Celebrating 10 Years as a Full-Time Freelancer

penThis month marks 10 years since I made the leap into full-time freelancing. Ironically, it also marks my return to editing at the title I originally left—and it gives me a chance to reflect on all the changes, or at least the perceived changes, in the world of journalism.

A decade ago, I was executive editor at Yachting magazine. I had been there for three years, following a seven-year stint as a daily newspaper editor. At first, going into magazines seemed like a vacation: I went from handling upwards of 30 stories a day to handling about 15 a month. I didn’t have to work until midnight if there was breaking news, and I was able to stop speed-drinking Diet Coke and lukewarm coffee as part of my regular meal plan.

I can still remember the day that I decided to leave the magazine. It was a night, actually, and I was working past dinnertime, sitting under the fluorescent light in my office, going through invoices for our freelancers. A few of the best-paid writers, I calculated, were bringing home salaries in the same ballpark as mine. And they were working from their houses, sending me invoices from their travels around the world, from places like Italy and Fiji and Antigua. They were good writers, I remember thinking, but so was I. And they weren’t ever stuck sitting under the fluorescent light at night.

It seemed crazy to some people (especially my parents), but I walked away from that secure and stable job to hang out my shingle as a writer and see where the world might take me. I immediately landed a contributing editor gig with Power & Motoryacht magazine, regular freelancing work with other luxury and boating titles, and a literary agent whose company would go on to help me ink nearly one new book deal every year, mostly for travel guides. I carved my little niche and worked diligently from my home office, as well as from yachts all over the globe. The first year of being a freelancer was financially scary, but things soon stabilized with my regular clients, and I did well by working hard.

The business started to change in the mid-2000s, when the Internet began to hack away at print media. I did my best to adapt, launching my own website, CharterWave, and taking on the occasional job of writing Web copy that was geared toward search engines. Then came the global economic recession, and along with it a slew of budget cuts at the print magazines from 2008 through about 2010. Circulation numbers plummeted, and the writers and editors who managed to keep their jobs had to work three times as hard to take home the same income. Gone were the days of fat freelancing contracts, at least for the writers who worked only for a single title. Decent book deals became far tougher to get, too.

I felt the same fears as everyone else, of course, but I liked my position on the playing field as a freelancer. Yes, my clients came and went as their businesses ebbed and flowed (or shut down altogether), but I had enough good contacts and flexibility of skills that I could stay afloat through the storm. I ultimately found myself back on the masthead at Yachting, this time as the charter editor, working freelance from home. And again, I couldn’t have been happier combining that work with my book writing and Web-writing business.

All of this history was on my mind last week, as I signed a contract to become a part-time editor with Yachting, bringing me almost full circle back to where I began this 10-year journey. I am still working from home, where I’m happiest and most efficient, and I’m still running the bulk of my freelance business as always. But I’m once again handling copy by some of the same writers whose bylines were in the magazine a decade ago, only now, through computer editing software instead of printed page markups. I’m also now helping out with Yachting‘s Web content, work that didn’t exist when I was a full-timer on staff, but that now is a major part of the job.

What makes me happiest, sitting where I am today, is that my Old School skills are just as valued as my New Media abilities. There’s a lot of talk out there in the world of journalism about how those of us who write for print are dinosaurs. I haven’t found that to be true at all. In fact, I find that my skills from my print background are what stand out in the field. Whether I’m producing content for books, magazines, or the Web—and whether I’m writing about boats or my personal passion of rescue dogs—I find that I am still most respected for my abilities in reporting, writing, and editing. It helps that I’ve stayed current and learned how to create online content, of course, but at the end of the day, the best Web content is based on original reporting and writing. Fundamental skills still matter, and I’ve had a lot of practice at honing them.

All of which bodes well for my next 10 years as a freelancer, I think. And it is, more than anything else, what I plan to celebrate on this particular anniversary.

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