The Perils and Triumphs of Freelance Writing

Fashionista Edna Mode: [to Bob Parr (alter ego Mr. Incredible)] Done properly, parenting is a heroic act. Done properly. The Incredibles 2

Did you catch the trailer for The Incredibles 2 last week?

It was like buried treasure among the hours and hours of coverage of sports no one understands, I mean the Winter Olympics.

In the new movie, stay-at-home mom Helen Parr (alter ego Elastigirl) is recruited to revamp the image of the illegal band of superheroes, leaving her husband Bob (alter ego Mr. Incredible) to take care of the kids.

A word of advice Mr. Incredible. Controlling your toddler’s erratic powers is going to be a piece of cake compared to handling the mental workload of a mother.

In my almost 13 years of parenthood, I’ve worked full-time, part-time, and stayed at home. For me personally, the hardest is to be a stay-at-home mom. There is nothing more soul crushing for a type-A, excessively detail oriented person like myself than to get to the end of the day without checking a single item off of my to-do list and the house is trashed.

So what’s a mom who stays at home with her kids to do if she wants to earn extra money or keep career skills fresh for the eventual re-entry back into the full-time working world?

For a lot of moms it’s freelance writing. I’m not talking about some magazine sending you on all-expense paid trip to write a travel piece. That job doesn’t exist (or at least not for moms doing school drop offs and pick ups and running a kid taxi service in the afternoons and evenings).

I’m talking about blogs, content articles, and product descriptions, with the client dictating the topic and word count, as well as how much the client can afford to pay.

Yes, some blogs are written by someone other than the person listed in the by-line. For better or worse, I promise I am the only one writing this blog.

A word of warning. Any one who has ever done it will tell you it’s not easy.  In fact, it’s really, really hard. You don’t magically find great clients and get used to trying to meet deadlines while the toddler who also kept you up all night sits on your lap.

While I’m not an expert on writing great content or rounding up a stable full of paying clients, I can speak of some of the legal issues that are unique to freelance writing (for a discussion of legal issues all freelancers need to consider, be sure to check out my post, Look Before You Leap-Legal Issues Freelancers Need to Know About).

Be Clear Who Owns What You Write

If you write something, you automatically own the copyright. This means that it is illegal for someone to make copies of your content without getting your permission. And better yet, you don’t have to publish anything or register anywhere to secure the copyright.

But what if someone hires you to write something, let’s say an article on how to learn the “new math” so you can help your kids with their homework (attention Mr. Incredible). Can you turn around and sell that article or a substantially similar article to another parenting website?

Generally speaking, works that are “made for hire” (a work made by an employee or independent contractor) are considered to be authored by the employer or the commissioning party. Meaning the employer or the commissioning party owns the copyright.

So if you want the right to be able to sell that fascinating article on the “new math” to another website, be sure you have a written contract that says you own the copyright.

Be Careful Before You “Borrow” Someone Else’s Words

It’s 11:50 p.m., you are rushing to meet a deadline, and you find the perfect paragraph to round-out the piece you are writing for a client. Before you right click, cut, copy, and paste, think again.

Despite what you may have heard, there are no hard and fast rules on what constitutes “infringement.” There’s no magic number of words marking the boundary between fair use and infringement.

And why is infringement bad? If you get sued, you could have to pay the copyright owner the amount of money you made from using the work or that the owner would have made if the infringement had not happened. You may also be liable for statutory damages.

The best course of action? Don’t do it or get permission (in writing) from the original writer.


Learn from Others

There are lots of great resources online on how to be successful as a freelance writer. Here are a couple I found:

  • Figuring out how much you should charge should be the first question you answer. Should you charge by the project (flat fee), by the hour, by the word, or by the page?  Allena Tapia wrote a great article for The Balance on how to do the math.
  • How do you go from being a stay-at-home mom to a “real” writer with a thriving freelance writing career? For one mom, it was going public with how much she was earning and mixing and matching small and big jobs. Check out the article Gemma Hartley wrote for Forbes.

What kind of writing to do you like to read online? Personal testimonials? Funny anecdotes? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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