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Thursday, April 17, 2014

4 Ways to Get More from ASJA (or Another Writers' Conference) This Year

I'm gearing up for the annual ASJA Writers' Conference April 24-26 in Manhattan next week. Please let me know if you're planning to attend, and I hope we can meet in person! 

I've posted before about the benefits of attending writer's conferences. They offer a chance to learn new skills; keep up on publishing trends; network with fellow writers; and meet editors, agents, and potential clients in person. I make a point to attend at least one each year, whether I'm speaking there or simply going as a participant. 

I’d only been freelancing for eleven months when I attended a Magazine Writers & Editors/One-on-One, a Chicago-based conference for magazine freelancers. I was finding that making a living as a writer was harder than I’d expected, and was started to wondering if I should look for another job to support my fledgling career. I thought the conference might be a chance to meet some editors and hopefully get some more assignments.
Well, that happened--I walked away from the conference with a $2,100 feature from a market that was new to me, and a lead that turned into another regular relationship--and a growing sense of confidence in my freelance career. I also made a new freelancing buddy--and 17 years later, Kris and I are still close friends.
But I didn’t just make a writing buddy at the conference. I found a home. I’d never met a freelancer, let alone a successful one, before I’d quit to write full-time. Now I was surrounded by them. I eavesdropped on conversations. I watched how they chatted with their colleagues, and how they talked matter-of-factly about contracts and assignments and juggling work and families.
Being around dozens of smart, articulate, enthusiastic writers boosted my confidence. These men and women didn’t seem all that different from me, even if they were further along in their careers. If they were doing it, why couldn’t I?
That conference led to multiple assignments from one of the editors there, which repaid my investment many times over. Its true value is impossible to calculate. In just three days, I was transformed from someone who had been freelancing on little more than a whim to someone who decided to take charge of my business and commit to it for the long haul.
Interacting and networking with other writers is only one reason why I find writers’ conferences so valuable. Conferences also let you hear from other pros in the publishing trenches--book and magazine editors, literary agents, other freelancers--about what is happening in the industry today. You learn what editors like and are looking for from pitches or book proposals, what rates different markets are paying, and how authors are harnessing social media to build their platforms. Even if I’ve left a conference without obtaining a specific assignment, I’ve always found attending them worthwhile.
ASJA's annual event is aimed  at freelancers who write nonfiction books, articles, blogs, you name it, and features dozens of editors and agents. It’s the best networking I get all year long, and I recommend it to serious freelancers.
Here are four tips to get the most out of attending a writers' conference: 
  • Before ASJA or any other conference, take a look at the schedule and decide which panels you’ll attend. (Panel turns out to be a dud? Don’t feel bad about leaving to check out another one.) Sign up for one-on-one appointments if they’re available and do some research about the editors you're going to meet. 
  • Even if you’re a wallflower by nature, introduce yourself to the people around you. Swap business cards and contact information. If you can't think of anything to say, simply smile and ask the person what he thinks of the conference so far.
  • Take careful notes at panels you attend. Sure, you can Tweet, but pay attention to what editors and clients say they want. Get your pitches out and follow up with people during the week after the conference. (Most freelancers won’t bother, so you’ll stand out.)
  • Finally, let yourself soak up the energy of the freelancers around you and be open to the information that’s shared. You’ll come away with new ideas, new perspectives, new contacts, and new enthusiasm for your freelance career.

**Readers, let me know if you're attending ASJA! And if you can't be there, check out my books on freelancing, like Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Build a Better Bid: A Template for Freelancers

Readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of sharing templates, or examples that readers can adapt for their own purposes. Last post, I shared four tips on better bidding, and promised an example of a written bid for readers. Here it is, with my comments in blue

Dear Alice: 

First, thanks so much for getting in touch with me earlier this week. I'm really excited about your book concept and the possibility of us working together. I think you have a lot of good ideas, and also feel that I can bring a lot to both the proposal and the book itself. (Oh, and thanks for sending the research you sent last night—I read through it and there's a lot of good stuff there as well.) [It may seem obvious, but no one minds being complimented, at least when your compliments are genuine. Use the first paragraph to set the stage for a congenial conversation.] 

The seeds for the book are there. There's still much to do, however. Working together, we need to come up with a title and subtitle; an overview; the "hook" (i.e., what makes this book different from everything else out there); competitive analysis (a rundown on the book's likely biggest competitors and how it's different than/better than the other titles, which relates to the hook); the audience (is it all career-oriented busy people, or more aimed at women or men, for example); marketing/promotion (again, you've got a platform already but we really want to showcase this in the proposal); about the author(s) (depending on whether you want to include me as coauthor in the proposal—I think that's a selling point but that's your call); the overall structure (i.e., total number of chapters, pages, appendices, and the like); the chapter summaries; and one well-written sample chapter of approximately 15 to 20 pages. The total proposal will come in at 30-40 pages. [Wow, I have a lot to work to do, don't I? That's what I want the client to realize. I'm not only giving her a description of the work that I expect to do, I'm showing her that it will take some time to carry it out.] 

Sound like a lot? It is. But the end product—the finished proposal—will be worth it. I'm assuming that you're willing to do some of the research and work with me on the sample chapter and overview in particular; that will save me some time. As I told you yesterday, I typically charge $5000 to $10,000 for a typical proposal, but considering the subject matter and the level of your involvement, my fee will be $4,500. This includes all of the elements of the proposal including one sample chapter, to be delivered within four to six weeks (at a date we agree on.) I'd like $2,000 on going forward/signing a collaboration agreement (see below); $1,000 upon delivery of the draft proposal (without the sample chapter): and $1,500 upon delivery of the finished proposal with the sample chapter. [I've given my bid, finally, with an explanation of how I reached the figure I'm asked for. I've also made it clear that I need a retainer to get started.]

With the polished, finished proposal in hand, you'll be ready to pitch agents and editors—and you'll have the framework for the book completed which makes the actual writing of it easier. I know you want to use the book to take the next step in your career, but I also think you have a saleable idea, a strong platform, and the dedication to see the project through—all of which is necessary to succeed as a book author! [Here I set out the benefits to my client of having the book proposal completed. In retrospect, I would have swapped this paragraph with the one above, providing the features--the description of the elements of the proposal--and then the benefits before giving my bid. I think that may have been more effective.] 

Another thing to consider is when you want to sign a formal collaboration agreement that sets out our expectations for working together. We can sign one for the proposal itself, or for a potential book deal, or work something out that you're comfortable with. I can send you a sample one that you can tweak/modify how you see fit. [Again, I'm underscoring the importance of a signed contract.]

What else? I think we've got a good rapport, and I'm reliable, professional, and easy to work with. If I tell you I'm going to do something, you can count on me to get it done. I love collaborating with smart people to get their ideas in print, and helping them become book authors. [Just reminding the client of how awesome I am. :)] 

Please let me know if you have any questions about my bid or the project—I hope we’ll have the chance to work together! If this is a go, I can make your proposal my first priority, and I think you (and hopefully a wonderful agent and editor as well) will be delighted with the finished product. Let me know if you're ready to take the next step. [I like this close; it's direct but not pushy.]

All good things,


**Readers, what do you think of the proposal? Do you like the tone and format? It worked--my client hired me to write the proposal at the fee I requested. While our agent wasn't able to sell the actual book, my client was happy with my work and hired me several years later on another project. 

**Want to see more bids that worked? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs, and More, Second Edition; the print version will be in print from Improvise Press by September, 2014. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bidding to Get the Gig

When you freelance for print and online publications, you're offered a rate (almost always per-word) for your work. You either take the assignment or turn it down. Easy enough. But what happens when you have to bid on a job? Then you've got to determine what you'll charge, and this is tricky even for seasoned freelancers.

With that in mind, I offer these tips on bidding. First, try to get a sense of the client’s budget if at all possible. Let's say I'm asked by a regional publication how much I charge for reprints. I'll counter with, "What does your market usually pay for reprints?" The response will  affect how much I ask for. Here's the thing--I've had reprint markets pay as little as $40 and as much as $500 for rights to a story. I want to get as much as I can, but for a reprint (which requires very little work on my end), I'm more than happy to work with a publication's budget. 

Second, give reasons to support your bid. If I'm asked to quote my fee for a speech, for example, I point out that I've been a professional speaker for more than 10 years, and have keynoted corporate and nonprofit events. If I'm asked to quote a fee for ghostwriting, I'll highlight the fact that I've been ghostwriting books for nine years, and have experience working with traditional and POD publishers. Never give a bid without demonstrating what you're worth it. 

Third, if at all possible, provide your bid in writing. A written bid lets you demonstrate that you are clear on the the scope of the project and your client's goals. Taking the time to provide a written bid also prevents you from blurting out a number that's too low--and then regretting it later.  

Finally, make sure that you demonstrate how your background and experience sets you apart. Chances are that your potential client is looking at other writers, too, so your proposal needs to make it easy for the client to choose you over them, especially if your bid comes in higher than others. I'm upfront about the fact that I charge more money than (some) other ghostwriters. So I want to convince the client she wants me enough to choose me over someone who may be cheaper. That's why I always explain how I will approach the project (without giving too much away) before I bring up money. In other words, sell the client on you first, and then state your price. 

**Readers, do you agree with my tips on bidding? Would you like to see an example of a bid to a potential client? Let me know by commenting below. 

**Want to know more about ghostwriting, including content marketing? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition on Kindle. Prefer print? Stay tuned--Improvise Press will be releasing the print version in September, 2014! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2+2=4: How Math Can Make you a More Successful Freelancer

As a freelancer, I may work alone, but I'm always looking to other writers for strategies they use to become (and stay) successful--and then adopting them myself. That means I try to keep up on what new topics are trending among fellow freelancers (say, the demand for content marketing writers). But I have to admit I was surprised to learn of a new book for writers about something that impacts you as a freelancer (and a a person) every day--yet one you may not have given much thought to--math. So I did a Q and A with Laura Laing, a freelance writer and the author of Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money.

Q: I became a writer because I didn’t want to do math. :) Seriously, why is important that writers understand math? And how can math help you pitch more effectively? 

A: Let me allay your fears right off the bat: You don’t need to have a great understanding of trigonometry or Euclidean geometry or calculus. The math that most writers depend on every day is pretty darned basic. But there are basically three reasons math is useful to writers: It can help you tell a better story, get published and make more money. It really is that simple.

Not all readers are as enamored with the written word as we writers are. In fact, when was the last time you wrote a reported story without including at least one number? Numbers help readers better understand what you are conveying. And sometimes those numbers come in pretty ugly and difficult-to-understand packages. In that situation, it’s the writer’s job to wrangle those numbers into a format that gives even more meaning to the story.

And of course writing is critical for pitching — whether you want to write an article or a book. The query is basically a sales piece, right? You want to sell your services, ideas and expertise to an editor. Numbers have always been important in sales. For example, to demonstrate to the editor that your idea is a good one for the publication’s market, you might cite a statistic that links your story to the magazine’s readers. And it might be more impactful to translate a large number to a percentage: Instead of noting that nearly 26 million American have diabetes, it might be more striking to say that 10% of the U.S. population has diabetes. 

Finally, there is tons of math in the business of managing a freelance writing career. I believe that every freelancer should know their hourly rate, be able to set a project rate, and have a good sense of the time it takes to complete assignments. In addition, freelancers can use math to manage their goals and client diversity. This protects them when the unexpected happens — like a client suddenly bails or the bottom falls out of a particular industry. When writers avoid this kind of math, they’re pretty much throwing money away.

Q: Give me an example of a common math mistake, or one you’ve seen writers make. 

A: Percentages and percentage points are not the same thing, but that fact can be glossed over or completely ignored. Here’s a made-up example: 

"Average interest rates on personal savings accounts have grown by 1 percent since last year, increasing from 2 percent to 3 percent.”

But the interest rates haven’t increased by 1%. They’ve increased by 1 percentage point. In fact, in this example, the percentage increase is 50% — way more impressive than a mere 1%. 

But the biggest mistake I see writers make is avoiding the math altogether. I know lots of writers who feel completely out of their realm when it comes to computations. It’s a real shame if the story suffers because the writer feels intimidated by the math. 

Q: Tell me a little bit about how the book came about, and why you decided to write it in the first place. 

A: A lot of my writer friends were really surprised when I published my first book, Math for Grownups. “You know how to do math??? But you’re a writer!!” As I talked to more and more writers about math (and revealed my former life as a high school math teacher), I realized that a really big chunk of them were absolutely terrified of math. It didn’t take me long to decide that my second book would be Math for Writers

My whole take on math is that everyone can learn it. But as adults, we often come to the table with really bad experiences — condescending teachers, prolonged frustrations, that giant red XA lot of the work I do is convincing people that they can overcome these mental blocks and get good at the math they need to really be successful.

Q: I think I see a knowledge and understanding of math as yet another way a writer can stand out from the crowd, so to speak. You’ve been a very successful freelancers, so I have two questions—what attributes do think are important to thriving today as a self-employed writer? And what attributes have helped you succeed? 

A: I think successful freelance writers are strategic. This means setting measurable goals, knowing which rules to break and when, and managing their business in ways that maximize opportunities. It also means putting our emotions in our back pocket sometimes. That doesn’t mean we ignore our feelings — not at all! — but in order to make decisions, it can be good to recognize that our reactions to situations may not be the best barometer. 

Here’s an example: This year, I made the decision to fire my biggest client. I’d been working with them for four years, and in 2013, they represented 50 percent of my income. I might have allowed my fear (a very normal reaction) to keep them on board. Instead, I mapped out a plan for replacing the work. (Yes, I used math, but it was really basic stuff, I promise!)

Of course there are other useful attributes as well: perseverance, creativity, diligence, and a willingness to take risks. I’ve found that with a clear plan that’s based in facts that I can verify, these other values fall right into place. It’s so easy for me to get off track when I don’t know where I’m going!

**Thanks so much to Laura for this Q and A, and be sure to check out Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money. Visit her website to check out her full virtual book tour roster and sign up for a free, live teleseminar just for writers who need math:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Importance of Powerful Pitching

New freelancers sometimes focus on how to write for clients, overlooking the obvious--that before you can write for a client, you must have one. And that means knowing how to pitch. In fact, if you can't pitch new markets, you may as well forget about succeeding as a freelancer. So I was happy to talk with freelancer and writing instructor Anne Trubek, Professor at Oberlin College, Editor-in-Chief of Belt ( and Founder of The Thinking Writer, about this very topic. Our Q and A appears below.

Q: I think pitching is arguably the most important skill for a freelancer, especially a new one, to possess. Do you agree with this, and why or why not? 

A: Yes--not just because you need to pitch to get good assignments, but developing a good pitch is a great way to understand all the components of a story, from focus (what’s the subject line of the email pitch? can you focus your topic to a good subject line?) to structure (how will you describe the structure do in one sentence or two?), tone, research, etc. 

Q: I know that as a new freelancer, most of my pitches stunk—and were rejected. What common mistakes do you see writers making when they pitch? 

A: Agreed! It took me a very long period of trial and error to get good at pitching. 

Many writers don't have a clear enough focus or angle, haven’t done the proper research in advance, or lack any news hook or “timely” element. These were all things that I struggled with when I first pitching as well. 

Q: I have a four-paragarph template I use to pitch that includes a lead; a “why-write-it” section; a “nuts-and-bolts” section where I describe how I plan to approach the story; and an ISG (I’m-so-great), where I make the case for being THE writer for the story. Do you tend to use a template too? Why or why not? 

A: That is more or less the template I use, but I now tailor my pitches much more specifically to the publication. I also am writing shorter pitches lately: we run lots of editor Q & As  in all The Thinking Writer courses, and editors seem to prefer short, one to two paragraph (max) pitches now. Some of the information I used to always put in the initial pitch I now  communicate in a an email back and forth if the editor is interested. 

Q: Anne, I know you teach classes at The Thinking Writer. Tell me more about your classes, and how writers can benefit from them. And are they geared more toward new writers or more experienced ones? 

A: These classes began with two main groups of writers in mind: women (in response to the VIDA statistics about gender disparity in bylines), and academics who wanted to write for general audiences (because I was once exactly that!). But it has evolved over the 3 years The Thinking Writer has been around. Now I think the class ["How to Pitch and Submit"] is very well suited to freelancers with a smidgen of experience (enough so they know what “pitch” means--although we do walk through those terms in the class) and those with experience but who either want a way to help them get a lot of work done in those two weeks (say, write and submit an op-ed during the op-ed course, or pitch 4 book reviews during the book review course) or want to write for more “thinky” publications. For instance, last year a full-time experienced freelancer took the course because he wanted to work on cracking some dream markets--and he did! A pitch he worked on in the class became a feature for the Sunday New York Times Magazine just a month after class was over. 

Q: Anything else you think is critical about pitching that freelancers should know? 

A: Read! Read the publication you are pitching. I’m sure most folks have heard that advice before. Just a reminder ;) 

Q: Oh, tell me a bit about your background, and how you started teaching these kinds of classes for writers.  

A: I was once just a professor--I taught English at Oberlin College. About 10 years ago I decided I wanted to write for general audiences, and taught myself how to pitch, learn about publications, etc.  I loved doing it! So I left academia and became a freelancer. Then, when the VIDA statistics  came out showing gender disparity in bylines for “literary publications,” I decided to bring my teaching experience to bear on the freelance game, and started these classes in order to help women pitch those publications. Since then, The Thinking Writer has broadened: we now teach 3 different courses--How To Pitch, Writing About Books and Writing and Publishing Op-Eds and Commentaries. These days, I am also the editor of a magazine I started--Belt ( and so I now receive pitches from writers. And boy do they make lots of rookie mistakes! 

If you want to make fewer (or no!) rookie mistakes, be sure to check out classes at The Thinking Writer. And thanks again to Anne for today's Q and A!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Freelance Writers Made in 2013

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I talk about money a fair amount. As a freelancer, I think it's important to know not only what you're making, but what other freelancers are making. It's also also helpful to know what markets are paying--you can negotiate for more money for a publication that you know pays more than its offered rate, for example, and set rates for projects that are in line with what other writers are charging. 

So I'm happy to share the results of a freelance income survey conducted earlier this year by, a resource for established, professional nonfiction writers. (I've been an off-and-on member of FreelanceSuccess--known as "FLX" to subscribers--for years, and often recommend it to new freelancers. It's an excellent of market info and a place to connect with smart, successful writers.)

FLX surveyed 100 of its members in early January, asking what they'd made in 2013. Of the full-time freelancers:    

  • 1.5 percent made less than $10,000
  • 9.1 percent made between $10,000 and $24,000
  • 10.6 percent made between $25,000 and $39,000
  • 36.4 percent made between $40,000 and $74,000
  • 28.8 percent made between $75,000 and more, including 
  • the 13.6 percent who made $125,000 or more.  
That's more than a quarter of writers making $75,000+, good news for those of us who aspire to make serious money as writers. 

Self-described "part-time" freelancers reported the following income: 

  • 22.9 percent made less than $10,000
  • 22.9 percent made between $10,000 and $24,000
  • 22.9 percent made between $25,000 and $39,000
  • 25.7 percent made between $40,000 and $74,000
  • 5.7 percent made more than $75,000. 
Not surprisingly, the part-time writers make significantly less than their full-time peers. But with more than 30 percent grossing more than $40,000, I still think you can work part-time hours and produce decent money. (I do!) 

Just as important, forty-eight percent--nearly half--of freelancers said they made more in 2013 than in 2012, while another 30 percent made about the same amount of money. 

And just what types of work were these freelancers doing to make money? The top eight answers included: 

  • 39.1 percent were doing corporate writing
  • 33.3 percent were doing marketing writing
  • 32.2 percent were writing for websites 
  • 26.4 percent were writing blogs 
  • 23.3 were ghostwriting
  • 19.5 percent were writing for consumer magazines
  • 18.4 percent were writing social media posts
  • 12.6 percent were writing for trade magazines
Thanks to Jennie Phipps of FLX for permission to share these figures. Regardless of what type of writing you do, however, there are simple ways that you can boost your productivity and make more money. Next post, we'll share some of them. 

** Don't forget, the luck of the Irish offer ends at midnight, Monday, March 24! Use the discount code SHAMROCK (all caps) for 25 percent off of the cover price of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Pitch Didn't Sell

Pitching and getting rejected is part of freelancing. But wouldn't you rather pitch more effectively--and sell more of your ideas from the outset?

As writers, we sometimes get caught up with what our own great ideas. I've been guilty of this, too. I come up with an idea that I think is compelling, and I write the pitch. I craft a strong lead, give plenty of detail about how I plan to approach the piece, and highlight my unique qualifications. Then it doesn't sell, and afterwards, I realize I neglected an essential element--why readers of the publication I pitched will care about the story.  

In fact, you must demonstrate this in every pitch, especially markets that are new to you. Remember that a solid query has four elements: 

  • A lead to catch the editor's attention; 
  • More detail about the topic to prove that the topic will work for this market, what I call the "why-write-it" section;
  • The "nuts and bolts," where you explain how you plan to approach the topic; and
  • The ISG, or "I'm-so-great," where you highlight your unique qualifications to write the piece. 

You make your case for the story in the "why write it" section. Here are some examples of how I've demonstrated why readers will care about a topic: 

  • When pitching a woman's magazine a health feature on the surprising causes of fatigue, I cited a recent survey that stated that "fatigue" was in the top ten health complaints for women. I was assigned a 1,800-word piece at $2,5000. 
  • When pitching a true life feature about a woman who had a mysterious disease, I highlighted the inherent drama of the story, including the fact that she had sought treatment from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic--and the doctors there had told her she wasn't sick. (She in fact was very ill.) I was assigned a 1,000-word story for $500.  
  •  When pitching a piece on heart rate training for a men's body building magazine, I pointed out that most men who lift hate doing cardio (they'd much rather pump iron) but that my article would show them how to do it more effectively and efficiently. I was assigned a 1,200-word piece for $1,200. 
  • When pitching a health website about the connection between religious weight loss programs, I cited both their growing popularity posture and the fact that one of the program directors had a current, best-selling book. I was assigned a 700-word piece for $700. 
Get the idea? Look at your idea and make sure you can demonstrate to the editor why her readers will be interested in the topic. You'll boost your chance of getting the assignment! 

**Today is one of my favorites holidays--St. Patrick's Day. In honor of my Irish grandmother, Colleen, and my daughter's Irish "first mom," Chaleigh, I'm offering a special offer on my Improvise Press titles. For a limited time, you'll get 25 percent off of the cover price of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, when you use the discount code SHAMROCK (all caps).