Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Markets vary, but here are some average rates to keep in mind:
National magazines: $1-2/word+
Trade magazines: $.25-50/word
Regional magazines: $0.10-50/word
Custom magazines: $0.50-$1/word+
Blogs: $25+/blog post or $0.50/word+
Website copy $0.25-.50/word
Books (including ghostwriting)
Book proposals $4,500-10,000+
Full-length books $10,000-35,000+ (+royalties, in some cases)
Teaching (six-week online class) $100-200/student
Note that when it comes to print markets, I don't worry about dollars/word, but dollars/hour. I'm no longer doing a lot of feature-length pieces for national magazines the way I did early on in my freelance career, and most of the articles I do don't pay that well per-word. But because they're relatively easy to research and write (and involve minimal editing/rewriting hassles), my hourly rate on them stays high. For example, if I spend a total of four hours researching and writng a piece that pays $500 (which isn't unusual for the service journalism stories I churn out), that's an hourly rate of $125. Not bad at all.
That being said, I'll tell you that this year has been a tough one, workwise. I lost a book deal I was counting on at the last minute. I had a project that paid a mere $10,000 expand in scope and eat up much of the first five months of the year. I only had a handful of speaking gigs this year, and my biggest project (a book I'm ghostwriting) paid only $13,500--less than half of what I was paid for a similar book several years ago. I've had to drop my rates for book proposals to far less than I used to charge.
But here's the thing. I can't control what a client can afford, or is willing to pay me. But I can control how I spend my time--and after fourteen years of experience, I've learned how to work as efficiently as possible:
I reslant just about every story I write about.
I sell reprint rights.
I write articles and books about the same subject so I get more mileage from my work.
I ghostwrite books for clients which means I no longer have to spend time selling the book once it's published.
I speak professionally, which raises my profile, adds to my bottom line, and sells books.
Get the idea? There are things you can control and things you can't. You may have no say over what markets pay you (other than deciding whether to work for them) or you may be unable to negotiate the amount of money you want when working with a client. But you, and you alone, are the boss of your time. Master it, spend it well, and you'll be more successful as a freelancer.
Monday, December 27, 2010
You already know there are plenty of reasons to ghostwrite/coauthor for a client. If you're working for a packager, publisher, or agent, they'll have you sign their contract. If your client is an Everyday Joe or Pro with a Platform, though, chances are you'll write your own.
While every collaboration agreement is different, make sure that yours addresses the eight following elements:
• Pay. Of course I put this one first. How much will you be paid, and when? I suggest you get a retainer upfront. If you client loses interest early on, you want to be paid for the work you've already done.
• Credit. Whose book is this? Are you ghostwriting? If you'll get cover credit, specify how you and your coauthor's name will appear on the cover.
• Scope of work. What are you writing, and how long will it be? Will it be a 30,000-word book or a 75,000-word book, for example?
• Division of work. Will you be researching and writing chapters, which your coauthor will then review, or will each of you be writing? Will your coauthor provide facts, research, anecdotes, or other material for you to use, or are you responsible for coming up with that?
• Deadline. When is the book due? And will you give your client a certain turn-around time (say, one week) to review your drafts and get it back to you?
• Indemnification. You don't want to be sued over libelous material your coauthor provided, so the contract should indemnify you for that.
• Copyright. Will the copyright be held jointly, or in only one of your names? (You can be a ghostwriter and still share copyright, but most clients will want to be the sole owner of copyright.)
• Termination. What happens if one of you dies before the book is complete, or decides you no longer want to pursue the book? This should be spelled out.
If you want to know more about ghostwriting contracts or breaking into this field, check out my latest book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, or buy the Kindle version.
Coming later this week, straight talk about money, and a preview of a special January blog series.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Take time to consider what types of work you want to focus on, what kinds of markets and clients you want to pursue, and how you’ll spend your time—for example, how much time you’ll devote to querying new markets versus working on current assignments.
If you’re a relatively new writer who has never set a specific writing goal, make 2011 the year you start. When it comes to lifestyle behavior changes (think losing weight, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking), loads of research proves that people who set specific goals achieve greater success and are more likely to stick with their behavior changes than those who don’t set goals.
Setting goals forces you to take a closer look at your writing priorities, and get a handle on what’s really important to you. Writers who have heard me speak know that I divide goals into two types—overall, or “outcome” goals and production, or “performance” goals. Overall goals tend to be biggies—you know, like writing a novel, finding a publisher for your nonfiction book project, or finally ditching your day job to freelance fulltime.
The problem with outcome goals is that they don’t help you actually achieve your aim. That’s where performance, or production goals, come in. They’re the actionable goals that move you toward your overall or outcome goal. To be effective, they should be “SMART,” or Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.
For example, my income goal for the coming year is to make $60,000. That’s my overall goal. My performance goal is to make $250/day for 240 days/year, working an average of 15 hours/week. (This figure also fits with the average rate of $100/hour I try to maintain, and is realistic considering what I made in 2010 and the types of work I do.) Get it?
Think both big (your long-term aims) and small (e.g., meeting your daily nut)when you’re setting goals. After you’ve decided what they are, write them down, and track your progress in the coming weeks.
If one of your goals is more difficult to quantify than a simple income goal—say, getting more work published in national magazines—your performance goals might include researching a certain number of new markets each month, querying a certain number of editors each week, and sending follow-ups letters to editors who haven’t responded in a certain period of time.
Regardless, your goals should reflect your overall objectives as a freelancer. Don’t be afraid to tweak them throughout the year as your circumstances change. Smart goals give you a roadmap to follow, but you can always choose to take a different route to your destination.
Readers, if you’re up for it, share one or more of your goals here—and I may address them in future blog posts.
Finally, here comes a plug for my books. Want to make 2011 the year you double your income—or simply work more efficiently and make more as a freelancer? I've got books to help you do so.
- If you want to break into the lucrative field of ghostwriting/coauthoring, check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books.
- If you’re new to freelancing and want to make the most of your background and experience (and learn how to break into the most popular freelancing topics), check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
- And if you want my classic book on successful freelancing that has helped both new and experienced writers get more green, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money.
I promise if you read any (or all three) of my writing-related books and follow their advice, you’ll see a marked difference in your freelance success and your bottom line. If you've done so already, I'd love to hear about your experience here!
Commercial over. Happy 2011 a few days early, and happy freelancing to all of my readers.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Sure, you can keep doing the same things day after day, but trust me: you will get bored. You will get burned out. And you will probably question your desire to continue writing fulltime—or find that while you're doing the same old things, your business stagnates.
Yet at the beginning of your freelance career, you’re probably too busy looking for work and mastering the business to worry about your long-term career plans—until you find yourself dreading sitting down at your desk in the morning. That's where a long-term plan comes in.
In fact, a long-term focus is key for your writing career. I was reminded of this when I wrote Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money. Most of the six-figure freelancers I interviewed had been freelancing for more than 10 years; and nearly half had been self-employed writers for more than 20 years. Obviously they’re doing something right.
Sure, they were all talented writers. but they were also dedicated, confident, and most important, adaptable. They’d ridden the ups and downs of the economy and the market for years.
My point? To succeed long-term as a self-employed writer, you have to be able to stretch, to grow, to take on new challenges. That may mean writing in a new genre, covering different topics, teaching, or switching forms—say, writing books instead of magazine articles, or adding blogging to your repertoire.
As freelancers, we all aspire to be busy—but too much work can be a drawback to your long-term career. When you’re working long hours just to meet your deadlines—or spending hours pitching to make sure you have enough work to pay your bills—you tend to ignore questions like “so, where do I want my writing career to go long-term?”
The wonderful thing about freelancing is that you can do just about anything. That’s the drawback too. Should you write articles or books? Focus on trades or consumer magazines? Specialize or cover as many subjects as possible? Should you do corporate work? Get into ghostwriting? Start a blog--or turn your current blog into a money-maker?
To help you narrow your focus for the coming year, take some time in the coming days to think about what kinds of work you did this year, and for what types of clients. Where did your income come from? What did you enjoy? What did you hate? What do you want to do more of? Which of your markets are growing, and which are not? And where would you like to be five years, ten years, or twenty years from now?
Tune in next week for how to set goals for your writing career in 2011.
Monday, December 20, 2010
As a freelancer, you're competing against a slew of other writers, both new and experienced. If you're short on clips, I suggest you set yourself apart by pitching stories you're "uniquely qualified" to write. (This strategy works for experienced writers who are pitching hard-to-crack markets, too.) Then highlight your unique qualifications with a query that includes these four parts:
• The lead. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote--but regardless of what it is, it should catch the editor's attention.
• The "why-write-it" paragraph. 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 provide details about how you'll approach the story. How long will the piece be? What types of sources will you contact? Will it have sidebars, and if so, how many? What section of the magazine will the story fit in? What's the working title?
• And finally, the ISG. In your ISG, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter.
ISGs work, even for new writers. Here are a few examples of how I used ISGs early in my freelance career; each one led to my first assignment with that market:
• When I pitched a story on a hidden dating treasure (also known as "shy guys"), I made sure to mention that I'm 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 confirmed that I'd 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.)
Get the idea? When you lack clips, play up what you do have--namely, some kind of personal experience with or knowledge of the topic you're pitching. Write an ISG to convince the editor that you're the perfect fit for the assignment and you're halfway to getting it.
And you needn't be a physician or researcher to make your mark in the competitive world of health writing--if you keep the following in mind:
Tap into trends. Yesterday's news is just that--yesterday's. If you want to write about health, you've got to stay up what's happening now. I always try to have a newsy, time peg in my health-related queries to first, show the editor I've done my homework, and second, convince her that's it a hot, current topic.
Stay specific. To catch an editor’s attention, you’re better off pitching a narrower story idea than something more general. Instead of suggesting a piece about asthma, for example, pitch a parenting magazine with a piece on how to asthma-proof your home. Instead of a piece on back injuries, pitch a story on simple exercises to maintain core strength (and flatten your tummy!) to a fitness magazine.
Match the market. Make sure that the story you’re pitching is a good fit for that particular publication. Tailor your query to the market—a beach body workout might sell to Fitness while Prevention may be more interested in exercises that help maintain flexibility and strength as you age.
Move to the front. If you’re a freelancer without a lot of health-writing experience, pitching ideas to the “front-of-the-book” or FOB section is the easiest way to break in. In most magazines, these pages consist of short, often news-driven items. The editors usually need material to fill these sections every issue, and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door and prove yourself for longer assignments.
Use yourself. Many of my first health clips resulted from my own experiences or that of friends and family. After I started using a heart rate monitor, I wrote about how they can make you fitter for Fit. Years of battling urinary tract infections led to a short piece on the latest treatment methods for Good Housekeeping while my sister-in-law’s sleep apnea was the spark for a story on women and fatigue for Woman’s Day. A personal connection with a topic can easily become a selling point, so constantly scout for ideas.
Develop a Rolodex. When writing about health, you've got to have expert sources--and that means looking beyond your chiropractor or Spinning instructor. You’ll need to find and interview credentialed, recognized experts to back up any claims you make.
Develop a specialty. It’s impossible to keep tabs on every aspect of health and fitness today—MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s database of journal articles, contains more than twenty million citations and that number grows daily. You're better off specializing and focusing on a specific area or two than to try to cover every possible health topic.
Back it up. Finally, expect to provide fact-checking material to your editor. I turn in an annotated copy of the finished story with references, names of experts and contact information, and journal citations (as well as copies of the articles) noted thereon. Make sure you keep your backup material--most magazines are very careful to fact-check any health information they publish. You can’t simply cite a statistic you read in the paper or heard on the news; you’ll need to find and confirm the source.
Want to know more about turning your health woes into cash? Health writing is one of the top ten specialties I cover in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition. You'll also find out how to break into related specialties like writing about food/nutrition and fitness/sports.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
New and inexperienced writers often break into freelancing by writing about parenting issues, and writers who develop a specialty in this area often find that they need look no further than their own families for story ideas.
But writing about parenting and child care is more than simply relating personal experience—parenting writers are expected to keep up on trends, locate and interview experts, and provide plenty of service for readers.
If you’re a parent—or if you want to write about kids and the issues families face—keep these tips in mind:
Present More than One Option
Ask any new parent and he or she will tell you—when it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion and no one thinks twice about sharing theirs with you (like it or not). If the baby cries, pick her up immediately—or she’ll be traumatized. Nope, that’s the worst thing you can do—you’ll spoil her if you don’t let her cry herself to sleep. Let him suck on a pacifier and he’ll need thousands of dollars’ worth of orthodontia…or take it away from him too early and he’ll need therapy for separation anxiety years later.
And parents face dozens if not hundreds of decisions every day that will affect their children’s welfare. What’s a mom or dad to do? Look to parenting/child care publications for advice, information, and support. That's why the most important rule in writing about parenting is to avoid preaching or implying that there is only one way to do something. Always give more than one alternative and support the parents' right to make decisions for their kids.
Find Supporting Experts
OK, so you’re a parent. But you need more than that to write with authority about parenting and child care. Even if you have personal experience with an issue, you’ll probably need to back up the advice you offer with more authoritative opinions and quotes from experts like pediatricians, child development experts, dieticians, or teachers in addition to including real-life anecdotes.
Remember that editors want experts who are established and well-known in his or her field. Call organizations like the American Medical Association or the American Dietetic Association, and ask for referrals to members who specialize in the area you’re writing about.
Embrace All Families
Parents come in all ages, both sexes, and are of every race, ethnicity and religion. This may seem obvious but too often writers simply assume that their family traditions—such as celebrating Christmas—are embraced by all readers. “
On the other hand, if you’re writing for a publication aimed at a more narrow audience—say, stay-at-home mothers or parents who home-school their children, it’s okay to focus your story on that group of people. Just keep the audience in mind as you write the piece, and remember that parenting writing is often service writing. In fact, “how-to” articles are the most prevalent kind of parenting stories and for good reason.
Include "Real People" Anecdotes
While you may need experts to support your story, don't be afraid to include your personal experiences. Readers may find it easier to relate to someone who’s “been there, done that.”
Your personal story is a great place to start. But because there are so many different approaches to parenting, readers like hearing about more than one person’s experience or opinion in child care articles. A wide range of sources helps ensure that readers will find something in an article than benefits them.
Create New Spins on Evergreen Topics
Many parenting stories cover topics like health, child development, discipline, and nutrition. While these subjects are covered over and over again, look for a new angle or new approach to sell your story idea.
Although you may need to come up with a fresh approach, parenting writers have an endless list of “evergreen” story ideas to choose from. Topics like infant first aid, children’s health, how to choose a babysitter, how to help kids prepare for and succeed in school, discipline strategies, inexpensive craft activities, proper nutrition, ways to talk to kids about difficult subjects…the list goes on and on. The trick is coming up with a new or unique angle..and your kids may give you one without you even asking!
Want to know more about writing about parenting? It's one of the top ten specialties I cover in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Before I can determine whether a project has merit (at least for me), I need some background information. I ask every potential client the following ten questions:
• What kind of book (or other project) do you have in mind?
• How long will the book be?
• Why do you want to write this book? (Does the client want to attract more business or simply get her memoir in print? Is she expecting to make money from her book?)
• What kind of material do you have for your ghostwriter to use? (Has the client started the book? Does she have an outline or other research/notes I can use as a starting point?)
• What's your deadline?
• Why are you considering using a ghostwriter? Have you worked with one before?
• What kind of publisher do you plan to work with? (Is the client planning to try to sell the book to traditional publisher or use a POD publisher?)
• Who's the audience for your book?
• How do you envision working with a ghostwriter? (In other words, does he want you to do all of the research and writing, or will he be doing some of the writing himself?)
• What budget do you have in mind for this book? (I'm happy to bring up money last, but I always find out what my client's financial expectations before I even consider bidding on a job. I've learned that lesson the hard way.)
With the answers to these ten questions, I know whether I want to pursue the project, first off. I also have enough info to make a sensible bid, based on my expectations of the work involved.
Even in a down economy, the market for ghostwriters is broad and continuing to grow. If you want to know more about how you can break into and thrive in this lucrative field, check out my new book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. Or buy the Kindle version.
Monday, December 13, 2010
So, you revised the piece to the editor’s specifications, or so you thought. But now, for reasons beyond your control, the story has been killed. What do you do?
First off, welcome to the club. I don't know of any longtime freelancer who hasn't had at least one piece killed. Sometimes the story you write isn't what the editor decides she wants--or the story her boss wants. Sometimes the editor who assigned the piece leaves the magazine, leaving the piece "orphaned." Sometimes the editor decides the piece is no longer timely, and no longer wants it. Regardless of the reason, your piece has been killed.
Years ago, I had two stories—$2,800 worth of work—killed during a regime change at a national fitness magazine. The editor who had assigned the pieces had left along with other staffers. Now the new editor-in-chief seemed determined to get rid of anything that had been assigned by her predecessor. My stories--which were already finished--got caught in the middle.
I argued that I should be paid the full fee, not the 25% kill fee the contract paid for. After all, there was nothing wrong with the stories themselves--it was simply an arbitrary decision on the part of the new EIC not to use them. But the editors at the magazine refused to pay me the full amount, opting for the kill fee provision. I was...well, way more than peeved.
After I cooled off, I thought about how to make the best of a sucky situation. I called an editor I’d worked with at another fitness magazine. I told her I had two great story ideas to pitch her, and sold both of them in five minutes. (I wish all my ideas sold so quickly.)
Did I tell her that they’d just been killed by one of her competitors? Nope. When she asked what kind of deadline I needed, did I say “Oh, about five minutes?” Absolutely not. I turned in one piece two weeks later, the next piece the week after that. My editor loved both, and accepted them. She paid me $1,750 for the stories—which, combined with the $700 kill fee, left me only $350 in the hole on the deal. (And that's not counting the reprints I made on both pieces after they first came out.) That was a much smarter decisoin than if I would have simply accepted the kill fee and let the stories languish on my hard drive.
Bottom line: a story getting killed doesn’t mean your work is substandard or that you can’t hack it as a writer. Every freelancer will face this issue at one time or another. It’s how you respond to them that matters.
For more smart advice about how to address freelancing challenges, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, or Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
And stay tuned for another giveaway to celebrate 2011...January 1 is my favorite day of the year!
So this is big news, and very cool for authors like myself: Amazon.com has made Nielsen BookScan data available free of charge to its Author Central members.
This means that I can track how well my books are selling, in close to real time, and also get an idea of how my marketing efforts are paying off. Are the Nielsen numbers one more thing to obsess over? Sure...but as an author, only part of my job is writing books. The more time-consuming part is selling them. I see this data as a tool I can use to sell my books more efficiently, and hopefully sell more of them, too.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Yet many ignore one of the most essential aspects of successful freelancing--the willingness to go beyond what editors and clients require.
For example, several years ago I interviewed a cake decorator for a trade magazine story. During the course of the interview, she mentioned that the magazine had recently run "her" photo. There was only one problem--the person in the picture wasn’t her.
Hey, I had nothing to do this. It wasn’t my problem. Most writers would have shrugged their shoulders, and thought, "so what?" Instead, I apologized on behalf of the publication, and told her I’d let my editor know. After the interview, I called my editor and told her what had happened, suggesting that we use a photo of the woman and her cakes to accompany my story on cake trends.
My editor agreed, and thanked her for letting her know about the mistake. I called the decorator back to tell her the magazine would be in touch—and this time I promised, she would be in the magazine. And she was.
I didn’t have to take this extra step--I'm just a freelancer after all. But I realized I could probably address what had happened and make the publication (and my editor) look good as well. That helped me build a relationship with an editor who was new to me—and good relationships are critical to success in this business.
How else can you go the extra mile with a client or editor?
• Turn stories in early. When you beat your deadline, you give your editor some unexpected breathing room. Trust me, they like this!
• Suggest story ideas—even if you don’t write them. I don’t do short pieces anymore, but when I come across new studies that would make good FOB, or “front of book,” material, I pass along the information to my editor. It takes only a few seconds, and I know she appreciates it.
• Compliment her when you can. When I get my contributor’s copy, I always scan my article for any editorial changes. If the edits strengthened the piece (and they usually do), I’ll send a quick note thanking her and telling her the final version looked great. Editors like to receive praise just like writers do.
• Keep her up to speed. Several of my editors freelance as well, and I share contact names and industry gossip when I touch base with them. Writers may have access to info through the freelance grapevine editors don't.
• Put yourself in her shoes. Say you’re an editor who’s turned in a story only to have it slashed to ribbons by your boss. Now you must make your boss, the senior editor, happy. Would you rather work with a writer who complains about revisions or listens carefully and agrees to revise the story? That’s an easy call.
Stop thinking of your clients as merely the people who sign your checks, and consider how you can make their lives easier. I promise it will pay off with more regular clients, and more work in the long run.
For more smart, savvy advice about freelancing, check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House, 2005.)
Monday, December 6, 2010
Reprints aren't just an afterthought for me; instead, I think about reprints from the outset. In other words, when I pitch an idea to a magazine, I'm already lining up potential reprint markets in my mind--and as soon as reprint rights revert to me, I send that piece out to my other markets.
Let me give you an example. I have a handful of reprint markets that purchase stories on women's health, lifestyle, fitness, nutrition, and wellness topics. When I write an article on one of those topics (for a market with a writer-friendly topic), I make a note to offer the piece to my regulars as soon as it's available. So after I wrote a story on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer for a woman's mag for $500 and it ran, I turned around and sold it as a reprint to two different overseas women's magazines ($150 and $300 each); to a small custom magazine ($75); to a regional parenting magazine ($150); to another regional parenting magazine ($50); and to a regional woman's magazine ($80) within the next three months. And the story is still selling to other reprint markets as well.
Get the idea? Don't just treat reprints as an afterthought. Think about potential reprint markets beforehand--as you pitch, and as you write--and you'll make more money for your original pieces as well. That's double-dip technique number 5.
Working efficiently and making more money has been my focus as a freelancer for more than a decade. If you want to learn more about how I do it, read more of my blog. Or check out Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, or Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money. (Notice a theme here?)
Saturday, December 4, 2010
But if you're new to freelancing, or if you're wondering how to go about negotiating better rates, here's a simple and effective way to do it. Think TEA:
1. Thank. When you're offered an assignment, express your appreciation. Let her know you're excited about or looking forward to working with her. (i.e., "Thanks so much for thinking of me..." or "I'm glad you want to assign this piece..")
2. Explain. Now give a reason (or more than one) why you're asking for more money. The way you make your case will depend on the assignment, but I've used the following reasons to ask for more:
- A tight (or extremely tight) deadline. (i.e., "I'm happy to take this on, but the deadline means I'm going to have to work nights to meet it...")
- An all-rights contract that the editor won't budge on. (i.e., "I realize you can't change the contract, but this prevents me from ever reselling the story in the future and as a freelancer, I rely on reprints to fund my 401k...")
- A story that requires a lot of legwork. (i.e., "Hey, we both know how hard it can be to find 'real people' sources for this kind of story....")
- An assignment that requires a certain level of expertise or experience. (i.e., "You know that I've been doing health writing for more than a decade, and I'm happy to do all the background research this story will require..." or "I've written more than a dozen book proposals that have sold, so you know I can write a proposal that will capture an editor's attention..."
- A market that I've written for before. (i.e., "You already know I'm going to do a great job for you...")
3. Ask. It's that simple. After you've expressed enthusiasm for and appreciation of the assignment and stated your case, ask the editor if she can "do better". (You don't have to say, "Pay me more, dude!" even if that's what you're thinking.) The way you phrase it will vary, so use language you're comfortable with. Here are some sample scripts, using the above scenarios:
- Tight deadline script: "Thanks so much for thinking of me for this story. I'm happy to take this on, but the deadline means I'm going to have to work some nights to meet it. Considering that, can you boost your rate a bit?"
- All-rights contract script: "I realize you can't change the contract, but this prevents me from ever reselling the story in the future and as a freelancer, I rely on reprints to fund my 401k--I don't have a pension plan. Keeping that in mind, could you do better money-wise?"
- Legwork-heavy story: "Hey, we both know how hard it can be to find 'real people' sources for this kind of story...it can take days just to find the right person! Can you do better than $1/word for that kind of legwork?"
- Complex or complicated assignment script: "You know that I've been doing health writing for more than a decade, and I'm happy to do all the background research this story will require, but this is a story not everyone could write. Can you do better money-wise to reflect my experience?"
- Regular market script: "You know me and my work, and you know I'm going to do a great job for you and turn the story in before deadline. Could we talk about me getting a raise?"
Thank. Explain. Ask. It's that simple. Try TEA before you say yes...and let me know what happens!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
It seems illogical at first. For a short article, why not just write it up? Why bother with a query?
1. It shows you "get it." That's what professional freelancers do--we query. Writing an article and sending it in looks amateurish. (The exception is if you're pitching an essay, where you send in the completed piece.) Show the editor you're a serious freelancer, not just a reader of the publication, by querying her.
2. You save time. Your editor may have already assigned a piece on the subject, or have a similar piece in inventory. You don't want to spend time writing a piece that has no chance of selling because your editor is already covering it.
3. You stay out of the delete pile. Most national magazines don't accept "unsolicited submissions" (i.e. completed articles) but they do accept queries. Easy decision. right?
4. You boost your chances of success. When you write a piece, you decide on the subject, angle, length, format, sources, and tone. What are the chances you're going to make all the same choices with your story that the editor would when you're basically writing in the dark?
A query tells your editor how you plan to approach the piece, but lets her have the final say. Maybe she wants more words, or fewer. Maybe she likes the basic idea, but wants you to take a different angle. Or maybe she wants you to use an expert and a real person source, not just an expert. Regardless, when you query, you give the editor a chance to assign you the story she wants instead of writing the story you want and crossing your fingers that she'll say yes.
Make sense? Readers, do you agree or disagree?