Distinguishing the Freelance Writer from the Regular Writer

09 March 2011
freelance writer vs. regular writer
I spent the weekend at the university. Though the tri-semester was supposed to end last month, I still had a mouthful of backlogs to take care of in my statistics, research and philosophy classes. 

My brief visit reminded me of a well-liked text book, which inspired this post: Lee and Friedlander's Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines. As observed by both authors, a lot of people these days still equate freelancing to unemployment or some lowly profession. A few more individuals use the terms "freelance writer" and "regular writer" interchangeably. 

Both positions are paid, after all. Besides, freelance writers can create content for a regular client, can they not? How do you distinguish the freelance writer from the regular writer?

The Regular Writer
In the context of traditional journalism, Lee and Friedlander wrote that whenever you are hired as a regular employee of a publishing company or a writing business, you are considered as a regular writer or a staffer.

A regular writer typically:
  • Gets listed in the company's payroll. Rain or shine, good writing or not, you receive regular wages for the work that you do, as described in a long-term contract.

  • Has very little say on what to write. The managing editor or editor-in-chief usually assigns the stories that need to be covered. At the very best, you can suggest a topic but you can't insist on what to include or exclude.

  • Does not own the copyrights to the article -- even if it contains a byline. In principle, you have relinquished full copyrights to the company since Day 1 of your employment. As a staff writer, you have no right to enter your published writings in a contest, post them in your blog or share them for republication by another company. The byline (by teecup, for example) is really no more than a symbolic presence on the page.
People hired by a community daily are - without a doubt - regular writers or staffers.  (In mass communication, a daily is a newspaper that comes out everyday. Similarly, a weekly is a journalistic publication that gets circulated week after week.)

The Freelance Writer
A tad more aggressive and enterprising than staffers, freelance writers may write for either a newspaper or a magazine, but it's best to imagine them as content mercenaries. When you are a freelance writer, you don't owe your loyalty to one particular magazine, daily or journal. Rather, you market your ideas and woo the publishing industry into paying for your content.

A typical freelance writer:
  • Is not a part of the regular pay roll. If you can't sell your stories to the editor-in-chief of a publication, you won't earn anything. On the upside, when you do get paid for an approved and published article, you could be laughing your way to the bank. The payment is often a one-time deal. It's a no-guts-no-glory game.

  • Does not take assignments. You enjoy the freedom of not being ordered around and not having to write about a topic that isn't to your liking. Instead, you generate your own ideas and lobby for them. You get to negotiate terms with the editor before you start writing.

  • Depending on the agreement, may share the copyrights to bylined articles. Freelance writers usually enjoy the liberty of showcasing their articles in a writing portfolio. The privilege is well-deserved, of course. It's not easy to convince a very busy editor or a publisher to buy your story and to compete with other equally talented freelancers for a space on a glossy magazine.
Successful freelance writers do plenty of cold selling, extensive brainstorming and diplomatic negotiation to make a living. They don't just cover any stories but rather dig deep into an issue. They bank on the uniqueness of their ideas and in the strength of their writing and marketing skills.

Freelance Writer vs. Regular Writer?
Lee and Friedlander's Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines applies to traditional newspapers and magazines. I've always wondered which category best describes the contemporary writers online. What's your take on the modern-day ghost writers and web content providers? Are they freelance writers or regular writers? *
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