Cameron Kelsall is a freelance writer based in Haddon Township, New Jersey. We talked about knowing when to speak up, the competitive job market for cultural critics, and reminding publications to always pay their staff writers. Check out his portfolio and follow him on Twitter to learn more about his work.
When and why did you start freelancing?
I started freelancing eight years ago, when I was still in college. I’d written for both my high school and college newspapers and felt like I had something to say, so I decided to put out some feelers. A couple of my pitches got accepted, and that lit the fire that’s still going today. My freelancing has ebbed and flowed over the years — at different points when I was in grad school or working a full-time job, I just didn’t have the time or the desire. But for the last two years or so, it’s been full speed ahead.
What do you enjoy about freelancing?
I like that I’m able to develop my own stories. I can focus on the issues that are important to me as a writer. I’ve never had a full-time job writing about what I “love” to write about. I enjoy writing about arts, theater, and music. It’s difficult to find a full-time job. It was difficult ten years ago; it’s even more difficult now. I’ve found that as those jobs dwindle, freelance work picks up. It’s been a windfall for freelancers. It’s been great to gain experience and put together a portfolio of writing I’m proud of.
What don’t you enjoy?
Chasing down money is hard — having someone accept your pitch and never follow up, or pitching something and then seeing something eerily similar show up. That happened to me not that long ago and I was disappointed and angry about it. It can feel demoralizing because all we have is our ideas and words. When someone takes that, it feels like a personal kind of theft.
What advice do you have for someone frustrated with not getting paid?
Try to be persistent. If you have to make yourself a nuisance to get your money, do it. These are people, in most of the experiences I’ve had, who would never think to not pay their full-time staff. Remind them of that, especially if you’re a full-time freelancer and this is your primary form of income.
You’ve been published in the Broad Street Review, Phindie, and Talkin’ Broadway. Which story are you most proud of?
Recently, I wrote an essay for Broad Street Review that I was really proud of. It was a cultural criticism on theater critic Hedy Weiss from Chicago, who has a long history of saying problematic stuff about race, gender, sexuality, and marginalized people. Her review really wasn’t about the play [Pass Over]; it was about white fragility.
I found that a lot of theater critics, especially those who are established, are reluctant to say anything about her writing and ideas. Either they have a misguided idea that maybe they’re saying something to make the pitchforks come out or they try to put it as a First Amendment issue, which it’s not. I thought, “nobody is writing this essay, so I’m going to have to write it.” And my essay became [Broad Street Review’s] most-shared article in the last six or seven years.
What values are important to you as a writer?
Honesty is number one. The great thing about being freelancer is being able to pick and choose. I try not to spend time on stories I’m not passionate about, even when it comes to reviewing theater. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have anything to say about something. Making sure that my reader knows I’m connected to every story that I write is important to me. I think it shows in the writing.
What message do you have for millennial freelancers?
Don’t be afraid to take up space. Don’t be afraid that people will think you’re not serious because you’re 23 or 24. Pitch. Follow up. Write.
Show people with your writing how good you are and make it impossible for them not to hire you. Make it so that they want your byline in their publication. I feel like the best way to do that is to focus on the stories that really move and speak to you. Get rid of this idea that a journalist a 40-year-old man in a suit and tie.
Danielle Corcione is Founder of The Millennial Freelancer, a compilation of interviews with freelance writers and editors to uncover and overcome the issues affecting the modern freelance world.