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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just Say No: Freelance Markets to Ignore

During the last few years, there’s been an explosion of content mills like eHow, Livestrong, and Demandstudios. The content for the site comes from writers who work “for cheap,” at least if you consider $15 or so for a 500- or 600-word article cheap. I sure do.

Freelancers deserve to be paid, and paid well, for their work. Sites like these which pay a ridiculously low amount are not going to help you build a successful career as a freelancer. The writing quality on the sites ranges from middling to poor, and your work there isn’t likely to be taken seriously by editors and clients. And think of your opportunity cost--the time you’re wasting working for tiny checks could be spent pursuing higher-paying clients.

When I see an ad on Craigslist with a general headline like “seeking writers,” often it's an ad for one of these mills. These companies are not looking for professional freelancers. They’re looking for would-be freelancers, writers who are desperate to get published and think it’s worthwhile to do it for $15 a pop. I hope that’s not you.

According to my recent survey, 14 percent of freelancers are writing for online publications, with another 8 percent blogging for pay. That doesn't mean writing for cheap, though.

There are thousands of paying markets for web writing, with new ones are cropping up all the time. The most recent edition (2011) of The Standard Periodical Directory, the largest directory of U.S. and Canadian magazines, lists more than 63,000 magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers. More than a third--27,927 magazines--have electronic versions as well and 6,554 publications are available in electronic format only. That’s a lot of potential markets that need freelancers.

The Web’s explosive growth means that companies, nonprofits, and millions of websites have been created, and many of those websites need writers. No, some don’t pay well. Some don’t pay at all. But others do, and companies launching or updating their sites often hire web-savvy writers to provide copy, and experienced bloggers to produce compelling posts.

If you want to make money writing for the web, forget the sites that pay pennies or offer you “exposure” for your articles. (Why would you want exposure? People die from exposure.)

Instead, look for well-funded websites that pay a reasonable amount for your work. Most of the Web writing I've done has paid $1/word, which is comparable to print markets. Rates have fallen in the last couple of years, but I think it’s fair to expect at least $0.25-50/word for your work. (Your mileage varies? Please comment below and let us know what you're being paid for online work.)

Bottom line? Say “no” to content mills--so you can say “yes” to higher-paying, more promising markets.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Six Reasons to Specialize: Guest Blog Post on Ebyline

I built a freelance career from scratch, but it took me about 18 months to really gain momentum. One reason I finally got my freelance feet under me was that I started specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, and bridal (I'd recently gotten married and had a slew of story ideas) subjects.

Specializing made me work more efficiently and create a memorable identity as a writer--so much so that my first book, Ready, Aim, Specialize, was written to help freelancers develop their own lucrative writing niches. So it's not surprising I just posted about Six Reasons to Specialize on Ebyline's blog for freelancers.

Coming soon: advice for every would-be entrepreneur; writers to avoid--and why; and another royalty statement, decoded.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boost Your Value: or, Why You Must Learn Something New

As a freelancer, your career is in your hands. So is your career development, which means you should be continually learning new skills to attract new clients and better serve the ones you already have.

For example, until last year I had only worked with traditional publishers. When I decided to publish a POD book, I spent several weeks learning about its pros and cons, and evaluating POD companies (I eventually went with CreateSpace). Now I can advise ghostwriting and coauthoring clients about the advantages and drawbacks of POD and traditional publishing, as well as e-books. That helps set me apart from other ghosts and makes me more valuable to clients.

Fore more on expanding your skills, check out Susan Johnston's excellent post at ebyline on 5 skills that make freelancers more marketable.

And consider what tools you should add to your freelancing toolkit. As the publishing industry changes, your clients' needs will change, too, and you must be able to address and meet them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good Advice for Every Freelancer: Never Say Never

I never expected to become a ghostwriter. In fact, the first time I heard about the idea of collaborating, my knee-jerk reaction was “no way!” Turns out I was wrong.

It’s been almost ten years since I first heard Sarah Wernick speak about how she got started as a coauthor. Wernick’s first book, Strong Women Stay Young (with Miriam Nelson, M.D., a researcher at Tufts University) was a New York Times bestseller and launched her successful coauthoring/collaborating career. During a panel at ASJA’s annual writers’ conference Wernick talked about how she identified potential clients, wrote book proposals, and then wrote the books with the experts after they sold to traditional publishers. She wrote one book a year and made a six-figure living doing so.

I still remember sitting in the conference room and thinking, “Wow, she’s making a lot of money!” Yet my next reaction was just as strong. I didn’t want to spend a year of my life toiling away on someone else’s book. No thanks.

So I wrote off the idea, pun intended--until years later, when I realized that if I wanted to keep writing books (and I did), I couldn’t afford to spend so much time marketing and promoting them. I coauthored a successful book with Ellie Krieger, R.D., got serious about collaborating with experts on their books, and started ghostwriting as well.

So never say never. When I started freelancing full-time on January 1, 1997, I started my Novel. The novel. The novel I had dreamt of, fantasized about, and consoled myself with for years. I’d written short stories (none of which were ever published), but my goal had been to write a novel since I majored in writing. And I got fourteen chapters down before I abandoned it. My next two attempts, novels which I started January 1, 1998, and January 1, 1999, also failed.

I was crushed. I couldn’t pursue my dream--I couldn’t even finish a novel, let alone get it published. I was a failure.

I couldn’t admit that to anyone for a long time. Finally I told one of my oldest friends, Abby, who I’d met in my first fiction-writing class about my failure. “I just can’t write a novel,” I admitted.

Abby has been meditating, doing yoga, and embracing a Zen approach to life since I can remember. She was quick to contradict me. “You just can’t write a novel right now,” she said.

It barely registered at the time, but she was right. Another year passed before I felt the urge to write fiction again. What was different this time? Well, I wasn’t just venting about my misspent years as an attorney (although once again my book featured an unhappy female lawyer). I felt more passion for this book, and I finished the draft in four months, and finished the final draft in 364 days. (I’d given myself a year to write it.) That novel (Did you Get the Vibe?) sold to the second publisher I contacted about it.

Imagine if Abby would have said, “Yeah, you’re right,” when I said I couldn’t write a novel. Or, “What’s the big deal? Most people can’t.” Or “Well, I didn’t think you could.” I couldn't write a novel at the time. But I could--and I did--later.

So be careful what you say about your freelance career. And never say “never," "I can’t,” or even, “not for me,” without adding “at least right now.”

***Thinking that maybe "right now" is the time for you to get started ghostwriting? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle version).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The State of Fulltime Freelancer's Work, 2011, take two

Last post, I shared the latest results of what types of work freelancers are doing today. At the top of the list are writing for the Web (15 percent), writing for consumer magazines (12 percent), writing for businesses/corporations (11 percent), and editing (10 percent).

In addition to the 14 specific types of work I asked about, I had an "other" answer where I asked writers to share other tasks they do for pay. Those include:
  • teaching online writing classes
  • proofreading/copy editing
  • public relations
  • translation/research
  • project management
  • articles for educational publishers
  • market research reports
  • SEO research
  • social media promotion planning
  • meeting summaries
  • policy documents
  • consensus reports
  • writing for government
I was surprised at the diversity of this list, but these are 13 more types of work freelancers are doing to make money in an ever-challenging economy. Consider adding one or more of them to your freelance repertoire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When to Draw the Line with a Client

Any businessperson knows that it takes more time to nab a new client than to get an assignment from someone you've worked before (assuming you did a good job, of course). And I've posted before about simple ways to turn a one-time client into a regular, like making your deadlines, staying on their radar, and thinking of ways to make their job easier.

But there are things you should never do to get or keep a client, and I agree with Jennifer Brown-Banks' post on the subject (the seven deadly sins) at ebyline, a new site designed to hook up publishers and freelancers. Accepting poor treatment, badmouthing your competition, or working for too-low fees (three of her seven deadly sins) wind up hurting you--and your job satisfaction--in the long run.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The State of Fulltime Freelancer's Work, 2011

I reported last week on some of the results of the 2011 Freelance Income Survey. Today, let's take a look at what types of work we're doing. With 191 results in (remember, you can still take the survey or ask your freelancing friends to), here's the type of work freelancers are performing for clients today. (The question asked what types of work did you paid to do in 2010/first six months of 2011):

Compared to last year's results, fewer freelancers are writing for consumer magazines and more are writing for the web and blogging for pay. (I'll post soon about blogging for bucks, and why you should.)

Of course freelancers are doing other jobs for pay, too. I'll report on the "other" types of work we're making money from--you may come away with some great ideas for your freelance career.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest post on Excuse Editor

Thanks to Tina Haapala, Excuse Editor, for asking me to do a guest post on why I ghostwrite. I suggest you check out her informative blog, too!

I have a big deadline (one-quarter of my current book ms) this week, but tune in next week for the kinds of work freelancers are doing today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The State of Fulltime Freelancer's Income, 2011

First, thanks to all of you who participated in this year's income survey; we collected 176 responses so far. (Didn't get around to it? You can still take the quick, confidential survey. Thank you!)

Now for a snapshot of the results:

Both new and experienced freelancers took the survey. Nearly 10 percent are newbies, freelancing for a year or less; another 21 percent have been freelancing for 1 to 3 years; 24 percent for 4 to 6 years; 13 percent for 8 to 10 years; 12 percent, 11 to 15 years, and nearly 19 percent have been freelancing for 16 years or more.

The good news is that nearly two-thirds of freelancers--65 percent--made more money in 2010 than 2009. Twenty percent made less, and 14 percent made the same amount both years.

And just how much is that?

* 27 percent made less than $20,000 in 2010
* 23 percent made between $20,000 and $39,999 in 2010
* 22 percent made between $40,000 and $59,999 in 2010
* 14 percent made between $60,000 and $79,999 in 2010
* 7 percent made between $80,000 and $99,999 in 2010
* 7 percent made more than $100,000 in 2010

So, there's good news and bad news. Half of full-time freelancers are making less than $40,000. Yet more than a quarter--28 percent--are making more than $60,000 as freelancers. Better yet, when asked about how they expect to fare in 2011, 60 percent said they're on track to make more in 2011 than in 2010. Just 15 percent expected to make less; 19 percent expected to make about the same both years; and 6 percent said it's too early to tell.

Coming next--I reveal the kinds of of work freelancers are doing today.

***And now for my big news! I've inked a deal with Writer's Digest for my new book, which will release in April, 2012. Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success will build on my earlier books on freelancing, Six-Figure Freelancing and Ready, Aim, Specialize! I've been working on the book for several months and am excited about it. Stay tuned for more facts about what freelancers are making today, and how we're succeeding even in a challenging economy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Great How-To Post on Selling your Book

After writing and publishing your book comes...selling the damn thing. Caitlin Kelly, author of Malled!, has a great post on 10 tips for promoting your new book. Great suggestions for new and established authors alike.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The State of *One* Freelancer's Income, July, 2011

First, thank you so much to all of you who have taken my quick, confidential 2010/2011 freelance income survey; I'll post the results in a week or two. The more responses we get, the more accurate (and helpful!), the results will be, so please take a couple of minutes to take it if you haven't already--and ask fellow freelancers to do the same.

So, let's talk some more about money. I've posted before about the importance of having a daily nut, and that my income goal for 2011 is $60,000. That translates into a daily nut of $250.

Well, as of June 30, we're halfway through the year. So far, I'm on target to hit $60,000 (barely)--I've made $30,497. But where has that money come from? In addition to some syndication fees (I syndicate work of other writers for one client) and some travel reimbursements, etc, my income breaks down like this:
  • $15,500 from ghostwriting projects including a book and book proposal (both of which were started in 2010);
  • $4,275 from original articles for magazines;
  • $915 from "hand-sales," or copies of books I've sold at speaking gigs
I've said before that I make most of my income from ghostwriting books, but by analyzing where my money is coming from, I can see that speaking, original articles, and reprints are contributing significantly to my bottom line. As for royalties and hand-sales, they're just gravy--although I expect to see my POD and e-book royalties increase during the last six months of the year, especially since my "chick lit" novels, Did you Get the Vibe?, and White Bikini Panties, are selling well.

My point? We're halfway through the year. Where do you stand, money-wise? How are doing as far as your annual income goal? And what kinds of work are you finding the most lucrative? I'd love it if you'd comment here and let me and other blog readers know. :)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Survey Update: Glitches are Fixed

What can I say? I'm a doofus. The survey glitches (which are due to me trying to multitask--remember, I'm in the midst of unpacking, etc) are FIXED as of 3:09 p.m., CDT, July 3, 2011. You can provide multiple answers to the questions that ask for them! And I've deleted the duplicate questions! Yay!

If you've already taken the survey, THANK YOU. If you haven't, please do. Thanks!

And tune in tomorrow when I'll share what I've made so far this year, where my money is coming from, and whether I'm on target to make my own annual income goal.

New Survey: The Current Condition of Freelancers' Income

Last year, I conducted an income survey to help determine what full-time freelancers were making. The 127 responses revealed that while the majority (64 percent) made less than $60,000 in 2009, the remainder made more than that--and 16 percent made more than $80,000 that year, including 10 percent that were six-figure freelancers. More than half (54 percent) expected to make more in 2010 than in 2009.

So, how are we doing today? How was 2010 compared to 2009, and how is this year looking? I've set up a new survey to take a closer look, and hope to garner at least 200 responses this time around--hopefully more.

If you freelance full-time (i.e., regardless of how many hours you work, you make your living as a self-employed writer/author/scribe), please take this brief survey. It should take you less than three minutes to complete and is completely confidential. The results will give us a sense of what freelancers are making, and the kinds of work we're doing, today.

Thank you for participating, and please ask fellow freelancers to do the same. I'll post results in a few weeks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

5 Questions to Ask Before you Turn Down a Small Advance

I'm back! We have successfully moved 13 years' worth of stuff (including two home offices) into our new home. Now we are unpacking, which means soon I'll be back into a good work groove.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention my latest piece in the July, 2011 is of The Writer on small advances. One of the reasons I got into ghostwriting and coauthoring is because I found my platform didn't matter as much as my client's did when it came to first, selling the book, and second, the size of the advance we'd garner.

But when you're writing your own book (and I write books on my own, in addition to coauthoring and ghosting), you may face the question that's the heart of the piece--how low is too low? In other words, is a small advance worth it?

This is a timely question as advances are shrinking across the board--unless you have an Oprah-sized platform or a million followers on Twitter. Before you turn down a small advance, I suggest you ask the following five questions:
  • How much time will the book take? A relatively straightforward service book or a collection of previously published essays will likely take less time than a book that requires months of research and dozens of interviews, for example.
  • Will the book further your career, and if so, how? Will it help establish you as an expert in a field you write about? Will it help you transition from freelancer to book author? Will it continue to build on your platform?
  • How small is small? Some authors would turn up their nose at an advance of anything less than mid-five-figures; others will do books for a lot less than that. In other words, what you consider insulting may be more than acceptable to another writer. Only you can determine whether a "small" advance is worth it to you.
  • How many books do you expect to sell? No, you don't have a crystal ball, but if you can reasonably expect to sell tens of thousands of books, a small advance may be offset by royalties down the road. A book aimed at a tiny niche audience is unlikely to produce as many royalties--and remember that four out of five don't earn out, or pay any royalties.
  • How much do you want to do the book? I've taken on tiny advances (as in $2,500) for projects I really wanted to pursue--and have gone the POD route when I couldn't sell my book to a traditional publisher.
For a more in-depth look at this issue, check out the July issue of The Writer. Up next, straight talk about money, and a new survey of what freelancers are making today.