Apr 06, 2011
A Day in the Life of a Freelancer
Have you ever wondered what a typical day is like for freelance writers? Or how they get their assignments from publications? Or what their writing process is like?
On Tuesday, March 29, ProfNet hosted a Twitter-based chat featuring freelancer Gina Roberts-Grey.
Roberts-Grey is a prolific writer, covering health, consumer issues and finance for a variety of print and online markets. She has written for Glamour, Parents, Better Homes & Gardens, Self, Woman’s Day, EverydayHealth.com, MSN.com, AARP The Magazine and more. She also specializes in celebrity profiles and has interviewed actors, politicians, singers, athletes, reality TV stars and other celebs.
As if that weren’t enough, she also chairs the annual ASJA conference, the largest freelance writers conference in the country.
Most of Roberts-Grey’s articles, about 70 percent, are assigned to her by editors at publications for which she has previously written; the rest are from story ideas she pitches to editors. Many of those ideas come from pitches she receives from PR professionals.
Roberts-Grey said she receives about 150 PR pitches per day. Many of those are deleted pretty quickly. “If it doesn’t grab me the right way,” she said. “It’s outta here.”
She prefers to receive pitches via email. “Phone is an interruption,” she said. However, she is open to receiving pitches via Twitter. “Twitter pitches would be very cool. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’d love that!”
To get her attention, include a “great, snappy, grabbing lead,” she said. “The subject line should tell me why I should open the e-mail. What is the pitch about? The ones that read like a headline from the Enquirer often aren’t opened.”
Also, keep it short. “Two paragraphs is a nice size,” she said, “enough to whet the appetite, and I can ask for more info if needed.”
Whenever possible, include links to statistics and professional quotes. “Links in pitches are helpful to dig deeper and see if I can use it in a piece.” If you have a PDF of a study or research paper, include that in your pitch, as well.
Once you’ve sent a pitch, don’t follow up via phone unless you know the writer doesn’t mind phone follow-ups. And if a writer says, “I don’t know when this will run,” leave it at that. Don’t contact the writer every week to see if the article has run yet. Set up a Google Alert for your expert’s name, and you’ll know when the article (and any article mentioning your expert) has been published.
Roberts-Grey said her typical workday averages 12 to 14 hours, with much of that time devoted to finding and interviewing sources. “Finding the right source definitely speeds things up,” she said, “and having a great working relationship with them to go to again helps.”
Roberts-Grey often uses ProfNet to find sources for her articles. When responding to one of her queries, make sure the answer is on-topic and precise. “Tell me what you can do to make my article the best, why you are the best,” she suggested.
Once she finds the sources she needs for an article, Roberts-Grey prefers to do as much of the interviewing as possible by email to help maximize her time. During the interview, get right to the point and answer questions as specifically as possible. She will follow-up by phone if she has any unanswered questions.
Roberts-Grey also stressed the importance of building relationships with writers. Often, an interview is not a one-time thing, and reporters will use experts in multiple stories.
“I often go back to those I’ve used before, if they’ve been good,” she said. “I like to add them to the stable and use them as much as possible.”
The first step in building a relationship with a writer is to make sure you spell their name correctly. As basic as it sounds, Roberts-Grey said she receives many pitches where people do not get her name right.
Also, make sure to personalize the pitch. “’Dear Writer’ or ‘Dear Editor’ = delete,” she said. “Take time to know whom you are pitching.”
Most importantly, get to know what topics the writer covers, and how they want to be contacted.
Roberts-Grey also shared more information about the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference, commonly known as ASJA2011, taking place April 29-May 1 in New York City.
“ASJA2011 is the premiere conference for writers in all stages of their career,” said Roberts-Grey, “but we also have lots of PR people who want to network.”
The conference is open to public April 30 and May 1, and has sessions on honing your craft, marketing, social media and more.
“It’s a great place to rub elbows with writers and to pick their brains regarding pitches they want, how to pitch them, etc.,” said Roberts-Grey.
The conference has more than 125 magazine editors, literary agents and book publishers, “so there are lots of people to network with,” said Roberts-Grey, who said she has made lots of great relationships and even done interviews with sources while at the conference. “Networking really is everything these days. You’ve got to make contacts.”
Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists find expert sources. For a full transcript of the chat, visit Maria’s blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/