Earlier this summer I was at a party, talking to perhaps the only other non-science person there. He was a freelance graphic artist, someone I worked with many years ago. One of the things we talked about was how tough freelancing can be. He said that others don't realize that you have to take what you can get, that this isn't a career where you have the luxury to say no to assignments.
I used to agree with that. Then I began to pay attention to what my more experienced (and sometimes wiser) co-horts say: The time you spend on jobs that suck up a lot of time for little pay is time you lose to pursue better paying jobs.
At first I thought, well, at least I'm still earning money. That's better than not earning money. And I took everything that came my way.
Last fall, I had an assignment that I knew could be a long-term steady assignment. The first piece I did was quick and easy and an incredible per hour rate. The second piece was ridiculous in both the amount of work required and the way they tried to change the payment offer. When they asked me about doing an assignment for the next issue, I looked at my calendar and saw all the empty spaces. I remembered my frustration and how much I bitched to my friends and family. I took a deep breath and said, "No thanks."
And started to worry about what I did.
Except, a few days later, I stumbled across an email from a friend who said an editor was looking for writers. I originally ignored the note because I was in the midst of this hellish piece and didn' t have time to pursue this one. This day, though, I sent a letter of introduction. He said to call him. I did so. He said I'd have an assignment right after the new year. Sure enough, I got the assignment, and have been getting assignments ever since. The per hour rate is phenomenal.
I shut a door on one low-paying assignment. And it gave me time to pursue a higher paying assignment.
I got a little bolder. When one of my editors began changing the deadline dates and the article lengths of a monthly feature, without adjusting the pay, I said, no, this is eating up my time. I can do better. I dropped the column. A week or two later, I found a nice replacement -- less work, fewer words, triple the income. The time I would have spent researching and writing that column I spent marketing.
Now I am a little pickier about my client list. But it isn't always easy. September has been a very slow month. I was offered a low-paying, quick-turnaround assignment the other day, one I know I wouldn't have enjoyed, and I almost accepted it. But then I thought no, I'd rather spend that time on other things, like working on my website and marketing. Two days later, I got an email from another editor with a fantastic, quick-turnaround assignment offer, and I snapped it up.
So I disagree with my freelance artist friend. Saying no is a luxury we do have, and sometimes it is the best thing we can do for our career.