Since 2008, I’ve kept detailed notes on which publications I’ve been pitching to and their responses. This exercise has not only helped me grow as a freelancer by opening my eyes to what primarily works, but has provided a way of being transparent from my end in terms of how life truly works as a freelancer, and as a reality check for those looking to follow a similar path.
It is safe for me to say that 2018 was my best year as a freelancer in many ways. Ten years since I started tracking all my pitches and individual assignments in detail, it has been quite the humbling journey to see how my work has developed and progressed in many ways.
When I closed out my 2017 review, I wrote that I wanted to focus on expanding my brand, delegating more and strengthening my team, and building my own platform. In essence, refocusing all that time I spend externally to focus more on building internally.
Well, 2018 opened with me working on a cool collaboration with Marriott International which took me to Oakland (California), Beijing (China), and Zurich (Switzerland) to photograph and explore each city with “fresh eyes” following specific themes.
And 2018 ended with me in Uzbekistan working on a cool collaboration with Intrepid Travel (more soon), traipsing around Costa Brava (Spain) on a book project, and a last minute assignment to Swedish Lapland for Korean Air.
In between, there were several notable travels and work highlights, including winning the 2018 Lowell Thomas Gold Award for Best Travel Book for DUE NORTH!
One work highlight was a high-profile collaboration with Mercedes-Benz when they launched the worldwide premier of their EQC electric car in Stockholm.
In the beginning of 2018, I took over the country of Sweden’s Twitter account! For a full week, I tweeted and shared my experience as a travel writer and photographer under Sweden’s banner.
I have to say, despite batting off trolls and right-wingers, it was one of the most memorable moments of my career. Growing up in Nigeria, I never would have imagined taking over a country’s key social media account this way.
Throughout the year, I collaborated with several brands that aligned with my own vision as well as took over Lonely Planet and Adventure magazine’s Instagram accounts.
While I continued transitioning from pitching to projects in 2018, I still made a lot of print and digital contributions including work from new and repeat clients such as Adventure Magazine, Asian Photography, BBC, Korean Air, Modern Adventure, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Norwegian Airlines, Silversea Cruises, Singapore Airlines, Panorama and The Guardian.
So here’s how 2018 panned out. Each query status has been categorized using the following legend:
Assigned – This means the article was assigned or submitted and published and/or paid for.
Interested – This means the editor expressed some interest in the query and it’s currently in some form of limbo with the publication.
Rejected – Very clear.
No Word – These are queries that I haven’t received any responses for to date.
The “Other Projects” part includes other sources of income such as speaking engagements, sales of my fine art photography, workshops I teach, etc. The “Books” part includes royalties (not much), foreign advances, and other engagements and projects tied to any of my books.
In 2017, the Freelancing slice of my income distribution chart dropped to 10% due to the fact that I was working on the book LAGOM which became a bestselling book with 18 foreign language editions (latest Slovenian deal dropped in December 2018!). Most of my energy was spent writing and promoting the book.
But in 2018, my Freelancing slice jumped up a bit to 17% because I had immediately switched back into the “feast or famine” mode most freelancers and consultants are conditioned to switch to. We prematurely freak out if we have a stellar year and start doubling down so the next year feels equally stellar. Even though I didn’t need to worry, I kept pitching more and saying yes to freelancing projects I probably didn’t need to be doing.
But the focus of this post is mainly on that 17% slice of freelancing for various publications.
I sent out a total of 75 pitches in 2018. This was 64% more pitches than I sent out the year before in what I call “backup income” pitching.
Of these pitches, 44 were assigned, 15 are currently being reviewed by editors/in various stages of limbo, 10 were rejected, and 6 (are still floating around in the “No Word” zone and have yet to be acknowledged.
2018 versus 2017 Comparison
In 2017, I sent out 48 pitches and in 2018, I sent out 75. In this chart, I’m comparing the percentages below to visually see how both years stacked up against each other.
What this meant work-wise
The most important chart to look at is the one above. The side-by-side comparision of both 2017 and 2018.
Assigned – Any spike in assignments is always cause for celebration so an assignment rate of 59% (almost 60%) is pretty good in an industry that is constantly in flux and shutting down publications left and right.
Rejected – Even though I had 10 rejections in 2018 as opposed to 6 rejections in 2017, the percentage of rejections stayed at 13% which is actually excellent, considering I increased the number of pitches I sent out by 64%.
Interested – Even though “Interested” dropped from 31% to 20%, looking at my rejections and no words, most of those interested pitches became assignments which is a very good thing! The higher the assignment rate, the lower the interested percentage should be.
THE NOT SO GOOD
My “NO WORD“ pile went from 6% to 8%. I’m not sweating a 2% increase. That’s only 6 pitches I didn’t hear anything back about. I might follow up with those editors though.
Special shout-outs to all fellow writers and photographers who recommended me to their editors or shared potential leads with me. I always do this for my colleagues as well once I know your niche.
“When you refuse to settle for less than the best…the best tends to track you down.”
Next steps… More business growth in 2019
My company Geotraveler Media currently has a fantastic virtual team of four (myself included) but I would love to grow my team and will be doing so by word-of-mouth through contacts I trust. So if you have solid skills covering the following subjects and have your own company (if you’re in the EU, your own VAT number), or can recommend someone excellent, please get in touch with me!
- Assistant editors and contributors for Slow Travel Stockholm
- Marketing and advertising, including newsletters and book promotion
- Photography assistant(s) to work with my image bank
- SEO experts
- Social media management for my other venture, NordicTB
Special Announcement – The end of an era
After ten years of diligently tracking my pitches, I am finally hanging up my towel. This will be my last pitching chart summary. The purpose of starting this way back in 2008 was not only to help me become a better freelancer, but to also help anyone else who wanted to follow this path. To show the realities of pitching – both assignments and rejections – and how viable it is as a part of one’s career.
This doesn’t mean I’ll stop freelancing completely. This means I am now in a position – through years of hard toil – to focus on writing stories I really want to write or photographing stories I’m interested in. More narrative and less service travel writing.
I have built expertise in various topics and regions which means editors now know to reach out directly to me (even on short notice) and I’ll always have their back. If I can’t do the assignment myself, I always give them solid recommendations.
What’s my area of expertise?
Editors, if you’re reading this…. In addition to exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle around the world, my regional expertise covers the Nordics and Baltics (both writing and photography) on short notice in case you have them in your 2019 editorial pipelines.
If you’re curious, you can check out previous pitching charts below:
For fellow freelancers out there, how did 2018 go for you? Did you hit some of your professional and personal goals?