Are you thinking of quitting your dreary fulltime job and are dreaming of being a freelance writer… WAIT! You have visions of working at your own pace, choosing projects that catch your fancy and making money. Stop dreaming.
I've nearly two decades' experience of writing for almost all the leading publications (newspapers and magazines) in the country. To name a few: Hindu, Deccan Herald (Bangalore), Deccan Chronicle (Hyderabad), Telegraph & Statesman (Kolkata), Tribune, TOI, Femina, Jet Wings, Indian Express & others. Then I graduated to working as a corporate writer for – HUL, Colgate, Asian Paints, Marriott hotels, Godrej & Boyce & others. All of the above was done between 1994 – 2013. Yes, I'm a dinosaur.
Allow me to give you the good, bad and ugly about freelance writing. There's ugly? You bet, there is.
Do I even need to say this? You know it. So let's not waste time and get to the fun part where I scare the daylights out of you!!
The publications have their own staff salaries to justify and they don't assign articles to freelancers easily. Why pay outsiders when you have the Johnny/Jane sitting in the next cubicle? So this means a freelancer has to come up with great article ideas and get approval from the edit team before proceeding. I became an ideas factory, churning out ideas by the dozen. It was a great mind exercise but doing it for 5-7 years exhausts you.
I left a very satisfying and well-paying job to be a freelance writer. I had no plans to sit, sip my coffee, dream and write when I left like. I had a goal. I wanted to make a career and money. If you want your freelance writing to be economically lucrative, be prepared to slog. It's a lot of hard work. It's simple math. You want to make a decent 30K a month. Each article pays about 2000 bucks. So you have to write 15 articles. Simple? Not so. You have to ideate much more because not all your ideas will be lapped up. Not all articles will be published in the same month.You have to pitch at least 25 ideas and will soon realize that not more than 10 got accepted and slotted. And only 4 will be published in the said month. Huh? So what happens to the rolling green bucks you had dreamt of? You are a freelancer. You work at your will so money also rolls in at its will. Comprende?
When I began, I connected with 10-15 leading PR firms in the city. Why? Because when you are part of an organization / publication, information comes to you. When you are on your own, you have to reach out for the info or make channels that it reaches you. Social media makes it easier today but it ain't easy.
Writing for companies
I graduated to corporate writing for better money. I got fed up of publications who paid crumbs so decided to turn my gaze on the companies. They certainly paid better but this came with its own set of problems. By the time you are doing this, networking wouldn't (shouldn't) be a problem; if it is you'd left freelance writing and scurried back to your full time job.
While negotiating with the companies please bear in mind the approximate time the project is estimated to take. I once began working on a month long project for a company that went for 10 months! I had factored payments for that time frame so I ended up putting in a lot more man hours than what I got paid for. Never ever start work without having a proper contract drawn out. It should be a proper official email exchange between you and the project incharge. Don't work on the basis of a phone conversation. Have everything in writing and state clearly what you will, will not and can't do. Be firm and professional so the company knows they are dealing with a professional. It's better to let go a company & project who "dislikes" your professional tone. Yes, this could also happen. It has with me. I've lost few projects as the company concerned felt I was too stern because I insisted on a proper contract. Better not to work than to work for such people. It wouldn't be a happy association.
Negotiate a kill fee
A Kill fee is a small amount given to the writer is the project isn't accepted. While this isn't very prevalent in India but you can discuss this with the company. If the approval of the project is dependent on its acceptance you can discuss a kill fee.
The indemnity clause
This awful thing has caused me the loss of many a lucrative projects but it's of supreme importance that you understand what this means. Don't sign on this blindly. To put it in easy terms, this clause puts the responsibility of the veracity of the project on you and should the company press legal charges, you can kiss your life and sanity goodbye. This is of supreme importance if you work for PR companies. I did a lot of this. The thing is, you work for the clients of the PR firm and the latter wants to put the weight of indemnity on the writer. So that incase the client company lawyers up, the PR firm goes scot free and you the writer gets the blame. The way to work around this is simple. Just include the following in your contract: everything I, the writer, submit will be verified and approved by the company and I will not be held responsible. Not to scare you away, things seldom go wrong but if they do, the legal fees will see the end of you. Always best to be informed than ignorant.
Please do a background check of the company before starting work. Even if it's a multi-national, ask around about their payment pattern. If it's a small firm, please do a lot of backgroundssearch. I've burnt my fingers bad. Most companies, especially the large and reputed one have a policy of payment in 45 days. This means that you can expect your payment after 45 days of your submission. Also remember that the company will hound you with regular calls to submit ASAP but will work at a snail's pace when it comes to payment. Don't infer from this that companies don't pay. They do but it takes a long time.
Never stop networking for more projects and clients. You can never say when a running project will be abandoned suddenly. Also most freelance work is the result of a good rapport between you and few people in the company. Often when the project head or division head changes, they want to try in a new hand. So network outside and within the company. Ensure that other people in the company are cognizant of what you do. I once editorially revamped the house journal of an FMCG. I changed the complete look and feel of the journal. The corporate communication manager walked away with all the kudos while I got a box of free toothpastes, deos and hand washes. Yes, I was remunerated handsomely but writing isn't just about money. As a creative person validation and appreciation of the hard work you've put in keeps you going.
You'll get lots of cold calls from agencies for a quote on the said project and then will never hear from them ever again. Immensely frustrating and annoying but after sometime you'll be used to it.
You'll be handed an assignment on Friday evening and asked to submit by Monday morning. And you thought, you could work at your will and pace! If you want to make a career out of this and bring in good & serious money; get used to being at the beck and call of the client. I have worked through family holidays, woken up at crack of dawn on weekends to finish the project so that I can spend rest of the day with hubby and son. Of course you can choose not to, in which case the client & the project will go to some other willing freelancer.
You always have your free will and choice. But if this is a serious job for you, soon you'll realize it's not fun and smooth sailing as you had dreamt of. But then in life nothing really is easy. If freelancing is just something you want to indulge in while taking a break or wile away time then it's great. But if this is a career for you; buckle up, fasten your seat belts and sit upright. The flight's going to rough and choppy. You'll have fun. You'll learn, you'll also make good money but it wouldn't be a party as many believe it to be.