Today we have a guest blog from my friend Avery K Tingle. I met Avery through the ever expanding virtual world of writer related social networks and was impressed by the broad scope of his work. He’s also a top bloke. Here he talks about what it is to be a freelance writer, especially in this current unstable climate.
Last fall was a high point for me. I had successfully ‘competed’ in my first NaNoWriMo, and parlayed the success into my first two freelancing gigs. I wasn’t taking it very seriously at the time; I had two clients, and of the two, I absolutely abhorred one of the assignments. Fortunately, both of my clients were very lenient when it came to deadlines, and I was able to take my time. Plus, my steady job allowed me to pursue my freelancing while I was on the clock. I didn’t have much to complain about.
Then I lost my job.
Filing for unemployment was a joke; I had resided in two states over the previous eighteen months, which meant I couldn’t do the process online. Getting through to a live operator was next to impossible. Also next to impossible was finding a job in this area; it seems the town I live in has been devastated by the recession.
Freelancing took a sudden shift from part-time hobby to full-time necessity, and my two clients became my sole source of income.
Five months have passed, and I’ll be returning to work full-time early next month. In that time, I have ghostwritten a novel and completed countless articles for fifteen different clients. In addition, I launched my own personal blog (Life As I Play It) and web fiction (Universal Warrior), the latter of which is read in four different countries and has been hailed as an “epic, action packed tale” and a “battle for the ages.”
It’s a good start.
I have also been ripped off quite a few times, driven myself to the point of exhaustion, and run through approximately one hundred tubs of Folgers Gourmet (That’s a type of coffee – Alan). I’m still in the middle of this journey, and I have had some great coaches along the way, but I feel I could have done much better for myself if I had followed some simple guidelines.
First, you need to know that it is very possible to earn a living, full-time, as a writer. What you also need to know is that you will work harder as a freelance writer than you ever did for someone else.
If you’re considering making the jump, plan ahead. Your new venture is a business, and like any business, it needs to be planned. Before you give notice to your existing job, you should know exactly what you would like to write about, and how you’ll make a living with it. You need to have accounted for your overhead (in this case, rent, electricity, etc.), and you need to know how much you can do in a set amount of time. It also helps tremendously if you have a little cash to fall back on; if you’re new to this, having money to fall back on might allow for a smoother transition. You can never do enough research, and you can never know enough.
Hard truth: I did not completely survive these past five months solely on my freelancing work. When I lost my job, I had next to nothing saved up and bills were due. Had it not been for some very good people, I might not have gotten through this period. I had opportunities to seriously research what I was doing before I lost my job. Had I taken them, I would’ve been a lot better off. Don’t assume tomorrow is a given; if you have the opportunity, start planning ahead now.
Another hard truth about writing for someone else is that only about a third of your work time is spent actually writing. The rest of the time, you’re investing in your future. You work your network, you bid on every project you think you can pull off, and you research your markets.
The upside to this is, as you are awarded projects and complete them on schedule, you will soon find yourself being invited to bid on projects, or even better, you’ll find yourself getting a lot of repeat business. One thing I learned is to not count on a single client for more than roughly twenty percent of your income (special thanks to Angie Haggstrom for that tidbit). The trick is learning to balance what you can do in the time you have. I learned to manage three to four clients at a time, and that was enough to cover my expenses—most of the time.
When developing your career, I think the single best piece of advice I can pass on is keep your word. In the beginning, this is the only asset you can present to the outside world. If you develop a reputation for turning in quality work according to schedule, you’ll soon find yourself in the favorable position of picking and choosing your clients. In the case of fiction, you may find your fan base growing. I release Universal Warrior every Monday. I have done this the last eighteen weeks, without fail. As fans have grown accustomed to this, I’ve found that they’ve been hitting the website on Monday before the story is actually released. That means they’re hyped.
Finally, if you foresee that you’re not going to be able to make deadline, don’t break off communication; this can be a death sentence for a fledgling career. Communicate with your client and tell the truth; sure, you may get chewed out, but you’re new, it’s what happens. Learn from the mistake and don’t repeat it. But you’d be surprised how forgiving people can be if you’re up-front with them. When I got started at the beginning of this year, I tried to juggle ten clients and broke just about every deadline I had. I got my head handed to me, and I lost some clients (that happens too, don’t beat yourself up about it) but I completed almost all of my assignments, I retained some of my existing clientele, and I replaced the ones I lost. Life went on.
I’ll tell you straight, writing for other people may be the hardest work you ever do. People would ask me how come I didn’t have a lot of free time, since I “wasn’t working.” My days often started at eight in the morning and ran till about three at night. I loved every second of it. I plan to make it career again someday.
No matter what kind of writing you intend to do, plan ahead, keep your word, and communicate. If you can live by those three guidelines, you’ll have a long and healthy career. If you can’t, you better hold onto the day job.
Avery K Tingle is the author of the critically-acclaimed, ongoing web fiction Universal Warrior: Uprising, which is a prequel to the upcoming novel Universal Warrior: The Last Campaign. You can read the story by visiting www.universal-warrior.com.
You can also check out Avery’s blog at www.averyktingle.com.