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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sane or Insane?

I think I've hit upon the key indicator that helps new freelancer writers determine if the advertisement they're reading is from a "real" employer or a slimeball. It's the Sanity Factor.

Saw an ad on Craig's List yesterday that made me realize that we had the answer to this age-old mystery all along. We just needed to explore it a bit. This "ad", for lack of a better term, was actually a response from said "employer", who had posted an ad asking for (you guessed it) free help in exchange for future profits. Oh, if I had a nickel for every time a man's said that to me! Anyway, this response was to a writer who was apparently fluffed up about the original posting enough to tell the employer to stop wasting everyone's time with crap ads and to post only if he's willing to pay what the writer is worth. I know - strong words - but don't you admire this guy just a little for having the kahonas to do it?

It was the response that exposed the "employer" for what he was. First off, it was apparent the alleged employer was a potty mouth. He seemed to prefer using words that started with the sixth letter of the alphabet. His response was anything but happy. In fact, I'd label it a surly little diatribe. In it, he told writers to "get a life" to get off his "f"-ing case, and to stop whining because he was willing to give the successful writer one-third of his profits in the business. (Yet since nothing split three ways is easy to figure out, this didn't seem like a huge bargain) He finished the tantrum with a curt apology for using the "f word" (which made me giggle to see him suddenly censoring himself so late in the game) and added "but I doubt any of you are offended by it, anyway." What have we learned, children? An apology with a "but" attached is not a real apology. So, I'm left to think this alleged employer really didn't mean it. But he wrote it as though he wanted us "losers" who needed to get "real jobs" to believe it.

So, class. Can anyone spot the glaring reason why we know this is not a real employer? Hands? Yes, you've guessed it. A real employer would not respond to any criticism in such a profound way. In fact, a real employer would take the high road. Why, you'd be lucky to hear from the real employer no matter what. If you set the real employer's car on fire, you might hear from him, but only through HR.

See, the real employer uses a tactic known as Sanity. A real employer understands that the plan set forth will not be acceptable to all, and that his efforts are best spent on those who are willing to accept the plan as written, or those who offer sound alternatives. Those who gripe and grumble are those who may find themselves uninvited to staff meetings. The real employer does not respond to dissension with anything more than a recitation of company policy.

So you see, class, those reading Craig's List yesterday were witnessing an epiphany-type moment. It's when the readers realized that the Sanity Factor didn't apply to the alleged employer; therefore, they knew without question that the job posting was a load of crap. And I'm sure as many were hitting the "Spam" button, they were reminiscing about all the alleged employers before them, and by golly, they may have been thanking the alleged employer in question for making it much easier to spot the loser ads.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Beauty of Brainless Networking

It happened again yesterday - I was talking with a PR "colleague" (we're all in this together) and he was asking how business was. He was referring to my monthly newsletter, but as I was wrapped up in a ton of freelance work, that's what came out as a response. Then he said, "Wait - I have this friend who just started a company and she needs writing help. Would you be interested?"

It can't be said often enough - every single conversation you have is a potential lead to a job. This one may or may not turn into something, but now there's one more person on this planet who knows I'm a writer that someone else thinks highly enough of to recommend. That's why it's important for you - yes, you - to bring your work into your conversations, even if it's briefly (please don't make the mistake of thinking everyone actually cares what you're doing, but the fact that you say you're a business writer or that you're a ghostwriter to someone at a party is enough to keep you in their thoughts the next time their spouse/partner/boss/friend says, "Wish I knew a decent writer to help out with this").

You think that's impossible, don't you? Let me tell you the gyst of this conversation prior to my colleague mentioning his friend. We were talking about fishing. Yes, fishing. I was telling him how busy I was and how glad I was to be getting away for a fishing vacation. He asked what I'd been busy with. I mentioned my freelance work, which as well as I know him, he wasn't aware I was "still doing." The rest you already know. It's proof that even the most casual of conversations can lead you somewhere. The trick is to mention it without being pushy or whiney. I'll confess right here - I have a tendency to be whiney when I'm overworked. Luckily yesterday, I was also exhausted, so I was able to temper my response to something that sounded exhausted to me, but must have translated into a professional tone to my colleague. Go figure!

If you need more tips on how to network, or even just general advice, please visit Anne Wayman's weblog, The Golden Pencil, which is dedicated to a tip a day this month. Or visit her dynamite site for freelance writers of all levels, About Freelance Writing. From there, you can find not only help on that site, but links to dozens of terrific writers and their own weblogs.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Writing Tips from Writing Chums

What a coincidence! Yesterday I wrote about supplementing the freelance income, while at the same time waaaay across the country, my dear friend Anne Wayman was doing exactly the same thing! Anne's approach to the topic is well worth reading - please visit her weblog. The Golden Pencil

Another notable weblog is that of fellow freelancer and good chum Kristen King, who is a writing dynamo! Kristen is a busy writer who also finds time to work on her master's degree. Her advice is as wise as the old sages - and this coming from a young talent! Read her words of advice at her Inkthinker blogspot.

One woman who absolutely wears me out just thinking of how much she does in a day is writing friend and confidant Devon Ellington. Devon is taking Manhattan by storm, and has the expertise and the weblog to prove it! She updates her weblog daily, and has great advice for writers of all experience levels. Her weblog is called Ink in My Coffee.

For those of you looking for daily sources of writing advice and comraderie, please visit my favorite haunt, run by our very own Anne Wayman, called About Freelance Writing. All of the writers mentioned above, plus many more talented writers, share advice and war stories daily. All levels of writing experience are welcome!

If you have a writing-related weblog you'd like to link to mine, please send me a note. Through building a strong freelance network, we only become better at our craft!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Supplementing the Income

The question comes up often, usually from those just starting their freelance careers - is it possible to survive on a freelance income? I'm here to say it's not only possible; it's very likely. If you don't mind supplementing, that is.

Most of us who have been freelancing for a while recognize the feast/famine cycle. Work comes in cycles - some months you're overwhelmed, while others you sit idle (and hopefully looking for more work). Even smart freelancers recognize that saving for those lean times is challenging. You can store it away in the bank, but there's going to come a time when the well runs dry.

That's where temp work comes in handy. By temp work I mean any contract work that has you onsite at a client's location for any length of time. For those of you making the plunge into freelancing, or for those of you who are looking to get through a famine cycle, temp work can be a lucrative (and sometimes a recurring) alternative to starvation.

There are a number of places you can find temp work. Start with the agencies. If you're lucky enough to be in an area served by creative staffing firms, check out these: Aquent, Boss Staffing, and The Creative Group. Each of these firms offer temporary work in editing, proofreading, writing and even in researching. I've used these agencies for a number of years with great success.

Publishing houses are another place to find temporary or contract assignments. Check with the editorial departments to see if there's a need for some outsourced editing or proofreading. And check often - while there may be no need this month, vacation schedules or a change in editorial needs could bring about an influx of work.

Advertising agencies are also looking for spot help with proofreading or editing. Approach them as you would any other client - first with a letter of inquiry, and then with a follow-up call. Make sure you send over a portfolio of your work so they know you're able to handle simple edits.

Now's the time to begin making your contacts. Vacations have many departments stretched to meet their usual deadlines. Plus publishing houses have certain times each year when they print. Request a schedule along with offering your services.

Lastly, there's no shame in getting a part-time position just about anywhere. Anything that will get you over the rough periods and keep you until the work comes in again is okay. It's not selling out - it's maintaining your freelance status until the feast cycle returns.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Exposure Revisited

Should I just rename this web log "Will Work for Money"?

Here we go again - another ad for "invaluable exposure!" from yet another startup. The owners are like the others before them - they expect us to buy into their dream without any compensation beyond seeing our name in print. And there's the rub for me. For some reason, people outside the writing world believe that it's all about ego for us. Some think that all we live for is a byline and a pat on the back.

Uh, no.

In fact, if there are writers out there like that, it's because: a) they are brand new and ANY exposure sounds good to them, or b) they don't value their careers enough yet to believe they deserve payment for services rendered. It happens. We've all been at the beginning of a career and have been tempted by (or have even succumbed to) the "write for exposure" gigs. (I wrote one freebie in my life, and it was for a charity, which in my opinion doesn't count.)

But back to our advertiser. What unnerved me about this one was that the poster decided to argue back about why he/she wasn't paying. "We're a startup on a limited budget." And that means exactly what to me? I'm a startup on a limited budget - think my electric company will take that as a reason to forego billing me this month? Did anyone ever expect a doctor or an electrician to forego payment because hey, we just don't have the budget for it?

Take that excuse for what it is - a bullshit excuse. In fact, I challenge all writers, beginning and seasoned, to respond to these ads and tell the advertisers so. We need to educate those in dire need of educating. We are not in this for ego. We write to survive. We don't care about your budget constraints any more than you care about ours. We cannot buy in to your dream unless you're putting cash behind it. Just because you get excited about your new venture doesn't mean the rest of us should. If you've budgeted for IT and you've budgeted for web design, you damn well better make sure you budget for good writing. If you intend to draw a salary, then you should intend to pay all involved in helping you get to that point. Otherwise, may I suggest a course in composition?
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