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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?

5 comments:

  1. Kelly, thanks so much for these great tips. I can assure you that if you ever hear from me, I'm desperate. I have this phobia of bothering people. I guess I do need a writing buddy.

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  2. But there's the thing, Carol--simply because you've commented here before, I know your name and would respond to an email from you. So that's another way to connect with a fellow freelancer! :)

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  3. Gah, this stuff is so important! I'm only sad that the folks who need to be reading it are probably not reading Kelly's blog. I can't imagine what would possess someone to act this way! Am I just turning into a prematurely grouchy old lady, or does everyone act more entitled these days, given how easy it is to just type off a quick note and hit send to almost anyone?

    Kelly, I kid you not, I got an email last week that read, in part:

    "I just thought I'd get in touch to see if you wanted to meet up for a coffee or something. Mainly because I'd very much like to pick your brains about travel writing and so forth. I know it's a long shot and you're probably devilishly busy at present, but would be really great.

    On the other hand I have all the free time in the world right now.

    Anyway, let me know what you think. If not, maybe you'd be happy to read some of my stuff/give some feedback/give me some suggestions on where to pitch stuff to and so forth."

    I realize that I'm doing something right if people are writing to me like this, but I could barely get over the blind rage that this caused. It didn't help that it was from a guy, and obviously, I'm a woman. It seemed like there was some gender-specific entitlement in the note, and does that ever rub me the wrong way!

    My partner and a friend both suggested I reply with an hourly consulting rate. I like to err on the side of seeming relatively kind, so I decided to just ignore it instead. That probably sent the same message.

    And you know, the flip side of this is that I was in a far-flung location a few months ago where a freelance writer I very much respect lives (whose blog I also read), and I didn't seek her out for a coffee date because I wasn't confident enough in what I might bring to the table. She's got way more cred than I do even though we're the same age, but I thought, "Would I want to meet me?" And without being unnecessarily hard on myself, I decided it wasn't the right time. She and I have exchanged a few emails before, but for now, that's where it's gonna stay. I have too much respect for what she does and for her time to bug her if I don't feel I can offer just as much as she can offer me. I may never be in her city again, but I'd rather build up an email relationship over time than ruin a good thing in person before we'd have something mutually beneficial to gain.

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  4. Brittany, is it wrong that I laughed out loud when I read the email you shared? OMG! Alas, I have received very similar notes, believe me!

    I think a note thanking the person for getting in touch but explaining your time is limited is a nice touch but not necessary. Especially as I just reread the note and it's rather obnoxious and entitled-sounding. I think ignoring it is the right call.

    As always, thanks for your comment! :)

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  5. Decorum is casualty of the quick and easy interpersonal communications that social media has provided us. As a novice freelancer with an insignificant track record (but one I am not ashamed of...I do, in fact, pay the light bill), I might receive LI requests from strangers who disappear when I ask what prompted them to contact me and how we could benefit from connecting. People frequently waste good opportunity simply by not exercising decent, professional manners.

    I believe that approaching other freelancers should be treated as an approach to potential clients - I want to find out how we may mutually benefit. This means learning about what they are involved with & sharing what I might do to assist them. This what I try to do whether making overtures online, or through traditional, local networking.

    If I'm looking to connect with someone much more prominent than myself, I consider how I can make a valuable contribution. Usually, all it entails is adding a thoughtful comment to a blog ;-)

    Jane Friedman gave a nice tutorial last year on Writer Unboxed about the Golden Rule of how to Ask Good Questions of professionals. I'm so grateful for the wonderful advice she, and you, Kelly, give away so freely. Because of what the two of you offer, (and also Linda F & Diana B on TRW), baby freelancers like me can piece together a template for writing success.

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