Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Interview: How I succeeded as a freelance writer


I was interviewed by a book reviewer recently who'd been reading my book, Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. Here's part of the interview.

1. How difficult was it to make the leap from conventional employment to freelance writing?

It was tough. I had no contacts and no idea if I would succeed, but my tenacity and determination paid off. For a long while, I was still trying to get part-time conventional work, but after a while I decided to go full-time freelance. The thing that enabled me to focus on my writing full-time was the sheer volume of work that I started to get in after nine months of pitching. I'd managed to keep the work-load steady for long enough to feel that it was sustainable. Basically, I convinced myself it was more than just a lucky blip!

2. What was your first article on health, food and gardens?

It was an article for Amateur Gardening magazine, titled 'the healing power of your garden'. It looked at the healing power of common garden vegetables on a wide range of health conditions. I drew on my knowledge of nutrition and on recent scientific studies to show how a diet rich in home-grown vegetables can reduce your risk of disease. I pitched the initial idea by email, highlighting my qualifications and experience, and was offered a commission on that basis.

3. The book discusses some writing myths. Tell us a bit about this.

The whole book is based on my own experience and many of the myths highlighted in the book are the misconceptions that people perpetuated all through my youth. The myth that writing is too competitive, so you might as well give up now, is no way to succeed in anything. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now. The idea that you need a journalism qualification to be a journalist has also been disproven by my own experience. Essentially, believing these myths can hold you back for years. I let some of them hold me back for far too long.

4. How can writers come up with foodie ideas if they're not good at creating recipes?

Think widely about article topics on food. You might consider visits to breweries, stories about vineyards, interviewing the owner of a thriving local cake-making business, restaurant reviews, or food travel writing. It depends on what kinds of stories the magazine you're targeting runs, but there are lots of story opportunities in food writing other than writing recipes.

5. How has writing for a living has changed your life?

It's been a radical career change, because I work for myself now. I don't have to commute any more. I can be creative and write about the things I enjoy, and I can work the hours I like. I get paid on results not on process. Having bosses interfering with process used to really get my goat! I love being my own boss and I'm good at what I do. I also learn a lot more from researching topics for articles than I ever learnt in a conventional job. It's been a fascinating journey.

Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens was published by Compass Books in February. View it on:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Friday, 9 May 2014

The crazy, but rewarding, world of freelance writing

I delivered a talk at my local writers group last night. It went surprisingly well! I was completely chilled about the whole experience until about 2 hours before I was due to speak, at which point, I suddenly got nervous, sweaty, and my mind went blank! Fortunately, I'd made extensive notes to jog my memory in anticipation of that happening!

At the event, I covered my work history in marketing before leaping into the crazy, but rewarding, world of freelance writing. I showed the audience the first article I'd had published in The Lady, 19 years ago, and the nutrition articles that I'd written for free to help develop a small portfolio. This helped to launch my freelance writing career in 2011.

I outlined my daily writing discipline and routine, and explained how my husband serves as a great proof-reader, photographer, chauffeur, and second memory!

I recalled the days that I sat in the garden with a huge pile of magazines, making notes on what I could write for them, generating ideas for features, and pitching A-Z through the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I hung around magazine stands a lot in those days. I pitched to niche titles and I thought very widely about opportunities.

How to write a winning pitch was of course important – the hook, expertise, photos, why you’re right person to write the piece, and examples of your work/clients. I even explained how to market yourself as a writer, by demonstrating your experience, making sure you have a good web presence, social media and blogs to promote your work.

I talked about how I found inspiration in unusual places, and shared lots of the articles I'd written in the first few years - covering local topics, interviewing local people, and studying the markets for inspiration. How I  turned rejections into sales is always interesting. I even dipped into avoiding legal issues – libel, copyright issues, and avoiding controversy.

Getting paid was perhaps one of the more lively discussions. It's a real challenge as a freelance writer sometimes. We often work well ahead of publication, and have to wait until after publication to see the money come in. I explained how I'd overcome non-payers by holding back the next article until they'd paid for the last four, or simply harassing them into submission. Finally I talked about photography, speculative submissions, and writing for pleasure.

Sorry you missed it? Don't worry. The talk was essentially an outline of my book, Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. Many of the principles are relevant whatever niche you're writing in. If you'd like to know more, why not buy a copy online? It's available as a paperback or an ebook.

Buy Now on:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA