The Number One Challenge of a Freelance Writer

Happy New Year, readers!

There was a time when I worked solely as a freelance writer. I have always wanted to be a writer, and actually began writing as a career in around 2000. I worked as an editorial assistant for the new defunct Education Quarterly or EQ (at least I think it is defunct), and continued on there, and began freelancing while working there even, working in magazines (almost all non-existing) such as Zero Degrees and many of Astro’s publications.

Freelance writing
Some of my writing work when I first embarked in fitness

I then got a job to work in a publishing house for academic titles. I guess it was time for a change but we won’t dwell on the too much here. After about six months or so, I had left the publishing house and I was back in the freelancing market totally (as EQ had either been shut down or was bought over). In the interim, I had begun writing for the Freespace column in the Sun newspaper, and that also had boosted my profile somewhat.

Without a basic salary that EQ had provided for, I found myself working hard as a freelance writer. I did have the Sun Column to fall back on, and I also had a very good editor at a lifestyle magazine who often gave me jobs. I found myself having to expand my network tremendously to get jobs, especially jobs that many young freelance writers seek, such as book projects.

These came in time, along with good stable revenue, such as copy work for unit trust newsletters, as well as creating and drawing in revenue for a blog. It is hard work though, and the industry was transitioning from a paper-based model to online. However, the industry just didn’t know how to monetise online publications.

Looking through a Facebook for Malaysian Writers, I found the challenges now almost the same as it was during my time of actively being a freelance writer. And here they are:

1. Payment

Writers need to eat and pay toll, parking and petrol too. For some strange reason though, invoices for freelance writers are put at the bottom of the heap of invoices to be paid. Initially, I tolerated this (once I waited two years for payment! Two years woi! I had to threaten doing a company search and writing to all shareholders and camping in the office before I actually got paid), but after awhile I realise the cost involved in chasing payment, including the stress of it, was not worth it. Over time, I became pickier about people I wrote for.

Sometimes for book projects, I find the client paying a third of the fees and then expect the writer to do all the work, including eleventh hour changes, without having paid the remainder. Some writers (thankfully not me) have actually finished off the project on just half or a third of the fees, but because the client made changes halfway, then blame the writer, the client refuses to pay the remainder. Sadly, this is far too common a practice than one might think.

Okay, the not-so-bad payment issues would be late payment and consistent requirement of having to chase payment. Dear businesses, I am sure you have heard of the term “opportunity cost”. If not, here is a handy explanation. And chasing clients who are late for payment is an opportunity cost for the writer. Please understand that. TQVM!

It seems payment is still an issue now for writers, especially young writers. This is sad. My suggestion, if you are a young writer, is to get into either a newspaper or magazine first, whether online or print (or both), and learn a bit how things are done and how to manage people. Because clients are people, and learning when to read when someone might behave dishonestly or steal from you (for that’s what it is, let’s call a spade a spade) will help you in the long term.

2. Misc

Hah! So you see, the biggest issue is always payment, whether it be non-payment, partial payment or late payment. Other matters I would list down briefly is:

  1. Juggling work schedules: okay this is up to the writer to be disciplined about scheduling etc.
  2. Interviewing people: this should be factored into the cost of coming up with the written piece.
  3. Logistics: same as number 2

I would also add that if you are starting out as a freelancer, whatever your scope of work is, learn a bit about accounting, taxation and business law and setup. Also learn a bit about social media and blogging, that also helps.

What do you think is the number one challenge of your scope of work if you are a freelancer?

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