Starting off stating that freelance journalism is not merely a hobby that you indulge in while you sip on coffee in your pajamas, Kavitha Rao and Charukesi Ramadurai, authors of Everything That You Ever Wanted To Know About Freelance Journalism (but didn’t know whom to ask), take it for what it is: a business, and in that too, a lonely one.
Both, currently freelance writers whose work has been published in Indian and international journals, began working on the book a year ago.
“A lot of the questions that we have answered are what people, sometimes total strangers, have been approached with so far,” they tell City Express.
We had a chat with them while they were here for the launch of their book, which is replete with advice from about 50 people in the field of journalism besides themselves, at Landmark on Friday last week. Excerpts:
Of all that you have written in your book, what are the five most important tips that freelancers should keep in mind?
Charu & Kavitha: Research the publication well before you pitch your ideas. It helps you know how to present your ideas better and lets the editor know that you’re familiar with the publication.
Do not expect work to fall into your lap. You have to go out there and become a sales person.
You have to be disciplined and stick to deadlines.
Writers often tend to fall in love with their own writing. As a freelancer, you can’t afford to do that. You have to change your style to suit the publication. While there’s room for dialogue with the editor, there’s none for complacency; you simply cannot say, ‘I’ve done my bit, I don’t care what happens now.’ Nor can you have bad days. If you do, there are chances that the editor won’t commission you again.
Many writers look to their own backyard for opportunities - to papers that they have read growing up. You have to see beyond that. There are many international publications and specific trade magazines that might receive your ideas better.
Can a journalist survive by freelancing? The biggest Indian dailies still pay a pittance for freelance articles.
Charu: What you need to understand is that writing ability isn’t enough. That’s just something you take for granted. The way you pitch your ideas matter as much.
Kavitha: A lot of what we write are for foreign publications. So the pay is better, but many people don’t explore that market, assuming that it’s an unachievable dream.
How do Indian publications treat freelancers?
Kavitha: Do we want to be honest about that?
Charu: In India, people often assume that if you’re freelancing, it’s for a hobby. So often you aren’t taken seriously enough.
Kavitha: And it’s true for some people. But not all writers want to work for a newspaper or a magazine. We would much rather work from home, but that doesn’t mean that we take our work any less seriously. In the foreign market, we don’t have to haggle for pay though.
What are the toughest challenges that you have faced as freelancers?
Kavitha: It’s mainly coming up with ideas. As Charu says, ‘Ideas are a freelancer’s currency’. As someone who is an independent writer, you don’t have access to all the information that staff writers do. We’ve talked about it - how you can come up with ideas - in the book.
Charu: It’s also knowing whom you’ve to approach, which editor in the organisation, and after that, finding their email IDs. That’s also something we’ve written about.
Is it true that freelancers drift towards public relations because journalism doesn’t pay enough?
Charu: I think it’s a personal choice whether you want to be a journalist or take to PR. if you’re motivated enough, you can still find ideas, and you can continue to do stories that interest you.
Kavitha: It’s not as if the integrity of media organisations are never compromised. In fact, it might even be worse than it is with some freelancers.
How much competition do you have to face as a freelancer?
Charu: I think there’s space for everyone.
Kavitha: Perhaps, there is some, but in India it’s such a lonely profession that when you meet another freelancer, you feel the need to connect with them. What I do is, I share my contacts with others, but I never talk about my ideas.
Charu: If we were that concerned about competition, we wouldn’t have written the book.
Kavitha: It’s a great time to be a freelancer in India.