"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wTuesday, February 04, 2003

ASK A QUESTION: Matt, I'm normally quite bad at answering this sort of letter, but you lucked out because you caught me on deadline and I needed an excuse to procrastinate. Well, first of all, the number one rule of freelancing economics is that they should pay you rather than the other way around. But you knew that.

When people tell me they want to try their hands at freelance writing and ask for my advice, I usually tell them to take 80 bucks to the local pub, blow it all on lubricants (of the orally administered variety), stumble home, and then think, when they wake up the next morning with the mother of all hangovers, "So this is what the first six months of freelancing would feel like."

I exaggerate, but only slightly. The freelance writer's career is, as a rule, rather Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short. Ask yourself, with fear and trepidation, "Is that really what I want?"

If the answer is still a yes, here are Lott's Really Stupid Rules for Freelance Wannabes :

1. All editors are bastards (including this one--and apologies to, er, my editors). I don't mean that they're necessarily bad people, just that their priorities are rarely your wellbeing. Editors are managers of assembly lines that kick out a certain kind of product. You are valuable to them insofar--and only insofar--as you can help them kick out that product. Keep this in mind.

2. As assembly line managers, editors have little time to waste. Make a story proposal simple for the editor to understand, and explain why you are qualified to write it.

3. This would strike me as a no-brainer, but some newbies don't get this: Include an example or two of your previous writing.

4. If you don't have previous examples, there are several sites (try here and here) on the Internet that don't pay. Write for those to build up a clips folder.

5. DO NOT DO blind solicitations. Get to know a publication before you send material.

6. Once you've done that, don't be shy. Send an e-mail and follow up with a phone call within a reasonable interval.

7. Try to pitch three or four ideas at a time. Remember, like baseball, this is a game of percentages.

8. Once you get an assignment DO NOT FLAKE OUT. Turn in the best product that you can ON TIME. In the event that a story or a piece doesn't pan out, let the editor know about this as quickly as possible.

9. Read like crazy. My (sometimes violated) rule is that I should read at least 20 pages for every one that I write. More information makes for better articles.

10. Network like crazy. Get to know people in the industry and not for simply (or flagrantly) opportunistic reasons. There really are some fun people in the business who you will be better off to know. They will be able to give you tips on your writing, avoid common pitfalls, and they might occasionally even pick up the drinks.

That should be enough for now. Back to work.

posted by Jeremy at 11:04 PM