Arkansas Freelance Writers Find Footing on National Press Scene

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

“You generally have to take what you’re offered as far as rates go,” he said. He has earned from 10 cents to $1 a word, Francis said. “Locally, usually for a decent size story I can generally expect to get $500.”

“When you are ‘self-unemployed’ as I like to put it, you don’t really have the option of turning away too many jobs.”

Francis’ biggest advantage is that he lives cheaply. His house is paid for and he has no credit card debt.

Although he was well-known in the journalism community, “people don’t just start knocking on your door and calling your phone,” Francis said. Marketing and networking are essential, and little is better than positive word of mouth. “If you’ve got an editor or another freelancer who tells somebody, ‘I can’t do it but this guy can,’ then that’s a stamp of approval that you really can’t buy.”

Rhonda Owen

Rhonda Owen of North Little Rock came to freelancing four years ago after she was laid off by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she had worked for more than 20 years and was an associate editor in the features department. She’s making a living, Owen said, but is still building her business. That business is WordSense Creative Services, which she established formally as an LLC in March 2011.

Owen said she knew going in that freelancing would be hard work “that requires discipline and a lot of hours, that I’d be working nights and weekends, that it would take time to build a client base, and that sometimes I’d have to deal with difficult situations and people.”

But she loves journalism and wanted to continue to practice it. And because she, like Francis, has many years of experience in print, she knows what editors need and understands the pressure editors feel “to feed the ever-hungry copy monster. I know that if I don’t meet a deadline, it creates stress for them, that they may be faced with a last-minute hole to fill. I don’t want to put them in that kind of situation.”

Her biggest — her only — surprise, Owen said, was “what Arkansas publications pay for quality freelance work. Sadly, it’s lower than what I could have imagined.”

She has written for corporations and nonprofits like the Heifer Foundation, and her work has appeared in the Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Life and AY.

Although Owen misses the give-and-take of a newsroom, she loves her career. “I get to write stories about people and topics in which I’m genuinely interested and that excite me. I’m traveling the state meeting amazing people. I’m having the time of my life.”

Suzi Parker



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