1. The pay is higher. Much, much, higher. Leagues, light-years, parsecs higher.
2. It’s much harder to get. National publications tend to come out monthly, and they are able to select from a labor pool consisting of every freelancer in the country. Which means you’re competing with hundreds of thousands of people instead of hundreds, for far fewer jobs. So you have to come correct, every time. And except at a certain level, you’re guaranteed to be rejected far, far more than you are accepted.
3. The work is also much harder. The benefit of the higher profile is that you usually get a lot more creative control – you pick your own subjects instead of being assigned something, and you’re given way more space and way more freedom in terms of style, format, and content. The downside is, you better not fuck up, and you better know your audience, and most of all, you better do your research. The consequences of not knowing your shit are exponentially increased with the larger audience.
4. You tend not to have anything like a personal relationship with your editor. They don’t know you from Adam Horovitz: you’re just some faceless name whose pitch they decided to accept. There’s none of the give-and-take, hey-just-checking-in you get with local publications.
5. About that pitch they decided to accept: this, to me, is the worst thing about freelancing, and it’s numbingly common writing for bigger publications. Some of the time – indeed, a lot of the time – you will do a ton of research (I mean, a ton; what equates to days and days of reading) for a pitch that is going to end up being rejected. Not quite, but almost, as frequently, you will get an initial acceptance that will, after you’ve already put in a chunk of work, turn into a rejection. And sometimes, you’ll actually write the piece in its entirety only to have someone not buy it or buy it and then not publish it. The latter can be okay financially (some publications, though not by any means all, pay a “kill fee” – that is, if they take an article, you write it, but they don’t run it, you get paid anyway, a percentage of what you would have made if they’d published it), but it can be frustrating creatively, since it represents a big investment of time that you put in researching and writing only to have the piece never see the light of day. It can be especially frustrating since most publications retain the rights to the piece for quite some time – meaning that even though they didn’t publish it, they own it, so you can’t pitch it to anyone else.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m still amazed when anyone decides to pay me for anything that I’ve written; it feels like I’m pulling one over. It’s just an adjustment. All my life, I’ve had the problem of carrying a lot of useless knowledge; I like knowing things just for the pleasure of knowing them, but this is how you make a useless life-waster. Now that I’m getting paid a bit for writing, it’s only gotten worse instead of better: this week alone, I got two responses to pitches for national pubs (a rejection from Film Threat and an acceptance from American History) that both represent the dumping into my overtaxed brain dozens of man-hours worth of useless knowledge. Ah well, I’ll probably die in a gutter, but I can still take all comers at pub trivia.