Archive for June, 2008

Would you like to write for Quill?

I am looking for a columnist for the next issue of Quill, SPJ’s magazine for members. The column would be for freelancers, giving quality how-to advice while sticking with the issue’s theme, freedom of information. If you are a freelancer, have experience with public records and freedom of information issues and you have something to say that would help other freelancers, I’d like to hear from you.

I’d need 800 to 850 words, and you’d have a few weeks to work on it. If you’re interested please e-mail me at

Special thanks to David Wheeler, a freelancer in Kentucky, for contributing this month’s Quill column for freelancers. Hope everyone is having a good day!

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Keeping busy when I’m not

A freelancer e-mailed recently for tips on how to avoid slow periods, in other words how to achieve a steady work load without wild highs and lows. When we’re busy we don’t want to waste time on pitches. When we’re slow we’ve got no way to pay the bills.

It was a problem I struggled with when I first started out, and I still do. Business for me has been dreadfully slow in recent weeks. Here’s how I deal with it.

  • I rest. In May I went to Tampa about four times in three weeks. I worked six-day weeks and slept in hotels. I was tired. I try to rest up because I never know when someone will send me back to Tampa or anywhere else for that matter.
  • I get organized. Usually I’ve got a stack of invoices to file or story ideas to pitch.
  • I try to enjoy myself. When I’m not under financial pressure and when things are selling I enjoy pitching. I enjoy the creativity that goes into crafting ideas and finding markets for them. Sometimes I’ll spend an afternoon at the Barnes & Noble magazine stand. Ideas flare, and that invigorates me. Immersing myself in magazines this way reminds me of why I got into this business in the first place. I toy around with my blog, a book idea or other things I never seem to have time for. I have fun with writing.
  • Even when I’m busy I make time to pitch. Now that most publications accept queries by e-mail, when an idea is rejected it only takes a few minutes to send the idea to another publication. Some freelancers maintain a quota of queries they send every week. I’ve never done this because so much of my business comes from breaking news and “right-now” assignments, and sometimes when I’m busy I just go with it because I don’t know when the next slow period will be. But I do keep an eye on my calendar and try to make sure I’ve got at least something lined up for the next week.
  • I worry, stress and feel depressed. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit this. A few weeks into a slow stretch like this I’ll start to feel frustrated and discouraged. By now I’ve sold three stories, and all have been put on hold at least until August. Yuck. I question my abilities as a journalist and my decisions in life.
  • I try to remember all the other slow times. I remind myself that it’s impossible to know when an astronaut will drive from Houston to Orlando with diapers to confront a romantic rival, generating months of work for me. In the news business we never know what’s about to happen, what’s about to pop up in our e-mail inbox. As long as I’ve pitched everything I can, as long as I’ve maintained my Web sites and done everything possible to get my name out, that’s all I can do. All that’s left is enjoying myself and my free time while I wait for the work to come to me. It always does.
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So, Was It Worth It? Analyzing My Launch Into Cyberspace

Hello fellow freelancers! For those of you who remember me, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get my last post here on the blog. (For those of you who don’t remember me: never mind.)

When I last posted I had just launched my Web site,, and promised to post one more time to let you know what I’d done to promote the site and to share my thoughts on my first foray into cyberspace.

In a nutshell, I can report that the site has not directly led to any new assignments. Editors have not discovered me on the Internet, tracked me down and handed me the assignment of my dreams on a silver platter. Not surprised? Neither am I. HOWEVER, I do feel the site has increased my street cred among publicists, fellow journalists and even interview subjects—and that alone makes me feel it is worthwhile.

I spread the word about the site in a few ways shortly after launching it late last year. First, I printed up new business cards to include my Web site address. Second, I added an email “signature” to my hotmail account, which includes the site’s address as well as my home office and cell numbers at the bottom of every email I send (unless I choose to delete it out). Doing these things took less than an hour out of my life and yet they continually pay dividends. Whether I’m trying to get in the good graces of a publicist or attempting to convince a possible interview subject to talk with me I know my Web site validates me as a journalist. I get a lot of compliments on the site and I can tell it legitimizes me a PROFESSIONAL and probably makes people think of me as more than just some fast-talking crazy lady with a hotmail address.

Not everything I did to promote the site and myself has paid off. For instance, I paid $14 for a listing on mediabistro’s Freelance Marketplace for one month. (It would have been $19, but I’m an AvantGuild member so they knocked five bucks off.) I spent a lot of time crafting my listing and was proud I could provide a link to my site. Sadly, all the effort was for naught. I was contacted exactly once: by a scammer interested to involve me in an “enticing” overseas business deal.

Other than the things detailed above I have not promoted my site aggressively. Frankly, I ran out of ideas. Yahoo Small Business, the application I used to design my site, has a “promote your site” function I used shortly after it went live, but as far as I could tell it didn’t do much. It also took a month or two for my site to come up as the initial listing on Google when I’d search my name. (Yes, I am cringing while I write about Googling myself, but I know it needs to be done—though not to excess.) However, now that the site IS the first thing that comes in a Google search I am quite pleased.

So, as I wind down my final blog entry I sincerely hope some of you have benefited from my posts in some way. Also, I am currently scheduled to serve as a panelist at the SPJ national convention in September, so I hope to meet many of you in Atlanta shortly. (Also, profuse thanks to SPJ freelance committee chairwoman Amy Green, who is working hard to put together valuable panels and workshops for attending freelancers.) As always, feel free to drop me a note at and I wish everyone else success and luck as you pursue your freelance careers. KATHY EHRICH DOWD

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SPJ freelancer directory

Many of you know about SPJ’s freelancer directory, which puts freelancers’ information and work samples at the fingertips of editors. Today members who are part of the directory are getting the following message in their e-mails. I wanted to make the message available to those who are not members or who may not be aware of the service. Hope everyone is having a great day.

If someone told you that you could have unprecedented access to the world’s top editors and news directors, would you believe them? Thanks to the Society of Professional Journalists’ freelancer directory, this isn’t a far-fetched idea.

SPJ’s freelancer directory can put your work at the fingertips of the country’s top editors and news directors. The directory enables independent journalists, who are members of the Society, to post information and links to work samples online for free. This same list is viewable by editors and news directors from around the world. They can search by state, specialty or both. All you have to do is post your best work and wait for the calls to come.

To help ensure these decision makers are aware of your work, SPJ will send out regular announcements to more than 5,000 editors and news directors, explaining the benefits of using our directory.

If you are a current member of SPJ, visit with your username and password to complete the registration and submit your work samples. If you are not a current SPJ member, what are you waiting for? Join today by visiting and let SPJ start working for you.

For more information about SPJ’s freelancer directory or SPJ membership, please contact National Freelance Committee Chairwoman Amy Green at

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


Amy Green
National Freelance Committee Chairwoman
Society of Professional Journalists

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A Writer’s Worth

Hi guys. I wanted to share this post written by Allie Bullock Kagamaster, a freelancer in Southern California who has covered stories for CAT FANCY, OCMetro, 944 and Inland Empire Golfer. She is interested in the worlds of entertainment and science, and she would like to cover movie premieres and engineering feats.

Allie e-mailed me today to ask how to establish a freelancer rate. Our e-mail exchange produced this post by Allie, but I wanted to quickly weigh in myself.

Usually when I’m working with a new client I start by asking the client what the client’s rate is. The publications I work with pay a broad spectrum of rates. If the rate is high usually I just go with it. If the rate is mediocre I might test the waters and try to nudge it up a bit. If it’s just not doable I either try to negotiate or move on. When I negotiate I try to be friendly, and for leverage I draw on my experience and anything else I can think of. I might, for example, mention that the clients’ competitors pay a higher rate. In other words, I have a plan.

I weigh what is valuable to me. I might accept a lower rate if the clip will be especially valuable in my portfolio. I’ve also asked established clients for pay raises. I feel it’s only fair as the cost of living escalates, and my own worth rises with experience.

Here is Allie’s perspective. She makes a good point, that when a client low-balls us we should point to resources such as Writer’s Market because the client may be unaware of average industry rates. Thanks so much, Allie!

Sometimes freelancing can be hit or miss depending on the answer to: “What are your rates?” What if you’re in the process of building your business?

Freelancing is all about juggling assignments. And those assignments are two-fold: building clips from publications and seeking work that’s sustainable.

It’s those fill-ins and quasi-day jobs with new clients who wonder what your fees are for writing services that keep most of us afloat.

The way I see it, we’re building clips to garner more and more assignments from different publishers who mostly pay flat fees. In the meantime or in-between time, most of us seek more mundane projects like writing or editing business manuals, marketing materials, or Web content.

But it’s important to be honest to clients who don’t know what to pay writers by pointing the way to the “going rate,” which can be found in Writer’s Digest per type of writing project, and on the Journalism Jobs Web site under salaries.

This week after invoicing the editor of the annual magazine I write features for, I’m negotiating a deal with one company to write Web content and with another that needs a sales letter but who are printing my business cards for free because they like me so I’m giving them a discount and they’ve agreed to send clients my way. At first they were hands clasped over mouths when they saw the “going rate” for sales letters. It’s taken them six weeks to digest anything over the bartering system.

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