It was my first official day as a full time freelance. I was still asleep when the phone rang. (Yes, I slept in my first day on the job — tsk, tsk). It was my editor from a well-known entertainment trade paper.
“Want to go to Alaska for a story?” he asked coyly.
Two days later I was on a plane to the Arctic to cover a film being shot in a tiny Eskimo village on the Bering Strait.
This is a sign, I thought. I’m going to make it as a freelancer.
And I have, for 17 years.
I got my bachelor’s degree in English and my master’s degree in broadcast journalism. Then I went to work for a university as a state government researcher. Yawn.
During that time, I pursued one of my passions — writing. Whenever possible (which was sometimes during work hours — tsk, tsk again), I researched and queried publications, including the entertainment paper that sent me to Alaska. (I had some knowledge of the film industry and filming in my home state — Illinois. This was crucial to getting the freelancing gig, which lasted six years.)
I began building a portfolio of publications, clips and editors that hired me repeatedly. I must admit, being single made this much easier since I had free evenings and weekends to write. (But if you have enough determination, you can freelance on the side regardless of your life situation.) Simultaneously, I began saving money. Maybe, just maybe, if I had enough money and contacts, I could write full time…
Three years later, with about a year’s worth of living expenses in the bank and several steady writing gigs, I took the jump. I resigned from my university job to become a full time freelance writer. Gasp. When I submitted my resignation my palms broke out in a sweat. WAS I NUTS??
That early morning call my first day on the job assured me I wasn’t. While I haven’t become rich freelancing (does anyone really do this for the money anyway?), I’ve managed to pay the bills by juggling a combination of steady writing clients (professional associations that have constant writing needs) and intermittent clients (magazines I write for out of the love of it).
One key to success is constant self-marketing. Once an editor has accepted an article, immediately pitch another. Build a relationship with them. Always think ahead to the next job and the next month, no matter how busy you are with current deadlines. Pitch, pitch, pitch!
And don’t sleep in — you might miss an important call.
Tara McClellan McAndrew is a 40-year-old writer and mother in Springfield, Illinois. She has been published in a variety publications. While many of them have been state-wide or regional (Illinois Issues, Illinois Times) some have been national (The Hollywood Reporter, Back Stage, Successful Retirement). In addition, she has freelanced as a broadcast journalist and has produced or helped produce reports for National Public Radio, the BBC and Australia Broadcasting Company.