You Ask, I Answer: Is This a Bad Time to Be a Writer?
I answer your burning freelancing questions on the blog. If you have a question, e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a lot of questions? Consider signing up for a phone mentoring session.
Kim asks: My question has to do with the state of the magazine market now compared with a few years ago. I heard there are fewer magazines: are they hiring fewer freelancers? And with everyone and their grandmothers attempting/pretending to be writers due to lack of jobs with the economy, how do we deal with everyone paying freelancers less now because these people are flooding the market?
Let me address your concerns one at a time.
The Bad News: Magazines are folding.
The Good News: There are plenty more where those came from.
When writers bemoan the state of the magazine industry, they seem to be considering mostly newsstand magazines. But there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of paying markets that are not on the newsstands: Trade magazines, custom publications, alumni magazines, association magazines, and more. I make my living writing mostly for custom pubs and trades these days, for reasons I explained in this post.
Throughout my career, I’ve lost many clients due to magazines going belly-up. But every time I’ve lost a client, I’ve been able to find another one to replace it.
Finally, as Jennifer Lawler talks about in this guest post, we writers always do better if we diversify. I’m sure there aren’t many writers out there who make 100% of their income from magazine writing and are able to pay their bills that way. Most of my income comes from magazines (and websites), but I top off my bank account with copywriting, writing books, teaching e-courses, and even doing copyediting for one client. If you don’t rely solely on magazines for your income, the state of the magazine industry won’t impact you as much.
The Bad News: Many markets pay ridiculous rates like $4 per article.
The Good News: That doesn’t affect professional writers.
As I said in this post, “Markets that pay $1, $2, and more per word are not going to start offering $4 per article ‘just because they can,’ because they can see from these content mills the kind of quality that payrate buys. It’s like saying that McDonald’s grill-jockeys are depressing the rates for master chefs.” There are plenty of markets out there that pay decent rates, but many writers are too lazy or too inexperienced to find them and work to break into them. And some writers just prefer the easy way out of writing $4 articles that they can find as easily as clicking on Craigslist. For the rest of us, there are lots of good markets to go around.
The Bad News: Thanks to the Internet, everyone and their brother finds it easy to deluge markets with pitches.
The Good News: When editors find a professional, skilled writer, they usually stick with her.
It’s more difficult to break in these days than it was when I started 14 years ago, and I believe it’s because the Internet makes it so easy for any wannabe writer to fire off dozens of crappy pitches — which makes it harder for professional, skilled writers to stand out.
But truly great pitches do stand out, and once you do get in the door and wow an editor with your writing and professionalism, she’s likely to stick with you. An editor would rather stay with a tried-and-true great writer than risk her job by taking a chance on someone who may not come through (which is probably 90% of the writers out there, according to one newsstand magazine editor I talked with). This works against you when you’re pitching, but for you once you break in. (And if you’re good, you will break in.)
Now, I have had the experience of an editor who previously loved me suddenly not returning my e-mails — but that’s the rare exception. In general, I have a core group of clients I write for over and over again.
So that’s my take. Now, don’t accuse me of having my head in the sand. I know these are tumultuous times for writers, and I understand that the industry as we know it may not exist several years from now. That’s why I love this blog post from Carol Tice over at the Make a Living Writing blog, where she insists that “There has never, ever been a better time to be a writer.” She has a great attitude that I think we can all learn from. [lf]