Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Freelance Journalism Work in Japan (whether you are a mama or not)

So, in this post I'd like to share my experience freelancing for major (and not so major) media companies.
I apologize if my visible sarcasm sounds bitter, I just want this post to be honest and bullshit-free. Feel free to ask me questions in the comment section.

* My (short) Opinion
* How To Apply (and how to get exclusives- in short)
* Money
* Bottom Line

I've stumbled across so many posts and websites suggesting "freelance writing" as a way to earn good to great money however the painful truth is that, only a very small percentage can make a real living out of it. It's not bad as a side-job, thought, giving you have enough power and time for researching/interviewing/writing/editing/taking photos/fighting with the publisher to pay you as promised/etc.


I did freelance writing ever since I was 15. You see, as you are a freelancer, you don't even need to write your age on the resume. You just list all your previous achievements/published pieces (if you have any), attach several writing samples and tell them exactly what kind of exclusive you are going to get them. It is a great way to upgrade your teen-self from a McDonald's job.
Thankfully, my resume and writing samples were immediately liked so I "entered the media world" in a matter of days and that's how I found myself (sometime later) in Japan on a contract to supply Japan-themed materials. 
*I've heard that it's better to be published somewhere (even if you wrote for free) before approaching bigger publishers, but I didn't do it. I was lucky to find something that the magazine I've applied to was searching for and I've stated in my cover-letter that I'm gonna get it to them. Of course, I also attached my writing sample but it wasn't a published one. They let me use their name when I was fighting for the exclusive, and after I got it I managed to write it in a very nice way so that they actually took it and paid for it. That's how I started writing for them and later on moved to write for other publications using my previous articles as achievements and samples.
As for where to apply to, some magazines and papers openly advertise (on their websites or in print) that they are looking for contributors and to some you just need to inquire yourself through contacting the editor (emails/phone numbers are usually available on their websites or first page of their printed editions. Basically, checking one by one is inevitable, but you can make your job easier by googling "magazine/publishers/newspapers list *insert your country/area*". Most likely you will find a Wiki page or a website listening them in a nicely organized alphabetical way. There are also some yearly writing contests (for example, Vogue U.K) so it's nice to monitor them if you are really serious.
*How to get exclusives: there are several tricks on how to get your exclusive. Firstly, you are going to find yourself constantly nagging the manager/person in charge by phone/emails and even in-person meetings (more like waiting for hours/days/months at their office/house doors and stalking and begging for them to talk to you. You will also find yourself asking everyone and their brother to get you in through "personal connections" and that's when being a member of a "press club" and going to different parties and events comes in handy (of course you need to choose carefully which places to go to and who to surround yourself with, otherwise it would become a huge time-waster). Another thing is that you must master the skills of online-researching and all the off-line resources available (for example, obtaining tax documents to find a person's address and/or even buy personal info through specialized companies) and last but not least, you must be always cautious for new info (that includes always reading official and non-official/gossip news portals) as even the smallest clue can lead you to a huge exclusive. 


The times when one could hope for thousands of dollars per a well-written special piece are over. Frankly, more and more publishers don't even pay anything to their writers because they think that having one's name printed on a paper should fulfill one's need to eat (after all, he could just eat that paper, right?)

In my case, I reported disaster news (such as Tohoku) for several foreign newspapers and did exclusive interviews with A-list celebrities for several magazines. Newspapers paid me 100$ for the disaster reports while magazines (both major and minor) 50~100$ for a full exclusive interview with an international A-list celebrity with photos and all (yes, freelance writer means also a photographer for no extra fee).

The problems with this job are that; 1, It's not like you can write lots of articles per day and get them all published. Some articles take several days to be completed, in case of interviews you might find yourself waiting months before the interviewee finds time to talk and, frankly, you are not the only writer that the publisher/s you are submitting to got. In order to survive one month, you'll need to produce at least 100$ worth of article/s a day and get a guarantee that it will be published, which leads to problem #2, getting a contract with a publisher is nearly impossible (at least in the countries I've worked in). Not only that they already have their own team of full-time journalists they have enough "wanabee journalists" that would love to hand them tons of content for free, so why bother with contracts and promises? Finally, the 3rd problem is that you are usually paid minimum one month after the published date and actually getting your hard-earned money in the bank is as tough as going to war. You will find yourself calling/emailing repeatedly asking where the heck is your paycheck and I'm not referring to some shady publications. I'm talking about main-stream-super-famous companies here.
Actually, prepare to be screwed by those who you worked for for months and those who even printed you your own beautiful business-cards stating you are their "special writer".
I won't list names here, but feel free to ask me in-private.

Bottom Line:

I never wrote for "unknown" companies. I always only chose those I'm personally reading/know they are established. So, I bet that writing for "private" clients or companies/publishers you've never heard about (especially through online freelance jobs sites) is even riskier.

It's a known fact that the industry for freelance writers is not lucrative anymore, but I do know that some can still survive on it. For that, though, you must be very lucky, outstandingly talented and connected, and most likely write for your own blog/site/publishing company that will then get popular ;)


  1. I am surprised how much work you have to go through to just get paid for the work you submitted! So stressful! I have been looking into ELT materials writing and editing. It's something related to my teaching background that I would like to try.

  2. It's nice to try! Just please be very careful! Try to find a reliable/known company and better go through the negotiations by email/written form so that later they can't screw you.

  3. Thanks for your advice. I will be careful! I have got an online interview next month from Pearson HK. We will see how that goes.

    1. Congrats and good luck!!! I hope you'll get a good deal!!!


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