I have to say I am becoming more enamored with the idea of self-publication, especially when paired with publishing through more traditional routes to gain audience, credits, and (semi-)predictable pay. And that is exactly what Gretchen Roberts, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, and numerous other publications, is doing. Her new e-book, Full-Time Income in Part Time Hours, which gives the scoop on how she makes a decent (really) salary as a writer in just a few hours a day, is not only a great guide for the new or even seasoned freelancer but is also a great example in itself of how the contemporary writer can make a living without waiting on an editor.
Gretchen Roberts:About four years ago, I was listening to a recording of the American Society of Journalists and Authors “Six-Figure Freelancing” panel, in which writers who make at least $100,000 a year tell their secrets. The panel is immensely instructive, but the magic six-figure number doesn’t apply to me, as I work part time and intend to for several more years. I thought it would be nice if part-timers could have their own “how to succeed” panel, so I proposed one for the following year at ASJA. The panel was called Full-Time Income in Part-Time Hours. I conceived the idea, moderated the panel, and spoke as well. It was well-received, and I realized there are a lot of part-time writers out there who are serious about their work and don’t just regard it as grocery money.
Theo: What advice would you give to someone starting a career as a freelance writer?
Gretchen Roberts: I would say, at first, do what you can to get good experience, but don’t plan to stay there. Many beginning writers make the mistake of taking low-paying jobs to get experience, and never moving beyond them. Once you have the experience, look for something better. It’s important to believe in yourself.
Theo: Earn a FT salary working as a part-time salary? How is it possible?
Gretchen Roberts: Two words: maximum efficiency. Seriously, full-timers do plenty of fooling around and procrastinating, right? Imagine cutting out that part of your day and only sitting down at your desk to be productive. That’s what a full-time income in part-time hours looks like. Instead of putting in dead hours, you put in just what you need to and work really hard, and free up that procrastination time to have a life.
Theo: What are three time management tips that work for you?
- I never sit down to work without a plan. I generally have four-hour “shifts” in which to work, and experience has taught me how much I can get done in that time. Sometimes I don’t get through my list, but I try every single time.
- I try to check and respond to email, file stuff, shuffle papers, and other work that doesn’t require my creative best in the afternoon, when I am sluggish anyway. I save the mornings—when I’m sharp and do my best and most efficient writing—for the hard stuff (i.e. the actual writing).
- I specialize in wine, food, home, and garden, with the occasional foray outside of those niches. It’s easier to get repeat work when you’re a specialist, and I don’t have to spend a ton of time getting up to speed on the subject for each story. That means less time spent marketing and researching, and more time spent writing—the activity that produces the money.
Theo: How do you make a book into an e-book? And once it’s made how do you go about distributing the book?
Gretchen Roberts: I simply sat down and wrote it. Once the text was done, I hired a good copyeditor (www.sandrahume.com), which was a great investment. Then I sent the text version off to BookBaby.com, which for $99 turns it into Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook, and iPad/iPhone versions. Finally, I designed my own cover and the PDF version of the book, since I have former experience in newspaper special section layout. I created the book’s website and a Paypal button to buy the PDF version, and the others sell by themselves and BookBaby sends me the revenue. It’s actually a lot easier than I thought it would be, starting out.
Theo: Would you make another e-book and if so, is there anything you’d do differently next time?
Gretchen Roberts: Yes, I’d definitely do another one. I think an ebook is the perfect way to put old work out there. I used to write a simple living blog and I have a ton of content from that just sitting on my hard drive that I may turn into an ebook some day.
Usually I’m huge on evaluating processes and figuring out how to do them better, but I can’t think of anything specific I would do differently for my next ebook. Everything came together quite smoothly, and most importantly, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing something completely new and different. That’s really the way to grow as a writer.