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Monday, September 29, 2014

Top Tips Writers Series #2: KeriLynn Engel

What's on the iPod: Prove It To You by Kris Allen

I love when this blog introduces me to new people. KeriLynn Engel is one of those people. When Keri signed up for my newsletter, we struck up a conversation. What I learned was this is a woman who is bright, eager to learn, and able to discern what's right for her business and what's not.

That's one hell of a beginning, too. She's new to freelancing -- just this year -- but her insightful advice shows a depth of understanding of what's needed to succeed. I'm so happy to share her advice with you because it's advice from the trenches -- that sort of live-and-learn advice we forget to include when we're way too far into the career.

5 Top Tips for Freelance Writers
I've been freelancing on the side for years, so when I went full-time in January 2014 I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing, and had total confidence I could make it, and quickly.

Well, relying on freelance work for 100% of your income is a little different. It took a bit longer that I thought, and I definitely had a LOT more to learn that I thought.

But, thanks mostly to the wisdom and advice I've learned from following Lori’s and other writer blogs, I learned quickly! Now, following Cathy Miller’s tip #9, I’d like to give back and pay it forward. Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned:

    1.        Set & review goals often. Set yearly, biannual, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Take stock of where you are now and where you’d like to be, then start tracking your time and activities to find out what you’re doing now and what you need to do differently in order to reach your goals. I don’t reach every goal I set, but I know my career is developing in the direction I want it to thanks to this practice.

    2.        Experiment to find what works for you. You probably read the same fifty-bajillion posts about the "rules of freelancing" that I have: never work in your pajamas, don't run errands during the day, always get a deposit, never work for free. But really each list of rules is just the list for that one individual author… You’ll have to create your own list. One of the best things about freelancing is you have the freedom to discover what work habits are the most productive for you — and they're sure to be different from everyone else's. Try breaking the rules and see if it helps or hinders you.

    3.        Find fitting role models… At first in my freelance career, I tried to read every freelance writing blog and follow everyone's advice. After reading a bunch of contradictory advice, and discovering I can’t actually do everything at once, I realized I needed to choose just a couple of role models to follow… and that some of the blogs I had been following, while they were great blogs, made no sense for me personally. (Like following a freelance magazine writer when I have zero interest in magazines- still don't know what I was thinking!)

    4.        …But don't negatively compare yourself to them. Role models are great to follow for ideas, tactics and techniques, and inspiration. But don't beat yourself up for not being as successful as them overnight! Many well-known freelance writers in the blogosphere have been at it for many years, some even decades. You won’t be at their level in just a few months.

    5.        You can't do it all. There are so many blog posts out there about things you "must" do to be successful. But nobody can do it all. Try out the advice you find, but not all at once! For example, instead of trying every marketing technique at once, just pick one or two to focus on this month. If they don’t work for you, try something different.

My favorite thing about freelancing is that you have the freedom to craft your own career to fit you, no matter how weird you are! But it does take time to discover what works for you. Don’t expect to know it all right away — enjoy the process as you learn about yourself.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Free Advice Friday: 10 Hard Facts About a Writing Career

What's on the iPod: Skinny Love by Birdy

Quite the busy week. I'm deep into a sizable project and doing well with it. I'm hoping to deliver it to the client by next Friday, when I suspect we'll go through a round or two of revisions. After that, I may have another project in the wings. I'll know more on Monday, but if so, I'll be busy through December.

That doesn't mean I won't market. My LOIs are still going out. I don't stop everything for a maybe. I continue to work and look for work.

That's just one of the things I learned about this business, this career, that has helped me keep me afloat financially. There are plenty of things we writers learn as we go. Some of those hard facts are a little tougher to swallow than others, but they're essential to know, especially if you plan to be at this freelancing thing for a while.

Here are some of the hard facts I've come to realize:

It's a tough job. Really tough, though not always. One day you're making money hand over fist, and the next you could be wrestling money out of non-paying clients in court.You own the business. That means you do all the work, including marketing and promotion of your skills. If you're not willing to do that, you're not going to last.

You will never stop learning. Actually, I think that's a bonus, but for those who are wanting an easy career, this is not the one. What you know to be true today may not hold water tomorrow. You have to learn that social media you've been avoiding, learn those new grammar rules, learn how to put together that specialized project you've turned down twice, and keep your career and your skills fresh.

The work is cyclical. For example, I spent most of the summer without work. Right now, I'm busy ten hours a day. It's like that quite a lot for freelance writers. You can't count on today's workload being replicated tomorrow (unless you plan well and market even better). A healthy bank account is the best safety net.

You can never just coast. Forget selling that hit novel or getting that terrific retainer gig. Yes, it could happen that you write the best-selling blockbuster that nets you millions or even hundreds of thousands, but the odds are you'll eke it out like the rest of us. And those retainer gigs? Even a sure thing like that dries up eventually. The longest I've had a retainer gig was just over six months. Nothing is permanent.

Passive income streams aren't all that passive. If you're looking for that passive income stream, know that it comes with a shit-ton of work on the front end before you ever see anything remotely passive. Otherwise, you're just piecing it together, which will show in your results.

You will deal with angry clients. Unless you're truly blessed by the gods and you spout halos and rainbows, you will come across a client (or ten) who, for whatever reason, isn't happy. You need to know how to discern whether the anger is justified and not an attempt to avoid payment, and you need to know how you'll handle the disagreements as they arise.

You have to be creative. Yes, there are writers who let this piece of it slide. You can see it in their work, too. If you're bored with the topic or project assigned and you do nothing to get interested in it, it will show. Even if you're writing about the most mundane, dry topic on earth, there's always an element of interest if you look for it. Ideas are a dime a dozen - what you do with those ideas to make them uniquely yours is what will sustain you.

You could be cheating yourself. Because you set your rates, there's a good chance you undervalue yourself. A little homework, a little asking around and you'll see what others are charging and be able to trust your price a bit more.

Haphazard marketing will slow you down. At first, you behave like a hockey player -- if you always shoot the puck, eventually you'll get lucky and score. However, that's not going to sustain you in the long term. Selling someone today may net you a one-time gig that pays well, but the real money is in building a relationship and learning how to please each client. Your marketing plan should be targeted, intentional, and consistent.

You have to suck it up and behave professionally. I don't care if that client never paid, isn't following their own directions, or has said something profoundly insulting. You cannot react with anything other than a business demeanor (no emotional outbursts). If you rant back at them or scold them for not owning up to their agreement, congratulations. You've just made it easy for them to trash you to other potential clients. And you've lowered yourself right into the mud with them.

Writers, what hard facts have you discovered about this writing career?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writers and Attribution

What's on the iPod: One by Ed Sheeran

It's been a busy start to the week. Like I expected, the work is flowing in. I've already hit my target for this month, and October is looking just as sweet. Today, I'll be working on a large project, finalizing plans for another large project, and marketing so that I have a successful November and a good Christmas. Plan now for the holidays, I say.

In my travels around the Internet, I've noticed a disturbing trend emerging. Maybe it's just the circles I run in, but I'm seeing a bit of swiping of conversation content -- stuff from private conversations, ideas from other people, and generally ideas that are not being attributed to the person whose idea it was in the first place. There's only one time when it's okay to reveal a private conversation in public--

---when you get permission from the other people involved.

If that's not bad enough, I know of a few cases in which the conversations and ideas have been taken, used, and not attributed. How do I know this happens? Because days/weeks prior to whatever blog post or article appears, I've come across the original comments or blog posts.

Not cool.

We are writers. Writers, like trained journalists, are bound by the same ethical code. If it's not your idea, you must give attribution. Unless you've been granted full permission to take the idea and run with it, it's not yours.

But those ideas are so good, so juicy! I myself have based posts on public conversations from various forums and blogs. What I haven't done is taken the entire idea and made it my own.

So how do you handle using these great ideas?

Ask. I don't care if it's an informal conversation or a private one; if someone gives you a great idea, ask if you can run with it. I've done it with my email chums, and I've talked with a few people who have given me super ideas (see Monday's post based on Valorie's suggestion) about expanding their ideas.

Attribute. When you're looking at SmoothWriter27's comment on a blog or forum and you don't know who that is, mention either the handle or the forum. If you can get that person to respond to you, you can ask. However, if it's a case where you're disagreeing and showing the world how wrong this person's advice is, they'd thank you to not mention them. In that case, attribution would embarrass and cause harm to their reputation.

Offer a guest post. Not every idea has to be yours (because not every idea is). Don't be selfish -- if someone comes up with a great idea you want to share, offer them the guest post opportunity. If they don't want to, then ask if you can use it yourself (with attribution).

Include links. Selfish is the writer or blogger who won't direct visitors to the source of their information. It's deceitful, and it smacks of desperation -- this is a person who wants you to believe they have all the answers. Not so. No one does. If you say "Over on Susan's blog today..." make sure you include the hyperlink to Susan's blog.

Writers, how do you handle ideas you've come across? 
What's the worst you've seen?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Top Tips Writers Series #1: Cathy Miller

What's on the iPod: Daydreaming by Middle Brother

Today starts a series that, to me, is just brilliant. I can't take credit for it. In fact, credit goes to Valorie, who'd suggested an article on the ten best tips from freelancers to newer freelancers. Valorie, we're doing one better: we're asking successful freelancers to offer their best tips (ten being maximum) in a weekly series.

First up (and always first to respond to my countless requests): Cathy Miller.

Cathy's story is intriguing. A corporate marketing person for longer than she cares to admit, Cathy had a moment. In that moment, she quit her job and hung up her freelance sign. Since then, she's become one of the most successful freelancers I know. Modest to the core, Cathy is always self-deprecating in her description of her time as a freelancer. But she's a true professional who knows how to run a thriving business.

Today, Cathy shares with us those things that have made her the success she is.

10 Best Tips for Freelance Writers from Best of 7
Bet that headline has you scratching your head. Especially you math geeks. I’ll release you from your misery. I often refer to myself as the “best of 7” because I am a middle child of seven who likes to needle her siblings.

Simple, right? No need to overthink it. That’s what many of us do. We overthink things. When Lori asked me for a guest post on my 10 best tips for freelancers, I immediately wondered how I’d come up with 10.

These are my 10 best tips off the top of my head – without overthinking it. Tomorrow the list could be very different.

#1 – Act like a business owner. Intellectually I knew I was a business owner from the start. Acting like one was a different story. After my first year, I made a conscious effort to think of myself as a business owner. I even started writing Owner after the Title on business forms. You can be the best writer in the world but if you don’t take care of your business, who will know?

#2 – Think for yourself. Our online world puts us in touch with many talented people – and more than a few self-professed gurus. Writers crave education. It’s what makes us who we are. Keep exploring but always think for yourself and your business. No one knows you and your business better.

#3 – Use worst-case scenario. Fear stops us dead in our tracks. It’s scary to try something new. Something outside our comfort zone. Ask – what is the worst thing that can happen? The question delivers a calming perspective.

#4 – Follow your energy meter. Ever notice how much drama some people attract? Whether it’s drama or deciding to do some task, ask this simple question. Is it worth the energy? If the answer is “No,” move on and fuhgeddaboudit.

#5 – Listen to your gut. This tip is the sister of #2. Does your gut scream at you about an ad for a writing gig? Does a prospect’s promise of future fame leave your gut smirking? Listen to your gut. It will not steer you wrong.

#6 – Revisit and regroup. There’s comfort in routine but walking the same path creates ruts. The best thing about plans is you can always change them. Not hitting goals? Change your tactics. Or maybe you set unrealistic goals. Or your goals changed. Revisit and regroup.

#7 – Have a plan. The simplest of plans offers direction. After my first year of freelancing, my simple plan was to do better than the year before. A business without a plan is mostly reactive and often leads to that rutted path.

#8 – Remember why you’re on social media. Are your Twitter followers mostly fellow writers? Are your LinkedIn groups solely writer groups? Hanging out with peers is easy and informative. But don’t forget why you are on social media. Assuming you don’t market to freelancers, develop networking strategy that targets your client market – not your peers.

#9 – Give back. Sharing what you know, what you have is a gift that works both ways. The recipient benefits from your time and knowledge. You gain immeasurable rewards from the simple act of giving. Whether that is volunteer work or helping a fellow writer. Priceless.

#10 –Take time for you. Don’t think because this is #10 that it is less important. Taking care of you – physically, mentally, spiritually – is the foundation for everything else. It is the reason I left a 30-plus-year corporate career to freelance. Never lose sight of what’s important.

There you have it. My list of 10 tips for freelance writers. Overthinking not included. I wish you all continued success.

Cathy Miller has a business writing blog at Simply stated business. Her blog, Why 60 Miles, is inspired by her passion for walking 60 miles in 3 days to support research for finding a cure for cancer.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


What I'm reading: A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) by U2 (Free album available on iTunes right now)


What an absolutely fantastic week away. Southern England is a treat for the senses. The place is all about walking and being outdoors -- trails everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The UK (for it is still the UK on the heels of today's vote in Scotland) has a long tradition of public footpaths, rights of way, and trails that wrap around and cut through all directions of the country.

What's not to love?

We were fortunate to have chosen a B&B in a town that hasn't changed in population for 700 years. The bed and breakfast backed up to a trail -- the South Downs Way, to be exact. In fact, the town sits right in the Cuckmere Valley, and has amazing walking (and views).

And walk we did. One day alone, we logged over nine miles (I used Walkroid app). Total -- well over 40 miles in one week. By the time we were packing to get on the plane, we were taking on huge hills with minimal effort and going long distances without thinking about it. I could absolutely live in this place, I kept thinking.

The treat of the week: High tea. Take a look at the tray in the picture to the right and you'll see why walking 40 miles was almost necessary. That was our "snack" before dinner.

We arrived home around 1:30 am yesterday morning, having had a flight delay and then construction from Newark airport to home. I vaguely remember yesterday, but it involved pillows and naps.

Today, it's back to work full steam. I have projects waiting and marketing to be done. Lots of ideas brewing, so it's time to get some down on paper.

Also, next week starts a series of posts from writers just like you (in fact, you can be included). One reader asked the question: what tips would writers have to share with beginning writers?

The answer: plenty. Stay tuned for a weekly post offering up at least five top tips from successful writers, in their own words. It will be interesting to see how many of their best tips overlap.

And if you're interested in putting together your own top tips post, please email me: lwbean AT Gmail. Five at minimum, ten at most.

So, what have you been up to since I was gone?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Breaking Bad Has Taught Me About Writing

I'll be back in my chair tomorrow. When I do sit down, I have a full day ahead of me with at least two projects. I don't like leaving in the middle of things, but that's the way the projects rolled this time. Some things can't be helped.

As I was once again watching the Breaking Bad Binge on television, I was lamenting the show's ending. For some reason, the end of this one has lingered. I missed other shows, like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, but not like I miss BB. For me, Walter White is as addictive as his product.

So as I pack up my bags and board the flight home, I wanted to share those quotes from Breaking Bad that can teach us about our careers.

Walt: Respect the chemistry. It was Walt's attention to detail that made him the king of crystal meth production. Similarly, it's our attention to detail that leaves our clients wanting more. Maybe not in an addictive way, but in the "I can count on the best from you" way.

Jesse: I suggest you stop whining like a little bitch. Oh, Jesse did love to say "bitch" a lot. However, this statement sums up Jesse's interaction with one of the lab partners he was training in proper cooking methods. Writers, if you've ever complained about the work being too hard, too confusing or too scarce, do what Jesse says.
Saul: Congratulations, you’ve just left your family a second-hand Subaru. Maybe attorney Saul's meaning was different, but writers, be sure you're charging enough to allow yourself to prosper. If you're working steadily and still not able to keep up with bills and expenses, it's time to raise the rates.

Walt: Say my name. By this point, Walt had morphed into his Heisenberg persona. In some ways, we writers have to morph from our personal side to our business side, not unlike Walt. True, we're not hiding from the feds, but we're presenting ourselves as professionals nonetheless.

Walt: I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen, 50-years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth. Words to live by.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing Link Love

I should be back at the desk next Wednesday. Meantime, here are some favorite posts by some great writers:

The Three-Day Rule by Walt Kania - a great plan for any freelancer to live by.

Self-Publishing for Freelancers: Don't Forget Phase Two - Yo Prinzel shows us how to be brutal with our beloved manuscripts.

Want to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger? Do These 3 Things - Jenn Mattern shows us how to put some impact behind our blogging.

Writer Marketing: How to Focus on Value - And Sharon Hurley Hall knows how to make that happen.

Earn Income as a Subcontracting Resume Writer - Kimberly Ben does, and so can you.

6 Steps to Get Your Content Marketing to Kick *Bleep* and Take Names - Meryl Evans gives us the ultimate guide to doing just that.

Writers, what great advice have you seen lately? Please share it in the comments.

Words on the Page