Work Update: How 2011 went as a freelancer [Pie Chart]

Life as a freelancer - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström
In early August, I created a post that shed some light on how it really was to be a freelancer (writer, photographer, editor, photojournalist, AND blogger) in this increasingly competitive work climate. That post included my pitching statistics from 2008 to mid-2011. And the results were (1) reaffirming for some, (2) eye-opening for others, and (3) quite scary for those considering the same route.

With 2011 now drawing to a close, I’ve published my updated stats for the year and hope to do this annually.

Overview

Before I break down 2011, I’d like to add that over the last few weeks, I’ve followed some intense debates about “old” versus “new” media that frankly have been beaten to death and I’d rather not drag it over to my blog for the sake of traffic spikes. As someone who works in various mediums (print, online, personal blogs, whatever), my pitches below were sent to a wide variety of outlets, and I feel blessed to able to choose which work hat to wear on certain days.

I’ve categorized each query status using the following legend: Assigned, Interested, Rejected, and No Word.

Assigned – This means the article was assigned or submitted and published and/or paid for.

Interested – This means the editor expressed some interest in the query and it’s currently in some form of limbo with the publication.

Rejected – Very clear.

No Word – These are queries that I haven’t received any responses for to date. To also add some context, these were pitches sent to the likes of BBC, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, etc.

2011 Statistics

How to Pitch - Pitching History Statistics - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström
I sent out a total of 59 pitches (four within the last week or so, hence the “No Word” on those quite yet). Of the 59 pitches sent, 17 were assigned, 10 are currently being reviewed by editors/in various stages of limbo, only three (3) were rejected, and 29 are still floating around in the nebulous “No Word” zone.

What this meant work-wise

This meant that 2011 was one of my busiest years as a freelancer; for which I’m extremely grateful for. It started with a pretty cool gig at Sweden.se where I not only work as a photoblogger, but also write several articles related to Swedish culture, society, and lifestyle. For this gal from Nigeria who gets to fully peel back the layers of a totally different culture, this has been a major blessing, and I’m happy to report I will continue on as photoblogger/writer with them in 2012.

This also meant breaking into several big publications as well as receiving random out-of-the-blue emails from editors assigning me work.

Areas for improvement

The 29 “No Word” pitches which account for 49% of the pie worries me a bit, and I’d like to give editors the benefit of doubt. I once emailed an editor this year that they’d published an article (written by someone else) with one of my ideas. The editor was extremely courteous about it and explained that they get so many pitches that sometimes it’s difficult to respond to everyone. Luck of draw type of deal where someone can pitch the same idea the following week, and the editor could easily go with them instead of you.

I understand this. I’m usually digging out of hundreds of personal emails each week, talk less of what an editor has to endure.

Some of those “No Words” were bouncebacks from editors who had recently left the publication with no forwarding email addresses. And finding an alternate editor at the same publication (beyond the generic editorial@xyz.com) has been difficult.

That said, those are 29 pitches that could be shopped around to different publications and outlets so I’d rather have a quick “Not interested” email instead of letting that pitch sleep forever in someone’s inbox.

Overall, I’m super grateful for 2011 and even more excited about what 2012 has in store work-wise, and I’m stoked to be doing what I love. In the next day or so, I’ll be publishing a travel update post about how 2011 went as a traveler.

For those fellow freelancers out there, how did 2011 go for you? Did you hit some of your personal goals?


For those interested, here’s some latest news, publications, and such from the last two months or so:

Latest Work

Sweden.se11 things to watch out for on Nobel Day.
Heart & SoulThe Power of Peppers.
The Daily MealAmerica’s Weirdest Cupcakes.
The Local - 5 signs of the holiday spirit in Sweden.
Matador NetworkNumerous pieces include Dogsledding in Swedish Lapland (photo essay).

Upcoming Work (Jan/Feb 2012)

Writing - Delta Sky Embark, Qatar Airways, Africa Geographic Safari.
Photography – National Geographic Traveler (US), National Geographic Traveller (UK), Gastronomica

Books

Super stoked to have contributed to Matador’s latest project – No Foreign Lands – a sweet photography book with 100 of the most poignant and inspirational travel quotes out there. Please pick up a copy stat!.

Awards

Shortlisted in the “Spirit of Adventure” category of the Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) Awards. Picked up a few other nods here.

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Kristin (Camels & Chocolate) – I definitely hear you. It’s a lot of work and people have to be proactive about sending pitches. It’s also about looking ahead as well and constantly getting those queries out. One might have a lot of assignments now, but what about 6 months down the road?! Thanks so much for adding to the convo!

  • http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/ Camels & Chocolate

    Also, like Eva, I keep a “rejection folder” in my email, as I find it inspiring simply as a “no” is better than a “no response,” of which I got about 90% during my very beginning days of freelancing six years ago.

  • http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/ Camels & Chocolate

    2011 was a weird year for me, given that a full half of it was spent moving then living on a ship, where my freelance workload slowed to a crawl due to my lack of Internet.

    Funny, people who don’t do what we do–or who are trying to break in–are always shocked that established freelancers such as you and I still get ignored…I’d say my stats are pretty similar to yours, in that about half of my pitches are met with crickets…even with two courtesy follow-up emails. The worst is when it’s an editor you’ve worked with many times before who doesn’t respond!

    I’d say all in all you had an awesome year–and I’m happy to read other freelancers laying out how hard the work is that we do and that it’s not all “vacation” all the time (or, er, hardly ever).

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Michael – Thanks so much!

    @Bret – Sounds like 2011 was a solid year for you guys on all fronts! Wishing you more success (as you personally define it) in 2012.

    @Ayngelina – Thanks and no worries. I know there are others who, in addition to being bloggers, also freelance on the side just like me and I wanted to show how the freelancing house works.

    @Jerri – Thanks! I try to keep a balance with work and play too. Hard, but try.

    @JoAnna – Thanks so much and congrats on a great year for you! I do hear you on the “no word”. Two of the “no words” actually came in over the last day or so – one with an assignment and the other expressed interest. So follow-ups do work sometimes. I usually do two followups per pitch (3-4 weeks apart) and then move on or re-pitch. Wishing you a solid 2012 on all fronts!

  • http://www.kaleidoscopicwandering.com JoAnna

    Congrats on another great year, Lola, despite the “no word” pitches. Those are the most frustrating, aren’t they? I’ve found that when I follow up after six weeks, I can usually get another 25% of the “no word” editors to respond with at least a rejection.

    Wishing you the best in 2012!

  • http://www.diwyy.com Jerri

    So interesting! Thanks for sharing, you hard worker, you!

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca Ayngelina

    Lola thanks so much for giving us an insiders view, it shows just how much work goes into what you do.

  • http://www.GreenGlobalTravel.com Bret @ Green Global Travel

    2011 wasn’t our best year for freelancing, as we spent a LOT of time focusing on building Green Global Travel (which isn’t monetized yet). But it was a very good year for us, with around 17 major publications using us on a regular basis. We landed some big names in the travel biz (American Airlines, Afar, Matador Network, St Regis Hotels, a new Mexican airline magazine), and continued to do steady work for some of the other mags we’ve worked with for years (American Eagle’s Latitudes, AirTran’s GO, Destination Marriott, Cayman Airways’ Skies). The best part for us has been the gradual transition from doing mostly celebrity and culture-oriented stuff to doing more and more travel. Hopefully we’ll continue that trend in 2012!

  • http://easyhiker.co.uk Michael

    Wishing that 2012 will bring more freelance work to you!

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Perlina – Tack!

  • Perlina

    Grattis !! I wish that it will be even better in 2012.

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Alero – Thanks so much for your kind words and wishing you the very best in 2012 as well!!

    @Susan – Great to hear your voice again! Hope you’re doing wonderful. Thanks so much and here’s to an amazing 2012 for you too.

  • http://transienttravels.com Susan

    Congratulations on a successful year. At one point I stumbled across one of your articles in AFAR- it was very cool. Best of luck in 2012!

  • Alero Adollo Aladesilu

    You are such an inspiration! More grease to your elbow and I look forward to what 2012 holds. Better things!
    Happy Holidays

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

    @Eva – Thanks! And I definitely hear you on how frustrating those “No Words” are. Those are ideas that could have been sold somewhere else. If you look at past charts, you’ll see it’s been a slow but steady progress from cutting down the number of rejections and increasing assignments. The next task now is cutting down the number of “No Words”.

    @Jools – Thanks! In terms of general strategy, if you look at this older post (http://lolaakinmade.com/2011/08/11/pie-charts-the-realities-of-freelancing-and-latest-news/), you’ll see I started focusing on super tailored pitches instead of broader topics. You’d think this was a no-brainer but we freelancers do it all the time. The pitches that seemed to work where those that were timely or tied in with events. These had to be pitched weeks in advance. Also food pieces tend to do better than travel pieces, so if you can pull in some food experiences and angles while traveling, you’d have a better shot at selling those. Here’s my quick A-Z guide on pitching – http://lolaakinmade.com/2010/11/08/my-tbex-presentation-a-to-z-of-pitching-outlets/.

    @Theresa – Congratulations and I’m super stoked for you! I remember we’d been chatting online about staying focused on one’s own path amidst all the noise, and I’m glad to hear 2011 was solid for you. Thanks and looking forward to what 2012 has in store for you too.

    @James – No worries. It’s always good to put some perspective out there. Again, other writers have their own statistics, but I feel by sharing mine, hopefully it helps others considering a similar route.

    @Oneika – Thanks and it’s a daily work in progress! We all have different paths and goals within the travel community and one thing I feel super grateful and blessed about is to be able to switch hats (writer -> photographer -> blogger -> programmer) when necessary. Everyone should definitely do inventory every 6 months or so to make sure they’re hitting their personal goals.

  • http://www.oneika-the-traveller.com Oneika the Traveller

    Your progress and success is so motivating! I love that you where different hats and have such a diverse body of work. I think charting our experiences, like you have, really allow you to target the right publications and formulate an effective and efficient pitching strategy. You are inspirational. Bravo!

  • http://www.ouroyster.com/ James – Ouroyster.com

    Thanks for writing this, we are looking at doing more freelance type stuff and Jade is thinking about doing it for a job so it is good to see how your year broke down :)

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa

    I’m fully transitioned to the freelance editing world, and for me, it was a great move and this has turned out to be a great year. I’m very grateful for the way things have gone in 2011, and I’m very much looking forward to 2012 as a freelancer. Congrats to you on what looks like a very strong year, and here’s hoping to see your name all over the place in 2012!

  • http://www.trainsonthebrain.com Jools Stone

    Great stuff Lola. I’m deetrmined to make 2012 the year I get to work and pitch regularly. Somethign always holds me back. I think 41& int or comm is a pretty heallthy strike rate too. care to share also your geenral strategy? Which pitches worked and why, was there any pattern etc?

  • http://evaholland.com/ Eva

    Nice work, Lola! And I hear you on the frustrations of the “no word” category – I’ve gotten to treasure the rejection notes I get, just for the clarity and the ability to move on, if nothing else. If it makes you feel any better, I’m guessing (I haven’t done the exact math) that my “no word” numbers are closer to the 60-70% range. And wow, your assigned/interested numbers are huge! Even counting all the “no word” as no, you’re nearly at 50-50. That’s fantastic. I know literary journals are a different game, but I remember a very successful poet once telling me that she considers 1-in-10 a successful rate of publication-to-submission. It’s a funny business, eh? Lots of waiting.

    Happy New Year!