Monday, September 14, 2009

Freelance writing in a nutshell

This morning I'm attempting to get all my ducks in a row but they just keep waddling off! Sometimes it seems that my brain simply refuses to cooperate when it comes to the initial launch sequence to get a new week moving forward.

The good news, of course, is that I actually have ducks. This freelance writer gig is a constant game of lining up work, maintaining relationships with editors, finding new editors when the ones I know lose their jobs, trolling for new opportunities, tracking down leads, and what essentially amounts to selling myself on a day-in day-out basis.

Which is funny because I don't do sales, I've never done sales, and I never wanted to do sales. But nothing - even the best writing I can possibly do - is ever going to sell itself. I can't afford a publicist and I'm not big enough yet to justify an agent; that leaves me as the only person either motivated enough or capable of placing my ideas or my work.

Talent is all well and fine, and it's an undeniable prerequisite to success... but - ultimately - "making it" is all about tenacity, patience, lucky breaks and - most importantly, believing in myself and believing that I really do have a skill/product that people would want to invest in.

So this morning, as I'm offering a deeper glimpse into my writing world, I'd share a list of the regular work I have at the moment. It's a good list, most of it pays, and all the writing involves work I enjoy doing.
  • "The Tampa Tribune" - One weekly feature, one monthly feature, one "occasional" feature, plus the occasional assigned column when my editors are in a pinch.
  • "e-Review" (Florida United Methodist News Service) - One monthly article
  • "FOCUS" magazine; starting next month - One commentary and one feature per month
  • "The Suwannee Democrat" - One weekly column on their religion page
  • "The Presbyterian Outlook" - One monthly commentary
  • Photographs - Whenever possible I provide great pictures to go with what I write.
Beyond the regular stuff, I occasionally place articles, Op-Eds, and commentaries with a wide range of newspapers and magazines. Such speculative writing, however, has to take a back-seat to all the work I'm already committed to. "Unsolicited" work takes valuable time, and it's still rejected at a ratio of around 50-1.

Then there are the books. Not, as many people dream, any kind of a guaranteed cash-cow! I have three books out now (2007, 2008, and 2009), all with the same high-quality niche publisher.

Here's what you need to know. First, and this is 100% accurate statistical data from the publishing industry, the average book sells - wait for it - around 300 copies. Having a book published is a tremendous rush, it's a boost to confidence and it opens doors... but it's not going to pay the rent.

My approximate book sales have been as follows: in 2007 and 2008 "GET REAL" sold a total of around 12,500 copies (including a bulk, discount, purchase by the United Methodist Men). In 2008 "In My Heart I Carry a Star" sold around 4,200 copies. I'll know this year's totals - including sales of "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" when I get my royalty statement sometime next March.

But remember what I said about open doors...? Book writing has opened up this new world of public speaking. It's not huge, because not that many people have copies of my books! But once in a while I'll get an invitation to speak at a church, lead a retreat, or teach at a conference. Most of the time this involves travel.

For the freelance writer, speaking is a tremendous opportunity, and it was one I honestly didn't see coming.

Bottom line is this: I believe passionately that God has entrusted me with an important message of encouragement and challenge for this world. I'm writing it, I'm teaching it, and - once in a while - I'm even invited to preach it. This is one fabulous life!

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to those ducks, I really do need to get them all lined up....

1 comment:

Liz J. Fox said...

My prayers are with you Derek (though I am exhausted just reading all you ARE doing, not to mention speaking engagements and blogging.Liz