Cassy Small, 32, is a Sunshine Coast health and wellbeing writer. She completed the Australian Writers' Centre Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1 course online in January 2012.
The confidence to get started
Like many teenagers, Cassy Small spent hours journaling and writing short stories but the memory was packed away once she entered the workforce. Cassy began her working life as a dental assistant and then moved into marketing for a radio station on the suggestion of a friend. While on maternity leave she was offered PR work via her marketing contacts and found that writing media releases and short articles reminded her of her adolescent dream.
“I got the bug and I wanted to write so I did the Australian Writers' Centre Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1 course online. I really sunk my teeth into it and began to pitch ideas straight away,” she says.
Although Cassy had dealt with editors in her role as a PR consultant, she soon realised that editors have very different relationships with freelance writers. “I originally thought they would go hand in hand. But the more I got into writing the more I realised what editors think of PR people,” says Cassy.
“I realised that when I pitched editors as a PR person, I didn’t think they would trust me as a writer. My fear was that it might be perceived as unethical to ‘dip your toe in both waters’.”
Cassy also found herself observing the way that she prioritised the work that came to her. “I found my PR work soon began to fall to the bottom of my list because writing was what I really wanted to do,” Cassy says.
So after 18 months of working for both she now focuses more on writing, her first love.
Creating consistency within her niche
Cassy found success writing regularly for publications with a health and well being focus because she felt connected to what she was researching and writing. She found she was focusing on writing for publications she ready anyway.
“The first big article I did was for wellness section within marie claire. Once I had that under my belt, it was a great opening line when talking to another health magazine,” she explains.
A chance conversation with an editor from marie claire magazine via an online writing group opened the door for her pitch on exercise and training. In some ways, Cassy felt that her niche found her. She now has regular work writing about health and wellness, an area she’s passionate about.
Occasionally, editors come to Cassy with work requests. “That’s few and far between but it's fantastic when it happens.”
Her writing goal is to develop a regular stream of income. To achieve this, she pitches multiple story ideas each day. At this point, Cassy says she has a 50 per cent success rate and works on completing about six articles on various topics each week. Alongside developing strong relationships with editors she found that she “isn’t afraid anymore to have more than one article on the go”. This is a distinct shift from when she would only immerse herself in one article at a time until it was submitted.
Consistency and constantly pitching ideas has been Cassy’s solution in building her portfolio. “For example, I write regularly for Life and Style within The Sydney Morning Herald. Even with a current change in editor – who said no to my last pitch – I’ve gone straight back and pitched four more ideas,” she says. Cassy isn’t one to look back or get caught up on a rejection.
The unexpected benefits
Earlier in 2013, Cassy’s writing caught the attention of a vitamin company and she was invited to travel to Japan for a sponsored tour promoting a health product. “For me it was a complete ‘WOW' moment,” she says.
Cassy travelled with a group of international writers, collecting information and anecdotes along the way for content she hoped to pitch on her return. While she has written a number of health stories as a result of the trip, she hopes that these kinds of opportunities may give her the chance to move into travel writing.
“Freelancing is a slow process so I have a stack of travel story ideas out there,” Cassy says.
Cassy is philosophical about taking the opportunity again but in hindsight says she would have completed the Australian Writers’ Centre course in Travel Writing prior to going, rather than on her return.
“I went thinking I would write some travel pieces – and I still will – but I just wish I had of known more about the process of travel writing before I went,” she says. “I wish I had brought home more snippets that would give colour to particular stories.”
Where to from here?
Cassy’s work can now be found regularly in publications like marie claire, Women’s Fitness, Life and Style (The Sydney Morning Herald) and smaller publications within her niche area. She finds that a balance between aspirational work and regular work is key to strengthening her portfolio.
“I have a list of articles that I’d love to write for different places, that I’m always chipping away at, trying to find a home for,” she says.
Although freelance writing doesn’t give you a regular pay cheque, Cassy says her income is on par with her previous full time role – and has been for much of 2013. But she is philosophical about her earning power. “There’s might be less security but I’m not afraid to work harder to get it,” she says.
However, Cassy adds: “Writing has opened up my world quite literally, I’ve travelled to Japan and jumped out of a plane all in the name of work! The ongoing support provided by AWC is invaluable and I think has been the key to my success. I truly am living my dream.”
By Sarah Wayland