Thursday, August 22, 2013

Freelancing Tips

I do a fair bit of freelance writing.  The hardest part was, at first, getting the jobs.  I actually kind of conned an editor into taking a chance with me and she liked my work.  I've been working with her ever since.  Then others read what I wrote for her and (with a bit of my prodding) also took a chance on me.  Now I have clippings to use to market myself to others.  But in all cases, so far, all the freelance work I've gotten through "networking" (meeting and knowing people).  My volunteer work in the community is a great way to meet and know people.

But today I want to talk about a few things I've learned about freelancing.  Often times you're interviewing someone (this is 99% of the freelance jobs I do) and then writing about them or something they are involved with.  Here's some tips:
  • Start calling early. You never know how long it's going to take to get them to agree to an interview or when they will be available for an interview.  The more time you have, the better.  Sure, your deadline is two weeks away and an interview takes an hour.  Start calling now!  You might need all of that two weeks to line up the interview and get the story written.
  • Be persistent. Call them daily, or twice daily, or whatever it takes to get them to talk to you.  I had one subject who did not want to be interviewed and I just called twice a day every day (except Sunday) until he relented (he said, "You're persistent!").  A lot of subjects are flattered and want to be interviewed, but a few will not (I have had outright refusals).
  • Give and get cell phone numbers. Give the subject your phone number in case they need to contact you.  Get their phone number in case you need to contact them (you should have their number but it might a land line and a cell phone is much more likely to be answered).
  • Be prepared. Research your subject, know as much as you can going into the interview.  Even if you know some of the answers you want to ask them to either verify or say it in their own words.  One subject I was going to interview (whom I was told never does interviews) I found out somehow was a University of Washington Huskies fan.  I am too, so I wore a Huskies logo polo to the interview, which helped establish rapport.
  • Write down your questions.  After you've done your research, write down your questions.  It's a lot easier to remember and think up questions beforehand.  I type them up and print them out.  You might want to look at questions you asked in earlier, similar interviews.  If you're interviewing more than one person you might want to ask them the some of the same questions.  Always write down your questions beforehand and take them with you.  But don't be afraid to ask spontaneous questions if something needs following up, clarification, or you think of something on the spot.
  • Be doubly prepared.  Take at least 2 pens (pencils, whatever you write with) and plenty of paper (more than you think you'll need).  If you type into a laptop during the interview, better have pen and paper backup.  I've never used a tape recorder but if you do, have backup batteries, tapes, etc.
  • Be early.  I pad my travel time by 15 minutes, minimum.  If you're on time . . . you're late.  Be early.  This also allows for getting lost, not finding the place, etc.  Yes, I have sat in my car because I ended getting there really early.
  • Be agreeable.  If the subject is a hard core liberal and you're a conservative (or vise-versa) don't let your opinion of his politics come through.  I have found I can get great quotes out of people by agreeing with them or saying something I think they believe (with farmers, I say something about how tough it is to be a farmer).  All of the stories I've written so far are meant to be positive so there's no need to be confrontational.
  • Thank them.  When it's all done, thank them, give them your business card (you have one, don't you?), and thank them again.  Let them know the expected publication date.
Also, try to do the interview as far in advance of your deadline as possible.  This will give you time to write the story, let it sit, then rewrite/proofread.  Also, if the subject postpones you still have time to do the interview.  I did (I will admit) one interview the day of my deadline and got the story in that evening but that was because the subject was traveling and wouldn't be back until that day.

And then, write the best story you can.  Some subjects are great, great stories, great quotes.  Some subjects are boring.  No matter what, write the best dang story you can.

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