Interview by publisher, Philip Bell, with author Andrew Don in June 2021 on the eve of the publication of The Bounty Writer – How to Earn Six Figures as an Independent Freelance Journalist published by Beachy Books on 2nd July 2021.
Bold text (Philip), plain text (Andrew)…
In a nutshell, what inspired you to write this book?
I figured that after nearly 40 years in journalism, 30 of them freelance, or as I like to call it, independent, I might have something to say about operating successfully. Having cracked the six-figure earnings ceiling—a rarity for a non-celebrity freelance. I thought others might pick up some tips about how they might be able to earn big, too.
Why should anybody read this book rather than any other on the subject?
My book is passionate—a story of determination and survival. I am told it is an inspirational read. I do not have a monopoly on career wisdom. However, no one has my perspective. My book weaves the gripping autobiographical story of my career with practical lessons on how others can earn big, too. Of course, it’s not always just about the money—but hey, it helps. We all have bills to pay and mouths and lifestyles to feed. The Bounty Writer tells the story of how, debilitated by lifelong anxiety and depression, a stammer that dogged my life into early adulthood and severe hearing loss, I nonetheless enjoyed a successful journalistic career. So if I can do it, with all my issues, why not you?
Your biggest inspiration, the thing that drives you, your muse, if you will?
My biggest inspiration is my fear of destitution. It has always driven me. After my mother died of cancer when I was 14 my life spiralled out of control. I was desperate, did not have a secure roof over my head, suffered addictions and mental health crises. I vowed to myself that I would not just survive but succeed. My determination never to be that desperate, lonely, bereft 14-year-old again is what has driven me, as have the love I have for my wife and two daughters.
What’s your view on how journalism is today, the current state of play? How do you think it will develop in the future? I’m guessing it’s one industry where AI and robots will not take over? What about foreign competitors, freelancers offering their services for peanuts?
I frequently fret about journalism today. I hate lazy journalism and cliched journalism. How many times have you seen reporters on news programmes describing scenes ‘like a battlefield?’ Ugh! Really? Are they all like battlefields? Have you ever seen a battlefield? How many times do you see news programme presenters who present like they are more important than the story?
I despair of politically biased reporting. I hate the fact newspapers have reputations of being right-leaning or left-leaning. A reporter’s job is not to reflect their own bias. It’s different if they are writing an opinion piece, but no news story should report anything other than the facts. No newspaper or news programme should distort news to reflect their own bias. The internet is what helped send my earnings stratospheric, but I never used the internet lazily.
I detest the way many experienced journalists do not sufficiently scrutinise what they are reading on social media and what the PR industry feeds them. However, I believe that principled journalism in democratic countries will out, because a ‘free’ press is vital in democracies.
AI and robots will never replace intrepid, driven, passionate reporters. God, I hope not!
Freelance journalists who offer their services for peanuts are the enemy of freelancing. They make it difficult for all the professional independents out there. I’m not fond of cliches, apart from this one: ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.’ Precisely!
If you hadn’t earned six figures doing this, would you still have done it all? What I mean is, was it something that found you, or did you find it?
Journalism was never about the money. It was about being the best journalist I could be and being principled. I feel journalists have a great responsibility. I felt that when I entered the trade and I feel it today. But we are mere humans and we all have material aspirations unless we are saints. I am not. And so, I discovered I could earn really well and worked towards a dream of semi-retirement in a beautiful location and that is what I have achieved.
I found journalism rather than the other way around. I had to do something with my love of the written word and my ability to communicate articulately in writing. I stuttered even into my mid 20s, although I learned to control it, Ed Balls-style. As a child, my fear of stuttering meant I didn’t put my hand up in class or, when I did, my failure to spit the words out met with cruel laughter from classmates, and one teacher, who said: ‘Spit it out Don!’ The only way I could get the teachers to recognise I had a brain was to hone my writing skills. I also played various musical instruments, despite my deafness, and won over one teacher who was mad about Music Hall.
Do you need qualifications to do the job? Or is real world experience, working your way up the ladder, enough nowadays?
I am a great believer that academic achievement, in itself, should not be the be all and end all of getting a great job in journalism. Intelligence, drive, moral scruples and a glimmer of potential are more important. If someone can demonstrate they can express themselves concisely, have a nose for a story, enthusiasm and a passion for truth—that, to me, should carry more weight than a degree. Of course, if you’ve been on a specialist course in pre-entry journalism, that speaks volumes for a person’s focused direction, but I believe in people and not degrees.
Your one top tip for a beginner getting into this business?
Don’t become a journalist unless getting a page-one by-line gives you more of a thrill than sex or adding up a column of figures.
Why did you want an independent publisher?
I am an independent. I believe in independence. I have always lived independently. I’ve written prolifically about independent businesses. Independence is in my blood. I wanted a publisher who would care about my book as much as me—not one of the giants for whom I had written something niche and was one of many in a huge stable of clients. I wanted personal contact, someone I’d work well with on edits and proofing and who had my kind of work ethic. Beachy Books felt right.
What’s the next book you are working on?
I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but I am writing a novel at the moment about a dog—think What Dreams May Come meets Lassie. You’ll just have to wait.
Funniest ever piece of writing/journalism you have ever written?
I used to write for a hairdressing magazine called Hairdressers’ Journal International in the days when it was a weekly magazine. I wrote a couple of Christmas pantomimes—one based on The Lion King (Haircuna Haircutta) in typical Crackerjack Christmas panto style. It just flowed from my fingers and I cried with laugher as I wrote it. That someone wanted to pay me for it was the icing on the cake.
Philip Bell would like to thank Andrew Don for his time in the interview. If you like the sound of Andrew’s book then you can find out more and buy it by selecting the cover below: