Deborah Cowell Won’t Work Without a Contract — & She Doesn’t Think You Should Either

Oct 22, 2019

This is Deborah Cowell. She’s a freelance editor and writer who hails from Brooklyn, New York, and currently lives in Harlem. You can check out some of her work here.

Tell us about your work.

I have a master's degree in English literature and literary theory, with a concentration in education, and I'm a formally trained book editor. I’m currently working on finishing my memoir.

What are the biggest struggles you’ve faced as a freelancer? How did you overcome them?

When I first started out, I needed somebody to pay me and they didn't. And I didn't have the skill set to be able to understand how to demand pay, I didn't know where I was supposed to go. So, when I found Freelancers Union, I was able to tell my story, and then understand exactly what went wrong and how I was taken advantage of.

Now I make sure I have a contract in place. I came out of publishing. The one thing that never dawned on me to do was to write my own contract. When you have a contract in place, what you're saying to people is, “This is what my deliverable is to you,” and you're looking at yourself on the page and saying to yourself, "This is what I'm good at."

And, over time, you're adding to that value, you're learning all the other stuff that you're good at and it's coming from absolutely everywhere. You start to feel confident about adding another zero to the left of the decimal point, and then another. That's what experience gives you, that's what experience brings to it. You start out small because you're learning. It's literally like planting a seed, and as you grow, that's what's happening. You earn it.

What has been the most valuable part of being a member of Freelancers Union?

There are a lot of things here for folks. I think the thing that is most magic to me is that for people who are artists — even if you sweep, and you approach that from a perspective of artistry — you can come here and find your point of entry. You have access. It's a hub for you to be able to do whatever it is you need to do, and it's not just some coffee shop chain. It's everybody here in the same frame of mind. We're all moving together, and we all have our own story.

Do you have any tips or tricks you can share that might be helpful to other freelancers?

I meditate every day for about an hour, at least. That's the first thing I do when I wake up. I need to be centered, and it isn't about clearing your mind. It's just about being still with what it is that you have. This gives me a bit of clarity when I come out of that space.

More than one-third of New York City's workforce is freelancing, reflecting the wide-ranging diversity of the city. The purpose of Faces of Freelance is to shine a light on each unique, individual story in freelancing, and offer a platform on which it can further the conversation. Join the Freelancers Hub today and offer your own story into the conversation.