By Russel D McLean
For those of you paying attention, I have been lackluster recently here at DSD. For that I can only apologise. My day job, since the move, had been taking up a lot of time - far more than I ever expected and far more than it did back in Dundee - for a whole variety of reasons. Also my paid writing gigs were increasing and as much I love DSD, the money had to come first. What we all know is that sooner or later something has to give, and you may remember my last post was all about giving up the day job to go freelance. I'm there, now. Which of course has meant that my first week of freelancing has been spent with the world's worst cold and my body just shutting down after months of sticking it out for the sake of the day job. Its reacted like I'm on holiday. But the good thing is that there is still stuff I can when I'm sick. So between pills and potions, I've been reviewing and editing and working at a pace that suits my recovery. Its an advantage and a good one. But before you think the new life is all sweetness and light, let me assure this was not a decision entered lightly. I'm going to learning as I go but I at least have a sort-of-maybe plan for what lies ahead.
Here are some of the many things that I spent months thinking about before taking the plunge:
Money, Money, Money
You do not become a freelancer without some kind of backup plan. Not unless you're absolutely certain of what you're doing. For the first few months I know I'll be running at a loss. I hope (hope hope) that enough work will start to come in as the months go one to start to make it up. But I waited until I had a small amount of money behind me and also checking with the Literary Critic that at least one of us will be able to make the bills in any month. We have financial plans in place. You have to think ahead to the eventuality that some months are going to be very tight indeed.
(death and) Taxes
With an employer, your taxes come off automatically. Self employed people and freelancers need to think about taxes and NI and how to pay all that. I find my head thrown so I have sought out a reputable accountant to help with this.
I know some people who have, but I do not recommend just jumping into this full time without getting some experience first. I chased up leads part time for years before realising that I was getting enough work to make a go at making freelancing a reality. Make the connections. Chase the leads. Get the jobs. Know that this is what you want to do and what you can do. Because once you're in, you're in all the way.
Chase Those Jobs
You do not have the jobs come to you. For a long time I used to wonder about why, despite people loving my reviews online, I wasn't getting those paid gigs in the papers. I would write query letters and get little to no response. That started changing when my queries became more specific. I didn't just say, "I writes guid reviews, d'you'se have anything going?" - - I chased specific editors with specific reviews. I said, "This book could be interesting and I am the guy to review it for reasons XYZ" In other words I sold the content of what I wanted to do and I sold myself. I did the same with the interviews I wanted to do. I secured the subject in potential first and then approached editors with the pitch. Its all fine and well saying, "I think an interview with Bill Gates would be great," but if you can't get a hold of Bill Gates you can't rely on the editor being able to do it for you.
Don't Think in a Straight Line
I want to make a living from writing. I thought for a long time that all I could do was write fiction. I thought that sooner or later that Big Deal would appear and make my world a better place. I couldn't get my head out of being a fiction writer. And then I started to branch out. I thought about reviews and how to monetise those and realised I had to go where people were paying. So I followed that up. I turned my hand to a different kind of interview (scripted inteviews - q and a's - are good for blogs and fanzines and so on, but if you want to get paid bucks for interviews, you need to develop a narrative interview style which I discovered was very tricky but incredibly rewarding). I sought out freelance jobs with small publishers. I pursued paid chairing/interviewing events via libraries and festivals. In other words I considered my skill set and then set out to exploit in every way I could. even ways I'd never usually think of. Sometimes I have still hit a brick wall but by opening myself up to different ways of using my particular talens I have found a lot of varied and interesting ways of keeping the income coming in. Some of it I will never get credit for, but that's okay. I have the cheque.
Stop Underselling and Get Paid
Too many writers do things for free. We need to get paid. There are some situations - perhaps, such as this blog, which I and the rest do for love - where payment does not enter into it. But the truth is, people forget that writing - good writing - is an art, an effort, a skill. Its not lugging bales, true, but then not everybody is able to write well and those who can should be paid accordingly. But we do so much for free unnecessarily. Because we let people get away with it. Because we too fall for the trick of undervaluing our own skill set. I'm not quite at Harlan Ellison's stage yet (and he's done a few things I disagree with) but this rant is very much on the, ahem, money:
(I hope he was paid for that interview!)
Be Open to New Ideas
A few months ago before I seriously thought about the idea of quitting the day job, someone approached me to something I'd never done before. Its an editorial thing and while my name will never appear on it, I got paid. But it wasn't something I'd thought about doing before because I'd never considered myself to have experience in the area. Except I did. Everything else I'd done pointed towards an ability there. So I took the job and damned if it hasn't led to more work and more fun. You have to be open to doing things you didn't expect to do. This isn't nine to five any more. You can make your own hours, but you have to be flexible, open and adventurous.
There's lots more going on and I've only just started at this full time. But I'm looking forward to it all. I'm having a blast already and I'm getting more time work on my own fiction as well (which does pay) as well as time to think about DSD columns, too. Something I haven't been able to do in a long time. I hope to have news about other projects soon, but in the meantime if you want me, I'll be in the cave of solitude, drumming up some work...