Monthly Archives: July 2010

Be aware of your liability as a freelancer

A recent article in the Huffington Post describes how NY Times writer Joe Sharkey is being sued for $280,000 is the Brazilian courts for blogging about an air crash that took place three years ago — Sharkey was a passenger in a U.S. private jet which crashed into a large Brazilian passenger yet. He wrote that the passengers and crew of the private jet were badly treated and blamed for the accident by the Brazilian government and media. For that, he is being sued by Brazil.

You can read the article to find out the background of the case and its effect on Sharkey. I just wanted to underline a couple of items.

First, that as a freelance writer for the NY Time (albeit one who has written for the Times for 14 years), Sharkey is not eligible to be represented by the Times' lawyers.This is a real problem for freelance writers — especially because many freelance agreements and contracts put the legal onus on the freelancer to pay for any legal costs should they or the company they're writing for be sued because of something they wrote. (I once called an agent who had represented me briefly and asked him about that clause in a contract I had been given. He said not to worry about it — that if anybody wanted to sue, they'd go after the company, knowing that the freelancer didn't have enough money to make it worth their while….)

Second, that according to the piece, "last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bi-partisan bill that protects U.S. writers and bloggers from defamation suits in countries that have less robust protections of free speech than in the United States. Foreign libel judgments would not be enforced unless they conformed to U.S. standards." So if Sharkey is found to be guilty of libel in a Brazilian court, he cannot be held responsible for the judgement, or imprisoned for not paying in, in the United States. If he travels outside the U.S., that's another matter….

Blake Fleetwood: Exclusive: NYT Columnist Faces Civil and Criminal Charges, But New Law May Get Him Off The Hook


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Freelancing for friends

I caught this article called??“Freelance writing mistakes to avoid”??on a site called Helium, and while it’s written in a more simplistic fashion than I usually like, it does make a good point about freelancing for friends. We all like to do favors for friends, and indeed, it’s an excellent philosophy to follow — first, because it’s good karma, and then, hey, you may need a favor yourself someday.

But if you’re trying to make a living as a freelancer, your time is important, and the time that you spend writing a friend’s resume, or fixing their computer, or designing their Web site, etc. etc. is time that you’re not spending actually making a living. Again, I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to help friends out using your skills. But make sure that’s not all you’re doing with your time — and if a friend offers to pay, and can afford to pay, you may not want to automatically turn them down.

(Actually working for a friend — as opposed to doing a favor — is a whole other can of worms, incidentally. How much do you charge? What do you do if they ask for something that you don’t have time to provide? What do you do if you are offered an important paying job that would interrupt their job? What do you do if they don’t pay? I don’t have answers for these sometimes sticky questions — but they are things you need to think about before you start a project for a friend or relative.)

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LinkedIn and professional social networking

This afternoon, I got an email from a colleague whom I hadn’t heard from for some time. She had heard of a freelance opening for an editor of historical fiction through LinkedIn, and wanted to alert me about it just in case I needed the work and felt I was qualified.

This is why I never underestimate the usefulness of using social networks, especially more professionally-leaning ones such as LinkedIn. In fact, I tend to keep all my professional networking to LinkedIn, rather than trying to mix business and personal news in the wider world of Facebook. ??In LinkedIn, it is assumed (usually) that you’re talking business, and that if you need to know about a company you’re applying to, or need to find some freelance work, or need to know if a certain client pays on time, you can ask around, and very often, get that information — or might pass information that you know on to somebody else.

If you’re not a member of LinkedIn, by the way, go ahead and join — it’s free (there is a paid version, but it’s doubtful you’ll need it). And since the whole thing revolves around creating networks with people you know, don’t be afraid to start with only one or two contacts. And join a group or two — you may make a few more.

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A little PR doesn’t hurt

Yesterday evening, a colleague of mine, Mitch Wagner, was interviewed for BBC Word News about the contretemps concerning the iPhone 4. It was only a short interview for a twice-daily news program, and so has probably already scrolled off the site — but it put his name out as an expert in his field. Not a bad thing.

I'm not saying that it's easy to get yourself called by other media as an expert. But even on a local level — a lecture at a local library, for example, or a school, or an article on your specialty in a local paper — a little PR can't hurt.??

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Keep your editor informed

I'm going to put on my editor's cap for a moment — if you don't mind my using such a??clich??d expression — and mention something that editors really, really want from their freelancers: to stay informed.

Yes, of course they want quality writing. On deadline. Within the requested word count. About the subject discussed, within the guidelines discussed.

However, editors will ??forgive a multitude of sins if you just take the time to keep them informed. Did you find out that the entire premise of your article has turned out to be completely wrong? Tell the editor, and suggest an alternative theme, or subject, or twist. ??Has your main interviewee gone on vacation for a week? Email your editor and ask for a bit more time on that deadline.??Has your kid come down with the latest nursery school plague, and you won't be able to do any work for the next few days? Again, email to ask for an extension if it's a long-term piece, and??if the article is really time sensitive and/or you haven't really started work on it, offer to let the editor find somebody else.??

In other words, let your editor know what is happening with the article. He or she is human (really!) and will understand that life occasionally gets in the way of a deadline. But if you don't give notice ahead of time, or stop answering phone calls or emails because you're ashamed that you haven't hit the deadline, you're a lot less likely to get another assignment once that one is done.

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Make your own organization

During the panel on writing for a living at Readercon, it was mentioned several times that it was a good idea to look for helpful organizations. What was not said was that sometimes it can be helpful to create your own organization — or look for a smaller, local organization that may help.

For example, some time ago I joined the Interpret Press Guild, an organization for the Internet Press Community. It’s not a big organization; it doesn’t offer classes, or health insurance, or any of those other perks. What it does offer is support by others in my profession via a listserv (email discussion group) — we discuss ethics, promote each other’s work, let others know when there’s work available, argue about politics (in a separate thread, so as not to bother the neighbors), and support those of our members who may be in extreme need due to circumstances beyond their control.

Again, this isn’t a very formal organization — but it is one that is very helpful to its members. Look around the Web, or your local neighborhood. You can’t find one for your specialty? Make your own.

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Workshop at Readercon

Just wanted to quickly thank everyone who participated in the “How to Earn a Living as a Writer” workshop at Readercon this morning. I was surprised and gratified at the number of people who attended. (Although, as an indication of our current economy, it could also be a bit dismaying in a sense.)

I wrote down a few Web sites that people mentioned that aren’t listed yet, which I’ll add in the next day or so. I’ll also do a bit more research based on our discussion to see if there are any further resources/sites that I can list on this site. Meanwhile, if anyone has any questions, or information, or whatever, based on our discussion (or which we didn’t get a chance to discuss), please feel free to add them here as comments.

Thanks again. It was great seeing you all.


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