Freelance Secret #5: The Publications You’ve Never Heard of Are the Ones that Pay the Most
By Calvin Hennick
I have a friend who used to be a model. Like many in the industry, she quickly found herself deeply in debt to her agency, forced to use her meager earnings to repay plane tickets and rents in expensive cities like New York and Paris – the places she needed to be in order to get hired by the biggest magazines and labels in fashion. Basically, she went broke chasing the glamour gigs.
Meanwhile, she knew of at least one model who was doing quite well: an elderly lady who booked lots of humdrum catalogue work.
If you want to make good money as a freelance writer, I suggest making that elderly catalogue model your personal hero.
Glossy national magazines are “glamour gigs” for writers. Sure, they pay, but much of the appeal comes from the resume boost they provide, and the ability to tell everyone you went to high school with that you now write for Cosmo or The New Yorker. You want to write for them because everyone wants to write for them, and because of that, they’re as hard to break into as a bank vault.
The good news, for prospective freelance writers, is that there are plenty of “catalogue” gigs – unglamorous work that’s easier to book and pays the bills.
I don’t literally mean writing for catalogues (although I’ve never tried it – perhaps it’s lucrative!). I mean writing for clients you’ve never heard of, but who are willing to pay a premium for clean copy.
When I first moved to Boston, I was super excited to get a byline in the Phoenix (may it rest it peace). The paper was one of the best-known outlets in New England, and I hoped my article would help open doors. It paid $60. Since then, I’ve picked up semi-regular work at a smaller magazine that’s only published in a couple of suburbs. It doesn’t have as big of a “name” as the Phoenix did, but it pays more than ten times as much.
Right now, my lowest-paying client is the digital version of a famous men’s magazine that used to publish Hemingway. My highest-paying client? The in-house magazine for a nonprofit group. (The story I’m working on right now for them is actually really fascinating. You’re just unlikely to see it on a newsstand.)
In my own business, most of these “catalogue”-type gigs are custom publications (magazines put out by companies, pretty much just so they have someplace to run their advertisements), institutional publications (put out by nonprofit organizations and the like), and company websites that run custom articles and blog posts of interest to their customers.
Writing for these types of clients doesn’t mean you can’t write about things that interest you. Sure, I’ve cashed checks for stories about direct mail and the security features of cloud-based file-sharing websites, and I can’t say either of those are my life’s passion. But I’ve also gotten the chance to learn and write about futuristic technologies, new trends in education, and other topics that interest me.
If your dream is to write for big national magazines, don’t give up on that. Keep working on your craft, and keep pitching. But in the meantime, seek out some publications you’ve never heard of. They just might pay as much as The New Yorker.
Calvin Hennick’s travel writing has been published in The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Club Traveler, Budget Travel, SmarterTravel.com, Yahoo Travel, Northshore, WestJet, Cape Cod Travel Guide, and elsewhere. Recent assignments have taken him to Costa Rica, Tuscany, Iceland, Barbados, and Curacao. He prefers aisle seatsSee other articles by Calvin Hennick