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This article appeared in Writers Journal

The Writer's Dream... GOING FULL TIME

by Betty Ulrich

John PrinYou can dream about going on your own; you can make plans; but, before you take that final step, according to John Prin, Edina, Minnesota, "there comes a time when you have to decide that you're good enough to compete in the free enterprise market. When you do, you're ready for the risk involved."

It was frustration that spurred Prin to leave the security of a well-paid job. Frustration of working in an unproductive environment, with incompatible management, of being judged less by his work than his presence in the office, of working within a schedule at odds with his biological clock.

His wife was less comfortable with taking the risk than he was, however.
"And her agreement was essential," Prin says. "We had to be together in this. But I could understand her initial uncertainty. Although she'd been married to a writer for seventeen years, it had been only during the last five years that I had earned our living by writing."

His wife overcame her nervousness and agreed to the move, with the proviso that if, after six months, he couldn't make it, he would willingly go back to a permanent job. Elemental in their decision was the couple's strong religious faith.

Meanwhile, an opportunity arose for Prin to "moonlight" a job. As the offer solidified, he decided that job would be, instead, his first assignment as a full-time freelancer.

So, with the thin cushion of a savings account and manageable house payments ("courtesy of my father-in-law," Prin said), Prin launched his career as a full-time freelancer, giving notice at his job before he had a contract for the assignment.

Now, nine months later, things are looking good So good, in fact, that the day after our interview he was taking time from his business writing for a weeklong trip to verify some data for a novel he has been working on for two years.

His pay scale is now the same as it was when he was employed as a staff writer. "And I have gained flexibility and freedom," he says, pleasure apparent in his voice.

His assignments come from the corporate and business world and include an employee handbook, training guide, script, speech, major management article. A favorite project, done for the owner of a small business, is a sales presentation consisting of a 140-piece slide show and a brochure.

"Opportunity is out there in the marketplace", says Prin. "The whole business world is running on communication."

For those contemplating taking the same step he did, he offers this advice:

Know that you are a writer. Have a passion for writing. Some people, says Prin, have writing skills and move words around on paper, but they aren't really writers. "Unless you can generate thoughts," he says, "and the expression of those thoughts, and unless you must express yourself and are not satisfied until some form of that is taking place, I don't know what your chances would be."

Get staff experience if you can. "I have acquaintances who are freelancers," Prin says, "but they don't pull in a livelihood. You have a better chance to succeed if you become aware of how many different kinds of writing there are annual reports, ghost memos for executives, interviews, video scripts, news releases, all kinds of stuff. There must be fifteen or twenty kinds of writing that businesses use every single day."

Be aware that full-time freelancing has two facets:

Getting the job— marketing— and fulfilling the job you've got. "You're doing the two things all the time," Prin says. "You're always doing the work you've contracted to get, and you're always trying to get a new contract. You have to be able to sell yourself.

"After that initial contact by phone," Prin goes on, "I try to get in to see the client in person. I feel that if I can make a face-to-face contact, my chances go way, way up. I show samples of my work, maybe point out something that's similar to the client's need."

You have to be self-disciplined, a self- motivator and a self-starter. "Boy, do you have to be a self-starter," he repeats.

Once you go on your own, though, we agreed in the interview, a troublesome area for writers is collecting fees. Prin uses what he calls a "step deal."

In the proposal he draws up after details of a job have been clarified, he makes the stipulation that 30 percent of his fee be paid when he gets the go-ahead, 30 percent at the half-way mark, with the remaining 40 percent due when the job is finished and the client sees the results.

"It works great," Prin says. "I've had a couple of people balk ...but I just say, `That's the way it is.' I've had one proposal not accepted and that might have been a factor.

"On a shorter project, I ask for 50 percent up front. Most jobs last a month to two months from the time of the initial meeting until the final product is delivered and everybody is happy. Some are longer. One project went on for four months."

While working on a project, Prin keeps a running log with very brief notations, by date, of hours spent on the job. He reviews the log every ten days or so. If he finds the job is going to take more time that was projected (because, for instance, the client wants something that, initially, didn't appear necessary), he calls the client.

"I say, `Looks like we're at the money that you've committed for the project and there is this much more to go. How do you want to handle that?' In one case, I negotiated another 25 percent fee. If they were to say, `No go,' I would stop writing. That never happens though. You're at a commitment level, and, as when driving from one destination to another, you can't stop before you get there."

However," he adds, "invariably, the client is satisfied, thinks the money is well spent."

"I take a qualitative approach," Prin explains. "I try to write good, clean copy that has spark in it. I never turn in copy that hasn't been 'groomed'. My wife critiques the copy both for content and structure, and proofs it for typos. If I have any doubts about a piece, I have someone else read it too."

Qualitative is the approach Prin seems to take to the whole of his life.

"I'm much happier as a freelancer," he says. "I like the variety of seeing new people, doing business in new places. I like the flexibility of setting up my own schedule, of writing at seven in the morning if I want, and taking the dog for a two-hour walk in the afternoon. I have more balance in my life.

"The sacrifice of security is worth it. Security knowing that you have a check coming in every two weeks, how much it will be for, that it will cover your expenses is a trap for me. The only security you have as a freelancer is in your reputation. If you demand a lot from yourself and can deliver, and if the client sees this, then your reputation is such that clients are happy to pay your rate."

John Prin's decision to break away from the corporate routine has worked for him. He is a successful freelance writer.

But he has another dream—to be as successful at writing fiction and having it published. There's no doubt he'll succeed at that too.

This article appeared in Writers Journal— May/June, 1987