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Monday, July 28, 2014

5 Ways to Kill Your Writing Career

What's on the iPod: Peace Sign by We Were Promised Jetpacks

Without a house project going on all the time, I've come away from my weekends feeling positively bored by Sunday night. I think that's good -- I'm eager to get back to work, and I've managed to read a lot more than I have in a year. Today, I have one article to frame in and another to start, and hopefully finish. The second one came in on Friday, and the client needs it by the middle of August. If I expect to get any kind of vacation next month, that means it has to be done now.

As I worked on my poetry on Friday, I realized that I'd been successful at making time for the kind of writing I wanted to do. Not that I don't love working for clients -- I do, very much. But we writers all have dreams of writing projects that make us happy. For me, that's poetry and fiction.

Still, how many writers don't understand how to achieve freelance writing success? Turns out quite a few. The blogs and coffee shops are littered with writers who talk about the work. But they're not actually doing the work. A few lament about how hard it is. Other writers fuss that they don't think one type of writing is as prestigious as another.

Whatever they're saying, it's all killing their careers and maybe before they even get off the ground.

Here are some surefire ways to wrecks your writing career before it even gets going:

Go into it strictly for the art. Look, I love my job and I love writing. However, if I'd ever thought "I'll just write" and not taken care of the business details, my career would have been as long as it took me to say something so stupid. Yes, what we do is an art. It's also a commodity. Every kind of writing you try to sell is a product that must be marketed, and you become a small business owner. If that doesn't appeal, don't be a writer.

Wait for work to arrive. If you've been freelancing longer than a few years, you know how deadly it is to your income stream to wait for that promised work or that exciting new client to finalize things. Until the contract is signed, these projects and clients should be considered pipe dreams. For every client I've ever had who's asked me if I had the next three weeks available, I have that many more checks in the bank for not being crazy enough to wait around.

Get lazy about the work. You could write those case studies in your sleep, but don't. If you take a blasé attitude toward your projects, it will show in the results. Every job, even the small ones, deserves your full attention and energy.

Piss off enough people. I used to follow a very popular blogger. The advice and resources supplied were stellar. However, I witnessed some pretty vicious attacks against other writers by this same person -- in one case, even after a faux pas resulted in an apology by the offender, the blogger still ranted on, which nearly cost the offender some serious business. There comes a point when your point doesn't make any more sense and you're just going for blood for no reason. Clients see that. Who wants to hire someone who's going to go off like a bomb?

Stay in your little bubble. How long has it been since your last guest post? When was the last time you commented on a blog other than your own? There are very few writers who do not have to advertise their presence. For the rest of us, it's a numbers game. The more people you get in front of, the better your name recognition will be. Burst that bubble and start mingling with your clients.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Identifying Your Ideal Writing Client

What's on the iPod: Safe by The Airborne Toxic Event

It's been a fruitful week so far. I've made good progress on two articles and I hope to have one in to the editor today. The other won't be far behind. That means Lori gets a much-deserved vacation soon.

This week has also been fruitful in terms of reaching out to new clients. I've had conversations with two clients, one of which I suspect I'll be working with soon. The other may be kicking the tires, so I'm going to let the information I'd provided be the last word from me for now. If there's interest, they'll be in touch.

That's a far different attitude from the one I had in my beginning years as a freelancer. Then, every contact with a customer was a must-have sale. At least from my perspective, I was desperate to please. And much to my own detriment, I ended up in bad situations unable to please people who were clearly not committed to the working relationship.

Now, I screen clients a lot more carefully. Some tire kickers still get through, but the majority of the prospects I contact not only need a writer, but they want one and are willing to pay for quality writing.

How much nicer it is to talk with people like that.

But if you're starting out or if you're a generalist, finding that ideal client is like finding the Holy Grail. Choosing wisely can be tough if you don't know what you're doing.

The marketing gurus use a simple method to determine ideal customers. It goes something like this:

  • Age and gender
  • Marital status
  • Education level
  • Geographic location
  • Lifestyle
  • Proximity to business location(s)
That works for marketing firms who are targeting individual customers. For freelance writers? I think we need to tweak a bit. Here's a list of my identifiers:
  • Industry and focus
  • Customer demographics (if it's a business or magazine)
  • Has a problem that requires writing skills
  • Needs/wants specific things
  • Is motivated to work with you
  • Is the decision maker
  • Is willing to pay what you charge
Industry and focus. Choose any industry-- general consumer writing, for example. What type of client falls into that category? Well, look at who's targeting the consumer population; retailers selling everything from hand cream to life insurance; service providers offering everything from oil changes to narrow it down to a focus. Do you want to work with people who need healthcare writing? How about companies that need technical manual writing for consumer products? What about textbooks? Figure out what segment of that industry you want to target (and it's a personal choice with no wrong answer and that answer can change any time you want it to). Write it down.

Customer demographics. Suppose you chose to work with people who sell hand cream. You now need to know who their target customers are. Women, certainly. But how many men, too? What ages are their customers? That depends on the company. One company may target women over 50 years while another peddles scented lotions for the teen-aged crowd. Within each of those targeted audiences are slews of companies pushing their products and competing for business.

Has a problem that requires your skills. How can your targeted group stand out from the competition? How can they increase sales? How do they say this when all their current marketing says that? Your job is to find that problem that keeps them up nights and offer solutions.

Need/want specific things. Clearly different sides of the same coin, right? They may want a shiny new brochure and sales letter, but they may need a website update and a social media presence. It's your job to hear what they want and make suggestions to help them uncover their needs, as well.

Is motivated to work with you. It's the tire-kicker syndrome; you communicate with them more than twice and each time the question of "How much does this cost ..." comes up. You're probably talking with someone who's trying out the idea and not really committed to hiring you. Do what you like, but I usually decrease my contact with someone who exhibits tire-kicking behavior. I don't close the door entirely (there could be plenty of reasons why there's hesitation), but I don't pursue endlessly communication that feels like it has a quicksand base. Look for clients who can spell out exactly what they want and those who don't lead with the questions on price.

Also, there are times people don't show the motivation because they don't realize the need. Here's where the savvy freelance writer can help them realize the need. For example, I contact people who are about to exhibit at trade shows and offer to help them get their booth materials in good shape. They may not hire you for that specific job, but don't think it isn't a good introduction to impart the message "I pay attention to what your company does and I can help."

Likewise, think about a magazine editor. Where else do you have a more motivated audience than in the editor, whose primary concern is filling pages with great content? That's the kind of motivation you hope for and can help instill in your clients.

Is the decision maker. I remember having lunch with a prospect, who'd told me his company had plenty of work for me. I spent an hour explaining my background and how it fit into his company's needs, and I picked up the tab. Imagine my surprise when I followed up and he directed me to his boss, who not only didn't need a writer, but didn't have a clue who I was. Make sure the person you contact can hire you. It's okay to ask if they have to run the decision by someone else. That's a subtle way of verifying the level of authority your contact has.

Is willing to pay what you charge. There's no point whatsoever in courting a client only to find out your rate is three times what they can afford, or that they regard writers with the same disdain as they do the IRS (though I personally am an IRS fan). Get your price out there at the outset. It helps weed out those who aren't your clients. Plus, make sure before you contact the client that they have a healthy bottom line. For individual clients, this is a bit impossible, but for companies it's not hard to find out how much revenue they make. Also, pay attention to clues about their financial situation. A one-person shop usually has a website that suggests they're one person doing the work of twelve. Not that smaller operations can't be fantastic customers - they can indeed. But there are clues, such as the rudimentary website, the lack of any real involvement in their industry, etc. that can suggest your skills aren't going to be compensated adequately.

After you've vetted clients for a while, you'll be able to see within seconds if this is a viable prospect. Don't forget your best tool in the vetting process -- your intuition. Trust what your gut is telling you and don't be afraid to back away if it feels wrong.

Writers, how do you go about identifying your ideal client?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tactical Tuesday: 6 Step Marketing

What's on the iPod: Skinny Love by Birdy

I can't believe it's Tuesday and I'm just now getting around to telling you about my weekend. That's a good sign, believe me.

Saturday I don't even remember. I know it was slow and it involved reading. It always involves the farmers market, so I know we vegged up before we vegged out. We puttered around the house. I moved a few things from the basement to upstairs, but mostly it was just lounging and reading. The garden swing got some serious use. I can't remember enjoying doing nothing more. Sunday I dragged him into the car and we drove. We ended up at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, but the destination was actually more the ride than where we ended up. We stopped along a lake and had a picnic lunch, and we drove back roads, which took us through some gorgeous farm country. A few Amish buggies and one farm stand later, we arrived home with fresh fruit and our bucolic fix for the week.

I like starting the week strong. After that nice weekend, I began with a call with a new client in the morning. I think we'll be able to work together, and I'm eager to start. It's a company I've admired for a while, and it was wonderful to hit it off immediately with the woman I spoke with.

The afternoon was spent alternating between writing and marketing. I've decided to make my "breaks" in writing less jump-up-and-get-something-to-eat and more two-minutes-to-market instead. Despite my ADD nature when I'm writing (I have to break when I'm on a roll -- my brain goes a little faster than my fingers), the shift helped. Now I'm doing something useful with my time.

I've also decided to start a new series: Tactical Tuesday. which will become part of this blog's theme rotation.My goal is to find a specific focus for each of the themes I give you -- Technology Tuesday is self-explanatory, as is Monthly Assessment and Free Advice Friday -- and really narrow down the advice to something you can apply right now.

Here goes.

Tactical Tuesday: 6 Step Marketing

1. Choose your direction. Marketing starts with committing to a direction. You'd not pick up a hockey stick and start slamming it at the goal not knowing which goal is yours. Don't do the same with your marketing.
Build a list of potential clients you'd like to reach out to. Start with any of the following: magazine editors, companies in your specialty area, company employees in your LinkedIn groups, etc. Don't contact them -- just gather contact info from their websites or some other directory.

2. Choose your method. Some clients on your list will require a specific approach -- magazine editors will most likely get queries, for example. For the rest, decide how you'll first approach them. Email, snail mail, phone calls, social media, face-to-face -- all are possibilities. Pick one for today.

3. Create your message. What do you want to say to your potential customer? If they were to ask you what you do, how would you answer? Write your script, paying particular attention to presenting benefits. For example, don't write "I've been writing for 25 years and I have worked with over 50 companies." Instead, write "With 25 years of exceeding the expectations of more than 50 companies, I'm ready to help you improve your communications messages." Set up your message simply -- state why you're writing; give a little background on yourself, and; personalize it with what you've observed, what you've done in similar areas to theirs, where you've seen them mentioned in the press, how you can help them get mentioned in the press, etc.

4. Proof it, then send it. Please, proof your work. Show them you're going to be careful with their project by being careful with your communications. Check name spelling, company names, and your own spelling/grammar. Then send it via whatever method you've chosen (or call them if this is your phone script).

5. Follow up. If you've not received an answer to either your call or correspondence, check back. It could be, as has happened to me on a number of occasions, that someone put your note or voice mail aside to get back to and simply forgot. In one-to-two weeks (no later than two weeks, if you can help it), write back or call again. I usually attach the original note for reference. If you're writing via snail mail, you could switch to email for the follow-up correspondence, just to speed things up.

6. Repeat. If you don't repeat the process, especially the follow up, you could be cheating yourself out of money. In one case, the client didn't respond for eight months. When she did, it resulted in over $23K in extra income that year. Every day, go through this simple process again. Once you have a lot of marketing messages out there, make sure to follow up every day on a handful of them.

Writers, what are your own daily marketing methods?
How often do you switch from one approach to another?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Free Advice Friday: 10 Money-Saving Resources for Writers

What I'm reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
What's on the iPod: Alone in My Home by Jack White

Some days, you just know you're about to have a good day. I sat down at this desk yesterday with purpose; I had a plan. Allotting time to three separate projects, I was able to organize two of them to the point where I'm inches from invoicing. The third project is a personal one, and I had plenty of time to play.

I love it when that happens.

I had time to play on the computer, as well. I'm a bit weird in that I like to try learning one more thing about Windows or my computer whenever I get the chance. There's a lot of functionality on our computers that we probably don't even know about let alone use. This came screaming home to me the day I decided to buy software. As I searched for reviews on various products, I came across a post that suggested the software I wanted was already installed on my computer. I looked. Sure enough, there it was.

That saved me $99.

It's not always that we freelance writers are going out buying things, but when we do, it's nice to know how to save a few bucks. There are some things you just can't live without, like equipment, essential word processing software, anti-virus programs, etc. However, just because you need it doesn't mean it has to cost much, if anything.

Here are a few areas where we writers can save some cash:

Voice Recognition software. Before you buy a voice-to-text application, do a search of your PC. Most newer Windows machines have a Voice Recognition program right there under Accessories.

Software in general. For almost every program you're about to pay for, there is a free or very cheap alternative. Open source software is a great way to get the high-end functionality without the exorbitant cost. Do a little research -- I like to go to CNet to find my downloads and reviews. The obvious caveat applies -- make sure it's a trusted source. Otherwise, you could be downloading trouble.

Also, I can't speak for what Apple provides, but Windows also gives you programs such as a sound recorder, a text-to-speech narrator, remote desktop capabilities, an on-screen keyboard, and even a magnifier. My desktop, which is a HP with Windows 7, also has sticky notes, handwriting recognition, a tablet PC input panel, a sync center for syncing within your network, a snipping tool for capturing screen shots, and a journal for handwriting capture. Look before you download.

Pre-owned and older versions are OK. While my desk is a new one, it replaced a used one. Likewise my office chair. It's a fantastic, high-end chair I got from a used office furniture discount site. It's okay to save some money on furnishings. For example, do you really need that fancy matching printer stand, or can you pick up and refinish a nice old dresser or credenza and save a few hundred bucks? The same goes with software. As newer versions come out, you can pick up used or obsolete-ish versions online, especially if it's something where you don't necessarily need the newest, shiniest, most-expensive version. I once picked up an unopened Quark Xpress program for $40. It was three versions outdated, but perfect for my needs.

Blogs instead of webinars. There are slews of webinars, courses, and boot camps out there at any given time, and the main goal is to earn money for the people hosting them. While that's not a bad thing if you know your hosts and trust their expertise, if you're short on cash, do a little Bing/Google search. Invariably, that topic you're about to pay $300 to learn more about can be had for free on a blog or in an article. Sure, the information may have to be pieced together, but you're saving $300. Why wouldn't you opt for that?

Free education. The day my local writer friend alerted me to Coursera was a day I won't forget. His email to his writer friends resonated, and I've since taken advantage of several college-level courses taught by some of the top universities in the world. Coursera isn't the only place to get training for free; try iTunes University, OpenCulture, Stanford University, Yale, Harvard, etc. All free.

Spend wisely. There are a small handful of people I'd pay money to learn from, and there are a few programs and office supplies I would spend good money on. A great anti-virus program is essential (I use Avast! and love it), as is the right office equipment. I couldn't live without my digital voice recorder. Whatever it is you can't live without, splurge on those items. For those webinars and courses -- be sure to read between the lines of the sales pitch. If the information to be presented is new and something you can't get elsewhere or if the host is someone who's walking the talk (not just pretending), go for it.

eBooks. That's right -- you can get free books from your favorite authors, or find some new favorites. BookBub alerts you to the freebies in the format you use -- Kindle, Nook, Apple, etc. Sign up for free, click on the Free e-Books link, and enjoy.

Business cards. The most I paid for business cards was $191 for lovely, embossed cards. No more of that -- now I pay $19 total. But even that can be topped -- for the price of shipping, places like VistaPrint can set you up with your very own pack of 250 business cards.

Sales. There is nothing a writer needs that can't be had at a bargain. Want cheap printer ink? How about a new laptop? One of my all-time favorite places for sales is Groupon. My daughter scored her wedding invitations via a Groupon for $20, including Save-the-Date notes and thank-you notes. If you're willing to be patient and wait for the sale, it will happen. This past month, I saw sales for computers, software, and printers. Even printer paper is currently on deep discount -- $56.99 for 10 pack that retail for $157.85.

Rewards programs. Loyalty should be rewarded (and it's why they probably know my name at DSW). Office supply places usually do offer rewards programs that give you discounts on future purchases. Everything from airline rewards to even search engines offer some kind of reward. Right now, I'm getting 100 GB of free cloud storage for one year on MS OneDrive just because I search using Bing. In fact, Bing has paid for all my Starbucks trips this month. For those things you do every day or buy regularly, find the retailers who will pay you back for sticking with them.

Writers, how and where do you save money? What are your favorite resources?
What would you plunk down good money for, discount or not?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

8 Places to Find Article Ideas

What's on the iPod: Think Out Loud by Ed Sheeran

Once more, we were without AC for a little bit. The repair man was fast in getting to me -- within an hour of the call -- but the part had to be ordered. It was hot outside -- 88 degrees F -- but it was okay inside because there was no sun with the rain storms threatening. Comfortable isn't quite the right word. Bearable. I think we got up to just 76, which is right about when one would want to open some windows.

It didn't bother me to work like that. I concentrated on the work and when it became a little warm, I drank ice water. I spent the first 38 years of my life with no central air conditioning. Once you get used to it being a little warmer, you just live with it.

I had time after an interview to do some digging for my next article query. With two assignments currently, I'm always looking for more work. I have a few solid ideas that will go out today, and I hope to get some writing done on the first assignment as well as some research for the second assignment. Plus, I'm starting a new marketing campaign this week and I want to finalize plans for that.

Finding article ideas for writing assignments can sometimes create some challenge. Where do you look, and how do you know it's a good idea? For this post, I won't go into where to send the query. That's an entirely different post, and one we'll tackle some other day. Right now, let's look at where to find ideas for your magazine queries.

Press releases. These are some of my favorite sources. Most press releases contain information like "Joe Schmoe has been appointed as head of our new cyber intelligence group." Sounds kind of dull, right? It is -- until you look deeper. Don't look at "Joe" as the topic, but at "our new cyber intelligence group" as the main point. What's that about? What does that group do? How does it differ from what's already being done? How has cyber security changed over the last decade? There are plenty of questions, and a potential story, in that one sentence. Learn to do close readings of releases -- even the ones that seem most mundane can hold your next article assignment.

News Alerts. I subscribe to four or five different e-newsletters that send out daily or weekly alerts. In those, I'm always finding ideas. One particularly useful alert comes from a legal firm, and they include a quote from one of their attorneys for each of the dozen ideas they send. I've sold numerous stories that were borne out of those alerts.

Forums and social media. Look at what people are discussing and debating on forums -- among those threads are your next article ideas. Look at the discussions that are generating the most commentary; those are hot-button topics that any editor would love to hear about. Also, don't rule out Facebook. Know those little quizzes or news items like "Top Ten Beaches" or "Best Party Locations" you see in your timeline? One or more of those could inspire your own Top Ten or Best article.

Studies and surveys. I'm a sucker for a good survey. Surveys are great jumping-off points for larger discussions. For instance, my latest article assignment came from a press release about a recent study -- and the editor loved the idea. Find studies by typing in the subject name along with words like "statistics" or "study" or "survey." For example, "divorce rates statistics" or "CEO bonus survey." Or look to associations and press release websites to alert you to new studies and surveys.

Existing articles. Don't just read an article to be entertained; read to locate those unanswered questions. For instance, an article on slavery reparations may not touch on what would be considered adequate reparations, or an article on the pollutants in body wash may not tell you how to dispose of this or other toxins without harming the environment. Every article has unanswered questions.

Writers guidelines. Yes, you can find ideas just by browsing the magazine's wish list and focus. I remember getting the idea for "Getting Publications to Pay" just by browsing the Writer's Digest magazine guidelines.

Conversations with friends and family. I've had inspiration from both. For example, the kid two years out of college lamenting about the lack of jobs can spur ideas such as the state of today's college graduate, where the jobs are, the new economy and how underemployed graduates will impact pricing, where good interim work is, why college may not fit any longer, etc. Listen with your editorial ear -- even in the complaints about the water bill, there's a story buried.

Personal experience. The trash company fails to pick up the trash for eight days -- that's a story on failed customer service. The water bill I mentioned -- there's an article on smart conservation tips. The car repair? That's a good chance to investigate these car repair "insurance" policies. Vacation? How about educating people on the real bottom-line costs of renting a car? Look at what you do every day, including the ordinary (how cable is sinking network television; radio killed the video stars; what to look for in your next wireless plan; insuring your antiquities.... There are no end of ideas right in front of you.

Writers, what are some of your go-to methods for generating article ideas?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Free Advice Friday: This Job, Not That Job

What I'm reading: The Liars Club by Mary Karr (second reading)
What's on the iPod: Leading Me Now by The Tallest Man on Earth

This has been one weird week. On Tuesday evening, a storm blew through. It wasn't all that -- some wind, a little rain, but nothing to write home about. Even stranger -- our power went out well before the wind kicked up.

I spent Wednesday at Starbucks.  Sadly, every electronic device I needed to conduct my interview that day was dead or dying. Not only that, my interview questions were locked on my desktop computer. Why didn't I save even that to the cloud?

Lesson learned going forward -- make it all as virtual as I can, including email.

Thanks to Jenn Mattern for sending me a candidate for the lousiest writing gig on the planet. The post was deleted before I could get it up here, but I found a similar lousy gig, and I suspect it's the same ad re-posted. Today's Free Advice Friday, fellow writers, gives us this little SEO-writing wonder that's sure to keep you on the unemployment rosters.

Website Articles Needed - Health and Wellness (virtual work)

compensation: $100 for 16 articles, paid in 4 installments.
I am looking for an experienced writer to cover a number of health and wellness articles for a new website.
I will provide you with 16 topics and one article per topic to use as a source (you should find other sources but I will only be providing you with one source per topic).
Each article will range between 500-1000 words, with the average being 750 words.

The candidate should be able to do the following:
○ Write articles with SEO in mind, including article and website keywords in the appropriate places
○ Present the topic in a clear and engaging manner
○ Create 100% original articles, NO copying the work of others.
○ Some health articles require statistics or evidence, link to source in article and use strong sources.
○ Be reliable and provide reasonable turnaround time with articles

When replying to this ad, please provide me with the following:
○ Your name
○ Writing experience
○ A writing sample (any topic will do but I would prefer something relating to health and wellness)
○ Contact information

This job pays $100 and will be paid out via PayPal in 4 installments.
After 4 articles are complete, you will be paid $25


That would be $100 for 16 articles, NOT $100 per article. Even better, you get that heaping wad of cash doled out to you in four minuscule installments.

Here's what's wrong with this ad:


Ah, we can't leave it at that. So let's tick down the list of heinousness together.

"I am looking for an experienced writer" -- at those rates? Are you serious? Sadly, he is.
"Each article will range between 500-1000 words" -- do the math right now. Let's go with his 750-word average just for giggles. What total are you getting, 12,000 words? Right. Now let's divide $100 by that number. 

.0083 cents per word. In order to earn even a penny, you'd have to write 12 and a half words.

This bloke wants original content, SEO-dense content, and you have to be an experienced health and wellness writer who doesn't mind finding your own sources beyond that first one he's gifting you. All for a C note.

I think we have a winner. This is by far the worst job on the planet.

Instead of taking on too much work for practically no pay, let's work for someone who appreciates and values our skills, shall we? Here's a possibility:

American Fitness
Monthly publication needing articles on health, fitness, aerobic exercise, age-specific fitness, sports nutrition, and outdoor activities. Most interested in historical accounts of athletic events, inspirational pieces, equipment reviews, new product, motivational pieces, fitness guru interviews, success stories, personal experience, and new sport, travel, or activity adventures.

Pays $200 for 800-1200 feature articles, and $80 for news pieces.

So let's pull out the calculator again. Let's assume the mid-range: 1,000 words. How much per word? 20 cents. You're not going to pad your investment accounts with that amount, but compared to that other gig? 

You just increased your per-word income 2,500 times. Let's put it the way my husband put it to me: If you worked one day at the job paying 20 cents a word, you would earn what it would take someone working the other job for 10 years to make.

When you put it like that, why the hell would you bother with that first gig?

Writers, what is some of the crap you're seeing out there?
What's your contender for worst writing gig on the planet?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

8 Ways to Know You'll Fail at Freelance Writing

What's on the iPod: Better Together by Jack Johnson

We started the week with no air conditioning and temperatures that went over 90 degrees (F). Luckily, what we'd thought was cause for a new central air unit turned out to be just a disconnected wire. How it became disconnected is anyone's guess, but it was under $100 to fix. That's my favorite kind of problem.

So I spent Tuesday in relative comfort. To be honest, Monday wasn't bad. I focused on work, kept my movements to a minimum, and the AC repair man had it all fixed before 3 pm, when things are usually hottest. Through it all, I worked. That's because this is a job.

Despite a common misconception of what freelance writing careers are like, it's work. It's not hanging out in coffee shops with other writers discussing one's latest Great American Novel. It's not writing one book and thinking the work is done. It's not deciding one day to become a freelance writer and then finding oneself inundated by offers and accolades.

If you didn't get it the first time, I'll say it again: running a freelance writing business is work, and plenty of it.

So it pains me to see articles, forum comments, and online chatter that pronounces some segment (or in some cases, all of freelance writing) dead or dying. It's not only misleading to beginning freelancers; it's utter bullshit.

Yes, there are cases in which freelancers don't make it. It's sad when it happens, but as I learned in a business course once, you don't fail: you make a good business decision. If that decision is to hang it up, there should be plenty of thought and analysis that precedes the decision. It should be the same when you go into the freelance business, but we creatives tend to lead with our emotions. That's fine. What isn't fine is when we fail to back it up with hard work and learning.

There are ways to tell now if you'll fail as a freelance writer. It's in what you say and how you treat your business. Here are some of the habits I've observed among the barely-making-it and the scraping-by crowd:

I hate marketing. Welcome to the club. We all hate it when we first realize that people who hire us or buy our books don't know we're there. We have to tell them and convince them we know what we're doing. That's called marketing. There are plenty of ways to go about marketing in ways that are actually pleasant, so this excuse is lame.

I'd rather write books than market. And when you do, guess what? You still have to market. You have to find a publisher/publishing option, have a platform, grow your audience, and in a lot of cases, stump your book on book tours.

I just want to write. Then buy a journal. Honestly, you cannot do this job on just writing alone. You are starting a freelance writing business, and as such, you have to learn how to run that business. Writing is a large part of it, but so is invoicing, marketing, networking, accounting, etc.

I want to create it and let the income carry me into retirement. Good luck. That happens to .0001 percent of the writing population. The rest of us create a successful existence by continuing with and improving on our business practices.

Freelancing is dead. I used to get really upset when I saw this pronouncement; now I laugh and think "one more person who isn't willing to put the work into it." Freelancing is not dead, nor is it on life support. Freelance writing is a lucrative, satisfying career that offers constant challenges and allows you to define your own path, your own destiny.

I can't make a decent living at it. Then raise your rates and learn how other freelancers do it. Follow the example of those successful freelancers who are actually freelancing, and who are working in areas that interest you. Build a process into your workweek that includes time every day to market (doesn't have to consume your day, but rather take just a little time to connect/reconnect with clients), write for clients, and write for yourself. Oh, and stop working for free. You never get anywhere with that business model.

The work just isn't there. That's because you're expecting the work to come to you, aren't you? Passively cruising job boards or waiting for former clients to call means you're going to sit without work. Instead, you should be searching, proactively, for clients you'd like to work with. It's easy-- do some research on those companies, locate the person who's most likely to hire you, and send them an introductory letter that shows them how you can rock their world with your writing.

Clients are crazy and demanding. Then stop looking in the basement. Go upstairs and connect proactively with clients who value you and who won't mind paying a better price for your skills.

Writers, how do you know the writer you've encountered is going to fail?

Words on the Page