In our third installment of the Different Roads To Publication series, we're chatting with Michelle Schusterman about Freelancing.
How did you break into the freelancing market?
The "wrong" way. Short version: I was a teacher, I was in Korea, I got tuberculosis and went on quarantine and lost my job. I'd been travel blogging, and since I was facing months of being bedridden (and broke), I figured it was as good a time as any to try turning the whole writing thing a career.
I read some wisdomous stuff on the Great and Powerful AW about how even newbies shouldn't settle for no or low paying freelance writing gigs, that those sites were taking advantage of writers, that they were basically the debil. But I was desperate, so I did it anyway. I wrote for free to "build clips" and I wrote for painfully low wages. They've steadily grown, but I would say for the first nine months I was fairly certain I'd never make an actual full-time income as a freelance writer.
What are some sites you work for?
Oh wow – there's been quite a few! I'll just lay it all out there: I started out writing for EduBook – each article brought in a fiver. (Told you it was low. Also, that site no longer exists. Hmm.) I massively, massively lucked out into scoring an internship with Matador Network (more on that later. And they paid much better.) I also wrote for Suite101, which paid based on ad revenue.
About six months into my internship with Matador I was promoted to associate editor, which was an indescribably huge confidence booster. I also started writing for The iPhone App Review and Demand Studios. Then I moved to Seattle and became NileGuide's "Local Expert" on the city, which meant running both the Seattle website and blog.
Freelance writing is an unstable career. In all honesty, the only outlet that I still consistently write for is Matador; the rest I either go to when I need them, or I've left altogether. About a year ago Matador started a travel writing and photography program, and as a faculty member there I've graded assignments and offer online and in-town workshops for travel writers. I've also branched out into writing restaurant reviews, musical reviews, festival reviews, etc. I try to send out at least a few magazine pitches a week.
How do you think freelancing has helped your fiction writing career?
As a musician, I've always tried to study and listen to music in all genres, because my favorite bands are the ones where you can hear unexpected influences in their music; a samba reggae beat in a folk song, jazz modes in a rock tune. Writers are often given the same advice – read in and outside your genre. Write sci-fi? Read historical romance. Write contemp? Read magical realism.
So why not non-fic as well? Travel writing in particular is an awesome way to hone your descriptive skills. You have to focus on all five senses, and you're tasked with making the reader smell / see / taste / touch / feel it all too. You want the reader there with you. It's the same in fiction.
Best freelance gig you've had?
To the surprise of no one, I'm going to say Matador. By far. The editorial staff is amazing, and above and beyond the most communicative staff I've ever worked for. Like yaHighway, we have daily email blitzes, and we also chat once a week via Skype. Writing for them has also challenged me more than any other gig. I'm encouraged to find my voice, but we're also constantly striving to be innovative, to be "ground level," to practice true journalism, to critique the hell out of ourselves.
And I can't lie – I've had some seriously sick experiences that I owe to Matador. Like meeting and interviewing Ted Allen from Food Network's Chopped in Puerto Rico. (I very, very nearly wet myself from fear.)
If you could write about anything in the world, what would it be?
Foooooood! Food has always been my favorite part of travel. (Anthony Bourdain is truly my idol. The man is brilliant. I want his life.) Chefs are like rock stars; I get giddy every time I meet one. And there's pretty much no better way to dig into a culture and 'feel' a place than scoping out their food. Not just by eating it, but by paying attention to how they eat it, when they eat it, why they eat it, how they prepare it, how they serve it...etc.
Plus it gives me an excuse to pig out and call it work-related.
~Michelle is a travel writer, book junkie, music pundit and Iron Chef imposter who enjoys writing creepy stories for children. She's represented by Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Lit. You can catch her hanging out at her blog Unlikely Places.