An Interview with Nancy Hendrickson
Since becoming a freelancer, NANCY HENDRICKSON has published more than one thousand features, shorts and newsletter columns in national and regional magazines and on the Web. Nancy is a full-time freelancer, living in San Diego. She specializes in computer, genealogy and history writing.
[ BK ]: What kind of job/s (or career) did you do before you became a full-time writer? Did any of these jobs contribute to your success as a freelance writer?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: I've worked at a variety of jobs, including supervising in a tree nursery, driving a school bus, working in retail and medical insurance. However, for the last several years before I went full-time as a freelancer, I transcribed medical reports. The jobs, themselves, didn't contribute directly to my freelance success, however they helped me realize what a diversity of interests I have--and how much I'd enjoy writing about many, many topics. Also, because I was self-employed during my medical-job related years, it taught me to discipline myself, to set a work structure and work goals--it also helped me develop a solid business background, which is invaluable as a freelancer.
[ BK ]: Many aspiring writers dream about freelancing full-time. You're living this dream. What are some myths and truths about freelancing full-time? Is it as glorious and rewarding as it may seem?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: Yes, absolutely! I get up in the morning and (unless I have an early interview scheduled), I walk to one of my neighborhood coffee houses for an unhurried morning brew. I then work solidly til about noon, and then take a couple of hours off for lunch, then work til later in the afternoon.
Recently, I packed up my laptop (with wireless modem) and drove from San Diego to Port Townsend, Washington--up on the Olympic Peninsula, working all the way.
The greatest thing about being a freelancer, for me, is to set my own schedule and to be free to travel anywhere, as long as I can get an Internet connection. These days, even if I'm in an area where my wireless modem doesn't work, I can always find an Internet cafe and work there, or a local library.
Then downside, of course, is that you are always hustling to get assignments. However even that has gotten better, because editors now call me with jobs.
I wouldn't trade this life for anything!
[ BK ]: Your e-book advises writers to become a niche writer -- specializing in an area. Why is this so beneficial in today's economy? How has specializing helped you?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: As I wrote in the book, you can write about many, many topics (which I do), however I market myself as a specialist because editors want to know that you're really savvy in their area.
For example, I've been writing for a computer magazine and they don't care one bit that I'm also a genealogy specialist--they just want to make sure I know how to research, interview analysts and write good tech stories.
As the world expands, I've found publications actually becoming more narrowly focused. Most of us have fairly specialized interests, and we want a magazine that focuses on that. As a reader, for example, I want to read about PDAs (personal digital assistants) which run on the Palm OS. I'm not so interested in Pocket PCs. My obvious reading choice is the magazine which really focuses on the Palm OS devices.
Of course, I have to confess, as a writer, that I still buy the Pocket PC magazines, just to keep up on the industry.
[ BK ]: How do you market yourself to garner assignments? For the beginning freelance writer, what marketing would work best to land first and repeat work?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: I think a beginner has the best chance by finding a market that covers a subject they know inside and out. Then, when querying, play up their expertise. Although they can certainly find experts to interview (and editors love this), it makes the editor more comfortable knowing the writer has that solid background in their field.
As far as getting future assignments--I *never* turn in an assignment without including a list of query topics. The best time to get that additional work is when you turn in a completed assignment. It works a huge percentage of the time.
[ BK ]: As you made the transition from a part-time writer to a full-time freelance writer, what fears did you have? Did you think about failure or worrying where your next paycheck would come from? How did you overcome your fears?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: You know, this was an area that didn't bother me. I had been working as a part-time freelancer for quite awhile, so I had a good sense of how much income I could generate.
I also devised a spreadsheet (which I didn't mention in the book, and need to put in as an additional suggestion). The spreadsheet listed all of my clients at the time. In another cell, I wrote the approximate amount of money I would get from a single assignment. I then did this for each client.
Next, I guessed at how many jobs I could do for each client in a year. Then, I let the spreadsheet calculate what my year's income would be. If it wasn't enough, I went back to see who I needed to write more for, or how many new clients I needed to add.
[ BK ]: In your e-book you advise writers to join Internet mailing list/s as a way to connect with prospects. Can you explain how this works, and how this can lead to getting work?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: I actually wrote an article for The Writer about this topic. Joining mailing lists (in your subject field) can help in a few ways:
1. You can find wonderful sources to quote or interview.
2. You can position yourself as an expert in the field--and believe it or not, editors do cruise through mailing lists in their genre.
3. You can use them to begin establishing your reputation. For instance, what if someone on the mailing list published a short newsletter - - offer to give them a free short article for it. Not only will that help build your clips, if you're just starting, it will start getting your name out in the field.
[ BK ]: Besides writing for magazines, do you do any other types of writing to supplement your income?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: I sell my Secrets of a Successful Freelancer book, I just finished an Internet genealogy book for a traditional publisher, and it will be out in the spring.
I also sell some great e-books on the topic of writing e-books through a site at http://www.thehowtopublisher.com Additionally, I have a local corporate client who hires me to write their newsletter, Web content, ads, etc. This is a new area for me and I really love it.
I love the business side of writing, so spreading out to these other fields is a natural for me.
[ BK ]: You have your own web site that provides prospective clients with information about yourself, your skills, and samples of your work. How has your web site helped your writing business? Do you recommend writers have their own web sites as well?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: My site has definitely helped me get new clients. When I query an editor who doesn't know my work, it's just so easy to refer them to my site--they can see which publications I've written for, and my writing style.
If you want to be a successful freelancer, I think you really have to have a Web site. And, one that is easy to navigate and not filled with annoying graphics. Editors just want to get in, see who you are and get out.
I also *strongly* recommend that you get your own domain name and pay for a hosting company. It looks so much more professional.
[ BK ]: With more than 1,500 shorts and feature articles to your portfolio, you're a very prolific writer. How do you keep yourself going from day to day and avoid laziness and boredom over the long term?
NANCY HENDRICKSON: Good question. I write about a variety of subjects, so that keeps my brain occupied and interested. Even when I write for the same market, there are many, many topics to research, and I like that very much. For example, in my work for my current computer clients, I may write a hands-on review of 10 software programs and then the next week do a roundup, and the next week a piece on how to get the most from a specific program.
Another thing that keeps me busy and interested is my www.thehowtopublisher.com work. I like creating the business, writing the newsletter for it, and finding fun ways to market it. I'm never bored with my work.
Nancys ebook, Secrets of a Successful Freelancer, is a detailed blueprint which will help any serious writer jump-start their freelance writing career. Her ebook sells for $16.95 and is sold at WritingCareer.com, an online ebook store, located at http://www.writingcareer.com/nhb001.shtml
Brian Konradt is a freelance writer and graphic designer based in South Carolina.
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