Ed Wetschler resigned from his position of editor-in-chief at a Hearst publication in 2004 so he could be a full-time freelance writer and editor. Working from his home office, he is the executive editor of Tripatini.com, associate editor of EverettPotter.com – both travel sites — and has been published in major print and online publications including The New York Times. He is also chairman of the Northeast Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers.
Ebyline recently caught up with Wetschler to discuss going from full-time to freelance, social media strategies, and the importance of networking.
When did you begin freelancing? What did you do previously and why the switch to freelancing?
I began freelancing a couple of times. The first time, I was still a high school teacher with a yen to write, and my roommate suggested that I do something more productive than write 3,000 letters to the editor at The New York Times. A few years later I landed a staff position at a Hearst magazine, and I continued freelancing until the demands of that job made it too burdensome. The second time I took up freelancing was when I quit my Hearst job in spring 2004. This was different from the first move toward freelancing: It was not just because I like writing, but also because I wanted to get away from my administrative duties as editor-in-chief for awhile.
What do you like most about freelancing?
The nap that I’m going to take after this interview.
Seriously, what I like is the ability to make my own schedule, not just on a daily basis, but with regard to large chunks of time. Recently, for example, I attended a family get-together in Florida, but I did not have to worry about counting vacation days. On a related matter, I can work wherever my laptop is, even at family reunions (if the kids will just keep it down, thank you). Telecommuting is one of those major buzzwords; I just want to add that we freelancers invented it.
What do you find to be most challenging?
The income; it’s a trifle compared to the six figures I was earning in my corner-office days. A while back I would also have said that one of the most challenging things about freelancing is the heartache of getting queries rejected or, even more frequently, ignored. That seems to have solved itself, though; these days editors are calling me. Why now? I don’t know. Did I suddenly turn into a good writer? One more thing: No matter how successful a freelance writer may be, he or she knows that things can always go south; all that’s needed is for an editor friend or two to get laid off. And God knows, we’ve seen plenty of that these past half-dozen years.
You are now the executive editor of Tripatini. Did you use any of your freelance skills to land this job?
I can’t say I did. The co-founders, David Appell and Jose Balido, are old friends, and David worked with me at Hearst, and they came to me with an offer after they noticed that I was using the site for my own travel social networking.
What social media platforms do you use and for what purposes? How can freelancers use social media?
Besides Tripatini, I use LinkedIn — terrific groups, because the subjects are so specific — Twitter, and Facebook. (My apologies to Google+ and BranchOut, but sorry guys, I’m just not convinced yet, and Tumblr, well, I don’t get it.) Freelancers who don’t regularly use Twitter are making an especially big (but easily correctable mistake): Tweets, if you know how to do ‘em, are extraordinarily effective at establishing your brand and drawing visitors to your website and/or online stories.
It says on your website that you are a writer, photographer, editor, and publicist. Do you find it challenging to switch back and forth between PR and journalism? Do you find yourself using overlapping skills?
I don’t find it challenging to do PR work, but it is unethical to, say, write press releases for hotels if you also write articles about hotels. Mind you, people do it, but it’s wrong because you can never be completely honest about Hotel X if you also want to get work writing press releases for Hotel X’s media office. My PR work is all pro bono for a nonprofit that is unrelated to travel — or to personal finance, the other subject about which I write. One last idea about overlapping skills: Nowadays, press releases, starting with the subject lines, that are not imaginatively written may not get read.