Start your freelance life out right

Thursday, June 14, 2018
Jackey Coyle interviewed by Elisa McTaggart

A portrait of Jackey Coyle
Jackey Coyle

So, you want to start your freelance practice? When Jackey Coyle was starting out as a freelancer, she didn’t have information or resources available to her; she has essentially written her own freelancer handbook. You, on the other hand, can turn to established freelancers, like Jackey, and draw on their years of fine-tuning, growth, mistakes, systems and innovations. We chatted to Jackey ahead of her upcoming Writers on Wednesdays workshop: The Freelance Marketplace, where she will be sharing tips, tools and resources that will give you the edge and confidence to establish your freelance practice right from the onset.


The term ‘freelance’ has, in the past, been considered a dirty word. How do you think the writing industry’s perception is changing towards freelancers and how can we, as freelancers, counter any misconceptions to gain the respectability that freelancing deserves?

As the work climate in general has shifted to outsourcing rather than full-time employment, freelancing has become the norm across many industries. Homing in on publishing, often most of the roles involved in bringing a publication to life are performed by freelancers – consider editors, designers, proofreaders, typesetters, publicists; in fact, sometimes one freelancer project-manages a book, magazine, website or journal, using subcontractors when needed. Therefore, there's no problem with freelancing when it comes to writers. However, it's important to learn the other skills needed to present ourselves as freelance professionals, treating our writing as a business, micro though it may be.

We need to design our writing life with a sense of purpose. How can we use our resources wisely? Most of us only have our time and energy – we need to work smart to make the most of them. And we need to manage the money side of it, know how to get the word out and keep on getting better at what we do.

Think of it in terms of writing principles:

1. show, don't tell
2. keep the audience top of mind
3. get the structure right
4. get the story straight
5. read a lot, learn from everything.

What do you love most about life as a freelancer?

The freedom! I've designed my work to fit into the life that's right for me, so life's important elements are taken care of: people, writing, music, travel and beauty.

What has been one of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your own practice?

Finding a way to make doing the books interesting enough to get them done! I used to be still doing my books for the accountant the night before an overseas trip, getting two hours sleep before we flew out. So I devised my own systems, using colour and creative templates to get the job done quickly and painlessly.

How important do you think it is to diversify your services and income streams as a freelancer?

It's crucial to diversify so you're minimising your risk – not necessarily services, if you have a strong niche, but definitely balancing high-paying income streams with lower-paying ones, which may be where your heart is. I like to think of it as prioritising some bread-and-butter work, which brings in enough regular income to fund the other, which may be the book you are writing or the portfolio of published work you're building. In terms of publishers/clients, diversity is important in case, say, a regular editor leaves, a company goes bust etc.

Is there anything you wish you had been told when you were starting out?

When I was starting out, there wasn't much information or help around. The best piece of advice would have been to monitor everything – time, submissions, marketing – everything!

Are there any good books you have read that have helped you and your micro-business grow?

I have a handout of print and online resources as I've learned from so many sources of fantastic information. All I hope to do in my courses is start people off on their journey and give them pointers as to where to look when they need more direction. Here are two that have been invaluable over the years.

  • David Keane, ’The art of deliberate success’ (Wiley) – a brilliant way to instil purpose into your life and work.
  • Slaunwhite, Savage & Gandia, ‘The wealthy freelancer’ (Alpha) – lots of practical pointers.


About Jackey Coyle

Jackey Coyle sustains her creative writing practice by writing features, editing fiction and non-fiction, teaching and mentoring. She is the former President of Editors Victoria and Founding Editor of ‘Inside Small Business’ magazine.

About Elisa McTaggart

Elisa McTaggart is the Program and Marketing Intern at Writers Victoria. She works freelance as a writer, photographer and project manager, while establishing a wilderness photography and nature writing art practice.