Work Update: How 2013 went as a freelancer [Pie Chart]

Algarve, Western Portugal (Lola Akinmade Åkerström)
Since 2008, I’ve kept detailed notes on which publications I’ve been pitching to and their responses. This exercise has not only helped me grow as a freelancer by opening my eyes to what primarily works, but has provided a way of being transparent from my end in terms of how life truly is as a freelancer, and as a reality check for those looking to follow a similar path.

You can see previous charts from 2012, 2011, and 2008 to 2010.

Overview

As I mentioned in a previous post, 2013 was a weird yet exciting year because I broke into new outlets but also got radio silence (borderline snobbery) from outlets I’ve written numerous times for before.

I also launched fun projects like Slow Travel Stockholm which I can’t wait to grow and expand in 2014, and I’m continually loading thousands of photos into my Image Bank and National Geographic (massive ongoing tasks)  as well as picking up a lot more local Swedish gigs such as an editorial consulting job for a large Swedish company and work with the Swedish Institute, Visit Stockholm, and Swedish Lapland.

So here’s how 2013 shook out. Each query status has been categorized using the following legend:

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.

2013 Statistics

2013 Pitching Chart - Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

I sent out a total of 87 pitches. Of the 87 pitches sent, 29 were assigned, 10 are currently being reviewed by editors/in various stages of limbo, 14 were rejected, and 34 (yes! 34) are still floating around in the nebulous “No Word” zone which I’ve come to loathe with a passion.

2012 <-> 2013 Comparison

Doing a side by side comparison of 2012 and 2013 isn’t really accurate because I sent 87 pitches in 2013 as opposed to only 50 in 2012 but still, I wanted to see what the relative numbers looked like next to each other.

2013 Pitching Chart - Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

What this meant work-wise

This meant I got repeat work from editors who I love working with and have developed nurturing relationships with. It also meant I focused energy on larger paying assignments as opposed to writing tons of articles for little pay. This is something I’m going to continue in 2014. That is, focusing on larger projects and assignments and continuing my mantra of working smarter, not harder.

One thing that was uplifting was that I got a ton of assignments after about the third follow up email. While sending multiple follow up emails feels like pestering, it worked for me because it showed I was interested in and invested in my story ideas and wanted to get closure on them.

So I got about 5-6 out-of-the-blue assignments this way after following up a couple times.

Areas for improvement

Rejections – Along with keeping these records, I also keep short one-liners next to each item that tells me why a piece was rejected or if an editor is interested and wants me to switch angles. So I went through to see why I had 14 rejections in 2013 and here are a few of the notes I scribbled down:

- Already ran similar

- Already ran similar

- Passed on for now

- Already ran a 48 hour piece on the city

- Ideas are too narrowly focused

- Currently not open to pitches until October

- Not a good fit

This means that I got a tad bit lazy last year in terms of properly researching existing and similar pieces before sending my pitches. This is something I’m definitely going to watch in 2014.

In 2012, I had only 3 rejections as opposed to 14 last year and my notes clearly show me why.

No Word – As a freelancer, it seems I’ll be perpetually battling those No Words for awhile but what I am actively going to do this year is instead of chasing new outlets and sending emails into oblivion, I will direct that love and energy towards clients, editors, and publications who do give me regular assignments. They above the rest deserve my time and nurturing.

Things that didn’t pan out in 2013

Expedition

So in April 2014 (this year), I was supposed to be going on an amazing expedition (a dream of mine) – following a spring reindeer migration in Lapland with an indigenous Sámi family. I was going as the photojournalist on an American expedition team along with videographers from a TV channel and an award-winning adventurer.

I brought my Sámi contacts to the table who were generous and agreed to let the team tag along. Something that they don’t agree to very lightly.

Long story short, the team coming from the US imploded dramatically which meant the expedition had to be cancelled. Both my local contact and I were left disappointed.

I do have the expedition cost breakdown and my local contact has assured me that they’re definitely open to a serious and organized team tagging along on a future migration so if you guys have any contacts or leads that might be interested as well as potential sponsors, definitely let me know and I can give you the full breakdown.

NatGeo_PolandDecember 2013 Cover of National Geographic Poland.

I call this the cover I didn’t get. I was extremely honored when Nat Geo Poland contacted me to let me know that they were considering one of my Northern Lights photos for their December 2013 Cover.

The final photo they went with is absolutely stunning and while I wish it had been mine instead, I’m still so excited that my photos were being considered.

Looking forward to what 2014 brings in terms of my photography.

Editorial Snobbery

Workwise, this had to be the most demoralizing aspect of 2013. I’ve been freelancing for some time and I fully understand the game.

Rejections never get to me because I know it was either not a good fit or the editor just wasn’t interested.

I also understand the “No Words”. Editors are extremely busy people, are under a lot of pressure, and sometimes just cannot respond to every email they get.

I get that and always give people benefit of doubt.

But what I don’t fully get are editors who I spent time with in person last year who never acknowledged the “Nice to have met you” emails I sent.

Not a pitch email. Not an email selling story ideas. But a simple email acknowledging that we met in person while other writers who were there were currently on their second and third assignments with the very same editors.

Now, one doesn’t have to form deep relationships with everyone they meet. That’s perfectly okay. But I do believe in common courtesy. Especially simply acknowledging that we met, spoke, shared meals, and even laughed together in person.

Looking Forward

2014 is already starting off wonderfully with about five large features I’m currently working on in addition to a keynote presentation I’ll be giving in late January to 400 representatives – a cross section of  Sweden’s tourism industry- which I’m so excited about and will share more closer to the date.

I’ll be working on a lot of personal photography projects this year too. As soon as the dust settles, I’ll probably be looking to bring on two interns – one for social media and one for photography – to help offload some tasks so I can focus strategically on projects.

I’ll be actively working on Slow Travel Stockholm, bringing on new contributors, and growing it exponentially this year.

As a freelancer, I’ll continue pitching smartly, focusing on larger features and the types of narrative and investigative cultural travel writing I love doing like these pieces for Roads & Kingdoms and Women’s Adventure Magazine.

I’m also open to smart sponsorships and innovative collaborations so please ping me with your ideas.

Next up is a two-day jaunt to Washington DC for meetings at National Geographic as well as the society’s annual Photography Seminar, and then off to Helsinki for MATKA.

Freelancing History

If you’re curious, you can check out previous pitching charts below:

- 2012 freelancing pie chart

- 2011 freelancing pie chart

- 2008 to 2010 freelancing pie charts

For fellow freelancers out there, how did 2013 go for you? Did you hit some of your personal goals?

 

  • http://www.chasingtheunexpected.com Angela

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Lola, it’s very inspiring. I, too, have enjoyed 2013 work-wise, even though I know there are many things I need to address, such as pitching ideas to new outlets. Although, I’ve already started devoting more time to the publications that gave me regular assignments as you mentioned, and this is what I’ll keep doing this year, apart from being good for work, it’s also a morale booster!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Angela – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts as well. It’s all about redirecting energy to the right publications and right relationships. Wishing you a fantastic 2014 in freelancing as well.

  • http://www.carolineinthecityblog.com Caroline Eubanks

    As a fellow freelancer, I love reading these posts every year! My writing income is increasing slowly but surely, but it’s always good to hear form someone making a living from it.

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Caroline – Thanks, and it’s one of the reasons why I publish these charts. It’s a reality check for freelancers, especially those who focus mostly on travel writing and travel photography. Hope 2014 brings you everything you wish for.

  • http://www.apertureofmysoul.com Nancie

    Thank you Lola! Your insights are so valuable. I’m in the learning mode currently, so seeing how things really work is so helpful in keeping realistic expectations. I’m going to start out right and keep track of my results as well.

    Wishing you an outstanding 2014 Lola!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Nancie – And wishing you an amazing 2014 as well! Thanks so much. Start keeping track. For freelancers, it’s extremely important to be on top of these.

  • http://www.changesinlongitude.com Michael

    Thanks for sharing. You have quite an impressive success rate. My numbers are skewed more to “no response.”

  • http://www.bijusukumaran.com Biju Sukumaran

    I always appreciate you doing this, Lola. It’s informative – both intellectually and emotionally – to see all this as someone trying to follow a similar path – congrats on your successes this past year and here’s to the new year!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Biju – Thanks so much! If you’re not already tracking your pitches, definitely add that to your list for 2014. Wishing you a solid 2014 with solid opportunities as well.

  • http://www.LLworldtour.com Lisa | LLworldtour

    Hi Lola! Glad I saw your post for this in the blogging group. Congrats on some great progress! 33% assigned in freelance is huge!
    I also loathe the ‘no word’ feeling. I get paranoid. I just had an editor sort of disappear for a few months, but then come back and start responding months later. It’s tough b/c they never give an explanation so I’m always filling in the blanks in my head that they are probably busy, etc. It’s tough!
    And I totally agree on the follow-ups! They have been fruitful for me and very important as I also am ‘guessing’ their inbox is overflowing and many emails get lost.
    One thing that still alludes me is how to really establish a deeper relationship. I have one good editor and pub that I write for quite a bit now, but each email from her is so short and quick. I did tell her if she’s ever in Chicago i’d love to meet her and she did respond nice to that, but then after that it’s all just back to business and ignoring me most of the time!
    I just started using a color-coded Google Doc this year for all my pitches (no color is just pitch ideas and which pubs I need to pitch, orange means i sent it, red means rejected, and green means I got a yes!) :)

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Lisa – Great to hear from you! Those “No Words” are so annoying because those are 34 potential stories for other publications. I definitely hear you about the follow ups and I agree that editors are super busy with overflowing inboxes.

      I have a few editors who I feel I have a good relationship with, and that spans from informal to pure business transactions yet good relationships nevertheless. I personally always stay true to who I am so if I’m not a potential drinking buddy with an editor, I’m fine with that and won’t change that for an assignment.

      I love that you’re also doing a color-coded Google Doc. Two quick tips – Make sure it’s a spreadsheet and add an extra column where you actually write out “Yes”, “Rejected”, “Sent”, etc. Because by the end of the year, you can so easily export that Google spreadsheet and create an automatic chart based on that extra column.

  • http://sunandstilettos.com Lily

    Wonderful recap, Lola. Thanks for doing this – it helps the rest of us freelancers so much. It should be required reading for aspiring ones as well. As I get more assignments, I’ll be keeping track this year, as much as I hate pie charts and numbers! And I completely agree with you on the lack of common courtesy these days – thank God not all editors are that way. Cheers to 2014 and attracting the right people and projects!

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Lily – Thanks! Keeping track is extremely important. Here’s to a fab 2014 for you as well. Onwards and upwards to bigger opportunities!

  • http://thefutureisred.com Leigh Shulman

    As always, Lola, I love these yearly reviews of yours. I have a pitching document I use to keep records and will add “reason for rejection” into it. It’s an excellent idea.

    I was also wondering if perhaps you received more rejections this year than last because you are reaching for higher paying more well known publications.

    All in all, it’s so important for writers to realize that no matter how well established, we all receive lots and lots of rejections. Your tiny number from 2012 is incredibly impressive. But this year is no slouch either. :)

    • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola

      @Leigh – Thanks so much! Definitely add a “Notes” section to quickly jot down reasons. Regarding the rejections, yes, there were many higher paying pubs pitched but also I think I didn’t do as much due diligence in terms of finding similar articles that might have already ran. Much tougher with print which may require purchasing previous issues or subscribing.