My 2013: a Freelance Writer Questions the State of the Industry

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I’ve got less than 1,500 followers on Twitter, 840 people in my Google + circles, 198 Facebook friends, 53 LinkedIn connections, 43 Pinterest followers, 34 people who follow my WordPress blog, and five followers on Tumblr. It is the culmination of roughly one year’s worth of social networking, begun approximately January 1, 2013. Back then I was relatively naive about being a freelance writer. I enjoyed upfront pay beats and life was good. But…was there more?

I started writing for Helium, began looking for other freelance-friendly sites, and began social networking. It turned out to be a good idea because, late in the spring, my upfront beats were taken away. My revenue plummeted. Fortunately, I have a steady day job. Nevertheless, as an aspiring writer, it was a punch to the gut. While many fellow writers complained bitterly, and justifiably so, I vowed to continue writing. I still write, though not as much as before.

Writing solely for page views and the occasional one-off payment is tough, but I’ve discovered that I, like many freelancer writers, am resilient. I believe that the situation will improve. Ultimately, my talent will shine through the darkness, be spotted by someone with clout, and I will be “rescued” from the murky muck. Maybe.

I wrote a novel during the summer, taking advantage of my career as a teacher, and was turned down by every literary agent I contacted. I put the thing on Amazon KDP Select and sold fourteen copies. Simultaneously, my page views for my daily commentary articles, now essentially blog posts due to their lack of upfront pay, plummeted. To compensate, I networked harder than ever. If your profile gives any indication that you write and/or read, I’m going to friend you. Fair warning.

Why don’t I quit? Writers far better and more experienced than I sometimes talk about quitting. I read their forum posts online and shake my head sadly. Am I part of the problem? As one with a day job, is my filling the web with commentary simply helping lower the pay for all freelancers? I teach Economics to high school seniors and know that, by increasing Supply, Price is inevitably lowered.

As a prolific Supply booster, am I simply helping destroy all of us freelancers by slow attrition? I write for pennies. Have any of my articles been chosen over comparable articles written by others who needed the money more? Should I even try to write novels and drain money away from underemployed college graduates with English degrees who need it more?

Teaching Economics is not my dream. Writing is my dream. But it’s a hard, slow, dream that seems to be part of a zero sum game. How many others dream my same dream more intently? If I win, must someone else lose?

Do I continue another year on this path? Daily bouts with social networking have amassed me a meager following at best. My first novel got nowhere. My second novel, currently 20 percent complete, progresses slowly. I scan the news obsessively, multiple times per day, looking for things to inspire my next op-ed. Sometimes I go days without writing one. Often times my writing feels like deja vu…I know I’ve written this same thing before.

I feel like I am not helping anything. How many other wannabe writers churn out this same bunk? Sometimes I feel that success is right around the corner…sometimes I feel that I’m just a hack.

But I will write again tomorrow. Perhaps it’s love of the craft, perhaps it’s desperation. Writing is my only realistic avenue of expression – I am not an athlete, actor, craftsman, gardener, builder. Words and drawings are my tools, flawed as they may be. Being a freelancer this past year has not been easy, but it has been rewarding.

Happy New Year!

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2 comments

  1. I wish you the best of luck as you continue to persevere. Don’t give up! I am on a similar journey and have tried to give up several times but also feel that same pull you sense. Take good care!

  2. Trust me, I understand. I don’t have a day job — writing IS my day job, so when things go wrong, I’m just screwed. I hear people talking about how they are making big bucks with private clients, and I feel about 2 inches tall. I’ve been trying for years to get private clients, and they just don’t seem to want me. Yes, there is something wrong with the industry — it is run by greedy, money-hungry jerks who don’t care about the people whose lives they affect. Most of the major writing sites are controlled by hedge funds and equity firms. Writers are like actors, only less than 5% make a living from it. You can do it! You have real talent, Calvin. Don’t give up. You are so young yet.

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