Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Makes the world go 'round

Article is done. No more medical writing until early September. As always, I like doing it and I'm looking forward to the next assignment, but I'm happy to get a break.

With Josh's new job, we're doing pretty well financially. In fact, I think we just about break even on our salaries alone. That's a good thing, because from June through August, I've only invoiced an average of $1760 a month for freelance work. $1760 is nothing to sneeze at--it quite literally pays the rent, and is letting me slowly pay down credit card debt--but it's a far cry from my $11K of invoices in March. I mean, yes, that was fairly stressful, and there's no way I could have done it had I not been freelancing full-time, but I'm only in the office part-time now. I think I could probably push myself up to about $3000 worth of freelance work a month without too much trouble. At my usual rate of 80 cents a word, that's only 3750 words, or about four or five articles' worth. The only snag is getting the assignments. I've been waiting for them to come to me, and they almost always do... but only to the tune of about $1760 a month.

Just as I was starting to think I should be doing more to scare up new work, two new clients were dropped in my lap, and now I have this conference gig from a third new client, which should net me somewhere between $3500 and $6500 depending on article length and per-word rate. (The former assumes 7 * 700 @ $.70 and the latter assumes 8 * 1000 @ $.80, plus a per diem around $150 or $200.) Even better, the conference client is one I'd been thinking of querying. Now I don't have to! And the editor who wrote to me says he's heard really excellent things about my work, which is always a wonderful thing to be told. I think I can justify being a little lazy, at least until the conference articles are in.

Maybe one of these days I'll be bold enough to raise my rates. An extra five cents a word never hurts.

For new readers wondering why I get so specific when I talk about my freelance income, it's my version of Nick Mamatas exhorting writers to submit outside the usual genre publications. From the perspective of most people selling short fiction to genre markets--or even selling novels to major publishers--the idea of making seventy or eighty cents a word is a pipe dream. I frequently point out that medical journalism routinely pays at that level, not to elevate myself above the poor scrabbling fictionauts but rather to offer it as a very viable career choice to those who think it might suit them. Having been doing this for a year and change, I can write a 700-word story in two hours (including time spent on research, interviews, and transcribing) and charge $560 for it. That's $280 an hour. If I wanted to try to make a career as a fiction writer, I'd quit my office job and aim to pull in around $5000 worth of medical writing a month. That's about 20 to 25 hours' worth. In the remaining four weeks of the month, I'd work on novels and stories. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I don't think freelancers do one another any favor by hiding their incomes, and I cut-tag this discussion only out of deference to those who really couldn't care less how much I make from writing. My goal with this and other finance-related entries is to help newcomers to the field figure out whether it's right for them, and more specifically, whether it suits their budgets and schedules. I promised myself a long time ago that I'd never try to make a living writing fiction, and I stand by that. From what I can see, it's pretty much impossible. Making a living off of journalism is entirely feasible, however, and it can be an excellent complement to fiction work. I think the best thing I can do with that information is to spread it far and wide and encourage would-be journalists to give it a try.

Writers depend on the help of other writers for survival. As a successful writer--and believe me, the idea that I am a successful writer never fails to shock me--I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the writing community, and especially to those who might need a leg up. And if someone reading this is making far more money at journalism than I am, I'd love to hear what they have to say, and pay it forward when I can.