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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guest Post: Five Ways to Make an Awesome First Impression

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance...to make a first impression. My latest guest post on ebyline.com includes six ways to make a memorable (and positive) first impression.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How I Got My First Agent--and How You Can, Too

Last post I made the case for agents (and explained why you may or may not need one). The next step--who do you choose? When I was looking for an agent, I started with Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, which is updated annually, and made a master list of possibilities, keeping the following factors in mind:

Did the agent represent the type of book I was writing? My first book idea was about how to sustain long-distance romantic relationships, so I looked for agents who represented other relationship, popular psychology, and self-help titles.

How long had the agent been in business? I didn’t want an inexperienced agent, so I looked for ones who had been agents for at least ten years. [Today, though, with all of the changes in the publishing world, I'd focus more on how the agent had performed in the last several years.]

Was the agent located in New York? No, an agent doesn’t have to live in New York, but it's a plus when it comes to face-to-face meetings and keeping tabs on the publishing industry.

Was the agent a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)? Members of AAR are expected to adhere to its Canon of Ethics, which provides, among other things, that agents will not charge reading fees for potential clients. (Many writers have been duped by less than reputable “agents” who agree to evaluate and/or market a manuscript—for a fee of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.)

How many clients did the agent represent? I didn’t want an agent who only had a handful of clients, but I didn’t want a huge agency either. I thought between twenty and fifty would be a good number.

What was the agent’s philosophy toward his or her business? Did the agent sound like someone I’d like to work with?

Had I heard anything else about this agent? I’d seen several agents present at conferences, for example, and knew a few book authors who had agents. Several seemed like they might be the kind of person I’d like to work with; others didn’t sound like a good fit, at least not for me.

Considering these factors, I made a list of about forty agents. Then I headed to the bookstore, where I checked out the relationship/self-help books. I’d looked at the current titles before, when I was working on the competition analysis section of my book proposal. Now, I checked the Acknowledgments sections of books similar to mine—authors almost always thank their agents, and book editors, by name.

[Today, it's a lot easier. Check out the following websites for the scoop on potential agents:

  • Agent Query. Informative resources includes agent info along with advice about submitting work, advice for writers, and general publishing info.
  • Preditors and Editors.This site lists hundreds of agents and gives "recommended" and "not recommended" ratings.
  • Publishers Marketplace. PM is the site if you're serious about writing books. Members can search for agents here; while the popular Publisher's Lunch email is free, for $20/month, you can access all of the site's info. Invaluable for searching for recent agent deals.
  • Writers' Free Reference. Includes hundreds of agents' email addresses.]

After my bookstore search, I added a few names to my master list, then went through it and selected my top eight choices. I sent letters out to this group. (The letter I used is included in chapter 8.) Within several weeks, four passed and three asked to see the proposal. One letter came back to me—the agent had moved, so I sent her a letter at her new address. [Note that this was before email became the preferred method of contact.] Out of those three who responded, one agent wanted me to radically rework the proposal, one thought it was too narrow in scope to sell, and one never got back to me.

I was about to send letters to my next batch of possibilities when I heard from Laurie Harper, the agent who had relocated. She asked to see the proposal. I sent it to her and she called me within a week to tell me she loved it and wanted to represent me.

I'd heard positive things about Laurie, and we seemed to connect when we spoke by phone. I asked her about her current clients, how much contact she liked to have with her authors, and how she planned to sell my book idea. In turn, she asked me about my overall career plans and what I was considering for my second book. Her interest in my long-term goals (something I hadn’t given much thought to at the time) was one of the reasons I decided to sign with her. She played an integral role in my career for nearly 10 years.

The takeaway? Don't rush into a relationship with an agent. Put together a list of possibilities, do your homework, and choose the one who's right for you.

Readers, what do you think? Did you find this post helpful? If you have other questions about agents, post a comment and I'll be happy to help.

***Want to adding ghosting to your repertoire? I'll be offering my my online ghostwriting class? I'm offering mine again in September; stay tuned!

***This post was adapted from my book, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money (Kindle edition).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Case for Literary Agents: A Longtime Freelancer's (a/k/a my) Perspective

I get asked a lot of the same questions when I speak at writers' conferences. "How do I turn my blog into a book?" "Is it okay to sign an all-rights contract?" "Can I really make a living as a full-time freelancer?" And the ever-popular, "how do I get an agent?"

Actually I think the first question to ask is whether you need one. Then you can worry about getting one.

If you're planning on going POD, or acting as a true self-publisher (these are not the same thing!), you don't need an agent. Nor do you need one if you don't have a book to sell, or a book that you want to sell to a traditional publisher.

Even if you've written a novel or the proposal for a nonfiction book, you needn't have an agent--you can always approach editors on your own. (That's how I sold my first novel, Did You Get the Vibe?) But here's how I see it: a good literary agent is likely to know much more about the world of publishing (as in what editors are buying, and for how much) than you do. She's up on trends, has a feel for what editors are looking for, and has experience negotiating and working with book editors as well.

In addition to this market knowledge, a good agent also has experience negotiating and working with editors. As a result, she can almost certainly get a better deal than I can on my own. Sure, I was a lawyer in my former life, and I can read and understand what the language in a book contract means from a legal standpoint.

While I understand the language, that doesn’t mean I understand the significance or impact of that language—like if the publisher is requesting a certain type of foreign language rights. What are those rights usually worth? Is the contract reasonable for the industry or should it be changed? Is the royalty percentage standard? Is it better to be paid a smaller percentage on gross sales or a larger percentage on net sales? How much are e-rights worth?

I don’t know the answers to these kinds of questions, so I want an agent to represent me in this all-important negotiation to make sure I get the best deal possible. Before I started writing books, I freelanced, primarily for magazines. I knew little about literary agents and how they worked, but that changed when I wrote my first book proposal.

Sure, I could have tried to sell the book on my own. Big publishers may request agented-only material, but small publishing houses are always willing to work directly with authors, and there are thousands of them.

But I wanted an agent. I was serious about writing books, even if I hadn't actually finished one, and felt (rightly so) that having an agent would increase my chance of selling my proposal. I also wanted to spend my time writing, not marketing my book to publishers (I knew I'd spend plenty of time selling it after it was published), and I was willing to share the proceeds of a book contract with someone who could make that happen. I had a good idea and believed that it would sell. Now, I just needed to find an agent who also believed in it, so I started my search.

Stay tuned--next post I'll tell you how I found an agent, what factors you should consider as you evaluate them, and places to learn more about potential agents.

***This post was adapted from Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money (Kindle edition).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Post Roundup: 10 Common Freelance Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Mistakes. We all make them, alas--just ask my proofreader! Today's post roundup is on 10 common freelance mistakes, and how to rectify them (or better yet, avoid them in the first place):
Readers, what do you think of my mistakes? Do you have any to add?

***We're rapidly approaching 300 followers, just in time for me to finish my book for Writer's Digest which is due Tuesday. I'll be hosting a book giveaway (books to include Ready, Aim, Specialize!, Six-Figure Freelancing, and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks). If you're interested in another query critique, comment here and I'll consider hosting that as well.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Attitude Adjustment: 5 Ways to Take your Freelance Career Seriously

I hear from a lot of writers who want to freelance full-time, or who are freelancing on the side but struggling with making enough money or getting enough work. Often one of the things holding them back has little to do with their writing ability. Rather, it’s their attitude and the way they approach their writing careers. In short, they’re not treating freelancing like a business, but rather as a (hopefully) lucrative hobby.

After 14+ years of full-time freelancing, I can tell you that while attitude isn’t everything, it is a critical factor to your success. It’s not only attitude, either; there are other ways to help ensure your success by acting like a professional writer even before you really feel like one, like the following:

Develop resilience. Let me tell you, not every day of freelancing is all sunshine and roses. Some days stink. Some days I really don’t want to freelance anymore and the idea of returning to a “real” job (complete with paid vacations, sick days, and free coffee!) sounds really attractive. But I also know that these days are part of any career, no matter how much you enjoy it.

If you had a bad day at work, you’d chalk it up to just that—a bad day. You wouldn’t question your entire career strategy. So don’t let a rejection or a harsh note from an editor question your ability or desire to freelance. Learn how to shrug it off and keep going.

Keep regular hours. One of the great things about freelancing is that you can set your own hours, whether you freelance full- or part-time. But that flexibility may keep you—or your clients—from taking your work seriously.

I suggest you devote regular time to your freelance business. That doesn’t mean you have to punch a metaphorical clock every day at 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., but it does mean that you put consistent time into your work. When I started freelancing, I worked Monday through Friday, starting at about 7 a.m. (I’m a morning person) and knocking off in the late afternoon. Today my schedule fluctuates but I still work Monday-Thursday mornings, 8 a.m. to noon, no matter what.

Be responsive. We’ve all worked with editors who take weeks (or longer) to respond, but as a freelancer, you don’t have that luxury. You should respond as quickly as possible to phone messages and emails from clients and potential clients; that’s part of being a professional.

When I worked as a lawyer, my rule was to return all phone calls the day I received them. I can’t always be that responsive with every email I get, but I do try to reply to all emails within two to three days—even if it’s just a quick question from a reader or a fellow writer.

Track your income. Serious freelancers want to be paid—and hopefully paid well—for their work. To do that, you have to know how much you’re making, and where your money comes from. That means keeping track of your assignments, what you’re being paid, and following up on unpaid invoices. That’s not being a pest—it’s being a professional.

Project success. Just as successful freelancers must develop resilience, they also must be able to project a successful persona to the world. That means when you attend a writers’ conference or meet with a potential client, you dress appropriately—say, sporting “business casual” wear, not the jeans and sweatshirt you might wear at home.

But projecting success also includes always acting confident, even when you’re not. I go through slow work times like any other freelancer, but when I’m contacted by a potential client, I don’t say, “thank God you’re hiring me—I’m broke!” even though I might be thinking that. People want to work with successful people. So, “fake it ‘til you make it,” and project a confident persona to the world.

**Readers, what do you say? Do you agree that your attitude is essential? And do you have the right attitude toward your business?


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Post Roundup: 10 Query Posts that Tell you Everything you Need to Know about Queries...and Then Some

The topic of this week's post roundup? The ubiquitous query letter. Check out these ten posts for everything you need to know about query letters--including templates, how to make yours stand out, and what to do after you send one.

Did you find this post roundup helpful? Please pass it along to your freelancing buddies, especially those new to the biz. And if you're looking for practical, proven freelancing advice, I suggest Ready, Aim, Specialize! (more for beginners) and Six-Figure Freelancing (geared for writers who want to be full-time freelancers or make a full-time living at it). If you're more interested in ghostwriting, you'll want to read Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ebooks versus Print: The Ratio is Changing

Six months ago, I shared the details of my royalty statement I received in February, 2011, for Six-Figure Freelancing. My point was to demonstrate how long it can take to earn out, or make royalties, on a book, and that you should assume that when you write a book for a traditional publisher, the advance is all you're likely to see. (That's one of the primary reasons I got into ghostwriting.)

I just received my latest royalty statement, for the period from October 1 through March 31, 2011. I still have a ways to go before I earn out; so far, I've sold 11,844 copies of the book and produced $11,583.19 of royalties. Because I received a $15,000 advance, though, the book must produce another $3,416.81 in royalties before I get a check along with my royalty statement. That's my "magic number."

A closer look at my statement revealed that as sales of this book slow (not surprising as it was published in 2005), the ratio from ebook to print is changing dramatically. Here are the numbers from my last three royalty statements:

October 2009-March 2010 Ebook sales: 40 Print sales: 479 Total: 519
April 2010-September 2010 Ebook sales: 82 Print sales: 338 Total: 420
October 2010-March 2011 Ebook sales: 101 Print sales: 223 Total 324

It's clear to see that my ratio of ebooks to print is rapidly increasing. Through March 2010, ebooks represented 7.7 percent of total sales; through September 2010, 19.5 percent; and through March, 2011, 45.3 percent. I expect ebooks to make up well more than half of my print sales for my next royalty statement. And because I make considerably more--$3.88/book for the e-version versus $1.12/book for its print version, that's not bad news.

What's driving the trend? Fewer bookstores, more Kindles, greater acceptance of ebooks among readers, the convenience of e-books, you name it. The take-away for authors, though, is that while print isn't dead (nor dying, in my opinion), the sales of your ebooks are likely to grow faster than your print versions. Consider how you price and promote them to take full advantage of this trend.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Post Roundup: 8 Great Ghostwriting Posts

According to my 2011 income survey results, a mere 3 percent of freelancers make money from ghostwriting. Ghostwriting and coauthoring have been producing the majority of my freelance income for the last four years, and it's not as hard to break into the field as you might think. (While I primarily ghost books, I know other freelancers who are ghosting articles and blog posts--one freelancer is currently ghostwriting for six different blogs!)

So ghosting is the subject of this post roundup:
What's that? You want to know even more about ghostwriting and how to succeed in this lucrative niche? Then you'll want to read Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle version). From sample contracts to marketing advice to tips on setting fees and working with clients, you'll find everything you need to know to get started.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Explosives, Waifs, and Users: Six Writers to Avoid

Early in my career, I connected with another writer through an email list for freelancers. We met a few times for coffee or lunch. She and I didn’t really click, but I was so desperate for some writing companionship, I pursued the relationship. Today, I wouldn’t bother, because I’ve gotten more selective about whom I connect with--and I have less time to do that connecting.

As a writer, you spend much of your working life alone but the relationships you have--with clients, editors, sources, and other writers--play a critical role in your success. Freelance long enough, though, and you’ll find that not every fellow writer becomes your BFF, or best friend forever.

Fact is, every profession has its archetypes, some more destructive than others. Watch out for these writers:

The Explosive. The Explosive is just that--a ticking bomb that’s easily triggered. Explosives are always ranting about something. Explosives have lots of energy they could channel into their writing (and sometimes they do) but devote just as much of it to justifiable (to them) rages. Steer clear of Explosives--get too close and you may find you’re the target of her latest diatribe.

The Star. It’s all about her. I had coffee with a freelancer in New York and she spent 90 minutes talking about her latest book series, her new novel, her popularity, her legion of Twitter followers (this was before I’d ever sent a Tweet, of course), and her general fabulousness. I sat there, nearly mute as she ran over my every attempt to enter the conversation with more than a nod or a “wow, that’s great.” By the time it was time to leave (I’d been glancing at my watch for a good fifteen minutes), she said, “Gosh, we haven’t even had a chance to talk about you! We’ll have to get together again soon!” Thanks, but no. The Star has no interest in a real relationship--she’s only looking for someone to reflect her glory back at her.

The Whiner. While the Explosive is filled with rage, the Whiner can’t summon enough energy for anger. So she whines instead, about the unfairness of contracts, about editors who expect revisions, about plummeting advances, about pretty much everything. This is the kind of person who, if she won the lottery, would bitch about the taxes. No matter how successful she becomes (and she probably won’t, thanks to her attitude), she’ll never be happy--or much fun to be around.

The Weirdo. The Weirdo stands a little too close when you meet him in person, or stares at you without saying much. He IMs you on Facebook when the only reason you Friended him is because you share 89 mutual friends, and then asks you odd, intimate questions that have nothing to with freelancing. (I speak from experience.) Time to cut bait--and be more choosy about who you connect with on social media. The Weirdo may be perfectly nice, but do you want to connect with someone who makes you uncomfortable?

The Waif. She wants so much to freelance, and just needs a little help from you. Then a little more. Then a little more. Regardless of age or experience, the Waif is an emotional vampire who will always want and expect more than you can give. You feel sorry for her at first but understand that the time you devote to her takes time away from your own work.

The User. The User only reaches out because you have something she wants. Once she’s gotten it, you won’t hear anything from her. I got the brushoff at a conference from a freelancer much further along in his career than I was--until he realized who my agent was and wanted to talk to me about getting her to represent him. Then he couldn’t have been more gracious. Strange, huh?

I’m all for give-and-take with other fellow freelancers, but there are writers who only connect with you for their own reasons and then disappear when you ask that the favor be returned. You’ll figure out pretty quickly who falls into this category.

Bottom line? Don’t waste your time on writers who are only about themselves. Most of the freelancers I’ve met online and in person are professional, personable, and want to support other writers. As you gain experience, you’ll find plenty of them, and develop freelancing colleagues--and make real freelancing friends.

***
Readers, what about you? Have you experience with any other archetypal writers? Feel free to share your experiences here!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Post Roundup: How to Write Four Types of Articles

I'm in the midst of working on Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, which will be published next April. As my deadline approaches, I have less time to blog, but I'll still be posting at least twice a week.

There's nothing like a "how-to" when it comes to writing something you haven't before. Here's a "post roundup" of some of the topics I've covered in the past:
As always, check out Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize for more practical, proven ways to make more money in less time as a freelancer.