Seven Ways to Fight the Freelance Funk

Fall portrait. - Version 3

Guest blogger: Susan Valot 

Every once in a while, you may find yourself in a freelance funk.

Maybe your personal life just imploded and work seems secondary.

Maybe you just lost a regular client and you’re not sure what to do, so you cool your heels for a bit.

Maybe you have too many looming deadlines, which sends you into a deer-in-the-headlights procrastination mode, where you end up cleaning your bathroom and your kitchen and your neighbor’s yard — anything but working on what needs to be done.

So what can you do to pull yourself out of the freelance funk?  Here are seven possibilities:

1) Use the kitchen timer method. Set a timer for 45 minutes and use that time to work on what you need to get done.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  No house-cleaning distractions.  Simply put your head down and work.  When the 45 minutes is up, set the timer for 15 minutes and do whatever you want.  Then back to 45 minutes of working.

2) If procrastination is your fiend, then try stepping away from your house. Go work someplace else.  Try a coffee shop or even a local park.  Sometimes changing locations can help you focus.

3) If you’ve lost a client, set aside time each day to pitch new clients. Come up with ideas and then focus on finding new outlets that you can work for.  The Writer’s Market has always been a great resource for looking up outlets, what they take freelance-wise and whom to contact.  A Google search can also turn up potential outlets.  But the key is setting aside the time and actually doing the pitching.

4) Diversification has always been the key to being a successful freelancer. If you’re looking to build your freelance business, do some research and find some outlets you’d like to work for.  Look at what kinds of stories they publish.  Try to find out how much they pay.  Then narrow in your pitches on stories they might like.

5) If you are REALLY in a freelance funk and you don’t have regular gigs, then make sure you set work times. Maybe you like an 8am to 5pm schedule.  Maybe you’re a night owl and 12pm to 8pm is a better fit.  Whatever you choose, try to stick to a schedule.  If you want to go for a run or finish some errands in the afternoon, schedule it into your day but add on the time at the end of your work day so you can somewhat keep your schedule, in a freelancer kind of way.

6) Find freelance support. You can find the SPJ Freelance community on Facebook, where you can online “mingle” with other freelancers, asking questions and getting involved in conversations.  There are other freelance groups around, as well.  Maybe your local SPJ chapter is having a meet-up.  Go mingle and find other freelance folks.  We can help each other to stay on track.  If you are looking for more tips on freelancing, follow the @SPJFreelance on Twitter for a curated feed.

7) Remember that freelancing has ups and downs. As freelancers, we all experience times when we say, “This is great!  I love my life!” and then other times when we say, “There is no way you can live and survive as a freelancer.”  Remember why you came to freelancing.  It gives you the freedom to be your own boss.  It gives you the freedom to schedule your work around your life.  It gives you the freedom to play every single position on a journalism team.  When times are tough, remember it’s only temporary and with a little bit of determination, you can make it through.

Susan Valot is a public radio reporter and an adjunct professor in the Los Angeles area.  Valot has been freelancing full-time for the past five years.  She regularly contributes to KQED’s “The California Report,” NPR’s “Only A Game” and other outlets.  You can reach her via Twitter @susanvalot.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Paralyzed at that networking mixer? You’re not alone

Michelle_Donahue (1)Guest blogger: Michelle Z. Donahue

As a freelancer, I’m pretty much the epitome of the reclusive gnome: I occasionally emerge from my home office, blinking in the light, to sample the fresh air outside and exchange actual spoken words with people instead of e-mailing them. Recently, this has even included going to several networking mixers for associations I’ve joined, which involved putting on reasonably nice clothes and a healthy cloak of courage.

It’s not that I don’t like people — I love having a great conversation. I mean, I’m a journalist, and I’m always down for a juicy story. But put me in a room full of people with nametags and an expectation to schmooze, and I seize up.

What I imagine will happen: link up with an editor I really admire and learn what they’re looking for in a pitch. What actually happens: Room-cruising sharks end up glomming onto me, a very hit-or-miss approach for having a good time.

So how do you make the best of one of these networking events when you don’t get out much to begin with, let alone put your best foot forward?

For starters, definitely don’t avoid the mixers. I doubt any freelancer would debate the importance of a healthy network, especially given the outsized role that online social networks now play in modern life. Those in-person connections are more valuable now than ever. Fortunately, there are people happy to advise hapless hacks like me, and I tracked one down at Poynter, a place where folks are in the habit of helping journalists do their jobs better.

Described by his colleagues as one of the most socially capable people around the office, Ren LaForme not only helps organize events, but formed a group that meets monthly in Tampa Bay with the express purpose of connecting journalists with digital designers and developers. During work hours, he builds Poynter’s online education courses.

“Meeting a person face-to-face is still the best way to accomplish anything,” LaForme says. “And I say that as a person who does e-learning for a living.”

Here are a few other tips LaForme offered that might help you have a great conversation at your next mixer, even as you ponder rapidly draining your wine glass in panic.

Set small goals. Before you even show up, decide what you want to get out of the event. Make a goal to talk to a set number of people—say, three or four—and then you can leave, or just hang out by the bar and see what happens. “But try not to attach yourself to the hors d’oeuvres for too long,” LaForme says.

Icebreakers work. When LaForme walked into his 10-year high school reunion, he found everyone converged at the bar near the door, glued to a spouse or friend. Finishing his drink, he approached a classmate and dropped a line he ended up repeating all night: “This whole thing is awkward and super weird, right?” Tapping into an unspoken observation can help defuse the tension of the setting, and allow for more natural conversation to flow. “Don’t be afraid to milk it for what it’s worth,” LaForme says.

Practice some boilerplate. I try to head off talking about myself by asking tons of questions, but also because I tend to be genuinely interested in other people’s success. But the inevitable question comes: so what do you do? “Be ready to answer with a story about an article you enjoyed writing, an interview you really enjoyed or a particularly great time you had working with an editor,” LaForme advises. “It’s less about trying to fit what you do into what they do, but showing what you’re into.”

The audience is rooting for you. We can’t all be Robert Downey, Jr.-smooth, but sometimes there’s no way to slide into a conversation than to gently butt in, possibly by asking a question or contributing a point under discussion. “The secret is that those people who are all talking together are really happy to have someone to talk to, and don’t have to butt in,” LaForme says. “But they want you to succeed. Come in with confidence, and contribute as fast as possible.”

Don’t curb your enthusiasm. If you really want to wow that editor, show them you care about what you do and be ready to draw upon subjects that excite you. “Editors are looking less for topics, and more for passion,” LaForme says. Asking lots of questions never hurts, either—it demonstrates that you’re an expert listener.

Everyone is on edge. That’s the big secret: most people at networking events are probably queasy, too. It just goes against instinct to shoehorn a connection, and Wi-Fi just isn’t reliable enough to Google-stalk everyone you’re about to talk to. “I’m uncomfortable every time I go,” LaForme says. “But it’s provided me with so many great career tips and moves that I just try to push that aside and have a good time.”

Michelle Z. Donahue is a Maryland-based science and technology freelancer who thinks that writing third-person bios is almost as tough as jumping into a conversation already in progress. She has written about robotic scooters for babies, dogs that hunt for whale poop, and coffee brewing in space for outlets including Smithsonian and Popular Science. Follow her on Twitter at @MZDonahue. 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

7 Things Every Freelance Journalist Should Know

DSC_0308Guest blogger: Sara Suleiman, Esq. 

1. DO Understand the Core Concepts of Copyright Law 

The legal definition of a copyright is a form of protection for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Simply put, copyrights deal with movies, music, books, and…articles! Although there are certain legal benefits to officially registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, registration is by no means required. In fact, copyright protection automatically begins from the moment your work is even created, for both published and unpublished work.

It is particularly important for journalists to understand that copyright protection does not extend to ideas. This means that the specific expression of your idea is copyrightable (the pitch letter or the article itself), but the ideas and concepts within those expressions are not.

2. DON’T Pitch Specifics 

The crux of the matter then becomes how freelancers can pitch a story with enough substance for an editor to recognize as a potential article, while also not revealing so much information that the editor or publisher will just write the article on its own. As a starting point, try placing more emphasis on explaining the angle, timeliness, and relevance of the story, instead of explaining the details of the article itself. Or describe the type of sources you propose to use, instead of providing their actual names. Include just enough for the editor to be intrigued; or, if it is a really hot story, promise to disclose the remaining details once a deal is in place.

3. DO Consider a Non-Disclosure Agreement 

Use your judgment here, but if your pitch or idea is valuable enough to you, consider asking the publisher to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In short, a non-disclosure agreement (also known as an NDA) is simply a binding agreement between two parties in which one or both parties agree not to disclose certain confidential information. Companies often use NDAs during the preliminary stages of a potential business relationship, which could involve the exchange of sensitive company information like trade secrets. Along similar lines, journalists can use NDAs to their advantage to protect their pitches during their preliminary discussions with the publisher.

Note that parties are often reluctant to sign NDAs, especially when the agreements contain many complicated provisions. As a freelancer, insisting on the signing of an NDA could mean that the publisher will refuse to work with you. Oftentimes, large publishing companies have legal departments that would need to review the NDA and so editors would rather move on to the next freelancer on their list rather than deal with another legal document. The disparity in bargaining power is an unfortunate reality, but it is up to the journalist to decide how far he or she is willing to go to protect the pitch.

4. DO Have a Contract in Place

Other than an NDA, it is extremely rare to have a written contract in place at the time of the pitch. However, after the publisher accepts your pitch, but before you begin work on the article, it is important for both parties to be on the same page early on regarding what exactly has been agreed on.

Sometimes, the extent of the “contract” is simply an e-mail agreement confirming that the freelancer is doing a certain amount of work, completed by a certain date, for a particular price. Other times, publishers will give freelancers onerous boilerplate contracts that contain so many provisions that the freelancer may be tempted to not even read it. READ THE CONTRACT! These contracts are typically one-sided, drafted to suit the needs of the publisher and rarely the needs of the freelancer. Where possible, mark-up the contract with your proposed changes. Odds are that the publisher will push back on many of the changes, but as a journalist bringing something to the table, you should at least try to defend your protectable interests.

5. DO Retain Copyright in the Article

If you are not sure what to look for in the contract, I’d recommend consulting with an attorney. After all, despite the vast difference in bargaining power between a freelance journalist and a large media conglomerate, journalists are nevertheless educated, competent professionals who have the ability to read and comprehend a contract. Even if the contract contained arguably unfair provisions, a court could find that the journalist knowingly entered into the agreement and that it is an enforceable contract.

That said, if you are confident in your contract negotiating abilities, I’ll point out a few important provisions to be aware of.

Pay particular attention to who would own the copyright in the article. As a freelancer, you should ideally try to retain the copyright in the article.  Instead, just grant the publisher limited rights to use your copyrighted work. This way you can re-publish the article as your own, and you can have control over whether the article is used in other media or derivative works in the future.

Copyrights are typically owned by the individual who created the work of expression, or in this case, the freelancer who wrote the article. However, if it was a “work-for-hire”, then the copyright would vest in the entity for which the article was written, effectively stripping the freelancer of its control. In other words, the publisher would own the copyright. If there is a “work-for-hire” clause in your agreement, ask yourself whether this is acceptable to you.

6. DON’T Accept Indemnity Clauses

An indemnity clause more-or-less states:

“You herby agree to fully indemnify the publisher from any and all claims, demands, and liabilities (including attorneys fees) resulting from your article.”

Understand the implications of a freelancer agreeing to such a clause. This essentially means that if you have unintentionally included, for example, a defamatory statement or inaccurate facts, in your article, and a lawsuit is then filed against the publisher, you are promising to bear all the blame and costs associated with such lawsuit. This, if agreed to, has the potential to cripple the freelancer.

In actuality, if a sub-editor is altering or removing certain material, context or attribution from the article that the freelancer has prepared, it is the freelancer who should insist on the opposite – that the publisher will indemnify the freelancer from all related claims, etc. If the publisher agrees to this request, make sure that you have confirmed the agreement in writing.

Another option to help protect freelancers from indemnification clauses is to set up a business entity. This way, it is the business entity that is entering into the contract with the publisher, as opposed to the freelancer in its individual capacity. Establishing a business structure like a limited liability corporation (LLC), for example, can help absorb the business debts and liability into the corporation so that the freelancer is not held personally responsible for related costs.

7. DO Include the Copyright Symbol

Although a copyright symbol isn’t legally required to protect your work, place the © symbol in the footer of your article for emphasis, so as to clearly put others on notice that the article is in fact copyrighted. You can further expand on your copyright notice by including additional information next to the copyright symbol, such as the year the work was created and the name of the copyright owner.

© 2016 Sara Suleiman

The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

Sara Suleiman is an intellectual property attorney and freelance journalist based in Chicago, Illinois. She studied journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has published articles in Chicago Lawyer Magazine, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, and other trade publications.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

MacGyver your own Freelance Community

anna-pratt-headshot-My column for the latest issue of Quill:

I started freelancing nearly a decade ago, before the recession had taken hold. I’d worked at a community newspaper for several years, covering education, neighborhood news and the arts, and I wanted to explore new ground. At the time, it may have sounded risky to trade the downtown office for my sunroom, but the housing market hadn’t yet collapsed. Freelancing wasn’t exactly a get-rich-quick-scheme, but it afforded plenty of non-material benefits: independence, adventure and growth. Right away, I began writing pieces for other local outlets, which was a great way to develop new beats, meet new people and hone new skills.

However, it wasn’t long before the economy tanked, and some of the publications I’d written for went out of business. Still others could no longer afford to pay for stories. I was playing bill collector for myself, researching and pitching ideas to editors, and cranking out articles on tight deadlines for dwindling pay. I also juggled a part-time job that had an erratic schedule. Thankfully, I eventually landed temporary gigs and contracts that helped to tide me over. Even so, freelancing always seems so fragile.

In many ways, SPJ has buoyed me along the way. Some years ago, I joined the Minnesota chapter’s board, and then after attending the national Excellence in Journalism conference, I got involved with SPJ’s then Freelance Committee. Over the past couple of years, the Freelance Committee has morphed into the Freelance Community. The broader, more all-encompassing Community is about nurturing SPJ’s diverse freelance membership, which continues to grow by leaps and bounds. You can find the Community on the SPJ website:

Our page includes a message board/forums, a resource guide, freelancer directory, jobs listings, calendar, chatroom and more. And the Community’s new crop of volunteers on the executive committee — who were elected in November — are planning events, both “live” and virtual. We’re brainstorming ways to connect with freelancers all over the place, respond to freelancer questions and needs, and support one another in our respective endeavors. We welcome your participation, as well. There are all kinds of ways to get involved. If you’re a freelancer or just interested in hearing more about it, we hope you’ll sign up for the Freelance Community in 2016. (Feel free to do so on the SPJ website or drop us a line.) Join in a future chat or just email us to say hi! In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve gotten out of belonging to the Community, thus far:

CONNECTION There’s no denying that working from home can be a bit isolating. I joke that I’m a little too aware of the goings-on on the street outside my window. (My desk faces outdoors.) As freelancers, we must MacGyver so many things. I feel like I’ve got duct tape, scissors, shoes with holes in them, random wires, old phones, gum, coffee and more, holding things together — pitches, invoices, equipment (sometimes this is literally true). Oh, and the things I’ve done for free wifi! Similarly, as freelancers, we have to gin up our own “co-workers.” Thanks to the Community, I’ve met other freelancers across the country who’ve provided support, offered feedback and occasionally even helped revising a story or crafting a pitch. Also, it’s inspiring to hear what other freelancers are up to. I’ve talked to freelancers who’ve taken their careers overseas, others for whom journalism is a second career, stringers for national or international news outlets, and freelancers who specialize in the environment, radio and music. It’s always fun mingling with fellow freelancers into the wee morning hours at EIJ and taking a “lunch break” or “happy hour” to chat online with others spread across the country.

ASSIGNMENTS/GIGS Occasionally, my colleagues have introduced me to editors or sent assignment/gig listings my way. Or vice versa. Some editors have even reached out to me, and/or I’ve been able to steer them to other freelancers. Sometimes it’s helpful to brainstorm with people about what to do when I’m stuck in a story or where to send a pitch. It helps me to get out of a rut.

PROFESSIONAL TRAINING Professional development is yet another DIY area for independent workers. In my time with the Freelance Community, I’ve learned about negotiating rates, invoicing and targeting national publications, as just a few examples. But training is an ongoing thing. It happens through formal conference programs or Google Hangouts, but also just by being surrounded by a knowledgeable bunch whose experiences, perspectives and beats run the gamut. When I’m scratching my head, trying to figure out, “What’s next?” Community members spur me to keep going. I encourage you to MacGyver your freelance career, as well. You’ll find a lot of the raw materials at SPJ’s Freelance Community ( We look forward to hearing from you.

As a staff-reporter-turnedfreelance-journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fist-fight in a church basement, all for various stories. Pratt also chairs SPJ’s Freelance Community. Drop her a line at annaprattjournalist or on Twitter: @annapratt. 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

The writing life (part two): Be part of the solution, not the problem

keith campbell

Guest blogger: Keith Campbell 

See part one of this series here.

What does it mean to be part of the solution and not part of the problem? I firmly believe that taking no action is being part of the problem. Now is not the time for keeping your head down and sticking to yourself. Stand up for yourself and what is right. Stand up for your fellow struggling writer because, if you’re not struggling now, chances are you were at one time. Supporting your fellow writers is being part of the solution.

There wouldn’t be anyone posting ads that pay five dollars per article if no one was willing to write those articles for five dollars. There is a market for that kind of thing only because we allow it to happen and have become part of the problem. Writers must value their craft. No one else will. If you take on work that ultimately pays below minimum wage, that’s no one else’s fault but your own.

Writing is a skill that not everyone possesses. Maybe you’ve gone to college or maybe you’re self taught like myself. Either way, you have to place a value on what you do so that others value your skills.

You don’t spend four plus years going to college to make what the fry cook at Burger King makes so why would you make the exception when it comes to getting paid for writing? It’s a job, and a job should always pay at least minimum wage. If you’re experienced, college educated or not, you should not be making less than that. There are thousands of uneducated people working at jobs that require no specific skill set and they’re making more than you do writing.

In the United States, the average wage for an unskilled laborer is $29,703., which equates to around twenty dollars an hour. Craigslist is filled with people trying to get you to work for less than half that amount. Still a great many more uneducated, unskilled people are making upwards of thirty an hour, while writers are struggling to make up to ten.

Value your craft!

Having said that, how can I fault the guy who just needs the work? The guy who has a family to feed and is out of work. Should we blame him for taking a gig that pays five dollars an hour? There’s a solution here somewhere, I know it. We just have to put our heads together to find it.

I was asked recently if I thought I could actually make a difference in pressuring Craigslist to kick out the scammers and clean up their act. In truth, I don’t know. But here’s what I believe.

We can make a difference for each other; emphasis on WE. If we do nothing, by our complacency, we’re part of the problem. Let’s be part of the solution instead.

Not long ago, a company was advertising its ghostwriting services on Craigslist Writing Gigs section. They were looking to add ghostwriters to their very qualified team of writers. So I went to their website and checked them out. They professed to have New York Times bestselling authors ghostwriting for them. A bold claim I thought, so I looked further.

A giant red flag popped up when I saw what they were charging clients to get their stories written.

Less than a penny a word.

That got me thinking. If they’re only charging their clients less than one cent a word, how much can they be paying their ghostwriters without taking a loss?

The answer: a penny a word.

They had New York Times bestselling authors writing novels for their clients and they were paying those writers a penny a word for novels up to one hundred thousand words long. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a bestselling author of any caliber working for a penny a word. If they really had that skilled of writers on the payroll, I figured I would order ten novels, shop them to different publishers, and live the rest of my days opening royalty checks.

In the interest of due diligence, I went through a number of samples posted by their ghostwriters. I saw nothing there that indicated any real creativity or skill. Just a lot of canned garbage that anyone could write, fresh out of high school. Exactly what you would expect from someone writing a fifty-thousand word novel for five hundred dollars. There was nothing there that would come close to suggesting that the author was a bestselling caliber wordsmith.

So I took to Craigslist Writing Gigs section and began posting ads calling them out. I included their website address so people could see for themselves. That website is the very reason I sometimes have a difficult time convincing prospective clients to actually pay what I am worth for my services. People see sites like those and they think they’re legitimate. Or that the fees there are the norm and they don’t bother to look any further.

However, there’s a happy ending coming!

Several weeks later after complaining to a friend about the site, I decided to have another look. To my amazement they closed it down, then reopened under new ownership. They now pay ten times what the former owners were paying and they no longer claim to have New York Times bestselling authors on staff writing for them. Sure, they’re still paying a ridiculously low amount but it’s a far cry from a penny a word!

So to answer the question–do I think I can get Craigslist to clean up their site? Maybe not, but I do believe WE can make a difference, but only if we work together and have each other’s backs. I believe we have a responsibility to one another to warn each other of scams or disreputable employers. At the same time, we need to reach out to our fellow writers and tell them about the good jobs out there. Speak up for one another and help your fellow writer get that next good gig.

In that way, we stop being part of the problem and we become part of the solution. For those interested in supporting your fellow writer please follow the link below and sign it. It’s time to stand together and make your voice count. Write well, live well, and change the world around you.

Keith Campbell is a prolific, self-taught writer and artist with a diverse background in finance and investing, martial arts, firefighting, and emergency medicine. All of which he has been known to use as fodder for writing. 

Keith is a founding member of the online writing community and has authored eighteen novels and hundreds of articles for clients on such diverse subjects as finance and investing, self-defense and handgun safety, to real estate, motorcycles, and healthcare. Keith has written monologues for comedians, TV commercials and web series, as well as ghostwriting novels for clients. Taking a page from the life of his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso, Keith sleeps little and writes obsessively. 

Today Keith continues to ghostwrite for various clients while working on his latest darkly comedic love story about a non-traditional family unit with two gender switching parents and a teenage daughter who hates them both. 

Keith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his two boys and his cat.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

The writing life: The problem with the Craigslist Writing Gigs section

keith campbell

Guest blogger: Keith Campbell

See part two in this series here

It’s not easy being a writer, and if your name isn’t John Greene, Suzanne Collins, or George R.R. Martin, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Being part of an online writer’s community helps, but we can’t give each other jobs so we need to look to outside sources.

Like Craigslist.

I discovered the Writing Gigs section quite by accident around 2006 and I was amazed at how many offerings there were for temporary and, often permanent, jobs. Over the years, I wrote numerous articles for different clients’ websites on topics like finance and investing, real estate, martial arts, healthcare, plastic surgery, dentistry, travel; you name it, I wrote it. I found my first legitimate publisher on Craigslist. I got an amazing job with a TV ad agency in New York and had the pleasure of seeing some of my scripts come to life on TV. I wrote monologues for comedians, scripts for several web series, made it on the short list for a spot on a writer’s stable for a network sitcom.

It was all good. Until it wasn’t anymore.

Back in the day, I would spend about three hours a day just combing through ads in just about every major city in the US and applied to job after job, focusing on those that played to my strengths as a writer. I almost NEVER got scammed!

But like that old book by S.E. Hinton, THAT WAS, THIS IS NOW, everything has changed. The number of legitimate jobs or gigs began dropping as the number of scams, non-paying gigs, jobs paying less than minimum wage, and ads for jobs that had nothing to do with writing, began to dominate the Writing Gigs section. The pay being offered also dropped dramatically. Ten years ago, it wasn’t difficult to find a steady gig that paid $15.00 to $20.00 per five hundred to six hundred word article. For specialized gigs that required a professional background such as in the medical field or finance, you could easily get steady work for double the pay. Today $5.00 seems to be the standard for just about any article of any length on any topic.

As much as I hate to admit it, the blame partly falls on the writers. We have, to a certain degree allowed, and even been party to the problem. I mean, let’s face it. If no one was willing to write an article for $5.00, nobody would post ads looking for people to write their articles for $5.00. So yes, we have let the fox into the hen house. The question here is, how do we get it out and what are we willing to do to expel that sly old fox.

If you’re unsure the scope of the problem here, just take a look at the issue by the numbers on one particular day.

Out of one hundred ninety-six postings in CL Writing gigs in the SF bay area, forty-nine had nothing to do with writing. That means, right off the bat, twenty-five percent of the total ads are garbage. Of the one hundred forty-seven gigs that are for writing jobs, forty-one of those are non paying jobs. So, of the one hundred ninety-six postings, only one hundred six will actually generate an income. That means fifty-four percent of the postings are a waste of time. That doesn’t even include the gigs that are actually scams, or gigs that pay under minimum wage. Then there are the gigs that fall under the paid gig category but aren’t really a paid job. These are the ones where you are expected to write your article, story, or whatever they need, then if yours is selected you get paid. If that sounds shady, it can be, but isn’t necessarily a scam. For example, if someone is compiling an anthology they will naturally select the best ones that fit what they’re looking for, and pay those. Some will argue that all entrants should be paid, but I’m not going to argue that point. What I will say is, there are far too many paid gigs that use this method to get whatever article they need written, and get it for free. It’s a common and difficult to prove scam that I’ll explain in a later posting.

As you can see, our one hundred six paying gigs are getting whittled down slowly. Then you have the paid gigs that all-out refuse to tell you what the pay is. They use terms like TBD, negotiable, DOE, or will discuss with the right person. It all comes back to writers having to do everything involved in applying for a job before they have a clue what that job pays, if it even pays anything at all. That accounts for another twenty-two postings.

Finally, we’re down to eighty-four job possibilities out of one hundred ninety-six postings that day. If we’re being conservative, take another ten off that number to account for scams and that leaves you with seventy-four gigs to apply for, assuming you are qualified to write for every posting listed. In the end, that makes one hundred twenty-two time wasting postings out of the original one hundred ninety-six ads. That’s the reason I would have to spend three plus hours a day, just looking for a legitimate gig.

For those interested in helping expel the foxes from the hen house, here is a petition. Please follow the link and feel free to leave a comment as well:

I am also collecting personal stories from writers who have either been scammed, or just want to add their voice to the petition. I think these stories will carry as much weight as the signatures.

In short, we are in part allowing the problem to exist through our non-action, so let’s change that today and make our voices heard. Let’s take Craigslist Writing Gigs away from the scammers and all those looking to take advantage of us. Writers, band together and be heard!

Keith Campbell is a prolific, self-taught writer and artist with a diverse background in finance and investing, martial arts, firefighting, and emergency medicine. All of which he has been known to use as fodder for writing. 

Keith is a founding member of the online writing community and has authored eighteen novels and hundreds of articles for clients on such diverse subjects as finance and investing, self-defense and handgun safety, to real estate, motorcycles, and healthcare. Keith has written monologues for comedians, TV commercials and web series, as well as ghostwriting novels for clients. Taking a page from the life of his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso, Keith sleeps little and writes obsessively. 

Today Keith continues to ghostwrite for various clients while working on his latest darkly comedic love story about a non-traditional family unit with two gender switching parents and a teenage daughter who hates them both. 

Keith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his two boys and his cat.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Network and support for freelancers

1268046_10102069884870981_1769739499_oGuest blogger: Elle Toussi

Nearly one in three working Americans is an independent worker. Wow! That statistic from the Freelancers Union website can make you stop in your tracks and take a moment to reflect.  Looking at just the United States, that is an extensive number of people who are deciding to be independent and they come from all walks of life and industries.

Making the decision to go freelance can be a daunting and scary decision to make. Will I have stability? What about healthcare? What happens with my retirement? My 401k? There are lots of questions to address. For those here in the Freelance Community at SPJ you already know the importance of one very important element in the world of freelance: network.

Being a freelancer can be a very lonely process, so making sure to be a member of organizations that create a community within your industry or craft is important. These groups help foster support. I have found that to be key.

One group that has helped is the Freelancers Union. I’ve taken on the task to be a co-leader for their monthly Spark events in Los Angeles. This is where they host a monthly gathering of freelancers and as they say, “Learn stuff. Find your spark.” On the first Wednesday of every month there is a new topic to be explored and Spark events take place in over 18 cities nationwide.

It’s always important to weigh the benefits of joining another organization or group, but let’s see if I can break it down for you.

It’s Free. Yes, you heard that right. To be a member of the Freelancers Union comes with no cost. No annual payment. Just simply join the network and like every organization or group… you get what you give. So really be active and participate in all the organization has to offer.

Benefits. Trying to navigate through health, dental, disability, life and liability insurance can be overwhelming. The Union has figured a way to make sure no independent worker is left behind when it comes to these important benefits. You too can figure out a way to save for retirement and you can get help with the process.

Network. Take a moment once a month to gather with fellow freelancers at a local Spark Workshop event where you can network and learn. You never know when you will connect with someone that will create a lasting friendship or a possible work collaboration. There is nothing more important than your network, especially as a freelancer.

Discounts. Independent workers with the Freelancers Union can take part in special discounts from companies, products, co-working places and much more.

Resources. You need help creating a contract? That’s great, you can create a custom contract with the Union here. You need help with taxes? That is definitely something to take into consideration when going freelance and the step-by-steps are available on the website. For example these tax-saving tips here. The blog is also a great place to look up different topics and tips & tricks. Chances are there is something you need help with and there is something already posted that can help you.

Don’t just take my word for it. October 7th is the next Spark Event covering, “Make Your Contract Your Best Business Ally.” Sign up to an event near you and check out to see what all the fuss is about. You might find yourself inspired and going every month.

Elle Toussi is an innovative cross-platform journalist, with more than four years of experience reporting on the film industry, the Middle East and all matters pertaining to Southern California. She has trained under the guidance and mentorship of award-winning journalists at CNN, NBC Los Angeles, KTLA, Screen International and USA Today. She has also freelanced for National Geographic Channels.

Currently bi-coastal, she plans to continue her coverage of Middle Eastern affairs after her time in Jordan where she was immersed in the Syrian refugee situation in 2014. It even inspired the creation of her non-profit, In One Minute, where she plans to use the power of mobile technology and philanthropy to meet specific needs of women around the world. The non-profit organization provides stories of women by giving them a platform to tell their story. Helping one woman at a time, one minute at a time. 

Toussi is an Iranian-American born and raised in Southern California. Her passion for covering Middle Eastern matters and the role of immigrants in the Southern California region is inspired and largely due to her upbringing by her hardworking immigrant parents that relocated to California many years ago. She currently contributes to CBS Local, AXS online and has contributed to Screen International and Examiner. Stay tuned for her latest work on

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

One freelancer’s take-aways from EIJ15

Guest blogger: Hazel Becker 

hbheadshot2Excellence in Journalism 2015 (EIJ15), the big SPJ journalism conference that took place in Orlando, Fla., last weekend, offered several opportunities for freelancers to meet each other and share their stories.

There was much to absorb – too much, perhaps, in just three days devoted to learning how to be better at what we do while also making connections with other journalists and doing the business of the three sponsoring organizations: SPJ, the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Here are a few quick observations:

  • Freelancers were everywhere! Whether we call ourselves “independent journalists” or something else, there are more of us every year, and our numbers are increasing in all forms of journalism.
  • The blurring lines between delivery media seem to be making it easier for us to step out of our print/broadcast/digital boxes. For the most part, we are all doing the same thing – telling stories to audiences that need, want, or enjoy hearing them. So are employed journalists – and whether the producer is independent or on staff is less important than it was in the past.
  • Freelancers continue to seek each other out. We are becoming less fearful of “the competition” – each other! – and beginning to realize that the challenges we face are not unique. We have much to learn from each other.
  • While we face obstacles that employed journalists may not come up against – primarily on the business side – we are not alone in experiencing upheaval in our work world. The way news and features are generated and disseminated is in turmoil for our entire profession, leaving everyone unsettled.

I left EIJ15 with several vexing questions. Most troubling to me, for independent journalists, are these two:

  • How can we best respond to publishers’ increasing demands that we bear the liability not only for our work but also for theirs?
  • How can we bring some rationality to the jumbled marketplace in which we now do business, to make it easier for freelancers to connect with publishers willing to pay for our services according to the quality they are seeking, and the effort required to produce that quality?

The coming year promises to be interesting. Perhaps we will begin to see the road ahead before EIJ16. See you all in New Orleans!

Hazel Becker is a freelance journalist and publications consultant in Washington, D.C. She produces and edits business stories primarily in the areas of taxation, insurance, and personal finance. 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Interviews: To record, or not to record?

Hope YanceyGuest blogger: Hope Yancey

As a freelancer writer, I spend a lot of time working alone, so I’m often curious about how other freelancers do things and whether I am going about my writing tasks the “right” way. It’s a feeling I’ve heard others express, and I imagine many of us share this concern when we don’t have coworkers in the traditional sense or editors nearby to consult. Perhaps this bit of doubt is magnified for me, as my academic background is in subjects other than journalism, and much of what I’ve learned about the field has been self-taught.

I’ve been surprised to learn sometimes in conversations with other freelance writers that some of them don’t record their interviews with sources. My guess is this decision is based on individual time management needs. After all, if you record the interview, then you have to sit through it all over again afterward when you play back the recording. While every writer should certainly do what works best for them, I think there are many good reasons to record an interview – with permission, of course.

I would find it almost impossible to get long quotes verbatim without use of a recording. Even with the benefit of a recording, it’s not unusual to have to listen repeatedly to hear all the words. While a careful paraphrase is suitable in some cases, other times it’s necessary to state information in the form of a direct quote, so you must transcribe each word as it was said.

Aside from quotes, there are a number of additional details that enhance a story that I would miss or forget without having a recording. It’s been a revelation to me to identify how many interesting details I pick up on when I listen to a recording – details overlooked in my original note-taking. Accessing those details can make for a richer story.

I’ve also noticed characteristics of my own interviewing style I would like to adjust from listening to recordings. It can help me eliminate distracting habits or affectations of speech. When I was in graduate school studying counseling, the professors occasionally had students record ourselves interacting with clients at our internship sites and reviewed the tapes with us. It improved our skills as counselors.

Last but not least, recording interviews may serve a protective purpose for the freelance writer, since freelancers may not have the backing of their publication the way staff writers do, in the unfortunate event there is ever a challenge raised to published material.

In summary, while it may be faster not to record interviews and listen to them later, skipping that important step could be a significant omission. I take my digital recorder with me to interviews, asking my interviewees, “Is it OK with you if I record our conversation to help me with my notes?” Most have been understanding and quickly agreed to let me record them. In fact, I believe people are reassured when they see you are making an earnest effort to get the facts right.

Once, after an article appeared in the newspaper, one of the people I’d spoken with for the story emailed a thank-you note: “All the facts were correct, all the names spelled right, all the quotes were accurate … ,” he wrote. That’s just about the highest compliment I could have hoped to receive.

Hope Yancey is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C. She participates in SPJ’s Freelance Community. Follow her on Twitter @Hope_Yancey.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

A support group for music journos

Guest blogger: Anthony Iverson 

Iverson_AnthonyFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved music and writing — and for me, music journalism is a great way to combine these passions. This venture, though, has proven to be more difficult than I had initially thought, due to the current state of the job market and the fact that music journalism is always fighting to remain relevant. Plus, it’s no secret that music journalists don’t exactly rake in the big bucks.

Nevertheless, I’ve tried to keep this dream within reach by doing what I can to get my foot in the door, networking with whomever will give me the time of day. One of these doors opened via tweet from Oregonian music critic David Greenwald. The tweet called out to any current or aspiring music writers to join a Facebook group he moderates wherein writers discuss freelancing trends, tips and struggles.

I requested access and shortly thereafter was accepted into the group, free to roam through posts dating back to February of this year from a mix of freelancers, staff writers and editors of publications like Rolling Stone, Spin and the Wall Street Journal along with blogs like Noisey, Consequence of Sound and MTV Iggy.

The purpose of the group, as Greenwald explicitly states, is “for sharing advice, information, contacts and industry grousing. NOT for arguing about music.” The latter requirement left me skeptical, knowing firsthand how argumentative music critics can be. But as far as I can tell, everyone within the group has honored this standard and they have stuck to talking shop, providing insight and discussing the ins and outs of the industry.

Since joining the group, all kinds of questions have been posed and answered by members, whose experiences run the gamut.

Someone might want to know, ‘what is the best way to go about pitching an editor? If you have an interview lined up, ‘is it better to write the piece and then pitch it or vice versa? If I’ve written a piece based on an interview but still have unused sound bites, is it considered poor etiquette to use the remainder of the interview for a different article?’

The questions come from writers of all variations, beginners to veterans — all of which are treated earnestly and answered honestly.

The group is meant to serve as a community of resources to help one another pursue the same two passions they have in common. It has served as a less network-y form of networking — a sort of informal, ongoing conversation among a group. It has proven to be a great learning experience in the weeks that I’ve been a member.

Some editors have encouraged newer writers to send them recently published pieces while others have offered up assignments and even posted job openings.

This supportive nature is encouraging to me as I was struggling to find opportunities. Not only has this group given me ideas on different directions to take, it has offered the opportunity to submit pieces and build a rapport with others in the business — and all thanks to a bunch of complete strangers who give of their expertise freely.

Even if I weren’t already passionate about music writing, it would probably still inspire me to pursue it just as a result of the supportive nature of this small community. And now that I have access to this wealth of resources, I feel like I’m better equipped to move forward and continue on this path. So, I invite others to find similar virtual groups that can help provide moral support and practical advice.


Anthony Iverson is a publicist by day but a journo at heart. He formerly wrote for the High Plains Reader, Fargo’s only alternative weekly, and currently works as an assistant account executive at Weber Shandwick and a section editor at l’etoile Magazine while living in Minneapolis. An aspiring freelance writer, Iverson’s interests mainly lie in covering culture, politics, sports and his one true love: music.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

Copyright © 2007-2016 Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ