I have hit a dry spell in my career, as happens in the publishing industry, especially for freelancers. Not having a regular income after giving up a part-time, twelve-dollar-an-hour unrelated job a couple months ago to focus more on my editing career means regular paychecks, no matter how small, have gone away. Now I am once again in the up-and-down roller-coaster world of freelancing. And, frankly, it can be nauseating.
Last year my January was blazing. I had had four assignments from a publishing company I’ve worked with (you never work for anyone when freelancing, just with) for the past several years. It is work I really enjoy, not too serious of a subject matter and the editors who send out assignments are always pleasant.
This year, however, I received zero assignments from the same company. Having a slow start to the freelance transcript proofreading job I also do and no longer having income from my part-time outside-the-home job, I made a few hundred dollars this January as opposed to a couple thousand last year at this time. So what gives?
Such is the job of a freelancer. In other words, don’t quit your day job–something I am now regretting having done.
Finding work in this field is very difficult. It’s by hook or by crook really. If you’re fortunate to find a major–or even small or local–publishing company’s request for freelancers, you are guaranteed to be competing with literally thousands of others who’ve also seen the ad. You may have to take a test and, if you pass, you’re put in the pool. That just means you’re swimming with an entire school of fish in your same predicament.
There are times when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and you’re contacted by one editor for a project. If you do an excellent job, which I always do, I might add, he or she may refer you to another editor who just so happens to have a rush job at the same time or soon after. The ball can roll a few more yards, if lucky, and you find yourself handling a few assignments in a row. Sweet!
At times like that, such as January 2018, I can be busy for a few weeks straight. But once the publishing season is over (and there are only two a year that last a few weeks each), you’re once again out of sight and out of mind and have to start all over to try to get noticed six months later. If you’re not constantly contacted, wham!, the editors have hooked up with another excellent freelancer and he or she is now top of mind. Make the slightest error in a job that requires perfection and you may never be contacted again.
the benefits–and drawbacks–of freelancing
Yes, there are benefits to being self-employed. The freedom to work around other events in one’s life is probably the most prominent. The work-life balance is definitely there if, that is, you want more “life” than “work.” Let me say that it’s helpful to have a spouse who has a full-time job with benefits because in freelancing there are none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I have to put money into an IRA account every year, which often amounts to a good chunk of my total earnings, or I will have no retirement savings at all.
There’s also the isolation of working at a desk in a home office, which can be your kitchen table, the section of your sofa closest to a wall socket, or a corner of your bedroom. (And people complain about cubicles? Hah!)
There are no coworkers to chat up about last night’s ball game or your picks for the Oscars either. Friends aren’t going to meet you for coffee unless they’re unemployed. And the interruptions you experience from roommates, family members, or the gardener running the leaf blower from exactly 10:34 a.m. until 10:58 a.m. straight every Tuesday on the other side of your fence all impede your concentration. Then there are the friends who text asking for one teeny-weeny little favor or your spouse wondering out loud when walking in the door at 6 p.m. why it is that the breakfast dishes are still in the sink or the laundry left unfolded from last night. I mean, we self-employed are home all day after all.
then comes the oversupply of work
Just when you’re used to dealing with the outside noises, the loneliness, and the work desert of freelancing, you can become flash-flooded with assignments. This is called a work glut, when you have several different entities requesting your time and talent at once. It’s then that you’d better be good at working well into the night and juggling those jobs because you can’t really tell Publisher A that you have a simultaneous assignment from Company B as well as Managing Editor C. When they hire freelancers, employers want them to be at the ready to take on the work overflow as needed. If you’re not available 24/7 12 months of the year, you’ll be passed over and another fish will be swimming for the bait before you can even kick off the wall.
Such is the life of a freelancer. You sink. You swim. Or you get out of the water. I’m starting to long for dry land.