Saturday, July 30, 2011

Magazine Writing is a Sales Job

Ideally, freelance writers could sit and write to their hearts content. Words would flow from their souls, through their arms, directly to the page. In a dream world, this would be enough. But in the real world, freelance writers have another job to do: sales.

I'm not one who minds the sales job that comes hand-in-hand with freelance writing. I don't mind researching markets, writing queries, pitching ideas and writing on spec. I'm okay with getting assignments, and will revise a piece to an editor's satisfaction, though sometimes their vision is not quite what I had in mind. Still, it's all a part of the process.

But when the sales job turns into a bill-collector's job, that's when I wonder whether I have the thick skin required for freelancing.

Whenever I hear someone's false illusion that writing is an easy way to make a lot of money, I know that they have never set out to be a writer. That scenario is as fictional as a fairy tale. I wish it were so. I wish I could just sit down, whip out a masterpiece, and sit back while the money rolls in.

Instead, I get a glimmer of an idea. I let it ferment for a while. I do a little research to see whether what I want to write has already been written. I research the markets to see where it might sell. Then I craft a query, pitching my ideas and selling myself as the person to write the piece. I sit back and wait for a response, and hopefully a contract, while my enthusiasm for the piece slowly begins to wane and I dream up other article ideas.

With any luck, a contract comes through the mail (or email). It specifies a certain length, a deadline, and the terms of rights the magazine wants to acquire. I eagerly sign and return the contract, then sit down and try to remember what I thought I'd wanted to say, because it's been months since I sent the query, and the notes I took and the draft I wrote back when the idea was fresh, are now a little stale.

I tweak the piece, revise my words, pass it around to family and friends for review. I check again to see whether what I'm saying has already been said. I do a little more research, finish my revisions, and send it in. The editor may or may not ask for changes. I may or may not ever hear from the editor again.

Then the LONG waiting game begins. It may be months or even a year before my piece is published. The original publishing date may have changed, and it's unlikely that anyone at the magazine will tell me. I just have to keep my eyes open and wait until that glorious day when my byline is finally included in the publication. Then I get paid. (Sometimes I am paid when the contract is signed. More often, it's after publication.)

So months, possibly years have elapsed and I'm just now getting paid for my work. I send in my invoice, billing them for the agreed-upon terms, and wait again. This is when I start to hate the freelancing life. Because how long are you supposed to wait before you have to start following up, pestering editors to pay you? Wondering when you're finally going to get paid?

That's the part of freelance writing I hate. I don't mind being a salesman. I'll sell myself and my writing because it's part of the job. But I hate, absolutely HATE, being a bill collector.


  1. Me too, which is why I have so far shied away from freelance writing. But this is a great post for anyone who is interested and needs to understand what's involved. Gonna bookmark it for future reference. ;)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kristan. I do love freelance writing, but as you can probably tell, I'm having trouble collecting for one of my articles. Not fun.

  3. Well, collecting a bill is part of the job of some salespeople. Guess that is one of the challenging roles sales persons need to portray.