The Unexpected Freelancer By Beth Hering

In 1994, I walked into my boss’ office at a major encyclopedia company to tell him that I needed to quit my job as an editorial coordinator because my husband had been accepted into a graduate program in another state. What I expected to hear was something like “sorry to see you go” or “you will be missed.” Instead, he said, “How would you like to stay on as a freelancer?” With no better prospects, I gladly accepted.

For the next nine years, I researched and wrote thousands of children’s encyclopedia articles. At times, I performed special tasks such as evaluating websites and responding to letters from customers. The pay was steady and adequate (it didn’t hurt that I could get health insurance through the university and later through my husband’s job), and I eventually even became quite good at filling out Schedule SE and all those other wonderful IRS forms for the self-employed. When I had a baby, I greatly decreased my hours but worked when he napped and when my husband was home.

In 2003, though, I received word that the company was having financial problems and had to halt all freelance work. With a small child at home, I did not wish to seek employment outside the house. Thus, I decided to embark on stage two of my freelance career–finding my own publishers.

The things I’ve written during the past year for magazines and websites have covered a range of subjects. Famous people and events I learned about during my encyclopedia days inspired some articles. People in my own life served as the basis for several personal essays (my preschooler says that his “job” is to give me things to write about). I also had success writing parenting tips and family financial advice. Thrown into the mix were two articles on skating history and one on the Chicago Cubs just because I always wanted to write on those subjects.

The feeling of choosing my material, crafting it from start to finish, and seeing my name in a byline has been great. Trying to make contacts, waiting for replies to queries, and dealing with a sporadic income have not been so much fun.

If my old freelance job gets reinstated, will I take it? You bet! One thing I’ve certainly learned is that good gigs are hard to come by. I’m hoping, though, that perhaps there is a stage three to my freelancing career. This stage would combine the steady work and income of my encyclopedia days with the thrill of publishing my own material. After all, my son has many years of good material ahead; I wouldn’t want to put him out of a job.

Beth Hering is a freelance writer who resides in Arlington, Virginia with her husband and 5-year-old son. Her work has been published by Guideposts for Kids, The Dollar Stretcher,, Women’s Independent Press, and others.