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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another Post Round-Up, Redux: 8 Great Ghostwriting Posts

I was talking with a fellow freelancer last night about how and why I got into ghostwriting, and it made me realize how many misperceptions there are about the field. It's true than when you ghostwrite, you give up a byline. But I've found that I can make more money ghostwriting books for clients (including Pros with Platforms) than I can writing my own. 

The reason is simple. When I ghostwrite, that's all I do. I don't have to market and promote the book (the most time-consuming part of authorship). That's my client's job. I get paid to write the book and then I move on to the next project. And remember, too, I don't run the risk of wasting my time writing a book proposal that may not sell the way I would with my own books. My client pays me upfront to write the proposal. 

That's why ghosting is the subject of this post roundup:
What's that? You want to know even more about ghostwriting and how to succeed in this lucrative niche? Then you'll want to readGoodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle version). From sample contracts to marketing advice to tips on setting fees and working with clients, you'll find everything you need to know to get started.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post Round-up, Redux: Everything you Need to Know about Queries

I get a lot of questions about query letters, which is one reason I host occasional Query Critiques. So it's appropriate that I repost a "post roundup" from last year about the ubiquitous query letter. Check out these ten posts for everything you need to know about query letters--including templates, how to make yours stand out, and what to do after you send one.

Did you find this post roundup helpful? Please pass it along to your freelancing buddies, especially those new to the biz. And if you're looking for practical, proven freelancing advice, I suggest Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success or Ready, Aim, Specialize! (more for beginners). If you're more interested in ghostwriting, you'll want to read Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

LinkedIn Etiquette for Freelance Writers: Guest Post by Susan Johnston

I'm the first to admit that my social media skills need some fine-tuning. Yes, I'm on Twitter (@kellyjamesenger) and I have a personal and fan page on Facebook. And I've been on LinkedIn for a while but I know I'm not making the most of it. So I was delighted to have Susan Johnston, author of LinkedIn and Lovin’ It, write this guest post: 

With over 120 million professionals worldwide, LinkedIn is an excellent networking platform for freelance writers who want to build their client base and connect with like-minded professionals. Unfortunately, many writers aren’t active on LinkedIn because they’re uncertain about the etiquette or simply don’t know how it works.

Here’s a look at several of LinkedIn’s main functions and tips on using these features.

·      Inviting connections.
Unlike Twitter, where people collect followers like trading cards, LinkedIn is designed to be a network of trusted professionals. The site urges users to only connect with people they know (or at least know of). When you send an invitation to connect, personalize the message field to ensure that the recipient knows who you are. For instance, “It was great meeting you at the ASJA conference! Since you also cover small business, I wondered if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn?” Much better than a generic, “I’d like to add you to my professional network.”

You probably wouldn’t friend an editor on Facebook (unless you were unusually chummy), but in most cases, it’s perfectly fine to add editors on LinkedIn, especially if you’ve written for the editor before. If you haven’t worked with him or her yet but would like to, check if someone already in your network is connected to the person and use the “request an introduction” feature.

·      Accepting or ignoring connections.
At some point, you’ll probably get invitations to connect with people you don’t know. Lindsey Pollak, a LinkedIn spokesperson who appeared on my LinkedIn panel at ASJA, has a great strategy for these invitations. If it looks like someone you might have met but can’t remember where, send a short message like, “Thanks for your invitation to connect! I’m trying to figure out how we know each other, so could you jog my memory?” Then you can decide if you want to connect (or not).

If it’s not someone you care to connect with, simply ignore their invitation (they’ll never be the wiser). If you’ve already added someone and decide to cull your connections, there is a way to quietly remove connections (again, they’ll never be the wiser).

·      Updating your profile.
As you update your profile, you may want to adjust your privacy settings so don’t annoy your connections with a flurry of activity. This is also a good idea if you have a day job and don’t want to tip off your boss that you’re updating your LinkedIn profile (as this is often a tell-tale sign that you’re searching for a new job). You can turn notifications back on once your profile is ready for viewing.

Some people link their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so that their LinkedIn status gets automatically updated each time they tweet. I prefer customizing status updates on LinkedIn, because Twitter tends to be chattier and more casual than LinkedIn’s thoughtful, professional tone. If you’re a frequent tweeter, you also risk overwhelming your LinkedIn connections with Twitter chatter. Instead, set a calendar reminder to update your LinkedIn status once or twice a week. You could post an article you found useful (or even one of your own articles you’re particularly proud of) or write a quick status update about what you’re reading or the conference you’re planning to attend.

·      Requesting recommendations.
LinkedIn recommendations help build your credibility. The site offers a request a recommendation feature to make the process less awkward. However, you should be judicious about giving or requesting recommendations. I once had a publicist request a LinkedIn recommendation from me after she set up a single interview, and I politely explained that I prefer to wait until we have longer history of working together before I give her my endorsement. Reserve those requests for people who know you and your work well. You’ll have the chance to review the recommendation before it goes live on your profile. If you get a really stellar recommendation, ask the person’s permission to include it on your website, too.

Your turn, freelancers! How do you use LinkedIn and have you run into any of the situations mentioned above? Leave a comment and let us know!

Susan Johnston (@UrbanMuseWriter) is the author of LinkedIn and Lovin’ It, Rockable Press’ guide for freelancers and other creative professionals. Her writing also appears in print and online publications including, The Boston Globe, and US News & World Report. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Query Critique Month: "Welcoming the Rain" Pitch

The Query Critique Month continues! If you haven't been checking in this month, you may want to take a look at some of the earlier query critiques. Here's the service article query, a novel query, a profile query, and a YA novel query.  

I'd call this a "general" query; my comments are in green:  

Dear Ms. Budds, 

When water falls from the sky in Portland, much of it washes across asphalt, sidewalks and rooftops, heading straight towards the Willamette River.  But the city is working to change that.  Partnering with property owners of an established Portland restaurant [which one?], each deluge is captured and re-purposed using plants, permeable concrete and a green roof to slow down and filter storm water runoff.  The result is greener, healthier neighborhoods, and in this case, a lush, inviting outdoor patio perfect for embracing Portland weather, margaritas and mole. [Great lead. Love the idea and the language.]   

This piece, entitled “Welcoming the Rain” or “Rain, Margaritas and Mole” highlights a family-owned Portland restaurant [which is?] and its new rain garden created in partnership with the City of Portland. The story would be in the 500 word range and could run in Dwell’s “Off the Grid” or “Outside” sections in a fall 2011 edition. Possible photographs might Images would include permeable concrete, ipe seatwalls, modern concrete planters and a green roof  “Rain Garden 101” tips for incorporating the same ideas into a home garden would accompany the article, including a checklist for the do-it-yourselfer. [This next paragraph feels like it's a little rushed and the writer could add some detail. The last sentence in particular needs tightening/cutting to clarify. Also, if the writer wants to make this more marketable, I would look for some other examples of rain gardens--that way it's not a story about only one rain garden but about, say, three or four. Then readers can see different approaches, etc and it doesn't come off as being too PR-y for the one restaurant, which does need to be named. And if the writer can provide any more details about rain gardens--say, whether they're growing in popularity or are especially prevalent in rainy climates, for example--I think that would add a bit more depth to this query. Another thing--are other cities involved in these kinds of gardens? That's an interesting angle too.]

 I am a landscape designer, professor of design and published freelance writer.  I’ve attached a. writing sample of one of my stories published this month in a regional gardening magazine. [Good start but this ISG could be pumped up a bit. Maybe the writer only has had one piece published, and if that's the case, fine. Otherwise, I would mention the market(s) she's written for and put a little more effort into selling her unique qualifications, which are strong for this particular piece.]  

 I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story.  

[Closing omitted.] 

Overall, I'd add more detail to this query and include some other examples of rain gardens to make it more marketable. Readers, what do you think? 

**One of the reasons I provide critiques and post templates on my blog is because I've always found it helpful to have a model to follow, whether I'm writing a query, a LOI, an invoice, or even a "pay-or-die" letter. My new ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (Smashwords version) includes 10 essential freelance templates together, with an explanation of how to use each; it's invaluable if you're a new freelancer. Want a guide to the business side of freelancing? Then you'll want to read my new book from Writer's Digest, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Are You a New Writer? Avoid These Common Freelance Mistakes

I've posted before about the common mistakes freelancers make (including failing to market yourself, missing a deadline, and forgetting what your client wants, but this topic never gets old. So this post I'm talking with Jodi Helmer, who's been freelancing since 2002. 

Every writer makes mistakes, says Jodi. She admits to committing a few faux pas like resending a query to an editor who rejected it a few days earlier. Oops.

Despite the occasional gaffe, Jodi has published articles in National Geographic Traveler, Shape and American Way among others. She also coaches writers to help them achieve freelance success.

Q: What made you decide to work with writers one-on-one?

A: When I started freelancing, I had a great coach who worked with me on the nuts and bolts as well as the emotional side of freelancing. She reviewed my queries, answered panicked emails about contracts and revision requests and helped me figure out a plan to be successful. It was something I wanted to offer to other writers – and judging by the number of emails I get from new writers looking for advice, it’s a much-needed service!

Q: What is the biggest mistake new writers make?

A: I think the single biggest mistake writers make is not treating their writing like a business.

No one opens a bakery thinking, “I love baking cupcakes so I’ll buy the ingredients, mix the batter, bake the cakes and give them away!” But writers do this all the time.

It’s essential to run the numbers: What is your income goal? How much does it take per month/week/day to meet that goal? Once you know the numbers, you can start figuring out the best strategies to meet your goal.

Approaching writing like a business isn’t just about cash flow. When freelancing is a business, not a hobby, your approach changes: You’re more selective about the work you take, more apt to invest in your success.

Q: When it comes to crunching the numbers, what is the best approach?

A: I think it’s a mistake to focus on per word rates. Sure, it sounds impressive to get $2 per word but, in my experience, higher per word rates often result in lower hourly rates thanks to long delays between query and acceptance, specific assignment requirements and multiple rounds of revisions.

Figuring out what a story will pay per hour, as opposed to per word, is a better way to decide if an assignment is worthwhile from a profitability perspective. You’ll have to work with an editor a few times to determine the average hourly rate for assignments.

Q: Speaking of working with editors, what are the biggest mistakes writers make in writer/editor relationships?

A: Writers often fail to think beyond their current assignment. It’s important to develop relationships with editors. You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder with dozens of editors; a sustainable business is built on being the go-to writer for a handful of editors.

To that end, think of ways to impress an editor like including contact information for sources with the piece to help with fact checking, being accommodating during the editing process, thanking the editor for the assignment. Those little things won’t go unnoticed.

To learn more about Jodi Helmer and the mentoring programs and workshops she offers, go to And for the record, I agree with all of her advice! Thanks, Jodi, for sharing your insights here. Readers, do you agree with her biggest mistakes? Or do you have others to offer? 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Query Critique Month: Service Article Query

Welcome back to the Query Critique Month! Thanks to the several dozen people who have submitted queries; I won't be able to critique them all, but am trying to get a good mix and will do several more before month's end. Check out this month's earlier posts for others. 

This next query is a service article; my comments appear in pink: 

Dear Ms. Whitcher-Gentzke:

The baby has arrived and those first few days are filled with excitement and joy. Before long, however, reality sets in – sleepless nights, a crying child, an over-tired mom. For some men, the transition to fatherhood appears to be overwhelming. Much has been written about maternal post-partum depression, but their male counterparts have largely been left out of the discussion. While exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint, some studies suggest that as many as one in ten new dads suffer from symptoms of post-partum depression, according to Will H. Courtenay, Ph.D., LCSW, who has studied men’s physical and mental health issues for 15 years. [I feel "meh" about this lead. It's rather general, and doesn't really grab me. I think the writer could do better with a specific anecdote, or some statistics about the first few weeks of infancy--e.g., how much sleep parents of newborns get. I do like the fact that the writer has a stat on PPD (postpartum depression) in men. I think the writer could make this "pop" a little more.]

Deborah Issokson, Psy.D., owner of Counseling for Reproductive Health and Healing, a private practice in Wellesley and Pembroke, Massachusetts, says, “Some dads have post-partum depression due to a previous history, in combination with the transition to parenthood. If a mom is depressed, a dad could also be depressed.” [I'd flush this paragraph out a bit, or maybe combine it with the lines below. And this quote could be much more compelling--it's a little boring to me and again, doesn't grab me. If you're using a direct quote, it should be a good one, IMO.]

I’d like to bring attention to this under-reported condition that negatively impacts families and children. Studies have shown that parental depression affects a child’s language development and presents an increased risk of developing mental health disorders later in life. [This is good but I want to know more here--ie, more stats or more details. HOW is the baby impacted by his/her dad's depression? How does the PPD in men impact the dads? I feel like it's very general and should be more about why readers will care and what they will get out of the story.] 

As a regular contributor to New England Psychologist for the last ten years, I have significant experience writing about mental health-related topics. I have also built a large expert resource list on which to draw for various stories. [Very good although I would mention this later in the query. It's the writer's call, though.] 

For this article, I will interview Dr. Issokson; Dr. Courtenay; Robin Cook Kopelman, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, who has conducted research on post-partum depression in men; William S. Pollack, Ph.D., director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, which studies male physical and mental health conditions, and Tiffany Field, Ph.D., pediatric professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who examines parental depression. Additionally, I will interview new fathers, if available, about their personal experiences with post-partum depression. [Excellent sources the writer plans to interview, but it might be a little bit of overkill. Also, just say you will interview new fathers--it's the writer's job to find anecdotes if the editor wants them. And most editors do want at least one "real person in a story, even if it's only to illustrate the piece.]

I will ask medical professionals why it is important to screen and treat post-partum depression in fathers; what types of screening tools are available; what the risk factors and symptoms are; how new fathers’ depression might affect their partners and their offspring, and what types of therapy are currently used. [I would rework this and include it in the second paragraph of the query--what I call the Why-Write-It paragraph. Instead of saying that you'll ask these questions, make it clear that the story will address these points. Get the difference?] 

Recent legislation, i.e., the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act and the Mental Health Parity Law, has highlighted the importance of addressing depression and other mental health disorders. An article on post-partum depression in fathers would add to the dialogue. I hope you’ll consider my query. [Is this for a national market or a local one? Either way, the writer could add a little about these laws as the editor may not be familiar with them. I don't like the phrase "add to the dialogue, but that's just me. Also, what section of the publication or website is this for? How many words will the piece be? Include this.] 

I've included links to three of my published articles to give you an idea of my writing style. [This is a good start, but I'd like to know a little more about the writer herself, her background, experience, etc. Tell the editor some of the markets you've written for--don't just provide a URL and expect her to do the legwork of looking them up. In other words, improve her ISG a bit.]

Thank you for the opportunity to present my idea. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards,

Me again. I think this is a solid idea and a good start, but could me improved by tightening and rearranging the query a bit and making it more compelling. It's reading a little dry/academic to me and I'd like to see a little more life in it, if that makes sense. 

Readers, what do you think? Do you agree with my comments?

**One of the reasons I provide critiques and post templates on my blog is because I've always found it helpful to have a model to follow, whether I'm writing a query, a LOI, an invoice, or even a "pay-or-die" letter. My new ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (Smashwords version) includes 10 essential freelance templates together, with an explanation of how to use each; it's invaluable if you're a new freelancer. Want a guide to the business side of freelancing? Then you'll want to read my new book from Writer's Digest, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Query Critique Month: A Novel Query (and a Very Good One at That!)

Welcome back to Query Critique Month--and thanks again to all who have submitted queries. I won't be able to get to all of them but I am trying to pick a good mix for the month. 

We've already seen a YA novel query, a profile query, and a Second Act Parenting query. Next up, another query from a novelist seeking representation. This time around, my comments are in orange

Dear {Agent},

Melanie Gordon swore she’d never fall for another bad boy. But just when she thinks it’s safe to let sweet, kind, philanthropist, Raine Mason, into her heart she discovers his past is filled with dark and troubling secrets, including his connection to the infamous Montgomery family. [Very nice lead. I already know this is a romance novel, and the writer's done a nice job of setting up the intrigue.]

Then there is Jaxson Payne, the bad boy who shattered her heart six years ago. When their paths cross again Jaxson is completely reformed, newly divorced, and perhaps her only chance at saving her career. [More conflict, and we see the classic woman with two men to pick from scenario. Very common in romance novels...not so common in real life. :)]

Can Melanie forgive Raine for concealing his true identity and overlook his questionable past? Or has the universe conspired to give her and Jax another chance at love? Melanie must come to terms with her own faults and navigates family secrets to discover the value of family, the power of forgiveness and the meaning of love. [Good sum-up of the book but I'd like to know a little more about Melanie, as she's the main character of this book--and the one readers will relate to. Who is she? How old is she? What does she want out of life? I'd like to see another line or two about Melanie here, and an agent will want that, too.]

My completed 90,000 word novel, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, is a smart, funny, sexy story featuring a multicultural cast of characters. Melanie has a self-deprecating humor reminiscent of Jane Green's Jemima J or Jennifer Weiner's Cannie Shapiro. The story balances humor with heartfelt moments, family drama and intense love scenes. [Nice detail here. Author's provided word count and given some "similar to" examples, which is smart. And "intense love scenes" tells the agent what type of romance this book is. I would like to know that it's contemporary women's fiction, though it certainly sounds like it is.]

As Senior Editor of the long-running literary e-zine All Things Girl, I've interviewed authors like New York Times best-selling authors Jane Green and Joshilyn Jackson. My short story, Sorry Charli (written under the pen name Xandria Amara Lewis), was published inRomance Stories Magazine. I’m a member of Triangle Novel Writers critique group. [Good start on the author's ISG, but I'd play up her social media connections, etc if she has them. But I love the fact that the author has told the agent a little bit about herself and her writing background. Very smart. 

The complete TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE manuscript is available for your consideration. May I send the first three chapters for your review? I look forward to your reply. [I'm assuming that this agent likes to see the first three chaps of a novel--if so, very smart. And mentioning that the book is actually FINISHED is also very smart. Many novelists start shopping their books before they're done...a "rush to publish," if you will

The only thing that's missing here--other than a little more about the main character, as well as the setting for the book--is why she's pitching this particular agent. Is it because the agent reps contemporary romance? Because she heard the agent was looking for books in this genre? Because she reps an author of similar works? Include WHY you're contacting this person, in the first line or two of your query letter. You want the agent to know that 1. you're contacting her  for a reason and 2. you've done your homework and 3. you're serious about your career.

Overall, though, I think this is a very strong query--with a little more work, it will be close to perfect. My $0.02 anyway.]


Readers, what say you? Do you agree with my comments? Anything to add? 
**One of the reasons I provide critiques and post templates on my blog is because I've always found it helpful to have a model to follow, whether I'm writing a query, a LOI, an invoice, or even a "pay-or-die" letter. My new ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (Smashwords version) includes 10 essential freelance templates together, with an explanation of how to use each; it's invaluable if you're a new freelancer. Want a guide to the business side of freelancing? Then you'll want to read my new book from Writer's Digest, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success.

And stay tuned for more queries!      

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Advice on Selling and Publishing Books: Part 2 of my Q and A with Nancy Christie

Thanks to Nancy Christie for interviewing me for her excellent blog, The Writer's Place. Part two of her interview with me focuses on writing, publishing and promoting books; check it out!