Welcome to the Dream of Travel Writing–the Monday Mailbag! We often get questions from readers, folks in our accountability group, or coaching program members that we think would apply to a lot of you.
Now, with permission, agony-aunt-style, we’ll be sharing a new one with you each Monday. If you have a question you’d like to see included, please send it to us at questions [at] dreamoftravelwriting.com and make sure to include a line saying we have permission to reprint your question.
On to the tricky travel writing questions!
All good things come to an end. Right?
Or at least that’s how the saying goes. The key to success and sanity as a freelance travel writer is to learn to become aware of exactly when your goals and needs and those of your client diverge so you can allow things to end with an Instagram-worthy sunset rather than a monsoon of B.S.
When we do our Freelance Travel Writing Master Classes around the world, there are often many come to Jesus moments (often in the same person!) as we talk about the hourly rate you really need to be working at to achieve the financial goals that make freelancing make sense for you along with how your current clients match up to that.
We typically spend the later part of the workshop talking about how to tell the clients that are never going to get you where you want to go that it’s time for them to shape up or ship out.
For today’s mailbag, we have a similar situation, except one that has already reached the relationship downward spiral.
I’ll be sharing a very in-depth post soon on how client relationships progress over time and how to see the exact moment when the end comes up on the horizon (before it blindsides you), but for today, this freelancer has kindly shared a lot of detail about her situation, so I’ll let her walk through it for you in here own words:
“Here’s my situation. I’ve been a regular contributor to a family travel outlet for three years now. They’ve loved and praised my articles and said that I’m ‘one of [their] best writers,’ because I submit thoroughly researched articles that need very little editing or rewriting. Just in the last year, two of them were picked up and syndicated by the Huffington Post, bringing them a lot of online traffic and attention.
I thought our relationship was great.
Not long ago, they asked if I’d be willing to write an article interviewing five mommy bloggers about their airline experiences and recommendations. I said yes, and then it got weird.
Getting information from them about the deadline, length, and sources was impossible. On my third email to the editor, saying that I couldn’t get the work done by the deadline unless she gave me the guidelines, she flipped out. She was angry that I had requested more information, angry that I had asked for a quick reply, and angry about the fee (which was the same usual, very weird).
She even suggested I look at other outlets. She said she would give the assignment to someone else. But I don’t think the article ever came out.
My reply was polite, since I realize her stress level and anger were probably the result of some other circumstance out of my control. She was having a really bad day.
I handled it professionally, but now I’m not at all sure what to do next.
We had another article in the works which I was very much looking forward to, but I’ve had nothing but static from her since this exchange.
Since it hadn’t been assigned a deadline yet, and she’s not responding, perhaps I should just drop it? Or should I try to repair the relationship. And how in the world would I do that? Perhaps just give it time?
I’ve greatly enjoyed writing for this outlet, but the pay is the WORST of all my clients. My usual rate for articles of this type is between $150 and $450. This particular outlet, though, only pays $75, and they are the most research-heavy and strict on keyword phrases. I’ve stuck with it this long because I get great travel perks for my family when I mention I write for them, which are often worth much more than the pay.
So, advise me. Should I just seek out a replacement? Should I wait it out? Should I walk away? What would you do?“
I’m sure different things jump out to you dear readers reading the above: sympathy, commiseration, concern that she’s going through all of this for such low-paying pieces, or something else entirely.
To begin, I want to address the pay issue.
A tour guide company employee in New York once told me that he knows guides that “won’t even get out of bed” for less than $150 an hour. These guides are freelancers and work with many different tour companies, and they know that if they take a gig for lower than the rate they need, there is a major opportunity cost.
On the one hand, they might simply be busy when a better-paying gig comes in. But there are also the concerns of energy level (wasted walking around and leading a group for a lower rate causing a less fully-charged performance for a group with deeper pockets) and voice expenditure (you can only shout over the sounds of honking taxi horns for so many hours a week).
In this case, I wouldn’t even “get out of bed” so to speak–though I think it’s meant literally in the case of the guides–for $75 with a client that needs this much back and forth.
What I mean by that is that the amount of time this freelancer is spending on emails with this client is worth $75 at least on its own; forget about the time researching and writing the actual article.
Now, I know many of you that hold on to these types of clients because of one particular thing this freelancer mentioned:
“I’ve stuck with it this long because I get great travel perks for my family when I mention I write for them, which are often worth much more than the pay.”
“Travel perks” that allow you to do the research to get the story assigned to you are business expenses–either you pay them or the client does–and many clients these days prefer you to trade on their name to get “free” things rather than simply paying for your expenses.
But you’re get the same “perks” writing for outlets that pay real rates. Probably better ones, or an easier time getting them, as sites and magazines that pay more are inherently more professional, because they have the wherewithall the manage their budgets and income better to pay their freelancers real rates.
So, on the one hand, I think this freelancer should drop this client immediately because of the pay and pursue better options. But let’s turn to the business at hand in the immediate future: the non-responsive editor and the assignments currently pending.
If an editor has assigned something and isn’t getting back to you after multiple emails (especially after hostile exchanges), the editor is sending a clear message: he or she doesn’t have the time or interest for this affair. So you shouldn’t either.
Take the pieces elsewhere. Let the editor know you’ve moved on. And make sure to actually move on.
(It’s very freeing. I promise!)