While there is no magic bullet for freelancing success there is a wealth of useful information out there online. So much so that sometimes it's hard to know what to download and where to spend your valuable reading time. You need a filter and the one that I use can be summed up in a single word: character.
I like to spend my time with people who not only inspire me but whose writing gives me a flavour of who they are. As a general rule, I don't do corporate (which comes as no surprise to anyone who knew me in my BT days).
Mridu Khullar Relph is an international writer and entrepreneur that I always make time for. She has her own way of doing things and talks about the writer's life as well as how to get the right words on paper / screen.
Happily, she has made time for me too and agreed to do this interview. Have a read, check out the links, and add her to your resource list.
1. As an international journalist and writer, how did you compete in a global market when you first started out?
Looking back, I think I stood out because I was constantly coming up with new and interesting stories from India that my editors had never heard of or seen published elsewhere. At least in my early years, if a major publication had covered a story, I almost never went near it. Instead, I made it my goal to find stories that hadn’t been told before. One year, I traveled across India trying to find stories of women who were doing unique and interesting things and many of them had never been told before. I’d also try to take major news stories and find slants or angles to them that made them unique. This frequently allowed me to break into publications such as TIME and The New York Times.
I’ve found that often, it’s about the story. Find a good one and most editors will have a hard time saying no.
2. Following on with the international theme, some freelance sites are being criticised for passively encouraging a ‘lowest bid’ approach to secure jobs on offer. Obviously, in a market that embraces different economies, pricing and budget will always be relative. How might authors based in the Western hemisphere gain an edge if they cannot compete on price?
An experienced professional is an experienced professional no matter where in the world you live and in my understanding, high-quality professional writers who live in Asia and Africa frequently charge equal to, if not more than, their Western counterparts because we’re so rare and because we have to work so hard to negate these perceptions of low-quality work based on our location. I never recommend competing on price, no matter where in the world you are.
Compete, instead, on quality. Come up with the best story ideas, write perfect drafts, deliver your work on time, speak to your editors, go above and beyond for them, especially when you’re new to the craft and still learning the ropes. Build relationships, not only with editors but other writers. Share information. Be generous. Give referrals freely. Work hard. Keep learning. Keep practicing. Treat every assignment as if it were paying $1 a word. Never get cocky.
That’s it. It’s pretty simple, really.
3. Do you approach your non-fiction and your fiction differently in terms of time management, headspace and creativity?
Absolutely. I treat my non-fiction, which mostly comprises freelancing at this point, as a business because it is what pays my bills and helps buy chew toys for the dog. So I approach it exactly how a person should approach a business - I run my numbers regularly, I don’t accept work below a certain rate, I’m always careful to carve out time for marketing, and I’m aware that I need to make a certain amount of money per week or month for me to consider freelancing a sustainable way of making a living.
My fiction, on the other hand, makes no money at this point in time and so I treat it more like a hobby or a side project that hasn’t quite taken off. I’ll often write in bed, frequently only when the mood strikes, and there are long periods when I have to neglect it entirely. That’s fine for now, but I’m hoping that at some point in the next two years, my fiction will start making money, too, and at that point I will certainly start approaching it differently.
4. Are there any places in the world you would particularly like to live in and why?
I’m currently dividing my time between my two favorite countries - India and the UK. For now, that works perfectly for me and is the perfect blend of east and west that I like.
5. What motivates you to write so much content for free, and do you feel writers at the beginning of their journey should try it?
I’m assuming you mean my blog because I don’t ever write for free, nor do I ever endorse that anyone do so.
I started writing my blog back in 2002 when I was first starting out in freelancing. I kept it up intermittently, sharing personal experiences of my travel and things I was learning about the freelancing business as a solo female traveler and a journalist writing for international publications from India. At the time, I seemed to be the only one successfully doing so, and I wanted to share the lessons I learned with people who were following my work, mainly freelancers from countries in Asia and Africa. In fact, many of my readers did go on to write for The New York Times and TIME magazine and it encouraged me to continue sharing those tips, something I do to this day.
In fact, so popular did my little advice blog become that it has actually now become its own website—The International Freelancer (http://www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com). On my own website and personal blog, I’ll continue sharing lessons that have to do with my career and sharing notes about my journeys in the writing world and life.
6. You write about creativity - is there any book you return to time and again to call out to the muse?
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a perennial favourite not only because she’s so straightforward with the truth about the writing life, but because she does it with so much humor and depth. I love re-reading this book every few years and it never fails to inspire.
7. There are some writers - I’m one - who are happy to write about deeply personal experience. Where would you draw the line in your writing?
I draw the line at family, I think. While I do write about my life and of course, that involves my family, I’m always careful to tell my story and not theirs. My husband is actually pretty open and doesn’t mind my writing about us and our life at all, so it usually does come down to me where that line is and I tend to be cautious more often than not. I won’t often write about my son.
I used to write a lot of essays when I first started writing but lately, I’ve found fiction to be a lot more effective and engaging form of telling parts of my own story.
8. Have you had any success syndicating your work in print? If so, any tips?! I hold my hand up - this one is specifically for me, as I have a back catalogue of Green Living humour pieces that I’d love to find a second home for!
Unfortunately, no. That’s one area I’ve never actually pursued and know very little about.
9. Where can we find out more about your writing?
My personal portfolio is at my personal website, www.mridukhullar.com, but I also run a website for freelance writers and journalists called The International Freelancer, http://www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com.
10. Are there any other forms of writing you want to try?
I’m very interested in audio at the moment, so learning how to write for podcasts and radio is definitely something I’d love to explore in the coming months and although it’s not writing, I also really like the idea of speaking, so I’ve actively been soliciting opportunities in that area as well.
Visit www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com to download 21 query letters that sold to top publications, including The New York Times and TIME, for free.