Archive for associations

Fall round-up: events + groups

leavesHello, everyone! It’s been a while, but Editfish is back in action.

I’m kicking off October with a round-up of resources and events, since I keep hearing how much you like these. If you’ve come across something that may be handy to other editors and writers, please share in the comments.

Steven Pinker at the Toronto Reference Library

On the evening of Oct. 24, bestselling author Steven Pinker is talking about his new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Bram and Bluma Appel Salon. The event is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket. (Can’t make it? The library often shoots videos – check the website later.)

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair

Toronto is getting a brand-new book fair, coming up Nov. 13 to 16 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The schedule is jam-packed with author appearances, workshops and cultural showcases. Tickets cost a very reasonable $15, with free re-entry; writers’ workshops start at $45 and include admission to the fair.

PWAC Twitter chats

All writers are welcome to take part in a new series of Twitter chats hosted by the Professional Writers Association of Canada. The free chats are planned for the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m. (starting Oct. 2; follow hashtag #PWACchat). A short podcast or video serves as a starting point for the discussion – this week’s focus is a video by Steve Slaunwhite about copywriting techniques. (Disclosure: I’m the president of PWAC Toronto Chapter.)

Ladies Learning Code

Not just for ladies, this not-for-profit group makes learning to code fun and accessible. Courses are available in several cities across Canada. If you’re looking to build your computer skills (for example, learning HTML or CSS, or how to use Photoshop), check out the schedule.


I just learned about this from another freelancer, writer/photographer Corbin Smith, at PWAC’s recent Culture Days event about freelancing. Hacks/Hackers is an international grassroots journalism organization with a mission to create a network of hacks (journos) and hackers (technologists) to reboot journalism. It hosts meetups, workshops, demo days and more. Canadian chapters include Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.


What do you do, Allan Britnell?

Like many full-time freelancers, Allan Britnell combines steady gigs with shorter assignments. He’s the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, a bimonthly magazine for contractors and custom homebuilders. He also edits for ON Nature and the Smithsonian’s American Indian. As a writer, he contributes to Fresh Juice, Precedent, Connected and, and also works with corporate clients. Allan is president of the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME). When I asked Allan about his eclectic career, he replied, “My tired old joke is that I like to get around.”

Photo of Allan BritnellJaclyn: Tell me about your magazine career.

Allan: I have a B.A. in journalism from Ryerson. I graduated from the four-year program in 1996, with my final two years focused on the magazine stream. I stumbled into freelancing by accident. There was a recession and jobs were scarce, so I started writing for whoever would take me on. (My first paid assignment was a piece on local cemeteries for the Ajax News Advertiser.) I developed a diverse stable of clients, and I really liked the lifestyle of being my own boss, not having to commute, and working on a variety of subjects. Another of my tired old jokes is that my one and only “real” job was a four-year stint as an associate editor at Cottage Life. I did a three-month contract for them and, near the end of it, then-editor David Zimmer offered me a full-time position. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I learned a ton, but knew that after a couple of years I’d try my hand at freelancing again. (Of course, they didn’t know that until now…) I left in 2002, and my business has grown ever since.

How long have you been at Renovation Contractor?

We launched the magazine with our May/June 2011 issue. I was hired as managing editor in February of that year. When I started, we had a media kit, a URL and a printer lined up. We built a magazine from scratch in a couple of months. I was recommended to the publisher by a good friend (and career doppelganger), Jay Somerset. In 2013, we were nominated for magazine of the year at the KRW Awards for work we did in 2012, our first full year of publishing. We didn’t win, but it was still a nice pat on the back.

What do you do there?

I discuss story ideas and get input from our editor-and-chief, Jim Caruk, but his main job is building and renovating houses. I take care of the day-to-day stuff: develop the issue themes and story ideas, assign stories to our freelancers and guest columnists, coordinate photo shoots and layout concepts with our art director, Darrell Leighton, and copy edit and proofread all the copy. (Jay Somerset is also a freelance proofreader for us.) I also write most of the copy for our departments, and usually write at least one feature per issue. Renovation Contractor represents about 60% of my time.

What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I love what I do. I truly enjoy researching new topics and still get a kick out of those eureka moments when you come up with a witty turn-of-phrase or transition line. And the editing side means I get to develop story ideas and packages that I would enjoy reading. But most of all, it’s the work-life balance that I love. As I said earlier, I quickly realized that I was well suited for the freelance/work-from-home lifestyle. And now that I’m the father of two young girls, I wouldn’t trade that freedom and flexibility for anything. I walk them to school most mornings, but can still be at my desk by 9 a.m. I’m always first to volunteer to chaperone school events – and am often the only dad who does, so I usually get picked. And for most of our life together, my wife has worked in high-stress corporate jobs, so being home most of the time really helps us cope as a family. Of course, nothing’s perfect. For one, I certainly wouldn’t mind making more money than I do. And every year or two, yet another magazine that I work for disappears, and a couple long-time colleagues announce they’re giving up and taking jobs in PR or some other (better-paying) field.

How do your experiences as a writer inform your work as an editor, and vice versa?

The two roles constantly complement each other. I can’t tell you how many times a line or passage from a piece I’m editing has inspired an idea that I could write for another publication. And as an editor, I know how frustrating it is to have to clean up sloppy writing, so I always proof my copy several times before I hit send. And you can’t underestimate the value of having a variety of tasks to handle. If the creative juices aren’t flowing, I can switch to proofing or something else less mentally taxing. Not that I’m saying proofing is a brainless task, it’s just that I’ve been doing it for so long it’s more of a mechanical exercise.

Tell me about volunteering for CSME.

I’ve been on the board since 2009, and have been president for a little more than two years now. But to be completely honest, the wonderful and hugely talented Jessica Ross should be president. She’s been on the board longer and is endlessly generous with her time and expertise to the entire industry. She was about to have her baby when my predecessor, Bob Sexton, announced he was ready to move in. I was the most senior person left, so they gave me the fancy title.

What role do you think CSME plays in Canadian magazines?

Editing can be a very isolating job, particularly if you’re a freelancer. I joined CSME primarily for the social and networking aspects. But in my years on the board, I think we’ve put on some really interesting and informative career development panels and sessions. But at a recent board meeting, Kat Tancock – another incredibly talented person who’s extremely generous with her time – suggested that we really should take more of a stand on issues facing the industry, and I wholeheartedly agree. Step one towards that is an event we held in November on the future of interning and what recent legal rulings mean for the industry.

What would you like to see in CSME’s future?

We’re a national organization, but most of our members and all of our events are in Toronto. We’ve been taking baby steps to get satellite events going elsewhere. Anicka Quin, editor-in-chief of Western Living, is our one non-Toronto-based board member, and she’s done a lot to raise our profile – and solicit input – from mags in Western Canada.

Do you have advice for people who want to break into magazines?

Rule number one: Don’t miss deadlines. Ever. Rule number two: See rule number one. Also, the Canadian magazine industry is a small one, so if you make an effort to get out to events (shameless plug alert!) such as those put on by CSME, you’ll quickly get to know people and make connections. I’m sure I’m not the only editor who pays closer attention to pitches that come in from people I know than cold calls from complete strangers. And because it’s such a small community, you really can’t afford to go around burning bridges or submitting sub-par work.

Allan Britnell is on LinkedIn.

This interview has been edited for length. 

Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 2

Welcome to the second half of my Q&A with journalist and academic Nicole Cohen. Part 1 is available here.

Photo of Nicole CohenJaclyn Law: You wrote an article for Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society, titled “Negotiating Writers’ Rights: Freelance Cultural Labour and the Challenge of Organizing.” You suggested that a union could be “the most effective way to challenge powerful publishers.” Unions for Canadian freelancers are a relatively recent development. Why, historically, has it been difficult to organize freelancers to take collective action?

Nicole Cohen: I think the history of PWAC as an organization is instructive here. When PWAC was forming in the late 1970s, there was a big debate about whether to become a union or a professional association. Ultimately it became a professional association, but at its formation the group was oriented to spirited resistance: it negotiated contracts with 19 magazines and twice threatened to go on strike.

That spirit faded over the decades, but recently we have seen renewed energy around organizing freelancers, both from the Canadian Freelance Union and the Canadian Media Guild, which has long represented freelancers at the CBC but is now organizing freelancers across the media industries. This is exciting, and I think the recent contracts introduced by TC Media, The Toronto Star, and other media companies are spurring freelancers into renewed action—they have had enough. There has been an increase in public outcry, meetings, and campaigns in the past few months, which is promising.

There are, of course, challenges to organizing freelancers, but I wanted to begin my answer to this question by pointing out that it is not impossible, as most assume, and there are many historical examples of freelancers successfully organizing (see, for example, freelancers in film and television, in the visual arts, and the Freelancers Union in the United States, which is the fastest-growing workers’ organization in America).

That said, there are specific conditions that make organizing freelancers in Canada difficult. For example, freelancers work alone, isolated from one another, and often don’t know other freelancers (this makes it difficult to organize to withhold labour or services, for example). Freelancers have long had antagonistic relationships with unions, as newsroom unions worked to limit the amount of work contracted to freelancers (this is changing, as the CEP is now the parent union of the CFU). Legally, the structures of labour representation in Canada are built on a model of single-workplace bargaining, which makes it difficult to organize workers who work for multiple employers or on multiple worksites to collectively bargain.

What I found interesting is that the skills one needs to develop to be a successful freelancer, and the structure of freelance journalism as highly individualized work, mean that freelancers develop highly individualized coping strategies and particular occupational identities (as individuals, entrepreneurs, and professionals) that are not conducive to collective action or organizing.

Finally, in a small industry based on reputation, many freelancers are hesitant to speak out or complain, for fear of losing work (Amber Nasrulla’s recent post on Story Board speaks to this problem).

There are challenges, of course, but it’s not impossible to organize freelancers to collectively confront the challenges they face. There is a lot of activity going on right now around contracts, which is encouraging.

JL: Many freelancers do traditional media work such as article writing and copy editing in combination with corporate work, which is typically work-for-hire—freelancers don’t retain copyright and don’t expect to, and they are often paid better rates. Is this the way of the future, in terms of having a viable freelance career? What could it mean for the profession of journalism? 

NC: Freelancers have always done other work to sustain themselves, especially in Canada, where we have smaller media markets, fewer companies and lower rates of pay than, for example, in the United States.

What I found in my survey was that freelancers note that they are doing more and more of the corporate or teaching or non-journalism-related work and less journalism, and many express frustration at this because they got into freelancing specifically to do journalism. In my survey, most freelancers say they want to write long-form, investigative journalism or books, but most earn all or some of their living from corporate writing.

Of course, not all freelancers are journalists and many do not want to be. The problem, however, is that fewer people are able to earn a living doing journalistic work even though an increasing amount of journalistic work is being outsourced to freelancers. I think this has several implications. For one, it means that skilled journalists committed to their craft are leaving the occupation. It means that journalism will increasingly become an occupation for only those who can afford to be a journalist, which increasingly means being able to sustain oneself as a freelancer. This will have the effect of limiting whose voices and perspectives will be heard.

Ultimately, the challenges freelance journalists face affect the quality of content in media. Low pay means that people focus on the stories that are faster to produce in order to make freelancers’ time worthwhile, and we will lose the kind of journalism freelancers have traditionally excelled at: long form, more creative, challenging types of journalism.

JL: Is there an upside to precarious employment? In an age of newsroom layoffs and outsourcing, could freelancers be better off in some ways—more adaptable, more responsive to the market? There’s been a lot of talk about the creative class, and recent developments like communal workspaces and the benefits of technology for mobile workers. Are these developments a good thing?

NC: I would never say there is an upside to precarious employment—research consistently shows that conditions of precarious employment have negative implications for workers across the labour market: lower wages, economic and social insecurity, no access to benefits or social protections, and risk of poor physical and mental health, for example. But I do think it’s important to recognize that many people do choose to work as freelancers and become self-employed—this is not entirely a top-down process (even though a quick scan of job postings and a look at the numbers of layoffs in media in this country show that it is getting more and more difficult to find employment in media, especially for writers).

Self-employment offers opportunities and advantages, and I think historically we can think of freelance cultural workers as refusing to engage in waged-labour and seeking ways to be autonomous and in control of their work and their lives. And the ability of freelancers to have access to workspaces and mobile technologies and, perhaps, even ways to self-publish, does show promising signs that workers can, potentially, liberate themselves from employers.

The challenge, however, is that in our economy, security is tied to employment, and although we have a rise of self-employment and freelancing, we are not seeing an increase in social protections and institutions to support these workers or this form of work—our social policy and security is tied to employment. And while many individuals do succeed as freelancers (interestingly, they are usually the ones advocating that we all become freelancers), self-employment is polarizing: most earn low incomes, experience insecurity, and would prefer secure work.

I think it’s important to look at the power relations that underpin freelance work: who is benefiting, and at whose expense? And what do we need to do to make flexible work flexible (and secure) for workers, not just provide flexibility for companies to offload the risks and costs of production onto individuals.

JL: Can you talk briefly about your current research?

NC: My doctoral research investigated traditional realms of freelance journalism, specifically newspaper and magazine publishing. I am now beginning to research new publishing models that have emerged in the digital age, or digital-first journalism, and the production practices that are made possible by the rise and spread of a freelance media workforce. I am interested in examining what possibilities exist to improve media workers’ autonomy, opportunities, and material conditions, and in investigating the social and power relations emerging with a new era of digital publishing.

I am also currently collaborating with Greig de Peuter and Enda Brophy on a research project we have called “Cultural Workers Organize.” We are investigating how cultural workers in a range of flexible employment forms (freelancers, interns, contract workers, the self-employed) in the most vaunted sectors of the creative economy (media, fashion, art, etc.) are collectively responding to precarious employment. We are examining experiments happening on the margins of the labour movement globally to respond to precarity (you can read more at our website,


For more Nicole Cohen, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.


Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 1

I’ve long admired Nicole Cohen for co-founding Shameless magazine and for her research into the labour conditions of interns and freelancers. At the end of March, she gave a presentation about her academic work, including the results of her online survey about freelancing, conducted in 2010. I attended along with other freelancers, and I was stunned by her talk—I thought, “More people need to hear this!” So I invited Nicole, a recently minted PhD and, as of July 1, the University of Toronto Mississauga’s new assistant professor in the Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology, to take part in a Q&A. 

Photo of Nicole Cohen

Jaclyn Law: Can you tell me about your education and journalism background?

Nicole Cohen: I graduated from Ryerson’s journalism program in 2003 and planned to be a journalist, but wanted to learn more about the world, as I spent most of my time at Ryerson working on The Eyeopener and not in my classes. I was really excited about the prospects of working as a journalist in Canada. I had done an internship at Eye Weekly and was hired as a staff writer, had done a short stint in The Star’s Radio Room program, and was freelancing for several publications: The Star, This magazine, Eye Weekly and others. I had also co-founded Shameless magazine with Melinda Mattos in 2003, when we graduated from Ryerson. While starting my journalism career by freelancing, I was taking part-time classes at York University, which eventually led me to do a MA in political science at York. I decided to do a PhD in the Graduate Program in Communication and Culture, as York offers good funding for graduate students and I was awarded a fellowship and realized that graduate studies, oddly, was a more secure form of employment than freelancing, one that would also allow me to continue to write and publish.

Based on my experience as a journalist and working in alternative/independent media, I gravitated toward communication studies and began studying political economy of communications, a critical approach to media and journalism that examines the power relations and social relations in these industries. It was then that I began thinking much more critically about my own experiences as a media worker and why, for example, I was spending weeks researching long, investigative articles for Eye Weekly and being paid $250 per article (of course now I realize that I should have negotiated a higher fee!).

At the time, around 2006, a lot of academic research was emerging that was paying attention to work and labour conditions in media and cultural industries, and this research intersected with research in political science and sociology on precarious employment, which has been spreading into growing numbers of occupations in the past few decades. At the time, I was part of a freelance journalist community that was experiencing low and stagnating wages and increasingly restrictive contracts for copyright. The Canadian Freelance Union was also emerging, which pointed to the very serious issues Canadian freelancers were facing in trying to earn a living—serious enough to establish a trade union.

It seemed to me at the time that it was impossible to understand contemporary media and journalism, as political economy aims to do, without understanding the material conditions of those who produce media and journalism. And so, when choosing a research topic, I chose to research what I knew and investigated the working conditions and labour conditions of freelance journalists in Canada. I defended my dissertation in February 2013. I wrote my dissertation as a book and plan to submit it to a publisher this summer or fall.

JL: Can you tell me about your academic work, in particular your PhD work and online survey?

NC: Broadly, I research in the area of critical political economy of communication, with a focus on work and labour organizing in media and cultural industries. My dissertation examines the working conditions of Canadian freelance journalists and freelancers’ efforts to collectively address the challenges they face. I spent about three years researching and writing the dissertation.

The empirical section of my work draws on an online survey I conducted in 2010 of self-identified freelance journalists across Canada. Two hundred freelancers responded. The survey consisted of a mix of quantitative questions (salary, hours worked, type of work, etc.) but also contained a significant qualitative component, where I asked a series of open-ended questions about how freelancers experience their work, what they like and don’t like about freelancing, their attitudes toward collective organizing and unions, for example. I can’t say the survey is an accurate representative sample of all freelancers in Canada (freelance journalists are very difficult to count, as it’s such a fluid profession, and each freelancer has vastly different experiences of and expectations from work than the next) but it does offer insight into the tensions and challenges that underpin the experience of freelancing in contemporary media industries.

To supplement the survey, I interviewed members and organizers of writers’ organizations and unions, including the CEP, CFU, PWAC, CMG and others (including the Freelancers Union in New York City, the National Writers Union in the US, and the National Union of Journalists’ freelance branch in the UK). The rest of the work draws on theoretical and academic literature in communication and labour studies. Overall, I look at the underlying processes, practices, and social relations that shape the work of contemporary freelance journalism and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that freelance writing is inherently low-paid work.

The argument I make is that freelance journalism has been transformed from, historically, being a strategy of resisting salaried labour by journalists—an effort to gain some control over the terms of commodification of their labour power and autonomy over their craft—into a strategy for media firms to intensify exploitation of freelance writers’ labour power through two primary strategies: the exploitation of unpaid labour time and control of copyright to writers’ works.

JL: Freelance income rates have remained stagnant—and even declined—since the 1970s, and contracts are demanding more rights than ever before. What are some other challenges that freelancers face?

NC: Low and stagnant rates are a major challenge, as is the new contract regime that publishers have introduced, contracts that demand all rights to writers’ works, or rights in a bundle for a very small fee (including, recently with TC Media’s contract, moral rights). These two key aspects of freelancing mean that while there is lots of journalistic work available to freelancers, especially as media companies contract and layoff staff, this work is low paid and freelancers are not earning as much as they can from their works due to highly restrictive contracts. Publishers are buying rights to writers’ works for multiple formats and venues, and so it seems that writers should be able to earn increasing income from the stories they write. But this is not the case—publishers are in a very powerful position and most individual freelancers are in a very weak bargaining position.

These two challenges to freelancers’ incomes are linked to a host of other challenges freelance journalists (and, arguably, all freelance or self-employed workers) face: because rates per word or per article remain very low, freelancers must work longer hours to earn higher incomes. Although most freelancers say they are freelancers because they want flexible schedules, or more control over their time, most work long hours and have intermittent but intense workloads. Work is experienced in feast-or-famine style: too much work tempered by stretches of no work at all. Freelancers must take on multiple projects at once and always be hustling to find work. Self-employed workers have limited access to benefits and social protections, such as EI, pensions, or parental leave.

These challenges have been experienced by freelancers throughout history, of course, but they have intensified in recent decades, as more people are working as freelancers than ever before and, as you note, rates of pay in Canadian journalism remain absurdly low. The freelancers I surveyed, most of who report enjoying the work they do, say the aspects of the job they like least include marketing and promotions, the constant and relentless pitching, and not having control over how much work they have or how much money they will earn (most freelancers do not set their rates for the work they do). Many are leaving journalism, or taking on more and more non-journalistic work, even though many say they became freelancers in the first place to do more interesting work.

JL: In your 2012 paper for tripleC, “Cultural Work as a Site of Struggle: Freelancers and Exploitation,” you’ve applied the framework of Marxist political economy to freelance writers, pointing out how independent workers experience the exploitation typically associated with the employer-employee relationship. Can you talk about the ways that freelancers are exploited? 

NC: In my work, I look at how freelance journalists, like all workers, are exploited under capitalism. I use the term in its technical sense: as Marx explained, workers are exploited because they produce more value (surplus value, or profit) than what they are paid, and that surplus is controlled by an employer.

These relations become difficult to see in the case of freelancers, who are self-employed workers, yet workers nonetheless. For one, freelancers sell single pieces of work to a publisher, so it appears that they are not paid for their time at work, like other workers, and freelancers’ names are attached to their articles and to the invoices they submit for payment, further emphasizing that freelancers work for themselves. But with low and stagnant rates of pay, it is becoming increasingly clear that relations of exploitation underpinning freelance journalism are intensifying in contemporary capitalism.

I outline two primary areas of exploitation in my research: one, unpaid labour time, and two, copyright. Freelance labour is very cheap for publishers. By purchasing finished works, for which freelancers are paid an arbitrary per-word or per-article rate, publishers don’t have to pay for the time it takes to develop a piece, research, do interviews, rewrite and edit, and all the tasks that are necessary for producing journalism. For freelance writers, this includes the time of developing ideas, networking, pitching, running a business, invoicing, promoting—a very long list. This unpaid work is critical for the work of writing, yet the low rates writers are paid—rates that have remained stagnant for decades—mean that the cost of writers’ labour power is lowered, or, exploitation is increased. And this is for writing that is paid. The spread of free writing, or writing for “exposure,” on major news sites like the Huffington Post increases the generalized exploitation of freelancers and further lowers the value of their labour power.

The second aspect of exploitation is through contracts for copyright, which are demanding escalating rights for minimal pay and limit writers’ abilities to resell and repurpose their works. Media companies, on the other hand, retain all rights (in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in formats yet to be invented, as most contracts now stipulate) to endlessly exploit a piece of writing. These exploitative practices have generated highly unequal conditions for freelancers in Canada.

These practices, of course, are not evenly applied across the media landscape, as there are many publications in Canada that do not exist simply to earn profit, ranging from activist media to not-for-profit and independent publications. But the majority of newspapers, magazines, and websites in Canada are published by large, converged media corporations that are very, very profitable. Key to their success has been offloading of the risks and costs of media production onto individual freelancers who have little power to negotiate for higher rates of pay and improved contracts.
Read Q&A: Nicole Cohen, Part 2.


Insider tips: Editors’ advice on surviving and thriving as a writer

networking to meet editorsYou need more than killer queries to succeed as a freelancer. Read on for advice from editors (many of whom are freelancers too) on how to make connections, keep clients happy and enjoy repeat work.


Network and get to know the editors.

Always submit well-written copy on time and to length. Do it again and again and the work will come your way.

Mara Gulens, Director, Publications, and Editor-in-Chief, CMA Magazine

Networking is vital. Attend industry events, join professional organizations and sign yourself up for listservs. Make the most of your time at events by having meaningful conversations with a few people rather than trying to meet as many people as possible (think quality over quantity). We work in a very small industry, and meeting editors and other writers gets your name out there and establishes relationships that can lead to work.

Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family

CSME’s great because A: it’s cheap and you learn stuff; B: it’s a night out once in a while and freelancing can be very lonely; and C: you’ll meet working editors who aren’t necessarily the Top of the Masthead types but rather the hard-working assigning and knowledgeable pros. Networking with these people will always be your BFF. 
Not only will you find out about stories, you’ll get early warnings about mat leaves, contract jobs, and other “non-story” editing assignments, with which you can feed your family while you’re working on your prize-winning Toronto Life story. Whenever I was freelancing, my kids ate better and my wife slept well partially because I was active in CSME.

Peter Carter, Editor, Today’s Trucking

I wish that writers knew that, in this fast-paced age of online publishing, the speed at which they respond to editors’ emails could significantly impact their chances of getting assignments. I sometimes have stories to assign that I need turned around in a day or two. When considering which writer to reach out to, I hesitate to choose the guy who I know usually takes a full business day just to write me back. Because, what if he says no? Then I’ve lost an entire day.

Kim Shiffman, Managing Editor, Connected

1. Know what the work is worth—and what you’re worth. Connect with other freelancers (TFEW is a great resource) and ask what they would charge and/or have been paid for similar work in similar markets. What is the size (and presumed wealth/budget) of the client? Take into account your level of experience (if you’re a newb, no, you don’t deserve the same rate as someone who brings 15 years of experience to the table). And then figure out what the work is worth to you. Is it an opportunity to do a story you’re passionate about? To work with an editor who is particularly open to helping new writers get great clips? To help an indie publication that you believe in? All of those factors might mean that you’ll work for less than if you were writing marketing copy for Dow Chemical. Run the numbers before you get on the phone to discuss rate with the assigning editor. And if you think the work is worth more, make your case. You may succeed. You may not. But you definitely won’t get if you don’t ask.

2. Don’t personalize professional interactions. This one is tough, because lots of people on the other end of the equation (editors and publishers) do personalize it, taking it as a personal insult if you ask for a higher rate or stand up for yourself in an editorial discussion. But behaving professionally—and by that, I mean not emotionalizing or personalizing conversations about money, editing changes and other issues—will get you further in the long run even if the person you’re talking to isn’t behaving as professionally as you are. If you need to blow off steam, do it after the call or email with a trusted friend or colleague (not in a heat-of-the-moment Facebook post, tweet or message board rant). Does that mean you shouldn’t tell colleagues about poor behaviour by particular editors or clients? No. But do it rationally, calmly and after a cooling-off period. And remember, whatever you share is likely to find its way back to that editor or client, so be prepared to stand by what you say.

3. It’s better to work for free on something you love than to work for free on something you don’t care about. If you’re going to give away your time, do something you care deeply about, not crap work. Think of it this way: you’re about to give away hundreds of dollars’ worth of editorial value. Is this editor or brand really the one you want to give this gift to?

Kim Pittaway, freelance journalist, editor and consultant

1) Never miss deadlines. Unexpected delays and interview blow-offs happen, but you almost always know before the due date if you’re not going to be able to make it. Most editors will happily grant you a little extra time, as long as they know long enough in advance to prepare for it.

2) To make it as a professional writer, you have to act like a pro. The people you need to interview are generally going to keep office hours, so you should too. (That’s not to say you won’t end up working evenings and/or weekends as well. When it rains, it pours.) Always prepare in advance for interviews (i.e., don’t plan on making up all your questions on the fly). For in-person interviews, show up early (or at least on time) and dress appropriately. A CEO won’t likely take you seriously if you’re in a T-shirt and shorts, but a musician’s likely to be put off by a three-piece suit.

Allan Britnell, Managing Editor of Renovation Contractor, freelancer, and president of CSME

1. Check your facts and send your sources. More and more, editors are also fact-checkers, and if you submit a piece that has the facts pre-checked, and if you provide URLs to your sources along with that piece, your editor will love you (assuming those sources aren’t Wikipedia, of course). Please, please, please attribute any statistics, research findings or other questionable “facts” to a source. Not only will your editor want to know where you found that information, but your readers will want to know, too.

2. Don’t steal other people’s work. This may seem like a given, but I’ve seen far too many writers—amateur and professional—submit work that they claim is original but actually contains passages copied verbatim from websites or other published sources. After all, plagiarism doesn’t just mean the entire piece has been copied—it could be as small as a paragraph or sentence. Accidents can happen when you’re gathering research from various sources, so be sure to note where you found your info, and whether what you’ve written is a quote or your own writing. And if you need to quote another publication, attribute it (see #1, above).

Tammy Burns, Online Content Manager, Travel+Escape

Swallow your pride. Become known as someone who does really good, quick rewrites. When the editor tells you that you have to cut 200 words so that the designer can have some precious empty white space on the page, just smile and say, “Of course.” That’s how a one-off job can be parlayed into a career.

James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine


Editors, do you have more tips to share? Writers, what has helped you survive and thrive?