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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From LOI to Query: Another Template

Several posts ago, I provided an LOI ("Letter of Introduction") template. Using templates saves you time, but what do you do when you don't have your own yet? How about borrowing one of mine?

The query below netted my first assignment for Runner's World. [My comments are in blue.] This is a good example of how to take an event from your own life (a traumatic one, actually!) and turn it into a money-making opportunity. If only all concussions could be so lucrative:

Dear Jane:

Last month, I was in Madison, Wisconsin to teach a weeklong workout. Madison’s a great town to run in, and one gorgeous evening I headed out for an easy five-miler. The run was awesome—I felt well-oiled, relaxed, and unstoppable. Two blocks from my hotel, I picked up the pace. I was running hard as I sped down the slight decline of Langdon Street. I was flying! And then suddenly, I really was flying—literally.

I’ve tripped and fallen many times before (I’m a bit uncoordinated), but this time I fell so fast I couldn’t get my hands up to catch myself. I broke my fall with my head. By the time I limped back to the hotel with a bloody, egg-sized lump on my forehead and a nasty case of road rash, my vision was blurring. At the emergency room, I learned I’d suffered a mild concussion. I was lucky—as the ER doc told me, it could have been much worse. [I've used a two-paragraph lead here--I could have crammed it into one, but I wanted more room to up the drama.]

Runners occasionally take spills that produce far worse than a scraped knee or a twisted ankle. In fact, seven million Americans a year seek treatment for sports-related injuries, more than one million of which involve the head or neck region. Head injuries are particularly troubling as they tend to be more severe than other sports-related injuries. Their effects can also last for months—even a seemingly mild bump can cause brain injury and lead to post-concussion syndrome which includes symptoms like poor memory, headaches, dizziness, and irritability. [Note my use of statistics--I've done my homework to show why readers will be interested in this topic.]

My article, “Head First,” will explain the risks and symptoms of head injuries and describe how to reduce the chance of experiencing one while running or doing other activities. (In my case, I had several factors working against me: I was running downhill, on a brick sidewalk, in fading evening light—all of which made me more likely to stumble.) I’ll interview several respected physicians about the dangers of head injuries; a sidebar might include a list of the sports most likely to cause a head injury. While I estimate a length of 1,000 words, that’s flexible depending on your needs. [Here I've fleshed out the story a bit more, and told her who I plan to interview. I could have listed a head injury expert or two, but I have included a possible sidebar and word count. The story wound up being assigned, not on the topic of head injuries specifically, but on injuries runners experience during runs and how to treat them.]

Interested in this story for your “Warmups” section? I’m a long-time runner (marathon best 3:26) who’s been a fulltime freelancer for more than seven years; during that time, my health, nutrition and fitness articles have appeared in 50 national magazines including Self, Shape, Health, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Continental, and Marie Claire; I’ll be happy to send you clips via snail mail if you like. [I've suggested the section of the magazine to let her know I've read it. And as a long-time runner--note my brag about my marathon time!--I've got personal experience the topics she covers.]

Jane, I hope you’ll find this important topic appropriate for an upcoming issue of the new-and-improved Runner’s World. Please let me know if you have any questions about it. [The magazine had just undergone a redesign! See how I let her know I'm aware of that?]

Sincerely,

Kelly James-Enger
[contact info]

This query is a good format to use for first-person leads. For other query samples, check out Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize, both of which include lots of sample queries written by me and other freelancers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Make your Subject Lines Work for You

A reader had a question about my last post, on letters of introduction, or LOIs--namely, how do you get an editor/potential client to actually read them? (In other words, how do you keep your LOIs or queries out of an editor's junk mail folder--and make the editor want to open them?)

First off, if you write about sex, refinancing, Viagra, or overseas millionaires who die suddenly leaving no heirs (and need help transferring money out of their countries to the U.S.), that's great...but don't use those words in your subject lines! Seriously, there are some words that will almost automatically ensure your email gets caught in a spam filter, so double-check your query, especially your subject line, to make sure it doesn't look like spam.

Second, if you're emailing a pitch or query, say so. But I like to go a little further than that if I'm pitching a market that's new to me. "Query on birth control trends from experienced freelancer specializing in health and fitness" is more appealing than "query about birth control," for example. However, if it's an editor I've worked with before, I just mention the query topic as I figure my editor will recognize my name. If it's been a while, though, I'll write something like "former contributor writing with a new nutrition story query."

Third, if I have an "in" with an editor, I always put it in the subject line. In my template LOI from my last post, one of my friends had worked with the editor I was pitching. So my subject line read, "Kristin Baird Rattini gave me your name/experienced freelancer interested in writing for you." If you've seen the editor present at a conference, or you have other info about her or her publication, mention it in your subject line. (For example, "Enjoyed your presentation at the recent ASJA conference/freelancer with a timely story idea for you.")

Finally, if I don't hear back from a potential client or editor (say, within two to four weeks), I sent a follow-up email. The subject line reads something like, "Following up/query on birth control trends from experienced freelancer." After a brief intro, I include the original query and typically use language like, "Please let me know if you're interested in this story idea. If I don't hear from you within two weeks, I'll assume you're not interested in this piece at this time and may pitch it elsewhere." This puts the onus on the editor to respond if he's interested and seems to provoke a faster response (even if, alas, it's a rejection).

Writing a smart, attention-getting subject line will not only help keep your query out of the "junk" folder--it will also boost your chances of the editor reading it. And that's the first step of getting your next assignment!

What about you? Do you have any subject line "tricks" you like to use? Or do you think subject lines aren't that important when it comes to pitching?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Write your Own LOI: A Template to Get you Started

Ready to write your own LOI? Here’s a template to get you started; this letter opened the door and led to a long-term relationship with this publication. [My comments about each section are noted in the brackets in blue.]

Dear Ms. Alley:

I’m a friend and colleague of Kristin Baird Rattini, a fellow freelancer, and am writing to express my interest in writing for IGA Grocergram. (Kris and I recently had lunch—she’s here in the States for the holidays.) [The first paragraph of your LOI should catch the editor’s attention—if you have an “in,” use it here.]

I’ve been a fulltime freelance journalist for the past seven years. Since then, my work has appeared in more than fifty national magazines including Redbook, Parents, Business99, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Continental, Fitness, Shape, and Good Housekeeping. I’m also the author of two books, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003) and the novel, Did you Get the Vibe? (Strapless, 2003) and have two more coming out in the next year. [This paragraph includes an overview of my writing background. In retrospect, though, I would switched the above and below paragraphs--the editor is probably going to be more interested in my trade magazine work than my consumer magazine work--or my novel! Hello!]

I’ve also written for trade magazines including Chamber Executive, where I wrote profiles, news stories, and business articles, and I also draft marketing pieces, newsletters, brochures, and other pieces for companies including The Pampered Chef. [Here I showcase the fact that I’ve written for other trade magazines, as that’s the type of magazine I’m pitching. But again, I should have made this is the second paragraph of the LOI.]

A little more about me: I received my bachelor’s degree in rhetoric before attending law school. I also practiced law for five years before changing careers to write full-time, and my legal training has given me a unique perspective on the importance of accuracy and clarity in written communication. [My background is unique, and this will hopefully help me stand out in the editor’s mind. But you know what? I was working at Trader Joe's at the time...I should have mentioned that I had experience working in the retail grocery environment! Duh. I did tell the editor that when she contacted me, though. And it did give me a leg up on writers who might not know what "end cap," "reefer," or "POS" means.]

If you’re looking for writers, I’d love to discuss your publication’s needs with you, and send you some clips via snail mail. I’ll follow up on this letter after the holidays, but please let me know if you have any questions about my background or experience. [Here I let her know that I’m happy to send clips, and that I’ll follow up on my pitch soon. That way when I do, hopefully she won't think I'm a pest--and will learn that I do what I say I will.]

Thank you very much, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Very truly yours,
Kelly James-Enger

***
So here's the thing...this certainly isn't a perfect LOI by any means, but it worked for me. In a future post, I'll include another template so you can see how I change my approach for another type of market.

What about you? Do you ever use LOIs? Have you had success with them?

Do you Have an LOI in your Arsenal?

If you freelance for magazines, you're already familiar with pitching via a query letter. Ideally a query letter catches the editor's attention, describes why her readers will be interested in the story, provides details about your approach to the piece, and convinces the editor to give you the assignment.

But there's another way to get your foot in the door with editors—by sending a letter of introduction, or LOI. LOIs offer another method of snagging assignments from a variety of publications, and can be used to pitch your writing skills to corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations which hire writers. I've used LOIs to break in with trade magazines, custom publishers, corporations, and book packagers, so I can tell you they work.

Query Versus LOI

It's true that most consumer magazine editors want to receive queries from freelancers, especially those who are new to them. But many editors at custom publications and trade magazines prefer LOIs over queries. They're not necessarily looking for story ideas--they probably already know what they’re going to assign and are looking for writers who can handle their subject matter. Rather than using your letter to describe one story idea and how you'll approach it, an LOI gives you more space to describe your unique qualifications to report and write about the publication's subject area.

Write your own LOI

When approaching a custom or trade magazine editor with an LOI, tailor your letter for that person. What sets you apart from other writers? Do you have inside knowledge of the subject matter of her publication, or have you worked in a related field? With an LOI, you get your foot in the door not through an intriguing article idea, but with your unique background, skills, and ability to give the editor what she wants. And make sure you let the editor know you’ve studied her magazine—tell her what sections of the publication you’d like to write for, for example, or compliment a recent story. (Hey, who doesn't like to hear some genuine praise?)

If you have an "in" with an editor (say, you know a writer who's worked with him), use it. I typically send an LOI via email unless I know the editor prefers snail mail. If you do choose the former, direct the editor to online clips or offer to send hard copies of your clips by snail mail. (Don't send attachments with any email unless an editor specifically requests them.) Follow up a few weeks later by email or phone, and you may find that LOIs are just as effective as queries.

Ready to write your own LOI? Excellent. Next post, I'll give you a template to help get you started.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What Fulltime Freelancers are Writing These Days

According to the recent survey of 100 fulltime freelancers (see below post), we discovered that 55 percent expect to make more money in 2010 than they did in 2009; 30 percent expect to make about the same. So what exactly are they doing to make their money?

One survey question asked about the kind of work they do, giving ten options (along with an “other” category.)

The results:

23 percent write consumer magazine articles ;
14 percent blog and/or write for other online markets;
13 percent write trade magazine articles;
12 percent do corporate writing/copywriting;
12 percent write custom magazine articles;
7 percent write book and/or book proposals;
5 percent speak and/or teach;
3 percent ghostwrite books and/or book proposals;
2 percent sell reprints to magazines or other markets; and
2 percent consult.

But another 7 percent of respondents indicated that they do others kinds of work in addition to these ten categories, including writing for newspapers (5 percent) and editing/copy editing (2 percent). One freelancer writes patient education material; another does spokesperson work; and another writes continuing education materials for physicians and other medical professionals.

In a future survey, I’ll explore how lucrative (and likely to grow--or shrink) some of the most popular writing markets are. In the meantime, I suggest you look at the type of work you’re doing, and consider whether there are other types you could explore. You may be overlooking potential markets for your work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The State of Fulltime Freelancers' Income

Over the last few weeks, I’ve asked fulltime freelance writers to come forward and share something rather personal—the amount of money they’re making. (Don't worry--it was anonymous.) Specifically, I asked 100 self-employed writers what they made in 2009, how long they’ve been freelancing, what kind of work they do, and—very telling—whether they expect to make more money in 2010 than 2009.

The 100 respondents (yes, this is an admittedly small sample) were relatively new to the fulltime freelancing business. Five percent had been freelancing fulltime for less than a year; another 29 percent, for one to three years; and 24 percent for four to six years. Fourteen percent have self-employed scribes for 7 to 10 years; 15 percent, for 11 to 15 years; and 13 percent have been doing it for 16 years or more. That means that more than half of respondents (58 percent) have been freelancing for six years or fewer, and in my opinion, are still building their businesses.

And you know what? There is some bad news. Out of 100 respondents, 27 percent made less than $20,000 last year. Another 22 percent made between $20,000 and $40,000 in 2009, and 24 percent made between $40,001 and $60,000. If you’re keeping track, that accounts for 73 percent of respondents.

But there's some good news, too. Another 9 percent of respondents made $60,001 to $80,000; 7 percent, $80,001 to $100,000; and 11 percent made more than $100,001 in 2009, a very challenging year for just about everyone. That's one in ten respondents--not bad at all.

I find that inspiring and encouraging—especially as I didn’t hit those kind of numbers last year. (Of course I work part-time by choice, and a number of respondents pointed out that they too work fewer than “full-time” hours, which means these figures may skew a bit lower than they could be.)

Perhaps the best news is what we’re expecting for the future. More than half of respondents (55 percent) say they’re on track to make more in 2010, and another 30 percent expect to make about the same amount of money. Just 15 percent say they’ll make less.

What does this mean for you? That no matter what you’re making, you’re in good company—and if you aspire to make more, there are plenty of other freelancers already doing it. So why not set a more challenging income goal--and go for it?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mistakes Happen...Even to Me

Want to set a goal for yourself? Here’s a good one. Turn in every story you write early.

In 13+ years of fulltime freelancing, I’ve turned in all but four stories (and ALL of my books) early, at least a day or two (often even a week) before deadline. I like getting work off of my desk, and I’ve become known as “that writer who always turns stuff in early.” There are worse things to be known for...and I recently discovered one more advantage to being so anal about deadlines.

Several weeks ago, a colleague told me about a possible reprint market. An editor she knew was looking for health stories to reprint for a condition-specific magazine, and she thought of me and gave me his name and contact info. Even better, she told him about me and that I’d be in touch.

Within an hour, we'd connected via email, and he soon asked to review several stories. He liked one in particular, and asked me to rework it a bit to better fit his audience. No problem. We agreed I’d cut it by about half and aim it at an older demographic of both men and women. (The piece originally ran in a woman's magazine.) He gave me a four-day deadline, and I turned it in two days later. I’m good.

Or maybe not. Later that day, I was at the park with my kiddos and received an email from him. “Hi Kelly, got the article but this isn’t quite what I was expecting…. This isn’t written for an older adult recently diagnosed with serious health conditions and it singles out women (whereas our mag also goes to men). Plus it’s well over the 700-750 word limit.”

OMG! You already know what I did, right? I attached the wrong file. Instead of the 700-word piece he’d requested, he got a 1,900-word piece aimed at 20-something women on a completely different topic. I was mortified. I hate making mistakes. I left him a voice mail, apologizing profusely, and promised him the correct file as soon as I got back to the office.

Happily, he emailed the next morning, accepting the story and sent me the contract. I don't know yet whether we'll work together again. I hope so. At least I did what I could to rectify my mistake ... once I learned of it. And hey, we have a relatively new baby at home … and I haven't been sleeping well as a result...so when I sent I emailed apologizing for my oversight, I attached a picture of said baby (my blue-eyed, chubby-cheeked, gorgeous excuse).

Mistakes happen. Even to me. I admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve ever attached the wrong file and sent it to a client. But it is the first time I’ve done it with a new client. Which is not at all the first impression I want to make with someone.

On the other hand, because I turned in the story early, I was able to send the correct file and still beat my deadline without causing him any additional stress. That’s got to count for something.

What about you? What dumb mistakes have you made as a smart freelancer…and how did you rectify them?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Share your Fulltime Freelance Income...Anonymously, of Course

Good news...I've already received 84 responses on my freelance income survey; if you haven't done so already, please visit http://www.kwiksurveys.com/online-survey.php?surveyID=KNMIOF_cdf53ce4&UID=2614948357 to share your data. And please ask other fulltime freelancers to do so as well. It will take you 3 minutes or less, is completely anonymous and will give freelancers more info about the state of the market these days. And if you've already participated (or are about to do it this minute!), thank you! :)

Tune in for the results next week. You may be surprised at the results!

Happy Friday! :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Can *You* Disappear? (Determining your Ghostwriting Potential)

I didn’t get into ghostwriting and coauthoring until about six years ago, after I’d published both nonfiction and fiction books. Now ghosting and collaborating bring in the lion’s share of my income, but I can tell you that not every writer can ghost. It’s not a question of writing skills per se, but of personality.

To succeed as a ghostwriter (or even a coauthor), you must have:

The ability to set your ego aside. My mom had one complaint about my first coauthored book, (Small Changes, Big results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life). “Your name is too small on the cover!” she said. "It should be larger!" I had to explain that I had no say in the cover design, and that I was happy my name even made it on there. But as a ghost, it’s not about you. It’s about your client and what your client wants. If you can’t set your own ego aside, your career will be short-lived.

Organizational skills. When you’re ghostwriting, you must stay on top of your own research, organize information you receive from your client, track various drafts (in progress or approved), and manage a schedule that may be ever-changing depending on your client’s needs. If your desk typically looks like a bomb went off, ghosting may not be a good fit for you.

Creativity. Ghostwriting isn’t as simple as filling in an outline or connecting the dots. If you’re writing a memoir, a novel, or “creative nonfiction,” you’ll need a narrative arc and an overall theme or message for the book. Even a relatively straightforward how-to manuscript requires an ability to organize material, structure the overall manuscript (unless your client has determined this already), and to identify and maintain your client’s voice—in addition to writing 50,000 to 75,000 words or more. And that takes creative skills.

Stress management skills. If you work for what I call a “PIA” client (think Pain In the A…) occasionally, your contact with the person is limited. But when you ghost or collaborate, you’re stuck with that person for months. Some clients will decide on a plan of action, then follow it to the letter. (I love those people!) Others will second-guess their decisions, change the scope of the book as you’re nearly completion, or need continual handholding. And that takes patience, deep breathing, goblets of pinot grigio, you name it.

Knowledge of the publishing industry. Have you published your own books? Written and sold book proposals? Worked with an agent? Do you know the difference between traditional publishing, self-publishing, and print-on-demand, and what the advantages and drawbacks are? The more experience you have with books, the more valuable you are to a client, and the more potential you have as a ghostwriter.

Want to learn more about the field of ghostwriting? Sign up for a free hour-long Mastermind tele-class hosted by Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander on July 28, 2010 at http://www.writenowmastermind.com/

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Get More Regular(s): 7 Ways to Do It

I didn’t set out as a freelancer trying to build relationships with editors and other clients. I just wanted clips, experience, and money—not necessarily in that order. But over time, I learned. And one thing I learned is that it’s much easier (not to mention less stressful) and less time-consuming to work for a handful of editors on a regular basis than to do lots of “one-shots,” where I write for a client or editor once and then move on.

But how do you do that? How do you make an editor or client a “regular”? It’s not that complicated.

Pursue long-term markets. First off, I’m selective in the markets I pitch. I look for those that I can have long-term relationships with—which usually translates into less time pitching and more work. Sounds obvious, but I’ve written for markets as varied as The Lion to Accent on Living to Continental—but all only once. On the other hand, I’ve written for other markets—like Woman’s Day, Complete Woman, and The Writer—multiple times over the years. Look for markets that buy a fair amout of freelance work, that cover subjects you write about, and that you feel fit your voice. That will help ensure long-term relationships.

Be generous when you can. Earlier this week, an editor asked me if I could add a quiz to a story I’d already turned in. I'd originally thought about doing a quiz but the story ran long, so I didn't include it. I briefly considered asking for more money; after all, she's asking for more work. Then I reconsidered. She's been giving me a lot of work lately, edits are minimal, and I like the story assignments I get. I emailed her back and told her I’d be happy to do it gratis and turned it in the next day. (No, I don’t do that on a regular basis. I can't afford it. But I figure it’s an investment in our relationship.)

Do what you say you’ll do. I’m telling you, writers blow this all the time. Doing what you promised means more than meeting your deadline. It also means giving the editor what she asked for in terms of subject, slant, sources, and word count. It means turning in clean copy that’s free of misspellings, factual errors, grammatical mistakes, and the like. If you can’t do what you promised (say, you can’t meet the deadline), tell your editor. Don’t do what a writer I know did and simply “go rogue” and disappear for weeks. Needless to say, she never wrote for our mutual editor again!

Be low-maintenance. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had as a freelancer was when an editor told me I’m a “low-maintenance writer.” I know what she meant. It’s not just the quality of your wok that determines whether you’ll get assignments. Other factors—like how quickly you respond to requests for revisions (which I know we all hate!), how diligent you are about coming up with story ideas, and even how pleasant you are—can all play a role as well.

Always have a back-pocket idea. When is an editor most disposed to give you an assignment? When she emails you to say "great job on this story," "I'm putting payment through," or some variation of the same. That's why I like to have an idea at the ready to pitch--I figure there's no better time to have her say "yes" again than when she's happy with a previous assignment. Don't let too much time lapse between pitches--ideally, have a new idea for an editor within two weeks of having her accept a piece.

Stay on their radar. I’m not my editors’ only freelancer, and I know it. So I try to touch base with my regular clients every few months, even it’s only a quick email. Sure, I let this slide when I’m busy, but an email that says something along the lines of “just checking in—I’m working on some new ideas for you, so let me know if you’re looking for anything in particular” can often pay off with work. If I see a recent study, blog post, or news item I think will interest an editor, I’ll email it just as an “FYI.” No, my editors and clients aren't my buddies. (Okay, a few have become buddies, actually. But that kind of effort helps cement a relationship with someone I may never meet in person!)

Keep your bridges in place. Not all clients turn into long-term ones. That’s just part of the business of freelancing. And there are editors I don’t care to work with again. But they don’t know who they are. They just know that I am incredibly busy when they call me…and after a few calls, they move on. In the meantime, I haven’t burned any bridges—especially important as I never know where they may wind up. And who knows, I may work with them again one day…and I want to keep that option open.

What about you? How do you keep your clients happy—and keep them around for the long haul?

The 80/20 Rule

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s an old business axiom that says that 80 percent of your work will come from 20 percent of your customers. I’ve found it’s true for freelancing, and it’s one of the reasons I focus on developing relationships with editors and other clients. Just as I don’t want to write about a topic only once (instead, I reslant the idea to maximize my time and research), I don’t want to work for a client only once. That's a waste of my time.

Here’s the thing. First off, it’s much easier to get work from an editor you’ve worked with before (assuming you did a good job, of course.) Case in point: I recently sent four story ideas in an email to an editor I write for regularly. Each was just three or four sentences, a far cry from the page-long, heavily researched query I’d send to a new market. She emailed me back the next day, assigning all four ideas. Marketing time for all four assignments? Virtually nil.

Second, you’re more likely to get more money because editors often pay their regular contributors a higher rate than “one-shot” writers. I know I get a higher per-word rate from many of my markets because I’ve already proven myself—and my editors know that I can be counted on in a crisis. (I’ve turned around a feature in three days to help out an editor who had another freelancer flake out.) That makes me more valuable than "Writer X," or someone new (i.e. unproven) to the editor.

Third, when you build a relationship with an editor, he or she will often come to you with ideas, which saves you time having to query. In my fantasy life, I’d never have to pitch again; I’d just sit back, accept assignments, and write. (Hmm, my fantasy life is rather lame, isn’t it? But I digress.) And it’s not just editors who come back to you—a client I ghostwrote a book for several years ago hired me last fall to ghostwrite an article for him for a trade publication. I love work that drops into my lap like that.

Finally, clients who know you and know your capabilities are happy to pass your name along. That same ghostwriting client recommended me to a friend of his looking for an editor for his book last summer, and that led to a lucrative and fun project for me. Another editor at a custom magazine gave my name to one of her colleagues and that led to more work. If I can get my clients doing my marketing for me, I have to do less of it myself. Bonus!

So how you turn your one-shot clients into steady ones? Stay tuned...that will be my next post.