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How Is Being a Freelance Writer Different Today?

typewriter_1The discussion about the pay from article sites and from my attempt to figure out why there’s so much passion has also gotten me to thinking about how it was way back when. In my case, that’s over 30 years ago. Here’s some of how it was:

  • Typewriters – first manual and then electric. When I went to college my parents gave me a manual portable Royal. Turns out you can still buy Royal typewriters – who knew!
  • Self-correcting Selectric typewriters by IBM. Electric, of course, and in addition to the red and black ribbon, there was a second, white correction tape. A special X key would let you back-space so you could over type your error and begin again. I remember how delighted I was because prior to so-called self correction the only solutions were either a special white paint or retyping the whole page over again. Even so, if a page in a manuscript got significantly longer or shorter the whole thing had to be retyped.
  • Writers Market Magazine which each month listed a different type of market for writers – books, greeting cards, health articles, etc. This and Writer’s Market, the annual, were the most reliable sources. And, of course, there was no online version as there is today.
  • Buying and finding magazines. I bought a lot of magazines back then as I looked for places to sell my writing to.
  • Finding other writers was problematic. If you freelanced you rarely met anyone else who did the same unless you went to a writer’s conference or joined a writing group. The sense of isolation was much stronger than it is today, at least for me. Heck, I don’t feel isolated at all, come to think of it.
  • The easiest ‘market’ for beginners back then was the local weekly newspaper. Another strong possibility was the trade magazines. The same is true today. But with the addition of the web and the sites that pay, even small amounts, for articles, the market for beginners is much larger.
  • Trade book publishers hadn’t been bought up by giant profit-only driven corporations. I think it’s true that back then it was easier to get a controversial book published, but I also think on the whole, the writing standards were higher.
  • There were more opportunities for real journalism – that is, more large interdependently owned newspapers existed. Many of those had budgets that encouraged investigative journalism. The loss of independent news organizations is tragic and not replaced really by blogs. I have to work much harder to get a balanced view than I used to.
  • I still have a few SASEs around – that’s a Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope. That used to be the only way to get a manuscript back. Today, with the ease of copying and printing most of us don’t want the manuscript back if the publisher isn’t going to buy it.

The biggest change is, obviously, the ‘net. I remember how excited I got when I finally managed to get My name is Anne on a webpage. I immediately recognized we had a truly new publishing medium. I never guessed, however how it would change things like research or networking (!) with other writers, finding publishers and agents. Nor did I realize how many new markets would open up.

I wonder what’s next?

What have I left off this list?

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Markets change, but high paying jobs are still out there. There is no need to despair – just a need to dig deeper, make more contacts, and work towards finding the rate of compensation that you are personally satisfied with as a freelancer.
    .-= Benjamin Hunting´s last blog ..Letting Go Of An Old Friend =-.

    • Anne

      And it’s not always digging deeper; often it’s a case of digging differently, or in a different spot.

  • Anne

    Lol, Smudgy fingers which transfered to phones and typewriter keys until we were all grubby…

  • Star

    PS I even remember carbon paper. Now THAT was nasty stuff!

  • Star

    Fortunately–we can complain and observe AND change. Not mutually exclusive. I am still standing after 28 yrs as sole support of my family–but it hurts to see what I considered a profession fall so far. It’s like I am a failure, like everything I did was nothing and is regarded as nothing and is worth nothing. As I said–sad. But I am still here, and I venture to say I will be when others have drifted off.

    • Anne

      Star! How can you possibly say you’re a failure after supporting a family for 28 years? What you and I wrote 20 years ago stands today – in that context. And a tiny porton might stand as it is today, or not. But the guts of it, the basics of it I’m willing to bet work today, but the context has changed – doesn’t mean either of us are failures for heaven’s sake!

    • Star

      Thanks, Anne. I was getting a little sloppy. Somedays, though, I wonder–gee, what gives?

  • Your post reminded me of something I don’t miss – those horrible white tapes we had to use to make corrections for typos.

    I think nowadays relationships are more important. We’re better able to form relationships online,leading to trust – and online trust leads to offline trust. People see us beyond our “writer” hats.

    Anne I remember when you were with About.com and have followed you for a very long time. I have to say you’re one of the writers who adapted to the changing times, in good cheer, I might add, rather than complaining all the time. The ability to adapt is important for anyone who wants to be a success.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..3 Tips for Being a Truly Objective Freelance Writer =-.

    • Anne

      lol, where was I… oh, getting a passport pix for me and my granddaughter at a UPS store – they sell the correction tape and the horrid smelly fluid there – just like I was going home to a typewriter. My granddaughter said she had used the fluid when making a correction in some sort of display she’d made… that made sense, but typewriters? I swear if I had to generate my own power I’d stick with computers.

      I don’t stay optimistic out of virtue, or make change out of virtue… it just works better… thanks Deb.

  • You can cry over spilt milk or move on with the times. Instead of continually complaining about “the good old days”, you should be spending your time finding new ways to integrate into the 21st century and stay relevant on a global basis.

    Needs change. Market’s change. That’s the nature of free enterprise and capitalism. If you don’t like it you are in the wrong job.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Research in the 21st century =-.

    • Anne

      Well said, T.W. Markets change… they did before computers and they do, perhaps more rapidly now. I quit doing many articles when it became apparent to me it was becoming a quick way to starve unless I managed to get on staff at Atlantic Monthly or something… that wasn’t going to happen.

      But one way or another I’ve stayed in the writing game.

  • Star

    How is it different? We used to make a living at it! Today I was going through some old query files–and without Craigs and sites that spread the Craigs low-pay contagion, every ad I had in there (from newspapers, from some job boards) carried a price tage of $650 per story, $450 per story, 75 cents an assigned word, and one was $1700 a story. These were mags and newsletters. Not so many websites to be spewed full in those days…around 2001, these were.

  • Anne

    Yes, sharing of info… and it will be interesting to see how the ability to find what we want/need out of all that info develops.

  • The sharing of information. To me, this is hands-down one of the hugest advancements we’ve made in the past 20 years. I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the global community, and I can’t imagine being limited by the old-fashioned regional markets that used to exist, where the only real communication was done via the local communities.

    The biggest change is absolutely the ‘net. Specifically the sharing of knowledge on a global basis. Definitely with things like Google and Wikipedia. As more and more universities upload their libraries to digital format information is becoming more and more readily accessible to the “every man”, whereas 30-40 years ago the mass media was in control of the information. If you didn’t read it in the New York Times or see it on 60 Minutes then it wasn’t “true”, but as we’ve found today there are a vast number of qualified professionals throughout the world who now have a chance for their voices to be heard, no longer silenced by the mass media dictating who gets to learn what, and at what pace we (humanity) are allowed to advance.

    I revel in the future. It thrills me with chills of anticipation and wild enthusiasm.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Research in the 21st century =-.

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