Writing yourself out of a hole

Ghost-writing

If you don’t mind writing without seeing your byline, ghost-writing can be lucrative. Rachel Newcombe has freelanced full time for eight years and has always pursued other sidelines, including proofreading and also ghost-writing books. She rarely has to look for work and ended up ghost-writing by chance.

‘It’s not something I was actively seeking to do, but it has been really enjoyable. One project involved ghost-writing and editing a non-fiction health book and was a massive job, but very interesting,’says Newcombe. What does she recommend budding ghostwriters do? ‘Let publishers know you are a ghost-writer, you’re available for work and the type of work you do. Cold-calling or emailing them would definitely be a good idea.”

Proofreading

Sticklers for grammar and typos can try proofreading. It’s not easy and attending a reputable course helps. Sally Whittle has been freelancing for seven years and proofreading was part of her Postgraduate Diploma in Periodical Journalism at City University. How does she get the work?

‘Sometimes I respond to job ads. There will usually be a proofing test and if you pass you get the work,’she says. ‘I also got my main client – the BBC – when a PR who had attended a training course I ran on proofing moved to the BBC and hired me to do proofing for her department.”

Her advice is to make sure you are ‘able to proof at least 10 pages an hour without making mistakes, or the money won’t be worth it”. She also recommends advertising yourself on websites and applying for positions.

Copywriting

Copywriting is competitive but pays well. Whittle, whose clients include Microsoft, says: ‘You need to be able to follow complex arguments and turn the information into something interesting, that also aligns with the client’s marketing messages. You also need patience – copywriting gigs tend to go through very long and tortuous approval processes so a contract can drag on for months.”

She reckons that PR agencies, rather than clients, commission 90 per cent of copywriting jobs and recommends contacting agencies direct to get yourself known. ‘Then it’s about word of mouth. The PR industry is very mobile, people change jobs and clients frequently, so one job tends to lead to another.”

Corporate writing

If you can handle annual reports, sales material or web content then corporate writing is worth pursuing. Former Reuters journalist John Sanders got into corporate writing soon after going freelance 10 years ago.

Sanders has one clear advantage – he specialises in insurance and business writing and has never had to seek out work.

‘The corporate side often comes through writing the features. People know I specialise in these areas so they ring me up and say ‘We like what you do. Do you ever do any corporate writing?’ Very often it involves me talking to some of their senior people then writing an article, report or a case study,’says Sanders.

His advice is to specialise in an area, become an expert and get known to the people in that area. In particular, companies want someone who understands their jargon and ‘can put whatever they want written into a broader context”.

Training

If you enjoy teaching others, media training for PRs is another option. Guy Clapperton went into media training by chance after a PR person asked if he offered media training in 2002.

‘I thought surely I can just tell them what we do, why we ask certain questions, what we’re actually after, and I found that the person I trained was delighted with the results.’

Clapperton is marketing his media training through his website and though it is an erratic income, he says it can be quite profitable.

Apart from using your website as a marketing tool he advises letting your PR contacts know that you are offering media training.

Helen Kaut is a freelance

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