Some Freelance Writer Advice for the Holidays

Freelance Writer Advice‘Tis the season for big announcements made to family and friends – so it’s time to share a little freelance writer advice with my favorite new writers. We’re just a week out from Christmas, and a couple out from New Year’s. For many, this means the onslaught of relatives (and questions) is coming. Questions about everything from your love life to your thoughts on politics (oh, your family doesn’t go there?!) But also, this year, there’s a new entry into the FAQ list for families, and it sounds something like this:

“You’re going to be a freelance commercial writer? WHAT. IS. THAT?”

Your poor family’s going to think you mean you write commercials, like on TV. They’ll compliment you on one they think is particularly witty or poignant – or complain about ​that ​stupid ad that makes everyone want to throw bricks. Not even close!

But you’re kind of stuck. You see, if you drop the ‘commercial’ of commercial writer, you’ll have a whole new set of questions. If you just say you’re a writer, people will ask you whether they’ve read anything you’ve written – and that’s if they’re polite. Most will just kind of smirk, pat your head, and silently write you off as a delusional nut. They think you mean you’re writing the great American novel, that you’re probably some sort of recluse, and they may even wonder when you last ate… since writers are known to starve. If you just say you’re a freelance writer, they’ll hear that as a euphemism for being unemployed.

​”How many horses in your riding company?”

Freelance Writer AdviceYou could go the way some freelancers I know go, and say you own a writing company. But you’ll probably have to say ‘writing’ again, reinforcing the ‘t’ so they don’t hear ‘riding’ company and start asking how many horses you have in the stable.

Why is this such a hard business to describe? For the same reason it’s such a great business to build – the people who understand what you actually do are the ones who will hire you. Those who don’t get it probably have no need for your services. A little free freelance writer advice here for you: This is a great feature – a sort of built-in qualifier as you network. If you’ve got to explain what you do, or convince your prospects they should hire a writer, you’re going to fight an uphill battle all the way to your paycheck.

​”Or you got it, or you ain’t.” Mel Brooks to freelance writers

I’ve found that people who already understand the value of compelling, impeccably written website text, press releases, and marketing materials are more than willing to pay for your writing expertise. They know they don’t have the time or talent to do it themselves. They’re smart enough to abide by some very smart freelance writers advice: hire out the business tasks that don’t produce income. They don’t try to do their own taxes, handle their own legal matters, perform their own surgeries, or fill their own cavities. They stick to the tasks that make money, and pay for the expertise of others to get everything else done.

​My freelance writing nightmare: “Let me read you the poems of my people.”

Another response you’re likely to hear often runs like, “Oh – I love to write. My (husband, wife, mom, teacher, whatever) always says I should get my book of poems published.” Just smile and agree. It’s either that, or you run the danger of having to read or, even worse, listen to that book of poems! Make sure you also say something about having no idea how someone would go about having such a book published.

​This is not THAT. This is THIS.

You see, most people make the same assumptions I always did about careers in writing. I’ve always loved reading, and have always been complimented on my writing talent. OK, since you’re making me, I’ll brag just a second – in college and grad school, I had a few papers that my professors used as sample papers – they were just that good. Clap that up, folks. However, that has absolutely nothing to do with what I actually do!

Writing novels is a different business entirely – one I’d love to get into someday, by the way. It’s essentially a cycle of writing, submitting, wishing, waiting, and wondering when anyone’s going to publish your labor of love. Even once you’ve gotten published, there’s no guarantee it’ll happen again – or that you’ll ever get the famed advances best-selling authors get. In fact, if you calculate your hourly rate, it might make you cry.

The other route lots of aspiring authors take is writing magazine articles. The herd isn’t much thinner in that pasture either, my friend. And you’re constantly trying to hit a moving target – the whim of the editor. You ask yourself, “What will this author want six months from now?” You write on spec, shopping each article around to all the possibilities in the Writers’ Market. And payday? Break out the tissues, because it’s not usually very good pay – UNLESS you take the most righteous freelance writer advice in Carol Tice’s excellent J-School course and learn how to do what you’ve got to do to make that work.

Freelance Writer AdviceNot a fan of writing rejection. Are you?

Kind of makes my stomach hurt just thinking about those outcomes. You see, as a freelance commercial writer, you can write and get paid – handsomely. You can pick and choose clients, firing those who are too difficult, too cheap, or who require too much maintenance. You often get to set your own deadlines. You can arrange to be paid in part before you write a single word. And you get to see your talent put to use in a way that’s measurable – a company’s bottom line.

So, whatever you want to call yourself, however you decide to answer that “what do you do for a living” question – it’s up to you. Try different answers, and let me know how they work. I like Bob Bly’s freelance writer advice on this question – he’s reported to say, “Oh – I write junk mail.” Bet he doesn’t have to read anyone’s book of poems!

I’d love to hear how you’ll explain your foray into life as a freelance writer. Let’s connect on Facebook:​

Happy Writing!