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Friday, December 30, 2011

Eight Popular Posts from 2011 You May Have Missed

Yup, 2012 is around the corner and I've been working on my list of topics I'll cover on the blog next year. I'll share what I made money-wise in 2011 (newsflash: not as much as I expected to!), why I failed to meet my income goal, and how I plan to avoid that in 2012. I'll also be conducting another freelance income survey so we can compare 2011 to 2010 and identify some of the most lucrative areas for freelancers

But first, let's take a look at some of the most popular posts from 2011 you may have missed--and that  are definitely worth reading: 

Want to be a more successful freelancer in 2012? Why not preorder Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. You can write it off your taxes this year--and be one of its first readers when it releases in May. Win-win! If you're just looking for an entertaining read (which got good reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal!), I suggest White Bikini Panties, or Did You Get the Vibe?, my first novel. Enjoy! :) 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Five Ways to Get More Done

Jane Friedman's post on getting more done is a great read as you figure out your priorities and goals for the coming year. While her blog is aimed at fiction writers, her advice is sound for writers of all stripes.

Her five tips:
1. Decide what you'll stop doing.
2. Pay something to do stuff you don't like doing or don't need to learn.
3. Say goodbye to guilt and obligation.
4. Be good at what you do.
5. Spend the most time on what matters most to you.

As I plan my goals (professional, personal, and family-related) for the coming year, I'll be keeping these five strategies in mind. I suggest you do too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

5 Things For Freelancers to Do Before Year's End

Wow, there are just two weeks left before we leave 2011 behind for 2012. I'll be taking some much-needed (and if I say so myself, much-deserved) time off for the next two weeks, but I'd like to leave you with five  suggestions for your freelance career before year's end:

1. Get a jump on your taxes. I never wait until April to do my taxes. I like to figure out my gross income and calculate a rough estimate of my net income before the end of the year. Then I send that number to my accountant for an estimate of what I'll owe. Sometimes the number is scary, but I'd rather know that going into the new year than wait and be surprised sometime in 2012. And besides, I use that tax figure to help determine how much I put in my SEP, or self-employment plan. 

2. Invest in your career. You can write off legitimate business expenses before the end of 2011, so this is the time to upgrade your computer, purchase software, buy writing-related books (like Goodbye Byline!), and other work-related products. You'll reduce your tax liability and hopefully have some time over the holidays to read or familiarize yourself with your new tools. 

3. Review your year. Every year, I clarify where my money came from. I usually send a holiday card and/or gift to my biggest clients. I also look for "lessons." Did I take on any projects that turned out to pay a lower hourly rate than I expected? Are clients asking for me to do work I need to gain more experience with? Did I have a steady stream of work, or was I facing a "feast-or-famine" scenario much of the year? What was the most worthwhile work I did? Which work paid the best? Which seems to have the most potential?  Is there any kind of work I want to cut from my roster? 

4. Set goals for the coming year. If, like many serious freelancers, you set an annual income goal, don't forget to calculate your daily nut. Average that figure throughout the year of 2012 and you'll meet your new income goal. Think about the other objectives you have as well. Do you want to branch into corporate writing this year? Do you want to become an e-book author? Is this the year you get serious about writing fiction? Should you spend more time on social media--or at least use it more effectively? Decide what your goals are, and put them in writing. 

5. Take time off. Until last year, I'd always taken the year between Christmas and New Year's as vacation time. I used the time to relax, set goals for the coming year, and read for pleasure--at least until the kids came along. Now that week is mostly family time, but I do give myself a chance to unwind and hopefully rewind before the new year begins. Last year, I didn't have that luxury--I worked every single day except Christmas and started 2011 burned out, cranky, and exhausted. Give yourself at least a few days during the holidays to do your own unwinding/rewinding. You'll start the year off with more energy and a better attitude. 

I hope 2011 has been a great year for you...tune in next year for more practical, proven advice about how to make more money as a freelancer in less time. 

***Let me end this year with a plug for my books, too. If you're considering the lucrative field of ghostwriting, check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks. If you (or someone you love) wants to get started writing for print and online markets, I recommend Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money. There's my classic, Six-Figure Freelancing, which unfortunately has gone out of print, but its e-version is still available. And if you want to get a jump on next year, preorder Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, which will be released by early May, 2012.  Commercial over...happy holidays! :) 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mark your Calendars...10th Annual Writers Fest

I'm happy to announce that I've been invited back to the 10th Annual Writers Fest at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. Conference sessions and speakers cover topics including fiction, nonfiction, publishing options (I'll be presenting on that), self-publishing, specializing (I'm speaking on that as well), you name it. Check it out, and I hope to see some of you there! :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Great Review of Goodbye Byline!

If you're a book author, you know how important positive reviews are to sell books. Word of mouth may be the number one way to sell a book (at least that's been my experience), but good reviews make a huge difference. So I'm grateful for the great review of Goodbye Byline that Rochelle Melander (author of the newly released Write-A-Thon) just posted on her blog. If you check it out and follow the rules, you can also enter her giveaway. Thanks, Rochelle, and I hope you'll check out the review and her awesome blog.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Celebrating the OYIW ("The Oh-Yes-I-Will!") Moment

Last post I shared the fact that I'm in the midst of a deadline crunch. The bad news is that I'm still there. The good news is that on Tuesday, I hit an important milestone--the "oh-yes-I-will!" moment for a book I'm ghostwriting. I can never predict exactly when the OYIW will occur, but it always does. It's that sweet moment when I know that I will make my deadline. 

Let me explain. Yes, I always intend to make every deadline--and in fact, have never missed one in 15 years of full-time freelancing. Why? First, I avoid the "planning fallacy." The planning fallacy refers to a proven fitness concept that people almost always underestimate the amount of time it will take to lose weight or get into shape. The same is true for freelancing—most writers think that assignments won’t take as long as they wind up taking.

Not me! I always assume that a project will take longer than I originally expect—and plan for that. I suggest you do the same. For example, if you think an article will take a total of five days to research and write, plan for it to take seven. If you believe a book proposal will take you six weeks, plan for eight. It’s better to have more time to finish a project than not enough.   

Second, I get the lay of the land, so to speak, as soon as I take on an assignment. For articles, that usually means doing background research and identifying potential sources. After I’ve come up with potential sources (whether experts or “real people” anecdotes), I start contacting them to line up interviews. I have to have my interviews done before I can write the piece. If I'm working on a book project, I'll skim over the material I have, make notes about research I need to do, and sketch out a timeline for the work. I won't necessarily stick to it, but it gives me a jump on the project before I officially start it. 

But I've found that there's almost always anxiety attached to the work I take on that is large in scope (think books/book proposals). I worry (you might say, obsess) about those big projects pretty much from the time I sign a contract until my client says, "great job!" (and pays me, of course.) 

That doesn't mean I'm not confident in my abilities--I have a pretty good sense for what I can do. But I worry about my work, and my ability to do it, and do it on time. I'm just wired that way, and despite going to yoga twice a week, am not likely to change. And you know what? I think some level of anxiety/concern/worry is normal, especially for a challenging assignment, and that it can spur you to do better quality work. At least that's my theory. 

But when I hit the OYIW moment, my anxiety fades. I may still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I'm no longer worried whether I will do it. I know I will. For me, the OYIW is the the 5-mile mark in a 10K (6.2 mile) race. 

Even if I've lost enthusiasm for a project, the OYIW gives me a second wind. I can see the metaphorical finish line. I'm able to push harder now. I'm motivated to push harder now. I'm focused, confident, and productive--and I hit my deadline, usually beating it by days (or weeks!). I bask in the glow of a completed assignment, completely anxiety-free...until I sign the next big project, anyway. 

*Readers, what about you? Do you have this kind of writer's anxiety? Do you experience a similar moment with your challenging assignments? And does it spur you on to finish? I'd love to hear your comments. 

**Got a book you want to write (or have written), but aren't sure about your publishing options? Stay tuned for an announcement on my Jan 5, 2012 Webinar on publishing options today for Writer's Digest. And in the meantime, if you're want to break into ghostwriting, please check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. I'm teaching a ghostwriting class for Writer's Digest right now and will post here when it's offered again.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

7 Ways to Survive a Deadline Crunch

I've posted before about time-saving strategies, and I'm using pretty much all of them right now. My sitter had to cut her hours, which means I've lost the majority of my dedicated work time. I have a big deadline before Christmas, and let's just say I'm a bit stressed. I'm relying on several strategies to be as productive as possible when I do have a sitter, or have a couple of hours at the Y to work:

  • I always tackle the "ugliest" task of the day first. Usually that's drafting a chapter or a section of the book I'm ghostwriting. That takes the most mental energy and focus, and I find that both fade as the day goes on. 
  • I TK everything I can. If I need a piece of information from my client, I'll send a quick email asking for it. If it's something more complicated that I need to research, I'll TK it and do the digging later. I don't want to burn my serious work time doing research I could do while watching TV in the evening. 
  • I do lots of "prep work" (also known as WWYNRW) to take advantage of my work time. I'll print out a rough draft of a chapter I'm struggling with, read through it and make rough edits during Ryan's basketball practice--then the next morning, I can jump right in as soon as I open Word. 
  • I map out not just the week, but the month. A couple of weeks ago, I sketched out the coming weeks, and planned what chapters I would write when, working in several other projects as well. It's a hellish schedule, but at least I have a plan. That alone made me feel better.  
  • I keep a running list of everything on my plate (not just work-related), and I'm eliminating what I can. Our Christmas tree is up, but a holiday letter this year is looking less and less likely. I still have shopping to do, but my son will not be participating in the school science fair in January. I've been grabbing some dinners from Noodles & Co. and Panda Express instead of throwing something together at night. If I can cut it out of my schedule right now, it's getting cut.  
  • I dangle a giant carrot in front of my nose. Most years I take the week between Christmas and New Year's off; so does my husband. We spend the week sleeping in (if the kids allow), doing stuff as a family, and sometimes tackling various projects at home. Last year, I was writing a book and two book proposals during that time. My clients'  deadlines meant that worked every day except Christmas and it stunk. From December 24 until January 2, I will be on vacation, and I'm going to enjoy it. As I slog through the next few weeks, I remind myself of that fact, and will be able to savor that time even more. At least that's the plan.
  • I do take small chunks of time off. On Friday, I had my sitter stay an extra 90 minutes so I could get coffee and go to yoga. (Nothing like caffeinated yoga!) I can't even describe how much better--calmer, saner, less crazed--I felt afterwards. Tonight, I'll work for a while, and then knock off to watch a movie with my husband, who's in the midst of multiple deadlines himself. The small breaks I take translate into more productivity tomorrow.  
Of course, if you asked me how I feel about my current work situation, I would say, "it SUCKS!" And it does. But it's temporary, and survivable, and part of freelancing, alas. The feast-or-famine nature of the business, and how to address it, is a great topic for an upcoming post. Agree?