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Success Made Simple: An Interview With Wendy Burt
by Jennifer Brown Banks

Wendy Burt is truly a "Jill of all trades." A former newspaper editor, she has now carved a very successful career as a full-time freelance writer and author.

Wendy writes the advice column "Ask Wendy" for Writers on the Rise. She is the co-author of Oh, Solo, Mia.

WFD: Can you describe a typical writing day?

Actually, a typical writing day is quite varied – in a good way. I drop off my toddler at a home daycare down the street, stop at Starbucks and then get back home around 9 a.m. to start answering emails. Emails are a necessary evil of being a writer/editor, because while 50% of your time is spent writing, the other half is spent managing. By managing I mean interviewing, coordinating other writers, doing follow-ups with clients, compiling pieces of edit, marketing your work, invoicing, etc. Once the actual writing kicks in, a “typical” day might include writing greeting card copy for a client, working on press releases, editing articles, working with clients on ad copy, writing articles and doing a phone interview or two. I usually take a 15-minute break for lunch and watch CNN to get the highlights of the day’s news. At 3:30 p.m. I leave to pick up my daughter, and I usually do another two hours of work after dinner.

WFD: Your BIO states that you doubled your income when transitioning from newspaper editor to full time freelancer. While other artists are "starving" you seem to be thriving. What's your secret?

It’s cliché, but I love what I do now, so it’s natural to make more money because it doesn’t feel like work so I stay motivated. Also, I love being in control of how much money I make. What’s your incentive to stay up till midnight if you’re on salary working for somebody else? Also, I do not embrace the stereotype of the poor, starving writer. It’s a lame excuse for writers to feel ok about not valuing themselves and making money. There is absolutely no shame in making good – or great – money for creativity. Read The War of Art (not to be confused with The Art of War) to get a good get-off-your-butt lesson on what it takes to be a professional (read paid) writer. Financially successful writers (think mass market authors) are often called sell-outs. I think that’s BS. I can be a great writer and make money. We shouldn’t be made to feel like we have to choose!

WFD: From your experiences, what's the most lucrative field of writing?

Well, that depends. In terms of how much money you can make per hour, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and the like can be incredible. I once made $225 for about 5 minutes of brainstorming on one-liners. I made $150 for coming up with a name for a new card line and $100 just last week for emailing someone a suggestion for a name for his product. The down side is that greeting card work can be sporadic if you don’t work for a company as a contractor. You can certainly have some hits selling one-time ideas, (and it’s still good money), but you might sell one or two per month. The best consistent money is in copy writing (ads, Web copy, brochures), fillers and articles. Personal essays can pay well but it’s hard to find markets. I’ve also made money selling short stories, poems and nursery rhymes, but again, not a lot of paying markets.

WFD: What are four major strengths that every good writer must possess?

  1. You must be organized. Remember, as a freelancer, it’s not just about writing. It’s about keeping track of your submissions, your deadlines, your invoices and your expenses.
  2. You must be motivated or you’ll sleep till 3 p.m. every day. Sometimes this means working at another job to support your family and then writing at night, on weekends and on your lunch break.
  3. You have to be confident in yourself. It takes a thick skin to get through rejections when you first start. Learn from your mistakes and stop expecting people to hold your hand and telling you how great you are. Tell yourself how great you are.
  4. You must have a strong desire to learn. This means taking classes, reading books/newspapers/mags, attending writer’s conferences, interviewing people who are interesting and listening to people who are successful at what you want to do.

WFD: I'm a big fan of the book Oh, Solo Mia. How did it come about?

Thanks! I was teaching a night class in Denver called “Breaking Into Freelance Writing.” My (now) co-author, Erin Kindberg, took the class and we became great friends immediately. One day I said, “We should write a book together.” She laughed. I said, “I’m serious!” … and so we did! We pitched the idea to about 30 agents, one bit and she sold it to McGraw-Hill. A year later we sold them a second idea and our book, Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick was published in 2003.

WFD: What advice can you give to writers wanting to become full-time freelancers?

Don’t rely on your income when you first start or you’ll quit early. You need to have another job, a spouse who can support you for a while or several months of savings to live off until you build your clients. Also, don’t keep shooting for one-off deals – like getting an article published in a big magazine. They’re very competitive so only dedicate a small percentage of your time to getting in there. Instead, look for the smaller, most consistent-paying gigs, like local and regional pubs, blogs or assignments for clients who need content for Web sites and newsletters. I’d rather know I’m going to make $200/week than get that big, one-time clip that paid $1,000… but will probably not buy from me again for years.

© Copyright 2007, Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks is the former senior editor of Mahogany Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Business Management and blogs at Penandprosper.blogspot.com

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