Freelancer Q&A… Meet Catherine Bouris!

by Rachel Smith
22 March 2019

One of the things I love about Rachel’s List is that it brings freelancers of all experience levels together. And I get to meet so many interesting List members who are doing their own thing to help people connect in our ever-changing industry. Catherine Bouris is one of them. We spoke together on a MEAA webinar recently about freelancing, and she kindly let me sneak under the radar into her fabulous Young Australian Writers Facebook group (even though I am definitely on the wrong side of 40). Catherine, who’s recently moved to London, talks in the Q&A below about why she started freelancing, her favourite types of projects to work on, why she started her FB group and where she finds work.

What made you decide to become a freelancer?

I just kind of fell into freelancing after cutting my teeth blogging on Tumblr, and it ended up being a good way to build up my portfolio and get my name out there while studying. Now, I like freelancing because of the flexibility it affords, especially as I travel and try to move my entire life overseas.

What type of freelancing do you currently do and what route did you take to get there?

Primarily opinion and features, but for the past nine months, I was working as a casual for, covering news, politics, pop culture and social issues.

How has your freelance work changed over the years? What’s been the biggest surprise?

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve realised I prefer news and reporting over opinion writing, which was quite a surprise given opinion is what has given me the most opportunities this far.

Your Young Australian Writers (YAW) FB group has nearly 5000 members, which is great. Why did you start it?

There wasn’t really an online forum for young writers to learn about their rights, how to pitch and establish a name as a writer, and get feedback from other writers – the majority of these groups are location-based. I wrote about the first-person industrial complex for The Vocal (RIP), and since the site was all about providing solutions, my editor Sheree Joseph and I decided that creating a Facebook group would be a tangible way to help young writers gain the knowledge they need to avoid being taken advantage of.

It’s such a fantastic resource – how much work do you put into it and what does it offer for writers?

Thank you so much! At this point it’s pretty self-sustaining, which is great. I have a team of about ten moderators who help me approve all membership requests and posts, and help me keep an eye on discussions so they don’t veer off-topic. At the beginning, I was putting a lot more work into it – creating various spreadsheets and lists of resources, but now I just update those whenever I need to, so it’s not much work at all. The most time-consuming aspect is fielding private requests from members who don’t feel comfortable posting in the group for whatever reason – I get several of those a week.

I think it offers writers a space to learn about their rights and issues in the media industry in an accessible way, as well as learn about opportunities they might not have known about otherwise.

What do you enjoy about being connected to so many writers starting out? Why is this kind of networking so essential in our industry?

Media is very much about who you know, so if you have an existing relationship with an editor, that can make pitching a lot less stressful. I enjoy having a lot of connections in the industry as it makes it easy to help other writers who come to me for advice – if they ask a question about a specific outlet, I can usually ask someone with more knowledge for advice, or point them in the right direction.

Where do you think the industry is headed? What have you done (or what do you do) to adapt to changes in the industry?

I think that for better or worse, freelancing and casual positions are the future of the industry, particularly as paid internships and cadetships continue to disappear, making freelancing one of the only ways people can gain access to the industry without resorting to unpaid internships and work. I try to ensure members of YAW know their rights when it comes to internships as they’re so common now – I should set the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website as my homepage at this point!

What’s your favourite kind of writing to do / project to work on?

Pop culture/entertainment reporting and critique – it gives me an opportunity to put my extensive and largely useless pop culture knowledge to use!

How do you generally find clients to work with (or do they find you)?

Before becoming a casual at GOAT, I would mostly pitch to editors, although I have been approached before and asked to turn tweets into op-eds. So if there’s a social platform I’ve found most useful getting work, it would be Twitter.

What’s your ‘writing ritual’? Which location do you work from mainly? What’s a typical work week look like for you?

My bedroom. A typical work week is me reading/sleeping/being lazy for half the week and working the other half, but now that I’m back to proper freelancing and in London, I’m sure that will change, and I’ll actually have to work harder and for more hours. Eep!

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a freelancer?

Figuring out personal finances/superannuation/taxes, for sure. But using Rounded has helped me significantly (not spon con, I promise!)

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started working for yourself? And what would be the two tips you’d pass on to those starting out?

I’ve learned to not be scared of pitching, because the worst that can happen is rejection, and as a freelance writer, you really need to get used to rejection. That sounds so harsh, but you can’t win ‘em all.

So my advice to those starting out would be to not be so scared of putting yourselves out there – people feeling anxious about pitching is a recurring theme in YAW – and just go for it. And try and make genuine connections with other writers and editors.

What are the three top tools you can’t live without?

Rounded, Facebook (unfortunately) and my phone.

What are your career highlights? Where has your ‘job’ taken you?

Being able to save enough money to move overseas has been a highlight. 2018 was the first time I had any sort of somewhat-steady work after years of studying, relying on Centrelink, and looking after my Mum, and it was such a huge relief to not have to worry about money. So to answer the second question, I guess this job has technically taken me to London, which is exciting!

What’s the story / piece of work you’re most proud of?

Probably the piece I did on unpaid internships for The Saturday Paper. It’s an issue I’m particularly passionate about, and being published in The Saturday Paper was particularly exciting.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me means being comfortable and content, I guess? As well as using my platform for good. I’m only 25, I haven’t thought about it that much! I’m not sure that I’m successful just yet, but networking and making friends in the industry has helped me a lot.

What are your goals for 2019?

Earn enough to stay afloat and not go broke because of the exchange rate, survive Brexit and write for some UK outlets.

Want to know more about Catherine? Here’s her bio.

I’m a freelance journalist focusing on news, opinion, politics, lifestyle, pop culture and social issues. I’ve written for regularly, and have also written for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Saturday Paper, Overland Literary Journal, Junkee, and Archer Magazine. I also run the Young Australian Writers Facebook group! You can find me on my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith

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