Freelancers in Pubs

Welcome! Our goal is to help freelancers who work in industry-sponsored medical publications find their tribe and flourish professionally. Everything is free!

The Freelancers in Pubs Email List was created to:

To join the Freelancers in Pubs email list, click here. The list is open to any freelancer (or wannabe freelancer) interested in medical publications. You do not need to be a member of ISMPP to join the list, and you can leave the list at any time. Everything is free. This is an international community, and I warmly welcome freelancers (and wannabe freelancers) from any country to participate. 

Fine Print  I (Lisa) am volunteering my time to foster community and support for freelancers in pubs. I am coordinating with ISMPP in these efforts. I am not being paid by ISMPP. As of February 2024, 375 freelancers have joined the list. I will not share the email list with anyone, not even ISMPP. At this time, the Freelancers in Pubs email list is the only channel to obtain freelance discount codes for ISMPP meetings in the US, Europe, and Asia/Pac. When freelancer discounts are offered by ISMPP, I will announce them on the email list and let everyone know the process to obtain a discount code for meeting registration.

Opportunities for Freelancers at ISMPP

To date, ISMPP has offered these opportunities for Freelancers in Pubs:

Connect with Freelancers in Your Region

To connect with Freelancers in Pubs near you, reach out to these members:

Don't see your location? Let me know your LinkedIn and I'll add you to this list so you can meet other freelancers in your area. 

Freelancers in Pubs Third Friday Zoom

March 15, 2024

4p UK / 11a Eastern / 8a Pacific (60 min)

This Month: Finding Our Value Proposition in the Age of AI
with Kelly Byram

Register for the Mar 15 Zoom

Managing Your Presence at ISMPP

For ISMPP members, a few suggestions:

(1)  Join the Freelancers Community! How to do this:

(2)  Designate your “Type of Company” as “Consultant/Freelance” at your profile with the ISMPP organization (My Profile). ISMPP members who are logged in at the website can search the Member Directory for members who are Consultant/Freelance (so they can hire us). 

(3)  Update your ISMPP Connect Profile so it appears as you want for freelance colleagues and potential clients. Include social media links and contact information so clients can reach you.

Pro Tip #1: Under "Social Links," connect to your LinkedIn and other accounts.

Pro Tip #2: When editing your Bio, click the HTML button and use HTML code to create a clickable link to your professional website. (Here's the code you'll need: <a href="https://www.mywebsite.com" target="_blank">My Website</a> )

(4)  Become a CMPP! If you work in pubs, becoming a Certified Medical Publication Professional indicates your expertise and commitment to Good Publication Practice. Impress clients with your professionalism! Watch our recorded Zoom session with Danita Sutton, ISMPP Director of Credentialing, to learn more about Freelancers and the CMPP.

Image of Lisa Baker. Background: Madison Range of the Rocky Mountains south of Bozeman, Montana.

Background on This Project

I'm Lisa Baker, PhD, CMPP. I am a freelance medical writer specializing in publications and based in Montana, in the Rocky Mountains of the US. In 2023, ISMPP offered me a discount to attend the Annual Meeting (as an independent paying my own way) and gave me permission to quietly spread the news. A dozen freelancers attended the Annual Meeting in April 2023. It was great! For the first time, I felt like I had community among freelancers who work in publications.

After the 2023 Annual Meeting, ISMPP President and CEO Rob Matheis asked if there was more ISMPP could do to engage with  freelancers. To foster the connection between freelancers and ISMPP, I created the Freelancers in Pubs email list in May 2023.  The purpose of the list has expanded as we create community and share resources for freelancers in publications. Stay tuned!

Recommended Resources

There are many resources available to support freelancers in developing their business. These are some I've personally relied on or were recommended by others on the email list:

Getting Started as a Freelancer in Medical Publications

"How do I get my first freelance job?" 

We were all there at some point, so congratulations on joining us on this journey! As you can imagine, the answer depends on where you're starting from. Following are my thoughtsand these are only my thoughts! Others will offer their own perspectives, but this is the advice I would give if I were speaking with you directly.

Context

This group (Freelancers in Pubs) is focused on the world of industry-sponsored publications, which are articles in peer-reviewed medical journals and medical congress activities (abstracts, posters, oral presentations) reporting research conducted by pharmaceutical, biotech, and device companies.  This is a specialized niche in the private sector best represented by the professional organization ISMPP. If you come from academia and have written academic journal articles and presentations/posters for academic meetings, you already have a lot of the core skills needed. However, the world of industry-sponsored publications has its own norms, practices, ethics, SOPs, etc ... and you need to understand those to bring value to potential freelance clients. 

Knowledge, Skills, and Credentials

This is a difficult topic, because the last thing I want to do is discourage capable and well-qualified people from a terrific career. As you read this, keep in mind I am focusing on medical writing for peer-reviewed publications, which is just one form of medical writing. If you decide that publications are not your niche, there are many other types of medical writing to explore.

Your ability to work as a Freelancer in Pubs depends on (1) your relevant knowledge and skills and (2) whether potential clients will view you as having the needed knowledge and skills. Unfortunately (if you do not already have a bunch of letters after your name), (1) and (2) are not necessarily the same thing. 

(1) Needed knowledge and skills: You will be reporting on research findings, so you need a solid understanding of research methods and practice. Most likely you gained this understanding by working for several years in a research setting. You need to understand the basic statistics used in clinical research. You need enough knowledge about biology to understand and accurately describe disease pathophysiology and how drugs work. You will be writing for a clinician/researcher audience, so you need to be able to write fluently at that (scientific, technical) level. Most of us are stronger in some of these areas than others, but you need to have decent proficiency in all of them.

(2) What your clients will be looking for: Your potential clients will typically screen for academic credentials that (they believe) demonstrate you have the needed knowledge and skills. 

If you don't have a higher degree, you may be able find a way into medical writing for publications. You'll need to demonstrate your ability to understand research methods and findings and to write at a technical level in order to attract potential clients. Unfortunately, you'll probably never convince some folks that you are qualified, so you'll always face challenges in cultivating a base of clients. As mentioned, other types of medical writing—for lay or patient audiences and for educational purposes—are less likely to "require" an advanced degree and may be a more natural place to start. 

As a final consideration: Writing for medical publications is challenging work for any of us, no matter how well trained and experienced. To be a good writer for English-language medical publications, you need to be ... a good writer in the English language. You need a strong command of English syntax, diction, and grammar. Many native English speakers (including many science PhDs) are not especially good writers. And if English is not your first language, it will be especially difficult to write fluently for English-language publications. 

MedComms Experience

Beyond your educational background, your path to freelancing will depend on your experience in #MedComms. What do we mean by that? Many/most pharma and biotech companies employ "publication leads" who oversee the company's publication programs. Some pharma companies maintain an in-house staff of medical writers and editors. 

Beyond the in-house staff, much publication development and medical writing is outsourced by pharma companies to medical communications agencies, and many medical writers and editors find full-time employment and freelancing opportunities through agencies. Freelancers in pubs can also get work directly from pharma and biotech companies (typically smaller companies that don't use agencies) or from independent academic authors.

Why is medcomms experience important for a new freelancer in pubs?

Of course, this is just my perspective, and some people have successfully moved from academia directly into freelancing. I can't guide you in how to pull that off, but I would say: (1) you will need to make it your business to learn all about the world of industry-sponsored publications (ISMPP resources are a good start) and (2) you will need to hustle and be resourceful to get those first opportunities. (If anyone reading this has good resources to share on this topic, please let me know!)

Bottom line: If you are new to the world of industry-sponsored publications, I advise that you first work for 2-3 years at a medcomms agency to learn the skills and make the contacts. This investment of time will give you a launching pad for a future freelance career (and of course you get paid in the meantime!). The wonderful Peter Llewellyn has an entire website devoted to getting your FirstMedCommsJob, and Eleanor Steele, the MedComms Mentor, offers some terrific advice.

Launching a Freelance Career

If you already have medcomms experience and are contemplating the jump to freelancing, I am excited for you! I went freelance in 2017, and I would never go back. Although you will need to spend time hustling (ie, marketing) and running your business, it's worth it for the freedom and control to work on your own schedule, with people you like, and on projects where you can do your best work. For good, experienced writers, there is plenty of work out there. 

Set up your freelance business. At a minimum, figure out the tax structure you will use, open a business checking account, create an email address, and develop a strong LinkedIn profile that clearly conveys your status as a freelancer. Putting up a business website also helps to establish you as a freelance professional and explain yourself to potential clients. Lori De Milto, the Mighty Marketer, has a wonderful range of free resources to guide you in setting up and marketing your freelance business. 

Set your rate. There are good arguments to charge by the project (vs by the hour). However, most medcomms agencies pay hourly rates, so that will likely be your path of least resistance at first. Ask around, check out salary surveys (AMWA [see pg 36], EMWA, Zenopa), and be prepared to state your rate when speaking with potential clients. Clients can always push back if they think your rate is too high, and you can decide to go lower if needed. However, if you start too low, it can be difficult to raise your rates (with those first clients) later. (Of course, new clients will have no idea how much you charged your previous clients. 😄)

As an example, when I went freelance in the US in 2017, I knew that my previous employer was paying $125/hour to our (experienced) freelancers, so I started at that rate. I've since raised my rates significantly. Of course, I had more than 10 years' experience as a medical writer when I went freelance; with less experience, I would likely have started lower. And remember this was several years ago.

Get the word out. When you're ready to launch, the simplest move is to reach out to former employers and colleagues and let them know you are now freelancing. You may find that's all you need to get going. 

Work your connections. If an agency is an ISMPP sponsor, that means the agency does a lot of work in pubs. Make a list of agencies. Leverage your LinkedIn. Do you know anyone who works at these agencies? Do your friends know anyone? Send an email and ask if that "insider" can pass your resume along to someone who hires/manages freelancers. Sometimes the right contact at an agency is not hard to find, but a personal recommendation still goes a long way. 

Be persistent. I'm writing this in 2023, which has been an up-and-down year in the industry. Some agencies have stopped sending work to freelancers and are not adding to their freelance pool right now. Don't get discouragedyou only need 2 or 3 clients to establish a good base. Keep those connections active!

Do excellent work. Your freelance career will only be as strong as the product you produce. As I learned from Brian Bass, don't let anything get in the way of delivering your very best work (and always on deadline). It's far easier to get more work from existing clients than to cultivate new onesand far more rewarding. 

Consider getting the CMPP, which demonstrates your commitment to high-quality work in publications.

More advice from successful freelancers

Julia Davies' workbook: Making the Leap Into Freelancing in MedComms

Good Luck!

Image of Lisa Baker

Lisa Baker, PhD, CMPP

freelancers@lisabakerphd.com

www.freelancersinpubs.org

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisabakerphd/

www.lisabakerphd.com


I offer my thanks to Peter Llewellyn for supporting and mentoring me in the creation of Freelancers in Pubs. Read more from Peter about creating community among freelancers in #MedComms.