Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The recession hits freelance writers

As the news of the latest MP pay rise hits the press, I'm experiencing a different financial dilemma. I'm pretty proud of myself for having built up a full-time workload as a freelance writer during economic recession, but now I am really starting to feel the hit from the credit crunch, despite the apparent brightening economic outlook.

In the past few months, I've had some magazines in the UK slash their fees by 25%, while a US magazine who I work for regularly, has just slashed their fees by two thirds! I managed to renegotiate and get a one-third pay cut instead.

Meanwhile, I have withdrawn an article submission from another magazine, because of their abysmally slow payment. One of my earlier articles appeared on their website, four months after it had appeared in print (and I'd missed it). I invoiced promptly, thinking they'd pay promptly. Not so.

Months of chasing, broken promises, and an 8 month delay ensued. I was losing sleep over it because I was furious about being ignored and fobbed off. I felt convinced that I wasn't going to get paid at all. I withdrew the next article because it wasn't worth the aggravation and I've since sold it to another buyer.

The latest turn of events is that another publication, after commissioning an article in March, for the Doctor Who anniversary in November, didn't bother to tell me that they weren't going to run it. So now I have a time-sensitive article that has no home. The reason: "We have so much material!" - e.g. they have commissioned too much stuff.

It's a really tough environment for a freelance writer at the moment, but on the upside, I'd like to explain how I deal with each of these disappointments.

1) The pay cuts, I negotiate upwards as best I can, and I accept the situation where I can't. Then I review the amount of time and effort I put into each article if they are going to pay less. I only pitch ideas that I can do reasonably quickly, without massive amounts of research and inconvenience. I also reassess who gets first refusal of the best ideas.

2) I refuse to work for magazines that don't treat me with respect, so I search the market to find other buyers for my work when I'm faced with this problem.

While I suspect I've been lucky to get this far without experiencing the full effects of the credit crunch in my writing life, I wonder if other writers have experienced recession-related pay cuts and delays? Have you had commissions 'killed' without payment? How did you respond?

What do you think of the MP's 11% rise while we're all making cuts? Do comment in the box below. :-)

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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

National Novel Writing Month

November is 'National Novel Writing Month'. The idea is that you write the first 50,000 words of your novel this month. Of course it's a draft - probably a bad draft. And most novels are longer that this, but it's an event bringing together 275,419 novelists this year, working on their own projects in synch, with a sense of community.

Now some people dislike National Novel Writing Month, saying it's an excuse for people to write shoddy novels in a rush and self publish at the end of the month, giving self-publishing a bad name. While I guess there's an element of that, for me it's something quite different.

I'll admit that when I first heard of National Novel Writing Month, I thought it sounded like stupid idea. I mean, why wait for November? And why try to do it in a month? You can do a better job, probably, by taking your time, and writing it carefully.

However, I've since decided that perhaps National Novel Writing Month could be a useful event for me after all. I've been intending to tackle my half-cut unfinished novel for the past year. It was hand-written 20 years ago and ran out of steam. Parts of it have potential and there are some good ideas but it is badly in need of a rewrite. On 2 November I decided to begin that rewrite. National Novel Writing Month has given me a kick up the butt to get on with it.

So to those people who say National Novel Writing Month is all about rushing to complete a shoddy piece of work. Here's my answer...

For me, it’s not about rushing. I need to prioritise this book or it will never be written. I have a day job writing magazine articles that have been taking priority. They will continue to take priority in November, but setting myself a target to do as much as I can on evenings and weekends, will give me a kick up the butt to prioritise it during my leisure time (which otherwise tends to get swallowed up with paying work too). That’s why I have joined the novelists on National Novel Writing Month. Frankly, it’s also nice to have a sense of community egging you on!

Perhaps I’ll only complete 30,000 words, I don’t care – I just needed to get this prioritised. A month of intense commitment to getting on with it, is helping me move it to the next stage – to the first decent draft. Or perhaps just half a draft. By the end of National Novel Writing Month my novel will be in a better place than it was at the start. That's what's important.

For more about National Novel Writing Month www.nanowrimo.org

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