Hey guys! Freelancedom’s Infinite Wisdom of Others series is back, this time with the infinite wisdom of Lisa Romeo, who’s done far more than I could ever hope to do. Because she is incredible. Seriously, check it:
1. First of all, please explain to our readers what your freelance business is, and how much of your time you devote to it.
That varies. At the moment, I’d say freelancing for print and web venues — which in my case includes a lot of personal essay writing — takes up about one-third of my time. I am also teaching, editing, doing editorial consulting, working on a memoir, writing essays for literary journals, and doing research and reporting for a website. In addition, I’ve put my 12 years of public relations experience to work coaching writers (especially first-time authors) on how they can handle publicity for their own books and careers.
Earlier in my career/life, I spent a good deal more of my time freelancing — for trade publications, specialty niche magazines, and general interest media — sometimes full time, sometimes sandwiched between working in public relations and raising kids.
2. What led you to freelancing in general, and writing in particular?
I guess I’ve been writing since around age six, when I fell in love with words, paper, pens, typewriters, magazines, and books.
I began as a full time freelancer right out of journalism school (Syracuse University). I had been riding, and after college I decided to spend a few years on the road competing in horse shows. I began getting assignments to write news, features, opinion pieces, profiles — you name it — for dozens of equestrian magazines and regional publications, both domestic and international, and then later began writing about equestrian personalities and equestrian-related topics for consumer publications. That led to my first public relations job, handling Purina, which at that time was sponsoring the United States Equestrian Team.
3. What type of writing do you concentrate on in your classes, and what do you enjoy the most about teaching?
I teach nonfiction — the personal essay, memoir, general creative nonfiction, and basic freelancing, too. Although I always liked the workshop format, and got a lot of satisfaction from helping fellow writers with their craft, I actually never thought I would enjoy teaching, but I’m finding that I love it. I teach in private settings, or one-on-one, or at writing centers, libraries, and such. (I suspect I’d like teaching less if it involved college freshman comp classes!) Someday, I hope to teach in a low-residency MFA program.
Teaching feeds my own creative work in ways that are surprising and wonderful, and frankly sometimes humbling. I learn so much from the others at the table.
4. You also work on an e-newsletter about the magazine industry. Which niches do you feel are the most in danger, and which will keep on truckin’??
Oh boy, that’s a huge question (or two). Certainly the more narrow niche and specialty magazines seem in the best position to hold on to their highly engaged audiences; their costs are often lower and they are more likely to be privately owned and do not have to show profits for share-holders each quarter. On the other hand, many lack the financial fall-back resources to get through the advertising decline. Still, those specialty magazines which have made great inroads on the web, engaging their highly motivated communities, are likely to survive.
On the other hand, magazines like The Economist, with an extremely well-honed vision, really high-quality journalism, and an understanding of the value of both to subscribers, are also good candidates for long-term survival, even though they are a premium-priced editorial product. You won’t see them offering $10 rates just to get new subscribers signed up.
5. What have been some of the most fun, enjoyable, or interesting writing assignments you’ve worked on?
Currently, my favorite writing projects are personal essays for themed collections. A new one was just released: Feed Me! Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight and Body Image (Ballantine).
Because I am a personal essayist at heart, the freelance assignments I especially like are those that also have a relationship to my personal life, even if they are news-oriented. I did a reported-essay piece for mediabistro, as I was near the end of my MFA, which asked editors to weigh the value of an MFA degree for a freelancer. In the 1990s, I suffered postpartum depression twice, and eventually I decided I needed to write about it, so I got myself assignments from mothering publications, in order to have an excuse to interview some of the experts.
I did a piece for O-The Oprah Magazine two years ago about yo-yo dieting, in which they had their life coach work with me for a few months and then we both wrote about the experience. That was emotionally a very challenging project, but a greatly enriching one too.
Years ago, right out of college, I interviewed all of the top hunter-jumper riders, trainers, judges, and Olympic athletes, and often had to do so while they were in the practice ring — these were dream assignments for a rider/writer!
Because I worked in PR for a wide range of clients, and later kept up with media contacts I made, I also quite enjoyed being assigned to unusual topics I would never think to cover on my own, such as railroad track construction, the retailing of high-end pens, pizzeria products, and lipstick manufacturing.
I’ve done a little first-person ghostwriting too, and that’s usually fun, to take on another persona for a bit — a pro football player, a hematologist, a childhood cancer survivor.
6. How do you see your business growing in the future?
I’m constantly trying to figure out for myself how much time and energy to devote to each aspect of my business and writing life. I want to spend more time on essays, memoirs, and other creative nonfiction; but I also want to teach more, do more short- and long-term editing, and work with writers on publicizing their work, too. I’d also like to expand my blog with more resources and interviews that are helpful to writers. Stay tuned.
7. What are the toughest aspects of freelancing, and how do you deal with them?
Rejection, of course, is no fun, but I get past it very quickly and move on. Competing with the hundreds of good journalists now out of work because of layoffs is a new challenge, but all you can do is keep going.
What I hate the most is querying. Maybe that’s one reason personal essays suit me, because they are rarely pitched in advance. On the other hand, a good query is one way to uncover the core of a piece, and has got a lot of value to me as a guide when I write the piece. How do I deal with it? I set reasonable quotas for myself to send out X number of queries a month. That said, I’d be perfectly happy never to write another one. I’m one of those writers editors can call in a pinch with an unexpected (not queried) assignment, and I usually say yes.
8. If you could purchase anything for your home office, what would it be?
Built-in, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves for all four walls. The English library look.
As always, e-mail me if you’d like to be our next featured freelancer!