May 2, 2006

Make me a kept woman

Many people believe the freelance life consists of whiling away the hours at cafes, contemplating the nature of life and succeeding in incredibly meaningful artistic endeavors. There is some of that, I'll grant you (though the artistic endeavors are usually fraught with anxiety, as well). And today I'm sitting at home in jeans and flip-flops, drinking a big cup of coffee. My hair is still wet. It's 11:45. But, allow me to disabuse you of some of your notions about the freelance life.

I'm working on an article today, for example. I can't tell you who it's for, other than to say that it's a fairly well-known Christian publication--and because it's in the Christian market it doesn't pay much. I first sent in the query in mid-September, roughly 8 months ago. The editor knew me a little and liked my writing, and they wanted the article. (Yay!) So, I followed their suggestions for the piece and within a month had it turned in. I rather liked it. I was waiting for their edits, but--mostly--waiting for my check.

When I hadn't heard from them in six weeks, I followed up. After two months, they gave me some additional direction and asked me to rework a few things. No problem. A few weeks later I had it back to them with their changes. Again, waiting. (Check, please!)

Two more months and no word, so I followed up yet again. A few more edits. Now it was my turn to slow up the process, between working on the book proposal and not feeling well. So I will turn it in finally (and hopefully for good) tomorrow. Luckily, they pay on acceptance rather than publication, but it could still take 2-3 months to get my check, depending on how long their final approval process takes. All told, almost a year. And all of that for $0.25/word.

Do you still want my life?

Every freelancer has numerous stories like that. I could tell you about the piece I pitched for 9 months that finally got accepted by a magazine I very much wanted to write for. And then how they cut this precious little article in half (and they only pay you for what actually gets printed). Or about the piece I did for an editor who is also a friend who rejected it out of hand without giving me a chance to make any edits at all--after telling me he wanted it, after I was counting on that $300. Or the huge 5000-word piece I did on spec for a major magazine that didn't make the cut. (And how I realized later that piece actually was crap. Ugh.)

I have some regular gigs, and of course every article isn't torturous. I love my life, actually. I just wouldn't wish it on anyone.

At the Calvin Festival on Faith and Writing, there was one panel that was especially encouraging and discouraging at the same time. It was on freelancing, moderated by Jana Riess of Publishers Weekly and including Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch and Cindy Crosby. I went, really, to commiserate--to hear them say how hard this is. And they did. And then they talked about the wonders of being a kept man or woman, of being married to someone who has health insurance and a salary.

So this is my dilemma. If even Lauren Winner is having trouble making ends meet, chances are it's not going to get significantly better for me anytime soon. (Although, if I get a book contract, I should be solvent for several months, at least.) But there is a way out.

Guys, my COBRA runs out mid-August. I am entertaining rich men--I mean, suitors. (And I mean 'entertaining' in the good old-fashioned way. Minds out of the gutter, please.) But seriously, guys without health insurance need not apply.


Blogger Kristine said...

Bona fide suitors only! ;)

5/02/2006 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Jana Riess said...

Lori, you crack me up. I'm glad the session at Calvin was helpful. We were worried that it would be so distressing and discouraging that people would be jumping out the window. That is why the session was held in the basement.

I know what you mean about payment. The worst part about freelancing -- and I don't think we discussed this during the panel, now that I think of it -- is trying to chase down your clients and make them pay you. I once got a gig writing a very short piece for a travel magazine for $1,000, which felt very generous to me. Little did I know that it would take six months of emails and phone calls just to get them to run the piece (unedited!) and then a full year of cajoling them to pay up before I saw that $1,000. I have never written for them again.

Hang in there!

5/04/2006 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Beeley said...

I read down to your question "Do you still want my life?". Internally I said...uh, yeah. Then I read everything below that statement. Considering that 1) I am currently the salaried and insurance carrier for the family at the moment, and 2) I can't really write, I believe freelance is not in my future :(

5/08/2006 09:42:00 AM  

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