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Monday, May 31, 2010

5 More Reasons to Ghostwrite

Last post, I talked about how ghostwriting eliminates the need to promote and sell a book after it’s published—that’s the client’s job. That huge time savings (and potential money-making factor) is, in my opinion, the biggest advantage to ghostwriting but there are other advantages as well:

Bigger advances. If your client is a subject matter expert or well-known person, it’s likely you’ll get a bigger advance (even if you only get a portion of it) than for a book under your own name. Today publishing is driven all by platform—to get a book contract, you’ll need platform, and the bigger, the better. As a fulltime freelancer, chances are your platform isn’t too big, but as a ghost you don’t have to worry about that.

You can write about subjects that conflict with (or at least don’t contribute to) your overall reputation as a journalist. I’m known as a health, fitness, and nutrition specialist but ghostwriting lets me tackle different subjects without “diluting” my platform. If you’re a well-known parenting writer, for example, you can still ghostwrite a raunchy bio for a former porn star and your readers (and Facebook fans) will be none the wiser.

If a book doesn’t sell, it won’t hurt you. If you publish a book under your name that sells poorly, that may hurt your chances of selling another book in the future--or at least your chances of getting a decent advance. (Unfortunately I’ve experienced this firsthand.) But with a ghosted book, poor sales figures aren’t your problem.

You can stretch yourself as a writer. Last year I worked on a memoir for a client that was a far cry from the “how-to” service journalism I typically do. I had to develop a narrative arc, employ telling characterization and dialogue, demonstrate conflict, and develop symbols and an overall theme for the book. Revisiting these skills (I’m a published novelist) strengthened not only my client’s book but my current writing ability as well.

You can step outside yourself. As a freelancer, you're usually writing in your own voice. It comes naturally. When you ghostwrite, you have information to convey—whether it’s a compelling life story or a new technique to beat stress—and you have to convey it in someone else's words and someone else's voice. That forces you out of your usual writing style, and makes work that may have become rote much more challenging—and fulfilling.

How about it? Let me hear from the ghostwriters out there…what do you find fulfilling about ghostwriting?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Invisible Authors Can Make More Money

Writers Digest publisher Jane Friedman recently tweeted an eye-catching stat from Book Expo America, or BEA. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article, 7 percent of traditionally-published books generate 87 percent of book sales, and 93 percent of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies.

For a midlist author like me, that’s pretty scary. But here’s the thing—despite sales projections, marketing plans, big-name endorsements, a kick-butt social media presence, thousands of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and oh yeah, a compelling book, you simply don’t know how many copies of a book you’ll sell. That’s why as an author, you should assume the advance (the money you’re paid upfront to write the book) is the only money you’re going to see for the book.

The vast majority of books (more than 80 percent) fail to “earn out,” or pay royalties. But you still want your book to sell, right? You want royalties. You want big sales. Let's admit it, you want a bestseller. So you spend months both before and after it’s published securing blurbs, getting reviews, writing articles, blogging, speaking, printing up postcards, visiting bookstores, you name it…all to help sell your book. And it may pay off—or it may not.

Because there's an essential conundrum every book author faces:

1. To sell your book, you must commit substantial time to marketing it.

2. The time you spend marketing will not make you money (unless you eventually earn out and receive royalties), forcing you to either work more to make up the difference in lost time and income or take a cut in what you're making (which most of us freelancers can't afford to do) … or both.

That's why I started ghostwriting and collaborating on books as opposed to only writing my own. As a ghostwriter or coauthor, when the book is done, I'm done. I’m not “stuck” spending my limited, precious time promoting the book and going broke in the meantime--that's my client or coauthor's responsibility.

And ghostwriting can be lucrative, even while the average advances given by traditional publishers stagnate and fall. Here’s what I've made on some recent ghosting and coauthoring projects:

$20,000 for a 60,000-word book for a nonprofit organization.

$15,000 for a 40,000-word book for a book packager (the author already had 14,000 words written).

$12,000 for a 55,000-word book; while this was a “ghost” project, I actually worked more as a developmental editor as much of the book was already written but needed expanding, editing, and rewriting for voice and flow.

$25,000 for an 80,000-word manuscript for an expert who had a contract with a major publisher; my client wrote one-third of the manuscript while I wrote the rest of it and edited her section for voice and consistency.

These numbers aren't huge advances, true. But I'm being paid for the writing of the book, not its promotion, and that more than makes it worthwhile.

What about you? Are you ghosting, or considering it? What do you want to know about this niche?

In future posts, I’ll report more on the lucrative field of ghostwriting, how to break in, and how to determine whether it’s right for you. In the meantime, for an insider’s look at ghosting, check out, an excellent blog hosted by two smart, successful ghostwriters.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Talk about Money...How Much are you Making?

Let’s talk money some more. How much are you making this year? How does it compare to last year?

Here’s the thing—I talk about money. Maybe it's a character flaw, but I think other writers should, too. There’s a perception (a misconception, in my opinion) that freelancing is a good way to starve. But for me, and thousands of other successful self-employed writers, freelancing more than pays the bills. So why isn’t that info getting out there?

Sure, plenty of writers are making little money. But are they going where the money is—in other words, writing for clients who pay reasonably well? Are they writing what people want to pay for, not what they particularly feel like writing that day? Hey, I would love to be a fulltime novelist—and I already have two published novels under my belt. But I can’t make a living writing fiction…unless I can figure out how to live on $7,500/year, which is what I got as the advance for each of those novels. (Insert dejected sigh here.)

Anyway, there isn’t a lot of info out there about what freelancers are making money-wise today. Writer’s Market includes an annual roundup of going rates for different kinds of work, and if you’re a member of ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), you have access to Paycheck, where members anonymously report what they’re paid by different publishers. But what are we making annually these days?

When I was working on Six-Figure Freelancing, I found only two surveys about freelancer's income. One was a 2003 survey of 369 ASJA members. At that time, 41% made more than $50,000 a year, including 12% grossing more than $100,000 annually. Another survey of nearly 500 freelancers conducted by Doreesa Banning in 2004 found that while nearly 68.9% of respondents made less than $50,000 a year, more than 30% made more than that, including 7% who made more than $100,000 annually. (Visit for more about the survey.)

What about you? Where do you fall on the income bell curve? I’ll tell you that in 2009, I grossed about $52,000 last year, working an average of 15 hours/week. In 2008, I made $57,500, working about 18 hours/week. However, this year I’m on target to make significantly less than that, which means it’s time for me to market myself much more aggressively.

Still, I’m curious about what other freelancers are making and thought about asking for feedback here. Then reality interceded; after all, I do realize not everyone is as willing to share their annual income in a public forum. So I’ve set up an anonymous survey to report on the current state of what we're making as freelancers. Please visit to participate in the survey (it will take you 3 minutes or less!) and I’ll report on the results by the end of June. After all, more information about money=more power for freelancers. And that is an excellent thing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Market like a Maven (or, How to Succeed in your Freelance Biz)

Hopefully my post from earlier today (see below) didn’t scare you. The message? Marketing is critical to any freelancer’s business but it doesn’t pay off until you get paying work. So how exactly do you do that? By marketing efficiently, effectively, and consistently.

If you freelance for magazines, websites, and/or newspapers, the query letter is the most important weapon in your freelancer’s marketing arsenal. Use these 6 techniques to make your queries stand out from the pack:

Capture the editor’s attention. Let me tell you about my first few queries. They sucked! I started most of them with language like, “I am a freelance writer who is interested in writing for your magazine...” Snooze alert! Now I start my queries with a lead—almost always the lead I use for the article itself. You want to intrigue your editor just as your story will intrigue readers.

• Pick up the phone…or at least send an email. Magazine editors come, go, change positions, titles, and responsibilities with alarming speed. Don’t rely on outdated writers' guidelines to tell you who the appropriate editor is—pick up the phone and ask the receptionist for the name (and correct spelling) of the editor you’re looking for. Got “phone phobia?” Then send out an email…but I find calling gets me the info a lot quicker.

• Demonstrate familiarity. Let the editor know you’ve read her publication by saying something like, “Interested in this idea for your ‘Latest News’ [or whatever section/department is appropriate] section?” You’re not just another writer trolling through Writer’s Market for a quick sale—you’ve done your homework, so let him know.

Make it easy for him to say yes. When I pitch a story, I suggest a working title, word count, possible sidebars, and list the types of sources I plan to interview. If he likes my idea, and my angle, all he has to do is pick up the phone and assign the piece. Think like your editor, and offer him a package, not just an idea.

• Strut your stuff. Highlight your relevant writing experience and demonstrate to the editor that you are “uniquely qualified” (keep reading this blog and you'll hear me use that phrase again and again!) to write this article. If you’re pitching a gardening piece and grow award-winning cucumbers, mention that. If you’re writing on social media and have 10,000 followers on Twitter, include that. If your profile subject has agreed to be interviewed for the piece, let the editor know. You want him to read your query and think, “Wow—this writer is the perfect person to do this story!”

• Don’t give up. When you get a rejection (what I call a “bong”) from an editor, follow up immediately (with a day or two) with a new query. Start off saying something like, “thank you for your response (not rejection!) to my query about [fill-in-the-blank.] While I’m sorry you can’t use it at this time, I have another idea for you to consider.” Then include your new query. By doing this, you’ll start developing a relationship with the editor…eventually nail an assignment. Case in point: it took me multiple queries to crack big markets like Woman’s Day, Redbook, Health, and Fitness, so don’t give up. The next query you send may be the one that nets you your first assignment from that magazine...and turns your marketing into actual money.

How to Fail in your New Freelance Business

Here’s what no one tells you about starting a freelance business. At the onset--and for some time thereafter--you're going to spend the majority of your time marketing, whether that means researching and writing query letters, making cold calls to potential corporate clients, sending LOIs (letters of introduction) to trade or specialty magazines, and/or contacting book packagers or other potential ghostwriting clients. And that marketing time never pays off…unless it turns into assignments.

Hey, I don't want to have to market myself. I’d be a happy little clam if I never had to write another query, LOI, or book proposal. I’d just sit at my desk (better yet, play basketball outside with my son) and field offers of work on my Iphone. And some work does come to me…a lot, actually. But even today, the majority of my work still comes as a result of me selling me, and marketing my business to potential clients. It's time I have to put in to remain busy and successful.

What about you? Remember that marketing yourself is only one aspect of your business that doesn’t produce income. There’s also business management tasks like sending invoices, following up on late payments, filing, organizing giant piles of papers on your desk (maybe that's just me), tracking expenses, keeping up on email, doing online networking (like this blog), replacing office supplies, you name it. My point is that when you launch a freelance career, only a small percentage of your time will be actually writing for money, so you need to market yourself as efficiently as possible.

My first six months of my writing career, my time broke down like this:

Marketing (including research, writing queries, cold calls) 75–90 %
Writing for pay (including research/interviews/writing) 10–20 %
Business management tasks 5–10%

Get the idea? The vast majority of my time was spent marketing, but once I started getting assignments and developing regular clients, that percentage started to drop as the percentage of time I spent writing for money went up.

Within 18 months, I had a handful of steady clients, which significantly reduced the amount of time I spent looking for new markets and researching and writing queries. Plus, my queries were more likely to result in sales. All good news.

Now my time broke down like this:

Marketing (including research, writing queries, cold calls) 10–20%
Writing for pay (including research/interviews/writing) 60–80%
Business management tasks 5–10%
Speaking/teaching 5–10%

If your marketing never results in assignments, or doesn’t result in enough assignments, your freelance writing business will tank before it ever gets going. That’s why you have to make the most of your marketing time—and next post I’ll talk about how to write queries that will boost your chance of getting paying work.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Forget per-word rates

So, what are you making per word for your magazine articles? $1/word? $2/word? $0.40/word?

Who cares? I only care about what I make per-hour.

Per-word rates are the norm in the magazine world. This figure, multiplied by word count, tells you how much you’ll make for writing a particular story. But it may not tell you whether it’s worth it to take it on. The real question is how much time the story will take—the assignment amount divided by the number of hours you put into it gives you your hourly rate for the piece.

Knowing how much time an article (or any other project, for that matter) will take gives you a concrete idea of the return on your time. And those $1/word and up assignments can be mighty misleading. Sure, it’s a bigger check than writing for a market that pays a lower per-word rate. But are you really making more money?

For example, let’s say I do a 1,000-word story for a national magazine that pays $1.50/word. Fair enough—I’m getting paid $1,500 for my work. But what happens if between researching and writing the query, writing an outline (per my editor), researching the article, finding sources, doing interviews, transcribing interviews, writing the piece, turning in the piece, revising the piece (per my editor’s request), finding new sources (per my editor), interviewing those sources, turning in the final revision, submitting my backup material, answering additional questions from the editor (say, nine months later…it happens), I’ve put 25 hours into my story? That means I’ve made $60/hour on that story.

Not bad, but here’s the thing—compare that to a 1,000-word piece on the same topic for a smaller magazine that pays only $0.35/word. Yet I know the editor and my query is just a short paragraph. The story requires some background research and several interviews, and takes me a total of five hours to write. (No revisions requested! Yay!) That a total of $350, for five hours’ worth of work—or $70/hour.

At first glance, the $1,500 piece looks like a better assignment—and it is a bigger check. But my experience has been that national markets (and I’ve written for more than 50 of them) expect a lot more work from you to earn that higher rate. In many cases, I’ve found that regional magazines, trade publications and specialty magazines actually pay better per-hour than their national counterparts. And that makes them worthwhile markets for me.

What about you? Are you tracking your time…or just your dollars?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One idea=one story? Wrong!

As a freelancer, you have a limited number of hours to dedicate to earning money from your work, whether you’re writing part- or full-time. That’s why I make the most of mine by squeezing as much as I can out of my research—by selling “reslants” to other markets. I never write about an idea only once. I'm always looking to cover it again for another magazine.

Reslanting is writing about the same topic more than once, with a different angle, for a new market. And it’s a way to work much more efficiently, boosting your hourly rate.

It took me several years to grasp this fact, though. When I first launched my career, I dug for story ideas, looked for appropriate markets, and queried magazines. When I got an assignment, I wrote the article. Then it was on to the next idea, the next market, the next story.

I wrote about topics ranging from how avoiding employment discrimination claims to memory improvement techniques to animal dissection alternatives to religious weight loss programs. Each story took a considerable amount of time to research, but once I was finished with it, I never revisited the topic. Not smart.

Does that sound like how you work? Then break yourself of the one idea=one story habit right now. Instead, start thinking about the different ways you can reslant material to different markets. That lets you take advantage of the information that’s already in your head, in your interview transcripts, and on your hard drive, reducing the amount of time you spend researching and writing your next piece. Sure, you may do additional interviews, but the lion’s share of the work (wrapping your brain around a new subject) has already been completed.

Not sure how to do it? Put your brainstorming hat on. You pitched a specific angle on a particular topic to one market. You wrote the piece--or you're writing it now. Don't stop there. Think about the different angles you can take with the subject, and which markets might be interested in them.

For example, last year I was assigned a piece on the health benefits of gratitude for a custom magazine. (I'd never written about gratitude before, though I am the mistress of thank-you notes.) Using the same basic research and one additional interview, I wrote a piece on helping your kids become more grateful for a major newspaper. Then I wrote a piece on surprising ways to be happy (including becoming more grateful) for a woman’s magazine. Get the idea? The idea—gratitude is good for you—was the same, but by coming up with different slants and markets, I sold three stories based on the idea. And I’m still pitching related stories now.

So break free from the concept that one idea=one story for one market. Instead, think one idea=multiple angles, multiple stories, multiple markets, multiple checks. Reslanting lets you cover a subject more than once, and each subsequent story takes less time to research and write than a wholly original idea. Bottom line is that you're making making more money…in less time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

One of the reasons I make good money as a freelancer is that I no longer try to write about anything and everything the way I did my first year or two of being self-employed. I found that to be a good recipe for working my butt off…and not making very much money. As a specialist, I’ve developed lucrative niches that make it easier to market myself, boost the likelihood of getting assignments from new-to-me markets, increase the amount of money I can charge, and give me an inventory of material I can resell again and again.

What about you? Do you specialize? If not, why not?

Here’s the thing. Simply by living your life up until now, you've learned about a variety of subjects. Chances are you've worked a number of jobs, probably in different industries. You've had relationships with people—family, coworkers, lovers, friends. You've taken classes, maybe obtained a college degree or two. You've overcome obstacles. You've explored hobbies. You've developed interests, likes, dislikes, opinions, goals and dreams.

Each of us has a unique history and life experience. If you'd like to break into print, or if you want to make more money from your freelance work, why not harness that experience to help you do so?

I've been a fulltime freelance journalist since 1997, and I've been teaching magazine writing and speaking at writers' conferences and other events throughout the U.S. for almost as long. I've helped new (read: inexperienced) writers get published for the first time, helped seasoned writers break into more lucrative markets, and helped writers of all experience levels work more efficiently and make more money as a result.

All by suggesting that they specialize.

Let me make something clear. Specializing doesn't prevent you from writing about anything you want to. You still have that option. (And I do venture out of my pigeonhole occasionally to tackle new subjects.) It does mean that you focus on your unique strengths and background, especially as a new writer. Specializing can get you into print. And over time, it can transform a so-so freelance career into one that lets you reach your dreams and monetary goals.

First, limiting the majority of my work to several subject areas means I have a background in most of the topics I cover. That means that I can stay on top of what's happening in my specialities, research and pitch articles more quickly, and research and write them more quickly once I get assignments. That makes me much more efficient than someone who’s always covering new subjects (say, a travel writer always covering new destinations or a profile writer).

Creating a nonfiction specialty (or specialties) can also help you:

• Get more assignments, even as an inexperienced writer;
• Command higher per-word rates;
• Position yourself as an expert and build a platform (all-important if you want to write books);
• Obtain assignments from higher-paying markets;
• Develop relationships with editors and other clients;
• Create an inventory of stories for reprinting and reselling;
• Branch into other types of writing (such as books and corporate work); and
• Break into new subject areas.

Set Yourself Apart from the Pack

Imagine that you're an editor at a magazine. Chances are that you're overworked and underpaid. One of your many tasks is assigning stories to fill the pages of your magazine. Every issue. No matter what.

That's the bad news. The good news is you've got no shortage of freelancers to help you do it. In fact, you receive hundreds, maybe thousands of queries a month. Some are from experienced writers; many more are from "newbies" with little in the way of clips or experience. Who do you choose to work with?

The writer who you believe can deliver the story. And all things being equal, would you rather assign this piece to a freelancer who's new to the subject, or the one who already has experience with it?

The answer is clear. That's why I suggest that new writers (and even experienced writers pitching new or hard-to-break-into markets) start by pitching stories they are "uniquely qualified" to write. Then highlight that experience with a query that includes four basic parts:

• The lead, which is designed to catch the editor's attention. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote. The key is that it interests the editor enough to continue reading.

• The "why write it" section. This paragraph (or two, if you have a particularly detailed query) fleshes out the idea, demonstrating why the readers of the magazine will be interested in the topic. If the readers will care, your editor will care, too.

• The "nuts and bolts" paragraph. Here you give the details of the story itself. What types of sources will you contact? How long will the story be? Will it have sidebars, and if so, how many? What section of the magazine will the story fit in? What's the working title?

• The "I-am-so-great" paragraph (or "ISG"). Here, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter. This is the paragraph where you showcase your unique qualifications and convince the editor to give you the assignment.

Let me give you a few examples of compelling I-am-so-great paragraphs from early in my freelance career:

• When I pitched a story on a hidden dating treasure (also known as "shy guys"), I made sure that I mentioned that I am an extrovert who fell in love with and married a shy guy. ("10 Reasons to Date a Shy Guy," Complete Woman, October/November, 1997.)

• I pitched a true-life feature about a young woman's struggle with a serious, debilitating yet undiagnosed medical problem to a number of women's magazines. In my ISG, I wrote that I had already spoken with the woman and had her permission to write her story. ("An Answer at Last," Woman's World, April 7, 1998.)

• When I queried a bridal magazine with a story idea on the importance of communicating about money, I included an anecdotal lead about a money argument between newlyweds. In my ISG, I revealed that the couple was me and my newlywed husband. ("A Match Made in Financial Heaven," Bridal Guide, March/April, 1998.)

But the ISG isn't only for new writers. As I've garnered experience in a variety of subject areas, I've harnessed it to break into new markets as well as other types of writing. For example:

• When sending a letter of introduction to IGA Grocergram, a trade magazine for grocery store owners, I neglected to include that I'd recently worked part-time at Trader Joe's, a specialty grocery store. But when I followed up with editor by phone, you better believe I worked that fact into the conversation! My firsthand experience with “end caps” and loading the reefer (nope, it’s not what you think) helped cinch a steady gig for me.

• When contacting The Pampered Chef about freelancing for their corporate communications department, I mentioned my relevant experience writing about food and nutrition for national magazines. (I'm not a big cook; otherwise, I would have said so.) The marketing director received dozens of letters but this fact helped my letter of introduction stand out—and got me a lucrative freelance assignment.

• When sending a letter of introduction to a medical consulting firm, I mentioned both my health-writing background and my work (even though it had been years prior) doing PR for a small hospital. Once again, I got the gig.

Get it? The idea is to always look for some connection you have with the work you're pitching, even if it's a tenuous one.

Do What I Say, Not What I Did

Let me confess something: I didn't start out as a freelancer understanding the importance of a powerful ISG. I learned the hard way, sending out hundreds of queries that were rejected. I would pitch any and every idea, regardless of how much I knew about the subject—and my sketchy, poorly conceived queries reflected that. So did my annual income.

When it came to magazines, my approach at the time was to look for possible story ideas and then find the appropriate markets for those articles. I was querying several dozen magazines at the same time—an approach I don’t recommend. Yet a few assignments trickled in. BRIDE’S assigned me a piece on combining two households into one when you marry. Vegetarian Times asked me to write a 600-word story on creating a local vegetarian group. I wrote about a unique high school paper for the trade magazine Editor& Publisher. The Lion asked me to cover a charity car show sponsored by the local Lions club after I pitched the idea.

What made these ideas—the ones that were actually assigned—different from the ones that were rejected? Well, I had some kind of experience with all of the successful pitches. I'd recently combined two households when I married my husband. I’d met a woman who'd started her own local vegetarian group in a nearby small town. I'd attended an educational conference where I met the founder of the high school paper, l paper at a conference, and I'd contacted the martial arts expert about doing a story after I read about him in the local paper. As for the Lions car show? It was held in my town every year—who better than me to write about it?

So far, so good. I was learning the importance of the ISG, even if I didn't call it that yet. But during this time, I had no intention of specializing in any particular area. I wrote about any idea that I thought would fit a particular market and bring me some cash. It didn’t matter to me if I was writing about charity car shows, one-on-one marketing techniques, or animal research alternatives; I only cared about the assignment, the clip, and the check—and rightly so. With my limited experience, I couldn’t afford to be too choosy about work. I needed to build my portfolio and gain experience—after all, I had no journalism background and was basically learning the ropes by trial and error.

There had to be a better, easier, more lucrative way to work.

And there was. Rather than trying to cover a wide variety of subjects, I started to concentrate on a handful of topics that interested me and were a part of my life—health, fitness, nutrition, and relationships—and began developing a specialty in those areas.

In the years since then, I’ve met hundreds of other freelance writers, and have discovered that the majority of the ones who are successfully freelancing fulltime (let’s say making more than $60,000 a year) have created niches for themselves. Maybe they write about fitness and health. Or business and technology. Or food and nutrition. Or home and garden. Rather than being generalists, they’re now specializing in specific areas, and reaping the benefits of doing so. Why not consider taking a similar approach?

Monday, May 17, 2010

My two favorite kinds of money to make? That's easy...royalty and reprint checks. Collecting royalties means that one of my books has “earned out,” or made back its advance, and that I’m now actually making money every time someone buys a copy. Yeah! But reprint sales run a close second because I love getting paid more than once for an article.

Last year, I made $6800 from selling reprint rights to articles. Yet I've found most writers ignore reprint possibilities. Sure, most reprint markets don’t pay that well, but the work involved is minimal…and marketing reprints takes little mental effort. I’m going to make it easy for you by giving you a simple, five-step process to follow to sell your stories more than once:

Step 1: Negotiate Better Contracts

When I started freelancing fulltime 13+ years ago, contracts were more writer-friendly. Now more publishers than ever want all rights to your work, which precludes you from reselling that story—forever. (You can always write about the topic again for a new market, but that's an entirely new piece, not a reprint of your original piece. That's what I call a "reslant," and I'll talk about those in another post.)

When you sign an all-rights contract, you’re done as far as reprints go. Even contracts that aren’t all-rights may contain exclusivity provisions which preclude you from selling reprint rights for a certain time period, for example, or to a certain type of magazine. So you’ve got to read your contracts closely…and negotiate better ones when you can.

Even when an all-rights contract is forced on me, I always try to add a provision that lets me retain nonexclusive reprint rights to my work; I've had even the most demanding publishers agree (albeit grudgingly) to that. Sure, the publisher is still going to do whatever it wants with my work for no extra money—but at least I'm free to resell it on my own if I want to. And I do!

Step 2: Locate Reprint Markets

This is the big time suck when it comes to selling reprints. Just who is going to buy them? Start with a market guide like Writer's Market, but don’t stop there. Publication directories like The Standard Periodical Directory list thousands of markets, divided into subject categories, that may be possible markets. I’ve had the best luck selling to regional parenting, regional health, regional bridal, and regional women’s magazines. (Notice a trend? Smaller-circulation magazines are more likley to buy reprints than their national counterparts.)

Step 3: Maximize your Sales

Here's the thing: I don't try to sell one story to one market at a time. It's not worth it. But because I specialize in health, fitness, nutrition, and psychology topics (though I do cover other subjects occasionally), I’ve created a master list of work that lists several hundred stories, organized by category. Then when I contact an editor, I include the categories I think she would most likely be interested in. (If I’m not sure, I send the entire list.)

As a result, I often sell more than one story at a time, even to a new reprint client. Better still, the size and scope of my list means that editors think of me when they’re looking for a piece on a particular topic. (Last month, an editor from an overseas publication contacted me to see if I had a piece on organic food. I did, and it sold for $300 U.S. Not bad for about 15 minutes’ worth of work.)

I do customize my initial contact letter to fit the magazine I'm pitching. Here's a sample letter to a regional bridal magazine:

Dear Ms. Smith:

I’m a full-time freelance journalist whose work has appeared in more than 50 national magazines including BRIDE’S, Bridal Guide, For the Bride, Wedding Bells, Fitness, Fit, Shape, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, and Marie Claire. Over the past decade, I’ve developed an inventory of “evergreen” bridal stories which I offer to regional bridal markets like yours that looking for well-written, informative articles for their readers. Currently I have stories on the following topics available (approximate word count is shown as well):

“50 Health and Fitness Tips for Brides” 1,865 words
[rest of 20+ story list with titles and word counts is included]

Please let me know if you’d like to see any of my work or are interested in purchasing one-time reprint rights to any stories. And keep in mind that I’m always happy to rework a piece so it better meets the needs of your readers.

Thank you very much for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kelly James-Enger
[contact info]

Note that I highlight the benefits of buying reprint stories to the editor—she can acquire well-written, informative articles at a reasonable price. Note too that I say "purchase reprint rights," so it's clear that I expect to be paid for the articles. (Some magazines offer to print the stories "for the exposure" rather than for money. Um, people die from exposure. I prefer the latter.) Finally, I specifically mention "one-time reprint rights" so the editor knows that this article has appeared before—and that she is only purchasing the right to reprint it once.

Step 4: Make your Editor Happy

One of the reasons that I’ve had success selling reprints is that I try to always keep the editor’s needs in mind. What do I want? To sell a story as many times as possible and make even more money. What does my editor want? A story that will benefit and appeal to her readers. That’s why I often “tweak” my reprints.

For example, I had a weight-loss piece that had originally run in a women’s magazine. By rewriting the lead (so it was about feeling beautiful as you slip into your dream gown the morning of your wedding instead of feeling confident in a swimsuit this summer) and making a few small changes throughout the piece, it became aimed at engaged women in their 20s and 30s, not moms who were struggling with leftover baby fat. The idea is to give your editor a piece that appears custom-made for her market—being willing to take that extra step (which only takes a few minutes) makes me much more likely to make a reprint sale. It makes me more valuable to my editor, too.

Step 5: Keep in Touch

It’s much easier to sell to an editor or market that has bought from you before than to constantly search out new markets. Every three months or so, I update my master list, making a note of the newest additions, and send it off along with a brief email to editors who have purchased from me in the past. The hour I spend doing so always results in a few more sales, and keeps my name in front of clients.

For example, I have an editor at a regional magazine that has been buying reprints from me since 2000. She only pays me $75/story, but in the last decade, she’s bought more than $2,000 worth of work from me. She emails when she’s looking for something in particular and it’s win-win—she gets a well-written, informative piece for her readers, and I get some extra cash.

As long as your story topic is still relevant and the information it contains still accurate (I do confirm the latter before I send a story out), you can resell the same piece as many times as you like. My “best-sellers” have included a story on avoiding legal problems as you plan your wedding (sold nine times so far), a piece on reducing your risk of breast cancer (sold eight times so far), and a story on why women should date shy guys (sold six times so far…good news for all those conversationally-challenged men!). I married one, so I know what I'm talking about.

If you write for specialized markets or on esoteric subjects, you may not have as much success with reprints. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the opportunity they present. Developing reprint markets that will buy stories from you on a regular basis is an easy way to boost your bottom line without the time and hassle of researching and writing new stories—making more money in less time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ask for More Money...and Get It

I’d been freelancing fulltime for more than a year before I summoned up the courage to ask for a better deal than whatever was on the table. Before then, I simply took whatever the editor offered, scampered off, and was grateful. (For example, my first article, which sold to Cosmopolitan in 1996, sold for $850… for 1,300 words. That’s what the editor said she could pay, so I took it. This was at a time when the magazine paid $1/word and up for articles. Did I ask for more? Did I even try? Of course not. I was so thrilled to finally get published I would have sold the piece for $50. Good thing I didn’t tell the editor that.)

With 13 months’ experience came some confidence, however. Also the realization that while I was working 50- to 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t making that much money. Granted, some of my work was for the local newspaper, where I was paid anywhere from $35 to $75 for a story. But another factor was that I kept saying “yes” to any work that came my way without ever asking for more. So I decided to try—and I think you should too.

Feeling nervous? That’s OK. I’m going to make it easy for you with some specific techniques you can try:

Be nice. Meaning, I don’t attack the editor for a less-than-stellar offer. Instead, I express my gratitude to her and remind her that I do want to work with her. Then I ask for more. Try something like, “Thanks so much for thinking of me for this piece—I’m looking forward to working with you on this topic. But considering the length/scope/deadline/insert-reason-hereof the piece, do you think you could do a little better money-wise?”

Give a reason. Bottom line—I want more money. I just do! But that doesn’t give my editor a reason to give it to me. That's why I give her an explanation of why I want more money—the complexity of the story, the number of sources I’ll have to interview, a tight deadline, a piece that requires some expertise in the subject matter, whatever fits. I want to give her a reason to say “yes.” Years ago, an editor I’d worked with before called to assign a 2,000-word piece on oral contraceptives that included five sidebars—and then offered $1/word for it. That’s not a terrible rate, but it wasn’t enough to justify all the time I was going to put into the story. I told her, “I really want to write this piece for you, but obviously this story is going to take me weeks of research and interviews, especially with all the sidebars. I don’t think $1/word is really fair for this particular story. Can you do better than that?” She immediately agreed to $1.50/word, which gave me an extra $1,000 just for opening my mouth. (In retrospect, I realize she agreed too quickly—she probably would have gone even higher. Oops.)

Cite your standard. If the per-word rate is much lower than what you usually get, mention that. Try, “I’d love to write for you, but for this kind of work, I usually get more per word. Is there any way you can do better?”

Prove your worth. You may be surprised to learn that I don’t try to negotiate every offer. If a new editor comes to me with an assignment at a fair rate, I take it. Then I do a great job on the piece…and ask for money the second time around. Remember that whether you’re a new or seasoned writer, the editor’s taking a chance on you—there are plenty of talented freelancers who are lazy about deadlines or turn in sloppy copy. Once I’ve proven myself, I’m in a much better position to ask for a higher per-word rate for the next story. That’s when I ask for a raise, using language like, “I’m so happy we’ll be working together again! Because you’ve worked with me before, you know I’m going to do a good job for you, and turn in the story before deadline. Considering that you know I’ll deliver for you, can we bump up my per-word rate?” (Or, “Can you do better money-wise this time around?”)

Keep the door open. I’ve asked for more money from editors and been turned down. My motto? It never hurts to ask. When an editor says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do any better,” or “we have a set rate for writers and I can’t change it,” I don’t complain. If I want the assignment, I say yes, and say, “No problem—I understand! It never hurts to ask, right?" And if I don’t want the assignment, I just explain that I can’t take it on but that I do appreciate the editor getting in touch. I never burn a bridge…and you never know where your editor may end up!

So why not try? Yes, it’s easier (and less stressful!) to simply say “yes” or “no” to an offer than to try to negotiate with an editor, but that’s no reason not to try. Take a deep breath, summon your courage, and ask if the editor can do better. You may be surprised at the answer.

One more thing--writers often fear that if they ask for more money, they’ll lose the assignment. In more than 13 years of freelancing, that has never happened to me. The worst case scenario is that you’ll ask for more money, the editor will refuse, and you’ll have to decide whether you’re willing to take the work or not. Best case? You make more money—simply by asking for it.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to ask for more money on your next freelance assignment. Let me know how it turns out. And if you have any negotiating techniques that you’ve found effective, please share them here!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let's Talk Money

Starting out as a new freelancer, my only source of market and pay information was Writer’s Market. My strategy for choosing magazines was simple—if they had four dollar signs listed next to their name (Writer’s Market rates publications on a one to four “$” rating, depending on well they pay), I wanted to write for them.

That’s not exactly a strategy. It’s more of a crap shoot. And I’ll tell you now that I never sold an original piece to a market, $$$$ or otherwise, that I didn’t actually look at first. There’s no substitute for examining the market so that you have a feel for the readership, coverage, and tone—and that can’t be encapsulated in a long paragraph in WM.

When it comes to money, writers don’t talk about it…or talk enough about it, in my opinion. And that does all of us a disservice. It wasn’t until I attended my first writer’s conference a year into my career that I met other fulltime freelancers—all of whom were successful and making steady incomes—that I knew that I too could do that.

A few years later, I met a freelancer who made six figures. Then I met another—and another. That sparked the desire in me to reach for that goal, and the confidence that I too could do it.

But I’ll tell you something. I’m not pulling down huge book advances (I wish!) or doing a lot of high-paying magazine work anymore. I’m just working as efficiently as possible in the limited time I have. I wish that all my articles paid in the $2,500 to $3,500 range the way most of my features did five or six years ago. But that’s not the case. I have to work smarter, work more efficiently, and repurpose or resell as much of my work as I can to make the money I want.

I promised to talk money, didn’t I? So I’ll give you the rundown on some rates for recent projects and assignments to give you an idea of what magazines and other clients are paying—because information is power in the hands of other writers. And if that information helps you negotiate a higher rate from a current market or simply tells you what you can expect, it’s worth it. Feel free to share your own rate info here…or to pass along this list to other freelancers. Because information is power.
Rights/type of work Type of Market Rate
Reprint/article Non-US magazine $150
Reprint/article Custom magazine $75
Reprint/article Regional magazine $75
Reprint/article Regional magazine $60
Reprint/article National magazine $200 (plus $100 for sidebar)
Reprint/article Non-US magazine $300
Ghostwriting/article Private client $0.40/word
Ghostwriting/book Private client $100/hour
Ghostwriting/book proposal Private client $4,500
Ghostwriting/book proposal Private client $3,500
Revision and update/book Book publisher $10,000
First NA rights/article National magazine $450/1,500 words
First NA rights/article National magazine $500/1,200 words
First NA rights/article Regional magazine $350/1,200 words
All rights/article Trade magazine $500/1,500 words
First NA rights/article National magazine $3,150/1,800 words

No Experience, No Contacts, No Degree, and No Clue: A Beginning

I launched my fulltime freelance career on January 1, 1997. I’ll let you in on a secret—it wasn’t because I’d dreamed of being a fulltime writer and I certainly had never thought about running my own business. I had spent almost five and a half years as an attorney, and I hated it. Maybe not every minute, but certainly most of them. I’d majored in rhetoric in college, then gone to law school on a whim and thirty thousand dollars’ worth of loans. Three years’ later, I found myself practicing law with no clue of what I was supposed to do. As I slowly figured it out, I realized it wasn’t for me.

When I started writing again, I penned short stories featuring unhappy female lawyers (all fiction, really!) and sent them out to various women’s magazines. (Back in the mid-90s, nearly all of the big women’s mags—Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping—ran fiction. Typically at least one or two short stories and often a novella. Times have changed.) I never got anything published. Then an epiphany occurred. Most magazines are filled, not with fiction, but with nonfiction. I should be writing articles, not short stories! So I did…and I sold my first piece to Cosmo.

Rookie that I was, I didn’t even use a query letter. I wrote the article and sent it in. (Nope, I don’t recommend this technique.) Then I sold a piece to Bride’s. And I thought, hey, this freelancing thing isn’t that hard! Maybe I could do this…fulltime! I could escape from the law!

So I did. I saved up enough to live on for six months, enlisted the support of my live-in boyfriend (who was so sick of hearing me whine about my job he would supported any career change be it pole dancing or dog walking), and gave my two-week notice. I'd never taken a journalism class. I knew no one in the publishing industry--I'd never even met another freelancer. And I had no idea of what I would actually be doing during the day. (Hmmm...this is sounding a lot like how I launched my legal career.)

This was my plan: pen articles for magazines to make a little money while I wrote my novel. (That's another story.)

My goal? To make $10,000 my first year. And to never have to go back to the law. That was the extent of my business plan.

It took me about 18 months and literally hundreds of queries (and eventually, dozens of assignments) to build enough momentum where I wasn’t scanning the want ads for part-time jobs to support my writing habit. But I had lots of energy, lots of Diet Mountain Dew, and a type-A, driven personality I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with since childhood. And I had time—lots of time. I could devote 50, 60 hours a week or more to my new business—and I did.

I was willing to take on assignments that paid minimal amounts of money to gain clips and experience. I was willing to spend every evening flipping through dozens of magazines analyzing markets, and to pitch dozens of markets simultaneously, hoping for sales. I was willing to pitch, and pitch, and pitch an editor until she gave me an assignment...or I finally gave up on the market after maybe a dozen tries. And all that time paid off…eventually.

But here’s the thing. I no longer have that kind of time. Who does? I have two (perfect, adorable, darling) children under the age of five. A maniac golden retriever. A husband I love…who has his own demanding job. Wonderful amazing friends I want to spend time with. Family I actually like—and want to spend time with! And a never-ending pile of laundry.

Plus I have this business, remember? This writing/ghostwriting/speaking business I’ve built from scratch? And I need to make decent money from it. So I have to make the most of my minutes—and I’ve learned how to do it through trial and more errors than I’d like to admit.

There are thousands of blogs about writing, but fewer that address writing for a living. (Don't worry--I'll direct you to some great ones!) This blog won’t just address writing for a living, but writing and working efficiently. When I hit the six-figure mark six years into my career (which led to my second book on writing, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money), I actually was working about 30-35 hours/week—far less than I did when I started out. Today, I work part-time hours (I have a sitter—otherwise it would be impossible!) but make a fulltime living during that time. That, in essence, is my business plan now.

How? I specialize. I retain as many rights to my work as possible. I develop long-term relationships with clients. I sell reprints. I ghostwrite. I collaborate. I look for opportunities to resell work I’ve already created—as long as I own the rights to it, of course.

And it works. I may not be the most talented writer out there. I may not make the most money. (I have friends who make six figures, and well above that, on a regular basis.) But I bet I’m one of the most efficient writers out there—and you can be too. Come along for the ride—learn how to make the most of your minutes, make more money for your words, and spend less time at your PC. I promise you’ll learn new ways of working, of thinking, and new ways of connecting that will help you make more money for your nonfiction writing work. I hope you’ll join me!