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    Feasting from the Holy Grail of Freelancing

    Multiple assignments and a positive working relationship with an editor are collectively the Holy Grail of freelancing. Freelancers cannot feed themselves on single assignments from publications. Successful writers earn multiple assignments and checks from a select few editors.

    Regular contributions help editors also. If an editor can rely on a writer to consistently meet expectations and get stories in on time, future assignments will follow. Editors nurture their regular contributors because that's one less headache with which to deal.

    From the writer's perspective, getting multiple assignments from editors is known in writing circles as "steady work." Steady work especially helps when the economy takes a dive, much like in today's unstable climate. Steady work is more targeted and eliminates the need to spray the publishing world with endless query letters.

    Steady work will also help you get queries examined quicker. When I get a pitch from an unknown writer, it might take a week or a month to look closely at it. Conversely, when one of my regular contributors pitches a story, I read it immediately and respond. Why? First, I don't have to examine clips and ask for references. Secondly, I am taking no risk by assigning a story to a known entity, especially if the writer has a record of reliability. Finally, I don't have to negotiate rates because they are already established.

    That is exactly why successful writers work diligently on building relationships with editors. If you can provide another service and save an editor time and money, you may get another look. Editors work hard to establish partnerships with writers they know they can rely on. In the end, it is all about a common trust and a common goal.

    I am a firm believer in handing out multiple assignments for those writers fortunate enough to have passed my barrage of tests and earned the right. When examining a writer for consideration of regular work, I begin with the basics: Was the writer's first few stories on time, well written and within the specs of the assignments? Then, I wander into personality and how easy they were to work with. If a writer met all the qualifications and tuned in an excellent story on time, that doesn't automatically qualify them for repeat business.

    For example, in 2001 I assigned a story to a new writer who turned in a solid story on time and in great shape. But, what she did after the story's acceptance disqualified her from multiple assignments. Before I describe her error, please understand that my publication pays well and early. We could wait until publication or delay payment for a variety of reasons, but we don't. We pay promptly upon acceptance. This particular writer expected payment immediately upon hearing her story looked OK on first glance. She left repeated messages, saying she hadn't received her check. She even called the publisher to suggest he look into it further with the accounting department. When the publisher asked me why she was calling him, I had no answer. Once the writer was paid for her services (within a week), she was marked with a star on the freelance writer database as an editor's "problem child."

    Problem children, who unknowingly cause more trouble than their work might be worth, almost never understand why they don't get more assignments. It boils down to personality. If you are too pushy or aggressive about getting paid immediately, you are perceived as either desperate or difficult. In either case, you blew your shot. Pushiness also indicates that all you care about is the check and not so much about putting your heart and soul into the work.

    Incidentally, writers should never bank on timely payment from any publication. Some magazines don't pay for months, so stressing over the check is futile. Focus on new assignments, not old checks. You'll sleep better.

    Those delays in payment should also fuel your writing fire and make you seek multiple assignments with a greater urgency. When you have a regular gig with an editor, the checks seem to always arrive at the same time every month. That's a steady check in an unsteady freelance writing world. It's also known as the coveted Holy Grail of freelancing. The key for any writer is being in the happy position to feast upon it. Smart writers understand this and constantly work toward it.

    Copyright © 2001 Joseph M. Kelly

    Joseph M. Kelly, who is editor of Electrical Contractor magazine in Bethesda, Md., and a Baltimore, Md.-based freelance writer, has been published in daily and weekly newspapers, national trade magazines, newsletters and online. His work has appeared in The Maryland Coast Dispatch, Hardware Age, Home Improvement Market, LBM Retailer, Garden Supply Retailer, Decorative Products Retailer, Outdoor Power Equipment, Association Publishing, Writing For Money, The Baltimore Press, The Enterprise, Electrical Contractor, AWritersLife.net, Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel, and several other publications.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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