Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Thanks to the slower economy and chaos the world is in, I have had more time to write for publications, yet had fewer clients giving assignments. In one way, this has been great. I recently had two articles accepted at dream publications! With a third semi-dream pub in the works.

But it does remind me of the challenges we freelance journalists have. Some publications are splendid at paying in a timely fashion (usually 30 or 45 days after invoice, which comes after publication in many cases). Others, not so much.

Last year, I sold an article to a large publication for a sizeable amount for me, but pittance for them. The editor I worked with was marvelous. The story turned out beautifully! But it was a nightmare getting paid. The check wasn’t sent for 4 months. I moved. And because of the long delay, it went to the wrong address. It took another 10 weeks to receive the check again.

If this had been an isolated incident, I wouldn’t tell you about it. But many other journalists face the same issue. As I commiserate with fellow writers, the story repeats hundreds of times a year.

Practical Thoughts

If you are looking at going into freelance journalism, don’t expect to be paid immediately for next month’s bills. Hopefully, you will, but you’ve got to have a backup, especially when you first start out.

  1. If you have a job right now, wait until you can save at least two months’ expenses before handing in a resignation in pursuit of a writing career.
  2. If you are unemployed and looking to start in journalism, look first for content writing jobs and develop a client base that covers your bills for at least the first few months. Then start pitching publications.
  3. Develop a solid portfolio to accompany your pitches.
  4. Build a website with a bio, links to articles (or your portfolio), and start a blog (maybe).
  5. Understand that many – possibly most – freelance journalists also have regular clients of other kinds (content writing, social media, etc.) and/or have other gigs (dog walking, house sitting, consulting, life coaching, teaching, etc.).

When I first started out, I was scouring Craigslist want ads for one-off gigs, part-time work, and writing work. I did things like running booths at craft fairs, product tests, consumer research panels, home organizing, and became an occasional assistant to a magician (a job I still love doing, and look forward to doing again once the social-distancing lifts!).

Backstage getting ready for a magic show one night

I maintain a solid client base (or at least attempt to – it’s tough out there!) while also writing for publications like Al-Jazeera, CNN Travel, Her Agenda, The Points Guy, VA Bride Magazine, and others.