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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Best Place for New Writers to Pitch

I'm often asked by new freelancers for market recommendations--those which are more "open" to using less experienced writers. That's a tricky question. In general, smaller markets (think regional and trade magazines) are more open to new writers simply because they don't receive as many queries as their national counterparts--so you face less competition.

When it comes to nationals, though, there is a place where new writers should pitch. Where is it?

The front of the book. Front of book, or "FOB" refers to the departments that run in the front of the magazine. They often include several short pieces on the same page, typically 50 to 300 words or so. These "shorts" are sometimes written in-house but are often penned by freelancers.

Why is FOB such a great place for new writers to start?

1. It takes a lot of stories to fill the pages, up to about twenty depending on the market. That's a lot of assignments, even if they're short ones.

2. The editor for each FOB section must fill it each issue. Every issue. Issue after issue. And that means she's always prowling for new ideas--and new writers--to help her do that.

3. The editors in charge of FOB sections are usually lower on the masthead; meaning, they're newer to the magazine and less likely to have a "stable" of freelancers than more seasoned editors do. (See reason #2.)

4. If a new writer screws up a story (or fails to turn it in--it happens!), the editor is stuck with a pretty small hole to fill. She's not going to have to scramble to fill two or three full pages the way she would if a freelancer dropped the ball on a feature. So an editor is more likely to take a chance with a new writer on an FOB than a longer piece.

5. Established freelancers often don't bother with FOB pieces. We're paid by the word, remember? So while I pitched and wrote FOBs early in my career, I've given them up in favor of better-paying features--and many freelancers follow a similar trajectory.

6. FOBs give you a chance to prove yourself both to the editor and the magazine. As a new freelancer, I couldn't always get feature assignments with the magazines I wanted to write for. But after I pitched and wrote two FOBs for Self, I nailed a feature assignment--and the editor came to me!

And before you ask, yes, you should still use a query to pitch even a short FOB. Next post, I'll tell you why.

Are you a new freelancer or do you want to become one? You'll find my first two books on successful freelancing enormously helpful. Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money includes 20 queries that worked along with advice on launching your freelance career by starting with what you know about already; Six-Figure Freelancing gives a broader overview of treating your writing like a business and succeeding in a competitive field.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Interview on Write Around it All

Hi, gang--

I'm the subject of a Q and A on ghosting, one of my fave subjects, on Write Around it All, a great new blog on writing. And thanks to Maureen Salamon for suggesting it!

Big deadline Monday, but stay tuned for most posts later this week.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Packagers--What They Do and How to Pitch Them

As a ghostwriter, you have a slew of clients to choose from. In addition to Everyday Joes and Pros with Platforms, book packagers hire ghostwriters on a regular basis. But what are packagers, and how do work with them?

Book packagers are similar to book publishers with one primary difference. Traditional book publishers offer a contract (that usually includes an advance, even a small one) for the right to publish a book. A packager is paid by someone else to publish a book. Often the packager is an individual who wants to get a book into print; in other cases, a traditional publisher hires a packager to create the book that the publisher will then sell.

Packagers hire ghostwriters all the time. They look for ghostwriters who have authored at least one book and usually prefer to use writers with ghosting experience. However a background in writing about the subject of the book gives you a leg up on other writers competing for the job. Case in point: my first job as a ghostwriter was for a packager and while I hadn't ghosted before, my interest in and experience writing about psychology helped me get the job.

What about money? Fees range across the board, depending on the client, the type of book you’re doing, and how long it takes you to complete it. I’ve seen packagers offer in the mid-five-figures for business books, and in the $15,000 to $40,000 range for books on other subjects. It’s the client’s budget (the individual or publisher that has hired the packager) that sets the fees.

To market yourself, reseach packagers and send an LOI highlighting your subject areas of specialty, asking that you be kept in mind for possible jobs. And if you respond to a packager's ad looking for a ghost for a particular book, make sure your LOI is customized for that project.
In addition to using Google to find book packagers, check out the American Book Producers Association for a list of members.

Intrigued? Thinking, "hey, mabye I should get in on this ghostwriting thing"? Then check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books for samples of LOIs that work for packagers and other clients.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Freelance Lessons from Trader Joe's

In honor of Black Friday, which I will spend avoiding every store around, I'd like to share some retail lessons that apply to freelancing as well.

One of my biggest struggles as a freelancer used to be the isolation the nature of the work requires. (Now that I have two young children, that's changed. Today, I relish the chance to work alone!)

But it was my lack of social contact that led me to take a part-time job at Trader Joe's before I became a mom. TJs is a sort of hippie grocery store that sells everything from cheap wine (a/k/a "Two-Buck Chuck") to fresh sushi to soy chips to gluten-free bread. After explaining my love for both human interaction and TJs' meatless meatballs--and passing a math test--I started working 10-15 hours a week, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a box cutter dangling from my belt. Ten hours/week was just enough to give me some meaningful human encounters without jeopardizing freelancing.

The result? I got the contact I craved, built up my biceps (those wine boxes are heavy!), and also found that many of my on-the-job lessons translated to my freelance career as well:

Just do it. At Trader Joe’s, I arrived, punched in, and got to work. I might be "pulling codes" (sorting outdated products), stocking canned soup, or breaking down pallets. I might be working the register or working in the frozen foods section. But I never questioned whether I’d be working. I tackled the task given to me, finished it, and moved on to the next one. (Freelancing lesson: don’t bitch and moan. Just do your work.)

Be nice. Trader Joe’s is all about the unique products it sells—and the people who work there. As employees, we were expected to be friendly and approachable. Within a few weeks, I found I could start a conversation with any customer, any time—and people almost always responded positively. (Freelancing lesson: clients like it when you’re nice.)

Anticipate your customers’ needs. At Trader Joe’s, if you’re wandering around open-mouthed, scanning the shelves, an employee will ask if he or she can help you find something. (We're supposed to--it's in the employee manual.) In other words, you shouldn't have to track one of us down—we should be watching for you. (Freelancing lesson: figure out what your client wants even before he or she does.)

Entice your customers. Trader Joe’s has fulltime sign makers on staff to create eye-catching displays and decide which products should be displayed together. Put blue corn chips and black bean and corn salsa on the same shelf, and you sell more of both. (Freelancing lesson: offer your client packages--say, a story and a sidebar, or an idea for a regular newsletter--and you’ll get more work.)

Know your stuff. One of my favorite parts of working at Trader Joe's was recommending specific products to customers. I "hand-sold" everything from peanut butter dog biscuits to yogurt-honey-peanut Balance Bars to low-fat soy chips. Being familiar with our products made me better equipped to sell them. (Freelancing lesson: make sure you can explain the benefits to your clients of hiring you.)

I may have only been making peanuts (and 10% off my groceries), but I loved working at Trader Joe’s. It wasn't until my manager kept overscheduling me (first 20 hours/week, then 25, then 30--that I had to pull the plug.)

My Trader Joe's stint taught me a lot about freelancing. It also reminded me of how fortunate I am to have a career that I’m in charge of (not my bitchy manager), working the hours I want, in my pajamas--and with no need for a box cutter. That may have been the best freelancing lesson of all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Five Techniques to Better Interviews

If you freelance for magazines or write books, interviewing experts and "real people" sources is part of your job. The more you get from your sources, the more material you have to work with--and the more compelling your writing will be.

Here are five simple ways to get more from your interviews, whether you're interviewing an expert in her field or someone who's had personal experience with the subject:

1. Do your homework! In other words, prepare in advance. I was just interviewed by a college student about freelancing. Many of the answers to questions he asked me ("How long have you been freelancing?" "What kinds of work do you do?") could be found on my website. Do some background research before you do your interview--and let the person know you did so by saying something like, "So, you've been conducting research on the glycemic index for years. What led to that interest?" or "In your new book, you talk about the relationship between body image and happiness. Tell me more about that." When your sources knows you've prepared for the interview, you'll get better quotes, guaranteed.

2. Ask if it's a good time for the person to speak. The first question out of your mouth should be, "Is this still a good time for you talk?" About one-quarter of the time, my source asks me to call back in ten minutes, or a half-hour. That's fine with me--I want the person's undivided attention, after all. And this shows respect for the person you're interviewing.

3. Give your source a heads-up about what you'll ask ahead of time. I want the best quotes possible, so when we schedule the interview I give the source a general idea of what I plan to ask, and who the audience for the piece is. A prepared source=good interview. That's why I typically don't contact someone and do the interview right then--I know I'll get better quotes if I give her a chance to think about the subject beforehand.

4. Listen. Sure, I have questions I need answered, but I listen to what my source is saying so I can ask additional questions, or let the interview go in a different direction. Early in my career, I was so focused on getting what I needed I would just run down a list of questions without really listening to the subtext of what was being said. I've since learned that a good interview is a conversation between two people, not just canned questions and answers.

5. Say thank you. Better yet, send an actual thank-you note. This person is giving you her time--so show your appreciation. I send a personal thank-you to do so--and let me tell you, people remember me as a result. I also let sources know when they're quoted in print. That has let me develop a Rolodex of hundreds of expert sources in a variety of areas--and if I'm stuck and need a "quick-and-dirty" interview for a rush assignment, they come through for me.

Use these five strategies and you'll get more from your interviews--and develop your own stable of expert sources as well, which saves you time researching other stories.

Are you a new freelancer who wants to know more about researching articles? Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money includes a chapter on research (including interviewing) as well as a how-to chapter that walks you through the process of writing an article for publication from scratch--and ten chapters about the ten hottest nonfiction specialties and how to write about them.

Coming soon: posts on goal-setting, the best markets for new writers to pitch, and making clients love you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Big Reason Writers Don't Ghost--and A Way Around It

I want to address a problem many writers have with the concept of ghostwriting—they don’t want to work “in the dark.” In other words, the idea of spending months laboring over a book and having no one ever know about it rubs them the wrong way. And I can understand that—because I felt the same way for years. (Plus, I only wanted to write my own books. The idea of penning someone else’s held no appeal for me. An epiphany changed my mind.)

If being recognized for your work is important to you, you may not be interested in abandoning your byline. Fair enough. But have you considered working as a coauthor on book projects? Coauthoring, where you collaborate with another person and share credit, gives you an opportunity to expand your platform, and command bigger advances than you would on your own—and be recognized for it.

I approach coauthoring and ghosting projects the same way—the only difference is that in the former cases, I get a byline and in the latter, I don’t. (If that’s the case, I’ll try to negotiate more money for giving up my byline.) But many clients are willing to share their byline—provided their name is first, and in bigger type on the cover.

The advantages to coauthoring are the same as ghosting, too. You can make more money as you’re typically not responsible for actually marketing the book when it comes out, so you spend less time on each book. You’re able to command a bigger advance with a well-known expert than you could on your own. And you’re not responsible for coming up with a book from scratch—your client provides you with ideas and, if you’re lucky, research and other material you use as a starting point.

I once said, “I would never want to write someone else’s book.”

Well, guess what? I was wrong. Today I enjoy writing other people’s books. Part of the reason is that I take on clients who are smart; who have interesting ideas; who pay well (and promptly); and who respect me and my work. Is that worth trading my byline? To me, yes…but I realize that other writers may not feel the same way. I’d suggest that you consider alternatives before insisting that any kind of collaborating isn’t a good fit for you.

Want to know more about coauthoring and ghosting--even if the latter isn't of interest? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, and as always, let me know if you have any questions about the field.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10 Reasons *Not* to Go POD

In my earlier post this week, I explained why I chose to use POD to publish my latest book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. However, POD isn't for everyone--or every book.

If you're an everyday person who simply wants to publish a book, that's one thing. But if you're a serious freelancer who writes to make money, not just for fun, then choosing POD should be a carefully measured decision. After all, writing isn't a hobby for you--it's your career.

As a serious freelancer, POD may not be for you if:

1. You have no marketing plan for your book. If you're an author already, you know that writing the book is the easy part! It's selling it that takes more time and effort. Unless you're a big name, traditional publishers won't do much for you, but they will do something. Go POD and all that marketing falls on you. If you have no idea how you'll sell the book, why bother with it?

2. The book deviates from your platform. If you're known as a parenting writer, some of your readers will probably buy a book you write on parenting. Same goes if you cover business and author a book on business strategies. But when you write a book that's completely different than what you're known for, it's more difficult to sell. (See reason #1.)

3. You think POD means you can do a half-assed job. No offense to fellow POD authors out there, but editors can spot most POD books at ten paces. The covers look cheap, the books themselves are riddled with mistakes, and the writing is poor. Don't think you can get away with a less-than-stellar book because you're going POD. It should be just as professional-looking as a traditionally published book.

4. You must make a certain amount of money on the book. When you work with a traditional publisher, you get an advance up front (and chances are that's all the money you'll ever see). When you go POD, you're going to spend months of your life writing a book for no advance. (Eeek!) There are no guarantees with POD--your book may sell well, or not. Like so many things in publishing (and life), it's a gamble.

5. You have a fantastic platform. Um, then why aren't you pitching traditional publishers first? If I can get paid to write the book with an advance and have a publisher getting the book into bookstores, that's going to be my first choice. (If you've tried to sell to traditional pubishers with no luck, that's different. Then maybe POD is the logical alternative.)

6. You're not committed to marketing the book long-term. If you're serious about your career, you shouldn't be writing any "throwaway" books. Are you willing to promote the book for at least a year? If the answer is no, why bother getting it into print?

7. You haven't identified your audience. Who will buy your book? Why? What does it offer than other books do not? Let me tell you, when asked about the readership for their books, newbie authors often respond, "everyone." (Don't ever say that to an agent or editor!) You should be able to define your audience so you can reach them and sell to them. This is one reason why it's harder to sell fiction than nonfiction--it's more difficult to describe your potential readers. (Again, see reason #1.)

8. You have a hard time sticking to deadlines. When you write for a traditional publisher, you have an editor (and a contract) to keep you in line. POD is author-driven, which means if you blow deadlines, no one will care all that much--and your book may never make it into print. (As a serious freelancer, I hope this doesn't apply to you!)

9. You want your book in libraries and bookstores. Then you need a traditional publisher--or choose true self-publishing, where you set up your own publishing company and use a distributor that markets to libraries and bookstores. Some POD companies offer "expanded distribution," but the bottom line is that most stores won't carry POD books for a variety of reasons.

10. You don't know how this book fits into your overall career. Ideally a POD book should serve more than one purpose. In addition to producing some royalties, it should establish you as an expert, attract new clients, or help you land speaking gigs--or all three. Carefully consider why you're publishing this book and what you want it to do for you before you spend the time and money to go POD.

Readers, what do you think of my ten reasons? Do you have any to add? And what other questions do you have about POD?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Five Good Reasons to Go POD

Since I segued into writing books (my first, Ready, Aim, Specialize was published in 2003), I’ve been a traditional girl. Meaning, I’ve only worked with traditional publishers (think Random House) which pay an advance against royalties to acquire the rights to publish a book. To my mind, no money up front=no deal.

Of course I’d heard of POD, or print-on-demand, publishing but knew little about it. It sounded like the “lesser-than” option to me. I'd seen a lot of POD (often called self-published) books that frankly looked terrible. I didn't like the idea of being wholly responsible for selling a book (even though that's the case for pretty much any midlist author today). And I couldn't justify devoting my limited, precious work time to a book that I would have to pay to get in print (as opposed to being paid by a publisher to get it in print). Not for me, I thought.

Well, I was wrong. This year, I published my first POD book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. But this wasn't a random act. Rather, it was a calculated decision which included weeks of research and thought to ensure that POD was the right choice. I had five compelling reasons to make the leap:

1. There was no competition for my book. When I looked for books on ghostwriting, there were only a couple—and they weren’t particularly helpful. The authors claimed to be making good money ghostwriting, but didn’t say how much. I hate that. I want specifics! I want details! The authors told you to make sure you had a written contract, but didn't give any examples. They didn't discuss how to negotiate fees, how to successfully market yourself to different kinds of clients, or how to address common problems that arise. I knew my book would include all that, and be the only one that gave readers everything they needed to know to break into this lucrative field.

2. The book fit into my platform. While I cover health, fitness, nutrition and wellness, I also have developed a "successful-freelancing-expert" platform over the past 14 years. I’m a contributing editor at The Writer magazine. I’ve written more than 80 features and columns about writing for markets ranging from Writer's Digest to Writing for Dollars and published two books on successful freelancing. Six-Figure Freelancing continues to sell well, even on a crowded bookshelf. (Seems like every writer wants to author a book about writing and I’m competing against names like Stephen King and Anne Lamott, so this is significant.)

3. I had much of the book already written. Here's the back story. I found a traditional publisher that decided to purchase the book. The advance was fair, and I immediately started researching, conducted a dozen interviews, and started writing to make a tight deadline. When higher-ups decided the book didn’t have enough of an audience, my editor had to pull the plug. Yet I already had a third of the book in the can--and I hated to abandon the time and work I'd already put it.

4. I knew I could sell it. And this is a big reason. Remember my "successful-freelancing-expert" platform? Well, that means my name is fairly well-known among freelancers. I do a lot of public speaking. I appear at writer’s conferences. I teach classes and workshops. I author this blog. I write lots of articles about freelancing. I’m responsive when readers contact me with questions. All of that helps me sell my writing-related books, including this one.

5. The book will attract new clients. Sure, I've got a platform already, but more than 50 percent of my work and income these days comes from ghostwriting/coauthoring--and that percentage continues to climb. I'm continuing to establish myself as a successful ghostwriter, and to do that, I need clients, especially those that pay well. Many of my ghosting clients author books to establish themselves as experts. I wanted to do the same.

And you know what? I wanted to write this book. A lot. I didn't realize how much until the publisher walked. This isn't a solid business reason to go POD. But remember that I'm ghostwriting most of the books I write. That means I’m always writing in someone else’s voice (I’m not complaining—that’s what I get paid to do!) Here, I had an opportunity to just "be me" for an entire whole book, which sounded really fun. (And it was, actually.)

I'll talk more about POD in future posts, including reasons *not* to go POD. And if you have specific questions about POD, comment here and I'll answer those as well.

I'll be interviewed by the smart and charming Ed Robertson about ghostwriting tonight, Monday, November 15, at 8:25pm central time (9:25 Eastern time, 6:25 Pacific time) on (Can't listen? It will also be broadcast at various times throughout the week on Shokus; check the site for details. After Sunday, November 21, the show will be archived on Ed's website,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Double-Dip Technique #4, Take Two: Write More than One Related Article at a Time

Last post I talked about one of my double-dipping techniques—pitching more than one similar article at a time to different (and non-competing) markets. Which leads to a logical question: What happens when two or more stories are assigned at the same time?

This isn’t as much of a problem as it might appear at first glance. As you learned in my earlier post, because I pitched to noncompeting markets, the audiences for my articles—the readers of those magazines—are quite different. Chicago Parent is aimed, not surprisingly, at Chicago-area moms and dads of children. Complete Woman’s readers are women in their 20s to mid-40s who are looking for articles about love, sex, health, beauty, diet, fitness, career, and finances.

So I wrote two completely different articles about social media. One described what parents need to know about social media, focusing on how Chicago-area parents are using it to socialize, keep up on children’s health issues, and create a new online neighborhood of sorts. It included a sidebar about whether you should “Friend” your teen on Facebook.

The piece for Complete Woman focused on the dos and don’ts of using social media as a dating tool, exploring issues like what a man’s online profile may reveal about him. My sidebar focused a woman who had connected with a former classmate through social media—and married him! (Readers love happy endings.)

Get the idea? The very heart of the idea-harnessing social media—was the same. But the angles, the sources, the approaches, and the overall articles were very different. Yet because I knew the difference between Facebook and Myspace and could define a Tweet by researching the first article, the second look little time to write.

So, to double-dip this way without writing the same story twice, use this five-step process:

1. Consider the markets you're writing for (and their audiences) and create a slant specifically for each.
2. Use different expert sources whenever possible. (If you must reuse a source, get fresh quotes that are relevant to the specific story angle.)
3. Use a different structure for each story.
4. Find new “real people” to include as anecdotes.
5. Write different sidebars that complement each story.

That’s it! These five steps will let you write about the same subject more than once—without writing the same thing twice--or upsetting an editor.

Readers, weigh in. What do you think of this double-dipping technique? Do you use it already? Will you use it in the future? My inquiring mind wants to know!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Double-Dip Technique #4: Pitch Two (or More) Articles at Once

How do I make the most of my limited time as a freelancer? First off, I almost never write about the same story once--I reslant everything I can. Take the evergreen topic of changing the way you eat to lose weight. I’ve covered it with the following angles:

• How eating breakfast can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fiber can help you lose weight.
• How eating more low “GI” (glycemic index) foods can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight.
• How eating more protein can help you lose weight.
• How using smaller plates and bowls can help you lose weight.

That’s six ways of reslanting the same basic ideas and I remembered and wrote them down in less than a minute. Yet I wrote those stories at different times. An even more efficiently way to reslant, and one of my favorite ways to "double-dip" is to pitch two very similar ideas to different markets at the same time. As long as they’re not competing markets, you’re fine even if they both get assigned.

Here's an example. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to write about social media. Number one, I knew next to nothing about it—and needed to figure out what the heck it was. Why not get paid to do so? Number two, one of my good friends had just written a book that discussed social media and I knew I could use her for a source (and plug her book as well). And number three, just about everyone I know wastes time on Facebook and Twitter, so I figured it was a timely topic.

I pitched the idea to two of my regular markets—Chicago Parent and Complete Woman. Because I write for both of them frequently, a short pitch is all I need. Here’s the relevant section of each of the queries I sent:

Dear Tamara:

OK, you asked for some ideas for May and beyond…I’m focusing on the CP reader as woman *and* as a mom, not just as a parent, as I have in the past. Those are the pieces that interest me the most…

1. [Pitch omitted]

2. Your Online Identity: What Social Media (and How You Use it) Says About You. Millions of us log into Facebook, Myspace, and Linkedin every day, but is the use of social media helping or hurting your social life? I’ll interview a couple of experts about this subject (including Sharon Cindrich) and talk about how social media can help support your IRL (In Real Life) friendships as well as how to know when you’re going overboard with it. I’d also like to take a fun look at what certain things say about you (i.e. your choice of profile photo, types of posts, etc). I think this would be a fun yet informative piece, with a sidebar on the most popular social media sites. Again, I’m thinking 1200 words.

3. [Pitches 3 and 4 and rest of query omitted]

And here's the pitch I sent to Complete Woman:

Hi, Stephanie!

Great to hear from you…here are a couple of ideas for you and Bonnie to consider:

Your Online Identity: What Social Media Says About You

Hooked on Myspace? Spend half your day on Facebook? This piece will describe how women use Facebook, Myspace, and other forms of social media, and what their use of social media says about them. (For example, your choice of profile picture, type of posts you make, what types of people you connect with online, and how often you check in with social media all give clues to your personality—and that of your friends as well.) I’ll interview at least one expert on this timely subject and interview several “real women” for the piece, which will be a fun look at this ubiquitous technology. I estimate 1000 words for this light yet informative piece but that’s flexible depending on your needs. (I’ll also give readers an idea of how to interpret potential romantic candidates’ FB and myspace pages as well…and what to look for in a promising guy as well as “red flags.”)

[Pitch 2 and rest of query omitted]

Note the similarity and yet differences of the queries? Both sold, by the way, so next post we’ll talk about writing two articles about the same topic at the same time, a continuation of this double-dipping theme. In the meantime, if you want more queries that sold--from both me and other successful freelancers, check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition, or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Opportunity Cost and How to Measure It

Last week I talked about the importance of having a daily nut, or daily goal. In addition to helping you make your annual income goal, your daily nut can help you decide whether to say "yes" to a potential assignment, and to bid on work as well.

But in addition to the money you'll make, the estimated time you'll spend on the assignment, and the value of the assignment to your business, don't forget to think about your "opportunity cost" when you take on work.

What is opportunity cost? Simply put, it’s any work will you be unable to do because you’ve taken on that particular assigment. And typically, the bigger or more complex the assignment, the greater the opportunity cost. (And the tighter the deadline, the higher the cost--because you'll be busting your butt to make that deadline during that time.)

For example, in the last two weeks, I've signed two new ghostwriting clients, both with aggressive deadlines. That's awesome news for my business and bank account, but it also means that I'll have to turn down any other big projects (even lucrative ones) in the meantime. I know how much work I can handle (and remember, I have two kiddos I'm responsible for wrangling as well), and I'm stretched enough already.

But even smaller assignments can carry a sizeable opportunity cost as well. When I started freelancing, I used to write articles for my local newspaper. The pieces paid between $35 and $125, and usually required a trip out of the office to attend an event or interview a source in person. It wasn't long before I realized that I needed to eliminate the paper as a client.

It wasn't a difficult decision. First, the pay wasn’t much, yet the stories usually tooks at least several hours' to write because of in-person interviews. The real problem, though, was that the time I spent researching and writing the stories prevented me from pitching more lucrative markets (like national magazines) which would result in better-paying work. That opportunity cost was hurting me in the short- and long-term.

The end of the year is a good time to consider the opportunity cost of your regular clients. Is the amount of money you make from them worth the hassles, time, or potential loss of other, more lucrative work? Only you can determine what the opportunity cost of a particular assignment or client is--and whether that assignment or client is worth it. Ideally it always is.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Everyday Joe: The Biggest Source of Clients for Ghostwriters

If you want to ghostwrite--and make money doing it--you've got to have paying clients. The largest number of potential clients fall into the category I call the Everyday Joe, who I've briefly discussed before.

Who is the Everyday Joe, or EJ? He may be a colleague, a neighbor, a relative, or a complete stranger. He wants to write a book. But he's nobody special. He’s not a celebrity, or an expert, and he doesn’t have a contract with a publisher. He wants to be an author but something is standing in his way.

Maybe he doesn’t have the time. Maybe he doesn’t have the patience. Maybe he doesn’t know enough about writing—or maybe he can’t organize his material into an actual book. Or maybe he’s written a book (or something roughly resembling one) but needs help with structure, organization, tone, you name it.

So he’s decided to find a ghostwriter—and that’s where you come in. The EJ may think he has a bestseller in the making. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is when he expects you to be paid when the book becomes a bestseller.

As a ghostwriter, you shouldn’t care too much about your EJ’s story (as long as you're interested in writing it for him), or even its bestselling potential. You should care about his wallet, and whether he's willing to pay for a talented ghostwriter to help him get his book into print.

The vast majority of the inquiries I get from EJs do not turn into work. But some do, and the sheer number of potential clients makes pursuing them worthwhile for both new and experienced ghostwriters.

Want to know more about breaking into the lucrative field of ghostwriting? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books; it’s also available on Kindle.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Your Daily Nut--And How to Track It

I often talk about dollars/hour as being a more accurate reflection of what a project is worth than dollars/word. But there’s another figure freelancers should keep in mind: what I call their daily nut.

The daily nut is the amount you have to average to meet your annual income goal.

Say your annual income goal is $60,000 (and remember that one-quarter of freelancers surveyed make $60,000+), and you're planning to work 240 days out of the year. That's Mondays through Fridays, with four weeks off for holidays and vacations.

Grossing $60,000 a year comes to $5000 a month, or $250 a day. So your daily nut is $250. Instead of thinking about making $60,000, which can seem unreachable, focus on meeting your daily goal—and then track your progress.

Every day, you should average your daily nut, or you won’t hit your financial goal at year's end. So, an article that pays $1,000 should take you about four days' worth of work. A book proposal that pays $4500 should take about 18 days' worth of work, total. Of course, not every project will work out exactly like this--some will take more time, some will take less. The idea, though, is that you average a certain amount each day.

So, question one, what's your daily nut? And question two, did you make it today?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Myth, Busted: Freelancers Work for Peanuts (or "Exposure")

Earlier this year, I surveyed fulltime freelance writers about what they're making this year, what kinds of work they're doing, and whether they're making more this year than in 2009. Since then, I've been collecting more survey responses.

The latest results? With 127 fulltime freelancers responding (admittedly a small sample), 51 percent plan to gross $40,000 or less this year. However, that means that 49 percent plan to make more than $40,000 this year. Nine percent plan to make $60,000-80,000; another 6 percent plan to make $80,001-100,000; and 10 percent plan to break the six-figure mark in 2010, a year that's been tough for just about every self-employed businessperson.

The fact that 25 percent, or one in four, of those surveyed plan to make $60,000+ this year should help defeat the myth that freelancers work for peanuts. Sure, some do, but many aren't just surviving but in fact are thriving in a turbulent economy. And if other writers are doing it, you can too.