There is a list of frequently asked questions that people often ply me with when I let them know that I am a writer and I operate a business and work as a freelancer. Sometimes they are curious, sometimes they want to know how they can start doing the same. I thought I would put down the answers to some of them here.
If you have more questions, leave them in the comments.
Frequently asked questions: 1: Do you need to have a licence (in Australia) to be a writer?
If you work from home or are freelancing, you need two to three documents. You need an Australian Business Number (ABN) which is free from the Australian Tax Office. If it will be just you, apply as a sole trader. If you aim to make more than $75,000 AUD a year, you need to register for GST.
You will also need a working from home permit. If you contact the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) you can get a package posted to you along with the relevant form or you can download it from the website. You can also get it from your local council. You will have to fill this in, provide house plans and details of your business, including any structural changes that you want to make or signs you want to put up, pay a fee and hand it back to the council.
If you are renting and you want to work from home, the landlord has to sign the permit and give written permission for you to use the premises for work.
If you consider yourself to be a hobbyist, then you must download a certain form from the Australian Tax Office and fill it out each time you invoice someone. It’s a form that declares that you have performed the work as a hobbyist. If you want to be an author, get an ABN instead.
If you want to work for a company or organisation full time or part time, you don’t need an ABN or any of these permits and forms. You just need your Tax File Number and your employer employs you just like in any other job.
Frequently asked questions: 2: Do I need a portfolio?
Yes you do. Whatever work you have done, organise your best pieces into one main portfolio and then create different versions. If you are sending in a portfolio of your work to a sports publication, put in the pieces that a) relate to sport and b) match the kind of style, length and format of the articles in the publication. So have several different ones ready and always send out a relevant one with each query. Word/PDF format is good.
Frequently asked questions: 3: Do I need a website?
Not necessarily. You need to decide if it is worth having one. You should use the internet as a tool for promoting yourself and finding work via using email, social media or other means but don’t opt for a website unless you have the time and means to keep it updated. The same with more emphasis for a weblog. It takes time and energy unless you can afford to hire someone to do it for you. There are plenty of places like Contently that you can use to set up an online portfolio to direct people to instead of opting for a website like this one. You can also use free WordPress and other such sites to set up a couple of quick pages about yourself and that can be all that you need as an online presence.
Frequently asked questions: 4: Do I need a particular qualification?
Are there formal qualifications to be a writer? No. It is, however, best to train in any area that you feel you are lacking in. Take advantage of any educational opportunity that comes your way. Train yourself in how to write, how to market yourself, how to do accounts and the subject areas that you are interested in writing about. Take courses, go to workshops and seminars, read books. If you are trying to get into Journalism, take a journalism or communications course. If you are like me, you could instead take an English Literature course and try to convince people to realise that you can still be a journalist regardless but this is a very frustrating experience so proceed with caution. If it works for me, as according to various career guides it should, I will let you know. Seriously though, work on your spelling, your grammar and your style. Automatic spelling and grammar checks on programs do not catch everything.
Frequently asked questions: 5: Do I need to join professional organisations?
The benefits of doing so far outweigh the membership fees. So, yes. Join every single one you can. If you do screenplays, join the Australian Writers Guild. If you freelance, join the Facebook groups, Freeline and the union MEAA. If you are an editor, join IPEd or the CSE. If you are an author, join the Australian Society of Authors and your local and state writing centres and libraries. If you are an indexer or proofreader you can join ANZSI. The list of organisations is long and you can also always join your local chamber of commerce as well.
Frequently asked questions: 6: Do I need business cards?
Are you freelancing? Are you self employed? If yes then yes you do need them like you need air. Pass them out at every opportunity. Nicely. Politely.
A lot of people have tried to move on to other forms of connecting where people have tapped phones together to exchange data but business cards are the most ubquitous means of connecting and exchanging such information. And you can drop them in for raffles and in jars, you can send them along with actual greeting cards if you need to – there are lots of ways to use business cards to connect.
Frequently asked questions: 7: Do I need to network?
See the above two questions. If the answer is yes to both, then you should know what the answer to this one is. If you still aren’t sure, then answer this question: Where do you think most of your clients are going to come from?
Remember that you can network online as well as offline and that there are very different ways to do so. So find the ways to network that suit you but also ensure you reach your clients and your intended audiences.
Frequently asked questions: 8: Is there a certain book(s) I need to read?
There are two answers to this question: a) All of them because reading widely makes you a better writer anyway and b) the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, the Australian Style Manual 6th edition, any up to date decent book on grammar, the latest edition of a thesaurus and the latest edition of a dictionary.
Frequently asked questions: 9: What are query letters and how do I write them?
These are emails or hard copy letters you send to editors of publications to politely ask if they would like you to write an article on a particular subject or topic. Basically, you tell them at first what interesting twist your article will have, you tell them how it relates to the publication and what format it is and how long it will be in words and you tell them what sources you have for it. You also outline how you expect it to be structured. You then tell them how soon you can send it to them if they want it. You attach your C.V. and a relevant portfolio and send it off to the person who accepts queries at that publication. You wait two weeks and then contact them again to follow up. It is also best if you try to call a publication up to let them know that you want to send a query in before you do. Never ever quote a price unless you are asked. Publications often have their own set prices for submissions and spec work.
Frequently asked questions: 10: Where do I find publications that accept queries?
That’s what the Australian Writer’s Marketplace is for. Use it. It will be your bible. It has an online website version too. You need to pay for either option. But equally, Writers’ Bloc and other websites have lists of writing jobs and call outs and places to pitch. So do a lot of online groups and groups on Facebook. If you join organisations like MEAA or your writing centres they often send these details out in a mailing list when they pop up and Submittable runs a mailing list as well for free.
Over to you
If you have any other questions you would like me to answer about freelance writing, please leave them in the comments. If you want to know more about freelancing, you can also sign up to the mailing list. At the moment, you get a free worksheet to help you figure out a freelancing rate if you do.