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Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Freelance Income Survey Results--The News is Good

First, thanks so much to the 171 freelancers who have participated in this year's Freelance Income Survey. (Click here for the 2011 survey results and the 2010 survey results.)


In short, the results are promising. Out of the 171 respondents, more than two-thirds (69 percent!) made more money in 2011 than 2010, and 12 precent made about the same amount.


And how much money is that? In 2011, our full-time freelancers grossed the following amounts:
  • 16.96 percent made less than $20,000
  • 22.81 percent made between $20,000 and $39,999
  • 16.37 percent made between $40,000 and $59,999 (including me)
  • 15.79 percent made between $60,000 and $79,999
  • 12.87 percent made between $80,000 and $99,999
  • 15.20 percent broke the six-figure mark, making more than $100,000. 
Breaking those numbers down, more than one-quarter (28 percent) of full-time freelancers made more than $80,000 last year, and a full 43 percent made more than $60,000. That's pretty awesome news, especially compared to the 2011 survey which asked freelancers about their 2010 income:  
  • 27 percent made less than $20,000
  • 23 percent made between $20,000 and $39,999 
  • 22 percent made between $40,000 and $59,999 
  • 14 percent made between $60,000 and $79,999 
  • 7 percent made between $80,000 and $99,999 
  • 7 percent made more than $100,000 
So, overall, freelancers (at least the ones responding to my survey) are making more money. That's great news! Next up, I'll share what kinds of work freelancers are doing, and which types are the most lucrative. 


***Are you a full-time freelancer who's constantly pestered by people who want to know how to get started in the business? (I know I am!) :) Or are you a new to freelancing, and want to make the jump from unpublished newbie to published writer? Check out my new ebooks, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to: Selling your First Article and Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates. Each is designed for writers who are new to freelancing, and will help you transition from unpublished to published writer.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Do You Write Fiction Too? Five Tips for Fitting it In

While the lion's share of my work is nonfiction (mostly ghostwriting these days), I'm a novelist as well. And I'm not alone--there are a lot of freelancers out there who have a novel or short stories in the works. That's why I was happy to write a guest post for author Kelly Stone on how to fit fiction into your writing life. I've been enjoying her 90-day writing challenge (well, not enjoying it all the time, but I'm glad I'm doing it) and plan to finish my new novel soon.

**Next up, the 2012 Income Survey results! Stay tuned! :)

**And finally, readers, I'm curious--do you write both fiction and nonfiction? Let me know!

Monday, January 23, 2012

You're Doing it Wrong (and How to do it Right the First Time)

Ever seen the movie Mr. Mom? (Yeah, I'm dating myself but it still makes me laugh.) There's a scene where Michael Keaton (a/k/a Mr. Mom) is dropping his older son off at school for the first time, and isn't following the correct drop-off procedure. From the backseat, his son cries, "Dad, you're doing it wrong!" Keaton ignores him, muttering, "Don't tell me I'm doing it wrong. I know how to do it."

Finally, another parent waves him down. Keaton rolls down his window only to have her tell him, "You're doing it wrong."(For the record, he's driving the opposite direction he should be. So yeah, he's doing it wrong.)

When I teach article writing, lead a Webinar, or speak at a writers' conference, I caution writers about doing it wrong. I want you to do it right. And if you're a new freelancer who wants to sell an article to an online or print market, that means pitching an idea you're uniquely qualified to write. Over the years, I've developed a simple, but effective 10-step process to help new writers sell their first articles. Now my new ebook that includes it, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, is available through Kindle.

Experienced writers, this ebook isn't for you--although it's perfect for those friends and family members pestering you for advice about getting published. If you're new to the freelancing world, though, or want to finally see your byline in print or pixels--and get paid for it--this is the ebook you need. It includes print and online market resources, tips on coming up with compelling ideas, sample queries, and advice on researching your article--in short, everything you need to sell your first piece.    

This ebook is only the first of a series of titles I'm working on. Look for more coming soon, including one on book publishing myths (and the truth behind them), and one on making more money from the same work.

So, readers, please spread the word about my ebook, and let me know what you think of it. And let me ask you--what topics would you like to see covered in an ebook? I'm listening--or rather, reading. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The 3 Questions Every (Successful) Book Author Must Answer

Earlier this week, I spoke at the Vernon Area Public Library about getting published--and paid--for your work. I talked about selling articles to print and online markets and the different options available to book authors today, including POD, e-books, and of course traditional publishers. I explained how traditional publishers work, the pros and cons of opting for POD, what platform is, and what an agent can (and can't) do for you as an author.

But possibly the most important point I shared with would-be authors was this. If you want to publish a book, you must be able to answer three critical questions:

1. Who is the audience for your book? (If you say "everyone," you've got a lot of work ahead of you.)


2. Why will readers buy your book? (Even if you plan to give away an ebook for free, you still have to attract readers. And if you expect people to pay for a book--which as an author, I think it quite reasonable--you've got to be able to give them reasons to shell out money for it.)


3. How will you, as the author, reach them? (This is the most challenging part of writing books--actually selling them. Traditional publishers expect you to have a comprehensive marketing and promotion plan, regardless of whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction. And if you're going it on your own, through POD, an e-book, or becoming a self-publisher, then all of the marketing falls to you.)

I know, you're thinking you just want to write your book and not worry about selling it. Well, dream on. Last year there were more than 3,330,000 books published (by traditional publishers, POD companies, and as ebooks) so you're competing against literally millions of other titles. You can't just publish your book, cross your fingers, and hope it sells. You've got to be willing to market it for months--more likely, years.

Look at it this way--I'll assume you don't just want to publish a book--you want people to buy it, or at least read it, as well. So consider these three critical questions as you write your book, and you'll be better positioned to sell it when it is published.

**Last call for survey responses...we're at 168 right now. If writing (and writing-related work) is your only source of income, I consider you a full-time freelancer. So please take the 2012 Freelance Income Survey...results coming soon! :) Thanks very much.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

6 Ghostwriting Myths, Dispelled

I was at my local Caribou several weeks ago when the man next to me struck up a conversation. (I was wearing my Instant Ghostwriter: Just Add Coffee T-shirt.) We talked about what I do for a few minutes, and I dispelled a few myths about the business, like:


1. You can't make money as a ghostwriter. Yeah, I know Craigslist is teeming with ads looking for ghostwriters who will work for a "share of the proceeds" or a "percentage of royalties."Those "clients" are nonstarters. But my informal survey of ghostwriters found that they're averaging $60,000/year. Not bad for a down economy.


2. Ghostwriters are never acknowledged. If you're writing for a celebrity, then there's a good chance you'll sign a confidentiality agreement. But all of my clients have recognized me in the acknowledgments of their books. So even though I'm technically a ghost, I can use their books as part of my marketing efforts.


3. Ghostwriters don't make royalties. While ghostwriters are often paid a flat, or project fee, in some instances you can negotiate a portion of royalties. (I have!) Then if the book does well, you wind up making more money.


4. No one is hiring ghostwriters. Wrong again. Publishing experts estimate that half of New York Times bestsellers are ghostwritten, and tens of thousands of books are ghosted every year. And that's not including clients (especially Pros with Platforms) who hire freelancers to ghost speeches, article, blog posts, even Tweets. There is plenty of work out there.


5. Ghostwriting always involves writing a book from scratch. Sometimes, yes. But often I have clients who have started or outlined a book but need help completing an entire manuscript. In other instances, I will do most of the research and writing and run it by my client. Every job is different.


6. Ghostwriters only do it for the money. (Hmm, there's a great T-shirt idea!) There is some truth to this, but I've found that helping a client reach his or her dream of getting his book in print is tremendously satisfying. Plus I love the collaborative process of working with a client. It's more complicated than writing my own books, but also more fun.

**Intrigued? Want to add ghosting to your writer's CV? Then check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books for everything you need to know to break into the field.

**And don't forget about my 2012 Freelance Income Survey! Please take it if you haven't already, and thank you!

Monday, January 16, 2012

9 Ways to Develop Regular Clients

My latest piece, "nine ways to develop regular clients," is out in the February issue of The Writer (I'm a contributing editor there). I suggest you check it out; the ability to create and sustain lasting relationships with your editors and clients is critical to your success as a freelancer. But here's a preview of the nine techniques I suggest in the article:

1. Beat your deadlines. This isn't that hard!
2. Don't make it personal. No one likes criticism, but learn how to take it.
3. But do keep it personal. A personal relationship with a client never hurts.
4. Pitch regularly. Failure to do this is a major mistake.
5. Exceed expectations. Yeah, it's business-speak for go the extra mile. Do it anyway.
6. Expand your reach. Continue to develop your skills--you'll be more valuable to clients.
7. Express appreciation. You probably already know that I'm a big believer in saying thank you!
8. Think honey, not vinegar. In other words, be nice to your clients. Even (or especially!) when they annoy you.
9. Never say never. I don't believe in one-shot stories, and I try to avoid one-shot clients. I try to touch base with former clients several times a year; you never know when a one-time client may become a repeat one.

**Please keep those survey responses coming! I've already gathered 158 responses to my 2012 freelance income survey, and will post the results in a week or so. If you have taken it already, thank you! If you haven't, would you take a couple of minutes (it will take you less than five!) and do so...and please pass the link on to other full-time freelancers, too. I'd like to get at least 250 responses this time around. Thanks! :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Chicago Area? Come See me Live & in Person!

I've got two Chicago-area speaking gigs next week. On Monday, January 16th, I'll be speaking on stress management at the Woodridge Public Library at 7:00 p.m. No, you can't completely avoid stress; that's unrealistic. I focus on ways to handle it better, and reduce its impact on your mental and physical health.

On Wednesday, January 18th, I'll be making the trek up the Vernon Area Public Library to present "From Pen to Publication: How to Get your Writing in Print." This is a great program for newer freelancers, and I'll cover everything from writing articles to today's book publishing options to setting writing goals.

I hope to see some of you there--please let me know if you follow my blog! And thank you to everyone who has taken my 2012 Freelance Income Survey. I've already collected 137 responses, but it's not to late to participate. Please take a few minutes to take the survey, and pass it along to other full-time freelancers you know. Thanks! :) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mistakes Were Made: How 2012 Will Look Different Than 2011

Last post, I shared what I grossed in 2011, and that I failed to meet my income goal. That was a bummer. However, I spent the last week of 2011 revisiting my career, reevaluating my goals, and creating a new plan for 2012, so I know what happened last year. I've written about freelance mistakes before, but that doesn't mean I never make them myself. So here are my "top 5" reasons I failed to meet my 2011 income goal:

1. Too-positive thinking. In other words, I counted my proverbial chickens before they hatched. Early in 2011, I coauthored a book proposal for a client that our agent shopped around. I was certain that the book would command an advance of at least $20,000-30,000 (hopefully more!) and planned accordingly. Well, the only offer we got was for a whopping $4,000, and my client was unwilling to throw anything else in the pot. So I wound up in the spring with no book project. I'm a positive person, but in 2012, I'll be more realistic in my expectations.
2. No backup plan. The book proposal I mentioned above? Remember, I was certain it would sell to a traditional publisher, so I didn't look for any other book projects to take on because I didn't want to have too much work on my plate at once. (I'd spent three months before that busting my butt because I'd overloaded myself before and during the holidays.) Instead, I was left with no book and no backup work--which made a definite dent in my bank account. This year, I have backup plans for when I have too much work, and too little work.  
3. Significant life change. For my family, 2011 was the Year of the Move. We prepped, painted, staged, and cleaned the house we'd lived in for 13 years to get it ready to sell. That was a huge time commitment that took a lot of time away from my career. Then, we had to find a house to buy (long story, but it took several months) and then actually move all of our belongings, our two children (and all of their belongings!), both of our home offices, our golden retriever, and everything else we owned from our house and the storage facility into our new house...and unpack it all. (I confess, I still have a ways to go on that--but I'll get there eventually.) I know our move hurt my career, but now that we're in our "20-Year House," I don't have to worry about this in 2012.
4. Lower-paying work. I've seen advances fall over the last few years, and the book projects I took in 2011 paid less than I would have liked. Here's the thing--I can try to negotiate for more money, but sometimes I'm in the position of saying "yes" to a project I want for less money than I'd like or saying "no" and having no work. (Remember, most of my work these days are sizable projects like ghostwritten books, so I tend to take on one or two gigs at a time. When I had a dozen or more articles under contract at any given time, this was less of an issue.) I can't always control how much money I get for a gig, but I can make an effort to negotiate more money for the work I do in 2012. And I will.
5. Inconsistent marketing. I should know better, but I admit that when I was busy, I wasn't marketing myself. Then I'd come up for air to discover I had no big project waiting for me. Yeah, I know better! But I'm sharing this so you know that even experienced freelancers make dumb mistakes sometime. This year, I'm already marketing myself more consistently and I hope I'll have a steadier workload as a result. If not? Well, then I've got my backup plan to keep me going.

**Readers, what about you? Did life circumstances or other causes keep you from meeting your income goal? Feel free to share them here--and how you plan to tackle them in 2012. And if you haven't done so, please take my quick, confidential 2012 Freelance Income Survey, and ask other freelancers to do the same. We've garnered 85 responses already but I'm shooting for at least 250 this time around. Thank you!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Straight Talk about Money: What One Freelancer Made in 2011

How was 2011 for you, income-wise? Longtime readers of the blog will recall that I do an annual income survey for full-time freelancers, and the latest one is live. Please take the time (it should take less than five minutes!) to fill it out, and ask other freelancers to do the same. I'll report on results in a future post. (You can read more about the 2010 income survey results and the 2009 income survey results here.)

I can tell you that 2011 was a rough year for me. For the first time in more than a decade, I failed to meet my income goal of $60,000. Instead I grossed $51,818--and next post I'll explain why. For now, let's look at where my money came from. 
  • The majority, about $26,750, came from book income--primarily advances for books I wrote under my own name, and for ghostwriting/coauthoring for clients. This included work I did for a book packager, work for private clients, and the small advance to update a book I coauthored.
  • Another $2,842 came from royalties from traditionally published books, POD books, and ebooks. Royalties are my favorite kind of money to make, and a reason I continue to promote books like Goodbye Byline. Every time someone buys a copy, I make (a little) money. 
  • I made another $600 or so from "hand-sales" at writers' conferences and other speaking gigs. No, it's not a lot of money but people often want to buy your book after they've seen you speak, so if you're an author, you should plan to carry along a box of books whenever you do a public event. 
  • From speaking gigs, I netted another $5,150. This included speaking at writers' conferences, libraries, and other events. This isn't as much as I've made in other years, but it's better than what I made from speaking in 2010.
  • I also sold another $3,556 worth of reprints. Again, this isn't a huge amount of money, but the work involved is minimal, and another source of "free" money.
  • The rest of my income came from writing articles and consulting (primarily for would-be authors who need help considering their book publishing options). 
Even though books (both my own and those for clients) constitute most of my freelance income, you can see that I have other ways of making money, too. I've found a diversified approach works best for me, and helps me make money in a limited number of hours. Next post I'll tell you what I did wrong in 2010, and explain more about why having a variety of work helps you produce more money overall. 

**Didn't take the 2011 income survey yet? Please do it now, and ask others to do the same! Thank you! :)  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Webinar on January 5, 2012: Your Book Publishing Options

As an author, I've tried nearly every book publishing option there is. I've published both nonfiction and fiction with big traditional publishers (e.g. Random House, Kensington) and nonfiction with smaller, niche publishers (e.g. Cumberland House, Marion Street Press). (Here's an explanation of how advances and royalties work when you sell your book to a traditional publisher.) I've worked with POD companies like CreateSpace, book packagers like Jenkins Group, and published e-books as well, and have ghostwritten/coauthored books with clients who have used all of those options. So I have a pretty good working knowledge of the pros and cons of each.

If you plan to add "book author" to your writing resume in 2012, check out my Writer's Digest Webinar on book publishing options tomorrow, January 5, 2012. You'll come away with a clear understanding of the pros and cons of each option, and be better able to evaluate which choice is right for you. Hope to "see" many of you there!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Setting your Freelance Goals for 2012


          This is my favorite day of the year. To me, January 1 represents promise, potential, possibility. It's also when I set my goals for the year, and I suggest you do the same for your career. 
           Consider the Past           
           To look forward, however, you first must look back. At the end of each year, I review what types of writing work I performed, for whom, and how much money I made as a result. I also add up the amount I made from selling reprints and from speaking engagements so I know how much I’m making from both activities, and I look for trends, both good and bad.
Another issue to explore is how you spent your time last year. Look at when projects were assigned and when you turned them in. Are you turning around your profiles quickly but spending too much time on shorter, lower-paying pieces? Are those heavily-researched business articles really worth spending so much energy on? Remember that it’s not how much you make for a particular project—it’s what your hourly rate turns out to be.
            Finally, how diversified were you this year? Were you working for only a handful of clients or for dozens? (The former may be unavoidable if much of your work is writing books, which take much longer than articles.) Did you have lots of short, lower-paying assignments or did you focus more on bigger projects or feature stories? Does your income come from a variety of sources or only a few?
Consider the Future
So, now you know where your money came from. The next question is how much you want to make this year—and what kind of work you want to perform to make it. Should you focus your efforts in a particular area or would you rather try something new? Are you feeling burned out and want to switch gears—and try writing fiction, for example, instead of essays? Consider too how much time you can dedicate to “projects of the heart” compared to the work that pays your bills.
After you’ve set an annual income goal, determine how you’ll get there. How many hours must you write to earn that income? If you’re freelancing fulltime, the answer may be as many as necessary. Having a daily financial goal can help keep you on track. If your goal is to make $30,000 a year from freelancing, that averages to $2,500 a month or $125 a day (with four weeks off during the year.) In other words, if you can average that amount of income 240 days a year, you can make $30,000 this year. Make sense? 
Strive for a Balance  
By setting monthly, weekly or daily financial targets, you’ll be on your way to achieving your overall financial goal this year. But remember that your writing career isn’t only about the money. Your goals may also include non-financial ones like spending more time writing fiction or developing a stronger voice. (One of my goals this year is to finish my latest novel, which has been languishing for months.) 
That's why I suggest you build writing time into your schedule for projects that don’t produce income (at least not yet) but are important to you for other reasons. (Need a boost? Check out Kelly Stone's 90-day writing challenge that launches tomorrow.) Even though I write for a living, I give myself time to write for myself as well. After all, if you only focus on the bottom line and continually take work that bores or frustrates you, you’ll be likely to become bored and frustrated with your career as well. 
Instead, strive for a balance between the money you want to make and the work you want to do—and both you and your bank account will be better off in 2012. 

** Want to publish a book but aren't sure which route (i.e., traditional publishing, print-on-demand, e-publishing, or self-publishing) is right for you? Check out my Writer's Digest webinar on Thursday, January 5. You'll learn about your book publishing options today, and their pros and cons.