Search This Blog

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Forget Full-time: Make Part-Time Freelancing Work for You

When I started freelancing, I put in a lot of time to get my business going. To get any business started, you must market, and as a freelancer, that started with researching publications. In other words, I read a lot (and I’m talking dozens) of different magazines, trying to familiarize myself with what they covered and find homes for potential story ideas.
            I also spent inordinate amounts of time researching stories. Like many writers, I was worried about not having enough information about a particular topic, so I’d research and research and research before I started writing. You don’t need a doctorate (or even a master’s degree) to write an article, but it took me several years before I realized I didn’t have to comprehend every nuance of a subject to write about it. 
            The bottom line is that I was working at least forty hours a week, often more, in my quest for freelance success. But it’s not the amount of time you put into your career that determines whether you make money—it’s how you spend that time. Once I cut back on unnecessary research, focused on a handful of markets instead of pitching dozens of magazines at once, and developed regular clients, I was much more efficient. Today I work part-time by choice (I'm a stay-at-home mom to two little kids), but I strive to make a full-time living—and many freelancers do the same.
            Gretchen Roberts is a former newspaper editor who has been freelancing part-time since her oldest child was born. “Part-time just made sense for me then, and it still does. I now have three children ages eight, four, and one, and my schedule has changed with their births, milestones, schedules, and child care availability,” says Roberts, author of the e-book Full-TimeIncome in Part-Time Hours: 22 Secrets to Writing Success in under 40 Hours aWeek. “I truly feel I have the best of both worlds—time to spend with my kids, but time to get away from the craziness that is raising three kids, and devote energy to my professional life. I don't consider myself anything less than a full-fledged professional just because I work part-time and am changing dirty diapers when I'm not tapping at my keyboard.”
            Still, with limited time, Roberts has had to learn to be extremely efficient. “I treat my working hours as prime time. I don't waste them checking e-mail, writing blog posts, posting my Facebook status. Well, okay … sometimes I post my Facebook status,” says Roberts. “But for the most part I try to really focus on paying projects, because if I lose sight of the big picture, it's too easy to fritter away a day, a week, a month … and my income takes a bit hit.
            “Second, I plan ahead. If I know I'm going to have forty-five minutes while the baby naps, I plan a specific task or two for that time,” she says. “If I have a story due, I block out three or four hours to write it. When you have less time, you absolutely have to be efficient about using it.” That’s why Roberts pursues bigger projects over shorter assignments that require her to constantly change focus, and works with the same clients over and over.
            “Think about it: When you get a new assignment from a new editor or publication, there's a huge learning curve. You have to fill out a flurry of paperwork, learn the style of the publication, communicate in-depth with the editor or client about his or her goals for the assignment, and possibly do a revise or two if you don't quite hit the mark,” says Roberts. “The second time, everything's easier. You're in the system, so no paperwork except for a contract. You've learned the ‘voice’ your client or editor expects from your work. The learning curve is lower, and you're a more efficient writer.”
            Roberts’ attitude and efficiency has produced an income of between $40,000 and $70,000 working fifteen to twenty hours a week for the past five years. “I think writers have to know that this kind of income is possible, rather than settling for less because they figure part-time hours means part-time income,” says Roberts.
             I know writers who put in plenty of hours but don’t make the money they want, and I know writers like Roberts who make full-time money in far less than forty hours a week. My point? Rethink what “full-time” freelancing means. It’s not about how many hours you work but how you spend them that determines whether you can support yourself with your freelance income. 
             More on writing more efficiently in my next post! This one came from Secret 31: Redefine full-time, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you're striving to write more efficiently, you need templates! My ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (here's the Smashwords version if you don't have a Kindle) has the 10 most-needed samples to launch your freelance business. 
            Today I'm working about 15 hours/week by choice, though I plan to ramp that up as my kids get older. Readers, what about you? How many hours do you work a week? Are you working more or less than you'd like--or have you found the perfect work balance? Please share your experience in a comment, below. Thank you! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Five-Step Process to Writing Two Stories About the Same Thing, at the Same Time

             Last post I talked about reslanting. If you're thinking of doing it, you're probably wondering what happens if you have have two or more stories on the same subject assigned at the same time. 
            Take the example from last post, where I pitched a similar idea to Chicago Parent and Complete Woman. These are noncompeting markets, so the audiences for my articles—the readers of those magazines—are quite different. Chicago Parent, not surprisingly, is aimed at Chicago-area moms and dads. Complete Woman’s readers are women in their twenties to midforties who are looking for articles about love, sex, health, beauty, diet, fitness, career, and finances.
            So I wrote two completely different articles about social media. One described what parents need to know about social media, focusing on how Chicago-area parents are using it to socialize, keep up on children’s health issues, and create a new online neighborhood of sorts. It included a sidebar about whether you should “Friend” your teen on Facebook.
            The piece for Complete Woman focused on the dos and don’ts of using social media as a dating tool, exploring issues like what a man’s online profile may reveal about him. My sidebar focused on a woman who had connected with a former classmate through social media—and married him! (Readers love happy endings.)
            The very heart of the idea-harnessing social media—was the same. But the angles, the sources, the approaches, and the overall articles were very different. Yet because I knew the difference between Facebook and MySpace and could define a Tweet by researching the first article, the second took little time to write.
            To double dip this way without writing the same story twice, use this five-step process:

1. Consider the markets you're writing for (and their audiences) and create a slant specifically for each.
2. Use different expert sources whenever possible. (If you must reuse a source, get fresh quotes that are relevant to the specific story angle.)
3. Use a different structure for each story.
4. Find new “real people” to include as anecdotes.
5. Write different sidebars that complement each story.

            That’s it! Keep these five steps in mind, and you can write about the same subject at the same time, without writing the same thing twice or upsetting an editor--while you work more efficiently and yes, make more money. Readers, what do you think? Have you used a similar process to reslant? 

[This post was drawn from Secret 23: Write two stories at once, fromWriter for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you prefer bite-sized nuggets to help you toward freelance success, check out my Dollars and Deadlines' ebooks: 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Write about the Same Thing Over and Over--and Get Paid Over and Over, Too

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I'm all about making the most of my time. That's why I try to never write about the same topic just once—I “reslant,” or come up a new angle on my original idea, as often as I can. Take the evergreen topic of changing the way you eat to lose weight. I’ve covered it with the following angles:
• How eating breakfast can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fiber can help you lose weight.
• How eating more low “GI” (glycemic index) foods can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight.
• How eating more protein can help you lose weight.
• How using smaller plates and bowls can help you lose weight.
That’s six ways of reslanting the same basic idea, and I remembered and wrote them down in less than a minute. Yet I wrote those stories at different times. An even more efficient way to reslant, and one of my favorite ways to “double dip” is to pitch two very similar ideas to different markets at the same time. As long as they’re not competing markets,you’re fine even if they both get assigned.
Here’s an example. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to write about social media. Number one, I knew next to nothing about it and needed to figure out what the heck it was. Why not get paid to do so? Number two, one of my good friends had just written a book that discussed social media and I knew I could use her for a source (and plug her book as well). And number three, just about everyone I know spends part of their day on Facebook and Twitter, so I figured it was a timely topic.
I pitched the idea to two of my regular markets, Chicago Parent and Complete Woman. Because I write for both of them frequently, a short pitch is all I need. Here’s the relevant section of each of the queries I sent:

Dear Tamara:Okay, you asked for some ideas for May and beyond…I’m focusing on the CP reader as a woman *and* as a mom, not just as a parent, as I have in the past. Here are some topics that may interest you:
1. [Pitch omitted]
2. Your Online Identity: What Social Media (and How You Use it) Says About You. Millions of us log onto Facebook, Myspace, and Linkedin every day, but is the use of social media helping or hurting your social life? I’ll interview a couple of experts about this subject and talk about how social media can help support your IRL (In Real Life) friendships as well as how to know when you’re going overboard with it. I’d also like to take a fun look at what certain things say about you (i.e., your choice of profile photo, types of posts, etc). I think this would be a fun yet informative piece, with a sidebar on the most popular social media sites. Again, I’m thinking 1,200 words for the story.
3. [Pitches 3 and 4 and rest of query omitted]

And here's the pitch I sent to Complete Woman:

Hi, Stephanie!
Great to hear from you … here are a couple of ideas for you and Bonnie to consider:
Your Online Identity: What Social Media Says About You
Hooked on Myspace? Spend half your day on Facebook? This piece will describe how women use Facebook, Myspace, and other forms of social media, and what their use of social media says about them. (For example, your choice of profile picture, type of posts you make, what types of people you connect with online, and how often you check in with social media all give clues to your personality—and that of your friends as well.)
I’ll interview at least one expert on this timely subject and interview several “real women” for the piece, which will be a fun look at this ubiquitous technology. I estimate 1,000 words for this light yet informative piece, but that’s flexible depending on your needs. (I’ll also give readers an idea of how to interpret potential romantic candidates’ FB and Myspace pages as well…and what to look for in a promising guy as well as “red flags.”)
 [Pitch 2 and rest of query omitted]

One idea, two different spins--which led to two assignments and two checks. Sure, both queries sprang from the same basic concept—how to harness social media—but they took different angles and have different audiences in mind. Get in the habit of reslanting every idea and you’ll market more efficiently—and hopefully effectively as well. 

[This post was drawn from Secret 22: Reslant every idea, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you're serious about freelancing, I hope you'll check it out. Thanks! Or if you're a total newbie to freelancing and want to know how to sell your first article, you won't find better, more practical advice than in my ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article

Monday, August 13, 2012

Caveat Emptor, Would-Be Authors: Avoid Common POD Publishing Mistakes

I was happy to be asked to speak on self-publishing options at a conference two weeks ago. When I talk to a potential ghostwriting client, I often find that they have a lot of misconceptions (and just plain old misinformation) about print-on-demand, or POD, publishing. So that leads us to the topic of today's post (and of my latest ebook for writers, Dollars and Deadlines' 7 Biggest Mistakes POD Authors Make--and How to Avoid Them). (Here's the Kindle version.) 

The biggest mistake is that authors don't realize that POD publishers are in it for the money--and their primary customers are not book buyers. Their customers are book authors

POD companies make money in two ways—by selling the author services upfront (whether it’s a whole “package” that includes a cover, interior layout, and distribution, or à la carte, where the author cherry-picks the specific elements he needs), and by printing books. And because the number one buyer of most POD books is the author of said book, authors are the ones keeping these companies in business.

Get it? A lot of would-be authors do not.

Let's look at a real-life example. If CreateSpace charges me $3.65/book for my POD book on ghostwriting, GoodbyeByline, Hello Big Bucks, I guarantee that it costs significantly less than that to print one. Let’s say it costs $2 to print each copy (and I bet it’s less than that). That means that for every book CreateSpace publishes, it nets $1.65. Considering that the average number of POD books sold is less than 100, that’s not a big money-maker for POD companies. They tend to make their money upfront, on the services they sell to authors.

And that can add up to a lot. At one POD company, you could choose the basic publishing package for $728; an “advanced” publishing package for $2,534, which includes a press release; or another “advanced” package that includes a video book trailer for $4,853.

And that's not counting all of the "extras" that POD companies push. You can easily spend thousands of dollars for everything from copyediting to publicity kits to reviews to press releases. There are a lot of uninformed authors out there, shelling out a lot of money, for books that are likely to sell fewer than 100 copies. Yikes! 

My advice to authors who are going to use a POD company? Do your homework and know what you need and what you're paying for. If you need copyediting or proofreading, for example, I suggest you ask around and hire a professional not connected with the POD company to do it. You’ll probably spend less and get a better result.

And save your marketing dollars. POD companies are not marketers. Yes, they’ll list your book on Amazon and in distributors’ databases, but that’s not the same as getting your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores. They can’t do that because they don't allow returns the way a traditional publisher does.

Yes, POD publishers are a smart option for some authors (including me). But make sure you understand what you're getting before you agree to work with one. 

For more on how to be a smart POD author, check out my ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 7 Biggest Mistakes POD Authors Make--and How to Avoid Them) (Kindle version). It'll be the smartest $4.99 you've ever spent--and may save you hundreds or thousands of dollars on your next POD book. (Coming soon, another ebook for authors--this time on making more money from every article you write!)

Got questions about POD? Comment here and I'll do my best to answer them! :) 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Become a Ghostwriter: What you Need to Get Started

Last week, I spoke at the Professional Outdoor Media Association on two topics--self-publishing options (which I'll post about soon) and ghostwriting. Afterwards, a POMA member came up to me and told me he was a longtime freelancer. 
"Great session," he said. "I hadn't thought about ghostwriting, but I realized that by writing for so many publications, I've gotten good at capturing different voices. I think I'd be good at it." I agreed, gave him some tips, and sent him on his way.  
What about you? Have you thought about becoming a ghostwriter? No? I'm not surprised--for if you're like most freelancers, you love seeing your name in print or pixels. 
I know that I never intended to become a ghostwriter. After all, why would I spend months of my life toiling away on someone else’s book? No thanks. I only wanted to write my own books, and that’s what I did.
I soon found, however, that the life of a book author wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned. I was working long hours, yet making less money than I had before, when I wrote only articles. The reason was simple—the time I spent promoting my books left me less time to write articles and other books, which cut into my income. After a successful collaboration with a nutrition expert, I decided to focus more on writing "other people's books." 
            You probably know that many celebrities and politicians use ghostwriters to pen their books. What you probably don’t know is that most authors who hire ghostwriters aren’t household names. Instead they’re professionals (think physicians, attorneys,financial advisors) who want to add “book author” to their CVs to attract clients and establish themselves as subject matter experts—but they lack the time and/or ability to write a book. They’re willing to pay, and often pay well, to get “their” books in print.
            Ghostly Attributes 
            So what do you need to be a successful ghost? You must be able to: 
  • Set your ego aside. This is your client's book, not your own. 
  • Manage the entire project. Depending on the project, you may be responsible for conducting interviews and research and keeping your client on schedule in addition to writing the book itself. 
  • Help your client determine which publishing route (traditional, POD, electronic) is the right one for his book. 
  • Capture your client's voice, and write the way he talks. 
Getting the Word Out
You have two basic ways of finding ghosting work—spread the word that you’re a ghostwriter, and go after ghosting gigs you find. Make sure your website and blog, if you have one, says that you ghostwrite. Mention it in your e-mail signature. Consider subscribing to ($20/month) for a promotional listing and a way of staying up on the latest publishing deals.
Check sites like,, and for possible jobs. And consider your expertise when marketing yourself to potential clients. I specialize in health, fitness, and nutrition, and almost all of my ghosting work is for professionals in those areas. The idea is to start with what you know and let editors, story sources, and colleagues know you’ve added ghostwriting to your repertoire.
Working with Clients 
How you work with a particular client depends on the project, budget, and time frame. For example, you may interview your client and write the book from scratch, relying on your notes; your client may write some of the book while you write the rest; or your client may provide you with background material that you use as a starting point. It depends on how much work your client has already done (and is willing to do) and how he prefers to work with you.
Make sure you know what’s expected of you, how you’ll be working, and how long the book will be before you quote a fee. And before you start work, have your client sign a written contract. At a minimum, it should include a description of the work you’ll be doing (the more specific, the better); how much and when you’ll be paid (i.e., in certain amounts throughout the duration of the project); your deadline; and who will own the copyright to the book (almost always the client).
With a signed contract in hand, you’re ready to get to work. If your client hasn’t created an outline already, that’s the first step. Once he approves it, you start researching and writing the book itself. Once the book is published, my client’s real work as an author begins. But as a ghostwriter, my work is complete—which frees me up to start on my next ghostwriting project.
Convinced? Keep ghostwriting in mind, even if you aren’t interested in book projects. Ghostwriters also pen articles, blog posts, and even Tweets, so consider ditching your byline in exchange for a check. You may find that ghostwriting becomes an essential part of your freelance repertoire.  
***This post was drawn from Secret 27: Become a ghostwriter from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you want the "essential guide to ghostwriting," check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, which includes templates of ghostwriting LOIs, non-disclosure agreements, contracts, and advice from other successful ghostwriters who pen a variety of types of books. 
And finally, have you checked out my series of ebooks on freelancing? They're still priced at $2.99 for a limited time. What topics would you like to see covered in an ebook? Comment and let me know!