Why I Won’t Write For Free

As a freelance writer, occasionally I get approached to write for free for “XYZ” site. Said site offers to include my Twitter handle and website link so, instead of payment, I get free “promotion.”

In the very beginning when I was building a portfolio of clips, I wrote a few articles for free. I get why some writers will offer their work for free when they are starting out. No judgements!

But for me, if a prominent website can afford a nice fancy site, they can afford to pay me for my work.

Writing, researching, interviewing sources, and rewriting is all work. It takes time and brain power. Just because writing is creative and fun doesn’t mean that I should just hand you my work for free. It’s not fair to me and the other writers who toil away at trying to make a living at this.

So in response to any publication who requests I write for zero dollars, I politely decline.

Liz Lemon says it best:

Goodbye to The Bold Italic

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It was a sad day when The Bold Italic announced that it would no longer be publishing. The online site, based in San Francisco, was beloved by many in the city.

I started writing for The Bold Italic in October 2014. I loved every minute. I got to write about the best arcade bars in LA, LA-versions of SF restaurants, and putting Bentley to sleep, among many things. One of the last pieces I wrote was a personal essay about being a “fat” Asian. My first draft needed some work, and editor-in-chief Jennifer Maerz helped guide me to the actual published version, which was way better than the first with her feedback.

As a freelance writer, I’ve worked for different publications. The Bold Italic was one of my favorites. Jennifer got back to me quickly. They paid on time. And most importantly, I got to write some really fun, interesting articles.

I’m writing this from the Bay Area. While driving around, I noticed that most of the billboards here about tech companies (can anyone explain what New Relic is?!) and HempCon (can anyone explain who Baby Bash is?!). In LA, every billboard is movies, movies, TV, movies. I thought to myself, this would be a great Bold Italic story.

Then, I remembered it was gone.

Goodbye, Bold Italic. A little bit of San Francisco’s quirky sparkle is gone.

The Latest Awesome Vegan Products at Costco

My obsession with all things Costco will not stop. I really love discovering what new vegan products pop up in my local store. Though, I really wish they’d bring back the bulk box of Mary’s Gone Crackers. PRETTY PLEASE.

Here are my latest finds. Last time, I told you that I bought the Orgain Organic Protein Plant-Based Powder, which btw tastes great and is perfect post-workout. I add unsweetened vanilla almond milk, frozen cherries, and the powder—and it’s delicious. I’m stoked though to finally see Vega at Costco. I love Vega’s chocolate flavor, but it was pretty pricey (about $70 for the biggest jar). Now, this vanilla flavor is about $30. Yipee!

Here’s my absolute favorite find—Gardein’s Fishless Golden Filets. When Gardein debuted this product, I loved it from the moment I tried it. Brendan and I have made fish tacos and faux fish and chips with these bad boys. When I spotted the 20-pack at Costco, I distinctly remember yelping out loud. Because I’m that crazy vegan. Anyway, Costco also has Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n and for a hot minute the Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips (I haven’t seen them since).

Lastly, I snapped this pic for my lovely friend Elizabeth, who if she lived close to me, I would buy this giant pack for her and I think she could drink them all in one sitting and be the happiest person ever. I’m a fan of Svelte’s drinks, but unfortunately, I don’t drink coffee because it makes me a hyper active monster. Fingers crossed that they’ll debut the Spiced Chai next or the Banana Créme.

That’s it, but really, do you need more? And for anyone wanting to know how vegans get there protein, send them this way.

If you want even more reasons to <3 Costco, check out these 11 ways that Costco rocks like paying a living wage and giving employees Thanksgiving and other holidays off.

What awesome vegan finds have you spotted at Costco lately? (And can you send them to me?)

The Most Frequently Asked Freelance Writing Questions

Some times I get questions from aspiring writers about how to make it as a writer. I thought this post would be helpful to share the most frequently asked questions I get and answer them here.

1. Can I make money as a writer?

Yes. I do make my living from freelance writing and editing. Would I say that I make as much as I did when I worked full-time? No. But I’m much happier. I get to control my own schedule, work on a variety of projects, and have time for my own personal projects. If you are aiming to make $100,000 a year your first year freelancing, I would say that’s probably not realistic unless you worked all the time. If your main goal is to make lots of money, freelance writing may not be the career for you. I also recommend this very detailed blog post—the ultimate guide to setting up a freelance business—from freelancer Jennifer Armstrong. Armstrong’s website also has a ton of posts about the realities of being a freelance writer.

2. How do I get started in writing?

I highly recommend taking classes whether online or in-person. Through a class, you’ll have a solid deadline, meet your peers, and work with a professional who has been through the freelancing world. I’ve taken great freelance writing classes through Mediabistro and UPOD Academy. Paula Derrow is a fantastic personal essays teacher. Check out her website to see when she’s teaching. She also privately consults as an editor, if you want to work more one-on-one.

3. How do I make the transition to full-time freelancing?

I worked as a magazine editor full-time while slowly building a portfolio of clips and networking with editors. When I felt like I was ready to switch over to freelance, I had a list of contacts that I could reach out to and pitch. Through past coworkers who knew my work and liked me, I got more contacts and work from them. I must admit, it still felt scary to dive into the waters of not getting a steady paycheck every two weeks, but a year or so later, I’m loving it. I’m a deadline-oriented and schedule-type person so I structure my work day similar to my previous 9-to-5 jobs.

4. How do I write a pitch?

This one is tricky. The best way to write a pitch is to take a class and learn. While it’s easy to shoot off an email to an editor you just met, you’ll do much better if you research the publication and tailor your idea to that particular magazine or website. David Hochman, the founder of UPOD Academy, says it best: Why should we care about this story?

5. Should I write for free when starting out?

When I first started out, I wrote a few pieces for free. I wish I hadn’t. It’s understandable when you’re green that you take on free work to get a byline. It’s up to you, but don’t work for free forever or if you do, make sure you get something out of it more than just a byline.

 

Make Your Own Writer’s Retreat

This past weekend, I took three days to myself and created my own writing residence/meditative retreat. Last fall was a wonderful time professionally, but a tough time personally. At my husband’s encouragement, I decided to book a cute Airbnb in Santa Barbara with access to a private beach as a vacation by myself. I set an away message on my email. Took my favorite magazines and a book. I turned off my phone. I didn’t watch any TV.

Unlike my normal work week, I didn’t set a schedule. I walked to the beach. Saw seals sunning themselves. Ate prepared meals so I wouldn’t have to cook. Slept when I was tired.

And wrote all day. Did I mention the beach? For me, there’s nothing more relaxing than ocean waves, walking on sand, and seeing blue water.

Before I even booked the bungalow for the weekend, I hemmed and hawed about being selfish and spending money on this “vacation.” I’m not great about spending money on myself. But during the trip, I felt a huge sense of relief and calm. It was the first time in many months that I didn’t have to think about what anyone else wanted. If I wanted to spend three hours on the beach, I spent three hours on the beach.

When I first arrived at my bungalow, the owner asked me if anyone else was coming with me. “Nope, just me,” I said. And I needed that time. Before the trip, I felt easily frustrated, ready to snap, and got angry over little things. I realized that it was time to get away and relax.

Too often, I make excuses about why I shouldn’t spend money on myself. But honestly, this was money well spent.

If you’ve been dying to finish a creative project, I highly encourage you to book a room somewhere, unplug, and take a walk. You deserve it.

Interview with YA Debut Author Jenn Marie Thorne

Debuts March 17, 2015

I first met Jenn Marie Thorne back in 2007 when I joined her and fellow writers for a Wednesday writing group in Santa Monica. We met weekly to discuss our own work, read writing, and support each other. I moved to the Bay Area in 2010, moved back to LA in 2013, and by then Jenn had moved to Florida. But I’ve been tracking her writing career as a young adult author and it’s amazing to see an artist grow from back then to now! Her very first young adult novel is out tomorrow, but I’m sure it won’t be her last. Jenn was kind enough to share about her experience as a first-time author and what’s she learned in the process. Here’s a bit more about her book (grab a copy here):

THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT description

Kate Quinn’s mom died last year, leaving Kate parentless and reeling. So when the unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Kate does have a father. He’s a powerful politician. And he’s running for U.S. President. Suddenly, Kate’s moving in with a family she never knew she had, joining a campaign in support of a man she hardly knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives. This is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, she must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Set against a backdrop of politics, family, and first love, this is a story of personal responsibility, complicated romance, and trying to discover who you are even as everyone tells you who you should be.

1) How did you get started in writing young adult books?

The first full-length novel I ever wrote was actually a middle grade fantasy, but I realized in revision that one of the problems with it was that I kept dwelling on a subplot involving the protagonist’s teenaged sister. I mulled rewriting it as her story, but then a bunch of other ideas took precedence—and they were all YA. My second book got my agent’s attention, but she signed me after reading my third one, and that’s the one that became THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT.

2) Your debut novel, WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, is about Kate Quinn who discovers that her biological father is a politician running for president. Since your novel deals with politics, what research did you do to create the world of your book?

I started by reading some great political nonfiction, like Game Change. I watched The War Room, that amazing documentary about the Clinton ’92 campaign and that gave me a really strong sense of the feel of a campaign, the camaraderie and stress, along with a sense of the visuals. I had friends who were active in the Obama campaign as well, some quite high up in the ranks, so I looked through their Facebook feeds and videos for more intel. And I googled extensively, whenever I had a question about a detail.

3) What was your process from the idea to publication?

I did a plotting workshop as part of an online writers forum, which was pretty revelatory, and then I did NaNo, with an extensive outline in hand. I revised over the holidays, sent to beta readers in the new year, and had a draft ready to send to my now agent by March. And, of course, I revised the book approximately one gazillion more times between my book deal and the final draft.

4) What advice would you give to writers who want to break into YA?

Read YA. Read tons and tons and tons of YA novels—and not just the ones that have been made into movies. When I wrote my MG novel, I had no idea how derivative it was, because I hadn’t read widely in my genre. I’m grateful for that drawer novel, but it would have behooved me to hold off on writing it before I’d gotten a stronger understanding of, become inspired by, and formed a point of difference from what was out there already.

5) What YA books are on your to-be-read list?

SO MANY. The absolute top of my TBR right now is The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. That’ll be my reward after my book launches and I can take a little break. I’m also drooling over another forthcoming debut, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh.

Learn more Jenn Marie Thorne on her website or Twitter at @juniperjenny.

YA author Jenn Marie Thorne

YA author Jenn Marie Thorne

Donate Part of Your Income

Click on the image to learn about the artist, Stephanie Martel.

When I first read May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein, she mentions donating 10 percent of your income to charity. At first, I was resistant to this idea. As a freelance writer, I don’t make a ton of money. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I can donate my time to organizations that matter like 826LA (writing and tutoring classes for students without arts programs) or The Blank Theater (which runs a Young Playwrights Festival).

In addition to my volunteer work, I decided this year to donate a portion of my income to worthy charities. I mostly donate to animal organizations such as Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, and Gentle Barn, but I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked for suggestions. The response was tremendous. I felt inspired to rotate my donations amongst several suggested organizations. Here’s the list, the organization’s mission statement, and how you can help.

1. Downtown Women’s Center

Mission: Located in Downtown Los Angeles, this shelter offers housing, wellness programs, a local veternans program, education, and employment for homeless women.

Donate: Time, money, wishlist of goods

2. Bridge of Books Foundation

Mission: Provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.

Donate: Time, money, books, or run a book drive

3. Food on Foot

Mission: Since March of 1996, Food on Foot has operated as a volunteer-based, non-profit organization providing hot dinners, snacks (fresh fruit, carrots, granola bars and bread), and drinks (bottled water and milk) to as many as 200 homeless and poor individuals and families each week. During our weekly meal service each Sunday in Hollywood, we also distribute gently used clothing and other essentials.

Donate: Money or volunteer

4. Fugees Family

Mission: We provide refugee boys and girls, grades 6-12, with mentorship, structure, and support to help them succeed in soccer and academics.

Donate: To build a school or add to a scholarship fund

5. MyAgro

Mission: myAgro envisions moving a million small-scale farmers beyond subsistence farming and out of poverty by 2022 by creating a model in West Africa that other distribution networks around the world can integrate into their own program offerings.

Donate: Money or apply to the fellowship program

6. Fractured Atlas

Mission: Classics in Color focuses on producing vibrantly cast classic works for the stage, expanding the perception of classical theatre. As a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ensemble, Classics in Color embraces the theatre of inclusion, on stage and off, opening up and extending the understanding of classic tales, tales of the human experiences that touch us all: the depth of despair, the sensation of success, the heart-driven love, the beauty of forgiveness, and the need to belong.

Donate: Money or support a sponsored artist

7. Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches

Mission: Working within the Asian, Indian, Latino, and Black communities, A3M’s mission is to improve the health and welfare of all people by providing education and assistance while facilitating prompt access to potential marrow and blood cell donors.

Donate: Money or sign up to be a bone marrow donor (it’s a very simple swab!)

8. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Mission: The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

Donate: Money or volunteer

9. Project Sister

Mission: From volunteer Lauren Candia, “Project SISTER is a rape crisis center. They take calls with survivors and accompany them to the hospital, provide counseling services, accompany survivors to the court hearings, and they also have outreach and educational services.”

Donate: Volunteer or donate (scroll down through the home page and click on the DONATE button at the bottom)

10. Literacy Partners

Mission: We strengthen families by empowering parents through education. With our free classes, low-income parents gain the skills to create a better life for themselves while transferring important literacy skills to their children. Together, we can close the achievement gap before children even begin school.

Donate: Share a book that inspired you, money, or volunteer

11. AIDS Resource Foundation for Children

Mission: We help children and families who are impacted by HIV/AIDS or who have other serious medical conditions to be resilient and to build healthier futures.

Donate: Money, family goods, or volunteer