Kelly James-Enger on Successful Freelancing

Kelly James-EngerVeteran freelancer Kelly James-Enger is the author of several books on freelancing, including Six-Figure Freelancing, Ready, Aim, Specialize!, and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. Her most recent book, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, was released by Writers Digest Books earlier this month. James-Enger is also moderating the Secrets of Successful Freelancers panel later this week at the ASJA conference (full disclosure: I’m one of her panelists).

Ebyline chatted with the prolific writer and author about how the industry is evolving and what she might have done differently in her early years.

If you could go back in time and give your newbie freelancer self one piece of advice, what would it be?
To focus on building relationships with editors and clients instead of trying to sell one story at a time. I did figure this out after about 18 months, but I wasted a lot of time pitching markets that I really wasn’t a good fit for instead of choosing markets I could write for regularly. Once I started getting “regular” clients, my career took off and I started not only getting a lot more assignments but making more money too. I went from grossing $17K my first year to more than $60K my fourth.

How has the industry changed since you wrote Six-Figure Freelancing or your other books on freelancing?
It’s changed a lot even since SFF came out in 2005. At that time, online markets were an afterthought to a lot of freelancers, who thought that print was more lucrative (in part because the per-word rates were usually higher). Now, according to my most recent survey of freelancers, more writers are selling work to online markets than say, print consumer magazines, and I think that trend will continue.

On the book side, POD and ebooks have completely changed the industry. Now you don’t have to sell your book to a traditional publisher; you can get it in print (or pixels) for little or no money. That means there are a lot more books out there to choose from, which makes marketing your books and selling them more challenge. Platfrom was always important but now it’s critical regardless of what avenue of book publishing you pursue.

And the other big change—and one I know you’re aware of—is that clients want writers who can do more than writer. They want freelance writers who can take photos or upload videos or who can help publicize the story with their own Twitter or social media site, you name it. You can’t just write anymore—you have to have more skills in your tool box to sell to clients and stand out from the pack.

Writer for HireOn your blog and in your book, you talk about selling reprints as a revenue stream. With so much content online nowadays and concerns about duplicate content as well as contracts that seem to get grabbier every year, is this still a viable business model? How can freelancers who want to explore reprints get started?
I agree about the grabby contents, first off! One of the ways to get around that is to ask to retain “non-exclusive” reprint rights to your work. That lets your client still have all rights but gives you freedom to offer reprint rights to markets that may be interested. The second part is looking for markets that still are interested in reprints, and believe me, they are out there. Look for smaller, regional, or specialized markets (regional parenting, regional health, and regional bridal markets have been my biggest reprint buyers) that need a certain amount of copy but have small budgets, and get in touch with them. I also have a few overseas markets that buy reprints, but that’s an area I need to spend more time on.

What is your most unusual writing assignment to date?
Wow, tough question. Most of my work is pretty straightforward health and fitness stuff. I did write a piece called, “30 Things you Should Know about your Period” which was definitely a little on the goofy side. I also did a piece called, “What your Underwear Reveals about You,” which was based on the premise that your underwear reveals your personality. (I pitched the piece myself—I had a novel coming out called White Bikini Panties that I was promoting. And the article sold, and has been reprinted three times!)

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.