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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Advances, Royalties, and a Closer Look at My Latest Royalty Statement

I’ve posted before about why I got into ghostwriting, and how eliminating the need to market and promote a book after it’s published increases my hourly rate. That being said, I have authored—and continue to author—my own books, both for traditional and POD publishers. So I’m always interested in issues like the size of advances, royalty percentages, and the like.

Today, average advances are shrinking, in part due to the economy (publishing’s a business like any other) and to the ghe glut of “celebrity” books hitting the shelves. When Snooki and The Situation (both of Jersey Shore “fame”) get book deals, that’s bad news for midlist authors like me. The more money publishers shell out for these kinds of titles, the less they have to spend on non-celebrity authors like myself.

Forget the idea of getting rich on royalties. That typically doesn’t happen as 4 out of 5 books don’t "earn out," or make back their advance, which is technically an advance against royalties. Until your book earns out, you won't receive another penny from your publisher--regardless of how hard you work to sell it to potential readers.

To understand how this works, let's take Six-Figure Freelancing as an example. When it sold in 2003, it garnered a $15,000 advance. (Alas, a book on six-figure freelancing doesn’t assure a six-figure advance.) I have an “escalation” clause, which means that my royalty works out to be $.89/book for the first 10,000 sold, $1.12/book for every book thereafter. (I make considerably more, $3.88/book, for its e-version.)

Every six months I receive a royalty statement from Random House that tells me how many copies I sold in a specific six-month period, and how quickly (or slowly) I’m approaching that magic “earning out” figure. Six-Figure Freelancing sold about 4,600 copies in 2005, the first year it was published, and about 1,200 copies annually since then.

Let's take a look at my most recent royalty statement for Six-Figure, which covers the six-month period ending September 30,2010. During that time, I sold 82 e-books (a total of $318.49), and 338 trade paperbacks (for a total of $372.29). Total copies sold during this period? 420. This is the lowest amount of sales I've ever had in a six-month period, but the highest number of e-book sales. (For comparison, during the previous six months, I had sold 40 e-books and 478 trade paperbacks, for a total of 519 copies.)

More importantly, so far, my cumulative sales equal 142 e-books and 11,378 trade paperbacks, a total of 11,520 copies. That's not bad at all. My total royalties are $10,939.83, which includes $273.68 of subsidiary rights income from licensing rights to a book club. But the most important figure to my mind is $4,060.17, or the difference between my earned royalties and my advance. Once the book produces that amount of royalties, I'll start earning additional royalties--but until that happens, it's Random House that's making money right now, not me.

This doesn't mean I'll give up on the book; it's an excellent guide for writers, continues to build my platform as a writing expert, and helps me reach more readers. But realistically I won't see any royalty checks for it for another four to five years...which means I'd better keep making money in other ways in the meantime!

Readers, what do you think? Did this post help you understand advances and royalties better?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coming Soon: Free Freelancing Teleclasses

Recently I wrapped up two big projects--a book for a ghosting client, and a book proposal of my own and am finishing a proposal for another ghosting client this week. As a result, I've had some time to think about this blog and how I can give my readers more tools and techniques to help them make more money as freelancers (in addition to the blog and my books, of course). So, next month I'll launch a series of teleclasses on freelancing topics. If you have a particular subject you'd love to learn more about, drop me a comment below and I'll keep your suggestions in mind.

Also coming soon: a look at my latest royalty statement and what it means, and a giveaway for readers when I hit the 200 followers mark! So stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Serious about freelancing, and live in the Chicago area?

I'll be speaking on Six-Figure Freelancing (one of my favorite topics!) at Off-Campus Writer's Workshop in Winnetka on Thursday morning, February 24th. If hitting the six-figure mark is one of your goals, or you simply want to make more money for your work, the program is worth the drive! Networking starts at 9:00 a.m., the program itself at 9:30, and we should have plenty of time for questions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Forget Queries: 8 Other Ways to Get Work

Sure, queries are a great place to start, but they're only one weapon in your freelance arsenal. Check out The Renegade Writer's post on 8 ways to land assignments (without querying) for other ways to market yourself and your business.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Best Time Management Tip Ever

In addition to writing, I do a lot of public speaking on topics ranging from healthy habits to stress management to time management and goal-setting. Managing my time as efficiently as I can helps me make a fulltime living while putting in part-time hours, so I'm always looking for time-saving measures like working when I'm not really working.

In the world of time management, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to what you should do first each day. One school says to prioritize your tasks, and do the most important task first, then the second most important, and so on. The other school suggests starting with something relatively easy to do; by checking off the first thing on your to-do list, you build momentum for the rest of the day.

I say both are wrong. As I shared at my speech on 10 ways to thrive as a freelancer today at CWIP, the first thing you should do is eliminate the ugliest. In other words, do the thing that you most do not want to do first.

There are several compelling reasons why. First, when you start your morning with the worst thing you must do (whether it's writing the draft of a complicated article, finally revising a book chapter, or calling an editor to request some contract changes), your day can only get better, right?

Second, when you have something you don't want to do and you don't do it right away, you spend a good part of your workday coming up with compelling (and increasingly more creative) reasons why you cannot do that thing right now. You promise yourself you'll do it after you have some coffee. No, you'll do it before lunch. Wait, your blood sugar is flagging--you'll do it after lunch. Then you put it off until 3 p.m.--and nothing gets done at 3 p.m. Eventually you run out of steam, and you run out of work time, and you promise yourself you'll do the dreaded task--tomorrow.

Here's the thing. First off, the dreaded thing did not get done! That's bad enough. But second, consider how much time and mental energy you wasted throughout your day, coming up with excuses (oops, I mean reasons) why you couldn't do it right at that moment. That's not only a waste of time, it's a drain on your emotional energy and leeches your productivity.

That's why I end every work day identifying the thing I most do not want to do the next morning--and start every work day tackling that task. Eliminate the ugliest, whatever your personal "ugly" thing may be, and watch your productivity climb.

How else do I make the most of my time? By specializing. If you're a new to freelancing, check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle edition). You'll find 20 queries that sold, advice from more than 50 successful freelancers, and hundreds of resources to help you break into 10 lucrative nonfiction writing specialties.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The 10th Way to Thrive as a Freelancer

Earlier this week I posted about 10 ways to thrive as a freelancer these days; I spoke at Chicago Women in Publishing (CWIP) last night on this subject. (Great organization, BTW; I met a lot of smart, successful women and will be joining.)

So what's the 10th tip?

10. Forget...assignments. I'm not being facetious. Too often as freelancers we focus on getting one particular article or project. But one thing I've learned in 14+ years of freelancing is that succeeding as a freelancer isn't about getting assignments. It's about building (and maintaining) relationships. So, forget about assignments and focus on building relationships with your clients and potential clients. That is an overlooked but critical element to long-term success.

Remember last year's giveway on my blog? Well, when I hit 200 followers, there will be another one...stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

10 Ways to Thrive as a Freelancer Today (CWIP Speech Preview)

I'm the opening speaker at CWIP's Freelance Edge program tomorrow, February 16; it starts at 6 p.m. I have my speech on surviving and thriving as a freelancer today ready to go; here's a preview for attendees (and tips for those who aren't able to make it):

1. Project success. Yes, you'll have bad days--even bad weeks. Don't bemoan that fact to anyone who will listen. The more successful and confident you act, the more successful and confident you will be perceived as. "Fake it 'til you make it" really works.
2. Determine your daily nut. If you don't know how much you need to average every day, you won't know whether you're making enough to hit your annual income goal.
3. Ask for more--money, that is. Try the TEA method--it works.
4. Reslant everything you can. You'll cut your research time and increase your hourly rate.
5. Eliminate the ugliest. Do the thing you dread doing the most first instead of putting it off. You'll be amazed at how much more productive you become.
6. Brand yourself. Become known as "the writer who [fill in the blank]," whether you choose to specialize or not. You want to set yourself apart from all the competition out there.
7. Harness your hard drive. One way I do this is selling reprints whenever I can.
8. Stretch yourself. Learn something new. Explore a topic you know nothing about. Get up to speed on something that will make you valuable to clients--like the pros and cons of opting for POD to publish a book, for example.
9. Connect with others--writers, sources, PR pros, clients, you name it. Social media has made it easier than ever before, but there's no substitute for IRL connections.
10. Forget... Want to know the last one? Well, tune in Thursday and I'll tell you my final, and possibly most surprising tip.

Until then, happy freelancing!

Another Way to Make your Editor Lose Your Number

Great minds think alike; to follow up on my post about 10 ways to make your editor to lose your number, check out this post on what pisses editors off from the Renegade Writer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

10 Ways to Make Your Editor Lose Your Number

Sure, I've already told you five things your editor would love to hear, and five ways to make your clients love you. Let's take a look at the flip side, and talk about 10 things that make editors crazy:

1. Miss your deadline. Worse yet, miss your deadline and go AWOL. That happened to an editor of mine--not only did the writer fail to turn in her assignment, she ignored my editor's (increasingly upset) emails and phone calls! If you must blow a deadline, let the editor know in advance, and come up with a plan to get the story done as soon as you can.
2. Pester him too much. You already know I'm believe in following up on queries and LOIs, but I do give potential clients and editors a chance to respond. And I typically limit my follow-up emails to one, two if I've written for the client before. Then I move on.
3. Argue/complain/bitch. You know what? I'm just a hired gun. My editor knows her publication and her audience better than I do. That's her job. So if she doesn't think my pitch will work for her magazine, or wants me to take another crack at the piece, I'll honor her decision without pitching a fit.
4. Fail to respond. Yeah, I know that editors take weeks or months to get back to you. But it's different when she's gotten in contact with you. You need to reply ASAP--or in 24 hours, if possible. No, it's not fair. But that's freelancing.
5. Make it personal. This is similar but not quite the same as #3. Say I ask for more money, and my editor tells me she can only pay writers $1.25/word and I was asking for $1.50/word. I may not be thrilled, but I'm not going to blame her for something that's likely out of her control.
6. Call her. Editors hate phone calls. They just do. (I do break this rule but only in rare instances.)
7. Forget what he wants. Check over your assignment letter (or your notes, if you don't have one) about what the piece was to contain before you turn it in. It looks dumb when you submit a story that's missing a sidebar you agreed to do, or that you went 300 words over word count because your "3" in 1,300 looked like a "6."
8. Do sloppy work. Proofread everything before you turn it in. Double-check the spellings of people's names, that you haven't confused "your" and "you're," and that you're not missing anything. Yes, I've turned in stories with errors--small ones. But when your stories are riddled with mistakes, you create more work for your editor--and trust me, he doesn't want or need it.
9. Forget to say "thank you." She's probably got dozens, maybe hundreds of writers who would love to work with her. Make sure she knows you appreciate her. (That's one of those 5 things!)
10. Gossip about her. Years ago, I was in NYC having coffee with an editor and she told me about a freelancer who had resisted her suggested edits--and wrote a scathing email to her friend about it. Except that said freelancer accidentally sent the email to the editor. That's a mighty big oops! And a really good reason for never putting anything negative in writing. You just never know who might see it.

While they may pay your bills, editors are people, too. (Really!) Treat them with respect, avoid driving them crazy, and you'll be rewarded with more work.

My local speaking gigs last week went great, and spiked a bunch of sales on my book for fledgling freelancers, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money. Thank you to all who bought it, and let me know here if you have freelancing questions that aren't addressed in it or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money.

And don't forget, this Wednesday, Februrary 16, I'll be in downtown Chicago speaking at CWIP's Freelance Edge program. Next week, Thursday, February 24, I'm presenting on "Six-Figure Freelancing" at the Off-Campus Writers Workshop in Winnetka. Hope to see some of my followers there!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What you Can Control--and What You Can't

Last week, I spoke on breaking into magazine freelancing at the Bloomingdale Public Library as part of the Inside Writing & Publishing series. One of the things I emphasized to the attendees was to focus on the things about their freelance career that are within their control.

Let me explain. You control how much time you spend writing, how much research you do, how polished your query is, and to a degree, how good your writing is. While some people are blessed with innate talent, writing is also a skill that can be developed and improved over time. Marketing ability—identifying, locating, and pitching potential clients—is another skill that must be learned.

But you have no control over whether an editor will buy your magazine article or whether a publisher will acquire your book. While you can improve the odds by studying the market and writing a compelling, timely query, or by finding a niche for your book and demonstrating that you have a rock-solid platform, selling your work is something of a crap shoot.

That’s why I suggest that you worry about what you can control and forget about what you can’t. Let’s say you have a completed book proposal and you want an agent for it. You can’t force an agent to take you on. But you can make a list of potential agents, determine which would be most likely to acquire your book, and research what clients those agents currently represent—and what types of projects they’re looking for. You can check each agent’s website to learn how he/she likes to be contacted, and follow those directions. You can spend time drafting a targeted query letter that will capture that agent’s attention and make the case for why he/she should acquire your manuscript.

But you can’t make an agent love your book. You can’t even make her read your query. That’s why a fall-back plan—one that has elements within your control—is so important. If you’ve been rejected by your top list of agents, you can create a new goal. Maybe it’s to have queries out to your “second-tier” list by month’s end, to research publishers who often work with unagented writers, or to consider POD publishing. Or maybe you decide to take a closer look at your manuscript to see if you can improve it to make it more marketable.

Get the idea? Forget about what lies beyond your reach, like getting a certain editor to say “yes” to you, and spend your time researching and writing the best query or book proposal you can. That alone will increase your chance of success, regardless of what you’re pitching.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Upcoming Ghostwriting Feature in Writer's Digest

Want to know more about ghostwriting? The March issue of Writer's Digest includes my six-page feature on everything you need to get started--and may just convince you to add "ghostwriter" to your freelance repertoire. It will be on newsstands soon, so watch for it if you're interested.

If you have the necessary skills, there are plenty of reasons to ghostwrite, including a higher hourly rate. If you want to know more about what you need to succeed in this field, and how to attract and qualify clients, set fees, market yourself, negotiate contracts, and work efficiently, you'll want to check out my book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle edition).

Called the "comprehensive guide to becoming a ghostwriter" by Marcia Layton Turner, founder/executive director of the Association of Ghostwriters, it's the only book available that covers all aspects of this lucrative niche. (In fact, the lack of a good book on the subject is one of the reasons I wrote it!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Five Things Your Editor Would Love to Hear

To succeed as a freelancer, you must be able to create and maintain relationships with a variety of others--editors, clients, sources, PR people, and even other writers. Yet writers often overlook the fact that what I call "client maintenance" is a large part of your job.

Think about it: if you're an editor and have your choice of freelancers who have similar writing/reporting skills, wouldn't you rather work with someone you like? Or at least helps make your job a little easier?

Here are five things every editor would love to hear. Why not work some into your repertoire?
  • "No problem." This is my standard response when an editor has a request, whether it's pushing up a deadline or asking me to revise a piece ASAP. As long as I can do it, I will. I may not be thrilled about having to do it, but I'm not sharing that fact with her.
  • "Thank you." It's basic manners to express gratitude. I thank my editors and clients for assignments. I send a quick email to say "thanks" when a check arrives. I let clients know I appreciate them--and the same goes for PR people who come through with a source in a pinch, and the sources themselves.
  • "Nice job." If I get to review galleys, I tell the editor the story looks great. Only in a few cases have I had editors butcher a story; almost always, their work makes my work read better. And I let them know that I recognize that.
  • "When would you like this by?" When an editor assigns a revision or asks me to adddress a few TKs, chances are she needs it ASAP. Asking her about her timeframe lets me answer with my standard "no problem," and then bust my butt to get it done.
  • "I understand." In some cases, when I ask for more money or to change a contract (say, from an all-rights one to a less restrictive version), the editor says no--because she's unable to pay me more or change the contract. I'm not going to chew her out over it--if it's not within her control, it's not within her control. I get it--so I let her know.

Get the idea? Taking a personable yet professional approach makes your clients happy--and that means they're more likely to become regulars.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Five Ways to Pump up your Query

When you freelance for magazines, newspapers, and online publications, it's your query-writing ability that either gets you the assignment (or at least gets your foot in the door), or doesn't. I've posted before about the advantages of querying, why you should query (even for FOBS), the 10 questions to ask yourself before you send a query, and have posted templates for you to use.

Ideally your query does more than simply pitch an idea; it provides the editor with a story "package" that makes it easy for her to say yes. Why not offer something "extra" in your query, like:
  • A sidebar. A sidebar is a shorter piece that complements that main story; editors and readers love them. For example, if you're pitching a feature story about a family whose children were diagnosed with an incurable disease, you might suggest a sidebar of symptoms and another sidebar on resources for/treatments for the condition.
  • A quiz. Quizzes are a fun way to engage readers, particularly if you're writing for an online market. Tell the editor how long you expect the quiz to be.
  • A round-up. A round-up is a group of quotes, tips, or advice from experts or "real people" sources. For example, if you're writing a piece on mentally preparing for a marathon, you could include a round-up of elite runners sharing how they get in "racing mode."
  • Photos. Usually photos are not the writer's job, but in some instances, photos can be a great selling point. If you're pitching a travel piece, for example, mentioning that you have high-quality photos increase your chances of selling the story.
  • A profile. When I recently wrote a piece on how to find love (and avoid weirdos) using social media sites, I included a profile of a woman who had recently reconnected with an old boyfriend from high school--and married him! I could have incorporated her story into the main piece, but it worked well as a separate piece as well.

Get the idea? Don't just pitch a story; pitch a package and you'll boost your query-success rate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Simple Way to Manage your Cash Flow

Even with more than 14 years of fulltime freelancing under my belt, there's an ongoing issue I (and most freelancers) struggle with. It's what I call the "feast-or-famine" syndrome. In other words, you’re either swamped with work to the point that you’re chained to the PC to make your deadlines—or you have so little to do you’re overcome with simultaneous boredom, malaise, and hand-wringing anxiety.

Which is worse? The slow times, for sure. Every freelancer I know would rather be insanely busy than bored and broke. Wouldn't you?

But when you're busy, it's all too easy to forget about marketing--until you turn in a bunch of assignments and discover you're almost out of work. That's why I try to ensure a steady stream of work is by mentally dividing assignments into three categories—category A, work that’s been completed, turned in, and accepted (and that I'm awaiting payment on); category B, work that’s been turned in but is awaiting approval by the editor or client; and category C, work that’s “on my desk” that's been assigned but still has to be researched and written.

Maintaining a certain amount in each category—say $5,000—helps smooth out my cash flow. If I only have a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of work “on my desk”, however, I know I need to get cracking to line up more assignments. Otherwise, in another month or two, I’m going to be facing a dip in my income.

Try dividing your work into these three categories, and set a minimum dollar amount for each. That way, when your "on-the-desk" work falls below a that, you know it’s time to beat the marketing drum. It's an easy way to stay busy, and hopefully productive as well.

Readers, what do you think? How do you manage your cash flow?