Author Archives: Charlene Oldham

When should freelancers turn down assignments?

When I started freelancing a few years ago, I hadn’t had a published clip in more than a decade. Eager to rebuild my portfolio, I spent the days I wasn’t teaching writing queries and letters of introduction and searching for new markets at my local library and bookstore. I have to admit I also watched a few episodes of “Ellen” during the day.

The occasional assignment provided a welcome break from that routine, not to mention an even-more-welcome check in the mail. In time, my portfolio grew, as did my list of clients. I also started seeking jobs through the online clearinghouse Elance. The site offers thousands of ads from people looking to hire freelancers for everything from writing to web design projects. And, though many jobs offer shockingly low rates, I’ve been lucky enough to find a few regular clients who’ve made signing up for the site worth it.

Today, I am in the enviable position of having as much work as I want, at least while trying to enjoy the summer schedule of a teacher who works during the academic year as both a freelancer and adjunct professor. After all, part-time professoring and doesn’t offer many bankable benefits, so summers off should be embraced and enjoyed.

In fact, I have been considering turning a few assignments down in recent weeks. With the beginning of the semester less than a month away, I have a couple of major deadlines and due dates for a few smaller assignments looming as well as a planned vacation to visit family.

So here are a few things I’ve been considering while weighing assignments and opportunities lately. Some questions are culled from my own experience while others come from freelancers who’ve proven it sometimes pays to say no.

1. What is the hourly rate? Freelancer Kelly James-Enger recommends looking at assignments with this question in mind rather than getting fixated on the rate per word an editor offers. Sure national magazines that pay $1 or more a word are attractive, but writers should consider the total time it takes to pitch, research, write and revise a piece that might not see print for months.

2. Is it interesting? Don’t get me wrong. I was a business reporter for a wire service at one point in my career, so I have penned many dry stories in my time. But now that I am a freelancer, I have more latitude to focus on stories and projects about health, wellness, education and other topics that make no mention of analysts’ estimates or earnings per share and take longer than 30 minutes to turn out.

3. Is it my area of expertise? I recently came across a couple of opportunities that, at first blush, seemed interesting. One was an ad for a freelance proofreader for the local alternative weekly. Although I am an experienced writer, I must say I am not the fastest or most-effective copy editor. The job also seemed better suited to a recent college graduate with an deeper inherent interest in reading about and attending concerts at dingy clubs that offer neither convenient seating nor an extensive selection of craft beers. The other was for a full-time magazine editorial position that required some television appearances. While my appetite said yes to this, my Arkansas accent logged a firm “Naaaw.”

What questions do you consider when weighing assignments? And how have you eventually learned to say no to new work?

 

Failed Queries: Take it from turtles and keep truckin’

Here is yet another entry in the Failed Queries category. Good thing I take the same approach as turtles. We may be turned away at times, but slow and steady really can win the race.

Dear Ms. Editor:

Turtles haven’t changed much in the last 210 million years, and their genes prove slow and steady sometimes wins the race when it comes to evolution.

“They may be slowly evolving, but turtles have developed an array of enviable features,” said Richard Wilson, director of Washington University’s Genome Institute and senior author of a recent study that analyzed the genome of the western painted turtle. “They resist growing old, can reproduce even at advanced ages, and their bodies can freeze solid, thaw and survive without damaging delicate organs and tissues. We can learn a lot from them.”

Turns out turtles are experts at activating genes many vertebrates – including humans — share, but don’t use, allowing them to survive for long periods of time without oxygen while hibernating in ice-covered ponds. Scientists are also studying the turtles’ genes for clues about why they live so much longer than most animals their size.

Would you be interested in a story that explains what the western painted turtle’s genes tell us about its unique abilities and addresses the question Can Turtles Someday Help Humans Live Longer or Survive Without Air?

As a former middle and high school teacher and experienced journalist, I feel I could do this in a way that would be both entertaining and interesting to your young readers. I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by magazines, books, newspapers and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, Organic Gardening, Poets & Writers, DRAFT Magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014 Songwriter’s Market, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, The FruitGuys Almanac and WOW! Women On Writing.

Please let me know if this idea is of interest and what angle you might like to take with a story so I can provide more details. Meanwhile I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples in case you would like to take a look.

Best,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

When Do I Get a Personal Assistant?

This week, I’m faced with the task of transcribing at least two interviews with executives in order to write profiles about them for an online magazine. I can say without qualification that transcribing recorded interviews is my least favorite aspect of freelance writing. In fact, I rarely record interviews, relying on real-time note taking unless I know I am writing a personality profile or anticipate the interview to be extremely technical or fast paced. One reason is that I am painfully slow at transcribing audio recordings. At best, I probably type 45 words a minute, and this rate probably slows to the single digits at times when I am stopping and starting a recording to catch that last few words that will make or break a quote.

This brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. In scheduling interviews with executives, I often deal with personal assistants. These people tend to be efficient, effective communicators who handle everything from booking appointments to maintaining meeting minutes. And I’m almost sure ever single one of them types faster than 45 words a minute.

So when do I get a personal assistant?

And I’m not talking about a souped-up smartphone that can cross-reference your calendar and transit schedules to immediately alert you about train delays  (creepy and cool in equal measures) or even a real person somewhere in the virtual world who promises to transcribe five, 10 or even 20 minutes of video or audio for the low, low rate of just $5 (as suspiciously priced as the $1.19 pineapples at ALDI). I’m talking about a real personal assistant who can solve problems and take on tasks I’m not great at or just don’t want to tackle.

Would a personal assistant increase my efficiency? I’m not sure. For all my grand plans, I might use the extra time to pet my cat or play a few extra games of Words With Friends. But I sure would love having the luxury of laziness or the promise of productivity ahead of me. And I promise I’d pay more than $5.

Which tasks do you outsource or wish you could? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

She's cute, but not a very good typist.

She’s cute, but not a very good typist.

Failed Query: Timely Research Can Kill a Query

This failed query illustrates the dangers of using research (in this case, a survey from November 2012) that may be considered time sensitive as the crux of a pitch to a monthly magazine that could have a six-month lead time.

Dear Ms. Editor:

A survey released in November shows an increasing number of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for American-made goods, even if those consumers call China home. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Chinese consumers said they are willing to pay more for products made in the U.S.A., and 80 percent of American consumers agreed according to recent research from The Boston Consulting Group. These taste trends and other factors lead BCG to estimate the U.S. could add 5 million new jobs in manufacturing and related services by the end of the decade.

Patriotism and cache aren’t the only factors behind those findings. Consumers who buy brands made in the U.S. know more about the wages and working conditions of the people who sew their clothes. And locally sourced clothing carries added benefits for the environment since it doesn’t have to be shipped as far from its factory to store shelves.

I would like to propose a story for XX that examines the resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. I could also provide readers with five to 10 brands that make fashion-forward clothes and accessories domestically. Some suggestions include Prairie Well, Barbara Lesser, School House and Red Ants Pants. I would be happy to provide a longer list of brands depending on what types of clothes you’d like to feature. I can also give you an idea of length, art and sidebars once you decide on a specific angle that best fits your needs.

As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, DRAFT Magazine, Poets & Writers and WOW! Women On Writing.

To avoid clogging your inbox with attachments, I have included a link to my resume. You can also find some writing samples at: http://charleneoldham.com/writing-samples/ should you be interested.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile