test article for them. I had no idea. She responded with a number that was three times the highest amount I had ever been paid for my writing. I was finally on my way! As my brain did flip-flops, I coolly responded, “That’s fine.”

My editor was very happy with that test piece, which led to two articles a month, and she referred me to the editor of Apple’s marketing newsletters, who picked me up for about 30 hours a week to work on his publications. In the span of a couple weeks, I had more than enough income to earn a living as a writer (and even support my family), and I was able to quit my dead-end administrative assistant job.

I’ve had some trying times during the two-and-a-half years since then, including the loss of my work on the newsletters because Apple consolidated their publishing stable, but I’ve picked up more clients, including BrandChannel.com, MacHome magazine, and others. Like many writers, I’ve felt the sting of the recession and seen my income drop, but I’ve held in there and continue to seek out new clients all the time.

In a way, looking for new clients is an adventure. You never know what’s around the next corner, you never know who you’ll meet, and you never know where you’ll end up. If you stay true to yourself and write about what you enjoy, not what will make you the most money, you can even earn a living from your efforts. Take it from me; I built my freelance career that way.

Brad Cook is a freelance writer/editor based in northern California. He has published over 120 feature articles and hundreds of shorter pieces during the past 7 years and currently focuses his efforts in the marketing, advertising, and public relations fields. You can learn more about him at http://www.bradcook.net or drop him a line at brad at bradcook.net if you’d like to hire him for an assignment or two. Or three.