I’m kicking off a new series on the blog called “Female Freelancers,” where I feature women in the media. In this inaugural post, Kristin Luna, a Nashville, Tennessee-based journalist and media pro, shares her journey in journalism and marketing. I met Kristin six years ago when we were both traveling in Savannah and I immediately felt a connection with her. I have always admired Kristin for her work ethic, gumption and authenticity. Follow along as Kristin shares her “big break,” the challenges she faces and how she keeps herself inspired.
Publications worked with: AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Food + Wine, Forbes, Glamour, National Geographic, Newsweek, PEOPLE, Real Simple, Redbook, Robb Report, Self, Southern Living, Travel + Leisure, USA Today
1. What did you do before you launched your freelance career?
I started working in newspapers at the age of 15, then went onto the University of Tennessee for a journalism degree, got my first big magazine break with Harper’s at the age of 20, moved to New York City at 22 for a job with Newsweek and have worked in the media ever since. This year marks my 20th as a journalist!
2. How did you get started in the freelance world?
I went back to school for a one-year journalism program in Europe and used my Newsweek connections to leverage a monthly column covering new hotel and restaurant openings for the magazine’s international editions. During that year abroad, I also landed my first guidebook gig in Spain for MTV and Wiley Publishing, who published all the Frommer’s titles at the time.
At the completion of that project, I moved back to Manhattan where I worked in-house gigs at publications like Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly and Conde Nast — with several other freelance reporting jobs in between. During my last year in house at a Conde Nast fashion title, I started actively pursuing freelance gigs through my network of connections I’d accumulated over the past couple years of going to every event I was invited to in New York; pretty soon, I had regular enough work with the Travel Channel and Forbes Traveler (now defunct) that I was able to go full-time freelance and move to California to be with my then-boyfriend, now-husband.
A few months after arriving, I met a publicist who introduced me to the Frommer’s author of the California guidebooks, and as he had just launched a new company of his own, he subcontracted a lot of his Frommer’s work out to me. In four years, I contributed to more than a dozen titles — and established myself as the go-to California writer in the process, which brought me even more work and an eventual long-term gig with Visit California, the state’s marketing arm.
3. What was your “big break”?
During my final months living in New York, a contact through my college alumni network reached out and asked to send me on my first commissioned travel assignment to the Caribbean for Real Simple. Though I had had many smaller print clips and hundreds of online hits for major pubs, this was my first multi-page feature in a national glossy and I was just 24.
4. As a self-employed journalist, what is an ongoing challenge for you?
I’m lucky in that I’ve never had trouble getting work — there’s always been a steady stream of gigs that seem to land in my lap, thanks to decades worth of endless networking — however getting paid is another issue. It recently took me 11 months to collect payment from a major magazine, and sadly that seems to be the norm with so many publications going through staff changes and freelancer paperwork getting lost in the shuffle.
While I make a good annual income as a freelancer, I often feel cash poor simply due to how long it takes to get paid and the amount of time and mental bandwidth wasted on chasing paychecks that are months (sometimes, years) overdue. Sadly, Net-30 is not the reality of the magazine world, and publications don’t get penalized for overdue payments.
5. What is a project you recently worked on that makes you proud?
My husband Scott and I launched Odinn Media, Inc. in 2012 as a specialized content marketing agency, and through it we have worked with dozens of CVBs and DMOs, as well as have long-term contracts with such brands as the Grand Ole Opry. Owning your own agency allows for a lot more creativity that I don’t necessarily get from freelancing for other clients; we do photography, video, drone, social media, writing and strategy, and truly get to leverage our skill set and passions, of which we have many. Our key to success in the media has been to keep evolving and always stay one step ahead of the trend.
6. How do you keep yourself abreast of trends and news in the ever-evolving media industry?
I’m a slave to social media, and I’ve found that, ironically while it’s one of the older social media platforms, Twitter is now more relevant than ever and my go-to news resource for not only what is happening in the industry, but also the world.
7. What are some of your favorite tools as a journalist?
Back when I was still actively pitching, I found MediaBistro’s “How to Pitch” guides invaluable for learning where and how to pitch specific editors and publications. From an organizational standpoint, I use Dropbox for everything, from file management to sharing assets with clients. The scanner functionality on the Dropbox app helps me keep an electronic version of my receipts handy at all time for later reimbursement and tax write-offs.
8. How do you keep yourself inspired to brainstorm and pitch new story ideas?
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t pitch publications anymore. I’ve come to a point in my career where I have more work than I can handle as it is — both from anchor clients but also editors with whom I’ve worked for more than a decade — so unless there’s a burning issue I just have to write about (like the recent controversy surrounding my husband and me commissioning a community mural), I never, ever pitch.
I find that with staffs slim and lead times ludicrous, the best way to get work is build relationships with editors over time who assign me stories they’ve generated in house versus my bringing ideas to them. A lot of our work nowadays is custom content for tourism boards, so most of those partnerships organically happen through our travels and meeting the right people at conferences and other industry events.
9. What do you do in your spare time to unwind from work?
There’s rarely a time I’m not working these days, to be honest. But my husband and I own an old 1800s Victorian, as well as a couple investment properties around Tennessee, so when we aren’t writing, editing or shooting, we’re likely tinkering away at one of our houses. Additionally, I’m big into fitness, and AcroYoga is my preferred style of working out for a full mental escape that’s also a whole lot of fun.
10. What advice do you have for women who want to become a freelance journalist?
Persistence is the only way to launch a sustainable career in journalism in 2018. You have to be prepared for a lot of “no” along the way — then figure out how to spin that rejection to your advantage. All it takes is one “yes,” after all, to completely alter the course of your career.
Follow Kristin’s adventures on her website Camels & Chocolate, and via social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.