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Friday, January 30, 2015

Free Advice Friday: The Killer Query Letter

What's on the iPod: Mademoiselle du Paris by Jacqueline Francois


Quite the busy week I've had. First a snowstorm that never happened interrupted work on Monday (everyone ran out for bread -- apparently, you can't have a sandwich shortage during a snowstorm). Then an assignment kept me busy with research and lining up interviews. Yesterday, two more projects came in, both with short deadlines. Next week is going to be nuts.

We started a conversation two weeks ago about magazine work, specifically how your ideas can appeal to the magazine editor. We looked at how to study a magazine. Today, I figured it would be fun to send the editor a query letter.

Most of you know how to do this successfully. Still, it never hurts to re-examine our methods, pick up a new tip, etc. For those of you who aren't as successful at the query, this post is for you, too.

Free Advice Friday: The Killer Query Letter
Now that we've done the homework on what a particular magazine is looking for, let's get an idea to send to them. I've heard people advise that you come up with the idea after you read the magazine. That's usually a good suggestion, but sometimes you have that idea burning and you've no where for it to land.

Let's assume the idea is an overview the ergotic literature trend (If you've ever attempted to read House of Leaves or S, you know it's a book within a book within a book...and written all over the place, including in footnotes and along the margins). You've looked at a number of magazines and have decided that Book Lovers Monthly is the first market you'll approach.

We've looked at the magazine and we know that Book Lovers Monthly is a literary and cultural commentary magazine. Their ads tell you their readers have expendable cash or a healthy bank account -- Movado watches, airline ads, credit card ads aimed at business owners, car ads and gadget ads that simplify busy lives. Even ads for books from publishers -- these are well-read readers.

So here's how we'll approach it:

Dear (Editor's name):

Intelligent readers are turning to ergotic literature for more challenge. Some readers want an encounter that leaves them exhausted.But are these choices smart enough? Is the story being compromised for style?

My proposed article, Why We Love Ergotic Literature, will look at the latest explosion of books meant to challenge. From Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, which made a successful transition from a shared, web-based book, to J. J. Abrams' S, today's elite reader is expecting more than just a good tale. Are these books meeting those expectations?

I'll talk with authors like Abrams and Danielewski for their take on why the genre works (and maybe why it doesn't). Plus I'll seek the input of Jane Doe, professor of literature with University of Minnesota, where ergotic literature is studied. I intend also to include the expertise of Friederich Examiner, a social psychologist and author of twenty books on perceived and actual literary intelligence, for his view on the effects of such challenges on further segmentation of society. And I'll talk with James A. Bookmaker, acquisitions director for RandomlyHoused Books on if these books are sacrificing the story for style.

I am a veteran writer with over 15 years of expertise. My articles have appeared in several publications, including The Bostonian, New York Lifestyles, New England Living, and Wealthy Shore Dweller. Samples of my work may be viewed at the URLs listed below.

May I write the article for your readers? Thank you for your consideration (name). I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Barbara Writer

---

Obviously, this was written off the top of my head without much editing, but it's the gist of a good query. Let's take it apart --

The first paragraph is your opener. In fact, if you know how you want to start your article, use that. Speak to the magazine. In this case, I'm using the same tone as the magazine's cover uses to attract readers.

The second paragraph give them the details. The title should reflect other titles you've seen when you did your research. What won't work here -- if I decided to use a 5 Things I Hate About Ergotics Literature approach, it won't work. This magazine doesn't use lists like that, and they don't want it to be a personal account if you're proposing a feature article.

In the third paragraph, you'll tell the editors whom it is you'll hope to talk with. No, you don't have to ask people ahead of time (unless it's a celebrity or someone who is critical to your article), but do have an idea of what kind of expert you want to interview. Also, you're telling the editor what questions you intend to ask.

The fourth paragraph is a quick overview of your background. Pull out the most relevant samples you can.

The last paragraph is where you ask for the job.

Typically, my queries are just three four paragraphs. In this case, I decided to break out the experts into a separate graph just to make it less of a wall of words.

Now, go over your query at least twice before you send it. And make sure to follow the magazine's guidelines for query submissions (this magazine won't accept email submissions).

Writers, what elements do you think are essential to a winning query letter?
What formula for writing queries works best for you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

7 Reasons Why Your Client Communications is Failing

What's on the iPod: Roll the Bones by Shakey Graves

So much for predictions; that massive storm that had the weather people in complete ecstasy and had the rest of us scared to not have bread in the house?

Nothing.

Oh, I suppose an inch and a half of snow is something, but when you're told for three days to expect at least a foot, it hardly seems worth getting out the snow shovel. But it was worth getting out the snowshoes. And my lunch hour was spent outdoors in the sunshine (yep, that's how not snowy it was).

I sent out a few letters of introduction yesterday. I've been limiting myself to four a day so I can be much more targeted in my approach. Instead of using a template, I personalize every note and talk about their company a bit more.

Not everyone does that. Sometimes, writers give a laundry list of their skills, ask for the sale and sign off. Where's the benefit to the customer? The understanding of who they are and what they do?

It's Marketing 101 -- sell the sizzle, not the steak. In other words, show customers how they'll benefit from hiring a professional writer like you. But that's not the only sin writers trying to market to their customers are committing. Here are a few you may be guilty of:

Selling to the wrong person. It's not always easy to get names of the marketing leads or media contacts at a company. However, it's not impossible. If you send your carefully crafted letter of introduction to someone at customer service (who may not even know the marketing person), you've just wasted your time. Instead, look on the company website or, failing that, LinkedIn. I've often found the media contact via an Internet search.

Aiming the message in the wrong direction. If your letter is entirely about "I did this and I accomplished that and I'm known throughout the writing world...." someone is bound to say "Who cares?" And that's the right answer. Imagine how radio and television commercials speak to you, not at you. That's what your letters should be doing for your customers. Increase the reasons why customers should say yes by showing them how you can help them. Your job is to help them solve a problem -- that starts with helping them identify it.

Using questionable facts. It would be great to say "My clients have trusted me to increase tenfold their communications results." However, it may not be true, and potential clients mistrust someone who's touting percentage increases without proof.

Not asking for a conversation. It's kind of pointless to send a letter introducing yourself if you're not going to reveal the reason you wrote -- to form a business relationship. You don't have to ask to sell immediately, but do ask for a conversation.

Attaching anything. Especially if you don't know the person you're writing to, your note could land in a spam folder or be deleted as a spam. Not exactly the impression you want to start with, is it? While I think it's okay to include links to your samples, you should do so at the end of the note. And offer to send specific samples on request. One thing I don't use is the bit.ly link-shortening tool. I think it's important for clients to see where exactly they'll go if they click on that link.

Changing font sizes. Let your words do the talking. Changing fonts or colors for effect is just silly. If you're trying to capture business from a professional company, your green and pink font is going to make you look unworthy of their trust. Save fonts and colors for brochures and sell sheets. For emailed letters of introduction, stick with a personal note.

Lengthy explanation. If you get fidgety listening to a 30-second commercial, don't expect your client prospect to read through a six-paragraph note. Keep it brief -- my own LOIs are kept to under 250 words. You're a writer -- you know how to write compelling content, and you sure as hell know how to exercise brevity.

Writers, what sins are you seeing in client communication?
What, in your opinion, is the best way to gain a client's attention and maintain it?

Monday, January 26, 2015

4 Hyper Marketing Strategies for Writers

What's on the iPod: Fast As You by Dwight Yoakam

Oh, snow.

We had snow showers overnight -- just an inch -- and the snow right now is falling so softly. Such a pretty picture.

Until tonight. That's when the big shit comes down. Our area is expected just 7 to 12 inches ("just"). Other areas closer to the coast are already rolling up sidewalks and telling people to stay the hell home.

I'm a little excited about the snow. I will get to use my new snowshoes. For that, I'm quite happy. After years of asking for them for Christmas, I finally got them this year. So at lunchtime today, I'll be in Valley Forge Park giving them a go.

I had some cool marketing success last week, and as a result, work is lining up for the next month and beyond. I'm pretty excited to be starting something today, but glad the deadline is long. Trying to reach anyone on the East coast for interviews today and tomorrow is going to be impossible. So instead, I'm going to market some more, focusing west of the Mississippi for now.

Back when Twitter was taking baby steps, a popular sandwich shop, whose name escapes me, joined the tweeting ranks. So did a customer, who tweeted, "Hey, can I get a sandwich with .... for pickup?" And a trend was born.

That's hyper marketing, or more specifically, hyper-local marketing. And despite the shop's accidental discovery of the power of personal, it serves as a stellar example of how selling to exactly the right customer is good for business.

Just ask anyone from Pittsburgh, home of Primanti Brothers sandwiches. Fans (they've elevated beyond mere customers these days) have the famed sandwiches mailed across multiple state lines. What makes these sandwiches better than any other?

Hype. And the clever use of hyper marketing (note it's no longer just local). The reputation of their "almost famous" sandwiches, which are meat, fries and coleslaw between two thick slices of bread, blossomed, at first, from word-of-mouth reputation, which probably started in the 1930s. Today, bolstered by social media tools, Primanti Brothers is so busy, they had to open more locations. Many more, including three locations in Florida to keep up with the demand.

Writers especially can get a lot of mileage from hyper marketing techniques. Hyper marketing doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have to have a specialty (although it helps), but rather you're going to be more selective in whom you'll send your message to. And how. How is a big part of it.

Here are some methods that can get you more face time with the right people:

Extremely relevant content. You've seen those ads on the side of each web article you read -- they show that last thing you looked at on Amazon or those shoes you just bought. That's hyper-target marketing. You're being shown not just content, but content specifically intended for you. Yes, it's a little Big Brother, but it works. While we writers don't have to go to such extremes, we can deliver content that's exactly what our clients/potential clients want. Think Twitter-conversation-turned-newsletter. Or questions in a forum answered on your blog.

Simplify the message. A recent Forbes magazine article suggests that all those splashy, overdone pages are overwhelming our audience because they're competing with all the other splashy, overdone pages (no surprise there). If you want to get the attention of your customer, keep it simple. Tell them what they need to know (not what you think they need to know), give them your offer, and give them some breathing room.

Use a little conversational marketing. Probably not a real term, but it's what I call giving people something to talk to you about. For example, my Twitter page description has netted a lot of notes from people. It's a simple one -- "Phenomenal writing power - itty bitty twitting space." And it includes some of my specialties. But that line keeps them interested. You can start similar conversations with great forum posts, a thought-provoking question on social media, or a poll or quiz posted on your blog/website. Get a conversation going.

Use hashtags wisely. You can find any number of hyper-specific client prospects right there in Twitter. Just look for the hashtags. How do you find what hashtags are being used most often? Hashtags.org is a good place to start, as is looking at what a segment of your targeted customers are using regularly. If you don't know what the hashtag means, look it up on tagdef.com.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding February Freelance Work

What's on the iPod: Everything by Michael Bublé

Today's the day! Visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater (episode 7) page today to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. Topic: easy marketing strategies. You won't want to miss it!


The morning is starting out well. I sit here enjoying a little Bublé (yes, I actually listen to a song every morning), a song that reminds me of my daughter's wedding. They danced to that song, and it brings back lovely memories. 

Today, marketing. I'm going into today's marketing push with an amended plan. LOIs are netting some interest, but not enough. Time to mix things up.

When January starts out as well as mine has, one can easily get lulled into a false sense of success. It's false because it's temporary. The work is there, but once it's completed? Right. Square One yet again.

If your year starts slowly, as mine did last year, it's easy to get discouraged or desperate. So let's plan ways to find work for February.

Let's look at a few ways of staying solvent now, in the near future, and long term:

Magazine article queries.
Payoff - now and potentially long term.
If you're looking to boost your income total for the month, get some queries out. Magazines are working with shiny, new freelance budgets right now. And as the month is coming to a close, the resolution makers (writers who send out a ton of queries the first week of the year, then forget to keep up the momentum) are waning and you can get your idea in there. Plus, if you manage to impress editors with your ideas or you locate an editor in need of a good writer (trades are just waiting for good writers), you could establish a great ongoing relationship.

Resume or blog work.
Payoff - now and potentially long term.
Either sign up with a resume-writing company that pays you well (none of this $25-45 per resume junk with tons of free revisions) or hang out your shingle and advertise on social media. If you write resumes on your own, you can charge anywhere upwards of $200 per resume. If you're writing for a company, most will want to pay around $65 per. Why you might want to consider that -- they find the clients for you. Just make sure it's an amount you can live with and that they don't expect you to call clients and revise for months on end with no additional compensation.

With blogs, you can answer ads for gigs paying $100 or more per post (anything less is too little), or you can convince new or existing clients to let you handle their blog posts for a negotiated fee. The more specialized your writing, the more you can charge.

Reminding current clients you exist.
Payoff -- now, near future, and long term.
Your best source of work comes from people who already know and trust you. Remind your clients you're still there, and don't forget to update them on what other skills you have that may benefit them. A quick note or phone call can net you some immediate work, or get you on their calendar for a follow-up conversation later on.

Networking.
Payoff - now, near future, and long term.
Meeting face-to-face is one of the best ways to gain new clients. People want to work with people they know. So go to those networking events, the trade shows, the Chamber of Commerce events. If you can't get to any face-to-face meetings, set up Twitter events, LinkedIn Groups, Google+ hangout meetings, or simply become a regular, active member of forums where potential clients are. 

Letters of introduction.
Payoff - long term.
Even though my success rate with these is waning, they're still my best method of finding regular clients. To make these as successful for you, personalize them to each client. Study their company, then send more than just a template introduction -- send something that speaks to their needs and their focus.

Send direct mail with a call-to-action message.
Payoff - near future and long term.
Everyone loves to save money. Put together a mailer (snail mail is great for this) and include a discount rate if they book their project by the stated date. This can work in two ways -- it can help you locate and secure new client work, and it can help you plan out your workload months in advance.

Writers, how do you find work for the short term and long term?
What's been your best method of securing new client business? Existing client projects?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writers Worth: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: Lay Back Down by Eric Lindell

Don't forget -- visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater page this Friday to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. We'll discuss easy ways to market your services.

Interesting week so far. I spent Monday finishing up edits, marketing, and updating blogs. Yesterday was more of the same. Today, you guessed it.

One thing I had time for was what I call job listing trolling. It's an intentional search for the worst jobs being offered. I found a few winners, but this one in particular stood out for a few reasons.

Here's the worst of it:

Part-time writers needed (Telecommute)



compensation: Commission (about $120 per month for a few hours per week)
Seeking part-time weekend writer to produce web-cased content on commission basis (we expect that you should be able to put in four hours of work per week and make in the general area of $100-120 per month). Writer must be comfortable composing quick, clean copy on a variety of subjects. Ideal for recent college grads.

If interested, send a cover letter and resume.

---

Doesn't sound bad on the surface, does it? Oh, but it is. Let's look at reasons why this one stinks:

The title. Why does that send up red flags? Because it's trying to draw you in with the "telecommute" and "Part-time writers needed" wording. Aren't all freelancers working part-time for someone? And why the need to define it? Typically, this is being framed to attract someone who has a full-time job or needs quick cash.

"Web-cased content." Huh? You mean web-based? They can't proofread their own stuff. How serious are they about hiring good writers? 

(we expect that you should be able to put in four hours of work... Stop it. First, get rid of "that" in the sentence and my eyes may stop bleeding. Second, you've just set the bar for the writers. What you "expect" and what is reality is usually worlds apart. 

"...an make in the general area of $100-120 per month... Can I laugh now? Writers should be making that per hour. Not only have you qualified the pay with how many hours you think it should take (and what you think is probably unrealistic), you've now stated how little you're actually paying.

Writers must be comfortable composing quick, clean copy... Translation - Instant turnaround and no payment if they have to edit. 

Ideal for recent college graduates. There it is. You're not a writer unless you're competing with college graduates? At least they didn't say "stay-at-home moms" again. 

The amount of work you'll do... Wait. They didn't say, did they? Hell no, because it's probably a ridiculous amount of immediate work for that lousy monthly insult.

Instead of working under these veiled conditions and unrealistic parameters, try a job like this:

Marketing Blogger (found on All Indie Writers)
Bloggers are needed to write high quality blog posts about marketing-related topics such as SEO, conversion rate optimization, social networks, blogging, and display advertising. Content is expected to be at least 1000 words per post. Pay starts at $100 per post.
Better, isn't it? What this client is willing to pay is competitive with what you should be charging.
Writers, what are some of the worst gigs you've come across lately?
What makes these gigs so lousy?

Monday, January 19, 2015

7 Signs a Writing Client Isn't for You

What I'm reading: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
What's on the iPod: Keep It Simple by Martin Sexton

A quick note -- visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater page this Friday to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. We'll discuss easy ways to market your services.

I'm staring at a pretty busy week ahead. I spent last week finishing one client's projects and getting another client's projects well under way. This week will be spent finishing that batch and moving on to a third client's wish list. And marketing. Always marketing.

Sending out introductions often leads to deeper conversations. As I connect with new client prospects, I realize there are some pretty telling behaviors that indicate we're not a match. Not that every behavior is an automatic rejection, but I consider them warning shots and I proceed cautiously.

Here are some of the things that could indicate the client isn't for you:

Balking at the thought of limiting revisions. That tells me three things -- the client doesn't know what he/she wants, may be a micro-manager, and could be viewing freelancers as extensions of their typing pool. If three rounds of revisions (I usually give just two) aren't enough, maybe it's an indication there will be headaches later.

Lots of talk at you. In one long-ago client encounter, the client said on first meeting "You need to be writing this down." And yet I still took the project. And it was a disastrous relationship. Clients need to tell you about their projects and company goals, but they need also to listen. Your advice should matter to them, particularly if they're not used to writing anything themselves.

Wanting all your free time. No client should require freelancers to be available 24/7, yet invariably someone will come to you with a project at 4 pm the Friday before a holiday weekend. It's up to you if you take it, but know that the client who can't understand or respect your professional and personal boundaries is going to be the problem child who haunts your every weekend.

Consistently short deadlines. Right up there with expecting you to work when the rest of the world is having fun, handing you a project to have done in 24 hours -- and doing so more than once  -- isn't fair. Also, it's not up to you to put out the fires they start via bad planning.

Expecting you to check in/check out. Every client deserves an update on progress. What they don't deserve is the right to tell you when you should be working and expecting you to alert them to when you're not going to be near the phone or computer. I remember working with one resume group that wanted this very privilege. That relationship lasted about a minute -- I didn't become a freelancer to be told how to act like an employee. And for them, it's a dangerous practice to treat non-employees like employees.

Asking the price up front. To me, that's the biggest red flag there is. If they're basing their entire decision on price and not so much on quality and skill, that could be trouble later on. When potential clients ask me up front about price, I give it to them without any thought of following up. Rare is the client who has decided, even after hearing the price, to hire me because I'm worth it. It could also mean you're aiming too low on the food chain.

Expecting a price break on the first project. There's only one time I consider a price break for new clients -- when it's coupled with an ongoing, written commitment for more projects. Otherwise, the price stands. Not every client can afford you, but the assumption shouldn't be that you'll bend on your rate. Instead, the client who asks if they can get some of the work done for that price is the real gem.

Writers, what red flags keep you from taking on clients?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Free Advice Friday: Attracting Magazine Editors

What's on the iPod: I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

Busy, busy week thanks to three clients getting in touch with projects.

A friend and I were talking about querying magazines. She's a pro at it, and we were comparing notes. Turns out we do pretty much the same thing. We were also talking about how we know the magazine is a fit for what we do. I was relating a frustrating situation in which every idea but one was turned down by the editor. I was giving him my best ideas, but they weren't quite right.

Getting published in any magazine not guesswork, as you well know. Your idea, no matter how fantastic, has to fit with the magazine. But how do you know what fits and what won't?

You study the publication. And you study more than one issue.

Yes, everyone says that. But if you don't know how to do that, what good is it? Exactly why I'm writing this post -- to show you what to look for when you're going through that magazine.

Advertisements. Advertisements are more than just ways for the magazine to make money. They can tell you a lot about the people who read the magazine. Are they wealthy? Middle class? Blue collar? White collar? Male? Female? What age are they? The advertisements alone can give you the answers. For example, you won't see an advertisement for Jaguar in a magazine like Parenting or Humpty Dumpty. Nor will you see ads for cereal or floor cleaner in The Atlantic.

Cover stories. How the editors frame the articles featured - and even the articles they choose to feature - are all clues to how you can win over the editors. How sensationalized are the titles? Look at the language they're using. Is it more scholarly, more of a warning, or more how-to in nature? Also, what are they featuring?

Titles. Different magazines will frame the same topic in different ways. The best clue to a magazine's particular slant is through the titles. For example, Home and Garden may want an article on Building a Perennial Garden, whereas Organic Gardening may need an article on how to reduce soil integrity damage caused by perennials (totally made-up ideas and needs). Read each title with an eye toward how they're handling the topic.

Front-of-the-book articles. Even the small stuff counts. Those short articles in front of the magazine hold strong clues to what the magazine's tone is. Pithy? Intelligent? Accusatory? Investigative? It's all there.

Images. Your article on Five Ways to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Stalker may not fly if the magazine images are more friendly, such as smiling families on outings or what I call rainbow-and-sunshine shots of people in cars, on beaches, etc. If the magazine's images have a lighter feel, keep the tone of your query light to match it.

Past articles.  There's no better clue to what they'll publish than by understanding what they've already published. In fact, there are plenty of ideas in those published pieces -- find the questions that haven't been answered and formulate your query to keep the theme going or to bring new information to the topic (just don't expect them to leap on the idea if the article you're referencing is just a few months old).

Writers, how do you determine if the magazine you're querying is a good match for your article?
Words on the Page