What great advice Amy Capetta gives to all the freelancers out there. Enjoy this interview.
You’ve been freelancing in some capacity for fifteen years, and went full time in 2006. How did you start out in the early days, and what steps did you take to make the leap to full-time?
I’d love to say that I had slowly built up an impressive network, which allowed me to leave a “secure” magazine job. But the truth is I was laid off twice in less than two years. So I used freelancing as a way to not only make money, but as a means of networking. Once I had a couple of assignments under my belt with a particular magazine, I’d then tell my editor that I was eager for fulltime employment. For whatever the reasons may have been, a permanent staff job was no longer in the cards for me.
You have an impressive list of publishing credits with places like Family Circle, Woman’s Day, and All You. In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?
People will ask me this all the time and my answer is, “I basically hound someone until they give me an assignment!” It’s a joke, but there is some truth to it. I’m fortunate enough to live outside of New York City, so I attend as many networking and media events as I can. But when it comes to the actual pitching…since I had been a staff editor, I know what an editor needs from a freelancer. They need someone who is willing to dissect their magazine or website in order to understand the types of stories they feature. They need someone who doesn’t require continuous guidance and direction. They need someone who is willing to submit story ideas. Become the person an editor needs.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?
Plenty! People think the “free” in freelancer means we have plenty of free time—or worse, that we work for free! In some ways, I work more now that I ever did at a magazine. I no longer have an associate editor, an editorial assistant and/or an intern to help me with research and invoices. Another reason why I say “in some ways” is because when you work in an office, you are required to put in a lot of BS time—aka staying late just to prove you’re a worthy employee and sitting in extra-long meetings that are mostly unproductive. Once I became a fulltime freelancer, all the BS “magically” disappeared! However, today I put in more time researching ideas, reading/skimming new books, communicating with publicists, etc. all for the purpose of generating ideas to sell to my various editors. My mind is always “on,” but the trade off is worth it.
And there’s one more huge misconception—some people assume I don’t actually work since I work from home. I’ll just leave it at that…!
Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?
Freelance writer Kelly James-Enger offers valuable advice in her book Goodbye Byline: Hello Big Bucks. As an independent contractor, your instinct is to say yes to (nearly) every opportunity that comes your way. But that’s a big no-no. Kelly’s savvy advice has helped me weed out a few good and bad offers over the last couple of years.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start freelancing today?
Understand the publication or website before pitching an editor story ideas. Analyze (at least) the latest three issues of a magazine and the last three months of a website, taking note of the tone, the audience and the packaging of a story. For example, do not pitch your personal essay to a magazine that has yet to publish one. Another example: If your focus is parenting and you notice that a website posts features such as, “5 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self Esteem” and “10 Tips For Picky Eaters,” pitching a story like, “Helping Your Child Cope with an Alcoholic Parent” is probably not going to fly. If anything, way-off-base pitches tell an editor that you have very little knowledge of their publication or website.
Anything you’d like to add?
If you’re considering a freelance career, here are a couple of my “warning signs:” Number one, expect to be ignored on a fairly regular basis! If you’re someone who is easily offended and takes the slightest rejection to heart, then this is not the right industry for you. And number two, do not expect the workday to end at 5pm or have weekends and summers off. Do I work every minute of the day? Of course not. But if I am handed an assignment on Friday that is due on Monday, by no means am I turning it away because “hey, not fair, it’s the weekend.” I am grateful for every single assignment. If I have to spend a few hours at my desk on a Sunday afternoon, so be it. I’m home, I’m in my yoga pants and I’m making a living doing what I love. So if you’re a stickler for the day on the calendar and the time on the clock, you’d most likely be happier in a “permanent” job.
Where can we find you online?
I should have a website—it’s been on my to-do list for about three years! But for now, you can find my latest articles posted on my LinkedIn profile and on Twitter: @amycapetta