Two freelance researchers and a professional novelist have shared their accounts. Read on to learn about their interesting careers.
Valarie Neiman—Academic Researcher
Valarie Neiman formed EVN Flow Services in 1993. Through her home-based business, she does academic, business, and creative writing and provides research and editing services. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration (transportation) from Arizona State University in Tempe and her master’s in human resources development from Ottawa University in Phoenix.
“Research isn’t what I do, it’s part of who I am,”Valarie explains. “As one of the original latchkey kids in the 1950s, I spent a lot of time reading when I got home from school. To avoid being bored in class, I’d always read ahead in the textbooks.”
Getting Started. Her first job after high school was typing resumes. Eventually her boss began to let Valarie write them, and soon she was also conducting interviews. After working in a variety of clerical and secretarial jobs, she returned to school in her mid-twenties and earned a bachelor’s degree in business. Later, while working for a major defense contractor, she began studying for her master’s. When she was let go by the employer who had been paying her tuition, she started to work in temporary positions, from management consultant to typist.
Valarie’s final temp assignment was researching and writing warehouse procedures, and she convinced the manager that it would be less expensive to hire her as an independent contractor than to pay the temp agency. At the same time, she put up a notice at her alma mater offering to help students with their research projects.
When she began EVN Flow (Ellwood and Valarie Neiman keep work flowing), she expected to help students format and type papers. But she soon found that many adult learners (twenty-five and older) haven’t had training or don’t remember how to write research papers, and her work soon evolved into filling in the gaps in their abilities. Valarie says that part of the job is reassuring clients that they aren’t stupid and letting them know that she has developed a unique (and marketable) talent for pulling their work together into a package that makes them look good.
She tutors adult learners in planning, researching, and writing academic papers. She also edits master’s research and graduation review projects and is under contract with Ottawa University to read and edit first drafts of master’s candidates’ theses.
In addition, she collaborates on researching and writing a series of booklets on pricing, niche marketing, networking, outsourcing, tax tips, and how to start a home-based business (published by the Home-Based Business Council of Arizona).
Valarie finds her work enjoyable because every day is different and every project leads her in a new direction. She prefers to work alone, without supervision, focusing on the task at hand until its completion, when she can move on to the next project.
“People may think of researchers as scientists or academics,” Valarie says. “I believe research is an element in almost every job, whether dealing with things, people, or ideas. Most of the time, though, it isn’t thought of as research.
“To me, the distinction of a job as a researcher is that the goal is to present knowledge in a different way, consolidate facts and assemble them to make a point, discover new relationships in existing knowledge, or develop background and authenticity—in creative writing, for example.”
One of the things Valarie likes least about her work is that it isn’t full-time and can be seasonal—although the part-time nature of the work is also one of the things she likes best. She began writing a novel to fill those unbillable hours and explains that, by her own choice, she earns enough to pay business expenses and to pay herself a small stipend. Fortunately, travel, postage, supplies, and capital equipment associated with writing are all considered tax-deductible expenses.
Valarie shares a large office at home with her husband, who is her financial manager. She can use her time however she wishes.
Since she likes variety and big projects, she often works for an hour or so on one, then shifts to another, and so forth. On some days, she catches up on phone calls or maintenance, but always remains focused on paying clients. She occasionally works up to fourteen hours a day and some days works for only three or four hours.
Advice from a Professional. Valarie offers some very specific advice: “Read, read, read, research, research, research. Go to the library, get online, practice finding things. Interview people, create questionnaires, read magazines.
“The key requirement for a life of research is a desire, not to say compulsion, to know. In addition, a researcher (whether scientific, academic, or journalistic) needs persistence, judgment, empathy, and intuition. A researcher must establish limits and develop shortcuts, or the process goes on forever, each step leading to another source, ad infinitum.”
Based on her own experience, Valarie believes that a researcher with broad experience is more likely to be exposed to a variety of information sources. She has worked in government, major corporations, and small businesses, and each job provided a new set of resources that she is now able to draw upon.
She advises that, while there are many possible ways to get a research job, chances are that you won’t find one by answering a classified ad. Researcher is more an activity than a job title, so it’s important to network, create an excellent resume, and research your prospects. She does recommend a college degree, up to and including a Ph.D. or postdoctoral experience. The academic major doesn’t really matter, since a student who thrives in any academic environment will likely have the curiosity and temperament to excel as a researcher.
Strong writing skills are also very important, since research is useless without presenting results. Facts are just data, and a successful researcher must be able to interpret the facts and consolidate or extrapolate them into usable information.
Finally, Valarie says, “And remember, in scientific or social research, especially, the honesty and ethics of a researcher must be unquestioned. A researcher must maintain the confidentiality of people and ideas.”
Susan Broadwater-Chen—Information Specialist and Freelance Writer
Susan Broadwater-Chen owns Moonstone Research and Publications, her home-based business in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, and a master’s in theological studies from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I have an insatiable curiosity about just about everything, and I love to write,” she says. “I especially like the challenge of having to find something and the excitement that comes when I find it. I love libraries, books, and puzzles, and some of the searches that I do are very much like putting puzzles together.”
Getting Started. Susan attended Mountain Empire Community College in Southwest Virginia, taking as many computer courses as possible, including programming. After finishing those courses, she took a job at the University of Virginia (UVA) as a program support technician, and part of her job was to do a lot of editing and spend time working with research assistants.
She eventually took courses through UVA on how to navigate the Internet and create Web pages. She worked at UVA for ten years and ran a business out of her home, doing everything from research to editing.
Susan started her business in 1986 on a part-time, moonlighting basis, and she has been working at it full-time since 1995. When she had built up enough contacts and customers to become independent, she quit her job at UVA and started publishing a monthly newsletter and running a Web page. Once she realized that she could support herself by using her skills to expand her client base, she decided to devote herself full-time to the business.
Susan publishes a monthly newsletter that focuses on Internet materials of use to writers. She also accepts individual research projects from authors who are looking for information that they have difficulty finding on their own.
In addition, she works with some online author colonies or work groups in developing content for research libraries. This includes going through antiquarian books, microfilm, and other sources to provide both primary source materials and bibliographic information. Her company has a storefront on the Internet where writers or anyone else can download some materials for free and pay for others. Susan also offers a clipping service for subscribers and holds a weekly online workshop to help people with questions about finding what they are looking for.
She finds the job demanding, since most clients can’t wait a week or two for what they are looking for. In addition, putting out a large newsletter each month and submitting articles to at least one online magazine each month is very time-consuming. The day begins at 6 A.M. with checking e-mail and noting requests while her son has breakfast.Next she checks newsgroups and news services for anything that she’ll need to come back to later.
After getting her son on the school bus, she prints the articles she wants to read or save and files them in topical folders. Susan says that you must be organized in this type of work in order to keep paper to a minimum and to know where items are when you need them. She keeps a current folder of things she may want to review or talk about in her newsletter, and the rest is filed by topic.
Next Susan works on the products she intends to sell. This involves reading and writing articles or finding out-of-copyright primary source material that can be edited and reprinted for sale. When this is finished, she turns to the content she is developing for the online services and then checks e-mail again and starts working on the requests she received overnight.
After taking a walk to give herself time away from her desk, she writes at least one review or article for the newsletter and then starts exploring potential Internet sources that she may want to review. She takes notes and makes printouts and puts this information aside to be written up the next day. Then she searches library card catalogs looking for materials to request on interlibrary loan and makes notes on information in those books.
Although working at home means the atmosphere is relaxed, Susan sometimes feels pressured because there seems to be so much to do in a limited amount of time. She usually works about eighty hours a week, which is twice what she did working for someone else. The job is not boring, but it’s also hard work.
Susan likes being able to help clients, and she is very pleased when they are happy with what she’s found for them. She says, “When I’ve helped a person who is publishing books and he or she sends me a copy of the book, I get personal satisfaction knowing that I’ve helped them with the research that the book required. I also like the feeling I get when I find some really obscure fact and pull the needle out of the haystack. The downside is that sometimes I can’t help someone because the facts won’t bear out what they want to write about.”
Advice from a Professional. Based on her experience as a researcher, Susan advises that it’s not an easy job.You need to learn all you can about electronic databases and the Internet without forgetting the basic skills of library research and interviewing.
Although the options for Internet research seem infinite, she recommends that you can’t have a successful research business if you rely solely on the Internet. “You have to cultivate as many skills as possible and know where to look for specific material,” she says. “It’s also important to build up a client base and connections before you take this on full-time. Volunteer to do things for groups who might need your services on the Internet and online services. Submit articles to online publications and start networking with people in professions or with interests who might need your services.”
Clay Reynolds is the author of half a dozen novels in genres such as psychological suspense, crime, and historical.He has been writing fiction professionally since 1984.
Getting Started. Clay’s writing career began for an interesting reason. He had worked in scholarship, research, and literary criticism for several years, but he found himself the sole caregiver of his two young children when his wife worked at night outside the home. Since he couldn’t get out to the library for research and needed to be alert for most of the evening, he began writing fiction as a way of occupying the hours after his children were asleep.
He completed two novels, The Vigil and Agatite, which were published by St.Martin’s Press. Clay spent three years researching and writing his third novel, Franklin’s Crossing, which was published by Dutton in 1992. The publisher entered it in the Pulitzer Prize competition, and Franklin’s Crossing won the Violet Crown Award and was runner-up for the Spur Award for Best Western Novel. The novel was reissued by Signet in 1993.
He next wrote Players, a high-tech psychological thriller with strong crime novel elements, which was first published by Carroll and Graf in 1997 then reissued by Pinnacle in 1998. The novel Monuments was published by Texas Tech University Press in 2000.
Between writing novels, Clay has also written and edited several nonfiction books and has published short fiction, poetry, original essays, and scholarly material. One nonfiction book is 20 Questions: Answers for Aspiring Writers, published by Browden Springs Press in 1998.
For most of his writing career, Clay divided his time between writing and teaching at the University of Texas at Dallas, where the administration was accommodating in allowing him to arrange his schedule so that he would have blocks of time for writing.
Although he’s never bored, Clay finds that the work does become tedious at times, especially when he’s facing deadlines and feeling the general insecurities that can result from balancing inspiration and talent against craft and ability. He recognizes that writing is a solo occupation and that it is hard work that doesn’t respond well to interruptions, distractions, or limitations.He says, “There is no worse enemy of mine than telephone solicitors and telemarketers.”
Clay works in a home office, away from television and other distractions.He works exclusively with a computer, which helps to facilitate his other writing and editing work. He generally works eight to twelve hours a day, taking occasional breaks for walks, and he may nap if he can’t come up with an idea. He also reads a great deal. If he feels that he’s on a roll with something, he might work eighteen to twenty-four hours straight.
“Writer’s block is a constant and real companion,” Clay says. “It can strike at any time, even in the middle of a sentence. Emotions in writing are very close to the surface and are often very real. They have to be generated and nurtured, but they can never override the intellect. This is hard work, and it requires a daily commitment. Writing is not a hobby. It can be fun—it can be marvelous fun—but it’s always work, even when it’s the most fun.”
Advice from a Professional. Clay recommends a strong command of the language and a solid foundation in the rules of grammar. And he suggests that you read as a vital part of your research “You cannot read enough, even if you do nothing else for every waking minute of the rest of your life,” he says. “Read, read, read. Read history, sociology, chemistry, poetry, plays, novels, short stories, quantum physics, geography, psychology, sports accounts, daily newspapers, weekly magazines, monthly journals, and high school yearbooks. Read. Especially read literature. Bestsellers only teach you what’s hot, not what’s good. You cannot write originally if you don’t know what’s been written. Then sit down and tell a story. Fiction is a lie with which we tell the truth. Tell your lie. Tell it well. But tell it as a story.”