Interview: Cynthia MacGregor

We’re continuing our series of interviews with freelance writers. Meet Cynthia MacGregor, who has published over 100 books and works on a number of writing and editing jobs to maintain her successful career as a freelancer.

Enjoy this interview.

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You’re a freelance editor and writer. How long have you been doing it? How did you decide it’s what you wanted to do?

While I’ve been writing all my life, I had a business for over 11 years that claimed the bulk of my time. However, as the business declined, I began writing more and more. It was somewhere around 1982 or so that I truly became a full-time freelance writer/editor.

“Decide”? I don’t think I ever sat down and consciously determined, “I’m going to be a freelance writer/editor.” But as the all-advertising-format newspaper I was publishing shrank and shrank, I simply had more time for the writing that I loved, and I threw myself into it. Then a magazine publisher to whom I was sending quite a bit of material asked me if I’d ever edited and if I’d like to edit for her on a freelance, work-from-home basis, and I jumped at the chance. It wasn’t long before one of her competitors, for whom I was also writing, asked me if I’d edit for him. I had my first book published in 1993 and have had over 100 books published since then.

I also do business writing, ghostwriting, and other types. I have edited rather a number of magazines over the years, although now my editing tends to be of books, websites, articles, and other materials.

Have you noticed the “feast or famine” world that people think about when they picture freelancing?

Well, it’s true that sometimes I’m slammed with assignments while other times I have no paying work in-house and turn to writing a book on spec.

In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer? Do you approach it differently when looking for editing work?

Ads on CraigsList do well for me, and of course there’s word of mouth. This holds true for both writing and editing.

Tell us what your day is like. How many hours do you work and do you have the flexibility that many freelancers crave?

I typically get up at 5:00 and read all the email that’s come in since I last checked it the previous evening. I have five friends to whom I send daily letters, too. I read the digital version of the morning paper and then check certain websites including CraigsList–sometimes it’s a source of leads not from potential clients answering my ad but from someone advertising a need for a writer or editor, although the competition is fierce. I have a much better conversion rate–turning prospects into actual paying clients–when the prospect answers my ad rather than vice versa. By around 7:00 I’m ready to start working on whatever my present project is, be it writing or editing. If I have no appointments–client appointments, medical appointments, hairdresser appointments, whatever–I’ll work straight through with a half-hour nap in there somewhere. The advantages of working at home! Somewhere in the mid- to late afternoon I’ll go into the kitchen and do some dinner prep. Even if that night’s dinner is something that needs to be cooked at the last minute, if I can do any dicing, chopping, or other advance prep work, I do. And sometimes dinner needs to actually start cooking. For instance, I am writing this to the olfactory accompaniment of a roast chicken that I went into the kitchen to prep at 3:00 and loaded into the oven at 3:30, after which I came back to work. But the tendrils of its aroma are reaching into my office and teasing me.

What time I quit working depends on a combination of how tired I am, whether we have a dinner guest coming over, and what that night’s dinner demands of me, but it’s rare for me to work past 5:00.

Yes, I have flexibility–to take a daily nap, to get into the kitchen and cook or prep dinner at 3:00 or 4:00, to make non-business appointments in the middle of my workday. Yep!

What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?

I have NO idea what people think about freelance writers and am totally unable to answer this question. My friends KNOW what my days are like and also how unpredictable my finances are. I suppose there is one misconception that comes to mind–that if I’ve had over 100 books published I must be rich and famous. Ha! Double ha!

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start freelancing today?

Have a financial cushion, or a spouse or S.O. who earns well enough to support both of you through the lean times, because you’re not going to be steadily successful right out of the gate. But hold on to your dream. Try to get a few books published. My over-100 published books is my single greatest credential–better than any references or portfolio or tearsheets. It impresses the hell out of people. (And no, they are not self-published. They are roughly half print books and half e-books, but they were all published by publishers, not by me.)

Anything you’d like to add?

I have often said, and it bears repeating here, There is no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with. I love, love, LOVE my life, my career, and its offshoots.

Offshoots? Well, for just one example, for a year and a half I hosted and produced a TV show on a South Florida TV station, and while the entire story is too long to tell here, it was definitely an offshoot from my writing and editing career.

Where can we find you online?

My website is www.cynthiamacgregor.com.

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