To my mind, Cat Rodie is a freelance writing legend. She has the knack of spotting an innovative spin on an old topic and easily sees how fresh research could translate into a compelling article. I spoke to Cat about getting her start as a freelance writer, her pitching schedule, how she has broken into some of the biggest magazines in Australia and yes, how she aims to write one online article a day.
Meet Cat Rodie – writing an article a day
Can you tell me how you got into freelance writing?
Writing was always my dream job.
I didn’t pursue it because teachers at school put me off by saying that I’d never be able to do it (I’m dyslexic and at one point my parents were told I wouldn’t even pass my GCSEs). Writing was part of my life, but took the form of diaries and letters.
It wasn’t until I was on extended maternity leave after my having my second daughter that I started putting my writing ‘out there’ in the form of a parenting blog (I named it ‘cup of tea and a blog’). People liked my writing and responded to my style.
I connected with other bloggers via Twitter and found out about the Australian Writers’ Centre. I was really keen to explore the possibility of making money from writing so I did took the centre’s writing for Magazine and Newspaper course.
I was very lucky to have Marina Go as a teacher and loved listening to her anecdotes and advice. I still hear her voice in my head when I’m pitching.
What was your first article that got published and what have you gone on to write since then?
My first paid article was for Essential Baby. It was about what happens when your toddler drops their day sleep. I’d been pitching stories and not getting anywhere and then realised that I could draw on my current parenting experiences. It was a pretty ‘non’ story really – but I’m sure that other parents found the advice really helpful. I interviewed Robin Barker for it.
I’ve written hundreds of articles since then. Including stories for Sunday Life, Marie Claire, Elle, Mindfood, Daily Life and the Guardian.
Do you have an article that you feel particularly proud of? What prompted you to pitch and write it?
I first tried pitching ‘tea’ as a subject – but the editor at the time, Amelia Lester, said it was too generic. I kept wracking my brains and then came up with my idea – mix tapes. I pitched the idea and this time Amelia was keen. The story went through a couple of rounds of edits, which helped to draw out the universal themes of the story.
The result is a piece of writing that I’m really proud of.
When we last spoke, you mentioned that you pitch incessantly; what is your process?
I might have a pitching problem.
A slight addiction, maybe. My brain keeps chucking ideas at me and if I don’t pitch them straight away I get a bit twitchy. I really enjoy writing news-related time-sensitive stories so there is a sense of urgency with my pitching.
My process is to type as fast as I can (which I do one handed – can you believe I can’t touch type?) and get as many pitches out as I can before it’s time to take my kids to school. I’m normally yelling things like “have you got your shoes on?!” as I go.
For magazine pitches I am less frantic. I start to pull an idea together (often from the news or a study I’ve read about) and take a bit more time to turn the idea into a concrete pitch.
These days I aim to pitch 10 ideas a week.
And how many pitches, on average, get commissioned?
My hit rate varies. With publications I have been working with a while I tend to get at least 50% commissioned (because I know them well, I know what they’re looking for). With new publications it’s a bit more hit and miss.
I aim to write an online story a day and a couple of magazine features a month. I can have lots of stories on the go, but because they are a mix of quick turnaround and long form magazine features I can juggle them nicely.
What does your freelancing week look like?
I’d love to say that I have a schedule, but I’m hopelessly disorganised.
I tend to do my pitching in the morning and then wait to see what gets commissioned. I’m a huge procrastinator and tend to leave everything to the last minute. I do my best work under pressure so it sort of works for me. I do aspire to be more organised though.
You have done a couple of in-house roles. What have those roles taught you and how have they helped with your freelancing?
I worked 3 days a week at the Australian Women’s Weekly writing online content.
I’ve also done some contracting at Essential Baby both in-house and from home. My biggest lessons were that how stories get sold online (ie whether people want to click on them or scroll past) is a massive part of what gets commissioned.
I also saw firsthand how ridiculously busy editors are – it made me realise that editors aren’t being rude when they don’t respond.
What do you love about freelance writing? Is there anything you don’t like?
I love the flexibility. I have school-age kids and can juggle things around so that I can be there for special assemblies or sports day. I also like popping out to the gym or to meet a friend for lunch. I don’t like the admin – I’m hopeless at invoicing, which is a shame as I do like getting paid!
What has been your biggest lesson so far?
To have faith in my ideas. If an editor knocks back a pitch it doesn’t mean it’s not a good story. I learnt this a few years ago when I had an idea about writing about how Facebook has changed the face of death.
My pitch was rejected by five publications before I got a ‘yes’. The feature ended up in Good Weekend.
[If you’d like to read more on finding a home for your rejected ideas – here’s a post about it]
Thanks so much Cat, how can people find you?
What did you think of the Q&A with Cat? Anything that surprised or inspired you?