Meet the SHEROES - Kavitha Rao
Kavitha Rao is a freelance journalist, and author, based in Bangalore. She writes on current affairs, the environment, the arts and lifestyles for several international and local papers including the New York Times, the Guardian, the National, Elle, Vogue and others. Her website is at www.kavitharao.net. Her first book, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Journalism... but didn't know whom to ask" is out from Westland now and available on Flipkart and Amazon, as well as certain bookstores. Read what Kavitha had to say to SHEROES -
Tell us about yourself.
Well, as you know I used to be a lawyer, and graduated from the National Law School in 1996. But I always wanted to be a journalist, and I have been writing for papers since I was 15, beginning with middles for the Deccan Herald. I enjoyed studying law, but after three months of practice, I realised I couldn't sit there day after day advising companies how to set up joint ventures. Luckily the Economic Times was looking for a legal correspondent, and I applied. I got the job and have never regretted my decision to move to journalism. Though I sometimes wish I had gone straight into journalism without the detour.
From lawyer to a freelancer, what made you shift completely?
I didn't shift from being a lawyer to a freelancer right away. In between, I worked for the Economic Times and Business India. My freelancing journey began when my husband was offered an international, very mobile job. We moved 8 times in 16 years, living in six countries and several cities. Freelancing was really the only thing I could do in many of these countries, especially ones where I didn't have a proper work visa, but I have grown to love it.
What is the scope for freelancers in India right now?
It's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, more and more new magazines and websites are popping up, and editors are increasingly open to freelancers. On the other hand, the industry is going through a recession, and I foresee a shakeout. However, I think many Indian freelancers make the mistake of focusing only on local papers, when they should also be looking at foreign papers. Foreign magazines are increasingly interested in reports from India, and contrary to what most freelancers think, you don't need "connections" to break into a top British or US paper. In fact, I write for foreign editors, in Hong Kong, Dubai and London, none of whom I have ever met. With elections coming up, the world will continue to be interested in India coverage.
I have just written a book about freelance journalism, along with my co-writer Charukesi Ramadurai, aimed at everyone from beginner writers to more experienced pros. It's called "Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Journalism ( but didn't know whom to ask)" and published by Westland. It does exactly what it says: shows readers how to come up with story ideas that sell, approach editors, find the right markets, write for the foreign media and negotiate for pay. Most importantly, it contains tips and tricks from editors worldwide, who tell the reader what they are looking for, including those from the New York Times, the Guardian, Forbes, Elle, Conde Nast Traveller and others. It also includes tips from successful freelance journalists worldwide. There are also sections on travel writing, writing for women's glossies and writing on the arts. It's available on Flipkart here and Amazon here in both print and e-versions
What are the pros and cons of freelancing?
The pro, for me at least, incredible variety in assignments, the freedom to set your own hours and not have to work past 9 pm every day (as is the norm in most media houses), and liberation from boring, pointless meetings. Also, a big pro for me, is that I write for the kind of papers, that as far as I know, don't barter editorial space for money.
The big con: Money, money, money. It's still very hard to earn a decent, steady living as a freelancer in India. That said, most freelancers can do far better, if they only asked for more instead of saying yes to the first figure named by the editor. Also, it's a lonely life sometimes, and sometimes, the endless pitching for work can feel relentless.
Message for all the SHEROES out there
(1) Realise that it is a jungle out there and no one owes you a living: Especially in freelance journalism, you have to talk yourself up, because no one else will. If you don't like marketing, or hustling, or sellling yourself, this is not the profession for you.
(2) You can't do it all: I think Indian women feel like they need to do everything: bake cakes, keep a lovely home, help kids get into IIT, stay fit and trim, look after in laws or the elderly, attend pujas and, on top of all that, achieve professional success. It's simply impossible, and I would say most women need to be kinder to themselves. Housework and child rearing will take over your entire life if you let them, so try not to. Staying at home to look after the children is a perfectly valid life choice, but please realise that the longer you do this, the harder it will be to return to the workplace.And generally, most employers couldn't care less about your family responsibilities, so don't talk about them constantly. Nobody cares.
Also, not having time is often an excuse, unless you have a newborn baby. Most mothers fall into this trap of "busyness"; I did too. But I have made certain choices to free up my time, such as getting up at 5 am every day to get quiet writing time, not watching Hindi movies, refusing to go to weddings of people I don't care about: all of which gave me more hours.
(3) Get your husband to do his fair share: I think Indian women often let their husbands get away with murder, in terms of childcare and other household responsibilities. I cannot count the number of women I know whose husbands are apparently capable of managing huge companies, but cannot look after their own children for more than an hour, or cook a simple meal. Walk out the door and leave your husband to it. If the kids are alive at the end of the day, that's good enough, even if they are covered with chocolate and have spent all day watching TV.
Well, I'd like to do more long form journalism, and also more reporting from southern India, which I think is ignored by both the Indian and foreign media.