September was a bit of a weird month – my press trips were all done, but I had 10 days away with my family at the end of the month. I thought I was being really clever by getting our car hire, some of our accommodation and experiences FOC (free of charge), but as you’ll see, I don’t think this was the smartest move. I also made some mistakes this month with new editors. Well, the one thing I can say is that I’m always learning.
September – a month of ups and downs
In terms of feature articles for magazines and newspapers, this month I:
Pitched: 6 (this includes re-pitching ideas that have been rejected)
Commissions from pitches or query letters: 3
Offers: 9 (where the editor approached me with a commission)
In terms of feature articles for corporate and B2B clients: (I don’t pitch these)
Filed: 31 (14 of these were 500 word articles)
The last few months have been fairly busy, but I feel like I’m starting to get more into a rhythm of part time freelance writing.
I know how silly that sounds nine months into the year, but it’s definitely taken me time initially to ramp up my freelancing to full time, and then to pare it back to part time.
I’m still regularly marketing myself and making new contacts, but I’m definitely not pitching as much as I was last year, and now that I have a relatively stable base of regular editors and clients coming to me (not that I’m on any retainers), I can pitch the stories that I’m really passionate about, like travel articles.
Speaking of which …
Lowlights of September
There was one Friday in mid-September that really summed up my month and reminded me just how quickly things can go from being great to having to do more work on articles that I thought were done.
I received an email from one of my editors saying, “You nailed this article. Great job!” (I know, that’s a highlight), and then before I even had time to pat myself on the back, I received an email from a different editor asking me to rewrite an article.
It’s a travel article for an inflight magazine that I haven’t written for before, and the editor’s critique was that my piece wasn’t immersive enough.
“Where,” she wrote, “are you in the story?”
And then, pretty much immediately after reading that, I received another email from a different (new) editor asking me to re-jig an article I had written, pretty much saying the same as the first editor. What did I think? Feel? Experience?
He wanted me to include my perspective in the article.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m writing more and more travel articles, and while I love the travel, a particular kind of travel writing is one of my biggest challenges at the moment.
I feel really confident in the service-type, pragmatic articles – such as “24 hours in Melbourne” or the “Best places to eat and drink in Birmingham”, but the immersive, lyrical pieces? Not so much.
Coming from a social work background where my narrative was inconsequential to bearing witness to the story of the person I was with, and supporting them, it’s been a big shift to insert myself into the stories I write.
I’ve been so conscious of not wanting to be the self-obsessed travel writer – constantly referring to “I” – that I’ve erased myself from the stories I’ve been writing.
But actually, that’s not what these editors wanted.
They wanted my perspective, they wanted my pieces to be engrossing and vivid, and by keeping my distance, the readers couldn’t fully be immersed in the story.
“Travel writing should reveal a place, illuminate its details, talk about it in a way that’s honest and authentic, and share what the author experienced in a way that transports the reader to the place and hopefully illuminates something larger about, not just the place, but the world as a whole.
For me, a story has to have incredibly precise, evocative details that bring it to life. It has to have been lived profoundly and absorbed by the writer. Then it has to be decided that this is the piece of my experience I want to share with my reader, and this is the shape I’m going to give to that experience in order to share it most poignantly. It has to build up to an emotionally resonant conclusion.”
I think until now, I’ve been scared to put too much of myself into my stories. I’ve always preferred to keep my distance, but I’m slowly learning that a little “I” is okay.
I know emotionally-resonant travel stories take time to craft, and as a freelance writer trying to earn a very good living, I think sometimes I steer away from those kind of articles because I don’t have enough time.
But actually, I think that’s where the growth is for me at the moment.
And not to mention, there’s always that cringe-worthy moment when you open an email from an editor and your work isn’t exactly what they wanted, or what they expected.
After the initial sting, I can always see their perspective (usually!) and use my embarrassment to learn and improve.
Gosh, the lowlights are long this month!
Moving on …. each year my little family of four tends to migrate north to tropical Queensland for a week or two.
We love this part of the world, where rainforest meets reef.
The morning we left it was three degrees centigrade and when the plane landed three and a bit hours later we walked onto the tarmac and it was a balmy 28 degrees.
The first part of the holiday was partially hosted and I had deliberately lined up some beautiful accommodation and great experiences because I wanted my partner and kids to share in some of the magic that I so regularly get to have as a travel writer.
For five nights we had our accommodation paid for (including this beautiful eco lodge just north of Cairns) and many of the activities we did.
Even though that sounds pretty amazing (and in many ways it was), next time I’m just going to book a proper holiday and not even try to integrate work, because the first few days of the trip didn’t feel much like a holiday.
The PR who organised our accommodation also lined up car hire and activities to do, but my kids were so tired (hello arriving at the airport at 5am) that they were cranky for the first few days.
And even though they were happy to be in the warmth, I do think that many kids are creatures of habit, and being on the road and out of their natural environment (and away from their Lego!) unsettled them initially.
My kids also really wanted to be by a pool and the beach rather than in a car driving to different activities that I had to write about.
So, again, I’m learning.
Please remind me of this next year when I start thinking about this trip again and think it’s a good idea to try and get some articles out of our holiday!
Highlights of September
While I was still away on holiday, a content director got in touch and offered me some work writing very well paid sponsored content for a big news site.
Unfortunately, the turnaround was really tight, and I didn’t want to spend a couple of days of my break being shut up in my room writing while my partner and kids were at the beach, swimming and exploring. So I said no.
It’s never easy, but I’m incredibly flattered that she found me and asked me, and she’s said that they’ll be more work in the pipeline.
Also, the last part of my holiday was bliss. We spent our days walking, swimming, eating, reading, playing, talking and eating (did I mention that already?) I felt utterly relaxed and totally recharged.
We are already dreaming about our trip in 2019.
Another highlight was that an editor of an inflight magazine that I’ve written for a few times got in touch out of the blue to say that she’d love to work me with again.
I haven’t pitched her since the airline closed their flight routes into Australia, but she encouraged me to pitch if I’m travelling anywhere in their network. How nice is that?
It was also great this month to see some of my stories from recent press trips be published, like this one about Fijian chef Shailesh Naidu.
It’s always super rewarding to be able to email the PRs who hosted me, and the people I met and interviewed, to show them the finished article.
And lastly, in September I received some really beautiful emails from you – my readers.
Some of you are starting out as freelance writers, others are experienced editors looking to switch to freelancing, others I have coached and got in touch to update me on their progress, and some just wanted to say thanks for the content that I write.
I absolutely love hearing from you, so thank you for taking the time to get in touch. That was definitely a highlight of the month.
Income report for September
I set my income target at $8,000 for this month, and I just scraped in.
It was a bit of an ambitious target given that I was going on holiday with my family for the last 10 days of the month and I didn’t want to do much writing while I was away.
So all in all, I’m super pleased with how the month ended up.
I was commissioned $8152
I invoiced for $3540
This is the second month in a row that I invoiced for under $5K, and I have to admit that it’s down to the fact that I really dislike invoicing (not getting paid, the actual act of sending invoices).
At the end of September I had nearly $4,000 worth of work that I needed to invoice for, but I just hadn’t got around to doing it. This is something I need to outsource, I think.
If you’re interested in reading how this compares to last September, you can read about September 2017 here.
So for now, I’m not sure what October may hold.
I did have a famil (press trip) offer for the middle of the month, but I’m now deferring that until next year.
I’ve got a couple of exciting things in mind for 2019 that I want to start planning for now. But I can barely believe the year is nearly done.
How was your September? What plans do you have for the remaining three months of 2018?