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Friday, March 30, 2012

5 Things I'd Tell my Former Freelance Self

I'll be teaching my webinar, Make Money NOW Writing Freelance Articles, through Writer's Digest, this Thursday, April 5, 2012. It's a great program for both new freelancers and more experienced writers who want to start pitching--and selling--articles to online and print publications. 


While most of my work today consists of ghostwriting and coauthoring, I started out writing articles for magazines and newspapers. For me--and for many new writers--articles (including blog posts) are the easiest and fastest way to launch a freelance career. 


Yet I made a lot of mistakes along the way. When I lead a Webinar or speak at a writers' conference or other event, I give advice that I know now, but didn't know then. If I could go back in time, here are 5 things I would tell my fledgling freelance self: 


1. Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can't. You have no say whether an editor likes your pitch or even responds to it. You can contrl which markets you query, how many queries you submit, and how much time you dedicate to your freelance career. That's what you should put your energy into.


2. Be willing to cut bait. Your time is limited and precious. I collected more than a dozen rejections from Glamour early on before I finally got the clue that no one was going to assign to me. These days, I would have cut bait after three or four and moved on to more promising markets. 


3. Follow up on every pitch. It may be your follow-up letter that causes the editor to actually read your query--or to get around to assigning it. You're not being a pest, you're being a professional. 


4. Having a story killed isn't the end of the world. Early in my freelance career, I had a big story killed, even after two complete rewrites. I'll tell you, I was crushed, and I thought about giving up my freelance career. (I have a flair for the dramatic, I suppose.) I had to remind myself that a story that didn't meet my editor's expectations was only that--a story that wasn't what she wanted. In the meantime, I'd written dozens of stories that had made editors happy, so I decided to focus on that rather than my "failure." 


5. Take time off. Early on I dedicated just about every waking moment to building my freelance career. I could--it was now my full-time business and I didn't have any children underfoot to distract me. But working all the time is a prescription for burnout. Eventually I learned to live a more balanced life, but I'd suggest you set hours when you're working, and protect your non-work time from the outset. you'll be happier, and more productive too. 


***Are you a new freelancer, or know someone who wants to break into freelancing? My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Boomerang Effect and How to Make it Work for You

Just as I try not to write one-shot stories, I try not to work with any one-shot clients. (Unless the person turns out to have a high PIA factor...then I become surprisingly busy if he ever contacts me again.)

I've posted before about how to turn a one-shot client into a regular. To my mind, it's not that difficult. Use the golden rule--treat your client or editor the way you'd like to be treated. Make (or better, beat) your deadline. Do what's asked of you, without whining about it. Because after 15+ years of freelancing, I can tell you that once you've done a good job for someone, he or she is much more likely to offer you another assignment--without you even asking for it. It's what I call the Boomerang Effect.

Yet you don't know when the Boomerang Effect will kick in. It might be a month after you turn in an assignment. It might be a year--or more. But I always say yes when a Boomerang client returns to me.

Case in point, last week I took on an assignment for a market I haven't written for in more than a year. The dollar/word rate isn't very high, but I said yes for the following reasons:

1. The topic is one I've written about before, so it won't take any time to get "up to speed" on the subject.
2. The story is a straightforward service piece, the kind I find easy to report and write.
3. The story is one I'll be able to reprint; it has "legs," so to speak.
4. I like the editor--she pays me promptly and is easy to work with.
5. She's a Boomerang! And even if the money is less than I'd like to be paid, I want to maintain my relationship with her.

By saying yes to this assignment, I'll keep this client in my stable of regulars--and hopefully shorten the time for the Boomerang Effect to kick in next time.

Boomerang clients cut your marketing time, and make it easier to meet your income goals because you spend less time pitching potential clients. So treat every new client as a potential Boomerang. After you finish an assignment, pitch another idea. Forward her a study or relevant news release you think she'd interested in. Stay on her radar by getting your name in front of her, and you're likely to experience the Boomerang Effect yourself.

**Of course to get a Boomerang, you have to complete that initial assignment. If you're a new freelancer, check out my ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article. It walks you through a 10-step process to get your first clip and collect your first freelance check.







Monday, March 26, 2012

Love versus Money: Can You Write for Both?

I've said before that I think there are two kinds of writers--writers who write because they love to, and writers who write for money. In my fifteen+ years of full-time freelancing, I've almost always fallen into the latter camp. 


Writing isn't a passion of mine. It's not a hobby. It's how I help pay our mortgage, save for college, and buy Honey Nut Cheerios and Diet Mountain Dew (two staples in our house). I talk about writing for money, and I write articles about writing for money, and I write books about writing for money, and I write a blog about writing for money...you get the idea. 


But. 


Here's the thing. I still write because I love to. No, I don't get to do as much of it as I used to, but I started out writing because I loved it. I started out writing because I wanted to. I wrote short stories and poems and had a few failed attempts at a novel before I finished and sold my first one (Did you Get the Vibe?) Then I wrote and sold another one, White Bikini Panties. I managed to keep one foot in the writing-for-love world and one in the writing-for-money. 


Then my son came along. And writing-for-love slipped pretty close to the bottom of my to-do list. I worked on my new novel here and there, but couldn't gain much traction on it. Then my daughter came along and my novel manuscript sat untouched for more than a year. 


But in the last few months, I had a series of epiphanies. First, I realized that I wanted to finish this book, and that I was willing to give something up (usually bad television shows or an extra hour of sleep) to make it happen. Second, this is the "Year of the Change-up" for me. I'll write more about it in a future post, but I'm approaching my career differently in 2012 than I have in past years. One of my priorities this year was to spend more time on what I call "projects of the heart," my phrase for the writing you really want to do. And when Kelly Stone announced her 90-day Writing Challenge, it was the push I needed to finish the book I spent, oh about six years working on. 


The short version is that a mere 8 years (!!!) after my second novel came out, I'm announcing my third, The Honesty Index. Here's a brief overview: When Renee and Colleen were in college, they made a pact. No matter what happened, they would always be honest with each other, even if the truth hurt. But it’s all but impossible to be honest with anyone all of the time—even, or especially, with yourself. In The Honesty Index, these two friends try to navigate the waters of their 30-something lives—and learn that regardless of what kind of life you have, it’s up to you to make yourself happy.
  
The Honesty Index is available through Kindle and Smashwords and for you Luddites like me who like to hold a physical book, I'll have a print version coming through CreateSpace soon. If you enjoy contemporary women's fiction (I think my 30-something characters are a little old to call this "chick lit"), or know someone who does, I hope you'll check it out! 


So what's my point? I still write for money, and I'm not ashamed to say so. But I've found that making time for the projects I care about...well, that's what truly makes me happiest, writing-wise. So yeah, I write for money. But I write for love, too. So why not do both?  


***To promote The Honesty Index and my new book on freelancing, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, I am planning lots of fun stuff on the blog including giveaways and query critiques. I'll also be posting soon on 18 months of POD sales (including how the print/ebook ratio is continuing to change), why ebooks are so hot (and what not to do when you write one), and how to turn a one-time client into a regular one. As always, if there's a burning question you want answered, let me know and I'll do my best to answer it here. :) 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Advice for New Freelancers: Choose your own Path


One of the most attractive aspects of freelancing is the freedom that it provides. Not only do you set your own hours, you decide how much you’ll work, what kinds of work you’ll perform, and what kinds of clients you’ll work for. If you come to freelancing from a corporate job, that freedom is exhilarating.
It’s also overwhelming.
Here’s what I mean. Take a poll of a hundred freelancers, and you’ll find that they’re all pursuing different career paths. Deciding which one is right for you (often through a process of trial and multiple errors) can leave you constantly second-guessing your career arc.
I started out as a freelancer in a bubble. I didn’t know any other writers, let alone any who worked for actual money. I was free to decide how to pursue my career without any role models to emulate or contradict. In the first few months, that meant working on my first novel and pitching (mostly poorly written) queries to national magazines. 
Then I started writing for the local paper and for local businesses. Then I decided to teach magazine writing at a local community college, which led to speaking at writers conferences and writing about writing. Then I started writing books. Then I started collaborating on books, which led to ghostwriting.
None of these things were in my plan. I didn’t have a plan when I started out. I honestly didn’t even have a clue. But I found my own path by asking first, what did I want to do, and second, what could I get paid to do? I still go through that process today.
My career looks very different than it did five or ten years ago. When I started out, I was a fledgling novelist, writing for magazines and newspapers to pay the bills. Five years later, I was a newly published author and successful magazine freelancer, balancing both roles. Another five years passed and I was a new ghostwriter/co-author who still kept her hand in with magazines. And now that another five years have gone by, I find that most of my work involves writing other people’s books and doing motivational speaking on health and fitness topics. It’s not the path that I expected but it’s the right path for me.
Finding your own path doesn’t mean that you ignore what other writers are doing or that you choose to follow the same trajectory of a successful freelancer. It means you observe, you pay attention, you gather information about what seems to be working for someone else and decide how you can apply that to your own life. You determine what appeals to you about the other person’s work and what does not.
Take Jane Boursaw. a successful blogger who shares her advice in an earlier post. Jane gets to watch movies—and get paid for it! I dreamt of being a movie reviewer as a new freelancer, mostly so I could impose my opinions on the general public. Jane makes good money as a blogger, which is also appealing to me. 
But you know what? Jane blogs all the time. That’s critical to her success. She also has to watch movies she might not particularly enjoy, and she has to analyze those movies. She can’t just sit and veg out  in front of the latest romantic comedy; it’s work for her. My point? No matter how appealing or attractive someone else’s freelance career looks, I promise you there are drawbacks along with the plusses. 
   Yes, you should use other freelancers as guides. (That's one of the reasons you're here, right?) Just recognize that every writer’s path is different. Don’t blindly follow another writer; pay attention to the unmarked trails that may offer you more promise and satisfaction. The path you take may not be the one you expected. But it will be yours.

***Are you a new freelancer, or know someone who wants to break into freelancing? My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Word Freelancers Hate to Hear: "Fresh" (and how to Make your Pitches More So)

If you write for magazines, at some point you'll hear the word "fresh." As in, "solid pitch but not quite fresh enough," or "we're really looking for fresh ideas." Mention the word "fresh" to any long-term freelancer and you may wind up hearing a diatribe on the vagaries of pitching so-called fresh ideas. 

Here's the thing. I think the word fresh is overrated. A fitness publication like Fitness, Shape, or Self covers topics related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. A bridal magazine will cover bridal-related topics that include wedding planning, the relationship between bride and groom, and financial issues. So it's a safe bet that in every issue there will be a piece on these subjects. Your job as a freelancer is to take a subject that's been covered for years (and will be continued to be covered) and make it fresh. Make it new. Make the editor think, "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that approach before." 

As someone who reslants, or writes about the same subjects over and over, I've had to learn how to think fresh. I've said before that all of my dozens of stories (not to mention several books) come down to four words: "eat less. Exercise more." But by coming up with multiple approaches to this subject, I've managed to create so-call fresh approaches to the same old subject. (For example, I've written articles about:  
  • How to "eat like a man" (for a women's magazine) and lose weight;
  • Eat more fiber and lose weight; 
  • Eat more often and lose weight; 
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and lose weight; 
  • Drink more water and lose weight; 
  • Eat lower glycemic-index foods and lose weight; and
  • Eat more soup and lose weight.   
And that's just a start. Believe me, at this point, I should probably pitch a piece on how eat more M&Ms and lose weight. Time to do some first-person research on the subject! 
 
So how can you make a pitch "fresh," especially an evergreen? Here are five says to do so:  
  • Take a counterintuitive approach to the subject. If you're pitching a parenting magazine on ways to get your kids do better in school, you might suggest that one method is to spend less time helping with homework. (For a bridal magazine, your pitch might be "Spend less money, have a more beautiful wedding. For a fitness magazine, "Spend less time in the gym, get a better body.") 
  • Come up with a time peg, whether it's a recent statistic, study, or anniversary. I guarantee that every of a women's fitness magazine will have at least one article on a new workout plan. 
  • Pitch a quiz. Quizzes are an engaging way to share information with readers, especially for online markets.    
  • Offer a round-up. Round-ups are a pain because they involve a lot of time to collect the responses/quotes, but if you're willing to do them, the collection of individual voices and/or tips makes put a fresh spin on an old subject. 
  • Dig. Find a story that the editor truly hasn't heard before. One of my first feature sales was a piece on a young woman who had suffered from a mysterious illness for years, and was even misdiagnosed by the Mayo Clinic. It sold. Your ability to come up with a topic that your editor can't find on her own makes you invaluable, and makes you more likely to sell your pitch. 
Readers, what say you? Do you dread the word fresh? Or have you found other ways to make evergreen ideas seem new? Please share them! 

***Are you a new freelancer, or know someone who wants to break into freelancing? My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More Tips for Writers/Authors from Writers' Fest

Today's post follows up on Monday's, sharing tips I garnered from last weekend's 10th Annual Writer's Fest in Milwaukee. Here are a few more you may find helpful: 
  • Querying a new market? Come up with a new spin on your subject and you'll impress an editor, says Kurt Chandler, senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine. "Ideas are currency to us," adds Chandler. And to get an assignment, make sure you're familiar with the publication and what it publishes. Too many writers pitch ideas that his publication would never cover.  
  • Looking for an agent? John Bolger, an agent and attorney, represents a range of fiction, and nonfiction, including genre fiction such as urban fantasy, science fiction, and women's fiction. Visit Middle West Literary Agency to submit a query letter about your project. 
  • As usual, the most commonly heard word mentioned was "platform," or an author's ability to sell a book. ("Social media" was a close second.) Like all traditional publishers, Sourcebooks expects authors to either already have a strong platform or be able to develop one. "You have to know how to reach the audience you're writing for," says Kelly Bale, editor at Sourcebooks. "We do a  lot in terms of publicity but we look for authors with a platform." 
  • Use tinyurl.com to create mini-URLS for your blog and Facebook posts, etc. They look better and more professional, says technology expert Sharon Miller Cindrich, author of books including A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet. And mini-URLs y'd are easier to include in your Tweets! 
  • Writers should opt for more than one email address, says Cindrich. For example, if you've written a book, create an email that is linked with the title (e.g., Goodbyebyline at gmail.com) . Then every email you send and receive from that account gets your book title before potential readers (and buyers). 
  • When drafting query letters for agents or editors, Bolger recommends keeping your query letters to three to five paragraphs. "Hone these paragraphs and make them accurate and compelling," says Bolger. "Remember that each query is an introduction to a potential partnership and a business relationship. Some editors and agents read literally hundreds of queries in a sitting."
I've spoken at dozens of writers' conferences throughout the country, but I go as an attendee, too. Listening to other pros helps give me new ideas about how to run my freelancing business, whether it's branching into ebooks or working more efficiently. So consider attending a writer's conference...it can pay off in a multitude of ways! 

***My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 



Monday, March 12, 2012

Tips and Advice from the 10th Annual Writers' Fest

I just returned from speaking at the 10th Annual Writers' Fest in Milwaukee. I heard agents, editors, social media experts, and other publishing pros talk about the changes in the industry, and how to succeed as an author today. Here's a roundup of tips and advice from some of the speakers:
  • Looking for an agent? Literary agent Joanna MacKenzie is acquiring YA (young adult), literary thrillers, commercial fiction, women's fiction, and Chicago-based historical mysteries. 
  • Kelly Bale, an editor at Sourcebooks, acquires nonfiction, including memoirs. Sourcebooks publishes a variety of subjects, including fiction, romance, and contemporary women's fiction. Its Landmark imprint publishes fiction including contemporary women's and men's historical novels. 
  • Want to start blogging but don't want to have spend half your life keeping it up to date? Set up a microblog on tumblr.com, suggests parenting and technology expert Sharon Miller Cindrich, author of books including The Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet
  • Do you write YA books? Sourcebooks' Fire imprint publishes YA books, and the imprint is "really taking off," said Bale. Editors there are especially looking for "issue-centered" YA fiction featuring young female protagonists. Sourcebooks' Jabberwocky imprint publishes children's book, including middle grade readers and picture books. 
  • If you use LinkedIn, make sure that your biggest coup is listed first, adds Cindrich. You can include the rest of your amazing accomplishments in your bio.  
  • Have you published a book through POD or as an ebook, but still hope to sell it to a traditional publishers? Well-written books that have garnered lots of attention also interest editors at publishers like Sourcebooks. It isn't a question so much of how many copies you've sold but the amount of interest and buzz it's generated, such as 35 positive Amazon reviews, says Bale. 
Next post, I'll have more tips from the conference. Stay tuned! 

***My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Writer's Workout: A Q and A with Author Christina Katz



When I started freelancing more than 15 years ago, there were no blogs to help point me in the right direction. I relied on books like Writer's Market to learn about how to pitch and publish my writing. Since then, I've read dozens of books on freelancing and writing (and written a few of my own), so I was excited to do a Q and A with well-known writing instructor and coach, Christina Katz. She recently published a new book, The Writer's Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques from your Writing Career Coach, which you'll learn more about below 

So, what’s The Writer’s Workout all about?

The Writer’s Workout contains 366 ideas—one idea per day—intended to encourage writers into prosperous action. It reviews critical skills for every writer such as improving craft, learning to sell work, how and when to specialize, ways to keep learning and growing, self-promotion from the basics through advanced topics, and how to balance traditional publication with self-publication.

What makes The Writer’s Workout different from your first two books?

Like all my books, The Writer’s Workout is a mashup of various types of writing instruction. However this book contains a distillation of my experience, my students’ collective experiences over the past decade, and the universal experience of being a writer across the ages in the form of what I hope are 366 timeless quotes. This is my third book and it differs from my first two books quite a bit in focus, objective, and format.

How is The Writer’s Workout different from other writing books already out there?

One thing that makes The Writer’s Workout unique is that the rise and fall of the how-to curve is set against the backdrop of the seasons of the year. The seasonal backdrop helped me deliver advice for writers on four levels: beginner, intermediate, seasoned pro, and veteran—each paralleling a season: spring, summer, fall, or winter. The result, I hope, is one idea every day that will help writers find and maintain literary momentum all year long in these highly distracted times.

Some people say these are tough times for writers. Others say there are opportunities around every corner. What do you say?

I say we are living in a gig economy, where professionals are stringing freelance jobs together into creative careers. We’re all doing the best we can, finding and maintaining our momentum. Not only can The Writer’s Workout assist folks who are just getting started supplementing their income with writing, it can help people who have already been writing professionally recognize that there are more opportunities to build income streams writing than any of us have realized. And then it’s just a matter of choosing the goals that will best suit your goals.

How did you come to write The Writer’s Workout?

Prior to landing the deal for this book, I was offered the opportunity to write a different book about how to be an organized writer—a topic that, unfortunately, did not feel like a good fit for the way I work.

I recommended a former student for the job and started asking myself, if not that book, then what book did I want to write? Jane Friedman, then publisher at Writer’s Digest, and I sat down in an airport restaurant after the Writer’s Digest conference in January 2010, and brainstormed the idea that evolved into The Writer’s Workout. Basically, I wanted to encapsulate everything that I’d learned from working closely with writers over ten years. Two years and many thousands of words later, here it is.

I understand your book is almost 400-pages long, yet you offer classes on writing “short stuff” and “micro-publishing.” How do you reconcile this apparent double standard?

You have to look at it this way: the book is 366 short pieces collected and placed in an order that creates a longer movement. That’s exactly how I was taught to write fiction in graduate school. This write short before you write long school-of-thought is also how I teach writers to draft and polish publishable work. We start short and then extend the jumps until, next thing you know, the writer is writing long pieces like features, e-books and even books. How? By pulling together shorter pieces to create longer pieces.

You have been called a “gentle taskmaster” by your students. What does this mean and why would writers need this kind of help?

A coach is a person who trains others to perform better. Every writer needs a kick in the pants now and then. This book has plenty of boots in the caboose and also acknowledges the challenging times we’re living in. Reading this book is like having a personal coach for your writing career, who holds you accountable to your potential, every day of the year. Get this book if you would like to have your own personal coach without the massive expense of paying for one. You’ll be your own best writing coach by the time the book is done.

Our workdays are constantly disrupted these days. What do you say to the writer who has trouble focusing and following through?

I never hear students in my training groups complaining about dramas or distractions in their lives. If something upsets their focus, it’s a major life disturbance like a trip to the emergency room, a spouse’s job loss, or a death in the family. That’s life calling, not a distraction.

Our attention can be hijacked by one hundred and one meaningless distractions per minute. I say turn up the focus and the distractions will fall away. Drama and distraction are not necessary for self-expression but they sure can impede it. I say keep the drama on the page. You can get hooked on making grounded creative progress just as you can get hooked on chasing every distraction and fanning the flames of every potential drama.

Any final comments you would like to make in closing?

At the end of the day, it does not matter if you are self-published or traditionally published, blogging or not blogging, a book-sniffer or a digital diva, a social media maven or a social media deer-in-the-headlights—what matters is that you cultivate the creativity that wants to be expressed. That’s your job. Go do it!

***Thanks to Christina for her info-packed, practical book. If you've read it, please comment and me know what you think of it!