Freelancing is tricky at the best of times, getting commissions, getting paid on time, chasing up late fees when you’re not paid on time. On top of that, cutbacks throughout journalism and publications falling into administration threaten all journalists, but none more than the freelancers.
The panel, hosted by Mun-Keat Looi, commissioning editor for Mosaic, is made up of three freelancers who began in different ways.
Sally Hayden was a news writer for Vice before being laid off and forced to go freelance.
Olivia Crellin has moved back and forth between freelancing and staff writing; she also founded PressPad, sourcing free accommodation for writers getting work experience in London.
Simon Akam, apart from working for a brief period at The New York Times, has always freelanced.
To start out, they unanimously agree they needed savings. Akam was lucky enough to have parents to support him, Crellin had a job teaching English in Chile, and Hayden had a severance check to see her through for a little while.
These savings allow you the time to hone your pitching skills and make the most out of your ideas. Akam credits the scariest thing about going freelance is facing rejection, but “if you’re working for yourself you constantly have to front-load the frightening stuff.”
Crellin worked as a staff writer first which enabled her to get a mortgage on a flat in London, which she now rents out.
Working as a freelancer, you need to ensure you look after yourself. Hayden works a lot on trauma and injustice, and she notes she needs to expand her portfolio. After covering a story of refugees being tortured, she fell apart and there was no one to check on her. “Since then I’m very conscious that I don’t want to always be doing emotionally draining stuff,” she says.
Looi interjects here encouraging freelancers to ensure they give themselves holidays.
When it comes to pitching, Akam sticks to a strict schedule. Every Monday he drafts a pitch and Tuesday he sends it off. If there’s no reply by the following Tuesday, he’ll chase it up via email, if he has nothing by the third week, he’ll call.
“You need to get your head around this and lose all of your shame,” Akam says, “I won’t let them ignore me.”
Finally, they recommend setting your pitching sights on America. Akam reveals, “The top of the British market will pay £1 a word and think it’s lavish, the top of the American market will pay upwards of $2.”
However, he does recommend writing for The Guardian as “it’s well edited and a good shop window.”
Thanks to all who came to our freelance session #CIJWellTold.
Hey, pitch your longform ideas @mosaicscience – we pay expenses and half the fee upon first draft so less waiting for publication. https://t.co/AUW2kfIiiD
— Mun-Keat Looi (@munkeatlooi) March 2, 2019
Thanks to all who came to our panel discussion @welltold today. Ran out of time for more Qs so just DM if you want to get in touch about @PressPadUK @BBCWorld or #freelancing. If you weren’t there make sure you are next yr https://t.co/Ss5dVlm23T
— OliviaCrellin ??? (@OliviaCrellin) March 2, 2019
Had a great time at the @welltold festival today, and gained lots of invaluable knowledge from some fantastic industry and freelance journalists – a big thank you to @cijournalism, the sponsors, and student volunteers for making it happen??
— Isobel (@Isobel_Rafferty) March 2, 2019
Words by Corrie David