Any organization thrives on new ideas and members, and ASJA Associate Member Crystal Hammon (@cjhammon on Instagram) is an enthusiastic addition. She joined in April, attended #ASJA2019 in May, and returned from New York City energized and full of insights and plans. A full-time content writer since the early 2000s, the Indianapolis resident has worked with healthcare systems such as Norton Hospital for Children, IU Health and the former Methodist Health Foundation as well as specialists in a variety of disciplines. Her magazine credits include Classical Music Indy’s Note magazine; Pattern magazine, an Indianapolis-based lifestyle glossy; and national trade publications such as Cannabis Business Times and Golf Course Industry. She spoke with ASJA Confidential about her writing goals, the challenges of freelancing and what she hopes to gain from belonging to ASJA.
ASJA Confidential: First things first. Why did you become a writer?
Crystal Hammon: When I turned 13, someone gave me a subscription to Seventeen magazine. Poring over those issues from cover to cover, it dawned on me that it was plausible to make a living by stringing words together. After getting undergraduate degrees in public relations and journalism, I started working as a radio reporter and later moved into sales. Eventually I became a corporate storyteller, writing and designing in-house print magazines. I started freelancing as a side gig in the mid-1990s and left my job to pursue it full time in 1999. A full time job lured me away from 2004 to 2011, but I continued to freelance on a part-time basis. I love the way writing allows me to meet new people and learn new things every day. And I love freelancing because it gives me a degree of control over my own destiny. I never feel stuck. I always hated asking an employer for permission to take training or try a bold new step in my career.
ASJA Confidential: What drew you to ASJA?
CH: One of my editors mentioned ASJA during a conversation we were having about growing my freelance business. I checked it out, and it seemed like a direct hit. Here was a group of people who were doing exactly what I do. I’ve belonged to numerous professional organizations, but they alwaysfocused on serving communication professionals who were part of a bigger marketing communication team at an agency or corporation. When I looked into what ASJA offers, I realized it could be beneficial to my career.
ASJA Confidential: In what ways do you feel you need to “stretch” your writing career?
CH: I am used to getting assignments from existing clients rather than pitching ideas directly to editors. Typically, I cultivate a relationship with a client and we’re either developing a clear content strategy or they already have one. That plan usually dictates a lot of content decisions. I may suggest ideas that align with the content strategy, but I wouldn’t call it pitching. If I am going to bring my credits and portfolio up to a national level, I need to develop my pitching skills and pursue a greater variety of writing projects. I also think I need to aim higher and be a little less timid about promoting myself. Before attending ASJA2019, I had never seriously considered writing a book. After going to the conference and talking with people from ASJA, I am considering that possibility.
Hearing people sort through similar business and mental challenges and learning how they cope was a great awakening. ASJA feels like a group of friends who can immediately relate to the business of freelancing.
ASJA Confidential: How do you see meeting challenges as a way to reach your goals?
CH: I think all writers have bouts of discouragement and self-doubt, especially after we lose an important client. But you learn to pick yourself up and move on. Both my husband and I have been in sales and we’re both self-employed. Our sales backgrounds taught us the value of persistence. On one day, I might be looking at my calendar, worrying about cash flow and the next day, I will be asked to do a project that I never could have anticipated. That sort of thing doesn’t happen if you quit.
I do my best not to personalize rejection or draw too many conclusions about what any single experience means for my future. Earlier in my career, I had a tendency to retreat whenever something didn’t go my way. I’d think, “Maybe there’s something else I am supposed to be doing with my life.” In 2011, I finally drove a stake in the ground and decided that I would make my writing career work—no matter what. It seems like a lot of things fell into place for me after that.
Sometimes, losing an anchor client is a healthy thing because it forces you to be less complacent and to move outside your comfort zone. I often think it’s God’s way of guiding me to something even better and helping me develop new skills.
ASJA Confidential: What are the trends or future changes facing freelance writers?
CH: I actually see a return to long-form journalism, both online and in print. I’m excited about the revival of print publications. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a regional classical music organization that wanted to do a print magazine. That was a pleasant surprise because my early career was in print and I thought might never see that kind of work again. You never know when some particular skill or knowledge you’ve acquired earlier in your career is going to help you later on.
It seems to me that successful freelancers I met at ASJA are really good at developing different sources of revenue and maximizing their income. They’re using their skills to do blogs, podcasts, repurposing of material, teaching and more. I think the current landscape requires freelance writers to be nimble, to notice areas of threats and opportunities and to continue growing professionally so we are always ready to take on bigger and better projects.
If you’re ready to take next steps in your pitching game, check out Virtual Pitch Slams. Through VPS, professional members can make virtual connections with top assigning editors and clients, and associate members can listen in to learn more about the pitching process. Listen to recorded sessions here.