live and write
October 19, 2006 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm tired of making next to nothing writing complete bullshit. I'm so so so so tired of it. I want to maximize my freelance potential and even enter into whoredom so I can make some money to live on. I'm in graduate school right now, but I need income, and I'd like to continue on in the field of creative journalism or analysis. What can I do? (this gets complicated)

I'm a writer and a student of public policy living in Argentina. I keep getting job offers to make complete shit - writing nonsense copy for advertisers etc. I would like to do something substantive and interesting, and to be paid well for it. Lately I've written interesting features and have pitched them to the great high-falutin' god-editors, but without a single response. What's fascinating is that I have quite a bit of experience in the field -- a fair amount of published work. I have this feeling that when I pitch stories they're not even being looked at...

In the 1950's most magazine writers got paid 10cents+ a word for their witticisms. Now-a-days? seems like most places pay more or less the same!!! wtf!

Does anyone have any great career advice for me? I want to be able to live writing...
posted by punkbitch to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
get a mentor. someone who is doing what you want to be doing right now and who wants to help you.

I called up the folks whose work I really respected in my industry and asked them if I could buy them lunch. a lot of them were really quite nice and helpful. I made lasting friendships that way and one of them helped me get my career on the right track. it is the reason why I do help out when someone younger asks me for advise (which is so flattering anyway... you think I am good?! wow!).

anyway, what really stuck was the very first thing my very fist mentor told me: find something you really enjoy. something you would want be in if you got paid nothing and had to live in the darkest place on earth for. only then will you ever be really really good.

and you know what? he was right. he was just damn right.

so you're a writer. combine it with another passion of yours (punk?) and become the authority on it. do nothing but your one set topic. you need to have something that you are so extraordinary at that people have no choice but to talk to you. being irreplacable means big dough.
posted by krautland at 9:41 PM on October 19, 2006 [4 favorites] is where you want to be. Buy a one-year membership (nice little benes available with that, too.) Then get yourself a freelancer page there and tout all your accomplishments. Let folks come to you.
Next, check out regional magazines. For example, I live in Arizona and we have a host of glossies whose sole purpose seems to be to allow some snot to showcase his new home but guess what? They pay ...on time...and well. Don't forget your local newspaper. They want so bad to be hip these days. Pitch a few pop cult pieces. Also, since you're in Argentina you might want to look at U.S.-based magazines with foreign interests and pitch a nice feature on say...that recent Oktoberfest thing you guys had there in Argentina. Good luck.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:08 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Would you consider doing technical, business or marketing writing? I make more than $100 an hour doing this in Canada.
posted by acoutu at 10:37 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have a friend here in Korea who quit teaching last year to pursue writing full time. He is making decent money doing it -- not enough to live on, perhaps, but his wife works as well and is supportive in what he's doing.

His secret (and something that I wish I could do, but can't bring myself to do)? He spends probably 90% of his work time pitching stuff to editors, stuff he has or hasn't written yet. He's had pieces on ESPN, Wired, Salon, Nat. Geographic, the local English papers and a variety of other places online and off, and even somehow wangled the Korea correspondant position for a Wind Power monthly magazine (something he got because he's here rather than interested or informed on the subject), just out of sheer audacity and bullshitting skills.

He's not a great writer (yet) -- a good one, skilled and workmanlike -- but he just plugs away at it, writes what will sell as opposed to what he likes (though sometimes the two overlap), and chases editors constantly and insistently.

I envy him, and would emulate him if I had the energy, perhaps, but I've never been able to bring myself to sell myself, and so my paid sales have been few and far between, and always as a result of being approached for a piece.

He may never be the next Hunter S., but I think he's got a long and successful career ahead, just because he's singleminded, persistent, and fearless. I won't be the next Hunter S. either, though, because no matter how mad my 133t sk1llz, I can't seem to flick the switch needed to aggressively market my work.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:52 PM on October 19, 2006

Since you live in Argentina but you are fluent in English:

Companies that publish guidebooks prefer to use writers that live in and are quite familiar with the area.

Lonely Planet, for one, is looking for a writer based in Argentina. Among other companies looking for the same thing.

It may not be exactly what you want to do, but it pays, and it's a start.
posted by anjamu at 12:02 AM on October 20, 2006

Piggyback time:

My only freelance work paid 10 cents a word for a bi-weekly opinion column.

Really--what is the rate these days?
posted by sourwookie at 12:34 AM on October 20, 2006

Freelance writing anyway. My freelance music rates are 75-200 bucks an hour.

Hence my current focus.
posted by sourwookie at 12:37 AM on October 20, 2006

$2 a word is fairly common here in new york.
posted by gelcap at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2006

I would like to do something substantive and interesting, and to be paid well for it.

I think that generally those things don't go together, definitely starting out, which is where you are. You can have one or the other. You can be doing what you love but you're going to have to work your way up to being paid well. No one's going to pay someone well who doesn't have a history of being paid well.
posted by scazza at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Have you been at it very long?

I agree with scazza -- there's a definite trade-off, especially at the beginning. It can be a slog. In my experience, you have to throw a LOT of crap against the wall.
posted by veggieboy at 2:40 PM on October 20, 2006

Gelcap's figure is too high. I live in NYC and do this for a living, and I can tell you that most consumer mags end up paying around $1/word. However, if you follow krautland's savvy advice and specialize relentlessly in something you love (other people have to love it too, mind you) -- you will eventually be able to command higher rates. (Jack-of-all-trades generalists, like me, don't have that kind of clout; I'll be waving to you from the cheap seats.)

I second the recommendation of; lots of info about industry trends, norms, etc.

And you'll have to emulate stavros's friend. The freelance writers who thrive best are the ones who are always, always pitching.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2006

Oh, and note that across the board, newspapers will pay significantly less than $1/word. (Sigh.)
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:12 PM on October 20, 2006

Unless you're very lucky, the kind of writing that pays well usually isn't the kind of writing that people dream about doing. I've made a very decent living as a scientific and technical writer for the last twenty years, and now having moved essentially full-time into proposal management and writing, am actually making good money.

On the other hand, I don't think there's any teenaged kid sitting in an English class right now daydreaming of growing up to write, say, user manuals, training materials, or commercial proposals. (If you know of one, please try to get them the help they so clearly need.)

BTW, I'm GrammarMoses's husband, and she knows what she's talking about. We're a two-writer household and we do okay, but we've both been doing this a while.
posted by enrevanche at 5:17 PM on October 20, 2006

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