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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Take the NaNoWriMo Challenge for Fun and Profit (Guest Post by Rochelle Melander)

You probably know that November 1st also welcomes the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. As a freelancer who writes nonfiction and makes money from it (or wants to), you may be thinking, so what? Well, NaNoWriMo may be just what you need to boost your freelance career as well. I'm thrilled to have Rochelle Melander, author of Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It), write today's guest post: 

Take the NaNoWritMo Challenge for Fun and Profit 
by Rochelle Melander 

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is designed to give wannabe writers the push they need to complete a novel in a month. But my first success at completing National Novel Writing Month came when I devoted the month to writing the nonfiction book I’d been kicking around for years, Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days(And Live to Tell About It).

Whether you’re a professional writer with years of experience or a newbie with a great idea, National Novel Writing Month can provide the structure and tools you need to write something you can sell. Here are five ways to use National Novel Writing Month to build your portfolio and earn money:

1. Tackle your passion project. Nearly every writer I know juggles two types of writing projects: the first pays the bills and the second makes their day. Ever since I started writing professionally, I’ve wanted to write books for children. But I also need to pay the mortgage. National Novel Writing Month provides the perfect opportunity for me to devote time to the projects I’m passionate about (like Write-A-Thon). If the novel or nonfiction book turns out well, I can pitch it to an agent or self publish it right away. Choose one of you passion projects and use this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge to get it done.

2. Try ghostwriting. In a September article on the Fast Company blog, Ryan Holiday announced that books are “branding devices and credibility signals.” ( CEOs, community leaders, coaches, and consultants can use their books to get consulting gigs and speaking deals. Holiday goes on to say that, “close to half of all books are ghostwritten.” If you’re one of those writers who’ve read Kelly’s book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks and wondered if you could ghostwrite a book, NaNoWriMo might be your perfect opportunity. Use the month to pen a book for someone else and see if you like the challenge and the paycheck.

3. Develop new business. In the midst of deadlines and family duties, I often forget to set aside time for the part of my business that keeps those deadlines coming: querying. If you’re struggling to build your freelance business, use the word count goals of National Novel Writing Month to write queries, letters of introduction, or a book proposal. By the end of the month, you’ll have cast several fishing lines and you can spend the next months reeling in the cash!

4. Write an informational ebook. Nearly every day, I receive an email from some guru or another promising me that I could earn big bucks by writing and selling an ebook. Well, why not try? No doubt, as a professional author you have amassed a huge amount of knowledge and words in your niche. Use NaNoWriMo to envision, structure, write, and publish that information into ebooks that you can sell on your website or through popular vendors.

5. Improve your social media platform. Nearly every day I whine about not having time to blog, pin, and tweet. I often imagine that if I had an extra day, I would write my blog posts for the next month, schedule a week’s worth of tweets, or play with creating new business-attracting Pinterest boards. Why not use National Novel Writing Month to do one or more of these platform-building activities?

Your turn. How will you use National Novel Writing Month to build your portfolio and earn money?

Note: If you sign up for the National Novel Writing Month challenge and read the fine print, you’ll no doubt run across this rule: “Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!” ( This little loophole makes it possible for you to write whatever you want during NaNoWriMo without breaking the rules—as long as you tell yourself it’s a novel!
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at

**Thanks, Rochelle, for this guest post. Readers, what do you think? Will you use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to work on your own book project? Comment and let me know! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Everything I Needed to Know about Freelancing I Learned from Yoga Class

Today's post ties is actually an essay that ran in The Writer earlier this year. It ties in with my post on the importance of staying physical as a freelancer. Also, if you're in the Chicago area and want to publish a book, check out this Saturday's Dream Chicago publishing program, which I'm presenting. You'll come away with insights into the publishing process you can use regardless of what kind of book you're writing. 

Now, onto why yoga is good not only for your body and soul, but for your freelance career as well: 

I started doing yoga for purely physical reasons. After 25+ years of running regularly, I was starting to notice a lot of nagging aches and an overall stiffness that never went away. I may have been fit but I was far from flexible, so I gave the whole downward-facing dog thing a try.

With just six months of practice under my belt, I’m still a yoga newbie. Yet I’ve found that much of what I’ve learned on my mat makes sense for my writing career as well. Whether you already know what “Namaste” means or have yet to unroll a mat, you may find these yoga truths applicable to your freelance work too:

Show up on your mat. My yoga instructor always reminds us to honor ourselves for coming to class, and for taking the time to do something good for ourselves. At the beginning of class, we’re told to let our thoughts and emotions (good and bad) go and to just focus on our breath, and on the asanas, or poses, we perform. That’s what is important. Freelance lesson: Commit to your writing career, and make it a priority.

The pose you like the least is the one tyou need the most. I love tree pose, or vrksasana, because I’m good at it. But I groan inwardly when we’re told to move into crow (bakasana) because I’m afraid I’ll fall when I attempt it—and I have. I only keep trying because I know pushing my boundaries and facing my fear is part of yoga practice. Freelance lesson: Don’t just stick with what comes easily to you. Stretch yourself and learn new skills that will help your business.

Lack of motion doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Chair pose, or ukatasana, involves sitting back in an invisible chair, keeping your weight in your heels, and stretching your arms above your head. You’re not moving, but simply holding the pose strengthens your core, your legs, and your arms—and your resolve. Maintain this pose for more than a few seconds, and you’ll feel it—your body is working hard even though you’re motionless. Freelance lesson: Yes, part of writing (the most visible part) is getting your words down. But part of writing is thinking. Pondering. Planning. Considering. Reconsidering. Discovering. Recognize that the motionless part of writing is valuable, even essential.

Every day is different. Some days yoga seems effortless, my body flexible and strong. I’m able to hold poses I normally struggle with. Other days I feel weak, uncoordinated, and frustrated. I can’t predict how my practice will be; my flexibility, strength, and mental resolve vary from day to day. Freelance lesson: Some days your productivity soars. Other days, the words barely dribble from your fingers. Accept that you can’t control the outcome—and hope for a better day tomorrow.

Your practice, your mat. Like I said, I’m a relative novice, doing yoga alongside people who have practiced for years. I’m amazed, envious, and yes, intimated by the men and women in class who pop up into handstands with no apparent effort. I have to remind myself that yoga isn’t about competing against other people. The only thing that matters is my practice and what I do on my mat. Freelance lesson: There will always be writers who are more talented or more successful than you. Don’t worry about them; focus on your own writing and career.

The more you practice, the further you’ll go. Yoga isn’t about comparing yourself against others, but about stretching your own limitations. Regular practice makes you stronger, more flexible, and calmer as well. If I make time to do yoga four or five times a week, I’m more centered and focused both on and off the mat than the weeks I only get in one session. Freelance lesson: There’s no substitute for writing. The more time you put in, the better writer you’ll become and the easier it will be to grow your business.

You never know when you’ll have a breakthrough. I was a weak, uncoordinated kid who couldn’t turn a cartwheel. I struggled for months to try to do a full wheel, or urdhva dhanurasana, but I wasn’t strong enough to push myself up onto my hands. Then one class I exhaled, pushed, and found myself in full wheel. Months of effort suddenly paid off in one glorious moment, which reinvigorated my dedication to my practice. Freelance lesson: You can’t control when you’ll sell your work. But if you keep writing and marketing your writing, you’ll eventually have an editor say “yes.”

And now, my confession--I haven't been to yoga in two weeks! My new priority: to show up on my mat tomorrow. :) 
**Coming up, I'll have a guest post in honor of National Novel Writing Month from Rochelle Melander, author of Write-a-Thon: Write your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About it)!  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dream Publishing Program in Chicago on November 3

Want to publish a book but you're not sure which avenue--traditional publishing, print-on-demand, or self-publishing--is right for you? Wish you knew the pros and cons of each, or want to know more about e-books and why they're the easiest way to become an author? Or simply need a kick in the butt to get your book project in gear? Check out Dream Chicago's "Dream Publishing" program Saturday, November 3, 2012. I'm thrilled to be presenting and it will be an info-packed, motivating morning, and I hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What do Markets Pay Today? The Latest Rates

One of the challenging aspects of freelancing is the lack of information about what markets pay. While many freelance markets post their rates online, others do not. And I can tell you that posted rates are almost always the least a market will pay. Publications often pay their regular contributors higher rates, and will offer more money for articles that require writers to perform extensive research or have a specialized background, for example. 

That's one reason I talk about money and encourage other writers to do the same. It also helps prevent you from falling into the trap of writing for pennies, or for "exposure," because you don't know any better. 

Market rates vary, I've gathered some recent rate info to keep in mind: 

Print markets 
Major national magazines: $1-3/word (it's rare to get $3/word but it happens!) 
Smaller/niche national magazines $0.25-$1/word

Trade magazines: $0.20-.50/word
Regional magazines: $0.10-50/word
Custom magazines: $0.50-$1/word+

Online markets 
Blogs: $50-500 for posts of 500-800 words 
Articles $0.25-$1/word

Books (including ghostwriting) Book proposals $3,500-8,000+ (this is lower than a couple of years ago) 
Full-length books $10,000-35,000+ (+royalties, in some cases)

Other work 
Consulting $100/hour+
Editing $25-50/hour, on average, depending on the type of editing and the project
Proofreading $15-25/hour+

Remember that what you're paid (even if it's a lot!) is only one factor when you decide whether to write for a particular market. Consider how long a piece will take to research and write so you have an idea of what you make not only per-word, but per-hour. Aiming for a high per-hour rate (or gradually increasing yours over time) is what will help you develop and sustain a successful freelance career. 

**New to this blog or to freelancing in general? If your'e just getting started, I've got several ebooks that will help you launch your freelance writing career: 
Or check out my latest full-length book, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, for a comprehensive look at what it takes to build a career as a writer of short nonfiction. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Giveaway Winner--And A Look at My Latest Royalty Statement

First, congrats to Cindy, the winner of my latest giveaway. She wins a signed copy of Writer For Hire, which I'll be mailing to her this week. Thanks to all who entered!

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I'm big on talking money. I've posted before about going rates for freelance work; real POD sales figures; and even shared my royalty statements. And I conduct an annual freelance income survey. I believe that information is power for both freelancers and book authors. 

I recently received my royalty statement for the first six months of the year for Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. (Typically traditional publishers send royalty statements twice a year, from two to six months after the end of the royalty reporting period.) The royalty statement tells you how many books you've sold during that time period and how much you've made in royalties, If you've made more than your advance (what's called "earning out"), you receive a check along with your statement.

I wasn't sure what to expect with sales for Writer for Hire. I knew that with Six-Figure Freelancing, I sold about 4,600 copies during the first royalty period--not bad at all. Because I had such an advance of $15,000, though, I have yet to earn out on Six-Figure. Maybe someday. But I did a lot of promotion to launch Writer for Hire, and continue to market it. That's part of my work as an author. 

So, how'd I do? My sales figures weren't as high as I would have liked, but they're not terrible, either. In the first six months of the year, I sold a total of 1,975 copies of Writer for Hire, including 92 e-books. I make about $0.83/print book and $2.37/e-book, so I've made $1776.43 in royalties. However, that's not enough to offset my advance for the book. If sales stay steady--or hopefully pick up--I estimate it will take another year or so to actually see a royalty check. 

Keep in mind that a "midlist" author may sell between 10,000 to 20,000 copies of a book over its lifetime, so nearly 2,000 sales isn't a bad start. What matters is what happens during the next few royalty statements. So stay tuned!  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Want more Work? Pump up your ISG

Occasionally I consult with freelance writers who want to take their career to the next level or would-be authors who need help moving from idea to published book. With the former, I always emphasize the importance of a compelling ISG, or I'm-So-Great, paragraph in their queries. Yet many writers overlook this essential query element or fail to write the best ISG they can. 

A strong query includes the following four parts: 

• The lead. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote. Its purpose is to capture the editor's attention and make her want to keep reading. 

• The "why-write-it" paragraph. This paragraph (or two, if you have a particularly detailed query) fleshes out the idea, demonstrating why the readers of the magazine will be interested in the topic. 

• The "nuts-and-bolts" paragraph. This is where you describe the finished piece. How long will it be? What type of sources (i.e., experts or "real people") do you plan to interview? What section of the publication will the story fit in? What's the working title? 

• And finally, the ISGIn your ISG, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter. If you already have a slew of clips, your ISG will probably focus on your list of credentials. If you're a new writer, though, you want to focus on you do have to offer--your connection with the topic you want to write about. 

So, one of my current consulting clients is a freelancer who also happens to be a military spouse and mom. She used that unique background to pitch a story on how people can support the families of military personnel during the holidays to a market that's new to her. 

Her query sold, and now she has an "in" with a new market. As she gains experience, she won't have to pitch stories she has experience with--she'll have proven that she can research and write about anything. Starting out, however, she should focus on what she has to offer to get her foot in the door. 

Get the idea? When you lack clips, play up what you do have--namely, some kind of personal experience with or knowledge of the topic you're pitching. If you're pitching a major market where competition is fierce, I suggest you use the same strategy. The more you can set yourself apart from other writers--and have the editor ID you as the writer for the assignment. 

**New to the freelance biz? Pitch, sell, research and write your first article by following the simple 10-step process in my popular e-book, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article. For a broader, comprehensive look at successful freelancing, check out Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writer's Digest, 2012). 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Straight Talk (and Real Numbers) about POD Sales

I had only published books with traditional publishers until two years ago, when I opted for POD, or print-on-demand, to publish Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. I had high expectations for the book--there were no other good books out there on successful ghostwriting--and was excited about trying out this new publishing model. 

At the time, I didn't realize that the “average” number of sales for a POD author is 100 copies. I expected to sell way more than that! So, how am I doing? 

I've posted before about how many copies I sold during the first year after it was published. But to recap, during the first year, I sold:

  • 159 print copies through CreateSpace (including expanded distribution, where readers ordered the book through their local brick-and-mortar bookstores);
  • 50 e-books;
  • 50 copies through a special sale; and
  • 36 copies as “hand-sales,” or copies I sell at speaking gigs, writers' conferences, or directly to readers who want a signed copy, etc.
That's a total of 295 copies, which means I nearly tripled the “average” number of POD sales in my first year after it came out. I grossed $1703, but I spend about $900 total to publish the book. (That included what I paid CreateSpace, what I paid my proofreader, and sending copies of the book to my 20-something sources.) So my net profit on the book was about $800.  

And as I write this, 2 years after publishing the book, I've sold 451 copies, which breaks down like this:

  • 261 print copies through CreateSpace ($1,213); 
  • 101 e-books ($706); 
  • 50 copies through that special sale ($350); and
  • 39 copies as “hand-sales" ($429).

Do the math. My gross is $2,698, which means after two years in print, my net profit on this POD book is about $1,798. Yikes. That's not much, is it? However, the book has led to other work, including a feature on ghostwriting for Writer's Digest, hosting Webinars, and several speaking gigs. The book has also continued to build my platform and attract new ghostwriting clients, which is one of the reasons I published it

Would I go POD again? Probably not, but that's a topic for another post. Next post, I'll share my latest royalty statement from a traditional publisher. Stay tuned! 

Readers, I always debate sharing "not-so-great" news, like the real (and relatively low) numbers in this post. But I think it's important that authors know what to expect when going POD. Have you found this post helpful? Any other questions about POD you'd like me to answer? Comment below and let me know. :) And if you're seriously considering POD, check out my latest e-book, Dollars and Deadlines' 7 Biggest Mistakes POD Authors Make--and How to Avoid Them (SmashWords edition)