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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Five Ways to Build a Better Blog: Advice from Jane Boursaw

Got a blog? Thinking about starting one? You're not alone. Seems like everyone I know has a blog, but that doesn't mean you should, too. In fact, I suggest freelancers blog with purpose--whether it's to make money, to sell books, to build your platform, to attract clients, or a combination of all of these.

I came late to the blog-o-sphere, but freelancer Jane Boursaw was blogging, and making money for it, long before most of us considered trying to master the form. Boursaw, who writes about entertainment, started her blog to accompany her main website, ReelLifeWithJane.com. Today, her blog still serves as a "moving picture show" to her site, which holds clips, testimonials, syndication info for editors, a list of syndication partners, links to her social media networks, full-length movie reviews, and other related info--but it makes money has well, and has attracted the interest of advertisers and sponsors.

Sounds great, huh? But it’s not as simple as just deciding to blog and then watching the cash roll in. You need passion--and some kind of plan--before you launch a successful blog. Identify the purpose(s) for your blog, your audience, and what topic(s) you'll cover before you launch yours. I played with the idea of blogging for several years (and took Boursaw’s excellent blogging e-class), considering and discarding potential topics before I settled on one that stuck. This blog was created for four primary reasons:

The tagline of my blog is “helping nonfiction freelancers make more money in less time.” That identifies both the purpose and audience of my blog. While I occasionally stray from the strictest interpretation of this phrase, my blog posts always relate to the challenges and benefits of freelancing. My readers know what to expect every time they visit it.

So make sure you’ve identified the your audience and your purpose before you jump in. There’s nothing wrong with blogging because you’d like to write and sell a book--that’s becoming a common way to nab a publishing deal, especially when your platform is still "in progress." My friend Polly Campbell started her imperfect spirituality blog, to help build a readership, and sell her book of the same name--and a traditional publisher picked it up. Freelancer Denise Schipani’s blog, Confessions of a Mean Mommy, http://www.confessionsofameanmommy.com, got her noticed and led to her first book deal, too.

Ready to blog for bucks? Follow Boursaw's five keys to successful blogging:

1. Pick a topic you love;

2. Create a business where your blog blends well or is the foundation for the rest of your business;

3. Have faith in your abilities and your message, whatever that may be;

4. Always, always, always provide quality content on your blog, no matter whether the post is short or long. Great writing is what sets the professional blogs apart from the rest of the pack; and

5. Network with other bloggers and people in your niche as much as possible. Spend time on Twitter and Facebook and join groups with like-minded bloggers. If there isn’t a group for your niche, start one.

Boursaw has found that the more she blogs, the more readers she draws, and the more advertisers and syndicators she gets. She offers a variety of blogging classes for both new and experienced bloggers.

While you may not have as much success with your blog as Boursaw has, I suggest your blog for more than pleasure. Your time as a freelancer is limited and finite, remember? That's why I believe your should, at the minimum, attract new clients and build your platform--and hopefully much more.

**Readers, do you blog for passion, profit, or a mix of both? Have you found work through your blog, and if so, how has it helped you build your business?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Turn your Kids into Money-Makers, Take 2

When I teach magazine writing, at least half of my students are stay-at-home parents (usually moms) who are looking for work that they can do from home. Freelancing--regardless of whether you write books, articles, blogs, newsletters, web copy, ads, you name it--it a great choice for parents. You've got to get creative about blending parenting and freelancing (and having a baby-sitter certainly helps), but plenty of moms and dads make it work.

You can write about anything and everything, but a lot of parents start out covering child care topics. Why not? After all, you're spending much of your time surrounded by little idea factories--a/k/a your kids. (I've posted before about writing for parenting markets (and it's one of the writing specialties I devote a chapter to in Ready, Aim, Specialize).

So I was intrigued by Kerrie McLoughlin's ebook, Get Published in Parenting and Family Magazines. Kerrie is a homeschooling writer mom of 5 and wife of 1 living in Kansas City. She has written for over 70 regional parenting magazines (RPMs) since 2009. She's got great advice for parents who want to launch their own freelance careers:

You've written for a slew of regional parenting mags. How did you get started, and then how did you branch out to others?

I started with a magazine I found at the library, Mother and Child Reunion. I wrote a piece about how moms can make money with their kids in tow, and the editor wanted it to be a regular piece. I wrote a few more (for online only) before I realized I hadn’t even asked about getting paid, but that I probably wasn’t going to get any money for doing it. I quit that and remembered how a mom friend told me she went grocery shopping nearly every day. I couldn’t imagine dragging my own three kids to the store all the time and quickly wrote my first (and honestly, mediocre!) piece for my local parenting magazine, Kansas City Parent. I was shocked when it was accepted. Around the same time, an essay I wrote for La Leche League’s New Beginnings magazine was also accepted.

I was hooked but had no clue where to go with my writing, especially since I didn’t have Internet access at home. At the library one day I stumbled upon the Parenting Publications of America website I started getting sample copies of RPMs from all over the country and snail mailing editors, but that yielded zilch. It was only after I collected all the email addresses and writer’s guidelines and editorial calendars I could get my hands on that I started blind-submitting pieces all over the place. It’s taken close to three years, but I’m on track to have close to 90 publishing credits by the end of 2011 and am slowly sending queries to nationals.

Do you write original stories for regional parenting mags and sell reprints, or a mix of both?

If I write something on assignment, I generally wait until that piece has printed and then sell it everywhere else as a reprint. Most of my work is articles and essays I come up with on my own and then I just submit them to around 300 RPMs each time. It’s a crapshoot … some pieces do well and some don’t. I sell those as “reprints” because it’s likely that several RPMs will be using it in the same month, so I don’t feel right calling something an “original” that might be printed 10 places in October, for instance.

If you sell reprints, do you "tweak" the stories for the new markets? How so?

No tweaking because it takes too long. If an RPM wants a piece and needs it localized or tweaked, I’m happy to do so, but I can’t try to read minds and put in hours of work that might lead to nothing. Believe it or not, my initial crapshoot method works pretty well (especially on seasonal pieces)!

What types of topics tend to be your biggest sellers?

Seasonal pieces (Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day, etc.)! The bonus is that they can be resold year after year to different markets. So now I try to come up with SEASONAL things I wish I had known when I was starting out as a mom. “Trendy” stuff sells well, too, like homeschooling and putting a “green” twist on topics.

I've blogged before about "turning your kids into money-makers." Do you get a lot of ideas from your own kids?

Like crazy! Birthdays, fundraisers, lemonade stands, pets, saving money, making money are all topics I could not have written about with authority 10 years ago. And the ideas don’t just come from my kids, but from my husband and from family members (grandparent pieces, how to deal with relatives during the holidays, being a travel widow).

As a mom and a freelancer, how do you manage your time and stay productive, writing-wise?

It’s a constant struggle! I do research and send quote requests when my kids are sleeping. I write outlines and the meat of articles during the day when the kids are having their “quiet time.” Sometimes I can get away for a couple of hours to go to a coffeehouse with my laptop and pound out some pieces and queries then. To attempt to stay productive, I keep an Excel spreadsheet where I try to do something writing-related every day, like send a query to a national magazine, find a new regional market, send my reprint list (monthly) or send a completed article to an RPM. Sometimes I get behind and have to catch up a week’s worth of stuff all in one day, but at least I see some progress.

What made you decide to write your e-book? What does it include?

I realized I had dug up a lot of great markets that were not on the PPA site and was using the information with success, so I added writing advice and a bonus section to help other newbies. I wish I had a resource like Get Published in Parenting and Family Magazines when I was starting out, especially since it’s updated every year and sent out free to previous buyers! There are so many writers who write solely for their local publication and have no idea they can be reselling their pieces again and again for money that really adds up, as well as valuable publishing credits that bring you more work.

***Thanks so much to Kerrie for sharing her advice; if you're a parent who wants to freelance, I suggest you check out her book!

Monday, September 19, 2011

And the winner is...

Thanks to all of the entries for my latest giveaway. The winner, chosen by my six-year-old, is Melissa Breau, who wins a signed copy of Ready, Aim, Specialize and a query critique. Melissa, please get in touch with me at kelly at becomebodywise dot com and I'll get your mailing address.

Coming up next...more advice on smart freelancing techniques, comparing articles versus books, and a report on a year's worth of POD sales.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Full-Time Income in Part-Time Hours? Sure Thing!


If you read my blog regularly, you already know that I'm all about working efficiently, whether you have five hours or forty available to freelance every week. So I was definitely intrigued by Gretchen Roberts' new ebook, Full-time Income in Part-time Hours. Gretchen, a food and wine writer, has been freelancing since May, 2003. Here's her recent Q and A; I think you'll see a lot of parallels in the way we both work--and find some helpful takeaways as well:

Q. When did you start working part-time instead of fulltime hours? tell me a little about how you made that transition and why.

I've actually worked part-time since I began freelancing. When my first daughter was born in March 2003, I was working full-time as the special sections editor at a newspaper group. We were going to be moving to California the following summer for my husband's year-long internship, so there was no time to take a maternity leave and go back to work. I decided to try the stay-at-home mom thing for awhile.

Once I had the baby's routine down, I got bored quickly, and spent way too much time browsing (and buying!) at Target and Babies R Us. When the new editor who took my position at the newspaper called and asked if I wanted to write some stories for $250 apiece, I jumped at the chance. It was grocery money and an opportunity to see if my brain cells still worked post-baby.

That year of my husband's internship is the year I began building my freelance writing business. When we got back to Indiana for his final year of school, Fort Wayne magazine asked me to work 20 hours a week as a staff writer, so I decided to do that in the mornings and freelance in the afternoons. That was a difficult freelance year, because I'm a morning person and my best work went into the magazine while I struggled to build my freelance business. The following year, we moved to Tennessee, and I began freelancing during my daughter's preschool hours.

Part time just made sense for me then, and it still does. I now have three children ages 8, 4, and 1, and my schedule has changed with their births, milestones, schedules, and childcare availability. I truly feel I have the best of both worlds—time to spend with my kids, but time to get away from the craziness that is raising three kids, and devote energy to my professional life. I don't consider myself anything less than a full-fledged professional just because I work part-time and am changing dirty diapers when I'm not tapping at my keyboard.

Q. What kinds of techniques do you use to make the most of your part-time hours?

Most importantly, I treat my working hours as prime-time. I don't waste them checking email, writing blog posts, posting my Facebook status. Well, okay...sometimes I post my Facebook status. But for the most part I try to really focus on paying projects, because if I lose sight of the big picture, it's too easy to fritter away a day, a week, a month...and my income takes a bit hit.

Second, I plan ahead. If I know I'm going to have 45 minutes while the baby naps, I plan a specific task or two for that time. If I didn't, I'd totally end up on Facebook the whole time. If I have a story due, I block out three or four hours to write it. When you have less time, you absolutely have to be efficient about using it.

Third, I try to focus on bigger, well-paying work. Since my hours are limited, I don't want to spend time on piecemeal projects that demand constantly switching focus. It's not efficient, and working part-time is all about efficiency.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I've earned between $40,000 and $70,000 working about 15-20 hours a week for the past five years. (The first few years were a bit leaner as I built up my business.) I think writers have to know that this kind of income is possible, rather than settling for less because they figure part-time hours means part-time income.

For more about how to make more money in the hours you have to freelance, check out Full-Time Income in Part-Time Hours; and be sure to let her (and me) what you think of it! :)

Next up: I announce the winners of my latest giveaway! Stay tuned...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another positive review for Goodbye Byline

Thanks very much to Steph Auteri for the shout-out about Goodbye Byline on her excellent blog, FreelanceDom. There's nothing like kudos and positive reviews from readers...especially when I didn't even ask for them! :)

Don't forget to enter my giveaway if you haven't already; winners will be announced on Monday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stick to your Standards: A Lesson in Bidding on Work

Thanks to all of the entries in my latest giveaway; I'll announce the winners next week! In the meantime, I'd like to share an important lesson about selling yourself to clients:

Last week, I received an email from a potential editing client who got my name from a source I've used for stories in the past. (I've been reaching out to former sources--many of whom are health, fitness, and nutrition experts-to let them know I'm doing primarily ghosting/coauthoring work, and have gotten some good leads that way. Good idea for fellow ghosts/coauthors, BTW.)

Anyway, he sent me his book and asked what I would charge to edit it. A quick review convinced me that he didn't need an edit but an overhaul--he's got some good material but it's buried among a lot of not-so-great material. (It's his first book.) I told him I needed more time to read through it, and then emailed him to tell him I thought the book needed reorganizing and rewriting, not just editing...and suggested he hire me to do that first, and then to stay on as an editor afterwards.For example, I'd cut the first three chapters altogether; they don't work with his premise. I also told him some specific instances of what I'd change (without "giving away the store," so to speak).

I talked to him yesterday. He had reached out to a number of possible editors. All of them but me simply bid on the work at face value. None commented on the fact that the book needed major work (and trust me, any writer/editor would see that in five pages). They just said they'd be happy to do it and gave him bids--I was the only one who said that the book needed a lot of work first, before an edit.

Long story short, I got the job--because I didn't just give him what he asked for (an editing bid) but because I gave him what I thought the book needed, and made the case for it. Explaining what I could do, and the benefit to him got me the assignment.

The lesson? Don't be afraid to think outside of the proverbial box when bidding on work. Your honesty and insight may be rewarded with a new assignment.

**Want to know more about ghostwriting, one of the most lucrative writing specialities there is? Check out my well-reviewed (and some of the reviewers don't even know me!) book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle version).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

300 Followers! A Giveaway to Celebrate

To celebrate 300 followers (and thank you, each of you!), I'm doing another giveaway. To enter, please post a comment and tell me a freelance subject you'd like to see me cover on the blog--or give me a specific question you'd like my opinion on. Then my six-year-old will pull several names at random (depending on how many entries we get) and I'll announce the winners next Monday.

The prize(s)? A copy of my book on more efficient freelancing, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle version)--and the opportunity for a one-page query critique by me, which will be posted anonymously on this blog. Ready, Aim is a great resource for new freelancers and includes 20 successful queries and a how-to chapter that walks you through the process of pitching, selling, and writing an article from concept to clip.

***And speaking of efficient freelancing, stay tuned for next week, when I'll feature a Q and A from Gretchen Roberts, author of the new ebook, Full-time Income in Part-time Hours. Gretchen's running a fun contest for writing parents; check it out!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

8 Steps to More Efficient Email Use

Email can be an efficient way to market, submit your work, and stay in touch with clients, sources, and fellow freelancers. It can also be a huge waste of both your and your recipient’s time if you don't keep these eight tips in mind:

Specify your Subject. Your subject line should catch the recipient’s attention and let him know why you’re contacting him. When I’m sending a query to a new market, for example, I’ll use a subject line like, “Query from Kelly James-Enger: Sleep yourself Thin.” If it’s someone I’ve worked with before, I’m less formal: “Hi, Tamara/Several Timely Queries for You.”I usually avoid using the word “pitch” in a subject line. Although it’s synonymous with query, it tends to make editors think of PR, or public relations, people, who also “pitch” ideas--and editors are notorious for ignoring PR pitches.

If you have an “in” with the person, mention it in your subject line, like: “Jenny Fink suggested I get in touch/timely health reprints available,” or “Enjoyed your panel at ASJA and have a proposal for you to consider.”

Keep it Nice. Email has made communicating easier than ever before, which means it's also but it’s also made it easier to write and send something you’ll regret. Be careful about what you communicate. For example, I recently received an email from a fellow freelancer asking me about an editor I'd worked with. I'd had a less-than-stellar experience with this particular person, and emailed her that I'd be happy to talk with her by phone about my experience. Never put something negative in writing--you never know who may end up reading it.

Avoid Attachments. Hopefully you know never to send an attachment unless it’s been specifically requested. If you want to send clips with a query, include links in the body of your query, or ask if you may send them by snail mail. If your editor wants to see them, she can ask for pdfs via email. If I get an unexpected email with attachments, I delete it if my spam filter hasn’t grabbed it already.

Wait to Hit Send. I know the difference between too, two, and to. So I was mortified to discover I’d sent an email to one of my regular clients using one of them the wrong way. Typos make you look stupid, or at least sloppy--not the impression you want to make on a present or potential client, or anyone else for that matter. Proofread every email before you hit send. And please do not write a kneejerk reaction because you’re angry, upset, disappointed, disgusted, you name it. Take the time to cool off before you send an email you’ll regret later. (See my above point, Keep it Nice.)

Give Them Time. Email used to be the fastest way to get in touch; now we have Tweets, IM’ing, and texting, which make email seem glacial by comparison. Don't count on a super-speedy reply. If it’s a matter that requires a fast turn-around, call. Otherwise, make a note if/when you need to follow up and move on to your next task.

Make it Easy. Look for ways to eliminate unnecessary responses. If I send an email confirming the details of an assignment, I just ask the client to respond with “agreed” if the terms are what we discussed. When I turn a story in, I’ll write, “Please hit ‘reply’ so I know you got this okay.” Yes, you can send a “return receipt” so you the recipient received and/or read something but those pop-up boxes annoy me, so I don’t use them. I ask the editor to hit reply instead, which seems more polite.

Pick up the Phone. Just because email is available doesn’t mean it’s the right media for you to use. I wouldn’t try to negotiate a contract via email, or ask an editor to put me on the masthead on as contributing editor via email. (I might send a follow-up email in both instances, though, setting out my points or recapping our discussion.) And while some freelancers do a lot of email interviews, my first preference is phone. Agreeing to an email interview because your source requests it is fine. Requesting an email interview (which means your source is responsible for typing up his answers to your question) is not, in my opinion.

A phone conversation is often faster than an email exchange. And don't forget "real" mail, too--in a Tweet-happy world, it stands out. Snail mail shows that you made an extra effort (and even paid for a stamp) and that makes it--and you--more memorable.

***Over the weekend, I hit 300 followers! To celebrate, I'm doing a special giveaway I'll announce by Wednesday, September 14. Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Surefire Way to Beat Freelancing Burnout

Freelancing full-time has a lot of perks. You get to make a living from your words, you can write from a home office in sweats and thick fluffy socks, and you can work as little or as much as you want. (At least in theory—sometimes you face freelance droughts, or have to work weekends and nights to meet all your deadlines.)

Sure, there are the inevitable hassles with slow-to-respond editors, delayed checks, and mangled edits. But overall, most freelancers love what they do, and the way they’re able to work. The income survey of more than 200 freelancers I conducted earlier this year found that 90 percent “definitely” planned to continue their careers; another 7 percent said they “probably” would. So you may be surprised to find yourself suffering from burnout at some point.

With fourteen years of freelance experience, I’m far from immune to burnout. Instead, I can predict that every nine to eighteen months, I’ll go through a period where I seriously question my freelance career. Yet each time, burnout has helped jumpstart my enthusiasm for freelancing.

If you're falling out of love with freelancing, first determine what's causing the burnout. Do you have too much work overall—or simply too many deadlines all falling at the same time? Are your clients too demanding? Is it the type of work you’re doing? Or is it that you’re bogged down with “grunt work,” things like transcribing interviews, chasing down money that’s owed to you, or following up on queries you haven’t had a response to?

Once you've identified the burnout source(s), use my secret weapon. Sit down with your choice of caffeinated beverage and make a list of the pros and cons of freelancing. Look at this as a brainstorming exercise; don’t worry about listing them in order of importance or how many you have on each side. Then read your list and compare the pros and cons.

The first time I did this exercise, I’d been freelancing for almost eighteen months. My “pros” list included thirteen items like “no commute,” “it’s cool—I’m a writer,” and “seeing my name in print.” The cons included things like “I’m lonely,” “continual rejection is affecting my self-esteem,” “little or no feedback on work,” and “no clear goals except for money.”

Over years, my personal pros and cons list has changed, but some elements of my pros list have remained consistent. The freedom to set my own hours, the enjoyment of writing itself, and the fact that I’m building something that is mine are all reasons why I continue to freelance. On the cons side, I’m always frustrated about editors who are slow-to-respond or slow-to-pay (or worse, both), and I continually resent how much of my income goes to pay taxes. But on balance, is it worth it? Yes.

Seeing your personal pros and cons list in black and white should serve two purposes. Number one, it should get you excited about freelancing again. Second, it should give you insight into the parts of freelancing that aren’t working right now. You can’t do anything about what you pay to Uncle Sam, but if “bored silly by all my assignments” is on your list, you can start writing about a different subject area. Or maybe it’s time to do something completely different.

No matter how much you love freelancing, you will get burned out at some point. Make it an opportunity to reboot by focusing on the positives of your chosen career. I promise there are a lot of them.

***Trying to write about anything and everything? You'll have more success if you specialize; Ready, Aim, Specialize: Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle edition) shows you how to create a writing niche, describes the top ten subject specialties, and includes hundreds of resources.