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Monday, June 27, 2011

8 Ways to *Not* Make a Freelance Friend

Last post, I talked about the benefits of having freelance friends--which made me realize I should talk about how to make them. Or better yet, talk about how not to make them.

I've found the easiest way to connect with another writer is face-to-face, whether it's attending a writer's conference, a workshop, or other freelance-oriented event. You either "click," or you don't, and it's the fastest way to get to know someone. But what about connecting through the virtual world? Emailing another freelancer is the easiest way to connect, as long as you avoid these eight mistakes:

Don't ramble. Don’t get into your life story, or even recap the highlights from the last decade. Include a line or two about what you're doing now; long, wordy paragraphs about your entire history or attempts at freelancing overwhelm your recipient and aren’t likely to be read.

Don't email "cold." Don't contact someone without explaining why you're getting in touch. If you have an "in," use it. Do you follow the person on Twitter? Did you just read her new novel and enjoyed it? Are you familiar with the person's byline?

When I get an email from a stranger that starts with something like, "I read Goodbye Byline (Kindle edition) and loved it,” I’m definitely going to continue reading. (If the person is really smart, he writes, "I bought Goodbye Byline and love it." See the difference?) You want to make the best impression possible.

Don't ask for too much. I'm always happy to answer a quick question, like "What kind of headset do you use?" or "If I haven’t received a contract from an editor who assigned a story, what should I do?" or "How much do you charge for reprints?" But when I don't know you from Eve, asking me to read through your book proposal or suggest names of agents for your project or write a book with you is over-reaching.

Don’t ask to meet. I just got an email from a writer who wanted to take me to lunch today or tomorrow to "talk about some writing projects." Um, no thanks. Number one, I’m booked today and tomorrow. In fact, I'm booked all week. Number two, you're not offering me a free lunch. You're actually asking me to give up something valuable--several hours of my most productive (and extremely limited) work time. If you email someone and he wants to meet in person, he’ll suggest it, believe me. Otherwise, assume that your relationship will be through email.

Don’t pester. I recently got an email from a freelancer who had contacted me back in September with a question about today's freelance market. She wanted to let me know what had happened with her career in the meantime, and I was delighted to hear from her. But if she was emailing me every few days, I'd get annoyed real fast.

Don’t assume. Like I said, I get lots of emails, and I reply to all of them...eventually. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t heard from someone, you've blown it--she’s probably just behind on her email. Email her again, please. (I just found an email from four weeks ago I forgot to respond to, which inspired this point.) At the same time, if you’ve attempted to make contact several times (let's say three or four), and have received no response, it's time to cut bait. Further attempts at contact are akin to stalking.

Don't get mad. I send a personal reply to every personal email I get, even if it takes me a few days (or longer) to get it. But the "spoon-feed-me-please" notes (i.e., "I know you're a freelancer and I want to freelance too--how do I get started?") get a polite, "general" response suggesting some excellent freelance resources. I can't send a detailed response to every email I get, or I'd have no time left over to actually work! So don't take it personally if you don't get an answer. It's not you--it's them.

Don't be selfish. When you contact someone, even with a quick question, you're asking for something valuable--their time. So offer something in return, even if it's only to say, "I'd really appreciate your help and will be happy to return the favor." That makes a good impression, and makes it more likely for you to get the response you seek. Plus, it's just the right thing to do.

Readers, what do you think? Do you reply to emails from strangers seeking advice? What's your take on connecting with other freelancers?