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The freelancer’s survival guide

22 Feb

Journalist Frieda Klotz shares six not-so-secrets for success

By Amy Schroeder

You’d think that a University of Oxford education and a prestigious position as an ancient Greek literature lecturer would keep someone on a path as a lifelong academic.  

Though that was Dr. Frieda Klotz’s life at age 29, the native Irishwoman left her job at King’s College in London to embark on a “freer life” in New York. In 2008, Klotz accepted a scholarship to New York University’s journalism school with the goal of becoming a freelance journalist.

“I wanted to do something that wasn’t focused on one topic,” she says. “My first experience as a journalist was covering Skin Two Expo in 2007. I interviewed a guy wearing a tutu and a cast on his leg. I realized being a journalist was not work in the traditional sense, and I loved it.”

Fast-forward a few years, and Klotz has attained her goal. As a U.S. citizen, she is able to earn a living stateside as a freelance culture and lifestyle reporter for publications including the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times, Salon.com, the Irish Times, and the Irish Sunday Independent.

Some of her favorite pieces to produce include the controversial “Two Men and a Baby,” about a gay Irish couple who had an American woman act as a surrogate mother for their child, “Irish prose through a cracked lookingglass” in the Independent, and a review of a book of conversations with Seamus Heaney for Prospect Magazine .

Here, Klotz shares her tips for a successful freelance career.

1. Work for people who pay properly and on time.

Klotz prioritizes high-paying assignments. “If an article covers my rent, I consider that being paid well,” Klotz says. “I have a friend who writes for Cell magazine, and he gets paid something like $5 per word.”

As for unpaid and underpaid opportunities, Klotz says they’re OK so long as they make strategic sense. For example, when Klotz was cutting her chops as a writer, she interned for the Erotic Review in England for three weeks—and the experience quickly led to paying assignments.

2. Work for people who provide feedback.

Granted, it may be difficult for deadline-pressed editors to provide detailed critiques, communication is key to a strong editor-freelancer relationship. “Good feedback builds up my loyalty to a publication,” Klotz says.

3. Work in attractive places.

A clean, well-lit location boosts creativity and productivity. Klotz’s favorites are the Schwarzman Building at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn coffee shops Glass Shop and Sit and Wonder.

4. Stick to a routine.

Whether you prefer to work in the wee hours of the morning or find that you’re most creative following an afternoon nap, create a system of regularity. “A routine will minimize stress and help you avoid freelance madness,” says Klotz, who works from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

5. Work on topics you care about.

If a job challenges your morals in some way, turn it down. “It might seem painful to lose a payment, but it’s worth it in the long run, because you live or die by what’s attached to your name,” Klotz says. “And a joy of freelancing is that you’re free.”

6. Collaborate.

It’s fun to work with people, right? Plus, you never know what brave new idea, contact, or experience might arise when you work with fellow creatives.

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