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The Freelancer 3

If you’re a freelance writer, there are three factors to weigh when you’re conceiving or contracting a piece. Typically, whether or not you write a freelance article will depend on three reasons: money, subject, and byline. Ideally, you’ll get two out of those three. If you’re only getting one, you may need to restrategize.

1. MONEY

Sometimes you’ll write an article for one reason: cash. I’ve written articles for glossy magazines that paid $2 a word. Oftentimes, the subject matter of those stories was somewhat less interesting to me, or an editor hacked my prose to death prior to publication. For $1 or $2 a word, sometimes we make concessions.

2. SUBJECT

cat-typing.jpg

Sometimes, you’ll write an article because you love / are fascinated by / want to explore a certain subject. This is a perfectly reasonable reason to write an article. In fact, if you love the subject enough, you may be willing to write the piece for a pittance. Let’s say, for example, $150 for 750 words. You’ll get a great clip out of it.

3. BYLINE

One of the ways to get other editors to give you freelance assignments down the line is to list all the outlets that you’ve written for before when you send them your pitch. The better those outlets are, the more impressed the editor you’re pitching may be. So, if you’ve only written for small websites, but you write something for, say, Slate, that’ll give you leverage.

Buy a copy of my acclaimed story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

Ask Susannah: How Do You Get into Freelance Work?

Q: Love your writing. Curious, but how do you get into freelance work?

Image via  Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

A: There’s no one tried and true way to get into freelancing. More often than not, it’ll happen when you undertake a series of experiments. Think of it as firing a shotgun and seeing what it hits or throwing shit against a wall and seeing what sticks. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s up to you to get moving.

I believe the first published article I wrote was for a local newspaper, and it was a book review. Come up with one idea that you can sell. A review. A photograph. A comic. Identify the publication most likely to publish it. A local rag. A small website. A literary magazine. Figure out the person to pitch it to—the editor-in-chief, the photo editor, the features editor. Find their email address. If you can’t find it easily, and you’re pitching to a publication where people have their own emails, emails usually follow one of these styles: firstnamelastname@company.com, firstnameperiodlastname@company.com, firstnameunderscorelastname@company.com, firstinitiallastname@company.com. You can see if you’ve got the right one by googling it. Usually, their email is posted somewhere, and that search will confirm you have it right. Then write a pitch. Say: I’d like to write a story about X. Or: I’m interested in covering the upcoming cow auction. Perhaps: Are you looking for an op-ed columnist? Tell them what you’ve done that’s impressive. Include some links to your work or even a sample of your work.

A lot of times, editors never respond. That’s just the way it is. I hate when I pitch editors, and they don’t respond. That said, sometimes as an editor, I don’t respond to pitches. It’s the single most passive aggressive no you’ll ever get. Learn to live with rejection. Or ignore it. It’s just one person.

Of course, you can forget that whole pitching-to-publications thing and sell your stuff yourself. I like Gumroad. You can set your own price, produce your own products, and get paid in a reasonable time period.

At first, you might not make a lot of money with your freelancing. If you keep at it, you’ll get better. You’ll connect with other freelancers. People will start asking you to create things for them. Eventually, it just grows and grows.

Good luck!

SB

Buy my digital short, “The Tumor.” It’s been called “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

How to Make a Living as a Writer

Over the last year, as the Lawrence Grauman Jr. Post-graduate Fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the opportunity to mentor graduate students in journalism. What question did they ask me most often?

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How do you make a living?

For me, the answer was simple. I wasn’t precious about writing. I do one thing well, and nothing else well: I am a very, very good writer. One could say writing is my superpower. Writing is the tool I use to make money. How I use that tool is up to me. There is no one correct way to use the tool. There is you, and the tool, and how you use the tool is your business.

At this point, I’ve been a writer for over two decades. Which is a pretty long time to make a living at something. Along the way, I’ve been many things, but all of them involve writing. I’ve been an investigative journalist, a copywriter, a TV producer, a branding consultant, a publicist, and a speaker, to name a few.

While I know that I can write and well, I have a sort of shrugging attitude as to how I’ve applied that talent.

pepto.jpeg
  • In 2010, a communications company hired me to be the voice of Pepto-Bismol on Facebook. If you’re not aware, Pepto on social media is a personality. P&G was unhappy with what this company had done to give Pepto a persona. It was up to me to provide that. So, I did. One of the most popular posts I wrote featured the caption: “I partied so hard my cup fell off.” The photo featured Pepto with its cup next to it.

  • In 2009, I wrote and published a 10,000-word investigation of the Great Recession’s impact on the adult movie industry: “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” Slate included it in their "Seven Great Stories About Paying for Sex and Being Paid to Have It,” and Longform called it “unflinching and devastating.” Subsequently, an essay I wrote about the project, "The Numbers On Self-Publishing Long-Form Journalism," was taught in “Media, Politics & Power in the Digital Age” at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Studio 20 program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

  • In 2008, I was an editor for a Time Warner-owned digital vertical for 18-to-34-year-old women. During that tenure, I wrote nearly 1,400 posts, oversaw a team of freelance contributors, and directed the site’s digital outreach program, helping grow the site’s traffic from startup to 4 million unique visitors and 22 million page views a month.

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So, who am I? A copywriter? An investigative journalist? An editor? Pretending to be Pepto made $100 an hour and earned me thousands of dollars every month. The porn investigation I published “made” no money but was read by thousands and thousands of people and, according to one reader, “changed the way I think about the business of making pornography.” As an editor, I made over $80,000 a year and learned slideshows are the easiest way to maximize page views. I’ve also developed TV shows, consulted on films, and worked as a branding consultant and a publicist. Was one job better than the other? Was one a waste of my time? Was one meaningful and the rest not? Does it matter? To me, it’s all the same. I’m a writer.

Awhile back, I published a digital short story: “The Tumor.” I had it professionally designed and edited. Every month, people buy copies of it on Gumroad, where consumers can pay they want ($1+) for it. It might be a bizarre fiction inspired by reality and populated by a monster, but it’s also unequivocally mine.

To young journalists, I want to say: Do whatever you want—as long as its yours.

Buy my digital short story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

The Real Secret to Selling Yourself

Recently, I was approached about doing a 60-minute presentation at a large tech conference. The person who’d contacted me had read this Forbes post: “How to Sell Yourself.” That post has over half a million views, and I still get emails about it. This is called evergreen content, or longtail content, or stuff that is sticky. The steps I outline are pretty simple: Create a superhuman version of yourself to sell stuff for you, be so persistent no one can ignore you, and offer the thing that no one else is offering. There’s nothing particularly novel about these ideas. But they’ve guided me along the path of my 20+-year career at every twist and turn. I’d venture that while all three ideas are important, the key is the second one. Be relentless. At some point, the dam will break.

Buy my digital short story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

To Be Read

Image via  Rakuten

Image via Rakuten

ForbesLife did a roundup of their most popular posts for 2018, which included my coverage of France’s first sex doll brothel. As of this writing, that post has 97,096 views. Here are a few thoughts on making content clickable.

  1. People tend to write for themselves. In the click economy, that’s not so smart. You must consider your content as seen through the eyes of the readers. Readers suffer from the paradox of choice. Why should they click on your content instead of others’ content? If you think about topic and titles from their perspective, rather than your own, they’ll choose you.

  2. Content doesn’t sit in a series of discreet buckets. It’s not binary. It’s fluid. Feature writing, copy writing, and long-form journalism pull from the same well to fill various vessels. Borrow and merge. Remix and redeliver. Stop being a snob about your words and care to be read.

  3. The external real audience is just a projection of the audience inside your head. The critic, the fan, the artist, the voyeur, the flaneur. They’re in the world, but they’re in you, too. The path to finding your true self winds through them like trees, their boughs brushing as you pass.

Enjoy my work? Buy "The Tumor." It’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

Things That Make It Easier to Write

  • Wearing hats

  • A room with a view that doesn’t entice one to leave it

  • Your blancoat (a coat that is so warm and cuddly that it feels like a blanket but has sleeves and a hood so that if you leave the house for food you appear to be dressed like a normal person)

  • No headaches

  • The vague belief that well-told stories manifest their fictional realities

  • Caffeine of choice

  • An internal sea of self-dissatisfaction

  • Somebody else’s beautiful creation (ie “Roma”)

  • Talent

  • Lying to yourself: “You’re almost done,” “You can do this,” “This is going to be amazing”

Buy "The Tumor" — my short story that’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

Image via  eBay

Image via eBay

Walkabout

Recently, I’ve started walking again for several reasons. I gained some weight. It helps with anxiety. When I’m walking, I feel like I’m in control of something, even if it’s that my body is moving forward. Most of the time, I think about something related to work. On walks is a place where mental organization and sometimes epiphanies take place. Possibly, it’s also a situation that makes me feel small. In the world, you are tiny. At home, you are big. So far, it’s going pretty good. My brain is settling, relaxing, easing. Writing is a lot like walking. Just keep going.

Buy "The Tumor" — my short story that’s been called "a masterpiece of short fiction."

How to Write a LinkedIn Profile That Makes You Sound Like a Human Being

I did some work on my LinkedIn profile lately, as I'm seeking new career opportunities, and it was an interesting experience. It's part rethinking oneself, part rethinking how others see you, and part rethinking how you put yourself out there. I did some research while doing it, as well.

Here's what I learned.

Make it you

In the past, my LinkedIn profile hasn't felt much like me. It was robotic, or overly business-like, or cursory. I learned a lot about writing a LinkedIn profile that sounds as if it belongs to a human by reading Jenny Foss at The Muse. She has all kinds of really smart ideas about career strategy, and how to think of yourself as you move forward in the interviewing process, and how to brand yourself in a way that's both interesting and authentic. That laid the groundwork.

Keep it simple, stupid

This is the important acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid -- or KISS. I had a conversation the other day with a scripted reality TV producer I've worked with, and he reminded me that the bottom line thing we're all doing here is telling stories. I've done a lot of different things: journalism, blogging, editing, digital outreach, copywriting, and producing scripted reality TV. What do all those things have in common? I'm a storyteller. So I led with that.

Grab their attention

Of course, you've got to stand out from the pack. So I started my summary with an interesting anecdote from my personal history: I was a human lab rat. From the time I was a toddler until I was in my thirties, I was a participant in a famous longitudinal study of human development. Not that many people can say that, so I began with that, and I tied it into my career. 

In any case, you can read my LinkedIn summary below, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn here. I'm actively looking for full-time or part-time work (particularly the former) in the word business, and if you have a lead, or if you know someone that I should talk to, I'd love to hear from you

Photo by  Clayton Cubitt

Susannah Breslin

Award-winning journalist, blogger, and editor. | A "rare commodity online." | I tell stories.

 University of California, Berkeley

 

I'm a human lab rat. When I was a toddler, I became a participant in a legendary 30-year longitudinal study of human development that set out to answer one simple question: How do we become who we are? 

That experience played a part in why I've spent the last decade figuring out the answer to another question: Why do people do what they do online? I'm fascinated by what inspires people to click and engage digitally. 

I help companies tell stories. I've done it as a journalist, a blogger, an editor, a copywriter, and a scripted reality television producer. It all comes down to storytelling -- and understanding what truly moves people.

I work with the world's biggest brands to grow their digital properties. I wrote an article on Forbes.com that has nearly 2M views. I was the voice of Pepto-Bismol on Facebook, increasing that brand's social engagement by 500% as market share rose 11%. I helped Time Warner build a digital vertical for millennial women, using my network of digital influencers to turn a startup into a destination site with 4M unique visitors and 22M page views a month. 

What's your story? If your brand needs a hand, you can contact me at susannahbreslin@gmail.com.

Don't Let the Boys Win

If you're a girl, and you blog for a living, don't just aggregate. Originate. Sometimes it seems like the boys have more balls. They brag about their FOIAs, and they win their Pulitzers. You should be digging up the new stuff, too, not just regurgitating that shit that's already out there.

That's  Lois Lane

That's Lois Lane

Send an email

It takes you 10 minutes to write an email with 10 questions in it. Find someone who interests you, write 10 interview questions, and then push SEND. You just might learning something new that you can add to your story. 

Get on the phone

The other day, I made a call to request permission to use some photos. I ended up doing an interview with the head of the company. Phoners really aren't that hard. Do one a day. A down-and-dirty call can take as little as 15 minutes.

Leave the house

Get out of your apartment/office/house at least once a day. Look around in the world for something you'd like to cover. One time I did this, and I found a guy who was looking for a job from his living room window. 

How to Write a Book Proposal, Ranked

I spent some time recently rewriting a book proposal for a narrative nonfiction book. Some parts were easy. Some parts were hard. Here are my thoughts on the easiest parts and the hardest parts, ranked.

Image via  HuffPo

Image via HuffPo

The Overview. This is the part of the proposal where you deliver the elevator pitch of what the book is. IMO, you can do this in one of two ways--although, of course, you could also think of yourself as blending the two. Either you can talk directly to the reader--which I think is a more masculine approach--or you can perform the act of being a writer on a stage--which I think is a more feminine approach. I actually did each one for two different-but-related iterations of this proposal. I ended up going with the former. Frankly, I think the former states its value and the latter asks the reader to state its value. In negotiating, the former is referred to as "anchoring." I found the more masculine way of doing it to be easier, but that's just me. Difficulty level: Medium. Rank: 7.

The About the Author. This is my favorite part of the proposal to do and for me the easiest. I think it's easy if you have a platform, but I suppose if you don't, it would suck. After I do this part--which I've done as anywhere from one to three pages; this time it was two pages--I tend to feel more positive about myself, like, look at all I've done! I guess if you don't have much of a platform, you could feel like you were trying to knit a sweater out of dental floss. Sucks for you. Difficulty level: Easy. Rank: 1.

The Marketing Plan. Man, are there a ton of ways to do this one. At one point, like, a year ago, I paid a young freelance editor to talk me about a different proposal for an hour, and she sent me another proposal that had sold. That author knew what was up; he'd worked in the industry. He had bullet points, and it was a plan. It wasn't some writer nattering on about things they may or may not do or may or may or not know how to do. I've worked in PR and gotten paid to make stuff go viral online, so I know how to do this stuff, and I ended up going with something pretty basic. I think, based on a lot of what I read, you want to make it clear that you get this is a hustle, and that you're a writer who can hustle, so I tried to convey that. Difficulty level: Medium-easy. Rank: 3.

The Comparative Analysis. This proposal has the best comps section I've written for any proposal. It has five books on it, and I read every one of them closely, and I thought about how mine was similar and how mine was different. In a way, my book doesn't have a lot of comps, but I think my analysis did a good job of positioning it in the market. Having access to that database that tells you what the real book sales numbers are would've been nice. Difficulty level: Medium. Rank: 4.

The Timeline. I wasn't planning on doing a timeline for this book, but along the way I saw another proposal that had sold, and that person had included a family tree, and I think that got me the idea of a timeline. Did you know there's a timeline-maker thing in word? True story. I LOVED DOING THE TIMELINE. It was SO MUCH FUN. I think I originally thought it would have like 15 things on it, but it ended up having 30. I loved that it looked really professionally laid out, and that it enabled me to combine visuals and text, and that it looks like art. If you get stuck on your proposal, make a timeline. It will make you see things clearer. Difficulty level: Medium. Rank: 2.

The Outline. I wrote another book proposal last year for a different book, and the outline for it was so easy. This time around, the outline was very challenging. It ended up being quite long, and it required me to interweave multiple stories. It was intellectually, emotionally, and structurally challenging. I think it asked me to go against how I operate, which is intuitively, and pushed me to think in a linear fashion, which I don't. I did not enjoy this experience. But I think it came out strong. There's so much interesting stuff in it. And some great writing. My hope is that it serves as an invaluable road map as I move forward. Difficulty level: Nigh impossible. Rank: 8.

The Sample Chapter. Compared to the outline, this is easy-breezy. Finally, you get to do what you do best: write! This is scenes and dialogues and humor and sly winks and action. In fact, I'd argue it's everything that a book proposal isn't. In a way, it's child's play. And that's nice. Difficulty level: Medium. Rank: 6.

Oh, and ... There's the title, the title page, and the epigraph. These things changed over time, but in the end I decided to go with the most high-impact choice that was the most simple. Difficulty level: Not bad. Rank: 5.

Bored? Get a shock when you buy THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by Susannah Breslin.

When the Writer Wanders

In the last few years, I've undertaken some trips that revolve around writing. An investigative journalism conference in New Orleans. A storytelling conference at Yale. A month-long writing residency at the Carey Institute for Global Good. And another residency on Martha's Vineyard. There were pluses and minuses for all of them, but here are a few reflective thoughts.

Just go. I spent a fair amount of time trying to talk myself out of all these adventures. Because that's what they are: adventures. Here's what writers do too much of: think, talk themselves out of things, and sit at a desk. Whenever you're doing pretty much anything that isn't what you usually do but is in service of you, you're doing the right thing. You will concern yourself with real concerns: money, time, guilt, etc. But there are ways to manage all of these things. Once you start executing your plan, and, better yet, once you find yourself there, you will sense on some level, hopefully, that you're doing the right thing. Why it's the right thing may not be clear right away.

You take the bad. There were things I deeply didn't like at some point during these adventures. The investigative journalism conference was: not freelancer-friendly, overpopulated by FOIA nerds bragging about their data-driven discoveries, attended by a certain number of on-air news personalities including women wearing sleeveless dresses in primary colors. I felt like a dateless dipshit at the prom for much of the time. But it meant I got to spend several days doing nothing but thinking of myself as an investigative journalist. I learned a lot: about how to do those FOIAs, about how to win a Pulitzer, about how to be who I am.

You take the good. My favorite experience was the residency at the Carey Institute. It was in this amazing rural area in upstate New York, and the trees were aflame with autumn. We were the first group in the program, and it had this air of bristling excitement. I was woefully underproductive on the page--or so it seemed at the time. But that was the start of the journey that's taken me to the place I am today. And that? It feels like a good place to be.

Like weird things? Buy a digital copy of THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by Susannah Breslin.