Freelance Blues

For the last six years, I’ve been freelancing. The income isn’t great, but my expenses have been very modest. So I’ve been able to manage.

But this too shall pass, as they say. I took the plunge and rented a house, so my expenses are way up. At the same time, the national economy is in the crapper (thank you sooo much, George Bush!), so freelancing has gotten a little weird.

Naming no names, because I write for only a few well-known music magazines, but the hassles are spread across the board. I currently have one client who hasn’t paid my last couple of invoices, so I can’t accept any more assignments until we settle the account. Another just asked me this morning to increase the word length of a product review by 50%, in exchange for a payment increase of 20% (and I said yes). Yet another assignment, which I’m now working on, has hit a few technology snags that I’m going to have to help the manufacturer trouble-shoot, and while I’ve asked the magazine for extra money to cover the labor, I’m expecting to be told “no.” A couple of other clients never seem to get around to answering their email, so I don’t know where I stand with them.

One client tells me he’s “swamped” with product reviews, so he won’t be buying too many. Another client (if you’re in the music technology field you may be able to guess which one) has just redesigned the magazine and eliminated my monthly column. Another magazine, for whom I want to start writing, is not rushing to give me the green light on my first assignment. So the total number of work orders is down.

Also, just for the record, none of these magazines has increased their payment rates to freelancers in the past five years. If you figure the rise in the cost of living at a relatively sedate 3.5% per year, in five years my cash outflow has gone up almost 19%. Do the math: $100 buys only $83 in groceries at their 2003 cost, so every time I take a $500 assignment, I lose $85 out of my pocket compared to five years ago. And of course that’s an underestimate of the actual hike in the cost of living, because I pay my own health insurance, which goes up 10% every year, if not 15%.

Meanwhile, in my other alleged career I’ve lost about four cello students this fall. That’s equivalent to losing one magazine assignment per month.

Right at this moment, if someone offered me an office job, I’d take it. Hell, I’d offer to wear a damn tie!

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