We’re continuing our series in interviewing successful freelance writers today with Ilana Jacqueline. She started her freelance career early. I know you’ll get a lot out of the things she has to say.
Enjoy this interview.
You started freelance writing when you were just fourteen! That’s amazing. What types of work did you do back then and how did you decide it’s what you wanted to continue to do?
I started writing book reviews for a local teen magazine, then began contacting editors at the local newspapers to see if they’d consider publishing my reviews in the entertainment section of the Sunday papers. They went for the idea and soon I was seeing my work in print. I loved book reviewing, but I was very interested in writing human interest pieces and investigative reporting—so I went back to the teen magazine where they let me have a little more freedom to pursue my interests.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and even though at that time my interest was more towards writing books—I knew that having a few published pieces under my belt was a great start. I didn’t realize I would grow to love the industry so much.
Have you noticed the “feast or famine” world that people think about when they picture freelancing?
Oh, totally. As a freelance writer you have to prepare and expect months of draught. You’re always on the lookout for your next gig and live in a permanent mindset of being practically unemployed. Then some months you’re so overloaded with work that you have to hire a second writer to work under you while you catch up. That’s why it’s great to make friends in the industry—hopefully your feast means they can work during their famine and vice versa.
You’ve done everything from write copy on the backs of shampoo bottles to pieces for mainstream magazines. What’s your approach to maintaining a successful freelance career?
Never stop networking and don’t burn down any bridges—no matter how badly clients treat you. Early on in my career I used to attend a lot of networking events and hand out a million business cards. Now I don’t have to try as hard to make connections. I mostly network online, reaching out to different companies with ideas on reworking their content, or writing to different editors with pitches for different pieces. I’ve also learned that most business is repeat business or referred business—so always part ways amicably with clients. I’ve even reached out to clients with small edits or advice after we’ve ended our project and those small acts have usually generated a lot of gratitude and referrals to friends and co-workers. You should also always keep up an online presence, so if you’re not working for someone else—work for yourself, put up a website, write blogs, and publish whatever you can, whenever you can.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?
Find clients that need your help. I often go to stores and read the back of products to see if their copy needs reworking. If they do, I head to Google or LinkedIn and get the right person’s email to let them know that I could be of service to them. Most businesses are so shocked that someone is analyzing their work and finding errors or areas of improvement, they’re very eager to hire you to fix or refine it. There’s no room for subtlety or shyness in this area of work. Find a problem, point out a problem, and fix the problem.
As for getting creative and magazine pitches noticed? The key is persistence. I’m an editor now and I’ve been one in the past. My inbox is a black hole. I work with so many writers I can’t chase them for stories. If an editor likes your work, feel free to submit more—often. We’re in the business of sharing great content—so if you can write it, we do want to hear from you!
Platform is so important for any writer today. Tell us about your blog Let’s Feel Better and how you’re using it as a platform builder.
I grew up with two rare diseases and have spent my life learning to coordinate my education, relationships and work around chronic illness. Lets Feel Better has helped me to communicate with those around me who were maybe too scared to ask—or had fallen victim to the negative stigmas of chronic illness. It’s been a great way for me to connect with the rare and chronic disease community and I’ve been able to find my niche as an editor for The Global Genes Project, a rare disease organization whose mission is to unify the international rare and genetic disease community by providing connections and resources to ease the burdens of affected families. My ultimate goal is to become a voice for chronic illness and help others to understand that we can lead productive, effective lives and to encourage those with these conditions to not surrender their aspirations, despite the challenges.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?
That we don’t make money—or that we’re a free service. Freelance writing is how I make money and there is money to be made in this industry. It’s a little cut throat and you have to be willing to take control of projects and learn how to balance client’s wants with their needs. You’re not here to pat CEO’s on their head and say, “everything is perfect” you’re there to stop them from humiliating themselves with bad copy and to help them put their company’s best foot forward when communicating with the public as well as other businesses.
Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?
I have a book on business in general that has helped me—Peter Shankman wrote a fantastic book geared toward the public relations industry called “Can We Do That?” He’s one of my all-time business idols and I highly recommend anything he’s written from his celebrated books—to his tweets and Facebook statuses!
Where can we find you online?
I blog at Letsfeelbetter.com and my portfolio can be viewed at www.ilanawrites.com. Questions can be directed to my twitter account @IlanaJacqueline!