Every aspiring writer has heard about the few jobs and high competition in the publishing world, but writer and publisher Christine Smallwood gave a humorously dark take on some of the woes of writers in the industry during her Publishing NOW question and answer session on Monday. Smallwood aimed to paint a realistic picture of the publishing field as well as to share some stories from her career path with students and professors present at the event.
Much of Smallwood’s discussion focused on freelance writing as a career and being able to adequately support oneself with the income from such a job.
“Well, I think it’s pretty terrible to be a freelance writer,” Smallwood, a freelancer herself, joked. She expounded on how freelancing does not often pay much but how it can be a great option as a “hobby,” or if an individual has other commitments in his/her life. The mother of a young child, Smallwood said that freelancing allows her to take care of her child but that she is not working many hours or getting paid very much. Though she enjoys her career, Smallwood noted how her priorities about writing completely changed after the birth of her child.
“If you’re going to make a living wage for yourself, [and then a] family, it’s a constant hustle,” Smallwood said.
Smallwood then segued into talking about how writers who write for free, like how academics often do, can depress the market. Many publications will take advantage of writers who just want to get their piece out there, even if it means not being paid.
Many writers in the audience found Smallwood’s advice empowering.
“I feel like beforehand, I would have just been like, ‘Oh, they’re giving me this pitch, I’ll just take it if I’m not going to get paid, like at least I’m getting my work out there,’” said Jessica Elizondo, a third-semester animal science major. “Hearing her say ‘Don’t write for no money’ is just a really impactful thing, like what can you lose?”
Smallwood also described the characteristics of a good pitch. In addition to using a “lucid, conversational” tone, “your pitch should be as well-written as your article will be,” Smallwood said. Editors want to see that a writer has credentials and a unique voice, and then they want writers to get right to the point of their pitch.
Besides pitching interesting ideas, writers usually must write a lot to be successful as a freelancer. Smallwood cited Jia Tolentino, a New Yorker staff writer, as a successful example. According to Smallwood, Tolentino is constantly writing new content for the web, and this high productivity pays well for those who can write so prolifically.
“Freelance writing—I can make it work if I write a lot,” fifth-semester psychology major Yawowusu Darko said about Smallwood’s point that freelancers must always hustle. “As a writer, I don’t have time to write a lot, so maybe that’s not so much for me.”
Though he learned that freelancers must be quick writers, Darko also said that he learned how to deal with an editor who wants him to make a change he doesn’t like.
While her discussion was at times unsentimentally realistic, Smallwood concluded on a hopeful note. She articulated her belief that editors truly have “a vested interest in discovering new voices.”
“If your story is great, it will get the attention,” Smallwood said.
Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.