Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Freelance Writer

I have had several questions in recent weeks about my job as freelance writer via email, in person, and even during interviews : )  People ask how it works, what I do, how it pays, etc...   I thought I would give a little information here, in case anyone else is curious.
I write and take pictures for multiple, primarily agriculture affiliated, newspapers and magazines. I contribute regularly to BEEF Magazine, Hereford America and Tri-State Livestock News. I've also had either my writing and/or photography work published in The Fence Post, Limousin World Magazine, Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Beef Producer Magazine, and in Wyoming Stock Growers flyers and promotional materials,
To explain how I got started as a freelancer, we need to go back to how I got started in writing. I have my degree in animal science, and had never written anything beyond an opinion column at the University of Wyoming school paper prior to being hired as the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. They hired me because of my practical background in agriculture, and obviously not my writing experience.
After a year and a half in that position, I left the Roundup and decided to attempt freelancing because I thoroughly enjoyed the interviewing and writing aspect of my job. I contacted some of the people I had met during my time as an editor, and/or who had published my photos, re-published articles I wrote during my time at the Roundup, or who were publications I thought would be interested in my work.
I had a few people willing to give me a chance, and several others who weren't interested. I sent out a lot of examples of my work, came up with a lot of ideas, and built up gradually to the amount of work I do now.  Roughly 10 months after I started, I have a wonderful form of self-employment that compliments my photography business and ranch related responsibilities nicely.
Yes, I have three jobs total.
Everyone is always very curious about the pay. Well, it varies greatly, to the extent you can add and subtract the number of zeros paid per article at different publications. I know some people who make a very good living exclusively as a freelance writer. However, I don't think this is overly common, and certainly not how you start out.
As with most self-employed positions, it takes a lot of hard work, responsibility and long hours, and you have to be dedicated and willing to put in the amount of time and effort necessary to produce a quality product every time. But, if you can handle that, the rewards are also great in that you set your own schedule, the amount of work you want to within a given time period, and the location from which you work.
I am also frequently asked what advice I have for someone wanting to enter this field. What I say is that you need to work at a publication, as in within the office, for a period of time. As with most professions, being involved in the day-to-day tasks is when you really learn about what it takes to work within the industry, who the people you need to know are, and various other nuts and bolts bits of pertinent information. There's no way I would have a clue how to even do this job without that time spent as an editor.
That's not to say that there aren't any successful writers out there who have never worked in an office, it's just that for me that was a critical contributor to my current success.
I would also encourage a person to work on a paper in high school or college if you're in that age group, and give writing or photography a try. While at the University of Wyoming, I worked with an extremely talented editor. He continually asked me to try writing editorial for the paper, but at that time I was the paper's photography editor, and in no way every saw myself writing much beyond addressing envelopes in the future. Honestly.
I cannot imagine how far ahead I would have been when the opportunity to work at the Roundup presented itself if I had taken him up on writing, even if it was just once or twice. You never know where God is going to direct your life, so if you have the chance to try something, for peets sake try it. It may just be useful in the future!
As usual, if anyone has any more questions about my writing work, anything ranch related, or other topics covered on this blog, please feel free to ask. I enjoy covering topics you want to read about!

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