The Pyjama Myth – tips and guidance for freelance journalists (and those who work with them)
By Vanessa McGreevy
22 Aug 2019
Freelance journalist Sian Meades-Williams is currently working on a book for freelancers, The Pyjama Myth: The Freelance Writer’s Survival Guide. She’s crowdfunding via Unbound and offering inventive rewards for businesses and PR professionals who want to understand freelancers, as well as for journalists themselves. We caught up with Sian to talk about the challenges freelance writers face, why The Pyjama Myth will help and the process of crowdfunding as a journalist.
Can you tell us about your background as a journalist?
I started writing for websites while I was still working in advertising and it grew from there! Once I was in a position to quit my job and pay my bills, I did. Of course, it wasn’t that simple – with little support or a network 12 years ago, I struggled a lot. But over the years I’ve built up an eclectic writing portfolio; sometimes I write features for magazines and websites, I also write copy for brands, and I’ve always had my own projects on the go.
I now run my own publishing company and create email newsletters for brands and publishers, as well as co-editing the PPA-award-winning lifestyle newsletter Domestic Sluttery, and the weekly media industry newsletter Freelance Writing Jobs, which does exactly what it says on the tin. I never expected to write emails for a living, but I love the format – you build an instant connection with a reader when they click open.
What motivates you to share so many opportunities via the Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter – (rather than stash them away in a locked drawer to reduce the competition)?
I had a really rough year before I launched Freelance Writing Jobs in 2018. I had to postpone the second year of my MA because I just wasn’t earning enough to pay the fees. When things finally turned around (as freelancing tends to), I was still finding brilliant jobs and passing them onto other writer friends. There isn’t a platform in the UK that’s just for freelance roles, so I made one.
Job hunting is so tough, and it really weighs on you when nothing is coming your way. When the newsletter lands in inboxes it takes the pressure off and makes the search a little more fun. I think it’s made freelance writers more optimistic. I highlight such a wide variety of writing jobs – calls for pitches from magazine editors, working for exciting brands or even writing books! – and I prioritise jobs that can be done remotely or in hours that fit around the school day. I love sharing a niche opportunity and hearing back from subscribers who have got jobs they wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. I spend hours researching the newsletter each week, and those messages make every minute worthwhile.
I do sometimes pitch for work before I hit send on the newsletter but I’ve never been one for hoarding stuff. I’m a sharer and I really believe that what you put out into the world you get back in return.
You’ve taken a stance against both hyperbole and euphemisms in job adverts (not least in this excellent GIF-rich Twitter thread) – but what information would you say employers do need to include when looking for freelancers?
I’ve been pretty vocal about companies demanding that people ’live and breathe’ their job. No one needs to do this. I love my career, but it’s not my life. People are better at their jobs when they don’t think about them 24/7.
I really wish more companies would include salaries and day rates for freelance roles in their job ads. When they don’t, they end up with a bunch of applications from writers that they can’t afford and writers waste their time applying for them. No one is happy with this outcome and it’s really easy to fix.
What challenges do you hope that The Pyjama Myth will help freelance writers to solve?
Freelancing is being heralded as the answer to all employment issues at the moment. ’Quit your job!’ is a statement that gets bandied about a lot with little consideration for individual circumstances. That’s what I want to cover in The Pyjama Myth – everyone has a different journey in their freelance writing career and your choices don’t have to look like anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a writer for years before you make the jump – freelancing is difficult and it challenges you in ways you don’t anticipate. The book isn’t a memoir, it’ll include case studies and advice from other freelance writers and brilliant tips from editors, and it’ll show the huge variation in careers.
The Pyjama Myth is a survival guide to freelance writing. It’s reassuring when you need it but it’s practical, too. The best thing about freelancing is that you are in control of changing what your day looks like. The book talks you through that, whatever the challenge, whatever stage of your career. I’ve written a detailed outline so you can see the breadth of topics it’ll cover.
Why have you chosen to crowdfund The Pyjama Myth?
I’ve wanted to work with Unbound for a long time, I love their approach to publishing and their titles. I used to work at The Times with my editor Fiona, and we’d been discussing a few projects before I hit upon The Pyjama Myth. I knew that Unbound was the right place for it and sent the pitch at 1am the week before my wedding!
Crowdfunding is really fun, but it’s hard work. You can’t be quiet about your project! As a result, I’ve had so many valuable conversations with writers about freelancing as a career option. The support so far has been astounding – there’s a real need for the book and I’m so excited that Unbound is behind it.
You’ve been sharing some of your tips for freelancers to promote your crowdfunding campaign and in some cases you must find yourself reiterating the same advice because it doesn’t sink in. Could you pick out three things that you most wish your fellow freelance journalists would take to heart?
We don’t talk about rejection enough. Your peers are being rejected. All the time. Daily. In the time it took you to read this. Don’t get hung up on other people’s successes or failures. The only way you’ll be successful is to focus on your own work.
All writers need editing. Especially the ones who think they don’t. Use it to learn how to make your work better. Don’t be Giles Coren.
And finally, something that I have to constantly remind myself of: The Impossible Task on your to-do list will take much less time than you think. Tick it off now.
3. All writers need editing. Especially the ones who think they don’t. Use it to learn how to make your work better. Don’t be Giles Coren. pic.twitter.com/xUsl6biLba
Finally, ResponseSource works with both PRs and journalists – could you share one tip on that would help PR professionals and businesses improve their relationships with freelance writers?
Being aware of a freelance writer’s time is key to a happy relationship, I think. Our time is literally money, so although we’re flexible in our work – adapting to change comes with the job! – when something doesn’t happen as promised or we don’t have enough notice to change something, it can sometimes mean the loss of a commission.
I love when PRs come to me with exciting ideas or they’re open to something interesting. Freelancers often get the opportunity to pitch really creative features and ideas, and working with other people to make those features happen is one of the best parts of the job.
Sian Meades-Williams is a freelance writer, owner of the media industry newsletter Freelance Writing Jobs, and co-author of lifestyle newsletter Domestic Sluttery. Her latest project The Pyjama Myth is being crowdfunded via Unbound – with pledges starting from £15 for the book and a printed acknowledgment, and higher-level rewards include one-to-one freelance advice sessions and workshops for businesses and universities.