Mum of three Suzanne Baum shares how she got started as a freelance writer, how she finds work, what qualities you need to succeed – and how she balances her career around her family.
How did you get started as a writer?
My brother is an editor at Reuters and I was always interested and excited by his work so I think he inspired me.
I always enjoyed English at school but I got a lucky break becoming an editorial assistant at The Jewish Chronicle newspaper as soon as I left university, so it was through learning on the job that I developed a passion for writing.
How did your career change after you had children?
By the time I fell pregnant with my first son 14 years ago I had been working at the Jewish Chronicle for several years. So when I took maternity leave I was determined to continue writing.
In fact my first freelance gig took place a few weeks after my son was born. He suffered horrendous colic and I decided to pitch an article about being a first time mum dealing with colic to Junior magazine. I got the commission and really things snowballed from there.
Seeing my work published gave me the confidence to approach all the other parenting titles with ideas and I was lucky to get my work accepted.
What do you love about your work?
I have to admit I get a buzz pitching ideas to commissioning editors, especially if they are good ones. I also love the fact I can be flexible and work around my kids without ever having to miss their school shows, competitions etc. I enjoy working from home and being my own boss, too.
What makes a great article?
A lot of the time it helps if an article has a topical theme, and I believe a strong example of a case study always stands out, along with an excellent photo.
I always like to get an expert comment in relation to something I have written about, so good quotes from a health expert for example always boosts the story along.
What’s your biggest success as a writer?
I think my biggest success has been writing on some of the major health breakthroughs, in particular those associated with breast cancer. My father is a leading oncologist who has spent his life caring for women with breast cancer and trying to help find a cure for the disease, so I feel whenever I write on the subject I am covering an area that is very close to his heart.
As for the most fun, being a family travel writer I’ve been very fortunate to get to stay in some of the world’s best hotels. And because I am reviewing the kids facilities I get to take the whole family along on some press trips so that is a huge bonus!
And your biggest disappointment?
I’ve not really had any negative experiences, thank goodness!
What do you love about being freelance?
As long as I am aware when my deadlines are, I like the fact I can use my time around writing to do an online supermarket shop, catch a quick coffee with a friend, etc.
How do you find work?
I have a huge list of contacts, both of commissioning editors who I pitch ideas too and PRs who often suggest stories to me, so that helps. I also come from a family of medics who are always useful if I need to find health stories.
The fact I have three children also helps as there’s always something going on I can write about in relation to them. It’s also extremely useful when I’m asked to write for the parenting titles.
What skills or qualities do you need to succeed as a freelance writer?
I think it helps to get as much hands-on experience in a newsroom as possible. I know it is difficult to get your foot in the door, but even if you offer to work for nothing (I have often written articles for no payment just to prove myself) it helps.
I also believe you need good people skills. My job requires a lot of interviewing and especially when it comes to sensitive stories, you need a good sense of compassion.
Id also like to say it helps to have patience, but that is not one of my qualities as the minute I send off a pitch idea I cant wait to hear back from the commissioning editor – even though I know they get hounded by people like me all the time!
How do you balance your work with being a mum?
Now my older two kids are at secondary school it’s much easier as they are more independent and don’t rely on me as much. But because I have a four year old I like to have someone at home to look after him if I am working.
We have always had au pairs, and because they live there is always someone who can do the school run if I am not available. I tend to work until 3.30pm when I collect my youngest from school, and then pick it work up again once he’s in bed. My mind never switches off – I am constantly buzzing with ideas and eager to suggest them as articles to newspaper and magazine editors.