So I’m looking for a backup career plan, and I think the publishing industry might be a good fit for me. So while I’m trying to decide whether a longterm backup direction is necessary (my chosen calling isn’t returning my calls, if you catch my drift) I’m poking around at some freelance options to feed myself.
Basics: I’m overeducated in a particular obscure humanities field-- so some specialized knowledge and language skills and such (and have actually found 2 freelance gigs in that niche in the last couple of days)-- and likely have nothing developing in my old job market for many months, so I’m looking to bring home some bacon.
So writers and editors, tell me about the work. Any warnings or general thoughts on freelancing? How would one go about trying to get an in-house position (is freelancing a good way to start out and break into the general trade?)? Can you tell me anything about the usual logistics of freelance projects? (keeping track of hours, taxes, and other pragmatic stuff like that)
Honestly, I just sort of experimentally sent off a half-baked resume to a couple of places to test the waters and they are surprisingly responding very positively, and it’s caught me a little off guard and I’m afraid that I really don’t know how it all works or what to expect.
Hi Capybara! I’m sort of in your situation- I lost my job a while ago and, while I was looking, some freelance jobs fell into my lap through some friends-of-friends. I did powerpoint work for an educational publisher and now I have a regular stint with an independent newsjournal.
Now, are you looking to write pieces from scratch, edit for content, or copyedit? Because they’re all different animals. Depending on who you’re writing for, you might have to constantly be coming up with your own topics, pitching them to an editor, many times on spec- meaning that you may or may not be paid for it at the end, because they might not like it, might have found something better, don’t think it fits anymore, etc.
If you’re editing or copy-editing, find out exactly what they want you to edit in terms of content or in terms of straight grammar. I find editing for content to be much more time-consuming, and for straight grammar editing I find that 10 pages/hour is a good estimate. When I first began, I seriously underestimated the amount of time everything would take. That being said, you may have to stiff yourself a bit at the beginning b/c your pace will develop the more you do it, and the quicker you will be.
I think, the smaller the place is, the more likely you can start out as a freelancer and get your foot in the door for a full-time position. Bigger places tend to have their crews of favored freelancers that they shuffle a lot of work to and from without even considering hiring them full-time. That being said, the newsjournal offered me a full-time writing position within a few weeks of us working together, which I declined for a bunch of reasons, a not-insignificant one being that writing jobs tend to pay very low.
I keep track of all my hours for different projects and exactly how much I bring in. The bigger places take taxes out for you, the smaller places won’t. I’m fortunate in that my parents own their own business, and I use their accountant for my taxes. The general rule, however, is that you should put aside about a third of every check you get for taxes, so you don’t find yourself stuck at the end of the quarter having spent all that money that wasn’t yours.
A final note: editing, especially really dry stuff, can get tedious and annoying VERY quickly. I thought it would be easy as hell when I began, simply b/c I spend a lot of time writing and grammar comes naturally to me, but it’s no more interesting than any other repetitive, mundane task. I would never be able to do this sort of work for an extended period of time. As nice as it is to be able to support myself with this, it doesn’t have health insurance, the hours are unstable, and I’m looking forward to getting a full-time job that’s a little less tedious.
Also, I dunno if you’re trying to be a creative writer like I am, but this sort of work can also really burn you out for the day on writing. I’ve found that non-writing jobs tend to keep me doing my creative projects, whereas writing or editing-intensive jobs just make me sick of it and I have less motivation going for my own personal writing at the end of it.
For our freelance writers/editors, my company pays them under the table to avoid the ridiculous taxes. We get all of our freelance stuff from the US and Canada, and, in the case of the US, taxes for that kind of work is like 25%. To bypass that, we pay one of the employees here the extra amount and they direct deposit it to a US bank account.
If you want to be on the up and up, it might not be worth it to do international freelance work unless you’re willing to go to the home country of your employer. Which, for freelance work, frankly isn’t worth it when you consider the visa issues.
On the unfortunate side of things, for your scenario, almost all of our freelance work comes from former editors who moved back to the US, Canada, Australia, etc. In Korea, at least, a personal relationship is important before they trust you with things like this, usually. Back in the US, I’ve heard that breaking into the field is easier if you have decent freelance experience already under your belt, though. I’ve no personal experience with it there.
I’ll echo what NightRabbit said about the tedium of editing very dry or very simple things. Especially if it’s the 7th or 8th time you’ve had to do so. I’m the head English editor at my company, so I get to see a lot of our material come by my desk half a dozen times before publishing. And let me tell you, editing an English grammar manual half a dozen times does things to you.
I always thought I loved the English language. Then I became an editor.
I used to freelance for a number of university presses. The pay is very low compared with other areas of publishing (and as a freelancer you pay the self-employment tax, which takes a big bite), and the work wasn’t regular. Some places hung on to invoices for months before paying. This was 15 years ago, though; I don’t know whether things have changed. I moved to trade publishing, which pays better, and then to medical stuff, which pays better still.
I would guess that the entry-level position for most publishing companies is the editorial assistant. I’m sure if a place likes you as a freelancer, they might hire you full-time a step or two up the ladder from that.
My wife has turned this into a pretty nicely paying stay at home job. She’s never had, not wants, anything in-house. She has a Masters in biology, and so does a lot of medical writing, but syndicated article in parenting publications, and so does that also. She’s done a lot of work on specialized encyclopedias, writing and editing and rewriting, and has done a few textbook chapters, as well as some other random things. She has 3 books published for junior high school level kids as part of a series from Scholastic.
She generally gets paid by the piece - the encyclopedia entries are supposed to be a certain word length based on the subject. She keeps track of hours just to see what her hourly rate really is. Different jobs effectively pay different hourly rates based on the difficulty and the learning curve.
She gets 1099s, and files a schedule C. Yes, she gets hit by the self-employment tax. She is very good at having a record of what she made, who she worked for, when and if she got paid (sometimes you need to follow up) and all supplies she uses. All this can be taken off, so keep good records, and you might want to see an accountant one year at least to see what is allowable. It might be more than you think.
A warning about the home office deduction. It sounds good, and she used it in our first house, but it turns out that when you sell your house you have to pay capital gains on the percent of the increase in value corresponding to the size of the office. We haven’t taken one in this house, and with the increase in value over the past 11 years we’re glad.
When considering an offer, don’t forget the research that is necessary. She’s turned down jobs where the research would be too much of a pain, on the other hand in some cases the research can be used for several articles.
A negative is that there are no benefits, but since she is covered by mine that’s no problem. It also offers a good degree of flexibility.
She has discovered that the work she gets increases when there is a change in the economy. In a downturn, some places get rid of full time people faster than the work goes away. In an upturn the work comes in before they can hire. She’s gotten a lot of work lately.