At the risk of establishing a tedious trend of redundancy in this story, I have no idea how many freelance writing gigs I’ve applied for and didn’t get, mainly because I stopped keeping track a very long time ago.
However, in the spirit of fair play, for every 100 gigs I’ve applied for, my approximate win-loss record is 3-97, or a success rate of roughly 3%.
In any other racket, that’s an appallingly low number. For instance, a lawyer with a similar track record probably wouldn’t be a lawyer for very long. According to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 23% of defendants represented by either privately-funded or court-appointed attorneys see their cases end in dismissal. Only 1% of all defendants are acquitted. Still, you’ve got a 1 in 4 shot at beating the rap with a lawyer at your side.
Nevertheless, in writing (and by extension, all professional arts), 3% is a number you learn to live with. Thus, your true freelance writing success rate isn’t measured by how many gigs you land, it’s how many gigs you get paid for. In some cases, landing the job is the easiest part of the gig; you still gotta do the work, and it’s still got to be approved, and they still gotta cut you a check – that’s the real fuckin’ rub.
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever had to hunt down somebody who owed you money?
It isn’t fun, is it? The act of pursuit detracts from the pleasure of receiving money owed, and by the time you get paid, you don’t even care about the money. It’s not even about the money anymore – it’s about justice. The slow-paying deadbeat is the true villain of freelance writing: the client that fully intends to remit your payment…when they fuckin’ feel like it. A month later. After you’ve badgered them to the point of exhaustion.
And then, there are the swindlers and crooks who just disappear. You really only need to be burned once before you start sniffing them out. It’s the slow-paying deadbeats who are impossible to detect. Therefore, my rule is: Once I find a gig that pays on time, every time – regardless of my satisfaction with the work itself, I’m sticking with it until they pull the plug.
Rejection = Failure?
Anyway, moving along. Freelance writing is almost nothing but rejection precisely because writing can’t be objectively or universally qualified. Nobody can say definitively what’s good writing. A hiring manager can only decide who’s the best writer for the job. In my case, 97% of the time, it’s not me.
Now, I’m grateful for the fact that in the paid-writing racket, the average rejection letter is exactly 0 words long. It’s a non-reply. You simply never hear back from them. And that’s one of the reasons I stopped keeping track of my applications. I couldn’t decide on a standard waiting period for a reply, so I just sent shit off and expected to never hear back. When I did get a bite, I was pleasantly surprised.
As a freelance anything, every so often you have to treat rejection with a celebration of sorts. If you can’t find a silver lining in failure, you got no business trying to write for a living. You gotta say to yourself (lighthearted sigh): Yeah, I fucked that one up, apparently. And you gotta be pleased about it for no other reason. Everything doesn’t have to be a life-changing, learning experience. Sometimes you just drop the ball or miss the mark.
Failure and rejection are not always symbiotic. Rejection is primitive: you didn’t get the gig, i.e. you failed to win the approval of others. It’s an emphatic “No”. Failure is much more complex: along the way to rejection, you absolutely succeeded in a number of ways, i.e. you won some battles but ultimately lost the war.
Rejection is the engine that drives the writing racket, and a successful writer learns to thrive on it, but “no thanks” still hurts. If I think about it too much, it starts to throttle my heart. My chest tightens and it’s kinda hard to breathe sometimes. That’s why it’s so important to find something funny about it.
Highway to the Comfort Zone
If you made a list of positives and negatives about my life, at the very least, you could say that I’ve made a determined effort to periodically leave my “comfort zone” for extended lengths of time. If nothing else, you could say that I’ve tried almost as many things as I’ve been offered.
As a full-time writer, I’m frequently tasked with working outside of my usual range of comfort and expertise. Most of the time, it’s fairly simple stuff; I often say that anybody could do it. When it comes to freelance work, generally speaking, I don’t go for work that’s too far “out of my wheelhouse.”
That means 80-90% percent of available gigs are not for me, and I don’t apply, let alone write any kind of test assignment. In a broad, sweeping gesture of personal ethics, if a client or employer wants me to take a test of any kind, I don’t want anything to do with them. And ostensibly, vice versa.
There are two main reasons for staying within my freelance comfort zone: (1) I don’t necessarily need to leave it; and (2) my motto has always been to write what I know. Since I no longer write anything “for free”, there’s room to be selective. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time; most of all, mine.
One day I came across an ad on Freelance Writing Jobs-dot-com looking for a blogging ghost writer. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have bothered, but this particular ad was written in such a casual, off-hand manner – almost “snarky” – that I couldn’t pass it up. It included “misfit” in the job description. OK, I’m interested….
Although I noticed and vaguely recognized the name of the company – a fairly well-known Web site – I didn’t pay much attention to their racket: Insurance. Kind of like Expedia for independent insurance agents and the people who might be interested in them. Match-dot-com, for all things insurance.
The text of the ghost writer ad basically said, “Listen, Chief. It don’t matter if you don’t know shit about insurance. We’re looking for fresh voices.” The key phrase that compelled me to leave my comfort zone: fresh voices. So, I went through their online application process – which took about 30 minutes and involved some off-the-cuff writing. And I promptly forgot about the whole thing.
The ad mentioned a two-week turnaround time for responses; however, nine days later, I received the following message (heavily redacted, obviously).
You made the final cut. But first, complete a test assignment. Please write a blog on the following topic: How Big of a House Do You Really Need?
This article is in response to people who are searching online for the phrase “what size house should I buy?”
It is your job to answer this persons question with entertaining, well- researched copy.
For the purpose of this assignment, do fake research. Pretend like you interviewed people. Pretend like you did a survey. Pretend like you found some fantastic stats online.
See our writer’s guidelines (attached) for more information.
The Fuck Do I Know About Real Estate?
When I decide to go for a gig, I give it 100% – there’s minimal fucking around, although I’ve had to train myself not to care about the outcome. There’s a usual give-and-take. On one hand, I like the challenge. On the other hand, I want to score the gig. So, I give a fuck, but I really don’t. Without sounding pretentious about the whole thing, there’s an element of Zen Buddhism within my attitude of wavering indifference.
As I looked over the test assignment instructions, I wasn’t convinced that I could pull it off. The fuck do I know about real estate?
The answer: More than enough to write a stupid blog post, that’s for damn sure.
Fortunately, if you’ve written one relatively informative article, you’ve really written them all. On the surface, it’s pretty fucking simple to get started: Do some research. Also, beneficially, the hiring manager supplied a concrete topic. It’s so much easier to “write around” a topic than create your own. I don’t think I could have come up with How Big of a House Do You Really Need? if my life depended on it.
First of all, and probably most importantly, I kept reading and re-reading the instructions. I must have read them 100 times before I even considered opening a blank document in Word. Once I found an angle, I began to write in fits and starts – otherwise known as “free writing”. I just wrote. And then started compiling my sources. Eventually, the article came together – but it wasn’t easy.
In this case, I spent somewhere around 12 hours working on the test assignment – a personal record for a potential gig. I don’t have a true “line in the sand”, but in the past, a couple of hours was almost excessive. Most of the time, you send your resume, cover letter, and link to an online portfolio. Like I said, I don’t do tests. But there I was, out of my comfort zone: figuratively “pissing in a cup” for these people.
To be honest, from the moment I Googled the hiring director, I knew I was wasting my time (in terms of landing the gig). However, I was happy with the article. Really happy with it, which is unusual. In fact, since I wasn’t going to get the gig, I started thinking about the next edition of Freelancer’s Delight.
An Unnatural Reaction to a Perfectly Acceptable Rejection Letter
Meanwhile, a week passed and I mostly forgot about it. When I did think about it, I felt like I’d done my absolute best and the outcome was moot anyway. And then it came: the rejection letter.
Thank you for completing our test assignment. Some of you were SO CLOSE. But we only had spots for 10. Believe me this was very hard and I wanted to keep ALL THE WRITERS! You are all so talented! I encourage you all to follow up with me in May if you are still looking for freelance gigs. We staff new writers about every 6 months.
For the first time in years, I was fuckin’ furious about something related to freelance writing. It wasn’t the rejection itself, it was the tone and attitude of the writing. It was by far the most condescending piece of shit I’d ever been on the receiving end of, freelance-wise. The last thing I want to hear as a freelance writer is that I was “SO CLOSE” to landing the gig – especially, in ALL CAPS. What I want to hear is: “You didn’t get the gig. Sorry. Better luck next time.” Full stop.
Now, normally when you get a rejection letter, it’s good form to reply with a brief thank you note. I follow the thank you rule about half of the time. In this case, I opened a reply window and typed: GO FUCK YOURSELF, you simpering, condescending marketing tool. And I sat there and glowered at the computer screen for a good 20 minutes before discarding the draft. Ultimately, I decided not to reply at all.
But the article. I kept going back over it, thinking, for someone who doesn’t know shit about real estate, this is actually pretty fucking funny. And I still think it’s funny. So, in keeping with the grand tradition of Freelancer’s Delight, here it is:
How Big of a House Do You Really Need?
We’ve all heard the universal mantra of real estate: Location, location, location. However, word on the street – the trending hashtag of home-ownership – is: Size matters.
Statistically, it appears that the housing market has been “going big” based on Pornhub-type camera angles and a misplaced sense of importance. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the square-footage of the average American home has more than doubled since 1968, while corresponding prices have increased 1,300%.
If any lessons were learned by the mortgage crisis of 2007, former HUD secretary K. Scott Felcher-Adipimbe recently told the Chicago Tribune, those lessons were lost:
“Today, there are two types of [homebuyers]. Most people buy the most house they can afford – bottom line. [Rich people] buy the Malibu Barbie mansion of their dreams.”
Believe it or not, aside from being homeowners, both types have something else in common.
And the Survey Says…
A 2017 homeowner’s satisfaction survey conducted by the California Board of Realtors (CBRE) concludes that the overwhelming majority of homeowners are unhappy with the size of their properties.
More than 75% of respondents said their homes are either “too large for their lifestyles” or “too small for their growing families.” What’s more, a whopping 92% of participants in the CBRE survey expressed buyer’s remorse, ranging from “slight disappointment” to “we got screwed.”
That begs the question: why are so many people living in ill-fitting homes? The answer probably won’t surprise you.
Do These Shoes Make Me Look Like a Clown?
Jeff Crampert, a 20-year veteran of the Southern California real estate market, says the biggest problem of home-ownership is a disconnect between what people think they’re buying versus what they’re actually signing up for.
“Buying a house is like buying a pair of shoes you’re going to be wearing every day for the rest of your miserable, godforsaken life,” Jeff says with a pearly-white, toothy grin, “and therefore, those shoes better fit like a glove, or you’re going to be in big trouble.”
[Author’s note: Or, maybe you could just sell the joint and buy something more suitable, Jeff?]
New York property management expert Nana Goldsmith whole-heartedly agrees with Jeff’s analogy and piles on for good measure.
“Buy a house that’s too small, you’re cramped and uncomfortable – it’s hard to walk around,” Nana says. “You’re a supermodel with size 11 feet stuffed into size 7, Jimmy Choo stiletto platform heels. Likewise, buy a place that’s too big and you’re flopping around like a Goth Ronald McDonald in birthday party clown shoes – not a very good look, either.”
Experts such as Nana encourage their clients to “forget about how much house you can afford and concentrate on how much house you need, today, as well as five years from now.”
Who Are You?
Following an assessment of your finances, you’re at a crossroads. Noted residential enhancement expert Consuela Moreno says, “Too many homebuyers consider lifestyle to be an afterthought – or a minor detail they’re willing to overlook for the time being.” Choosing the right sized home, Consuela continues, is “equal parts fashion and comfort.”
Thus, the next gauntlet of self-inquiry involves:
- Who are you?
- What do you do for a living?
- What do you do in your free time?
- What do you do at home?
- Do you even spend any time at home, other than to sleep and maybe watch a ball game on TV?
- Do you have kids?
- Are you planning to start a family?
- Do you collect vintage automobiles and need a place to store them?
The list could continue indefinitely…
Ultimately, your lifestyle covers a wide range of characteristics. In an 800-square-foot condo, a family of four with a moderately active lifestyle might feel like a bunch of POWs in a shipping container. Likewise, newly-minted dot-com millionaire Millennials could suffer from Ronald McDonald Syndrome with a 5,000-square-foot McMansion in the suburbs.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Let’s face it, when it comes to buying a house, there’s no reliable one-size-fits-all approach. However, as you address the individual contingencies, you’ll get a better idea of what you need.
Funny, but location is entwined with lifestyle. There are exceptions to every rule, but, urban – and to a certain extent, suburban – areas offer a convenience that defies creativity and resourcefulness. If you’re on a 15-acre farm in Tuna Fish, Wisconsin, there is no “around the corner” for a 7-Eleven to magically appear.
First-time homebuyer and civil engineer Daniel Franklin is a single father who’s been raising a set of 10-year-old twins. Daniel and the boys had outgrown their rented 800-square-foot condo in South Detroit, and began looking for a property in the suburbs with a functional school district and reliable public utilities.
“Most importantly,” Daniel recalls, “we wanted something with a lower used-hypodermic-needle to Kentucky-bluegrass ratio out back.”
The Franklins set their sights on a three-bedroom tract home in nearby Farmington Hills, which Daniel says “cost about half of what I was willing to spend.” The size of the new abode – 1,250 square feet – is perfect for a family of three.
Could Daniel have found a similar property in the concrete jungle of South Detroit?
“I looked,” Daniel says, “and in a word, no. It’s not rocket science. I need a fenced backyard with enough room for my kids to beat each other senseless with light sabers. I looked at the map, found the city of Detroit, made a big circle around it, and then started looking for a place outside of the circle. Problem solved.”
This Online Home-Buying Quiz Says I Should Buy a Ranch House in Killeen, Texas – Now What?
[Rubbing hands together]
Now, we’re getting somewhere. You know exactly what you want, you know where to get it. Is there anything else you need to concern yourself with?
The main thing to keep in mind: The bigger the house, the more expensive it is to maintain.
Indeed, the “phantom expenses” of owning a home – property taxes, insurance, HOA fees, and utilities – should be as important, if not more important than the number of bedrooms. Award-winning Las Vegas realtor extraordinaire and CEO of Shady Properties, Michele Safir, says that maintenance costs are easily traced to the square-footage of the home.
“You start at a minimum one-dollar-per-square-foot,” Michele says, pausing for emphasis, “per month.” At the same time, upgrades and repairs are always lurking around a corner. “Do you have any idea how much a new roof costs?” Michele asks rhetorically.
Let’s Get Elementary
Renowned self-help impresario Zig Ziglar once said that every purchase has five basic elements: need, money, time, desire, and trust. Here’s a Sample Ziglar Litmus Test for Buying a House:
- (Need) I need: three bedrooms, two baths, modern kitchen, central heat/AC, two-car garage, etc.
- (Money) I have: a 40% down payment on a 20-year fixed mortgage for $200,000
- (Time) I want to take possession of the house: ASAP
- (Desire) I will buy this house: come hell or high water
- (Trust) I trust: my instincts to know what’s right for me, and ostensibly, my family (if applicable)
In the end, the question remains: How big of a house do you really need? The answer will come as a result of defining your priorities. Does a single, 30-something professional really need a 12,000-square-foot loft in Tribeca? It’s impossible to say. But if the CRBE homeowner satisfaction survey is even remotely accurate, probably not.