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Monday, March 28, 2011

Feedback from Giveaway Winners--and News for Those Who Didn't Win

Remember last year's giveaway and my more recent one? Two out of three of my winners recently "collected" their prizes. I asked them for feedback after our consulting sessions, and here's what they had to say:

Janine has a book coming out next year and we spent our hour talking about her marketing/promotion plan and brainstorming ways to sell the book when it comes out. She said:

"My giveaway session with Kelly yielded pages of ideas, both for boosting my list of viable markets and for promoting my book once it's in my hands. She's a font of ideas, and served up a generous dose of encouragement. Just one hour went a long way to helping me along my path."

Last year's giveaway winner, Jan, worked as a writer before lauching a service business with her husband. Now the couple is planning to move cross-country and she wants to launch a specialized freelance business in her new town. We talked about ways to get started, find new clients, and how to set herself apart from other freelancers based on her specific background. Here's what she said afterwards:

"Whether you're a seasoned freelancer or just starting out, I highly recommend a coaching session with Kelly. I'm in the planning stages of launching my own writing business, and Kelly worked with me to fine-tune my marketing strategy and offered advice on transitioning from employee to business owner. She encouraged me to consider areas of opportunities I may have otherwise overlooked. Kelly is generous with sharing her knowledge of the industry and her personal experiences, and is very accessible. As my business takes off, I look forward to working with her again."

Sometimes freelancers need advice about taking their careers to the next level; sometimes they need encouragement; and sometimes they just need a coach to help them stay accountable and reach their goals. If you're looking for this kind of personalized consulting, contact me through email (kelly at

We can work by phone, email, or a combination of both--that's up to you. My consulting rate is $100/hour and many of my consulting clients find they only need an hour or two's worth of one-on-one consulting to jump-start their freelance careers. If this sounds like you, get in touch!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

10 Smart Rules of Thumb for Freelancers

In last week's post on how to write better service articles, I mentioned one of my rules of thumb--on how many sources I typically interview for a nonfiction article. (Mine is one or two sources for stories of up to about 500 words; two to three for stories of 500 to 1,000 words; and three to five for 1,500-word stories. While some stories require more sources, I don't want to waste time over-researching a story by interviewing sources who won't make it into the piece.

But I've developed plenty of other rules of thumb over 14+ years of freelancing as well, including:

Reaching word count. My rule of thumb for word count is 10%. That means I'll turn a story in at up to 10% over word count without worrying about it. (Sure, I shoot for as close to word count as possible, and I never turn in story under word count, but that 10% bumper means I don’t fret if a story is running a little long. (And yes, every word counts toward the total, but I don't count headers for sidebars and boxes.)

Writing queries. My query rule of thumb? Every query letter has four parts:

*The lead, which catches the editor's attention;

*The "why-write-it" paragraph which makes the case for the story;

*The "nuts and bolts" paragraph, where I explain how I plan to approach the story, describe what type of sources I'll interview, how long the story will be, and where I think the story belongs in the magazine; and

*The ISG, or I'm-so-great paragraph where I highlight any relevant background/experience or expertise I have in the subject area.

Contacting sources before a pitch. My rule of thumb, also known as the McCaughey Septuplets Rule, is that I contact sources before I pitch a piece if the story turns on their involvement. In other words, if I can't write the piece without their input, I make sure ahead of time that they're willing to be interviewed.

Following up. My rule of thumb is to follow up on queries and LOIs to new-to-me markets in about four weeks; I follow up on queries to my regular markets in two to three weeks.

Pitching new queries. I've already told you the best time to pitch a client. That's why another of my rules of thumb is to always have an "idea in my pocket" ready for when an editor accepts a piece.

Touching base. I focus on building long-term relationships with clients, and one of the ways I do so is by staying on the radar. My rule of thumb is to touch base every two or three months to "check in" or pitch new work.

Putting things in writing. I recently had an email from a fellow freelancer asking me about a publisher I'd worked with. I'd had a less-than-happy relationship with this particular publisher, and wrote her back and told her I'd be happy to talk with her by phone about my experience. My rule of thumb here is to never put something negative in writing--you never know who may end up reading it.

Leaving the house. I try not to, unless I have to. My rule of thumb here? I won't meet with a potential ghostwriting client in person until I know what his or her budget is; otherwise, there's a good chance I'll waste my time.

Calculating my daily nut. Regardless of my annual income goal and how many hours I work, I always have a daily nut, or an amount I have to average to make what I want that each. My rule of thumb is to take my overall income, and divide it by 240 (48 weeks of work, with four weeks off for vacation and "holidays.").

***Readers, what about you? Do you have your own rules of thumb that you find helpful? Feel free to share them here!

And finally, I'm talking to a potential client tomorrow but in the meantime, am still looking for new ghosting clients. Please keep me in mind if you know of someone looking for a talented, experienced ghostwriter/collaborator (especially in the health, fitness, wellness and nutrition fields)--and thank you to Susan for passing my name along to a potential client! If you want to get started in this lucrative field, you'll want to buy Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle edition).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Six Common Writing Mistakes--and How to Fix Them

I admit it--despite my best intentions, I sometimes make mistakes. All freelancers do. That's why my latest piece in The Writer is on six common writing mistakes--and how to fix them.

Check it out to learn what to do (and what not to do) when you screw up. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Upcoming Speaking Gigs for April and May, 2011

I'm still working on my ideas for teleclasses; if there are topics you'd like me to cover, comment here and let me know! :)

And if you want to see me live and person, I'll be speaking at a variety of events in the next two months:

  • The Annual Writers Institute at University of Wisconsin/Madison, on April 8-10, 2011. Held in one of my favorite cities (and my birthplace!), this is a great weekend for writers of all stripes. I'll be presenting three different sessions, covering topics including Six-Figure Freelancing to query-writing to today's book publishing options.
  • "Breaking in: The Basics of Writing for Magazines" at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at the Niles Public Library in Niles, Illinois. [Here's the program description: Have you dreamed of writing for magazines? Want to see your byline in your favorite publication? While basic writing skills are essential, the keys to successful magazine freelancing are selecting and analyzing potential markets, developing winning article ideas and crafting attention-getting query letters. This program will introduce you to some common magazine terminology and cover basics like how to find markets, come up with story ideas, and nail your first magazine assignments. Presented by Kelly James-Enger, author of twelvebooks including Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money (Random House, 2005) and 800+ articles for more than 50 national magazine articles.]
  • "Breaking In: The Basics of Writing for Magazines" at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, 2011, at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, Illinois.
  • The OWFI Writers Conference in Oklahoma City from May 5-7, 2011. I attended this conference last year, and am returning to present programs on topics including freelancing for magazines, getting started in ghostwriting, and legal and business issues for freelancers.

I'll also be in NYC for the 40th Annual ASJA Writers Conference at the end of April. I'm a member of ASJA and this event is arguably the best conference for serious freelancers. It's led to literally tens of thousands of dollars of work for me, valuable connections, and awesome friends as well! Check it out and see if it's worthwhile for you to attend.

Seven Ways to Write Better--and Better-Selling--Service Articles

As a freelancer, my specialty is service articles. Service pieces tend to be “how-to” in nature that provide readers with information about a particular topic and show them how to do something (or do it better), and the potential payoff of doing so.

At first glance, service articles are relatively straightforward to research and write, but they also contain a minefield of potential pitfalls for would-be service writers. Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when writing service pieces:

Mistake #1: Insufficient Background

A common mistake writing service pieces is assuming too much—namely, that the reader of the piece knows as much about the subject as you do. For example, I cover nutrition so I know what fiber is, how it works in the body, and why it’s important. But a typical reader may have no clue what about it. Here’s how I highlighted the difference between the two types of fiber in a fitness magazine article:

The two types react differently in water—soluble fiber dissolves, becoming gummy, while insoluble fiber holds water. “Soluble fiber acts more like a sponge,” says Jackson. “It helps suck cholesterol out and lower bad cholesterol levels.” Insoluble fiber acts more like a broom than a sponge, essentially sweeping out your intestines and keeping the area clean, adds Jackson. “They both play different roles but they’re equally important in promoting general health,” she says.

See how I've given readers a mental picture of what the two types of fiber do? Simple yet essential.

Mistake #2: Boring Quotes

Unless you’re the only source for a story, you’ll rely on interviews for the piece. Whether you’re quoting an expert or a “real person,” make sure the quotes you use “pop.” For example, an interview transcript with a registered dietitian for a story about how stress impacts your waistline included the following:

“Eating when you’re not hungry makes people feel bad afterwards.”

“No one feels empowered when they’re on their third row of Oreos.”

The quotes mean the same basic thing, but I used the latter—the language is stronger, more specific, and more arresting. Choose direct quotes that are compelling and strong; otherwise, take the information out of direct quotes and attribute to the source.

Mistake #3: Too Few Sources—or Too Many

Speaking of sources, the number you use will depend primarily on the length of your story. My rule of thumb is one or two sources for stories of up to about 500 words; two to three for stories of up to 1000 words; and three to five for 1500-word stories. Your mileage may vary but I don't want to over-research or under-research a piece.

Mistake #4: Returning to the Well Too Often

If you write about a particular subject area, you probably already have your “favorite” expert sources who can be counted on to give you great information. But falling into a habit of always hitting up the same sources can hurt the quality of your work.

Make sure you include new experts and check what's happening on the topic, even if it's one you cover frequently. And if you write about ever-changing topics like technology or health, this is critical for accuracy.

Mistake #5: No “Real People”

Yes, experts can explain why something is the way it is. But for color, and more memorable articles, include “real people” sources as well.

For example, in a piece I did on the benefits of eating breakfast, I reported on recent research on how eating breakfast improves memory and cognition—and boosts mood and energy. I included quotes from registered dietitians explaining why breakfast is so important. But I also included quotes from people who had found that eating breakfast helped them lose weight and have more energy. ”

These “real people” anecdotes liven up a service piece and provide readers with real-life examples that they can relate to as well.

Mistake #6: Insufficent Service

Service articles are about service, right? But it’s easy to forget this when you’re working on a story—or gloss over what readers need to know. For example, in a piece on toddler tooth traumas, I explained why parents should brush their children’s teeth regularly. But how do you actually do this? I included specific tips like “hold your child’s head steady,” “choose a child’s brush with extra-soft bristles,” and “brush along the gumline, not just the teeth themselves” so that parents would be able to put the advice from the article into practice.

When it comes to service, you want to be specific—writing generalities usually get the story kicked back to you by the editor.

Mistake #7: Skimping on Sidebars

Finally, sidebars are often a great addition to a service piece. For example, when I wrote a piece for The Writer on the effectiveness of letters of introduction, or LOIs, my sidebar included two examples of LOIs that readers could use as models. My above-mentioned piece on the health benefits of fiber included a sidebar listing foods with high-fiber content, their serving size, and the total grams of fiber in each.

While magazines may be shrinking in size, service articles will never go out of style. Readers are always looking for advice about how to improve their lives, which makes this writing genre a lucrative one. Make your service articles focused, interesting, and helpful, and you’ll have your editors coming back for more.

Coming soon...another query critique series, so get your queries ready! I'll also be offering my ghostwriting e-class again in April; dates TBA.

Finally, I'm still between ghostwriting projects. If you know of someone who's looking for a ghostwriter, coauthor, or editor for a book-length project in the health, fitness, wellness, psychology, or nutrition field, I'd appreciate a recommendation!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

5 Ways to Avoid Getting Stiffed

As a freelancer, you make money by selling your words. But what happens when you perform the work, yet a client fails to pay you for it?

Unfortunately just about every freelancer faces this scenario at some point. As the economy has tanked, your chance of experiencing "slow-pay" (or worse, "no-pay") clients has increased. However, there are five steps you can take to help ensure that you’re paid, (hopefully) promptly, for your work.

Step 1: Choose Your Clients Carefully

When can you expect to be paid? That depends on a variety of factors. In general, national magazines pay within about four to six weeks of accepting a story; I’ve found that trade and regional magazines, which have fewer levels of bureaucracy, pay more quickly. Business clients generally pay within two to four weeks of receiving an invoice.

If you're contacted by a client that isn't a "name," consider too how long the client has been in business and what its reputation is before you accept an assignment. Some clients are notoriously hard to collect from. New publications or websites (a/k/a "start-ups") may lack financing. Markets that advertise for writers with promises of "exposure" or websites that pay per-click aren’t good bets. In other cases, you may hear from other sources that the client isn’t paying writers.

If you’re writing for a publication that you’ve never heard of, a quick internet search may alert you to payment problems down the road. The American Society of Journalists and Authors maintains a “warning list” of publishers for members, and also maintains a Whispers and Warnings forum anyone can access.

Step 2: Obtain a Written Agreement for Your Work

A written contract is your best defense to payment problems down the road. Most big magazines have a written contract they’ll ask you to sign, but you needn’t have an "official" one to have an enforceable agreement. Technically even an oral agreement is enforceable, but an email exchange between you and your editor that sets out the terms—the story topic, word length, payment, rights purchased, and deadline—is better evidence should payment push come to shove. Writing your own is simpler than you might imagine. Here’s an example:



Dear Mark:

I’m writing to confirm the terms of our agreement as discussed by phone today. Per your assignment, I will write 1,000 words on the benefits of procrastination for MAGAZINE TITLE, for $1,500. The story is due April 1, 2010, and you are purchasing first North American serial rights to the piece. Please reply by email to confirm these terms, and thank you for thinking of me. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Kelly James-Enger
[Contact info]

If you don’t have a written contract, it’s legally presumed that you’re selling one-time rights to the story, but that may or may not be your editor’s understanding. And without something in writing, how will you assert your rights? What if your editor assigns the story and then leaves the publication a few weeks later? How will you collect if you have nothing from her confirming your agreement? Get in writing, no matter what.

Step 3: Maintain Accurate Records

The next step to getting paid is knowing when you expect payment. Note when you turn work in and when it's accepted. If you're working with a new market, ask whether you need to provide an invoice to your editor or client. (Your invoice should include your name, address, phone, email, invoice amount, an explanation of the work purchased and rights, if applicable, social security number or tax ID number, and an invoice number for easy tracking.)

Step 4: Track your Invoices

If a few weeks elapse after your work is accepted and you haven’t been paid, follow up with your editor via email or phone. Ask when you can expect your check. If you still don’t receive a check, contact the magazine or company’s Accounts Payable department directly. Be prepared to email or fax a copy of your invoice, and record who you spoke to and when. Often, contacting AP will result in payment, but you may have to pester the department repeatedly until you get your money.

With one magazine, I called the AP person every Monday for seven weeks until I finally received my check. Was she sick of my calls? Sure. But I wasn’t going to give up until I get paid...and I did, eventually. (And no, I never wrote for that publication again.)

Step 5: Send your Pay-or-Die Letter

Last resort? Send your pay-or-die letter. And if that still doesn't work, you have several other options. A sternly worded letter from an attorney may trigger payment (you needn’t disclose that the lawyer is your brother-in-law or cousin), or you can consider hiring a collection agency which will pursue payment for a percentage of the amount owed. You may also consider filing in small claims court, although you have to file in a county and state where the publisher or company is located and/or does business.

Bottom line? You deserve to get paid--and paid fairly--for your work. Don't be afraid to pursue the money that's owed to you--or to say "no" to clients who you suspect may not be able to willing or able to pay you before you work for them.


P.S. When I ghostwrite for or collaborate with a client, I always get a retainer up front, and set up a payment schedule so I'm paid for work performed throughout the project. For more on ghostwriting, check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle edition).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Five Simple Ways to Find Ghostwriting Clients

So, you've learned something about ghostwriting, and think you have the skills to do so successfully. Next step is promoting your ghosting business.

Here are five simple ways to reach potential clients:
  • Use the web. Your website, your blog, and your email signature should all mention your ghostwriting work. You may also want to have a dedicated page for clients looking for a ghost telling them more about what you do and what to expect.
  • Check craigslist. Yup, much of the posts there are dreck, but I've found clients through the popular site. and are two other sites to check for work.
  • Tell your sources. Reach out to your contacts. I specialize in health, fitness, and nutrition subjects. Whenever I interview an expert source for a magazine article, I let the person know I'm a ghostwriter as well. .
  • Send out LOIs. I've contacted book packagers, literary agents, and book editors with a brief letter of introduction, asking that they keep me in mind for projects.
  • Educate current clients. I do a mix of article and book work, and make sure that my magazine editors know I ghostwrite as well. This keeps people from pigeonholing me as "only" an article writer.

For more on this lucrative writing niche, check out my book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle edition).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Five Fast, Easy Ways to Find Experts

I'm often asked about finding sources for articles and books (and it's smart to suggest experts in your query letter). So for today's post, let's take a look at how you identify and find potential sources for your work.

First off, you have to decide who you'll interview for the story. Perhaps your background research has uncovered potential sources in other newspaper, magazine, or medical journal articles. In other cases, you'll start from scratch. There are a number of efficient ways to find qualified experts, and the methods you use may depend on the topic and nature of the expertise you seek.

Look to the Big Book
Today, it's easy to Google for potential sources. But don't forget about an old-fashioned method that works. Check out the monster three-volume Encyclopedia of Associations, which will be found on reserve at your local library and contains more than 20,000 U.S.-based organizations that cover everything from medicine to gardening to hobbies to sports to charity groups.

Use the index to locate the appropriate subject, and read through the descriptions of the organizations listed to find one that meets your needs. (When there are several to choose from, I usually start with the largest or most well-established.) Then call the association (calling usually provides a quicker turn-around than emailing), and ask for the media affairs or public relations department. Explain that you're a freelancer working on a story on fill-in-the-blank and would like his or her help hooking you up with a member of the organization who can help you.

The organization's PR person can suggest appropriate members, and may often offer people you would not have thought of otherwise. If you prefer an expert with certain qualifications, like affiliation with a major university or significant media experience, tell the PR person. He'll be able to provide you with names and contact information of experts who will fit the bill.

The Ivory Tower
Depending on the type of story you're doing, you may consider calling on a college or university as well. Take the same approach that you would with an organization; ask for the public affairs or media relations department and ask for referrals to an appropriate faculty member to interview.

The Expert Among Us
Another easy way to find experts is to look for books on the subject—preferably recent ones. Book authors actually seek out publicity—the more often they're interviewed, the more frequently their books are mentioned. Check and either track down the author through a search engine or call the publisher and ask for the public relations department. Someone there will be happy to hook you up with the author for an interview. (By the way, in these days of POD publishing, where anyone can publish a book, I tend to stick with traditionally-published books.)

Online Options
There are also several online resources you can use to locate experts, including Profnet. One advantage to Profnet is that you can search its extensive database of experts by subject matter specialty or keyword. You can also submit a query that's sent to PR agencies, universities, hospitals, associations, and experts, and choose how you'd like to receive responses—i.e., via phone or email.

Another popular resource for freelancers is HARO ("Help a Reporter Out"), which lets you submit a query that's sent to more than 100,000 potential sources. Again, you can choose how you'd like to be contacted.

There you are--five easy ways to find experts for stories. If you're new to freelancing, you'll find hundreds of more resources for subject-specific experts in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition (Kindle edition).

Congrats to the Giveaway Winners!

My five-year-old son, Ryan, had a great time selecting the winner's for my most recent giveaway. Congrats to sjvercelli, who won the first prize: an hour's worth of consulting time with me ($100) and one of my three books on writing:

Due to the large number of entries (46 in all), Ryan pulled a second-place winner as well. Congrats to Joanna, who won a half-hour's worth of consulting time with me!

sjvercelli and Joanna, please shoot me an email at kelly at so we can set up your consults. Looking forward to working with both of you!

And stay tuned for more advice on how to make more money in less time as a freelancer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

5 Contract Clauses to Watch for--and Change if you Can

Thanks to the 39 people (so far) who have entered my latest giveaway; I'll be addressing many of your questions and suggestions in the future, and will announce the winners on Monday, March 14!

In the meantime, let's take a quick look at a topic that stymies many freelancers: contracts. (Thanks, Kristine and Lisa, for the suggestion.) If you have the opportunity to write your own contract, create one that favors you instead of the publisher.(For example, you might specify that you’re selling one-time rights to a story and require payment within two weeks upon acceptance.) Usually, however, publishers will have their own contracts that they expect you to sign--and that's where things can get sticky.

Pay special attention to contract provisions including:

Work-for-hire/all-rights. During the last decade, one of the hot issues with publishing contracts involved electronic rights, whether it was the right to put a story on the Web and/or include it in an online archive. Those rights are distinct and separate from print rights, so the writer-friendly argument was that publishers should pay additional money for those additional rights. Many writers were able to negotiate for more money, and some contracts even specified a certain amount (e.g., 10%) for the electronic rights to the story. Now, more publishers are simply asking for all rights to work. Understand that when you sell all rights (sometimes called a “work-for-hire” agreement) to a story, you’re precluded from reprinting or reusing that piece every again.

Exclusivity. A common clause in national magazines requires you to agree “not to write about the same or similar subject of the work from the date hereof until six months after the on-sale date of the issue of the magazine in which the work is published.” There are several issues with this clause. First, what if you want to write about the same (or similar) subject in the near future? And what happens if the story gets pushed back again and again? Signing this provision means you could be prevented from covering a similar subject for a different publisher for months and months while you wait for your first story to run.

Indemnification. An indemnification provision provides that you'll defend the publisher if it's sued over something you’ve written. But what if your work is rewritten or edited and factual errors are introduced, resulting in a lawsuit? Then you could be indeminifying the publisher for something you didn't even do! Unfair, and unrealistic.

Also watch for provisions that ask you to indemnify the publisher for “any and all” claims resulting out of the assignment. Think about it. Anybody can sue anyone for anything, and if a reader sues the publisher, claiming that reading your article on foot pain gave him a brain tumor, you’re now required to help defend the publisher. More writer-friendly language is “claims arising out of the breach of this agreement.”

In other words, if you breach the agreement by plagiarizing or libeling someone, for example (nearly every contract has a provision where you assert that your work will not plagiarize or libel someone), you indemnify the publisher. You made the mistake, so you’re on the hook. That seems fair even to me.

• Confidentiality provisions. I've seen a few contracts that include confidentiality clauses that preclude the writer from discussing the actual terms of the contract with anyone. A provision like this hamstrings writers by preventing them from even discussing the terms with another writer—which seems like over-reaching to me. (This differs from common confidentiality clauses where you agree not to discuss the subject of your assignment except as needed—say with sources.)

Research notes and other materials. More contracts are asking that you turn over “all notes, transcripts, and research materials” created while researching and writing the story. This provision is troublesome because you’re selling rights to the article itself (i.e. 1,000 words on how to house-train a puppy), not all of the research that may or may not make it into the story. My opinion? Those are your research materials, not the publisher’s, and I would strike this language.

And how do you change a contract? You have several options.

If you don’t like a certain provision, you can always strike it by crossing it out and adding your initials and date. However, the editor or client must agree by countersigning the change.

I find it faster and more efficient to pick up the phone to negotiate contract changes. Start by thanking the editor for the assignment, but adding that a couple of the contract provisions are problematic for you. (Sound familiar? This is similar to how I ask for more money.)

Then make your case, keeping in mind that she may not understand her own contract (or even have read it.) For example, “I’m looking forward to working with you, but this indemnification provision basically asks me to act as an insurer and I can’t promise that no one will ever sue you as a result of the story.”

Give her a reason to say “yes” to your contract changes. If she won’t give, ask if she can modify the contract to better fit your needs. And if she refuses to or cannot change the contract, then it's up to you whether to take the assignment.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Celebrating 200+ Followers: A Valuable Giveaway

Hi, readers...and a special hellow to all 202 of my followers!

To celebrate hitting the 200+ mark, I'm offering a special giveaway.

First prize gets an hour's worth of time with me (a $100 value) and a free copy of one of my three writing-related books:
You can use your hour any way you want--have me review and critique query letters, ask for advice on growing your career, have me help with marketing your business, you name it.

Depending on how many entries I get, I may offer a second prize, too, which will be 30 minutes of consulting time with me.

How do you participate? Post a comment on this thread and tell me about an aspect of freelancing you'd like to know more about--or a topic you'd like me to see me talk more about on my blog--by Saturday, March 12, 2011. I'll then have my five-year-old son pull names at random, and will announce the winner(s) here.

Thanks and I look forward to working with the winner(s)!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

5 Surprising Attributes of Long-term Freelancers

Next month, I'll be heading to Madison and Manhattan, two of my favorite cities. I'm speaking at the University of Wisconsin/Madison's Annual Writer's Institute (I'm presenting three programs: Six-Figure Freelancing, The Art of the Query, and Your Book Publishing Options Today.) And at the end of the month, I'll be heading to NYC for ASJA's Annual Writer's Conference. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, networking with editors and agents, and learning more about how to thrive as a freelancer in 2011 and beyond.

Here's the thing--as a fulltime freelancer, I have to continually recreate my career to keep up with an ever-changing market. I started out writing for magazines, and over time, developed a number of contributing editor relationships and was able to make six figures (or close) writing features that averaged $2000 for national magazines.

Well, those days are over; as magazines have shrunk, meaning fewer and smaller assignments, I started putting more effort into writing books. Today most of my work (and income) comes from book projects, most of which are ghostwritten or coauthored. I've also spent time learning more about social media (trust me, a year ago I was clueless!) as I can see it's essential to be able to connect with both current and future clients--as well as other writers and colleagues.

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. While that's understandable, it can also be a mistake. When I wrote Six-Figure Freelancing, I interviewed more than 20 six-figure freelancing, most of whom had been self-employed for more than 10 years, and nearly half of whom had been in the business for 20+ years. While they were all talented writers, they all had other attributes in common--including:

  • Adaptability. One very successful freelance speechwriter in NYC started out as an educational film writer. When the market for educational films started to dry up, she decided to transition into corporate speech-writing, and has run a successful business since. Lesson: you must adapt to the market and/or find new markets, or you'll be left behind.
  • Focus. The most successful freelancers don't try to write about anything and everything; they develop niches or specialties for themselves. This helps them develop a name, build lasting relationships with clients, and repurpose work (whether by writing both articles and books, for example, or by reslanting or selling reprints).
  • Optimism. I've never met a long-term successful freelancer who has a bad outlook on the world. The ability to see the glass (or your career) as half-full, rather than half-empty, is an essential attribute to surviving and thriving long-term. I have lousy days and weeks like any other self-employed businessperson; we all do. But I believe in learned optimism, especially when it comes to work. After 14+ years of fulltime freelancing, I know a bad day or two is only that--not the harbinger of the end of my career.
  • A long view. Being busy is good for your bank account but can be hazardous to your long-term career. When you’re working nights and weekends 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 “where do I want my writing career to go long-term?” The most successful freelancers don't spend their time putting out fires every day; they think about where they want to be five or ten (or more) years from now, and work toward those long-term goals.
  • A life. Freelancing fulltime can be a rewarding, stimulating way to make a living, and there's nothing else I'd rather do work-wise. But to succeed long-term, you've got to have a life outside of and away from your PC or Mac. I learned early on that working 50-60 hours a week didn't make me more productive--it just made me cranky, anxious, and pudgy. My point? Long-term freelancers have interests outside their careers, and make sure that they take vacation time to recharge and "reset."

What does this mean for you, if you're newer to the freelancing biz? Take an afternoon, or a weekend, to ask yourself some simple questions. Where do you want to be five or ten years from now? What kinds of projects do you want to pursue? How does that differ from how you’re spending your time today? And most importantly, how can you start implementing strategies to help you get there?

**One more thing: we've hit 200 followers! I'm announcing another giveaway to celebrate this, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Five-Step Method for Pitching--and Selling--Reslants

Earlier this week, I talked about reslanting story ideas to take advantage of the information that’s already in your head, in your story files, and on your hard drive, reducing the amount of time you spend researching the subject. But if you’re a one-idea=one-story writer, you may have to make an extra effort to come up with reslants the first few times you do it.

I suggest you brainstorm from the outset. Give it a try:

1. Write down your initial article idea.

2. Write down the angle you’re pitching (or writing for), the market(s), and the readers of those markets.

3. Now, think of what other approaches you could take to the subject—and who might be interested in your new pitches. Does the topic and angle appeal to parents? Alumni of a certain school? Frequent travelers? Business owners? Homeowners? Recreational athletes? Seniors? Make notes of your different spins for different audiences.

4. Research potential markets that reach those audiences. Again, think broadly—in addition to national consumer magazines, consider trade publications, regional/local markets, and online publications. Even if some of these markets don’t pay well, a reslant that takes little time to report and write may still well worth your time.

5. Write and send queries to the appropriate markets with your reslanted ideas.

That's it! If you get in the habit of doing this exercise whenever you come up with a new story idea, you may be surprised at how many different approaches you can take, even with a seemingly narrow topic. And if you don’t come up with other approaches at the outset, keep your mind open--your research may lead to additional ideas as you work on the original piece.

Ghostwriting feature in this month's Writer's Digest

I have a six-page feature on ghostwriting in this month's Writer's Digest; check it out if you want to learn more about this lucrative niche. It's a great overview of why you should consider ghosting and how to get started in the field; for everything else you need (including sample letters of introduction, bids, and contracts), check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle edition).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reslants, Revisited: The Morris Lions Car Show Lesson

Regular readers know that I'm a big believer in reslants, but as a new freelancer, I had no clue about writing about the same subject more than once.

One of my first assignments as a freelancer was a story on a charity car show sponsored by the local Lions’ Club. The annual event was one of the largest charity car shows in the Midwest, but it had never been covered in The Lion, the organization’s magazine. I pitched the story, and received the assignment. I attended the car show, conducted interviews, shot photos, and wrote a 1,500-word story for my editor. He was happy with the piece, and paid me $500 promptly.

Good enough, right? But consider this: in my fourteen-year freelance career, I have never:

• Written about the Morris Lions’ car show again;
• Written about car shows again; or
• Written for The Lion again.

And that is the problem. To write this story, I spent about 15 hours doing background research, pitching the idea, interviewing sources, attending the show, shooting photos, writing captions, and actually writing and proofing the piece. I learned a lot about cars—more than I ever wanted to know—but I never revisited that knowledge (until my son turned four and became obsessed with all things automotive.) That means I spent a lot of time doing background research and reporting, yet wrote and was paid for only one story.

That's what I call a one-shot, and those are a waste of your time as a freelancer.

Instead, look for ways to reslant, or spin off, your story ideas. This allows you to make the most out of your research time, which is almost always the most time-consuming part of the article writing process.

With my Lions’ car show story, I could have:

• Written a piece about the show for another market, like a local or regional magazine or newspaper;
• Written about car shows for a travel publication or car enthusiast magazine;
• Written other articles for my editor at The Lion. (I’d done a great job for him on my first story—why didn’t I pitch him another idea? But I didn’t. I dropped the ball big-time)

Get the idea? Next post, I'll explore this topic more and help you start pitching and selling more reslants--and making more money in less time as a result.

New to freelancing and unsure about how to get started--or want to boost your query success rate? Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle edition) will help you identify topics you already have a background in to pitch compelling article ideas--and includes 20 examples of successful queries that sold.