I figured out early on in the freelancing game that I wasn't going to make a fortune in it. Most magazines pay on publication, so there's always a wait to get paid, and unless you're working for a large national publication the sums are fairly small-$250 or $300 for an article is at the top of the scale even for some "names" in my résumé.
Writers (and other freelancers) take these small jobs because the work is interesting, it builds a résumé and getting paid anything beats working for free. But the system invites abuse.
Local and regional magazines are particularly bad. Relying on paid advertising, some develop cozy relationships with their cash cows and even run copy by them and accept changes full of hype, inaccuracies and bad English. True editors are rare, allowing all sorts of errors to creep through. These practices, more than the delayed and paltry payment, are behind my decision to stop writing for Reaching New Heights.
Even big national names, though, can be a bad bet for a freelancer. A couple of years back I signed a contract with Fodor's travel guides to do some fact-checking and updating for them. It was a bigger chunk of money than I usually get, plus there was that recognized name.
Bad decision! It was difficult, expensive work (entailing frequent overseas phone calls), and when I figured out how much time was going into the project I saw that I was making less than minimum wage. A year later, when Fodor's dangled more money in front of me for site inspections, I had wised up enough to turn it down.
Surprisingly, my best freelance clients have been newspapers. Even low-paying stringer work was paid in a timely fashion, and my years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch gave me steady, if small, income.
The most difficult part of the freelance journey has been learning my own worth and being willing to stand up for it. I am a good writer and my editing background makes my work quite valuable for many publications. I just wish it hadn't taken 36 years for me to see that!