How top freelancers do it: Q&A with Samuel Greengard
Successful freelance writers share practical tips for staying busy in the current economy (part 4 of 5)
Published: August 25, 2011
Samuel Greengard, based in Oregon, is a professional writer whose career took off in 1981, when he decided to give freelancing a try. Since then, he’s written more than 1,500 articles for consumer magazines such as Family Circle, Discover and Wired, as well as trade and custom magazines. He’s also the author of books including the AARP Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love. He’s been consistently earning a six-figure income in a business he’s built mainly on referrals, and he is a past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. We asked him to share the secrets of his continued success.
What markets work best for you? What do you stay away from?
I write mostly about business, technology and career issues. I also write about medical technology and some health-care issues. My current mix is 80 percent custom publishers, 15 percent trade and consumer magazines, and about 5 percent is direct corporate work, such as brochures, speeches, white papers and annual reports. I tend to stay away from consumer magazines unless I am approached with an assignment. I do not pitch. These days, it’s tough to make a living writing for consumer magazines. The magazines are often edited by committee, which results in lower-quality stories and more work for the writer. It’s the old saying: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”Referrals are key, but how do you build them?
My suggestions for getting repeat work are simple. Write great stories, deliver stories on time, go the extra mile to do what’s required, be accurate and dependable, and be easy to work with. If you do these things, you will stand out from all the other writers. In other words, don’t worry about everyone else. Simply be the best you can be.How important has social media been to your business?
I think social media is potentially useful—it has paid dividends from time to time—but I don’t have much time to use these services. That said, I know other writers who benefit from them a great deal. I think it’s important to be on Twitter and Facebook and other social networks, and know how they work. If you can position yourself the right way, there are benefits.What advice do you have for writers in an industry seeing fewer and lower-paying assignments, and more competition from laid-off reporters and editors?
Develop a business plan and pursue it. No serious business operates without a plan. I strongly believe new writers should have a formal written plan to follow. I periodically review where I am and where I want to be, and think about where I want to put my marketing and writing energy. The lack of a vision and plan results in a chaotic business environment and reduced opportunities. Also, stay positive and plow away. Send out as many queries and marketing letters as you possibly can (with great ideas) and be patient.Any last words of advice?
Turn assignments in on time, and write clean copy that requires minimal editing. If you do these things, the assignments will come.
Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer in Cary, N.C. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Woman’s Day, Cooking Light, More magazine, Better Homes and Gardens and other national publications.