Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Markets vary, but here are some average rates to keep in mind:
National magazines: $1-2/word+
Trade magazines: $.25-50/word
Regional magazines: $0.10-50/word
Custom magazines: $0.50-$1/word+
Blogs: $25+/blog post or $0.50/word+
Website copy $0.25-.50/word
Books (including ghostwriting)
Book proposals $4,500-10,000+
Full-length books $10,000-35,000+ (+royalties, in some cases)
Teaching (six-week online class) $100-200/student
Note that when it comes to print markets, I don't worry about dollars/word, but dollars/hour. I'm no longer doing a lot of feature-length pieces for national magazines the way I did early on in my freelance career, and most of the articles I do don't pay that well per-word. But because they're relatively easy to research and write (and involve minimal editing/rewriting hassles), my hourly rate on them stays high. For example, if I spend a total of four hours researching and writng a piece that pays $500 (which isn't unusual for the service journalism stories I churn out), that's an hourly rate of $125. Not bad at all.
That being said, I'll tell you that this year has been a tough one, workwise. I lost a book deal I was counting on at the last minute. I had a project that paid a mere $10,000 expand in scope and eat up much of the first five months of the year. I only had a handful of speaking gigs this year, and my biggest project (a book I'm ghostwriting) paid only $13,500--less than half of what I was paid for a similar book several years ago. I've had to drop my rates for book proposals to far less than I used to charge.
But here's the thing. I can't control what a client can afford, or is willing to pay me. But I can control how I spend my time--and after fourteen years of experience, I've learned how to work as efficiently as possible:
I reslant just about every story I write about.
I sell reprint rights.
I write articles and books about the same subject so I get more mileage from my work.
I ghostwrite books for clients which means I no longer have to spend time selling the book once it's published.
I speak professionally, which raises my profile, adds to my bottom line, and sells books.
Get the idea? There are things you can control and things you can't. You may have no say over what markets pay you (other than deciding whether to work for them) or you may be unable to negotiate the amount of money you want when working with a client. But you, and you alone, are the boss of your time. Master it, spend it well, and you'll be more successful as a freelancer.
Monday, December 27, 2010
You already know there are plenty of reasons to ghostwrite/coauthor for a client. If you're working for a packager, publisher, or agent, they'll have you sign their contract. If your client is an Everyday Joe or Pro with a Platform, though, chances are you'll write your own.
While every collaboration agreement is different, make sure that yours addresses the eight following elements:
• Pay. Of course I put this one first. How much will you be paid, and when? I suggest you get a retainer upfront. If you client loses interest early on, you want to be paid for the work you've already done.
• Credit. Whose book is this? Are you ghostwriting? If you'll get cover credit, specify how you and your coauthor's name will appear on the cover.
• Scope of work. What are you writing, and how long will it be? Will it be a 30,000-word book or a 75,000-word book, for example?
• Division of work. Will you be researching and writing chapters, which your coauthor will then review, or will each of you be writing? Will your coauthor provide facts, research, anecdotes, or other material for you to use, or are you responsible for coming up with that?
• Deadline. When is the book due? And will you give your client a certain turn-around time (say, one week) to review your drafts and get it back to you?
• Indemnification. You don't want to be sued over libelous material your coauthor provided, so the contract should indemnify you for that.
• Copyright. Will the copyright be held jointly, or in only one of your names? (You can be a ghostwriter and still share copyright, but most clients will want to be the sole owner of copyright.)
• Termination. What happens if one of you dies before the book is complete, or decides you no longer want to pursue the book? This should be spelled out.
If you want to know more about ghostwriting contracts or breaking into this field, check out my latest book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, or buy the Kindle version.
Coming later this week, straight talk about money, and a preview of a special January blog series.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Take time to consider what types of work you want to focus on, what kinds of markets and clients you want to pursue, and how you’ll spend your time—for example, how much time you’ll devote to querying new markets versus working on current assignments.
If you’re a relatively new writer who has never set a specific writing goal, make 2011 the year you start. When it comes to lifestyle behavior changes (think losing weight, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking), loads of research proves that people who set specific goals achieve greater success and are more likely to stick with their behavior changes than those who don’t set goals.
Setting goals forces you to take a closer look at your writing priorities, and get a handle on what’s really important to you. Writers who have heard me speak know that I divide goals into two types—overall, or “outcome” goals and production, or “performance” goals. Overall goals tend to be biggies—you know, like writing a novel, finding a publisher for your nonfiction book project, or finally ditching your day job to freelance fulltime.
The problem with outcome goals is that they don’t help you actually achieve your aim. That’s where performance, or production goals, come in. They’re the actionable goals that move you toward your overall or outcome goal. To be effective, they should be “SMART,” or Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.
For example, my income goal for the coming year is to make $60,000. That’s my overall goal. My performance goal is to make $250/day for 240 days/year, working an average of 15 hours/week. (This figure also fits with the average rate of $100/hour I try to maintain, and is realistic considering what I made in 2010 and the types of work I do.) Get it?
Think both big (your long-term aims) and small (e.g., meeting your daily nut)when you’re setting goals. After you’ve decided what they are, write them down, and track your progress in the coming weeks.
If one of your goals is more difficult to quantify than a simple income goal—say, getting more work published in national magazines—your performance goals might include researching a certain number of new markets each month, querying a certain number of editors each week, and sending follow-ups letters to editors who haven’t responded in a certain period of time.
Regardless, your goals should reflect your overall objectives as a freelancer. Don’t be afraid to tweak them throughout the year as your circumstances change. Smart goals give you a roadmap to follow, but you can always choose to take a different route to your destination.
Readers, if you’re up for it, share one or more of your goals here—and I may address them in future blog posts.
Finally, here comes a plug for my books. Want to make 2011 the year you double your income—or simply work more efficiently and make more as a freelancer? I've got books to help you do so.
- If you want to break into the lucrative field of ghostwriting/coauthoring, check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books.
- If you’re new to freelancing and want to make the most of your background and experience (and learn how to break into the most popular freelancing topics), check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
- And if you want my classic book on successful freelancing that has helped both new and experienced writers get more green, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money.
I promise if you read any (or all three) of my writing-related books and follow their advice, you’ll see a marked difference in your freelance success and your bottom line. If you've done so already, I'd love to hear about your experience here!
Commercial over. Happy 2011 a few days early, and happy freelancing to all of my readers.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Sure, you can keep doing the same things day after day, but trust me: you will get bored. You will get burned out. And you will probably question your desire to continue writing fulltime—or find that while you're doing the same old things, your business stagnates.
Yet at the beginning of your freelance career, you’re probably too busy looking for work and mastering the business to worry about your long-term career plans—until you find yourself dreading sitting down at your desk in the morning. That's where a long-term plan comes in.
In fact, a long-term focus is key for your writing career. I was reminded of this when I wrote Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money. Most of the six-figure freelancers I interviewed had been freelancing for more than 10 years; and nearly half had been self-employed writers for more than 20 years. Obviously they’re doing something right.
Sure, they were all talented writers. but they were also dedicated, confident, and most important, adaptable. They’d ridden the ups and downs of the economy and the market for years.
My point? To succeed long-term as a self-employed writer, you have to be able to stretch, to grow, to take on new challenges. That may mean writing in a new genre, covering different topics, teaching, or switching forms—say, writing books instead of magazine articles, or adding blogging to your repertoire.
As freelancers, we all aspire to be busy—but too much work can be a drawback to your long-term career. When you’re working long hours just to meet your deadlines—or spending hours pitching to make sure you have enough work to pay your bills—you tend to ignore questions like “so, where do I want my writing career to go long-term?”
The wonderful thing about freelancing is that you can do just about anything. That’s the drawback too. Should you write articles or books? Focus on trades or consumer magazines? Specialize or cover as many subjects as possible? Should you do corporate work? Get into ghostwriting? Start a blog--or turn your current blog into a money-maker?
To help you narrow your focus for the coming year, take some time in the coming days to think about what kinds of work you did this year, and for what types of clients. Where did your income come from? What did you enjoy? What did you hate? What do you want to do more of? Which of your markets are growing, and which are not? And where would you like to be five years, ten years, or twenty years from now?
Tune in next week for how to set goals for your writing career in 2011.
Monday, December 20, 2010
As a freelancer, you're competing against a slew of other writers, both new and experienced. If you're short on clips, I suggest you set yourself apart by pitching stories you're "uniquely qualified" to write. (This strategy works for experienced writers who are pitching hard-to-crack markets, too.) Then highlight your unique qualifications with a query that includes these four parts:
• The lead. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote--but regardless of what it is, it should catch the editor's attention.
• The "why-write-it" paragraph. This paragraph (or two, if you have a particularly detailed query) fleshes out the idea, demonstrating why the readers of the magazine will be interested in the topic. If the readers will care, your editor will care, too.
• The "nuts-and-bolts" paragraph. Here you provide details about how you'll approach the story. How long will the piece be? What types of sources will you contact? Will it have sidebars, and if so, how many? What section of the magazine will the story fit in? What's the working title?
• And finally, the ISG. In your ISG, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter.
ISGs work, even for new writers. Here are a few examples of how I used ISGs early in my freelance career; each one led to my first assignment with that market:
• When I pitched a story on a hidden dating treasure (also known as "shy guys"), I made sure to mention that I'm an extrovert who fell in love with and married a shy guy. ("10 Reasons to Date a Shy Guy," Complete Woman, October/November, 1997.)
• I pitched a true-life feature about a young woman's struggle with a serious, debilitating yet undiagnosed medical problem to a number of women's magazines. In my ISG, I confirmed that I'd spoken with the woman and had her permission to write her story. ("An Answer at Last," Woman's World, April 7, 1998.)
• When I queried a bridal magazine with a story idea on the importance of communicating about money, I included an anecdotal lead about a money argument between newlyweds. In my ISG, I revealed that the couple was me and my newlywed husband. ("A Match Made in Financial Heaven," Bridal Guide, March/April, 1998.)
Get the idea? When you lack clips, play up what you do have--namely, some kind of personal experience with or knowledge of the topic you're pitching. Write an ISG to convince the editor that you're the perfect fit for the assignment and you're halfway to getting it.
And you needn't be a physician or researcher to make your mark in the competitive world of health writing--if you keep the following in mind:
Tap into trends. Yesterday's news is just that--yesterday's. If you want to write about health, you've got to stay up what's happening now. I always try to have a newsy, time peg in my health-related queries to first, show the editor I've done my homework, and second, convince her that's it a hot, current topic.
Stay specific. To catch an editor’s attention, you’re better off pitching a narrower story idea than something more general. Instead of suggesting a piece about asthma, for example, pitch a parenting magazine with a piece on how to asthma-proof your home. Instead of a piece on back injuries, pitch a story on simple exercises to maintain core strength (and flatten your tummy!) to a fitness magazine.
Match the market. Make sure that the story you’re pitching is a good fit for that particular publication. Tailor your query to the market—a beach body workout might sell to Fitness while Prevention may be more interested in exercises that help maintain flexibility and strength as you age.
Move to the front. If you’re a freelancer without a lot of health-writing experience, pitching ideas to the “front-of-the-book” or FOB section is the easiest way to break in. In most magazines, these pages consist of short, often news-driven items. The editors usually need material to fill these sections every issue, and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door and prove yourself for longer assignments.
Use yourself. Many of my first health clips resulted from my own experiences or that of friends and family. After I started using a heart rate monitor, I wrote about how they can make you fitter for Fit. Years of battling urinary tract infections led to a short piece on the latest treatment methods for Good Housekeeping while my sister-in-law’s sleep apnea was the spark for a story on women and fatigue for Woman’s Day. A personal connection with a topic can easily become a selling point, so constantly scout for ideas.
Develop a Rolodex. When writing about health, you've got to have expert sources--and that means looking beyond your chiropractor or Spinning instructor. You’ll need to find and interview credentialed, recognized experts to back up any claims you make.
Develop a specialty. It’s impossible to keep tabs on every aspect of health and fitness today—MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s database of journal articles, contains more than twenty million citations and that number grows daily. You're better off specializing and focusing on a specific area or two than to try to cover every possible health topic.
Back it up. Finally, expect to provide fact-checking material to your editor. I turn in an annotated copy of the finished story with references, names of experts and contact information, and journal citations (as well as copies of the articles) noted thereon. Make sure you keep your backup material--most magazines are very careful to fact-check any health information they publish. You can’t simply cite a statistic you read in the paper or heard on the news; you’ll need to find and confirm the source.
Want to know more about turning your health woes into cash? Health writing is one of the top ten specialties I cover in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition. You'll also find out how to break into related specialties like writing about food/nutrition and fitness/sports.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
New and inexperienced writers often break into freelancing by writing about parenting issues, and writers who develop a specialty in this area often find that they need look no further than their own families for story ideas.
But writing about parenting and child care is more than simply relating personal experience—parenting writers are expected to keep up on trends, locate and interview experts, and provide plenty of service for readers.
If you’re a parent—or if you want to write about kids and the issues families face—keep these tips in mind:
Present More than One Option
Ask any new parent and he or she will tell you—when it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion and no one thinks twice about sharing theirs with you (like it or not). If the baby cries, pick her up immediately—or she’ll be traumatized. Nope, that’s the worst thing you can do—you’ll spoil her if you don’t let her cry herself to sleep. Let him suck on a pacifier and he’ll need thousands of dollars’ worth of orthodontia…or take it away from him too early and he’ll need therapy for separation anxiety years later.
And parents face dozens if not hundreds of decisions every day that will affect their children’s welfare. What’s a mom or dad to do? Look to parenting/child care publications for advice, information, and support. That's why the most important rule in writing about parenting is to avoid preaching or implying that there is only one way to do something. Always give more than one alternative and support the parents' right to make decisions for their kids.
Find Supporting Experts
OK, so you’re a parent. But you need more than that to write with authority about parenting and child care. Even if you have personal experience with an issue, you’ll probably need to back up the advice you offer with more authoritative opinions and quotes from experts like pediatricians, child development experts, dieticians, or teachers in addition to including real-life anecdotes.
Remember that editors want experts who are established and well-known in his or her field. Call organizations like the American Medical Association or the American Dietetic Association, and ask for referrals to members who specialize in the area you’re writing about.
Embrace All Families
Parents come in all ages, both sexes, and are of every race, ethnicity and religion. This may seem obvious but too often writers simply assume that their family traditions—such as celebrating Christmas—are embraced by all readers. “
On the other hand, if you’re writing for a publication aimed at a more narrow audience—say, stay-at-home mothers or parents who home-school their children, it’s okay to focus your story on that group of people. Just keep the audience in mind as you write the piece, and remember that parenting writing is often service writing. In fact, “how-to” articles are the most prevalent kind of parenting stories and for good reason.
Include "Real People" Anecdotes
While you may need experts to support your story, don't be afraid to include your personal experiences. Readers may find it easier to relate to someone who’s “been there, done that.”
Your personal story is a great place to start. But because there are so many different approaches to parenting, readers like hearing about more than one person’s experience or opinion in child care articles. A wide range of sources helps ensure that readers will find something in an article than benefits them.
Create New Spins on Evergreen Topics
Many parenting stories cover topics like health, child development, discipline, and nutrition. While these subjects are covered over and over again, look for a new angle or new approach to sell your story idea.
Although you may need to come up with a fresh approach, parenting writers have an endless list of “evergreen” story ideas to choose from. Topics like infant first aid, children’s health, how to choose a babysitter, how to help kids prepare for and succeed in school, discipline strategies, inexpensive craft activities, proper nutrition, ways to talk to kids about difficult subjects…the list goes on and on. The trick is coming up with a new or unique angle..and your kids may give you one without you even asking!
Want to know more about writing about parenting? It's one of the top ten specialties I cover in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Before I can determine whether a project has merit (at least for me), I need some background information. I ask every potential client the following ten questions:
• What kind of book (or other project) do you have in mind?
• How long will the book be?
• Why do you want to write this book? (Does the client want to attract more business or simply get her memoir in print? Is she expecting to make money from her book?)
• What kind of material do you have for your ghostwriter to use? (Has the client started the book? Does she have an outline or other research/notes I can use as a starting point?)
• What's your deadline?
• Why are you considering using a ghostwriter? Have you worked with one before?
• What kind of publisher do you plan to work with? (Is the client planning to try to sell the book to traditional publisher or use a POD publisher?)
• Who's the audience for your book?
• How do you envision working with a ghostwriter? (In other words, does he want you to do all of the research and writing, or will he be doing some of the writing himself?)
• What budget do you have in mind for this book? (I'm happy to bring up money last, but I always find out what my client's financial expectations before I even consider bidding on a job. I've learned that lesson the hard way.)
With the answers to these ten questions, I know whether I want to pursue the project, first off. I also have enough info to make a sensible bid, based on my expectations of the work involved.
Even in a down economy, the market for ghostwriters is broad and continuing to grow. If you want to know more about how you can break into and thrive in this lucrative field, check out my new book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. Or buy the Kindle version.
Monday, December 13, 2010
So, you revised the piece to the editor’s specifications, or so you thought. But now, for reasons beyond your control, the story has been killed. What do you do?
First off, welcome to the club. I don't know of any longtime freelancer who hasn't had at least one piece killed. Sometimes the story you write isn't what the editor decides she wants--or the story her boss wants. Sometimes the editor who assigned the piece leaves the magazine, leaving the piece "orphaned." Sometimes the editor decides the piece is no longer timely, and no longer wants it. Regardless of the reason, your piece has been killed.
Years ago, I had two stories—$2,800 worth of work—killed during a regime change at a national fitness magazine. The editor who had assigned the pieces had left along with other staffers. Now the new editor-in-chief seemed determined to get rid of anything that had been assigned by her predecessor. My stories--which were already finished--got caught in the middle.
I argued that I should be paid the full fee, not the 25% kill fee the contract paid for. After all, there was nothing wrong with the stories themselves--it was simply an arbitrary decision on the part of the new EIC not to use them. But the editors at the magazine refused to pay me the full amount, opting for the kill fee provision. I was...well, way more than peeved.
After I cooled off, I thought about how to make the best of a sucky situation. I called an editor I’d worked with at another fitness magazine. I told her I had two great story ideas to pitch her, and sold both of them in five minutes. (I wish all my ideas sold so quickly.)
Did I tell her that they’d just been killed by one of her competitors? Nope. When she asked what kind of deadline I needed, did I say “Oh, about five minutes?” Absolutely not. I turned in one piece two weeks later, the next piece the week after that. My editor loved both, and accepted them. She paid me $1,750 for the stories—which, combined with the $700 kill fee, left me only $350 in the hole on the deal. (And that's not counting the reprints I made on both pieces after they first came out.) That was a much smarter decisoin than if I would have simply accepted the kill fee and let the stories languish on my hard drive.
Bottom line: a story getting killed doesn’t mean your work is substandard or that you can’t hack it as a writer. Every freelancer will face this issue at one time or another. It’s how you respond to them that matters.
For more smart advice about how to address freelancing challenges, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, or Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
And stay tuned for another giveaway to celebrate 2011...January 1 is my favorite day of the year!
So this is big news, and very cool for authors like myself: Amazon.com has made Nielsen BookScan data available free of charge to its Author Central members.
This means that I can track how well my books are selling, in close to real time, and also get an idea of how my marketing efforts are paying off. Are the Nielsen numbers one more thing to obsess over? Sure...but as an author, only part of my job is writing books. The more time-consuming part is selling them. I see this data as a tool I can use to sell my books more efficiently, and hopefully sell more of them, too.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Yet many ignore one of the most essential aspects of successful freelancing--the willingness to go beyond what editors and clients require.
For example, several years ago I interviewed a cake decorator for a trade magazine story. During the course of the interview, she mentioned that the magazine had recently run "her" photo. There was only one problem--the person in the picture wasn’t her.
Hey, I had nothing to do this. It wasn’t my problem. Most writers would have shrugged their shoulders, and thought, "so what?" Instead, I apologized on behalf of the publication, and told her I’d let my editor know. After the interview, I called my editor and told her what had happened, suggesting that we use a photo of the woman and her cakes to accompany my story on cake trends.
My editor agreed, and thanked her for letting her know about the mistake. I called the decorator back to tell her the magazine would be in touch—and this time I promised, she would be in the magazine. And she was.
I didn’t have to take this extra step--I'm just a freelancer after all. But I realized I could probably address what had happened and make the publication (and my editor) look good as well. That helped me build a relationship with an editor who was new to me—and good relationships are critical to success in this business.
How else can you go the extra mile with a client or editor?
• Turn stories in early. When you beat your deadline, you give your editor some unexpected breathing room. Trust me, they like this!
• Suggest story ideas—even if you don’t write them. I don’t do short pieces anymore, but when I come across new studies that would make good FOB, or “front of book,” material, I pass along the information to my editor. It takes only a few seconds, and I know she appreciates it.
• Compliment her when you can. When I get my contributor’s copy, I always scan my article for any editorial changes. If the edits strengthened the piece (and they usually do), I’ll send a quick note thanking her and telling her the final version looked great. Editors like to receive praise just like writers do.
• Keep her up to speed. Several of my editors freelance as well, and I share contact names and industry gossip when I touch base with them. Writers may have access to info through the freelance grapevine editors don't.
• Put yourself in her shoes. Say you’re an editor who’s turned in a story only to have it slashed to ribbons by your boss. Now you must make your boss, the senior editor, happy. Would you rather work with a writer who complains about revisions or listens carefully and agrees to revise the story? That’s an easy call.
Stop thinking of your clients as merely the people who sign your checks, and consider how you can make their lives easier. I promise it will pay off with more regular clients, and more work in the long run.
For more smart, savvy advice about freelancing, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House, 2005.)
Monday, December 6, 2010
Reprints aren't just an afterthought for me; instead, I think about reprints from the outset. In other words, when I pitch an idea to a magazine, I'm already lining up potential reprint markets in my mind--and as soon as reprint rights revert to me, I send that piece out to my other markets.
Let me give you an example. I have a handful of reprint markets that purchase stories on women's health, lifestyle, fitness, nutrition, and wellness topics. When I write an article on one of those topics (for a market with a writer-friendly topic), I make a note to offer the piece to my regulars as soon as it's available. So after I wrote a story on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer for a woman's mag for $500 and it ran, I turned around and sold it as a reprint to two different overseas women's magazines ($150 and $300 each); to a small custom magazine ($75); to a regional parenting magazine ($150); to another regional parenting magazine ($50); and to a regional woman's magazine ($80) within the next three months. And the story is still selling to other reprint markets as well.
Get the idea? Don't just treat reprints as an afterthought. Think about potential reprint markets beforehand--as you pitch, and as you write--and you'll make more money for your original pieces as well. That's double-dip technique number 5.
Working efficiently and making more money has been my focus as a freelancer for more than a decade. If you want to learn more about how I do it, read more of my blog. Or check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, or Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money. (Notice a theme here?)
Saturday, December 4, 2010
But if you're new to freelancing, or if you're wondering how to go about negotiating better rates, here's a simple and effective way to do it. Think TEA:
1. Thank. When you're offered an assignment, express your appreciation. Let her know you're excited about or looking forward to working with her. (i.e., "Thanks so much for thinking of me..." or "I'm glad you want to assign this piece..")
2. Explain. Now give a reason (or more than one) why you're asking for more money. The way you make your case will depend on the assignment, but I've used the following reasons to ask for more:
- A tight (or extremely tight) deadline. (i.e., "I'm happy to take this on, but the deadline means I'm going to have to work nights to meet it...")
- An all-rights contract that the editor won't budge on. (i.e., "I realize you can't change the contract, but this prevents me from ever reselling the story in the future and as a freelancer, I rely on reprints to fund my 401k...")
- A story that requires a lot of legwork. (i.e., "Hey, we both know how hard it can be to find 'real people' sources for this kind of story....")
- An assignment that requires a certain level of expertise or experience. (i.e., "You know that I've been doing health writing for more than a decade, and I'm happy to do all the background research this story will require..." or "I've written more than a dozen book proposals that have sold, so you know I can write a proposal that will capture an editor's attention..."
- A market that I've written for before. (i.e., "You already know I'm going to do a great job for you...")
3. Ask. It's that simple. After you've expressed enthusiasm for and appreciation of the assignment and stated your case, ask the editor if she can "do better". (You don't have to say, "Pay me more, dude!" even if that's what you're thinking.) The way you phrase it will vary, so use language you're comfortable with. Here are some sample scripts, using the above scenarios:
- Tight deadline script: "Thanks so much for thinking of me for this story. I'm happy to take this on, but the deadline means I'm going to have to work some nights to meet it. Considering that, can you boost your rate a bit?"
- All-rights contract script: "I realize you can't change the contract, but this prevents me from ever reselling the story in the future and as a freelancer, I rely on reprints to fund my 401k--I don't have a pension plan. Keeping that in mind, could you do better money-wise?"
- Legwork-heavy story: "Hey, we both know how hard it can be to find 'real people' sources for this kind of story...it can take days just to find the right person! Can you do better than $1/word for that kind of legwork?"
- Complex or complicated assignment script: "You know that I've been doing health writing for more than a decade, and I'm happy to do all the background research this story will require, but this is a story not everyone could write. Can you do better money-wise to reflect my experience?"
- Regular market script: "You know me and my work, and you know I'm going to do a great job for you and turn the story in before deadline. Could we talk about me getting a raise?"
Thank. Explain. Ask. It's that simple. Try TEA before you say yes...and let me know what happens!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
It seems illogical at first. For a short article, why not just write it up? Why bother with a query?
1. It shows you "get it." That's what professional freelancers do--we query. Writing an article and sending it in looks amateurish. (The exception is if you're pitching an essay, where you send in the completed piece.) Show the editor you're a serious freelancer, not just a reader of the publication, by querying her.
2. You save time. Your editor may have already assigned a piece on the subject, or have a similar piece in inventory. You don't want to spend time writing a piece that has no chance of selling because your editor is already covering it.
3. You stay out of the delete pile. Most national magazines don't accept "unsolicited submissions" (i.e. completed articles) but they do accept queries. Easy decision. right?
4. You boost your chances of success. When you write a piece, you decide on the subject, angle, length, format, sources, and tone. What are the chances you're going to make all the same choices with your story that the editor would when you're basically writing in the dark?
A query tells your editor how you plan to approach the piece, but lets her have the final say. Maybe she wants more words, or fewer. Maybe she likes the basic idea, but wants you to take a different angle. Or maybe she wants you to use an expert and a real person source, not just an expert. Regardless, when you query, you give the editor a chance to assign you the story she wants instead of writing the story you want and crossing your fingers that she'll say yes.
Make sense? Readers, do you agree or disagree?
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
When it comes to nationals, though, there is a place where new writers should pitch. Where is it?
The front of the book. Front of book, or "FOB" refers to the departments that run in the front of the magazine. They often include several short pieces on the same page, typically 50 to 300 words or so. These "shorts" are sometimes written in-house but are often penned by freelancers.
Why is FOB such a great place for new writers to start?
1. It takes a lot of stories to fill the pages, up to about twenty depending on the market. That's a lot of assignments, even if they're short ones.
2. The editor for each FOB section must fill it each issue. Every issue. Issue after issue. And that means she's always prowling for new ideas--and new writers--to help her do that.
3. The editors in charge of FOB sections are usually lower on the masthead; meaning, they're newer to the magazine and less likely to have a "stable" of freelancers than more seasoned editors do. (See reason #2.)
4. If a new writer screws up a story (or fails to turn it in--it happens!), the editor is stuck with a pretty small hole to fill. She's not going to have to scramble to fill two or three full pages the way she would if a freelancer dropped the ball on a feature. So an editor is more likely to take a chance with a new writer on an FOB than a longer piece.
5. Established freelancers often don't bother with FOB pieces. We're paid by the word, remember? So while I pitched and wrote FOBs early in my career, I've given them up in favor of better-paying features--and many freelancers follow a similar trajectory.
6. FOBs give you a chance to prove yourself both to the editor and the magazine. As a new freelancer, I couldn't always get feature assignments with the magazines I wanted to write for. But after I pitched and wrote two FOBs for Self, I nailed a feature assignment--and the editor came to me!
And before you ask, yes, you should still use a query to pitch even a short FOB. Next post, I'll tell you why.
Are you a new freelancer or do you want to become one? You'll find my first two books on successful freelancing enormously helpful. Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money includes 20 queries that worked along with advice on launching your freelance career by starting with what you know about already; Six-Figure Freelancing gives a broader overview of treating your writing like a business and succeeding in a competitive field.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I'm the subject of a Q and A on ghosting, one of my fave subjects, on Write Around it All, a great new blog on writing. And thanks to Maureen Salamon for suggesting it!
Big deadline Monday, but stay tuned for most posts later this week.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Book packagers are similar to book publishers with one primary difference. Traditional book publishers offer a contract (that usually includes an advance, even a small one) for the right to publish a book. A packager is paid by someone else to publish a book. Often the packager is an individual who wants to get a book into print; in other cases, a traditional publisher hires a packager to create the book that the publisher will then sell.
Packagers hire ghostwriters all the time. They look for ghostwriters who have authored at least one book and usually prefer to use writers with ghosting experience. However a background in writing about the subject of the book gives you a leg up on other writers competing for the job. Case in point: my first job as a ghostwriter was for a packager and while I hadn't ghosted before, my interest in and experience writing about psychology helped me get the job.
What about money? Fees range across the board, depending on the client, the type of book you’re doing, and how long it takes you to complete it. I’ve seen packagers offer in the mid-five-figures for business books, and in the $15,000 to $40,000 range for books on other subjects. It’s the client’s budget (the individual or publisher that has hired the packager) that sets the fees.
To market yourself, reseach packagers and send an LOI highlighting your subject areas of specialty, asking that you be kept in mind for possible jobs. And if you respond to a packager's ad looking for a ghost for a particular book, make sure your LOI is customized for that project.
In addition to using Google to find book packagers, check out the American Book Producers Association for a list of members.
Intrigued? Thinking, "hey, mabye I should get in on this ghostwriting thing"? Then check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books for samples of LOIs that work for packagers and other clients.
Friday, November 26, 2010
One of my biggest struggles as a freelancer used to be the isolation the nature of the work requires. (Now that I have two young children, that's changed. Today, I relish the chance to work alone!)
But it was my lack of social contact that led me to take a part-time job at Trader Joe's before I became a mom. TJs is a sort of hippie grocery store that sells everything from cheap wine (a/k/a "Two-Buck Chuck") to fresh sushi to soy chips to gluten-free bread. After explaining my love for both human interaction and TJs' meatless meatballs--and passing a math test--I started working 10-15 hours a week, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a box cutter dangling from my belt. Ten hours/week was just enough to give me some meaningful human encounters without jeopardizing freelancing.
The result? I got the contact I craved, built up my biceps (those wine boxes are heavy!), and also found that many of my on-the-job lessons translated to my freelance career as well:
Just do it. At Trader Joe’s, I arrived, punched in, and got to work. I might be "pulling codes" (sorting outdated products), stocking canned soup, or breaking down pallets. I might be working the register or working in the frozen foods section. But I never questioned whether I’d be working. I tackled the task given to me, finished it, and moved on to the next one. (Freelancing lesson: don’t bitch and moan. Just do your work.)
Be nice. Trader Joe’s is all about the unique products it sells—and the people who work there. As employees, we were expected to be friendly and approachable. Within a few weeks, I found I could start a conversation with any customer, any time—and people almost always responded positively. (Freelancing lesson: clients like it when you’re nice.)
Anticipate your customers’ needs. At Trader Joe’s, if you’re wandering around open-mouthed, scanning the shelves, an employee will ask if he or she can help you find something. (We're supposed to--it's in the employee manual.) In other words, you shouldn't have to track one of us down—we should be watching for you. (Freelancing lesson: figure out what your client wants even before he or she does.)
Entice your customers. Trader Joe’s has fulltime sign makers on staff to create eye-catching displays and decide which products should be displayed together. Put blue corn chips and black bean and corn salsa on the same shelf, and you sell more of both. (Freelancing lesson: offer your client packages--say, a story and a sidebar, or an idea for a regular newsletter--and you’ll get more work.)
Know your stuff. One of my favorite parts of working at Trader Joe's was recommending specific products to customers. I "hand-sold" everything from peanut butter dog biscuits to yogurt-honey-peanut Balance Bars to low-fat soy chips. Being familiar with our products made me better equipped to sell them. (Freelancing lesson: make sure you can explain the benefits to your clients of hiring you.)
I may have only been making peanuts (and 10% off my groceries), but I loved working at Trader Joe’s. It wasn't until my manager kept overscheduling me (first 20 hours/week, then 25, then 30--that I had to pull the plug.)
My Trader Joe's stint taught me a lot about freelancing. It also reminded me of how fortunate I am to have a career that I’m in charge of (not my bitchy manager), working the hours I want, in my pajamas--and with no need for a box cutter. That may have been the best freelancing lesson of all.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Here are five simple ways to get more from your interviews, whether you're interviewing an expert in her field or someone who's had personal experience with the subject:
1. Do your homework! In other words, prepare in advance. I was just interviewed by a college student about freelancing. Many of the answers to questions he asked me ("How long have you been freelancing?" "What kinds of work do you do?") could be found on my website. Do some background research before you do your interview--and let the person know you did so by saying something like, "So, you've been conducting research on the glycemic index for years. What led to that interest?" or "In your new book, you talk about the relationship between body image and happiness. Tell me more about that." When your sources knows you've prepared for the interview, you'll get better quotes, guaranteed.
2. Ask if it's a good time for the person to speak. The first question out of your mouth should be, "Is this still a good time for you talk?" About one-quarter of the time, my source asks me to call back in ten minutes, or a half-hour. That's fine with me--I want the person's undivided attention, after all. And this shows respect for the person you're interviewing.
3. Give your source a heads-up about what you'll ask ahead of time. I want the best quotes possible, so when we schedule the interview I give the source a general idea of what I plan to ask, and who the audience for the piece is. A prepared source=good interview. That's why I typically don't contact someone and do the interview right then--I know I'll get better quotes if I give her a chance to think about the subject beforehand.
4. Listen. Sure, I have questions I need answered, but I listen to what my source is saying so I can ask additional questions, or let the interview go in a different direction. Early in my career, I was so focused on getting what I needed I would just run down a list of questions without really listening to the subtext of what was being said. I've since learned that a good interview is a conversation between two people, not just canned questions and answers.
5. Say thank you. Better yet, send an actual thank-you note. This person is giving you her time--so show your appreciation. I send a personal thank-you to do so--and let me tell you, people remember me as a result. I also let sources know when they're quoted in print. That has let me develop a Rolodex of hundreds of expert sources in a variety of areas--and if I'm stuck and need a "quick-and-dirty" interview for a rush assignment, they come through for me.
Use these five strategies and you'll get more from your interviews--and develop your own stable of expert sources as well, which saves you time researching other stories.
Are you a new freelancer who wants to know more about researching articles? Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money includes a chapter on research (including interviewing) as well as a how-to chapter that walks you through the process of writing an article for publication from scratch--and ten chapters about the ten hottest nonfiction specialties and how to write about them.
Coming soon: posts on goal-setting, the best markets for new writers to pitch, and making clients love you.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
If being recognized for your work is important to you, you may not be interested in abandoning your byline. Fair enough. But have you considered working as a coauthor on book projects? Coauthoring, where you collaborate with another person and share credit, gives you an opportunity to expand your platform, and command bigger advances than you would on your own—and be recognized for it.
I approach coauthoring and ghosting projects the same way—the only difference is that in the former cases, I get a byline and in the latter, I don’t. (If that’s the case, I’ll try to negotiate more money for giving up my byline.) But many clients are willing to share their byline—provided their name is first, and in bigger type on the cover.
The advantages to coauthoring are the same as ghosting, too. You can make more money as you’re typically not responsible for actually marketing the book when it comes out, so you spend less time on each book. You’re able to command a bigger advance with a well-known expert than you could on your own. And you’re not responsible for coming up with a book from scratch—your client provides you with ideas and, if you’re lucky, research and other material you use as a starting point.
I once said, “I would never want to write someone else’s book.”
Well, guess what? I was wrong. Today I enjoy writing other people’s books. Part of the reason is that I take on clients who are smart; who have interesting ideas; who pay well (and promptly); and who respect me and my work. Is that worth trading my byline? To me, yes…but I realize that other writers may not feel the same way. I’d suggest that you consider alternatives before insisting that any kind of collaborating isn’t a good fit for you.
Want to know more about coauthoring and ghosting--even if the latter isn't of interest? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, and as always, let me know if you have any questions about the field.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
If you're an everyday person who simply wants to publish a book, that's one thing. But if you're a serious freelancer who writes to make money, not just for fun, then choosing POD should be a carefully measured decision. After all, writing isn't a hobby for you--it's your career.
As a serious freelancer, POD may not be for you if:
1. You have no marketing plan for your book. If you're an author already, you know that writing the book is the easy part! It's selling it that takes more time and effort. Unless you're a big name, traditional publishers won't do much for you, but they will do something. Go POD and all that marketing falls on you. If you have no idea how you'll sell the book, why bother with it?
2. The book deviates from your platform. If you're known as a parenting writer, some of your readers will probably buy a book you write on parenting. Same goes if you cover business and author a book on business strategies. But when you write a book that's completely different than what you're known for, it's more difficult to sell. (See reason #1.)
3. You think POD means you can do a half-assed job. No offense to fellow POD authors out there, but editors can spot most POD books at ten paces. The covers look cheap, the books themselves are riddled with mistakes, and the writing is poor. Don't think you can get away with a less-than-stellar book because you're going POD. It should be just as professional-looking as a traditionally published book.
4. You must make a certain amount of money on the book. When you work with a traditional publisher, you get an advance up front (and chances are that's all the money you'll ever see). When you go POD, you're going to spend months of your life writing a book for no advance. (Eeek!) There are no guarantees with POD--your book may sell well, or not. Like so many things in publishing (and life), it's a gamble.
5. You have a fantastic platform. Um, then why aren't you pitching traditional publishers first? If I can get paid to write the book with an advance and have a publisher getting the book into bookstores, that's going to be my first choice. (If you've tried to sell to traditional pubishers with no luck, that's different. Then maybe POD is the logical alternative.)
6. You're not committed to marketing the book long-term. If you're serious about your career, you shouldn't be writing any "throwaway" books. Are you willing to promote the book for at least a year? If the answer is no, why bother getting it into print?
7. You haven't identified your audience. Who will buy your book? Why? What does it offer than other books do not? Let me tell you, when asked about the readership for their books, newbie authors often respond, "everyone." (Don't ever say that to an agent or editor!) You should be able to define your audience so you can reach them and sell to them. This is one reason why it's harder to sell fiction than nonfiction--it's more difficult to describe your potential readers. (Again, see reason #1.)
8. You have a hard time sticking to deadlines. When you write for a traditional publisher, you have an editor (and a contract) to keep you in line. POD is author-driven, which means if you blow deadlines, no one will care all that much--and your book may never make it into print. (As a serious freelancer, I hope this doesn't apply to you!)
9. You want your book in libraries and bookstores. Then you need a traditional publisher--or choose true self-publishing, where you set up your own publishing company and use a distributor that markets to libraries and bookstores. Some POD companies offer "expanded distribution," but the bottom line is that most stores won't carry POD books for a variety of reasons.
10. You don't know how this book fits into your overall career. Ideally a POD book should serve more than one purpose. In addition to producing some royalties, it should establish you as an expert, attract new clients, or help you land speaking gigs--or all three. Carefully consider why you're publishing this book and what you want it to do for you before you spend the time and money to go POD.
Readers, what do you think of my ten reasons? Do you have any to add? And what other questions do you have about POD?
Monday, November 15, 2010
Of course I’d heard of POD, or print-on-demand, publishing but knew little about it. It sounded like the “lesser-than” option to me. I'd seen a lot of POD (often called self-published) books that frankly looked terrible. I didn't like the idea of being wholly responsible for selling a book (even though that's the case for pretty much any midlist author today). And I couldn't justify devoting my limited, precious work time to a book that I would have to pay to get in print (as opposed to being paid by a publisher to get it in print). Not for me, I thought.
Well, I was wrong. This year, I published my first POD book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. But this wasn't a random act. Rather, it was a calculated decision which included weeks of research and thought to ensure that POD was the right choice. I had five compelling reasons to make the leap:
1. There was no competition for my book. When I looked for books on ghostwriting, there were only a couple—and they weren’t particularly helpful. The authors claimed to be making good money ghostwriting, but didn’t say how much. I hate that. I want specifics! I want details! The authors told you to make sure you had a written contract, but didn't give any examples. They didn't discuss how to negotiate fees, how to successfully market yourself to different kinds of clients, or how to address common problems that arise. I knew my book would include all that, and be the only one that gave readers everything they needed to know to break into this lucrative field.
2. The book fit into my platform. While I cover health, fitness, nutrition and wellness, I also have developed a "successful-freelancing-expert" platform over the past 14 years. I’m a contributing editor at The Writer magazine. I’ve written more than 80 features and columns about writing for markets ranging from Writer's Digest to Writing for Dollars and published two books on successful freelancing. Six-Figure Freelancing continues to sell well, even on a crowded bookshelf. (Seems like every writer wants to author a book about writing and I’m competing against names like Stephen King and Anne Lamott, so this is significant.)
3. I had much of the book already written. Here's the back story. I found a traditional publisher that decided to purchase the book. The advance was fair, and I immediately started researching, conducted a dozen interviews, and started writing to make a tight deadline. When higher-ups decided the book didn’t have enough of an audience, my editor had to pull the plug. Yet I already had a third of the book in the can--and I hated to abandon the time and work I'd already put it.
4. I knew I could sell it. And this is a big reason. Remember my "successful-freelancing-expert" platform? Well, that means my name is fairly well-known among freelancers. I do a lot of public speaking. I appear at writer’s conferences. I teach classes and workshops. I author this blog. I write lots of articles about freelancing. I’m responsive when readers contact me with questions. All of that helps me sell my writing-related books, including this one.
5. The book will attract new clients. Sure, I've got a platform already, but more than 50 percent of my work and income these days comes from ghostwriting/coauthoring--and that percentage continues to climb. I'm continuing to establish myself as a successful ghostwriter, and to do that, I need clients, especially those that pay well. Many of my ghosting clients author books to establish themselves as experts. I wanted to do the same.
And you know what? I wanted to write this book. A lot. I didn't realize how much until the publisher walked. This isn't a solid business reason to go POD. But remember that I'm ghostwriting most of the books I write. That means I’m always writing in someone else’s voice (I’m not complaining—that’s what I get paid to do!) Here, I had an opportunity to just "be me" for an entire whole book, which sounded really fun. (And it was, actually.)
I'll talk more about POD in future posts, including reasons *not* to go POD. And if you have specific questions about POD, comment here and I'll answer those as well.
I'll be interviewed by the smart and charming Ed Robertson about ghostwriting tonight, Monday, November 15, at 8:25pm central time (9:25 Eastern time, 6:25 Pacific time) on ShokusRadio.com. (Can't listen? It will also be broadcast at various times throughout the week on Shokus; check the site for details. After Sunday, November 21, the show will be archived on Ed's website, http://www.tvconfidential.net/.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
This isn’t as much of a problem as it might appear at first glance. As you learned in my earlier post, because I pitched to noncompeting markets, the audiences for my articles—the readers of those magazines—are quite different. Chicago Parent is aimed, not surprisingly, at Chicago-area moms and dads of children. Complete Woman’s readers are women in their 20s to mid-40s who are looking for articles about love, sex, health, beauty, diet, fitness, career, and finances.
So I wrote two completely different articles about social media. One described what parents need to know about social media, focusing on how Chicago-area parents are using it to socialize, keep up on children’s health issues, and create a new online neighborhood of sorts. It included a sidebar about whether you should “Friend” your teen on Facebook.
The piece for Complete Woman focused on the dos and don’ts of using social media as a dating tool, exploring issues like what a man’s online profile may reveal about him. My sidebar focused a woman who had connected with a former classmate through social media—and married him! (Readers love happy endings.)
Get the idea? The very heart of the idea-harnessing social media—was the same. But the angles, the sources, the approaches, and the overall articles were very different. Yet because I knew the difference between Facebook and Myspace and could define a Tweet by researching the first article, the second look little time to write.
So, to double-dip this way without writing the same story twice, use this five-step process:
1. Consider the markets you're writing for (and their audiences) and create a slant specifically for each.
2. Use different expert sources whenever possible. (If you must reuse a source, get fresh quotes that are relevant to the specific story angle.)
3. Use a different structure for each story.
4. Find new “real people” to include as anecdotes.
5. Write different sidebars that complement each story.
That’s it! These five steps will let you write about the same subject more than once—without writing the same thing twice--or upsetting an editor.
Readers, weigh in. What do you think of this double-dipping technique? Do you use it already? Will you use it in the future? My inquiring mind wants to know!
Monday, November 8, 2010
• How eating breakfast can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fiber can help you lose weight.
• How eating more low “GI” (glycemic index) foods can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight.
• How eating more protein can help you lose weight.
• How using smaller plates and bowls can help you lose weight.
That’s six ways of reslanting the same basic ideas and I remembered and wrote them down in less than a minute. Yet I wrote those stories at different times. An even more efficiently way to reslant, and one of my favorite ways to "double-dip" is to pitch two very similar ideas to different markets at the same time. As long as they’re not competing markets, you’re fine even if they both get assigned.
Here's an example. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to write about social media. Number one, I knew next to nothing about it—and needed to figure out what the heck it was. Why not get paid to do so? Number two, one of my good friends had just written a book that discussed social media and I knew I could use her for a source (and plug her book as well). And number three, just about everyone I know wastes time on Facebook and Twitter, so I figured it was a timely topic.
I pitched the idea to two of my regular markets—Chicago Parent and Complete Woman. Because I write for both of them frequently, a short pitch is all I need. Here’s the relevant section of each of the queries I sent:
OK, you asked for some ideas for May and beyond…I’m focusing on the CP reader as woman *and* as a mom, not just as a parent, as I have in the past. Those are the pieces that interest me the most…
1. [Pitch omitted]
2. Your Online Identity: What Social Media (and How You Use it) Says About You. Millions of us log into Facebook, Myspace, and Linkedin every day, but is the use of social media helping or hurting your social life? I’ll interview a couple of experts about this subject (including Sharon Cindrich) and talk about how social media can help support your IRL (In Real Life) friendships as well as how to know when you’re going overboard with it. I’d also like to take a fun look at what certain things say about you (i.e. your choice of profile photo, types of posts, etc). I think this would be a fun yet informative piece, with a sidebar on the most popular social media sites. Again, I’m thinking 1200 words.
3. [Pitches 3 and 4 and rest of query omitted]
And here's the pitch I sent to Complete Woman:
Great to hear from you…here are a couple of ideas for you and Bonnie to consider:
Your Online Identity: What Social Media Says About You
Hooked on Myspace? Spend half your day on Facebook? This piece will describe how women use Facebook, Myspace, and other forms of social media, and what their use of social media says about them. (For example, your choice of profile picture, type of posts you make, what types of people you connect with online, and how often you check in with social media all give clues to your personality—and that of your friends as well.) I’ll interview at least one expert on this timely subject and interview several “real women” for the piece, which will be a fun look at this ubiquitous technology. I estimate 1000 words for this light yet informative piece but that’s flexible depending on your needs. (I’ll also give readers an idea of how to interpret potential romantic candidates’ FB and myspace pages as well…and what to look for in a promising guy as well as “red flags.”)
[Pitch 2 and rest of query omitted]
Note the similarity and yet differences of the queries? Both sold, by the way, so next post we’ll talk about writing two articles about the same topic at the same time, a continuation of this double-dipping theme. In the meantime, if you want more queries that sold--from both me and other successful freelancers, check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition, or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
But in addition to the money you'll make, the estimated time you'll spend on the assignment, and the value of the assignment to your business, don't forget to think about your "opportunity cost" when you take on work.
What is opportunity cost? Simply put, it’s any work will you be unable to do because you’ve taken on that particular assigment. And typically, the bigger or more complex the assignment, the greater the opportunity cost. (And the tighter the deadline, the higher the cost--because you'll be busting your butt to make that deadline during that time.)
For example, in the last two weeks, I've signed two new ghostwriting clients, both with aggressive deadlines. That's awesome news for my business and bank account, but it also means that I'll have to turn down any other big projects (even lucrative ones) in the meantime. I know how much work I can handle (and remember, I have two kiddos I'm responsible for wrangling as well), and I'm stretched enough already.
But even smaller assignments can carry a sizeable opportunity cost as well. When I started freelancing, I used to write articles for my local newspaper. The pieces paid between $35 and $125, and usually required a trip out of the office to attend an event or interview a source in person. It wasn't long before I realized that I needed to eliminate the paper as a client.
It wasn't a difficult decision. First, the pay wasn’t much, yet the stories usually tooks at least several hours' to write because of in-person interviews. The real problem, though, was that the time I spent researching and writing the stories prevented me from pitching more lucrative markets (like national magazines) which would result in better-paying work. That opportunity cost was hurting me in the short- and long-term.
The end of the year is a good time to consider the opportunity cost of your regular clients. Is the amount of money you make from them worth the hassles, time, or potential loss of other, more lucrative work? Only you can determine what the opportunity cost of a particular assignment or client is--and whether that assignment or client is worth it. Ideally it always is.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Who is the Everyday Joe, or EJ? He may be a colleague, a neighbor, a relative, or a complete stranger. He wants to write a book. But he's nobody special. He’s not a celebrity, or an expert, and he doesn’t have a contract with a publisher. He wants to be an author but something is standing in his way.
Maybe he doesn’t have the time. Maybe he doesn’t have the patience. Maybe he doesn’t know enough about writing—or maybe he can’t organize his material into an actual book. Or maybe he’s written a book (or something roughly resembling one) but needs help with structure, organization, tone, you name it.
So he’s decided to find a ghostwriter—and that’s where you come in. The EJ may think he has a bestseller in the making. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is when he expects you to be paid when the book becomes a bestseller.
As a ghostwriter, you shouldn’t care too much about your EJ’s story (as long as you're interested in writing it for him), or even its bestselling potential. You should care about his wallet, and whether he's willing to pay for a talented ghostwriter to help him get his book into print.
The vast majority of the inquiries I get from EJs do not turn into work. But some do, and the sheer number of potential clients makes pursuing them worthwhile for both new and experienced ghostwriters.
Want to know more about breaking into the lucrative field of ghostwriting? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books; it’s also available on Kindle.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The daily nut is the amount you have to average to meet your annual income goal.
Say your annual income goal is $60,000 (and remember that one-quarter of freelancers surveyed make $60,000+), and you're planning to work 240 days out of the year. That's Mondays through Fridays, with four weeks off for holidays and vacations.
Grossing $60,000 a year comes to $5000 a month, or $250 a day. So your daily nut is $250. Instead of thinking about making $60,000, which can seem unreachable, focus on meeting your daily goal—and then track your progress.
Every day, you should average your daily nut, or you won’t hit your financial goal at year's end. So, an article that pays $1,000 should take you about four days' worth of work. A book proposal that pays $4500 should take about 18 days' worth of work, total. Of course, not every project will work out exactly like this--some will take more time, some will take less. The idea, though, is that you average a certain amount each day.
So, question one, what's your daily nut? And question two, did you make it today?
Monday, November 1, 2010
The latest results? With 127 fulltime freelancers responding (admittedly a small sample), 51 percent plan to gross $40,000 or less this year. However, that means that 49 percent plan to make more than $40,000 this year. Nine percent plan to make $60,000-80,000; another 6 percent plan to make $80,001-100,000; and 10 percent plan to break the six-figure mark in 2010, a year that's been tough for just about every self-employed businessperson.
The fact that 25 percent, or one in four, of those surveyed plan to make $60,000+ this year should help defeat the myth that freelancers work for peanuts. Sure, some do, but many aren't just surviving but in fact are thriving in a turbulent economy. And if other writers are doing it, you can too.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Here’s the thing: as the former (an author with a book to sell), people will expect you to speak for free. After all, you want to sell your book, so you’re probably willing to show up anywhere and everywhere (think bookstores, book clubs, luncheons, conferences, you name it) to promote your book, which will hopefully results in book sales, and eventual royalties. And that’s fine—that’s what I did with my first couple of titles. I put a lot of miles on my car and took a lot of time away from my business to sell as many books as possible.
But along the way, I began speaking professionally, focusing on topics including healthy lifestyles. I had started out doing writing programs at writers’ conferences and local libraries but as a health and fitness writer (and coauthor of Small Changes, Big Results), soon branched out to covering health and lifestyle subjects for corporations and associations. These gigs paid much better even if I didn't sell any books, and I made a conscious choice: to give up speaking solely to sell books. Speaking for free (even if I sell a few books) is simply not worth my time. And it devalues my work as a speaker.
If you’re a speaker who happens to have a book to sell, you don’t speak for free, or just for exposure for your title. You speak to make money, and hope to make extra income with “back-of-the-room” sales. That means you get paid twice—once for the speaking gig, and once for any books you sell while there. That’s the double-dip technique I use. (In a future post, I’ll talk about how to launch a paid speaking career.)
So which are you? An author who speaks to sell books, or a speaker who happens to have a book as well? Knowing where you fit will help you decide to how to market yourself and your book.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Red flags vary, but when they pop up, I suggest you tread very carefully--and decide now whether you want to waste any more of your time on this "client". Here are 10 warning signs that should make you flee for the hills--or at least have a plan to do so:
1. Potential client insists book will be a New York Times bestseller (or wants you to guarantee same).
2. Potential client uses phrases like “shocking cover-up, “once-in-a-lifetime story,” “plenty of people want me dead,” “you’ll never believe that this really happened,” etc.
3. Potential client refuses to talk money. Run away, now.
4. Potential client refuses to sign a written contract with you. (Why not?)
5. Potential client misses phone calls or fails to do something (such as sending you a signed contract or check) that he said he would.
6. Potential client insists that he could write the book, but he doesn’t have the time. (Really? And I could perform brain surgery...if only I had the time.)
7. Potential client wants a writer “like Jon Krakauer or Malcolm Gladwell” or some other big name. Unless you can write like them, you've got a problem. (Usually this desire is paired with a budget of about $400.)
8. Potential client doesn’t have a working knowledge of technology—i.e., wants you to mail hard copies so he can edit by hand and you can “type” his changes in.
9. Potential client wants you to meet constantly, or spend weeks face-to-face working on the book. I'm a self-employed business person, not your new best friend.
10. Potential client doesn’t know what he wants. Or keeps changing his mind, or waffling on going forward. Let him go--if he's waffling early in the game, it will probably get worse in the future.
Readers, what about you? What warning signs scare you off? I'm sure there's more and I'd love to add to this list!
Want to know more about qualifying potential clients--and kicking the rest to the curb? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. Or for a more in-depth intro into ghosting personalized for your background and experience, consider signing up for my ghostwriting e-class. You'll come away with everything you need (an idea of what clients to pitch, a letter of introduction, and a marketing plan) to break into this lucrative field.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The most important task, other than completing your assignments (and doing a good job on them), is marketing yourself and your business. No matter how busy you are, you must continue to market—otherwise you’ll finally come out from under to discover you have nothing waiting for you.
How much time should you spend marketing yourself? That depends on where you are in your career and what kinds of writing work you do. Starting out, you’ll likely spend 80 percent or more of your time hunting for work—researching potential markets, responding to job posts on craigslist and the like, and sending out queries and letters of introduction. As you start developing steady clients, however, you should find that you spend more time writing on assignment (i.e. for paying clients) and less time pitching yourself.
What about you? How does your time break down? As you develop regular clients, you should see your marketing time decrease, but you should always devote about 20% of your time to selling yourself and your business. That will help ensure a steady flow of work and income.