This week we were lucky enough to have some time to speak with freelance writer Pam Baker. Pam told us about her job, Twitter, and how to have a successful relationship with a freelance writer. For more information on Pam you can go to her website, or follow her on Twitter: bakercom1.
RaceTalk: What’s your favorite part about being a freelance writer?
Pam Baker: I get to choose the stories I want to write. Editors pitch me on stories, and I pitch them, but ultimately it is my choice as to which stories I actually write. This means I’m always working on a story that is truly interesting to me, I’m never stuck on a single beat, and I’m not mired down in newsroom bureaucracies.
Plus, I own my schedule! The workday is totally under my control. The freedom is exhilarating and the work is always interesting and challenging. That’s a perfect combo for me.
RT: Are there any particular topics that you especially enjoy writing about?
PB: Actually, I get bored with staying on a single beat, something I refer to as a “brain-rut,” so I like to write about an eclectic mix of topics. You are just as likely to find my byline on lifestyle and travel stories as you are on tech, business and finance stories. What I most enjoy is writing “big picture” stories — articles that expose what this narrow topic means in the scope of the bigger human or industry story. I find such stories more meaningful and challenging.
RT: You’ve been very active on Twitter, and seem to have gotten a lot of great sources for your stories there. How useful has it been for you?
PB: Oh, yes, I love Twitter. It gives me many advantages as a writer. For one, I can see which topics people are most interested in and that cues me to story ideas. Secondly, it is an ideal way of finding new sources for my articles. By reading Tweets and Tweet history, I get a good feel for the person’s knowledge and interest in any given topic. I can also tweet that I’m looking for a source and my DM box will then fill up fast with suggestions. This is very handy when I’m working multiple deadlines. To date, I have used 49 sources I found among my Twitter followers in various articles.
Last but certainly not least, PR people can see what I’m working on and better target their pitches to me — that is incredibly efficient for me, the PR pros and their clients. I move fast and write a huge volume of stories, so I don’t have time to hear very many pitches outside my current story focus. This has to be as frustrating to PR pros as it is to me. Twitter is the only real-time tool I’ve found that solves the problem for both sides. I always have time to read a tweet — so pitch me in a tweet! But don’t give too many details in the tweet because I look for stories I’ll be first or exclusively reporting. If I like your tweet, I’ll DM you my email and we’ll discuss it further privately. If you have a really hot story — DM me pronto rather than tweet.
Forget what you learned in PR school when it comes to working with me and other freelancers like me. Remember, media is cutting staff drastically everyday, so you will be working with more and more freelancers over time. In my case, my body of work is so huge and diversified, it isn’t practical for PR people to track it all. Even my own web site doesn’t contain all my work. Nor will it do you any good to pitch me on a story I’ve already done and not necessarily prone to cover further since I don’t work a definite beat. So while it will help you to look over my web site to understand my style and voice, and maybe a few of the 200 or so publications I write for, your best bet is to tweet your pitch to me and respond to my HARO requests.
RT: How many stories do you usually work on each day or week?
PB: Freelance writing is a business so I focus on earnings rather than story count. I have a $1000 a day earning minimum which means I make sure I write enough to earn at least $1000 every single work day. Because rates paid to freelancers vary, some weeks a single article may meet my goal, other weeks I can turn as many as 15 articles. I write feature articles and cover stories — not straight news pieces — so it’s not really workable to do more than 15 in a single week because quality would suffer. I also write white papers, web content, speeches, and business plans so those assignments affect the number of feature articles and cover stories I do in any given week.
RT: Is there a topic that you’ve been itching to cover?
PB: Not really, no. As a freelancer I can scratch any itch any time — that’s the beauty of freelancing.
RT: What advice do you have for PR people looking to work with freelance writers?
PB: First, understand the power and force of freelancers. Never treat a freelancer differently than a staff writer, especially now. In this economy, all those newly unemployed staffers are quickly turning into freelancers (but mostly against their will). They will return as staffers and editors when the economy gets better. Tick them off at your own — and your clients — peril.
I’ve been a freelancer for more years than I care to admit, so I have no problem with PR people respecting me– most PR firms are very familiar with me already and everybody from Bacon’s to Daylife tracks at least some of my work. But newly laid-off staffers, aka freelancers, complain to me everyday that they have trouble getting PR people to even return their calls. That’s a huge mistake. When you disrespect them, they feel like you kicked them when they were down. They’ll never forget that.
Second, don’t worry about which publication a freelancer might write your story for; instead, focus on the power and draw of the story itself. The freelancer will sell it to the highest paying publication the story fits — which is also the publication with the highest number of readers which, in turn, benefits you and your client. Focus on the story you are pitching and let the freelancer bump the story to the highest audience they can reach. It’s also common for a freelancer to write multiple angles on your story and then sell it to multiple publications which means you can end up with more coverage than you would with a staffer.