I went to freelance focus and what happened next will shock you!

You know those annoying Facebook posts – yeah I went there but hey if you are reading this, it worked…and who knows maybe you will be shocked by what I learnt.

The ASC kindly sponsored me to attend Freelance Focus in Brisbane, hosted by the Walkley’s Foundation. I, like many science communication professionals have been considering dabbling in some freelance writing (maybe even getting paid to do it) but had no idea how to start or where to begin, this is why I was keen to attend Freelance Focus.

After listening to many inspirational freelance writers speak, all of whom have made a career out of freelancing, I started to realise it is going to take motivation, organisation and a lot of hard work to make it a reality (even if I only want to dabble).

“Storytelling isn’t easy and takes investment from you,” as Trent Dalton from The Australian told us.

In fact, Andrew McMillen, a successful Brisbane based freelance writer, even suggested a ‘science’ to freelancing, from pitch through to end product – he has a colour coded excel spread sheet dating back to 2006 with all his articles, and comments on what worked, what didn’t work and the impact of the article – it sounded impressive…

During the Forum we heard from keynote speaker, Noah Rosenberg who is an American freelance writer and the founding Director of Narratively (URL – narrative.ly), which publishes the work of over 300,000 freelance writers around the globe. He spoke about four key lessons in storytelling and stated that there is a lot of opportunities available for freelance writers but with that also comes a lot of clutter and you need to figure out what is best for you. I thought I’d share these lessons with you.

His first lesson was to not be afraid to ask for help but make sure it easy for people to help. By this he didn’t just mean making sure you ask someone to proofread an article or get advice on a pitch. He was also talking about ‘help’ in the sense of promotion as well – asking other news outlets, journalists and social media sites to share and/or re-blog your work. He explained that in some cases after a 60 day period (I think it was) you can even re pitch your article to another outlet if still relevant and get paid again….if you’re lucky I suppose. However, his second point was pertinent in saying ‘make it easy for people to help.’ Don’t just send an email saying please re-share my article on Facebook but go as far as creating the Facebook post for consideration, writing tweets for people to send out and making sure your work is easy to find (online and Google-able).

Lesson two was about negotiation and he explained that creativity is key here. When starting out as a writer, he explained that it might be more worthwhile to negotiate more around how your article will be promoted rather than how much you will be paid. Is a Facebook post that can reach 10,000 people worth just as much as writing an article for $200? Hence the importance of ‘creativity’ in your negotiation and thinking about what is worth ‘value’ to you as the writer.

Lesson three was about evaluation of your own work and this links very much to lessons one and two in that it is important to create links (online) which can be tracked and evaluated so you can effectively measure who and what is working best for you when publicising your work – did you get more clicks from Twitter or Facebook? When an article was published on another blog/online website – how many clicks did it get and where did the readers come from. All important information to know and with Google Analytics – all information you should be able to access from the organisation who shared your work.

Finally, lesson four was making sure you have well defined goals and ways to achieve these goals – when you write an article, ask yourself why you are writing it, who do you want to read it, and how are you going to achieve this.

It was great to listen and learn from Noah and I certainly suggest watching the seminar Joan also posted to the ASC list recently – watch below.

Noah Rosenberg UQ 2015 – The Narratively Journey from UQ Journalism & Communication on Vimeo.

On a final note, one of the other reasons I attended Freelance Focus was to learn more about ‘how to pitch effectively to an editor’. I got a few tips and here are my main take home tips from the experts:

  • Be extremely familiar with the publications you are pitching too.
  • Make constant contacts in the writing world.
  • A mentor can be helpful when starting out.
  • Be persistent with your pitch and follow up (usually after about a week).
  • Plan ahead with your pitches – pitch weeks in advance and it can be useful to pitch up to 20 ideas at once, not just one or two.
    • With pitches tell your story in a couple of lines only, don’t have to write the full article.
  • If you get a deadline – stick to it. You will be red-flagged if you miss one.
  • Make sure your final article is polished and well researched.
  • Most editors like to see prior work, so if you rank well on Google and have your own website blog that is helpful. So basically have a strong web presence.

Want more insights – check out #FreelanceFocus on twitter which ended up trending in Brisbane due to its activity throughout the day.

You can also visit my Twitter account @ianmcd85 to see what I tweeted about on the day (August 5th).

Thanks for reading and with that I’ll leave you with my final tweet from the event…..

Learnt so much at #freelancefocus today – loved every minute – now to put my thoughts into words for the @auscicomm scope article

— Dr Ian McDonald (@ianmcd85) August 5, 2015