My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I reviewed this book on Amazon back in 2008 but find myself continuing to recommend the book to freelancers, so I thought I'd add it to Goodreads now as well. Here's my 2008 review, which still stands: As a freelancer for 16 years, I was skeptical at first that this book would teach me anything I didn't already know. I started out around the same time Goodman did, in my twentysomethings, and was just as green at the time (she and I both spent too much money on neat new business stationery). But I'd been waylaid along the route by a grad-school stint, and then got sucked into teaching, so her real-world advice has helped me refocus on the freelance goal, identify (and correct) a few re-entry missteps, and build on my niche expertise (even if you don't think you have one, you most likely do).
Plus, this book is a terrifically fun read. It's like sitting down with one of your gal-pals to talk shop instead of gossip. Although filled with practical, usable suggestions, Goodman writes with humor and pathos, sharing some of her own horror stories (such as a gig that dragged on so long, she ended up making a few cents per hour on it) and hewing to a no-nonsense, colloquial tone, with subheadings such as "Problem: Your Client Is a Bloodsucker" and "Ebbs Are for Amateurs."
I often receive e-mails from budding young freelancer-wannabes seeking advice. Now all I have to do is give them this book.
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My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman
Image credit: Lindsey Look
Here's what my life as a writer is like! I sit on my writing throne all day, penning masterpieces with my quill, all while dressed fashionably for battle, my loyal feline by my side!
Ah, nope. That's why they call it "fantasy."
The truth is, I'm sweating blood and crying tears doing this. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Lots of tears, actually... But hey. I'm doing it! I've been writing for 20+ years, I paid a Seattle mortgage on my freelance income, and I have an enviable stack of byline credits.
And here's how you can make it, too. That is, as long as you get the fantasy version of a writer's life out of your head. Here, I'll give you some new images to replace it with. And look! I've even organized this into a listicle!
#1 Work Your Personal Network
Photo credit: Margie Bissainthe
Way before Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter existed, successful writers worked their networks. First and foremost, this means being the kind of person people like working with and know they can count on to get the job done.
For me, this also meant always making sure I kept in touch with people, letting them know what I'm up to, and when I needed work, I told them I was available. Some of my best gigs have come from people I’ve known professionally and become friends with. When I freelanced, I sent all my clients links to an online survey where they could brag about my work. Then I reported back the results and blurbed them on my materials.
#2 Diversify Your Skills
These days, it's not enough that you can write creatively. You should also be a good public speaker, a crackerjack editor, know interactive media, or be able to train and manage people well. It's best to do all of these things, and more.
I've never got a job on the basis of my creative writing MFA alone - but in combination with other credentials, it looks good. Some of my best experiences came early in my career, when I was in college working in politics, where I wrote brochures, press releases, letters to the editor, and newspaper columns as well as learned to give speeches and manage and motivate people.
#3 Diversify Your Portfolio
Especially if you’re freelancing, it's next to impossible to make a living off one thing these days. As a freelancer, I basically subsidized my really fun work, like doing author interviews, with well-paying gigs, like editing financial services reports. But even this work can be creative – in the above example, I distilled a very analytical idea down to “growing pains” in the financial services industry. In that world, there aren’t many creative writers, so if you can do this for them, you’re a god, and they’ll pay you well.
You should also expand your notion of what "writing" means to you. It's possible that editing, which often involves a fair amount of rewriting, could make you perfectly happy. In the game biz, I'm called on to critique game stories and rewrite rough translations from another language, and that gets pretty darn close. In large projects like TV shows and games, writers aren't usually coming up with the original story line anyway but rather writing for a specfic character or punching up the dialogue, as Joss Whedon did on the TV show "Roseanne" early in his career.
#4 Stop Thinking of Your Writing As Art
If you want to earn a living, you need to think about your writing as a business. Otherwise, it's a hobby, or a sideline. Even Shakespeare made his writing into a business. That’s part of why we’re still thrilling to his stories today.
At Big Fish, where I work most of the week, my colleagues and I get very passionate about our games, and when we get into intense discussions, it's always valuable for us to bring it back to the hard data we have about which games sell and why. If the games don't sell, we won't have the privilege of sitting around talking about them for much longer.
#5 Don't Write for Free
It’s OK to work for free when you’re in college, or just starting out, so you can get the clips. But once you’ve got a portfolio, stop working for free! If you write for free, you are not a writer; you're a volunteer. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But if your goal is to make a living as a writer, you should not give it away for free. And you shouldn't ask others to write for free, either. Here on the blog, as you may have noticed, I've got ads (shocking, I know). I hope you'll click on them, as they're funding the article you're reading right now.
#6 Get Cozy with Rejection
Don't get discouraged by rejection. Cozy up to it. Friend it on Facebook. Cuddle up with it at night. You and rejection will be seeing a lot of each other.
Here's an example of why.
Newspaper Closures Since 2007
Please see www.newspaperlayoffs.com for more information. Used with permission.
The collapse/revolution/massive transition - whatever you want to call it - of the book publishing and journalism industries is out of your control. So don't take it to heart if you’re not a lightning, overnight success story. You’re competing with out-of-work, Pulitzer-prize-winning writers with a lot more experience and credentials.
Look for the opportunities: When the journalism door closed for me, another one opened. I was recruited to work in games, and unlike some writers, I didn't think I was too good for games. I've never thought I was too good for any writing job, which is probably why I've never been out of work. And truthfully, working in games has tapped my passion for both story and interactivity in a way few other industries could.
But I've seen my share of layoffs in this industry as well, which brings me back to the original point: Get cozy with rejection! There are NO guarantees, anywhere.
Sometimes, a rejection can even make your day. Here's one I received after querying an editor on my children's picture book manuscript:
“I've had a chance to review MOON GIRL and while I think it's unique, dark, and quite whimsical, I am concerned that it would be a hard sell for us. It reads a lot like Neil Gaiman's children's books but those are difficult to compare with given his known status…”
She had me at "unique."
#7 Don't Be a Job-Hunting Jerk
Respect and reciprocity are the names of the game. Network like a human being, not a selfish twit.
Be solicitous with people's time - take them to coffee, buy them lunch. Send a thank you letter afterward. Remember them - if there's any opportunity to do them a good turn, do it! Do your research and ask good questions. Don't flub it in the interview stages - take it seriously. Dress up, arrive early, shake hands, speak well, do your homework on the company and the games or products they make or services they provide.
You can play the first hour of many of Big Fish games for free online. But when I was a hiring manager, I had people apply for jobs who clearly hadn't played any of our games.
#8 Learn to Collaborate with Others
No woman is an island. Almost every project you write for will be created by committee, and it’ll be a better project if you know how to play well with others.
I used to make my students do group projects when I was teaching, and they always complained. Now I feel vindicated. Forget bylines. Your name for two seconds in the rolling credits will give you a high, but it’ll be a different one than getting a book published. Not “I did this myself,” but “Wow, look what we all made happen!”
#9 Don't Think You're Too Good for Entry-Level
Photo credit: Anna Rix
Despite having had a great resume post-college that included service as the chair of Missouri's largest environmental organization and a prestigious internship in D.C., not to mention a portfolio of clips, there was a recession going on in 1994 when I graduated, so the only job I could find was as a secretary. But I made the best of it and was promoted in six months to a job that involved a bit more writing.
In games, you often start out in customer support and/or as a game tester. One of my team members spent 2.5 yrs as a tester before we hired her as an Assoc Narrative Designer. Another worked on a team with me at Nintendo. We hired them as much for their editing skills as for their creative writing backgrounds.
#10 Consume What You Produce
Don't just expect everyone to consume your words. You must also be a consumer of words.
If you want to write books, make sure you're buying and reading a lot of them. If you want to play games, you better play them. We can spot a poser a mile away. If you don't really love them yourself, how do you expect to make your audience love them?
Here, you can start with my book. :) Why not? You must like my writing, since you made it this far...
If games are more your thing, check out the ones you can download from Big Fish. Happy writing!
Note: This article grew out of a presentation I gave to the creative writing program students at Seattle University in the fall of 2013.
The really big news is that Kirkus Reviews, "one of the most trusted and authoritative voices in book discovery," gave Cat in the Flock a very positive review, calling it "a mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre."
You can read the full review here.
It's now up to 11 reviews on Amazon, all 4 and 5 stars. We need more in order to qualify for certain ebook promo sites. If you're inclined to dash off a few lines and rate the book, please do!
There have been more than 50 downloads of the book so far - not a bad start for a "soft launch" and about what I expected. (This is the long game.) I've been interviewed by Nina Shapiro with the Seattle Weekly (story pending) and The Reading Frenzy blog.
The book also now has this blog named after it. I've always been a bit of a tech nerd and early adopter of writer tech (remember Web rings?), and I was one of the world's first bloggers back when they were all shiny and new. But except for what I've done for the day job, I've been pretty blog-free since I started writing full-time for the gaming industry eight years ago.
So when the universe suggested I return to blogging, I ignored it at first. It's hard enough to find time for my personal life and community activities between game writing and a side-career as a novelist. But the big U wouldn't let up. I figure it has better things to do than send me messages, so it's best to listen when it takes the time to speak.
After a hiatus of about, oh, seven years, I'm returning to blogging.
Because if there's one thing the world desperately needs, it's more bloggers.
There are a few reasons for this heralded return: 1) I kept getting messages from the universe that I should blog. I try to listen to the universe, especially when it's repeating messages, as it's not like the universe doesn't have better things to do. If it takes the time to tell me something, I treat it like E.F. Hutton. 2) I need an outlet that is longer than 140 characters or relegated to the realm of "update." 3) I launched my first novel a bit ago, and a blog is supposed to help me build an audience, give you gentle readers some other ways to engage with my words.
So there you have it, and here it is. My blog, in all its naked glory. I hope you'll give it a chance. I know you have a lot competing for your attention.
What have I been doing for the past seven years when I could have been blogging? Only this.