Where flexible working works - Jobs for mums

Career Focus - The World of Writing

Freelance Journalist - Anne Keeling

Anne has worked in public relations and writing for 21 years and has been freelance writing for 13 years in the USA and UK. She was editor of Design; a homAnne Keeling and her sonse and garden magazine in the United States for 3 years and since moving back to England has continued to be a regular contributor. Anne also writes for Fantastic Kitchens magazine and the Sub-Zero customer magazine, both in the US and contributes to various consumer and trade magazines in Great Britain on healthy eating for children, food and lifestyle, parenting, and home and design.


The Interview

Name - Anne Keeling

Location - We live just 20 minutes outside Cardiff in a small, friendly village called Wenvoe. We're 10 minutes from the beach, have some wonderful walks right from our house, and it's only 2 hours to drive to London - perfect!

Family - I am a single mum with four boys: Simon aged 13, Paul aged 11, Duncan aged 9 and Stuart aged 8.


How did you become a Freelance Journalist? What is your background?

I have a BSc from Bath University where I studied food and nutrition and with this training went directly to work for Harrison Cowley Public Relations in their Birmingham and London offices (the PR arm of Saatchi and Saatchi), focusing primarily on their food-based accounts including Kellogg's Cereals and Cadbury Chocolate. This gave me the chance to utilise my food knowledge and train in public relations, on-the-job: a great way to learn, especially when handling such significant accounts and when working alongside highly skilled people. This is where I learnt to write: press releases, bi-line articles, features, news announcements, radio ads, brochures; and to work closely with the national media, as a result understanding the how, when, what and why of their business.

After six years with Harrison Cowley I moved to the USA. What an experience! It was here that I began freelance writing for and eventually editing Design, a home and garden design magazine which fitted in perfectly with my life as a new mum. When my youngest son, Stuart, arrived one month premature and with a deadline still to meet on the summer issue, I remember typing away at my computer with a week old baby lying contentedly across my lap!

Did you have formal training?

No, my writing training was all learnt on the job during my PR and magazine days.

How do you find jobs as a freelancer?

I have been lucky in picking up most of my work through word of mouth and through people reading my writing and pursuing me for other projects. I do some networking and if I come across a publication or website that I would like to write for, or I think my background is relevant, I do make contact, usually by email or telephone and this has lead to a number of jobs.

Is it hard building up a list of contacts?

It's not hard, but you have to be persistent. You never know when you might meet someone who could be a good contact; I met one great contact while chatting on a plane journey, and I've formed good leads through completely unrelated meetings, through business acquaintances, and while socializing so it is always worth keeping some business cards on you at all times. The best way to make new contacts is to be low key about what you do. If you're chatting to someone new, the conversation will inevitably come around to your job, so there's never any need to force the issue. That only makes you look desperate for work. Sometimes a work project will transpire years after meeting a contact, so have patience.

Will magazines/websites use new journalists who are just starting out, or do you have to have an established track record?

It is virtually impossible to get a commission for a job without having had your work published. My advice to anyone starting out is to write several articles on your subject and individually send them to your local newspapers and magazines for free submission. This is a good start. It will be easier to make contact with the local press than with national publications who receive hundreds of press releases and outlines for articles every day. And because you are local you stand more chance of your work being considered for publication. Local human interest pieces work well, especially if they have a link to a news angle. Be prepared to develop your article if requested and don't take offense to demands for changes or for those many occasions when your submission will be ignored. It may be no reflection whatsoever on your writing skills. However, be willing to learn from any feedback given. The secret to success is persistence. Don't give up, think small, and be prepared to grow slowly. Make sure you keep copies of every article you have published. These will be essential as work samples when developing new associations.

How many hours do you work a week?

It very much depends on the projects I'm working on. I've worked 65 hour weeks on occasions to meet a deadline which has meant a few late nights! But my typical work week is about 35 hours.

Do you work from home?

Yes, I have worked from home for 13 years. My office spaces have been interesting and varied ranging from a corner of my laundry room, to the bay area of my bedroom, to a dedicated office.

How does the job fit round your family?

Brilliantly - most of the time. Every day I take my children to school and virtually every day I can pick them up at home time. I am then a full-time mum until bedtime and usually start work again at 9pm for a couple of hours or more if necessary. I don't mind the late nights because of the opportunities of being a mum when I'm needed most. As my own boss, I always give myself time-off for sports days and school performances and there's less pressure when one of the children is sick - this has been most significant for the past four weeks while Duncan and Stuart have had chicken pox! Then, it's a case of grabbing work time how and when I can. But I feel very fortunate that I can be with my children when they're poorly. I do have a babysitter back-up if the going gets too tough, but even then, I'm only upstairs and easily at hand. School holidays are the most stressful for juggling work and children at home. However, I actively schedule much less work during this time and have been known to work on my laptop in the oddest of places: in the tent, beside the pool and on the beach (though I strongly recommend not getting sand in your computer!)

What exactly does the role encompass?

It varies on the publication. Sometimes I propose the article, source the interviews and write the copy. Other times I am given the subject and supplied with the interview candidates - that's much easier of course but there is something very satisfying in finding good interviewees. My years working in Public Relations has helped me to become a capable researcher and sleuth which is the secret to finding good candidates for articles. Sometimes I'll need to interview six or seven different people to compile one feature. It's a bit like a jigsaw; in talking to one person you see great questions to ask the next person and it somehow all slots into place. Sometimes you get to the point of writing the copy and you start kicking yourself because you've missed a great question that will tie everything together. That's why I'll always say to interviewees that I may need to call them at a later date to finalise the piece. Oftentimes, I'll rough-draft the copy after one interview before I call others as it helps to form some structure to my next questions. If an interview has gone particularly well I feel extremely buoyed by the experience and that's a great time to write - while things are extra fresh and stimulating. These are often the best pieces or work. I spent many years writing press releases for trade publications. This was excellent training in getting to the root of an issue, compiling facts, and never exaggerating the point. This was excellent grounding for every bit of the writing that I now do. I do think that it's very important to include valuable information in every piece of writing, whatever it's form or function. I have read far too many things in the past that have been pointless or have not dug deep enough into the topic at hand and that can be very frustrating to the reader.

What is the earning potential?

It varies drastically per job. I still have several great connections in the US where I earn around $1,000 per article. Rates are not that good here in the UK and I've worked for as little as £100 per feature. I think it's more important to consider the long-term relationship with a client and the value of the information that you are writing about. For example, I am a hugely strong believer in healthy eating and healthy lifestyle for children and will be much more willing to negotiate on such articles than on a more frivolous subject. Annually my income is about £30,000 which has the potential to grow as my children get older and I have more time available for taking on additional jobs.

Do you enjoy the job?

Absolutely. I value the benefits it gives to me as a mum and the flexibility it allows for my children. I value the freedom it gives me to enjoy life to the full. I have met and interviewed some fascinating people. I find it very satisfying discovering and highlighting lifestyle priorities that could be thought-provoking for readers. I'm always amazed that my brain can formulate a story, but I think the secret to that is to really listen well to your interviewees so that you can really understand what makes them tick, then it's a pleasure to write.

What is the best bit of business advice you have been given?

My greatest mentor is also now by closest friend. He showed me many years ago, and continues to this day, to prioritise the value of everyone's role within a business environment, whether they are a cleaner or a managing director. Whatever the business, you cannot succeed without a good team and each team-player takes on a crucial role. His analogy is the theatre: The lead actors may get their names in lights, but without the sound and lighting experts, the costume and make-up departments, and the ticket sellers, they're nobodies.

Do you have any words of wisdom for Mums (or Dads!) who would like to get into Journalism?

Freelance journalism may not offer the fattest of incomes, but it gives you enormous flexibility for your family and to me that benefit is priceless. If you value the time to spend each day with your children through every crucial year, from babyhood to adulthood, then it is a perfect job.

Contact Anne on - 02920-597954 or email - anne.keeling@btinternet.com


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