spilling the tea on freelance writing with kristen bateman

by Alexia Georgieva
November 19, 2020
What does it mean to be a freelance fashion, design, and lifestyle writer today? How can emerging writers pave the way for themselves in this industry? Writer, creative consultant, and creative director Kristen Bateman shares her tips for young writers, advice on pitching, and personal experience as a freelance writer.

From opening up Instagram and seeing an interesting dress to walking down the streets of New York, Kristen Bateman is continuously inspired by her surroundings. Transposing her observations into words, Bateman's writing pieces often explore subjects that have not been covered before. Always looking to delve deeper into the cultural and historical aspects of fashion, design, and architecture, she is continuously delivering unique stories shaped by her vivid writer's voice.

Her passion for writing emerged at a very young age and kept growing throughout her career. Bateman's specific interest in fashion, arts, and design grew in middle school through personal research and readings—eventually leading her to create a blog. Growing up in pre-social media times, her blog was very different from what we know today. She was writing on and off about everything that went through her mind, from the history of the Rolex watch to the history of surrealism in fashion. This platform, which started as a fun personal project, allowed her to write for Vogue Italia at the age of sixteen. Bateman is a former student of The New School in Journalism and Design and Central Saint Martins in Knitwear, Textiles and General Fashion Studies. She has completed internships at WWD, La Cucina Italiana, Glamour, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Open Ceremony. Today, Kristen Bateman works as a creative consultant, creative director, and columnist for many notorious publications such as the New York Times, Vogue, Dazed Beauty, Architectural Digest, and more.

Upon graduating, did you immediately start as a freelance writer, or did you start with internships?

​Internships were a huge reason why I wanted to study at Parsons in NYC and at all of my internships, I was able to start writing for the publication. In tandem with my internships, while I was in school I started freelance writing. I was writing for i-D, New York Times, Styles, AnOther, Harper's Bazaar as a contributing editor with my own column and more. When it was time to graduate it was actually really hard for me to find a job that I wanted. None of the places I was interning were hiring, and many people told me I was overqualified and wouldn't be happy as an editorial assistant/assistant editor, and I was being told at the same time that I didn't have enough editing experience to get a higher position. This was really difficult for me to accept at the time, but I decided to instead throw myself into full-time freelance writing, basically running as a small business, constantly pitching publications.

Canton Tower
You were writing for many notorious publications in the industry. Do you have any advice for emerging writers on how to write an effective pitch?

First of all, I would say to get pitches accepted, you definitely have to send a lot of them, and I know it can be scary, especially for a younger or new writer, but you have to think to yourself that the worst that can happen is that they say no or they don’t answer.  Even me having written for many places before, sometimes I get rejections, or I don’t get answers, so you have to keep pitching. As an independent writer who is not on staff, you have to make your pitch different. For example, if you wanted to cover fashion week, you must have an original perspective and make your pitch different. Having that one little thing that makes you stand out and makes the editor want to assign it to you is crucial. I would also suggest reading the publication you are pitching inside and out, read the print magazine, read the website, read about the editors, etc. Always proofread your pitch and make sure that it is tailored to that specific magazine. It should feel like this is a pitch for that magazine and not something you would send to any other publication.

I've heard that in freelance writing there are times when you have to run after publications to receive your payment. I was wondering if this is indeed a reality and what advice would you give to young writers finding themselves in such situations.

Yes that's very true, even with big publications. I also did an in-office job at a publication that tried to not pay me. I've often threatened legal action in these scenarios. I've had to email CEOs to get paid months later. This is one of the most unfortunate things about the industry. Luckily now, more and more writers feel comfortable being vocal about this, whether on social media or elsewhere and people are becoming more aware of certain publications who have this habit. A couple of years ago, they enacted a law called Freelance Isn't Free in NYC, which made huge strides - I have it before and it makes it harder for publications to get away with this. It's something you can't really avoid, but I hope things will change for the better in the future. My advice would be to save money if you can before going freelance full-time, and also try to do other work as well. I balance writing with consulting and doing content and creative direction for brands. I've never been paid late by a brand.

Stefan Al
How are your days organized? On how many pieces are you working at the same time?

Pieces per month can vary fashion month is a hectic time for me, and I am doing literally 30 pieces, but other times it is a bit slower. I think for October, I did 12 pieces, but some of them are not out yet because they are print pieces, and they take longer to publish.  I also find it depends on the assignment because if I am doing a print piece, it is a much longer process, and I am more involved. I also try to spend at least one hour every day pitching, whether it’s a publication I have never written for or to editors I have a current relationship with.  

How has this fashion month been different for you and what were the challenges that you faced as a writer?

I am based in New York, so I usually attend all the New York shows, and then I usually go to Paris four times every year for ready-to-wear and couture week. Obviously, I couldn’t go to Paris for this Fashion Week because of the travel ban, and I did all my coverage remotely. Of course, it was different because there wasn’t the same opportunity to go backstage to speak with the designers and see the amazing sets in-person, which really does make a difference. I felt that from a journalistic perspective, there was a disadvantage. Because of these digital shows, the designers are doing fewer interviews, fewer studio tours, just overall granting less exclusive access, which I think does make it a little harder to come up with unique stories. I still believe that if you can have a unique perspective and point of view, you can still cover it, you don’t need to be there, but of course, it is a benefit if you have the possibility to attend.

I just think that with the way Fashion Week is changing, it would be interesting to see what happens if they continue to do more digital shows or go back to more in-person shows. I think that overall, journalists and fashion writers can still create interesting stories. It is just a little more challenging, and hopefully, if there are more digital shows in the future, we will get more used to it and figure out a way to work together better.

What is your favourite writing piece or interview that you have done and why?

It's so hard to choose, but I really like covering things that no one else has covered before - niche angles where I myself learn things and I can help other people learn things. I wrote about what the future of fashion is going to look like after COVID for Teen Vogue, and at the time, I feel like no one had really tackled that topic yet - I interviewed historians to get a perspective and how it relates to other times in history. Another time for Document Journal, during Ukrainian Fashion Week, I investigated why Ukraine's fashion scene is so obsessed with denim - it turned out that a lot of the young designers grew up with parents who didn't have jeans (or had 1 rare pair during Soviet times that they shared as a couple and pristinely ironed before wearing), so they've always felt denim was really, really special. I like working on pieces like that, which also span culture as opposed to just fashion.

Pictures - From Kristen Bateman's Instagram (@kristenvbateman)
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