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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bidding to Get the Gig

When you freelance for print and online publications, you're offered a rate (almost always per-word) for your work. You either take the assignment or turn it down. Easy enough. But what happens when you have to bid on a job? Then you've got to determine what you'll charge, and this is tricky even for seasoned freelancers.

With that in mind, I offer these tips on bidding. First, try to get a sense of the client’s budget if at all possible. Let's say I'm asked by a regional publication how much I charge for reprints. I'll counter with, "What does your market usually pay for reprints?" The response will  affect how much I ask for. Here's the thing--I've had reprint markets pay as little as $40 and as much as $500 for rights to a story. I want to get as much as I can, but for a reprint (which requires very little work on my end), I'm more than happy to work with a publication's budget. 

Second, give reasons to support your bid. If I'm asked to quote my fee for a speech, for example, I point out that I've been a professional speaker for more than 10 years, and have keynoted corporate and nonprofit events. If I'm asked to quote a fee for ghostwriting, I'll highlight the fact that I've been ghostwriting books for nine years, and have experience working with traditional and POD publishers. Never give a bid without demonstrating what you're worth it. 

Third, if at all possible, provide your bid in writing. A written bid lets you demonstrate that you are clear on the the scope of the project and your client's goals. Taking the time to provide a written bid also prevents you from blurting out a number that's too low--and then regretting it later.  

Finally, make sure that you demonstrate how your background and experience sets you apart. Chances are that your potential client is looking at other writers, too, so your proposal needs to make it easy for the client to choose you over them, especially if your bid comes in higher than others. I'm upfront about the fact that I charge more money than (some) other ghostwriters. So I want to convince the client she wants me enough to choose me over someone who may be cheaper. That's why I always explain how I will approach the project (without giving too much away) before I bring up money. In other words, sell the client on you first, and then state your price. 

**Readers, do you agree with my tips on bidding? Would you like to see an example of a bid to a potential client? Let me know by commenting below. 

**Want to know more about ghostwriting, including content marketing? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition on Kindle. Prefer print? Stay tuned--Improvise Press will be releasing the print version in September, 2014! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2+2=4: How Math Can Make you a More Successful Freelancer

As a freelancer, I may work alone, but I'm always looking to other writers for strategies they use to become (and stay) successful--and then adopting them myself. That means I try to keep up on what new topics are trending among fellow freelancers (say, the demand for content marketing writers). But I have to admit I was surprised to learn of a new book for writers about something that impacts you as a freelancer (and a a person) every day--yet one you may not have given much thought to--math. So I did a Q and A with Laura Laing, a freelance writer and the author of Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money.

Q: I became a writer because I didn’t want to do math. :) Seriously, why is important that writers understand math? And how can math help you pitch more effectively? 

A: Let me allay your fears right off the bat: You don’t need to have a great understanding of trigonometry or Euclidean geometry or calculus. The math that most writers depend on every day is pretty darned basic. But there are basically three reasons math is useful to writers: It can help you tell a better story, get published and make more money. It really is that simple.

Not all readers are as enamored with the written word as we writers are. In fact, when was the last time you wrote a reported story without including at least one number? Numbers help readers better understand what you are conveying. And sometimes those numbers come in pretty ugly and difficult-to-understand packages. In that situation, it’s the writer’s job to wrangle those numbers into a format that gives even more meaning to the story.

And of course writing is critical for pitching — whether you want to write an article or a book. The query is basically a sales piece, right? You want to sell your services, ideas and expertise to an editor. Numbers have always been important in sales. For example, to demonstrate to the editor that your idea is a good one for the publication’s market, you might cite a statistic that links your story to the magazine’s readers. And it might be more impactful to translate a large number to a percentage: Instead of noting that nearly 26 million American have diabetes, it might be more striking to say that 10% of the U.S. population has diabetes. 

Finally, there is tons of math in the business of managing a freelance writing career. I believe that every freelancer should know their hourly rate, be able to set a project rate, and have a good sense of the time it takes to complete assignments. In addition, freelancers can use math to manage their goals and client diversity. This protects them when the unexpected happens — like a client suddenly bails or the bottom falls out of a particular industry. When writers avoid this kind of math, they’re pretty much throwing money away.

Q: Give me an example of a common math mistake, or one you’ve seen writers make. 

A: Percentages and percentage points are not the same thing, but that fact can be glossed over or completely ignored. Here’s a made-up example: 

"Average interest rates on personal savings accounts have grown by 1 percent since last year, increasing from 2 percent to 3 percent.”

But the interest rates haven’t increased by 1%. They’ve increased by 1 percentage point. In fact, in this example, the percentage increase is 50% — way more impressive than a mere 1%. 

But the biggest mistake I see writers make is avoiding the math altogether. I know lots of writers who feel completely out of their realm when it comes to computations. It’s a real shame if the story suffers because the writer feels intimidated by the math. 

Q: Tell me a little bit about how the book came about, and why you decided to write it in the first place. 

A: A lot of my writer friends were really surprised when I published my first book, Math for Grownups. “You know how to do math??? But you’re a writer!!” As I talked to more and more writers about math (and revealed my former life as a high school math teacher), I realized that a really big chunk of them were absolutely terrified of math. It didn’t take me long to decide that my second book would be Math for Writers

My whole take on math is that everyone can learn it. But as adults, we often come to the table with really bad experiences — condescending teachers, prolonged frustrations, that giant red XA lot of the work I do is convincing people that they can overcome these mental blocks and get good at the math they need to really be successful.

Q: I think I see a knowledge and understanding of math as yet another way a writer can stand out from the crowd, so to speak. You’ve been a very successful freelancers, so I have two questions—what attributes do think are important to thriving today as a self-employed writer? And what attributes have helped you succeed? 

A: I think successful freelance writers are strategic. This means setting measurable goals, knowing which rules to break and when, and managing their business in ways that maximize opportunities. It also means putting our emotions in our back pocket sometimes. That doesn’t mean we ignore our feelings — not at all! — but in order to make decisions, it can be good to recognize that our reactions to situations may not be the best barometer. 

Here’s an example: This year, I made the decision to fire my biggest client. I’d been working with them for four years, and in 2013, they represented 50 percent of my income. I might have allowed my fear (a very normal reaction) to keep them on board. Instead, I mapped out a plan for replacing the work. (Yes, I used math, but it was really basic stuff, I promise!)

Of course there are other useful attributes as well: perseverance, creativity, diligence, and a willingness to take risks. I’ve found that with a clear plan that’s based in facts that I can verify, these other values fall right into place. It’s so easy for me to get off track when I don’t know where I’m going!

**Thanks so much to Laura for this Q and A, and be sure to check out Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money. Visit her website to check out her full virtual book tour roster and sign up for a free, live teleseminar just for writers who need math:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Importance of Powerful Pitching

New freelancers sometimes focus on how to write for clients, overlooking the obvious--that before you can write for a client, you must have one. And that means knowing how to pitch. In fact, if you can't pitch new markets, you may as well forget about succeeding as a freelancer. So I was happy to talk with freelancer and writing instructor Anne Trubek, Professor at Oberlin College, Editor-in-Chief of Belt ( and Founder of The Thinking Writer, about this very topic. Our Q and A appears below.

Q: I think pitching is arguably the most important skill for a freelancer, especially a new one, to possess. Do you agree with this, and why or why not? 

A: Yes--not just because you need to pitch to get good assignments, but developing a good pitch is a great way to understand all the components of a story, from focus (what’s the subject line of the email pitch? can you focus your topic to a good subject line?) to structure (how will you describe the structure do in one sentence or two?), tone, research, etc. 

Q: I know that as a new freelancer, most of my pitches stunk—and were rejected. What common mistakes do you see writers making when they pitch? 

A: Agreed! It took me a very long period of trial and error to get good at pitching. 

Many writers don't have a clear enough focus or angle, haven’t done the proper research in advance, or lack any news hook or “timely” element. These were all things that I struggled with when I first pitching as well. 

Q: I have a four-paragarph template I use to pitch that includes a lead; a “why-write-it” section; a “nuts-and-bolts” section where I describe how I plan to approach the story; and an ISG (I’m-so-great), where I make the case for being THE writer for the story. Do you tend to use a template too? Why or why not? 

A: That is more or less the template I use, but I now tailor my pitches much more specifically to the publication. I also am writing shorter pitches lately: we run lots of editor Q & As  in all The Thinking Writer courses, and editors seem to prefer short, one to two paragraph (max) pitches now. Some of the information I used to always put in the initial pitch I now  communicate in a an email back and forth if the editor is interested. 

Q: Anne, I know you teach classes at The Thinking Writer. Tell me more about your classes, and how writers can benefit from them. And are they geared more toward new writers or more experienced ones? 

A: These classes began with two main groups of writers in mind: women (in response to the VIDA statistics about gender disparity in bylines), and academics who wanted to write for general audiences (because I was once exactly that!). But it has evolved over the 3 years The Thinking Writer has been around. Now I think the class ["How to Pitch and Submit"] is very well suited to freelancers with a smidgen of experience (enough so they know what “pitch” means--although we do walk through those terms in the class) and those with experience but who either want a way to help them get a lot of work done in those two weeks (say, write and submit an op-ed during the op-ed course, or pitch 4 book reviews during the book review course) or want to write for more “thinky” publications. For instance, last year a full-time experienced freelancer took the course because he wanted to work on cracking some dream markets--and he did! A pitch he worked on in the class became a feature for the Sunday New York Times Magazine just a month after class was over. 

Q: Anything else you think is critical about pitching that freelancers should know? 

A: Read! Read the publication you are pitching. I’m sure most folks have heard that advice before. Just a reminder ;) 

Q: Oh, tell me a bit about your background, and how you started teaching these kinds of classes for writers.  

A: I was once just a professor--I taught English at Oberlin College. About 10 years ago I decided I wanted to write for general audiences, and taught myself how to pitch, learn about publications, etc.  I loved doing it! So I left academia and became a freelancer. Then, when the VIDA statistics  came out showing gender disparity in bylines for “literary publications,” I decided to bring my teaching experience to bear on the freelance game, and started these classes in order to help women pitch those publications. Since then, The Thinking Writer has broadened: we now teach 3 different courses--How To Pitch, Writing About Books and Writing and Publishing Op-Eds and Commentaries. These days, I am also the editor of a magazine I started--Belt ( and so I now receive pitches from writers. And boy do they make lots of rookie mistakes! 

If you want to make fewer (or no!) rookie mistakes, be sure to check out classes at The Thinking Writer. And thanks again to Anne for today's Q and A!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Freelance Writers Made in 2013

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I talk about money a fair amount. As a freelancer, I think it's important to know not only what you're making, but what other freelancers are making. It's also also helpful to know what markets are paying--you can negotiate for more money for a publication that you know pays more than its offered rate, for example, and set rates for projects that are in line with what other writers are charging. 

So I'm happy to share the results of a freelance income survey conducted earlier this year by, a resource for established, professional nonfiction writers. (I've been an off-and-on member of FreelanceSuccess--known as "FLX" to subscribers--for years, and often recommend it to new freelancers. It's an excellent of market info and a place to connect with smart, successful writers.)

FLX surveyed 100 of its members in early January, asking what they'd made in 2013. Of the full-time freelancers:    

  • 1.5 percent made less than $10,000
  • 9.1 percent made between $10,000 and $24,000
  • 10.6 percent made between $25,000 and $39,000
  • 36.4 percent made between $40,000 and $74,000
  • 28.8 percent made between $75,000 and more, including 
  • the 13.6 percent who made $125,000 or more.  
That's more than a quarter of writers making $75,000+, good news for those of us who aspire to make serious money as writers. 

Self-described "part-time" freelancers reported the following income: 

  • 22.9 percent made less than $10,000
  • 22.9 percent made between $10,000 and $24,000
  • 22.9 percent made between $25,000 and $39,000
  • 25.7 percent made between $40,000 and $74,000
  • 5.7 percent made more than $75,000. 
Not surprisingly, the part-time writers make significantly less than their full-time peers. But with more than 30 percent grossing more than $40,000, I still think you can work part-time hours and produce decent money. (I do!) 

Just as important, forty-eight percent--nearly half--of freelancers said they made more in 2013 than in 2012, while another 30 percent made about the same amount of money. 

And just what types of work were these freelancers doing to make money? The top eight answers included: 

  • 39.1 percent were doing corporate writing
  • 33.3 percent were doing marketing writing
  • 32.2 percent were writing for websites 
  • 26.4 percent were writing blogs 
  • 23.3 were ghostwriting
  • 19.5 percent were writing for consumer magazines
  • 18.4 percent were writing social media posts
  • 12.6 percent were writing for trade magazines
Thanks to Jennie Phipps of FLX for permission to share these figures. Regardless of what type of writing you do, however, there are simple ways that you can boost your productivity and make more money. Next post, we'll share some of them. 

** Don't forget, the luck of the Irish offer ends at midnight, Monday, March 24! Use the discount code SHAMROCK (all caps) for 25 percent off of the cover price of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Pitch Didn't Sell

Pitching and getting rejected is part of freelancing. But wouldn't you rather pitch more effectively--and sell more of your ideas from the outset?

As writers, we sometimes get caught up with what our own great ideas. I've been guilty of this, too. I come up with an idea that I think is compelling, and I write the pitch. I craft a strong lead, give plenty of detail about how I plan to approach the piece, and highlight my unique qualifications. Then it doesn't sell, and afterwards, I realize I neglected an essential element--why readers of the publication I pitched will care about the story.  

In fact, you must demonstrate this in every pitch, especially markets that are new to you. Remember that a solid query has four elements: 

  • A lead to catch the editor's attention; 
  • More detail about the topic to prove that the topic will work for this market, what I call the "why-write-it" section;
  • The "nuts and bolts," where you explain how you plan to approach the topic; and
  • The ISG, or "I'm-so-great," where you highlight your unique qualifications to write the piece. 

You make your case for the story in the "why write it" section. Here are some examples of how I've demonstrated why readers will care about a topic: 

  • When pitching a woman's magazine a health feature on the surprising causes of fatigue, I cited a recent survey that stated that "fatigue" was in the top ten health complaints for women. I was assigned a 1,800-word piece at $2,5000. 
  • When pitching a true life feature about a woman who had a mysterious disease, I highlighted the inherent drama of the story, including the fact that she had sought treatment from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic--and the doctors there had told her she wasn't sick. (She in fact was very ill.) I was assigned a 1,000-word story for $500.  
  •  When pitching a piece on heart rate training for a men's body building magazine, I pointed out that most men who lift hate doing cardio (they'd much rather pump iron) but that my article would show them how to do it more effectively and efficiently. I was assigned a 1,200-word piece for $1,200. 
  • When pitching a health website about the connection between religious weight loss programs, I cited both their growing popularity posture and the fact that one of the program directors had a current, best-selling book. I was assigned a 700-word piece for $700. 
Get the idea? Look at your idea and make sure you can demonstrate to the editor why her readers will be interested in the topic. You'll boost your chance of getting the assignment! 

**Today is one of my favorites holidays--St. Patrick's Day. In honor of my Irish grandmother, Colleen, and my daughter's Irish "first mom," Chaleigh, I'm offering a special offer on my Improvise Press titles. For a limited time, you'll get 25 percent off of the cover price of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, when you use the discount code SHAMROCK (all caps). 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Luck of the Irish=25 Percent off of Improvise Press Titles!

Monday, March 17, marks one of my favorites holidays--St. Patrick's Day. In honor of my Irish grandmother, Colleen, and my daughter's Irish "first mom," Chaleigh, I'm offering a special offer on my Improvise Press titles. For a limited time, you'll get 25 percent off of the cover price of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition, and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, when you use the discount code SHAMROCK (all caps). 

And tune in Monday for a post on an essential element that's lacking from many queries--and how to make sure yours stands out from the pack!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Write a Content Marketing Proposal

Not sure about how to write a content marketing proposal? That's the topic I just covered for Jennifer Goforth Gregory over at her extremely helpful blog, the Content Marketing Writer. Check it out for tips on how to help you write a proposal that gets you the content marketing gig!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How Diet Mountain Dew Helped me Sell a Story: Another Query That Worked

Hate writing queries and pitches? You're not alone. I get more questions from freelancers about queries (and contracts) than about any other topic. I've found that queries from new writers fail for two primary reasons--they're either too short and lack detail, or they're too long and lack focus. Finding the right balance and giving enough detail so that the editor can say "yes" without going overboard takes time and practice. Having a template always helps! 

I'll be speaking at the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic's Spring Assembly on Friday, April 4, 2013. I've been asked to show dietitians how they can write about diet and nutrition--and get paid for it--and as part of that, I'll be emphasizing the importance of a strong query. Here's a query that worked for me that I'll be sharing with my audience, with my comments in blue:   

Dear Ross:

Your eyes don't even open until after your second cup of coffee? No sweat, right? Think again. If you're hooked on Red Bull, Redline, or just the ever-popular joe, your caffeine addiction may be hurting your health. Research presented last fall at the American College of Emergency Physicians' annual meeting found that over three years, more than 250 people reported symptoms of caffeine abuse to a Chicago poison control center. Thirty-one were hospitalized from medical complications due to caffeine intake. Other studies have found that caffeine intake increases the level of cortisol and other stress hormones. [I like this lead. It's timely, mentioning the recent research, and shows that I've done some background reporting to write this query.]  

Yet athletes have long realized that caffeine has performance-boosting effects, and a slew of studies support it. In the last year alone, published research found that caffeine boosts speed during short-term, high-intensity exercise and the amount of weight (for a 1-rep max) you can lift during a bench press trial. And a survey of 140 elite athletes competing in the Ironman Triathalon World Championships found that 9 in 10 planned to use caffeine-containing substances before or during the competition. [Where did this research come from? I'd just finished a piece on using caffeine for athletic performance for a fitness magazine. I include it here to show the editor that I'm already informed about this topic.]

If you're competing in a 5K or want a lift before a demanding workout, how much caffeine should you take for optimal performance? And how do you determine your "safe" upper limit for caffeine consumption? In other words, how much caffeine is just right? [Here's the question that my article will answer, and I believe that readers of this publication--in the case, The Chicago Tribune--will want to know that answer! My editor agreed, and assigned the piece.] 

“The Caffeine Conundrum: Performance Boost or Health Risk?” will address this issue, describing the growing problem of caffeine abuse and its related health dangers. It will also describe caffeine's fitness-related benefits, and help readers determine how much caffeine is right for them, depending on their fitness goals, lifestyles, and other factors. I plan to interview experts such as Danielle McCarthy, MD, at Northwestern University (lead presenter of the ACEP caffeine abuse study) for this story; a possible sidebar will include a sidebar of caffeine-containing foods and beverages, with the amount of caffeine each contains. While I estimate 1,000 words for this piece, that's flexible depending on your needs. [I've provided a working title, and suggested possible experts and a sidebar. I've also described what my article will include.]

Ross, I hope you'll find this important topic a good fit for your "Health" section of Q. I think the popularity of caffeinated drinks and the fitness aspect of this subject make it a great fit for your readers, and hope you'll agree that it's a topic worth exploring. I've been a fulltime freelancer for the last decade; my work has also appeared in magazines including Redbook, Self, Health, Continental, Fitness, Woman's Day, and Shape. (And as a Diet Mountain Dew addict, I think I can bring a unique perspective to this story!) [This is what I call the ISG, or I'm-so-great. Play up your background, experience, even your caffeine addiction if it will help you sell a story!] 

Let me know if you have any questions about this pitch, and I'll be in touch soon with another story idea as well. 

All my best,

I think it's clear why this pitch sold. Yes, the query is a little long--usually my queries are just four paragraphs--but I wanted to show the depth of my knowledge of this subject. Do the same with your pitches, and you'll boost your chances of getting a sale. 

**Want to see more queries that sold, and why? Check out my two latest books from Improvise Press