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Sunday, November 27, 2011

10 Ways to Treat your Writing Business Like a Business

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I'm a business owner first, a writer second. That's one of the reasons I've been able to keep my freelancing business afloat for fifteen years, despite the massive changes afoot in the publishing industry. So it's not surprising that the topic of my latest article in The Writer was on 10 ways to treat your writing business--well, like a business!

Pick up the December, 2011 issue of The Writer at a bookstore near you (yes, they're still out there!) for the full article. In the meantime, those 10 ways are: 

1. Develop resilience. Don't let a bad day of freelancing (or two, or three) sour you on the business.
2. Keep regular hours. It shows that you take freelancing seriously.
3. Be responsive. Your clients should know that you'll get back to them, fast.
4. Track your income. You should always know what you're making, who owes you, and how much.
5. Track your expenses. How else will you write them off your taxes?
6. Stretch yourself. You've got to continually learn new skills to stay marketable.
7. Follow up on every pitch. Following up isn't being a pest; it's being a pro.
8. Think before you write. If you're not sure whether you send that email, don't.
9. Project success. It will attract clients.
10. Set goals. If you don't know what your goals are, how will you know whether you reached them?

These are only 10 ways to succeed as a freelancer. For 91 more, why don't you preorder my new book, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, which will be released in April, 2012 by Writer's Digest Books? It's a compilation of the 101 strategies I (and other successful freelancers) use to make more money in less time as self-employed writers. One of those 101 strategies is become a ghostwriter (ghosting and coauthoring is the lion's share of my work these days), and if you want to learn more about this lucrative field, check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Books: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tips from the Experts, Take #3: Go Online!

Continuing the series of tips from the ASJA panels in Chicago 10 days ago, we have Gina Roberts-Grey weighing in. Gina is an extremely successful freelancer (and fantastic person!) who has who has written scores of health and consumer issues articles for women's print and online markets including Glamour, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's Day, Redbook, Self, Essence,,, iVillage and others, as well as numerous celebrity profiles.

Gina built her business writing health features for big women's pubs like Glamour, Redbook, and Women's Health, but several years ago, realized it was time to add something new to her repertoire. "Ads were disappearing, and it was time to create a new specialty from what I had already done," she says. For her, that meant both cracking online markets and developing a new specialty. After writing a 250-word piece on credit cards for Good Housekeeping, she pitched, and got an assignment. Since then, she's written dozens of financial-related articles for that site and for among others.  

More importantly, she says that now the majority of her work and money comes from online sites rather than print publications. "Websites may only pay $1/word [compared to $2/word or more for national print publications], but you can make a lot of money writing for $1/word when you're not doing two, three, or four rewrites," she says. "You write 1,000 words, and you get paid for 1,000 words." [Note: as someone who's experienced "rewrite hell" and "story creep" many times, she has an excellent point!]

So, tip #3: Go online, young man (or woman.) If you're not writing for online pubs, you're missing out. There's more work available online than ever before, and many sites are more open to new writers than their print counterparts. 

"All of your favorite mags have dot.coms. They use original content because they have to, and they're constantly updating their sites" says Gina. "Query those [online] editors. It's easier to break in than going the print route." You can then use those online clips to get your foot in the door with the print publication--or you may find you're perfectly happy writing for the online magazines. Gina and other freelancers agree there's less hassle involved and often a higher per-hour rate as well. 

**Readers, what say you? Do you agree with Gina's analysis? Do you write for online pubs and print magazines, and find that online markets involve less hassle? Please let me know! :) 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'll be at the Westmont Public Library Tonight!

Just a reminder about tonight's program at the Westmont Public Library (IL) at 6:30 p.m. I'm speaking about the pros and cons of different book publishing options. Hope to see some of you there! :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tips from Freelancing Experts, Take #2: Start Tweeting!

As a freelancer, you've got to be able to network and create relationships. You already know that. Fortunately there's this thing called social media (you've heard of it, right?) to help you do so. Using it can help you develop relationships and get assignments from editors and clients you haven't worked with before. 

So tip #2 from last week's ASJA board member panels in Chicago is to get social-media-savvy. Specifically, get on Twitter, recommends ASJA board member Randy Dotinga, who writes stories, blog posts and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor and a daily email newsletter for Voice of San Diego (a leading non-profit investigative news organization). He's nabbed numerous assignments from actively participating on Twitter. "Find people who are like you in the writing business, and follow them," says Dotinga. "If you write about science or the environment or health, look for writers and editors who cover those subjects and follow them...and use Twitter to promote yourself as a freelancer." Twitter has helped him make "warm calls" to new clients and editors because they "know" him from his Tweets. 

He also suggests that new writers consider smaller-scale publications in addition to national ones. "Think about local publications, alternative weeklies, nonprofit organizations, and news collectives," says Dotinga. They are often overlooked by freelancers and can be a good source of work. By following people in your area "who know what's going on," you're also likely to find story ideas you can spin into pitches. 

Bottom line? "Use social media," says Dotinga. "Use it to market yourself, promote yourself, and promote your work." 

**Readers, what about you? Are you using Twitter to build your freelance business? Has it helped you get work? If so, share your stories here! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tips from Freelancing Experts, Take #1: Write about Technology

I was the organizer of last Friday's ASJA panel (open to both members and nonmembers) on successful freelancing and book publishing at the Silversmith Hotel. The six panelists had plenty of great ideas, tips, and advice for both new and experienced freelancers, so my next batch of future posts will highlight some of them.  

Tip #1: Write about technology. According to Minda Zetlin, author/coauthor of five books and regular contributor to Inc. magazine and the Inc. website, as well as many other online and print publications, technology writers have suffered less from the recession because of the constant demand for stories on the subject. "In the tech world, assignments have not dried up," says Zetlin, "I have more work that I can go after, and there is a lot of work out there--well-paying work." That work ranges from reviewing products to business stories that have a technology bent to writing white papers to ghostwriting

As a freelancer, you may be writing for companies, for markets that target high-level tech workers (think CIOs, or Chief Information Officers), for markets aimed at lower-level tech employees, or for markets that target people who use technology--in other words, just about all of us. (Hey, I don't officially cover "tech" but I've still written stories about the value of tech toys for toddlers, the benefits of downloadable heart rate monitors, and how college students use technology. And that's just the tip the iceberg when it comes to tech-related topics!)   

Zetlin admits that it takes extra effort to pitch a timely tech story (the editors are likely to have covered the latest software, for example), and encourages writers to think outside the box for relevant topics. Years ago she saw a news item about the fact that the average CIO stays at a company for only four years. She used that stat to pitched a story to a national magazine on how tech employees can cope with this kind of turnover as it as likely they'd be dealing with a new CIO every four years or so. 

Her point? "Take something in the news, or something new, and spin it," says Zetlin. "Make it more thoughtful or useful to the audience." That's good advice for any type of topic, but especially relevant when writing about tech.

**Technology is actually one of the "top ten" freelance specialties I address in Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money


Book Publishing Options Program at the Westmont (IL) Public LIbrary This Thursday

Thinking about writing a book, and want to know more about your options? If you live in the Chicago area (especially the western suburbs!), come see me present on book publishing choices (and the pros and cons of each) at the Westmont Public Library on Thursday, November 17. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. and I plan to have plenty of time for questions. Let me know if you're planning on attend, and please pass this along to anyone who may be interested!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicago-Area Freelancers--Join Us Friday, November 11!

If you're a freelancer in the Chicago area, please join us at this event Friday, November 11, at 7 p.m. at the Silversmith Hotel. Here are the details: 

Surviving—and Thriving in—Today’s Freelance Market: ASJA Board Members Share Strategies that Work

The freelance market can be challenging to negotiate today, but it also offers new opportunities to both new and seasoned writers. This special event featuresmembers of the board of directors of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Whether you’re interested in writing books or freelancing for a variety of print and online markets, you’ll benefit from decades of experience from these seasoned, successful writers.

Location: Silversmith Hotel, 10 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL
Date: Friday, November 11, 2011
Time: 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Price:$10, payable in cash or check at the door

This event will include two concurrent panels, one on book publishing and one ongeneral freelancing and is open to both ASJA members and non-members. ASJA board members speaking include:

On the Successful Book Publishing Today panel (moderated by ASJA member Kelly James-Enger):

  • Caitlin Kelly, author of Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail (Portfolio, 2011) and Blown Away: American Women and Guns (Pocket Books, 2004).
  • Russell Wild, author of more than a dozen books, including, most recently, Exchange-Traded Funds for Dummies, Bond Investing for Dummies, Index Investing for Dummies, and One Year to An Organized Financial Life.
  • Janine Latus, is the author of the international bestseller If I Am Missing or Dead: a sister’s story of love, murder and liberation, which has been translated into six languages.

On the Successful Freelancing Today panel (moderated by ASJA president Salley Shannon):

  • Minda Zetlin, author/coauthor of five books and regular contributor to Inc. magazine and the Inc. website, as well as many other online and print publications.
  • Gina Roberts-Grey, who has written scores of health and consumer issues articles for women's print and online markets including Glamour, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's Day, Redbook, Self, Essence,,, iVillage and others, as well as numerous celebrity profiles.
  • Randy Dotinga, who writes stories, blog posts and book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor and a daily email newsletter for Voice of San Diego (a leading non-profit investigative news organization). He also regularly writes for, HealthDay News Service, Health Behavior News Service and other outlets.
Please spread the word to all writers who may be interested--we're hoping for a big turnout! And if you follow my blog, please come up and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you in person! :) 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Overlooked Niche, Take Two: Getting Started in Business Writing

Recently I talked about how writing for businesses and corporations is an often overlooked freelance niche. Now let's talk about how to approach potential clients. 
If you want to write for businesses, you'll probably have to cold-call to get started. Identify potential clients, research their companies, and find out who hires freelancers or writers--and then reach out to that person. 
            After you’ve introduced yourself to a potential client, ask whether you can meet in person or send samples of your work. Be prepared to quote an hourly rate, as most corporate clients pay per hour or per project instead of per word. Experienced copywriters charge hourly rates of $100-150 and up, depending on their expertise. Starting out, I’d suggest $50 to $75/hour as a fair rate for new writers, assuming you have some experience.
What do corporate and business clients want? First, they want you to understand their business. That means you should know what they sell, who their competition is, and how they position themselves. Before you make a cold call, you should have done some research on the company so you’re not stuck if the person you’re calling asks what you can do for them. The more specific an answer you can give the better (e.g., when contacting a sporting goods manufacturer, “I noticed you have an online newsletter for customers, and I write articles about sports and fitness”). You want to make the most positive, memorable first impression you can make.
Still, though, the background is only the beginning. When working with a corporate, business, or nonprofit client, you’ll need to question the person hiring you so you can deliver what he wants. You should know what type of product or service the client provides, and plan to ask questions like:
·       How is your product or service different than that of your competitors?
·       What features and benefits does your product or service offer? Which ones would you like to highlight?
·       Who are your customers? Can you describe them for me?
·       What is the purpose for the piece I’m writing? (For example, a newsletter’s purpose might be to build brand loyalty; the purpose of an advertisement in local media might be to attract new customers.)
·       Who is the audience for this particular piece? The audience may be the company’s current customers, or it may be a different group of people.
·       What kind of call to action would you like to make? The call to action is what spurs readers/viewers/listeners to do something, whether it’s to pick up the phone to call and order or to visit a website. 
·       What message do you want the audience to remember?
Use these questions as a starting point and remember that the more you know about your client, the better you can serve him. I wrote a lot of brochures for small businesses when I started freelancing, and I made sure that I understood each business and what it did before I started a draft. I often had to remind clients that their potential and current clients cared more about what the company could do for them (i.e., provide gorgeous landscaping that would increase their homes’ value, add beauty, and make their neighbors envious) than the company’s bragging rights to how many years they’ve been in business.
Formats may vary, but writing for business clients isn't that different than writing for magazine or book publishers. Research your subject. Keep your audience in mind. Give your client what he or she wants. Do that and you can add copywriting and business writing to your writer’s resume—and boost your freelance income as a result.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Can you Write a Book in a Month? Sure!

You may already know that this is National Novel Writing Month, which makes it perfect timing to announce my colleague's new book. Author Rochelle Melander just released Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). Laying the foundation for fiction and nonfiction writers alike to write a book in less than a month (and survive), Write-A-Thon provides the blueprint to do it all in less than a month! Write-A-Thon contains three sections: Training, Write-A-Thon, and Recovery. 

Each section utilizes introductions, brief valuable essays filled with practical tools, and just enough encouragement for the writer to press on and finish what may very well be the challenge of their life (or simply the challenge of the month). Perfect for accomplished authors or those who simply write, Write-A-Thon provides the complete guidebook for brainstorming, writing, and finishing that book (preferably with all sanity intact)!

As a ghostwriter and author, I haven't written a book in a month (eight weeks is my record), but I'm sure I could if I used Rochelle's practical, inspiring strategies. I was happy to be asked to guest-post on Rochelle's blog tomorrow (on 5 ways to make the most of your writing time) and encourage you to check out her blog and new book.  

**And remember my Ghostwriting 101 class starts this week! Let me know if you have any questions about it and I hope to "see" you in class! :) Please pass on this info to freelancers who may be interested in the class. :) 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Have you Overlooked this Lucrative Niche? Writing for Businesses

Many writers are drawn to freelancing because they want to write magazine articles and books, and that’s great. But if you want to make more money as a freelancer, don’t overlook one of the most lucrative writing niches there is: freelancing for businesses and corporations.
It used to be that a “real” journalist wouldn't consider doing public relations or corporate writing. It wasn’t seemly. Now that's changing, and plenty of freelancers are finding that business writing can boost their income. More writers are branching out into various types of corporate work, whether it's writing for external or internal corporate publications, or doing public relations or marketing work.
           You needn’t have an MBA to write for businesses, but you do need to understand your clients’ needs and be able to deliver what they want. If you’ve never written ad copy, for example, you’ll need to get up to speed on the difference between features and benefits, and know what a call to action is.  
           For example, a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible may have a 6.2 Liter 430-hp V8 engine. That’s a feature. A benefit of the same car to the fifty-something-year-old man who considers buying it might be the way it attracts young women or lets him relive his lost youth. The call to action is what spurs the reader or listener to do something, whether it’s making a phone call or purchasing the product. (Check out Peter Bowerman's excellent books including The Well-Fed Writer and The Well-Fred Writer: Back for Seconds, for advice about breaking into and succeeding in the field.) 

In the past, companies tended to use local writers for work, but today you’re just as likely to work for a long-distance client if you can impress them with your portfolio and experience. Starting out, you may want to write complimentary brochures, advertisements, or website copy for a small company you have a contact with (you can help out a family business!) or a nonprofit organization to create a portfolio. 
Companies will want to see samples of your work before they hire you, so this is one situation where I’d disregard my never-write-for-free rule. In fact, I did a lot of volunteer work for Big Brothers/Big Sisters as a new freelancer so I had samples to show potential business clients. You needn’t reveal to a potential client that you did the work for no pay, after all!
Once you have some samples, it's time to start reaching out to solicit potential clients. I'll talk about how next post.  
***If you want to add ghostwriting to your freelance repertoire, my first-ever online class with Writer's Digest, Ghostwriting 101, starts on September 10, 2011. The class will give you all the tools you need to launch a ghostwriting career, including a personalized marking plan, letter of introduction, and an understanding of what you can offer potential clients.