As a freelancer, it’s important to keep hustling. Work rarely comes to you; you have to seek it out, and the first rule of seeking out work is networking. Make contacts: sit and talk with colleagues at conventions. Talk about anything you want, just be sure to be polite, and try not to dominate the conversation too much. Let other people have the chance to talk, tell stories, and share anecdotes.
I’m going through a dry spell myself right now. I have no work lined up at the moment, and that’s no one’s fault but my own. I didn’t spend much of the last six months hustling after work. I did produce (with a fair bit of help) my own small book back in August, Madison By Night, a digital-only product for the White Wolf Storytellers Vault, but sales there have been a bit disappointing. However, the bright side to that is that, unlike most of the gaming writing I do, this is royalty-based, so I will keep earning a tiny bit of income from each sale for as long as the Storytellers Vault still exists. That’s important: as a freelancer, having steady sources of income — like a part-time job, for instance — can help get freelancers through lean times. That’s the second rule of being a freelancer: don’t quit your day job.
Attending conventions, while expensive and time-consuming — is a good way for freelancers to find work — either directly or indirectly. This ties in beautifully with networking, as people you meet at conventions — other freelancers, editors, publishers, and even convention committee members — are all in a position to recommend you for work when the subject comes up, and it does so often. Likewise, you should consider trying to get on programming at any convention you attend. Panel discussions where the talk is focused on games and gaming, for example, allow you to talk about some of the projects you’ve worked on, the people you’ve worked with, and the kinds of projects that appeal to you. These help fix you in the minds of not only potential fans, but also of colleagues who may be looking for help on a current or upcoming project.
While you’re waiting on other work, it’s important to keep working. For me, writing every day is a must. If I get out of the habit, I lose focus and to some degree lose that writing ‘muscle memory,’ which means getting back into the swing of writing later is that much harder. Work on a story you’ve always wanted to write, or try your hand at creating a new monster or interesting character for someone else’s game system. Practice makes perfect, and staying in practice at your skill — whether it be writing, illustrating, or even editing — is critical to keep that skill sharp and ready to be used at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish these ‘in-between’ projects, but they may turn out to be an important source of inspiration later, or could be developed into something you can market further down the road.
I know a lot of writers who absolutely LOATHE self-promotion. The thing is, you don’t have to be crowing about your wonderful projects to promote yourself. In fact it’s probably better if you aren’t crowing about them: mentioning them, if asked, is probably enough.
Being a freelancer can be tough. Working in the industry that deals with a hobby or trade that you love is rewarding, but it’s also a business, and it’s important to keep that firmly in mind. No matter how much you love the work, getting paid is the goal. There will be plenty of people who want you to work for free, whether it’s because they have no budget, they lack experience in publishing, or just because they’re greedy. Unless you really don’t need the money, or feel you are supporting an important cause, never work for free. That’s rule number three of being a freelancer, and perhaps the most important one of all: never work for free.
You need to be able to make a living at what you do in order to continue doing it. If people don’t understand that, you need to walk away. Their friendship, if it hangs in the balance of whether or not you’ll do free work for them, isn’t worth your time or effort.
Being a freelancer can be fun and rewarding, but it’s important to remember to take care of yourself too. No job is worth sacrificing your health or mental well-being.