The title of this post is something of an exaggeration. There are, of course, lots of different qualities a freelance writer should have, but having spent the past couple of months editing a website and having to deal with other freelancers, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that reliability is the most important one if you’re hoping for repeat bookings.
What my experience as an editor has taught me (amongst other things) is that when you’re under pressure to produce a certain amount of copy by a certain deadline, reliability is the number one quality you look for in your freelancers. That’s not to say that quality isn’t important too, because it goes without saying that it is. But when I’m working to deadlines and trying to meet certain targets, I’d much rather deal with good writers who can be relied upon to deliver their copy on time, without fail, than fabulous writers who miss deadlines, go AWOL for days on end without explanation and offer up excuse after excuse for why they haven’t filed their copy.
The reliable writers are the ones I’ll use again – and again, and again, and again. They’re the ones I’ll recommend to other editors. The ones I’ll campaign for when it comes to doling out pay rises and increasing rates. The ones who’ll earn by eternal gratitude for having made my job just that little bit easier.
The talented-but-flaky writers, on the other hand? Well, I’ll look forward to reading their first novel (if they ever find the discipline to write it) and will thoroughly enjoy their sparkling prose (when they submit it), but I won’t be going out of my way to work with them ever again – and I won’t be recommending that anyone else does, either.
My point? There’s more to building a successful freelance writing career than just being a great writer. You also have to be a great person to work with, and in an industry that revolves around deadlines, you have to be reliable.