One of the most satisfying freelance writing gigs to snag is regular column writing. The chance to write what you want and have ongoing work you can rely on…it’s a dream.
There are a lot fewer opportunities out there to become a columnist than there were a decade or two back, so these can be hard to land.
But I recently got a contract to write a regular column — in the most unusual way.
I totally screwed up an assignment for a new editor. But I handled it with grace, and turned the situation into a monthly column that’s easy to write — and nets me $150–$200 per hour in ongoing income.
Here’s how I did it:
It started with a response to a job board ad. After the initial introduction and a short phone conversation, I got my first assignment.
Getting it wrong
This first assignment was to write a “cautionary” story about a well-known investor who had some public complaints and a couple of legal issues in his background.
I conducted the necessary research and contacted the investor to get a response, wrote the article, and submitted it to my client.
After a couple of revisions, they decided to kill the article and notified me that I was not the right fit for their needs.
However, they did offer a nominal kill fee for my efforts.
I immediately took a deep breath and responded to my editor’s email with a well-thought-out and carefully worded response. It included the following key points:
- An expression of disappointment and regret that I didn’t ask enough questions to ‘get’ their needs and deliver a story that would work for them. (This can add work to the front end, but it’s actually fun — and it helps you give your client what they want.)
- A restatement of the original message, indicating the type of piece they wanted me to write
- Emphasis on my background as a former newspaper editor and award-winning journalist
- Surprise that the client reached the conclusion that I wasn’t right for them based on just one article, which I thought was written to their specs
Finally, I took the opportunity to negotiate the kill fee and offered to fix the article if the client wanted me to.
In a surprising (to me) turn of events, my editor let me know they would pay my requested kill fee and offer me another chance on a new assignment.
Turning it around
The reason this approach worked is pretty simple. I remained professional while communicating my disagreement with the client respectfully, even though it was clear that I had goofed. I took responsibility for my failure, while standing firm that the client was also partly responsible.
It was a play on their conscience, and it worked.
I soon received an email asking if I’d be interested in writing about the ABC-TV reality show Shark Tank. Of course, I would!
After some discussion, we decided to expand on the first article and turn it into a monthly column. I was given leeway to approach the series any way I wanted.
Not only did I salvage the original job, but I got to become a columnist with total freedom to write about it my way. There’s no better deal than that.
How have you recovered from a failure? Tell us in the comments below.
Allen Taylor is a freelance journalist, blogger, and author of E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books. He curates The Content Letter, a weekly e-zine for indie authors and knowledge hounds.