When we at Crossroads HQ asked Makenna Johnston to interview writer Susannah Breslin, it wasn’t just because they’re both so damn tall. They share another important factor. Mak is not, as us Southerners are sometimes wont to say, “from here,” but this big-minded outsider has made a home here and at the same time, made it a safer place for cool ideas to flourish. Like giving Macon its own licensed TED Talk conference this past spring.
As a writer, Susannah Breslin has made her name working on the outskirts, showing us the other side of people who dwell on the fringe. And from the same pen also flows career advice for Forbes.com and INC.com. She is an expert on the “Gig Economy”—the cultural shift from steady jobs to off-shift and temporary positions, freelance, etc—and the lessons she offers extend beyond the nuts and bolts about how a writer can function in this era.
Yes, for freelancers, Susannah is a gold vein of heady knowledge, but take a step back and you’ll see that a lot of her advice is just as valuable for writers of fiction, screenplays, memoirs, comics and poems as it is for bloggers and magazine writers. When you finish reading this interview with Susannah, check out her website and explore her work.
Without further ado…
Makenna: Freelancing is a tough gig, we all know this. Your piece “Why You Shouldn’t be A Writer” is brilliant. But, if you could give a prospective freelancer a single piece of advice (other than, ‘don’t do it’) what would it be?
Susannah: Don’t be boring. This is more challenging than you’d think. Most people think they’re interesting. Therefore, they think their pitches are interesting, their writing is interesting, their stories are interesting. Most of the time, it isn’t. Think about it. The editor you’re pitching is getting hundreds of stories daily, weekly. They’re looking for a reason to delete you. How do you stand out? How high is your bar? Are you reinventing a genre, breaking news, doing something that really hasn’t been done before? And if you’re not, why bother?
M: You talk a lot about ‘the hustle’ specifically that being a good marketer, traffic pusher, and editor of your own writing is increasingly important in the freelancing world. Any specific tips and/or suggestions on how to become a kick ass and take names hustler and/or improve one’s hustling skills?
S: Your article isn’t going to read itself. You published something online, and nobody’s reading it. That’s probably because you thought writing it was enough. It isn’t. Send out the link to your piece to anybody of influence who may be interested in it. That’s networking on behalf of your prose. It’s not enough to write. You must also work to be read.
Start a blog or Tumblr if you haven’t already and update it at least once a day, five days a week. Tweet links to your work. Ask your friends to share links to your work on Facebook. Read people who are good at stirring it up online like Penelope Trunk and James Altucher. Read Romensko and Media Jobs Daily. Get PR tips from Cassie Boorn’s Ask a PR Girl. Ask someone to do something for you every day and offer them something in return.
M: Being a freelancer often comes with a ton of ‘up in the air, oh crap where is my next job coming from’ moments. How do you handle that with grace and dignity and without looking like a crazy person?
S: Well, I think, counter-intuitively, I act like a crazy person. Some of my most popular work involves me acting crazy: They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?, The Business About My Breasts. I’ve written about my suicidal tendencies, my cancer, my PTSD. TMI is good for you because it asks you to be brave. Others respect bravery. That gets you work.
M: You have an incredibly audacious style and voice that is rather unique to you. Do you think that has been crucial to your success as a freelancer? Has it at times not worked so well in your favor?
S: I’ve been pondering this lately. I don’t think my style or voice has hurt me; they’ve helped me. But I do sometimes wish that I hadn’t burned so many bridges. I wish I’d spent a couple years working as a beat reporter at a newspaper. I wish I’d been an editor at a glossy. I’ve always been very interested in staying outside the circle, but I suppose that choice has limited me, as well.
As for being outspoken, that has never been anything but good for me professionally. You do, though, get criticized. Someone once called me a boil on a neck or some such thing. But, you know, the peanut gallery always has something to say.