How to Be a Full-Time Freelance Writer: An Interview with Laura Hooper Beck

Laura Hooper Beck is one of the funniest writers I know (and I live with a TV comedy writer). She’s smart, sassy, and honest. When I first read her “Ask Laura” column in VegNews magazine, before I even started working there, I looked forward to reading it every issue. Fast forward to present day, I am working at my dream job AND working alongside Laura, who is Editor-at-Large at VegNews. Plus, I found out that Laura and I are both NYU alum from Tisch School of the Arts, so we know nothing about sports and everything about TV shows. Go Violets!

Laura is also a successful blogger at Vegansaurus, the web mistress behind VegWeb.com, and a freelance writer for The Huffington Post, 7×7 magazine, SF Weekly, SFist, San Francisco Magazine, SF Appeal, The Bold Italic, and others. Girl has got it going on.

So I asked Laura to share the secrets behind her success and dish about her favorite vegan meals. Enjoy!

Q: You have a fascinating story of how you got your start in freelance writing. Please share.
A: In 2005, I was working at a kind-of soul sucking job, and used to write Yelp reviews for fun. Yelp introduced this feature where you could “fan” people, and I started accumulating a lot of fans, and became the “mostpopular” person on the site, which was kinda awesome because all of my self-esteem was being stomped into the ground every day at work. At least people on the internet liked me! And that’s what really matters, right? I thought it was pretty cool that an opinionated vegan could be the most popular person on this site that was mostly meat mouths. So THEN, Yelp started bitching about my reviews having too many swears and other stupid infractions, which is totally fine because it’s a privately owned website and they can do what they want, and so I started a local vegan blog, Vegansaurus, to take the show on the road. Then, from there, I met other local bloggers, writers, editors, and a bunch of jobs came my way. I feel super lucky that I’m able to make a living this way, and I’m still very grateful to Yelp, even though it’s pretty much unusable these days and every review starts with, “I wanted to like/hate this place, BUT…”

Q: What tips would you give to freelance writers who want to be writers full-time?
A: You gotta hustle! I know you know, freelancing is not about laying around naked eating bonbons, although that is always my end goal. It’s near constant pitching, writing, or editing, and on top of that, you have to network so that you can find future jobs. As gross as it is, like most things, little of it is based on actual ability, it’s just about who you know. Find out if there’s local networking events or readings, and go to them to get to know other people who are living your life! Strength in numbers! If there’s a writer you admire, send them an email and ask some questions, and maybe they’ll offer contacts right away? People who are stingy with that shit are stupid because if you’re right for the job, you’ll get it. If not, might as well let someone else take a stab at it. Oh, and look up to see how to pitch publications you’re interested in, lots of people get jobs from doing that, just make sure your pitches are professional. Almost every editor I know is looking for new writers and new voices, so put yourself out there!

Q: You’re a passionate vegan and you write a hysterical advice column in VegNews (I seriously can’t stop laughing when I’m reading it). What would you tell someone who says, “I would love to go vegan, but it seems so hard.”
A: Thanks! That’s super nice of you to say! It’s all the good editing, though! Love that VegNews crew! OK, so, I guess I’d say that being vegan is an exciting ethical opportunity that many of us (not all of us!) have the ability to act on, so why not do it? Like, I loved eating dead animals, I did, I used to break open chicken bones and suck out the marrow. I was hardcore. I was like, the white friend at dim sum who WENT THERE. I’d eat ANYTHING. But when I learned how that stuff got to the table? It’s so freaking gross! It’s the GROSSEST and the SADDEST and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it, especially when there are so many great vegan meats and vegan foods, in general. Also, I’ll say, my palette has grown so much since becoming vegan. I try foods I never thought I’d try, and just the other day I actually MADE injera. Bam!

Q: You run a successful vegan group community blog. How did you start Vegansaurus and what would tell would-be bloggers who want to get started but are scared to jump in?
A: Just do it! You can even just start with just you and then get new writers from commenters. One of our most prolific, best, funniest, greatest bloggers on Vegansaurus was a commenter back in the beginning. I don’t really know anything about anything, this is just my guess, but I think the thing to having a successful(ish) blog is consistency. Like, don’t give up after a few months if nobody is reading, they will come! And comment on other blogs, offer to do guest posts on more popular blogs, be active on Facebook and Twitter, and it’ll happen. It’s just a commitment, and I’m not sure the commitment is for lots of people, because they have lives they enjoy.

Q: OK, now we’re getting to the tough stuff. What’s your absolute favorite vegan meal of all time?
A:Ugh. Can I choose a few?? Thanks, Jenn! Veggie Combo at Cafe Colucci in Berkeley, anything at Saha in San Francisco (as long as the fried avocado salad is included!), the reuben from Locali in Los Angeles, and a mega feast at the Veggie Dim Sum House in NYC.

Special thanks to Laura for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Got more questions for Laura? Post them and maybe if you buy her dinner at Cafe Colucci, she’ll answer them.

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