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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sometimes, You Just Can't

When do you know to let go of a deadline, or a project for that matter? When your stress level has hit the ceiling, or when despite your best efforts, you're just not going to make the deadline. It happened to me.

I'm still working on a huge project. It's still due in mid-October. I'm now more convinced than ever that I'll never make the deadline. I even employed the help of other writers to chunk away at this. It's just a massively big project, bigger than the clients or I have imagined.

I'm the type who's hell-bent on meeting deadlines. I've been known to lose sleep, miss the kids' functions and shut off the rest of the world just to get my project in on time. I'd rather die than let down a client. Deadlines are challenges to me, and I test myself on how proficient (and how solid) my writing is by those deadlines. So this missing-the-deadline thing had me riddled with anxiety and angst. I never stopped to ask myself what would happen if I couldn't hit deadline - I merely upped my production. Instead of creating 5 pages a day, I began creating 8 or more. And these are less-than-single-spaced pages, folks. Original content, no less. Forty-four fabulous lines per page (the average single-spaced page holds about 36) for me to sweat over, fret over and labor intensively over in all the name of the almighty deadline diety.

Yesterday, I whined to writing friends. I even convinced two of the best to pitch in. Then my husband said something that stopped me cold - "What happens if you don't reach the deadline?" As a duty-driven writer, that hadn't occurred to me. Moreover, he said, "What's in it for you to meet that deadline?" Well, a paycheck. Yes, but I'd be getting that anyway. "Then why are you killing yourself when the deadline is clearly unreachable?"

Silence. My brain was scrambling to make sense of this new concept - not meet a deadline? Can one do that? It was at that moment I got my epiphany. The project deadline was still far enough away that if I informed my clients now of the impossibility of reaching it, there was time for a contingency. Okay, that would work. They won't be happy, but the world won't end and Lori won't die (or dye, as this causes gray hairs) from the stress of trying to do the impossible.

I'll tell them tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'm going to try exhaling. And I'm telling you to try it, too. Sometimes, despite anything you can do, you're just not going to reach your goal. It's okay. You can accept it and move on. It's okay, and the world will still spin if you can't be Super Writer.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Sabotage That is Family

I love my family. I really do. My kids are great. My stepkids are an extension of my own kids. My husband is the best man in the world. Yet while they are terrific, they are also the closest thing to saboteurs that a career could possibly come across. I say this lovingly, yet very seriously. If you're not careful, you're going to allow your family to kill your career before it starts.

It's not that they mean to interfere. In fact, they're the loudest cheerleaders to your cause. But dear freelancer, if you can't establish boundaries now and hold firm to them, you'll soon find those 8 hours you set aside for work to be filled with calling the plumber or running someone to the dentist or even getting something at the grocery store.

That's because in their minds, you're home. You have flexible hours, and you have no boss to answer to when you need to run out for a few minutes. That makes you fair game. Someone needs a ride somewhere. You're home - you can do it. Oh wait, someone needs something at school and needs it now - again, off you go. And your husband wants to see a movie. Can you look up the reviews online, dear? Add to this the fact that you love these people and want to help them under normal circumstances, and your career has just been toasted.

Even the strongest among us are sucked into the trap - last week, I threatened to get a "real" job outside the house just so I could get something done. Twelve phone calls in an hour and a half (I wish I were kidding), five of them from these people in the house. While that was happening, one or two were begging for car keys - and yes, when I'm up to my neck in work, that's the best chance you'll hear a yes to that request - and another needing a ride to the dentist. Luckily, I managed to give the keys to the beggar and rope that one into taking the other to the dentist. But even that kind of coordination takes time away from my day. I tried for ten minutes to finish typing one sentence. I knew what I wanted to say, but the interruptions were endless. Add to that the complaints that I don't answer the phone every time it rings nor do I take down numbers of people unwilling to share that info. I'm sorry - I'm working. If you want a secretary, hire one.

I work long days. I start before 8 am and shut the computer off somewhere after 6 or 7 pm, depending on the workload or how fried my brain is. When school is in session, I can bank on 7 uninterrupted hours of work time. However, summer is a free-for-all. Luckily, Labor Day looms and the house is slowing emptying. I hate seeing them go, but I welcome the return of my sanity, and my career.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Hell That is My Checkbook
Why is it that every time taxes roll around, my checkbook springs a leak? I just shored it up after the April Fiasco (called Tax Day by some), squeaked through the June quarterly payments and now as September is closing in, damn if that thing isn't back to low, scary amounts again.

It's like this - on paper (and to the IRS), I'm worth something rather decent. However, in reality I spend two months out of twelve breathing sighs of relief, only to have to suck it all back in shortly after the bills are paid. I'm owed LOTS of money by clients, but damn if those checks don't come in piecemeal. Too bad my bills didn't do the same.

I need a money management system. I have Quicken, but I must be dumber than a bag of shoestrings. I put my income in there and it shows up with a minus sign. Or maybe Quicken is psychic, having been on my computer long enough to figure me out? Do I hear snickering coming from the monitor?

Freelancers, if you dance this same dance, you are definitely not alone. It's the thing we self-employed loathe the most - lack of continuity. My agent said the same thing - "Sure, you make it, but you can't spend a dime of it." She's right. She's been through that cycle enough to understand that bills are the ONLY things that get our hard-earned dollars. The luxuries - new clothes, cute little purses, honking big Harleys or Beamers - just don't happen.

I'm frustrated because I see how much I've earned so far this year and I'm not too far off my targeted goal. So what went wrong? Let's see - the oldest needed dental surgery. The youngest needed senior photos. The car needed a catalytic converter. The husband needed me to pay my share of real estate taxes. It's endless.

One thing disturbed me - I was mentioning my tight financial spots to a few friends, and I was shocked by how many of them said, "You're married - let your husband take care of you!" Uh, what century are we living in again? For starters, this is my second (and last) marriage. Any money he's managed to make and save rightfully goes to his children. Same as if I were the one with the full-time job and cash saved up. It's only fair. Then there's the notion that an independent person is a happy person. If I let "the man" take care of me, where exactly is my independence in that? No, I decided after my divorce that this woman wasn't going to rely on anyone else for her survival. It's me or it's bust. Sorry - just a small vent there.

So what can I do? I can only do this - stay on top of my invoicing, stay on top of my marketing and make those clients happy. Otherwise, I'm off to Monster and CareerBuilder to put an end to the madness. Somehow, the thought of cubicles makes me try that much harder.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How to Blow It with the Client
I had an experience today with a vendor that I just had to share. I have a monthly trade newsletter that publishes market analysis and articles from the top execs in the industry. If I named names, you'd know at least four out of five of these companies. In order to fill the pages with usable content, I send queries out to the industry asking for contributed articles. Mind you, most vendors in nearly any industry understand that contributed articles imply no payment. The reasons are myriad, but the big one for me is the moment you start compensating an advertiser or even a non-advertiser for an article, your reputation is sullied. Vendors want to push their products and services. Even though the articles I publish must be "advertorial free", there's always the chance that someone's going to take offense to a vendor being compensated for what amounts to free publicity.

So today's email brings a note from a vendor who had inquired about the typical things - circulation, audience and payment. I had told him that vendor articles were not compensated.

Maybe it was because I had other things blowing up around me when his note came in, but I have since reread it, and still I believe he wasn't happy. He thanked me for my offer to let him write for me (score one good point there - he was courteous), but declined due to the lack of compensation. No biggie - it's a free country. However, he went on to give me his background. Honestly, after reading his venom-laced delivery of his expertise to me, I can't help but think that this man is more than a little insulted and annoyed. He told me how in demand he was, how he offers what no other author offers - a money-back guarantee that his advice is golden. That's great, but is this really the way to win me over? As I read, I could see his arms crossed and his lower lip out in full pout.

Sadly, he hadn't done what my contributing writer had done two years ago. That guy knows how to approach it. He convinced me, by using sheer talent and frankly by simply asking, to pay him a small stipend per article. Way back then, when I had informed him that the articles weren't compensated, he'd thanked me and offered a deal - he'd take only $100 per article and in exchange I'd let him point folks from his website to my website where his articles are housed. When he later asked to post his articles on his site, you can bet I said yes. Why? Because this guy acted professionally. Instead of writing to me in a snit about how special he is, he came up with an alternative solution. I like him and his work so much, I've given him the title of contributing writer.

I'm a huge advocate of paying writers what they're worth. However, when the writer is a vendor with an agenda to push and doesn't seem to grasp even the simplest of industry protocol (vendors receiving payment for articles, unbiased or not, is a big no-no), not only is payment not forthcoming - neither is the assignment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Juggling for Fun and Money
I don't know about you, but I'm sporting just enough attention-deficit disorder to get bored right in the middle of a project. Case in point - today I'm typing out notes from two interviews that will go into an article. While I'm interested in the topic (despite it being analytical in nature), I found myself midway through a sentence wanting to go to the shore and forget work today. Alas, I cannot. Freelance doesn't necessarily mean "free" in that sense.

So what to do when boredom, or lack of attention, hits? Well, I come to my weblog and type! Actually, that's exactly my point. I find something else to do. I allow my mind to wander, but I let it go places that are somewhat constructive. For example, I go to my weblog or I go to my favorite freelance writing forum (About Freelance Writing) and I chill out for a few minutes. Or if I'm really busy, I open up another project and chip away at it - like the ever-evolving big project I've been married to for the last month. It may be small progress or even a small break, but it's something that keeps my head from bouncing off the keyboard.

It's juggling, actually. It's what I propose for your next boredom or burnout moment. Get thee to the next project or to the next constructive thing ASAP. Sometimes spending time on something else is all you need. It also helps you to get used to juggling multiple projects at once. Think not? Think about what I've done already this week (and hey, it's only Wednesday) - I wrote eight captions for one company's marketing photos, wrote a software review the same day I received the software, wrote eight more quality pages on the big project, assigned four articles for the October issue of Risk Factor, edited two more articles for the September issue, interviewed two folks for an article for a financial trade mag and now I'm about to update my weblog. Oh, and I cleaned the top of my desk while I had five minutes before my next interview.

Juggling is a great way to stave off boredom, or to shake things up a bit. While I'm still overwhelmed with work associated with the big project, I don't feel like I'm having the juices drained out of me because I'm jumping to something else for a change of scenery. Give it a shot - if nothing else, you could get used to being able to do a bit more than you're used to.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Later That Day, Post-Trauma....

Dear Abby was right - most of the things we worry about usually work themselves out. Of my three concurrent headache inducers today, two have managed to solve themselves. First, the software reviewer never shipped the software, so I get an automatic extension until it arrives to get the review done. Second, the overwrite to my husband's website - almost solved. He said it was a site he rarely used any more. AMEN. I still have massive amounts of writing to do on the other project, but at least I have two fewer things to deal with. Whew!

However, I must stop right here and thank Microsoft. The specs of this particular project calls for a certain number of lines per page. Easy, I think. I open the document in Word and I click on the Help menu to find out how to get exactly that many lines per page. There it is! Only....it's how to estimate lines per page in East Asian text? What the...?? Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom (insert snark here) has determined through what must have been years of research that the most important feature I could possibly need here in Pennsylvania, USA is a document I can quickly format to fit that Madarin I've been secretly speaking at the checkout counter at my local grocery store. No? Then you try explaining why there is no function built in to convert English - you know, that language the Microsoft programmers use at lunch time to laugh about how we "uninformed" masses don't get their genius - to a lines-per-page total.

So my options are these: convert the entire document to Vietnamese or Japanese, or spend an hour working with the font size and line spacing functions in order to get my required words per page. Since I'm not fluent in anything other than a passing knowledge of French and Italian, I was stuck piecing together some type of system that may actually work if the stress from the task doesn't do me in.

Once I completed the task, well stick a fork in me for I am fried like my mother's bad pork chops in a cast-iron skillet. After losing all my patience and most of my desire to live, I did what any self-respecting writer would do - I closed up shop early and went out for tea. I got the chance to meet Ms. Kristen King, writer extraordinaire, and a fantastic person! I was already impressed with her long list of accomplishments - medical editor, successful freelancer, finalist in the Writer's Digest Best Website Contest and a budding author. I am now more impressed with her as a person. I have truly met a woman with whom bonding is second nature. Kristen dear, you're a doll and I love you and your spunk! Kristen maintains a kick-ass website at Inkthinker. If you haven't read it, you're missing out. At any rate, I held her captive in Borders Cafe for four hours and we talked as though we'd known each other from birth (that being impossible as I'm a bit long in the tooth compared to her). Nothing like a writing compadre to share the ups and downs with!

So, the fire's are out and there are nothing but the remainders of glowing embers. Marshmallows, anyone?
I Give Up
You know, some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. So far this morning, I've miscalculated my lines-per-page count on a client project, so instead of having 80 pages of copy, I now have 46. Doesn't sound that bad until you realize I need 300 pages. By mid-October. Oy.

On to the next crisis - I hear from an editor I'm writing software reviews for. She wondered where XX review was? Huh? I counted - I gave her the four I was to write. Yes I did, but nowhere in that pile was the one she was asking about. Somehow, I managed to write four brand-new reviews from four brand-new software packages that were delivered to my door. Yet the missing one isn't in the mix. Luckily, I can write this quickly once (if) the software ever arrives.

The last crisis (and note that it's merely 11 a.m. here) was a biggie. I receive a note from a PR chum in response to my news update email. "Can't access your site." Huh? I investigate, thinking her link is broken. Nope. It's now sporting a login screen it didn't have before. I dig around my host server and realize - OH CRAP - that I've inadvertently uploaded my index.htm file to right over top of my husband's WORK site index.htm file. Okay, if I live through this, I'm getting my own host service.

I give up. But I can't - I have more pressure than ever now to get this project completed. It's going to take double my efforts (I'm putting ten hours a day into it!) just to get it finished in somewhere near the doggone deadline. Since I obsess about deadlines, this ain't gonna be a good month or two for me. There go the weekends, there goes the honeymoon trip, there goes the jobs that will actually infuse the much-needed cash.

I think maybe it's time for a glass of diet Coke. I think I'll be needing the added energy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Shame of It All


There was an arrest in the JonBenet murder case. Unless you're living under a rock right now, you already know the details, so I'll spare you that. The man confessed, and prosecutors are pretty sure they've got their man.

Then again, they thought that ten years ago when they thought the girl's parents did it. The "umbrella of suspicion" the Ramsey family lived under created horrid tabloid headlines - JonBenet's Family Suspects; The Ramseys Are Guilty, Experts Say; Parents Actions Point to Guilt; Father's Story Doesn't Add Up....

No, these were not actual tabloid headlines. Worse, they were headlines from all of our major news sources. News. You know, that stuff we read or hear in order to get a clear picture of what's happening in the world. Our media, the one we tend to believe verbatim, jumped on the sensationalist bandwagon yet one more time. Tragically, as in countless cases before this one, they were all wrong.

I'm ashamed of my media. I'm ashamed of being a journalist alongside those who make light of a person's right to the "innocent until proven guilty" promise we hold so dear. It's disappeared, folks, along with our integrity. If we cannot remain unbiased in what is arguably an emotionally-charged situation where a pretty little girl is murdered, that says way too much about our need for the adrenaline rush and the "scoop" factor. It also speaks volumes about just how low we allow ourselves to go. Truth in journalism? Hardly. I cannot read any news account these days without reading what appears to be a stretching of facts in order to sell papers.

Let me tell you a quick story - once I worked at a local newspaper covering local government. At one particular meeting, a reporter from another newspaper was sitting beside me. A question was asked, an answer was given, and I was able to take away a fair account of what had transpired. However, when I opened the other newspaper the next day, the story written about the meeting was so far off base that I wondered if this reporter was prone to hallucinations. Not only was the quote wrong (big YIKES), but the facts surrounding the original question were skewed in such a way that the story suddenly became something else, and the story was now front-page news. That, my friends, is sensationalism in order to sell newspapers. It's wrong and it sucks.

If a news outlet has to sensationalize in order to stay in business, it should fold. Immediately. I've long felt that the media should not EVER base its news content on ratings or customer polls. It should report factually and accurately. Beyond that, the media should stay neutral. However, that's not what we have here, nor do I suspect it will ever be that way. I almost laugh when I hear people scoffing at the "tabloids" or "supermarket rags" as if the content in our newspapers and magazines is any less sensationalized. Sadly, I must wonder to myself - do they mean the National Enquirer or the local paper? In my view, I see little difference these days. And shame on all of us for putting up with it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Client Disclaimer, Anyone?

I love my current clients. They're terrific people in that we communicate well, work together well and manage to agree on a number of ways their projects should go. It works because they're great personalities and I'm flexible. It's Paradise for the working freelancer.

Yet even in Paradise there are speed bumps. I say this because some of my past clients (and one or two of my current clients), while being terrific, fail to hold up their end of things. For instance, I once worked on a book project in which I would only advance to the next chapter once the client approved the changes on the previous chapter. Yes, I'm sure you can see where that led - a project that should've taken three months took seven months. The client, while budgeting for my services, didn't budget for the controls he himself had put into place.

I'm sure you're sitting there wondering what this has to do with you. Well, consider that you get paid twice by this client - once at the start of the project and once at the end. Given that the start is easy to predict, you're smiling like a kid with ten bucks in a candy store. Little do you know that seven months later, you teeth have rotted and you are stuck in that candy shop without a dime to your name.

Okay, I'm a bit dramatic, but the fact is we cannot always predict the end date of a project. So I'm proposing one of two solutions for future reference. First, build in a proposed end date into your contract. You're a pro - you know how much time this is going to take. So give your best estimate and commit it to paper thusly: Client will pay writer upon delivery of completed manuscript or within six months of the start date of this contract, whichever comes first." Yep. It's that simple. If you're still trudging away on this contract nine months from now (which I hope to heaven you've made sure you're being compensated for accordingly), you'll at least have received some compensation three months prior, and you won't end up resentful.

My second solution is actually an addition to the first solution: along with that proposed end date, send a statement of client expectations. Make this either a section in the contract or a separate addendum your client must also sign (makes him/her doubly sure what the responsiblities are). In this, you will state the timeline you've both agreed on. You'll also state the timeliness factor - when is the client expected to review and approve by? A week? Two weeks? Make sure you spell out exactly what is expected. If your client is a mondo control freak, this will help you to retain a modicum of control and professionalism. If you're under the gun, so is your mondo control freak. See the beauty in it?

Also, check with an attorney to make sure your addendum or additional section is legally binding. If you inadvertently cannot hold up your end of things (mumps, root canal, locusts and plagues do happen), you don't want to be accused of breach of contract, which would nullify the terms and leave you penniless for your efforts. I would make sure someone with a legal eye looks over your addendum or your contract to make sure it's worded in such a way so that any lapse on the part of either party does not void the deal. If you're concerned about that, perhaps make it a separate "client promise" type of communication. Not a contract, but a reminder that the client can't drop the ball and expect you to meet deadlines without his/her cooperation.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Congratulations, Kristen!


Have you ever wondered what it was like for friends of insanely talented people to watch their friends climb up that ladder of success? I'm one of the fortunate ones, folks. I get to witness Kristen King, one amazingly talented young woman, achieve more in one year than most of us could hope for in a lifetime! Kristen has successfully started her freelance business after leaping headfirst into it from a secure, full-time job that was equally impressive (medical editor for a major medical journal, no less!). She's juggling full-time freelancing AND working toward her master's. It's an insane amount of work (judging only from my own stint as a FT editor and FT undergrad), but she's pulling it off beautifully. And she's finding time to create a name for herself at a national level - Kristen was just named finalist in the Writer's Digest Best Writer's Website Contest!!

To those of us who know Kristen, we're not surprised. This red-haired dynamo has no end of talent, and luckily she has an energy level to match. I for one am happy to play cheerleader to such a terrific person! Not only is she a skilled writer/editor, but also she shares her talents with others. Kristen epitomizes the community spirit that all freelance writers and editors should espouse. Please visit her website, InkThinker.

Congratulations, Kristen!! We love you!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Exclusivity Revisited

Wow, this topic has created a good deal of conversation! And I love it. Any time any topic elicits conversation is a good thing. And so far we all agree - without monetary compensation and a contract providing that, exclusivity isn't happening.

Here's why we may not get what we want. Employers, specifically publications, simply won't use us if we don't agree to adhere to this unnecessary restriction. It's that simple. However, we as freelance writers and editors must make the choice between a paycheck and a point. If history bears out any truth, we'll see more choosing the paycheck as many tend to cower when faced with a potential client's restrictions. If you're one of the starving masses of writing's best and you feel you must accept the assignment with the restriction intact, God bless you. But you won't hear me supporting you when six months from now the magazine has cut your pay and still expects you to work exclusively for them, or when two years from now ALL publications are expecting you to write for them exclusively or they'll give you the boot.

I suggest that anyone faced with this requirement politely explain why you cannot honor it. If you don't know how, here are some points to make:

- You are allowed to make a living, and that includes working for the competition. In reality, most magazines do not directly compete, so this may be easier to sell to a publication than to a vendor whose competitor wants you to write internal newsletters. Often, the opposition is due to an unseen factor. For instance, the magazine group I worked for had kittens over the fact that freelancers were indeed working for the competitor. This made no sense as the magazine formats were polar opposites. While they were presenting information on the same subject, the approaches couldn't be more different. The real reason: the publisher of the new magazine was the publisher the old magazine group had just fired in a cost-cutting move. They were suing him because they didn't like that he started a publication in the same genre. It was all a power play based on egos. Freelancers were the ones who paid dearly for it, too.

- Since you're a freelancer, the company is not expected to cover the benefits or unemployment compensation. By placing this parameter on you, the company is defining, even in small part, your workload. Therefore, a case could be made under ERISA regulations that the employer might be liable for more than just the fee of the article in question. (thanks to Barb and Sagie for the advice on this one)

- You must maintain your freelance status or the employer could be liable for not deducting taxes from your wages. Again, this goes in line with the last point, but if you present these things as reasons why it could harm the employer, you may actually get somewhere.

- You are not on staff. Unless the company is willing to sign an exclusivity contract with you (and pay you for turning down those competitors), they must either make you a staff member or let you go about your business.

While these points may not win you any bonus points, they will show that you understand your rights and that you're professional enough to stand firm on them. Sure, there's a good chance they'll say, "She's too much trouble" and move on. But there's a better chance that you'll establish doubt in the minds of those placing unrealistic demands on your business practices. If nothing else, you've shown that you're no lightweight. And hopefully, enough freelancers will follow your lead and make the point that exclusivity isn't a given.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Freelancers and Exclusivity

In the past few weeks, I've seen mention of writers who are being asked to work exclusively for a particular publication. Let me rephrase that - they're not being asked to work for the particular publications but are being told not to work for other publications while working for these pubs.

Let me spell out just how many ways this is wrong. Point #1: look at your title. You're a freelance writer, a.k.a. a contract worker. You are not on the payroll of the company hiring you. You are there to do a particular project. They are filing taxes and claiming you as a subcontractor, not as an employee. As such, they can claim no hold on you beyond the project itself. Unless you've signed an agreement stating you will not work for competitors (and they'd better spell out exactly which publications they consider to be competitors) and they've compensated you for your working for them "exclusively", they have no right to force this parameter on you.

That brings me to point #2: Unless there is a contract offering you more compensation for your promise that you'll write only for this company in this particular genre, you have no obligation to do so. Sure, you may not be asked to work with them again, but I have to question why anyone would. It seems highly irregular that a company would demand anything so limiting to a person not on the company payroll.

Point #3: While the company has every right to protect its confidential information, the way to do it is by having the writer sign a non-disclosure agreement. In that way, the company has protected itself from any possible problems brought on by a writer working for another competitor. That should be the extent of any client's control over a vendor's business.

Point #4: You have the right to be in business and to make money. If a publication wants to tie you up from doing business with anyone in that same genre of writing, you might just as well ask them to put you on staff, as you'll be hard-pressed to make a living from a few assignments a year.

All of these points mirror the others. It's wrong of a publication to tell you who you can work for and who you can't. They cannot control your business. When faced with these demands, counter with a simple, "I didn't realize your publication offered exclusive contracts. What's the compensation like for that type of arrangement?" Because folks, you deserve to be compensated for work you have to turn down in order to please a demanding client.

That all said, there are times when exclusivity is called for. Suppose you're writing a breaking news feature for your local newspaper. It would be very wrong of you, nay, it would be unethical of you, to shop it to the competing newspaper in the same region. Also, if you've signed a contract that spells out the client's requirements for your exclusivity, then you must honor it. And there are times when you might censor yourself - for instance, you're writing a huge marketing campaign for say Apple when Microsoft calls and asks for a marketing campaign that slams Apple. If the knowledge you have from working with one client would aid the competition, you need to turn that job down and offer your services to the first client. Mind you, once that project is completed, you can then work for the competition, but please, don't ever use your client's information to either garner the project or to give the competitor the edge. If you find yourself unable to determine where the line is, don't take the job. Your integrity is worth much more than a project fee.

Sadly, this is a trend that seems to be picking up steam. I remember this dilemma came up a few years back when I was on staff at a national publication. The sister publication was demanding that freelancers not write for the direct competitor. Since the focus was entirely different, the publication had no right to make such demands of freelancers. What resulted was the only obvious conclusion: the publication went through freelancers as many began turning down assignments because of the new demands. Others simply wrote for the competition under pen names. Only one or two writers actually bit the bullet and complied with the demands.

Writers, before you allow someone exclusive rights to your talent, make sure they understand that this exclusivity comes with a price. It's unthinkable that a client would demand that your article writing abilities, or any other writing skills, be limited to one entity.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Do Your Homework

Warning - rant ahead.

I was on a writing forum recently when I noticed that a lot of beginning writers were asking questions such as "Where can I send this article?" or "What publisher is right for my story?" I wanted to scream out loud.

First, the questions are too broad, too general. For one, none of the posters had seen the works in question. How the hell is anyone beyond the writer to know where some generically-referenced work fits? Also, there were no details in any of these posts that would give the other posters a single clue as to the genre, the focus, the age category, the length or anything else about the pieces mentioned. Just those general questions.

And let me tell you something about those general questions - they don't indicate someone who is lost or someone who needs guidance to the right sources. If that were the case, these questions would read more like, "Where can I find a list of magazine publishers?" or "How do I find the right publisher for my book?" No, these questions indicated something deeper. The posters are lazy. Yes, I said lazy. While it's quite alright to ask for help, it's not alright to ask someone else to do your legwork.

It also shows me that these posters don't know their profession. Nothing, and I mean nothing, screams rank amateur more to me than someone who would ask such questions expecting someone else to hold their hands all the way to the mailbox. Sure, it's okay to ask someone to point you to a source or two for that information - we're not born knowing where to send our query letters - but it is unacceptable in my book for any writer to just hand the reins over to strangers and submit to being led in what may or may not be the right direction.

Over the years, I've seen these questions cropping up on freelance forums and listservs. Each time, they're posted by new or fairly new posters, who eventually disappear and never get that writing career off the ground. No wonder. "Questions like, "Does anyone know who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" is basic research that any writer has to be willing to do (or a no-brainer that any writer should be embarrassed to even ask). If I can get your answer for you in a simple Google search, I'm not going to give you the answer because you're not serious about your profession, in my opinion. I will tell you to search for it, though. Beyond that, the success of your career is up to you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Your Logo, Your Image

One of the forums I frequent (www.aboutfreelancewriting.com) recently had a post asking if writers created their own logos or had someone else do it. Interesting question, lots of interesting answers. Some writers had created their own, with very good results, while others let the professionals handle it. I'm here to tell you why you should let a pro handle it.

That's not to say I don't think you're talented. I'm simply saying that unless you're an excellent designer who understands the juxtaposition of color and graphic elements, you'd be much better served to hire someone. But not just anyone - the designer you hire should understand your needs and should be able to "get" the ideas you communicate to him or her. For example, suppose your website is to convey that you're a terrific ghostwriter. If the designer comes back with a logo incorporating Shaggy and Scooby Doo chasing ghosts through the letters of your name, get another designer. A good designer will understand how to incorporate both graphics and color into a logo that will reflect a professional image. Do you think the Mystery Machine best reflects how you handle clients? I don't think so, either.

On one of my sites, I sell a publication to risk management professionals. My logo for Risk Factor reflects both my company name and the topic I'm covering - risk and loss. My designer (Kevin Prutzman, who is terrific) used a combination of red to denote urgency, slanted white to denote action, black to indicate seriousness and a gray diagonal line that splits the image and gives it a "lightning bolt" feel while splitting up the text nicely. The entire image sums up exactly what I'm trying to convey to readers - this newsletter handles risk and does so in a serious, forward-looking way.

That said, one freelancer of note has an awesome logo she designed herself. Kudos to Kristen King for designing a logo for one of her sites that is spot-on perfect.

Remember this - your logo is a reflection of your business. It's your brand. It seems only logical to me that unless you have a very clear idea of what your logo should be and the talent to make that happen, you should find a professional who will turn your idea into a winning logo.
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