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Are you taking things too personally as a freelancer?

by Leo Wiles
27 July 2018

Working from home can be destabilising.  Not just for the lack of office banter and Friday night drinks, but the reality that you are, quite rightly, expendable. Taking things too personally as a freelancer can become all too easy – and suddenly you’re doubting your abilities and starting to think working in a fast food chain may be more rewarding.

The solution, I think, comes down to learning how to nip those insecurities in the bud – especially if you really want a freelance career with longevity (and decent mental health to boot).

It’s also about realising that while you have expectations of how people in business should behave, yours aren’t being met for a multitude of unseen unspoken reasons. Maybe instead of the seasoned hack you used to write for, your editor is now a cut-price twenty-something who rarely answers emails or gives any direction. Or perhaps your in-house contact is on a training day, stuck in meetings, at home with a sick child or simply spinning so many plates that you’re not on their radar right now.

In reality their busy-ness is the reason your business exists, because they’re too busy to craft the piece themselves.

So say it with me: Thou Shall Not Take it Personally when…

… your pitch is rejected.

Pitch rejection is part of being a freelance writer.  Perhaps they ran a similar story recently, don’t have the budget or simply they’ve had a change of staff and therefore the title’s voice or section has changed. The disappointment is real, but instead of spiralling, take a break: a walk in the fresh air, a gym workout or a drink with a friend can all help restore your equilibrium.

… your editor or client won’t answer your calls.

Blocking social media devices and letting voicemail pick up is one of the few ways we have to protect our time (as freelancers or employers!).  Let’s face it: if we answered every email or call immediately, we’d never get anything done – so why do we expect in-house people to act differently? They are just as entitled to maximise their output as we are.

… there’s zero feedback about your work.

Sure, it would be lovely if a commissioning editor rang and waxed lyrical about the wonderful syntax or incredible depth you plumbed out of your interviewee. Or if a client sent through a banging testimonial about your sparkling copy. But in all likelihood though they simply do not have the time so (harsh as it sounds), grow up and move on.

… they don’t respond in a timely manner.

Responding fast is paramount for freelancers answering a quote request or editorial changes.  However, for the client you are working on their dime and therefore their time. While this is frustrating, it’s important to step back and ask yourself if you’re being realistic. Sure, you may be snowed with those four articles due – but if your commissioning ed has 26 hard copy pages to fill each week and is in charge of multiple social media platforms, it’s hardly surprising that your missive has taken a backseat.

… they change your copy in ways you don’t like.

In an ideal world, every piece we ever penned would appear as we wrote. And it sucks seeing your final story appear in print or online with cringeworthy changes. I’d warrant most freelancers have been there.  The reality, though, is that once you have delivered the feature it no longer belongs to you. Your piece may go through various editors itching to put their own stamp on it. It may be checked and changed by a client or PR. Or slashed due to sudden space restrictions. Hard as it is, once you press send on your copy, you’ve got to let it go (and if you’re really mad, ask that your byline is taken off it).

Are you guilty of taking things too personally as a freelancer? How do you guard against going down that rabbit hole?

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

5 responses on "Are you taking things too personally as a freelancer?"

  1. Petra O'Neill says:

    I can deal with pitch rejection – it’s hard, but at least you have an outcome and can move forward, working your way down a list of possibilities. But what I struggle with is getting no response at all, and when you follow up being told no – liked the pitch but don’t like your attitude or thanks, but no thanks. I think we all recognise the position of vulnerability we are in. Some editors generally reject my work but let me know in a very kind way and I can’t thank them enough for it.

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    Seriously, an editor has said to you they like the pitch but don’t like your attitude?! Because you followed up? OMG.

  3. Tim Richards says:

    All fair points. The only time I get really annoyed with an editor is when he/she has shown interest in a pitch and has asked me to refine it, we’ve traded several emails about the idea and then… zero. Radio silence. So unprofessional.

  4. John says:

    The lack of response is what I still have issues with. In recent months, I have had one editor enthusiastically commission me during a meeting for four new features but asked me to flesh out the ideas – and then refused to respond to even one follow-up email, phone call or SMS. For months. This is someone I had worked with for 15 years – and yet I was greeted with radio silence. Another editor was sitting on four months of unpaid invoices, and would not respond to my repeated queries of when I was to get paid. It was only when I issued an ultimatum that there would be no new stories for the next issues until I was paid that I was granted a response. I had worked with this editor for 18 years.
    Another editor asked me to get some inside details on a particular story, and I used my contacts to get all the details and sent them through. And then checked they were received, and then checked again and then checked again. Nothing.
    Having been an editor, I know what it is like to be busy and to deal with all the people the job necessitates. But this situation of basic communication is getting worse, not better. And it makes the job far more difficult than it needs to be.

  5. Robin says:

    I’ve been freelancing for nearly 10 years and I’ve noticed a marked change in how people communicate.
    I’ve experienced all of the above, but what I’d add is that people also just seem to expect that I will be okay with being treated like fodder, a number or even an irrelevancy.
    There have been a few times lately when I’ve been sorely tested to let someone know I think they’re a rude, self-involved so and so, but I just move on.
    Overall, I appreciate my long-term contacts and people I’ve worked for for several years but I think it’s getting worse.
    I’d love to see how these people would feel if the shoe was on the other foot.

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