Arriving at The Society of Young Publishers’ freelancing event with two minutes to spare, the Stirpub students were forced to take the seats that no one else had dared to: the seats in the front row. This along with an archaic lack of phone signal that hadn’t been experienced in years meant that there was no live tweeting and no one checked in on Facebook. Everyone listened intently. After a stressful week of being told countless times (two times) that their future profession is one of the lowest paid, everyone was hopeful to hear that freelancing is the way to go. This was until the most dreadful words of them all were said. Networking. Socialising. Creating and maintaining good work relations. A gust of wind blew through the room, everyone felt a chill work its way down their spine and the room fell silent.
No, it wasn’t actually that bad. The incredibly skilled panel consisted of SYP Scotland’s own Heather McDaid; freelancer and co-owner of publisher 404 Ink, freelance editor and proofreader Julie Fergusson, Fiona Brownlee; freelance publishing consultant in the fields of marketing and rights management, as well as Jamie Norman who does freelance marketing. Together the panel discussed the benefits and challenges of working freelance.
Julie and Jamie were both new to the industry and working freelance had been a way of getting their foot in the door. They both stressed how important internships and volunteer work are in networking when you’re new to the industry. Fiona had previously worked as a publicist but needed to come up with a solution when the publisher she worked for was forced to close. From previous jobs she had got to know people within the industry and, even though she found it incredibly scary to begin with, saw the possibility of working freelance. Once started, they were all surprised at how quickly their freelance career had taken off and that one job had always led to another. Julie even had to turn down jobs as they didn’t correspond with the direction she wanted her career to go in.
Some of the challenges of working freelance that the panel discussed were:
- The uncertainty of not having a fixed income and the fact that there is no such thing as paid holidays.
- Knowing how much money to ask for. If you undercharge you might get the job but the industry will accept the low wage and freelancers will be underpaid.
- Taxes are difficult and so is registering as self-employed. Jamie has lost a lot of money because of this and stressed the importance of doing it right.
- You will work harder and for longer. Julie said that you can quickly lose evenings and weekends if you don’t keep to your work schedule. It’s tempting to sleep in and take the Monday off when you’re your own boss but you will end up working nights and weekends to make up for it. Jamie stressed the importance of having friends, partners and hobbies outside the industry in order to switch off.
But that being said the benefits of working freelance are obvious. Being your own boss means having the freedom to be picky about which jobs you want and to work from anywhere in the world. Julie also said that it’s the best feeling when a publisher comes back with a second job as it means that you’ve done a great job on the first one.
The panel all agreed that the thing which makes a successful freelancer is the ability to find out what a publisher is doing wrong or isn’t doing at all and convince them that they can make money by paying you to do it. Heather McDaid had slagged off a publisher’s website (even though she doesn’t recommend doing this) and was asked to improve it. If a publisher is losing out on sales because they’re not using social media to promote their publications offer to do it for them.
On a final note, Julie mentioned the website reedsy.com which connects authors with freelancers. Here you can offer your services in copy editing, proof reading and marketing for authors to see.