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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More On Body Parts
The flak over the Newbery-winning book that has the word "scrotum" on the first page is probably yesterday's news (thanks to our country's collective attention deficit disorder), but dontcha just want to revisit this topic? No? Too bad. Here's a link sent to me by my friend Anne that describes how the word has appeared in numerous books without much of a fuss.

Gelf Magazine

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Folly of Industry

It amazes me every time I go about the task of creating mailers and contact lists. First, let me say I hate Microsoft because it has yet to explain to me how to merge a document into labels without an hour's worth of hair-ripping failures. Mail Merge Wizard, you say? Ha! Not happening. I followed the instructions and oy! the headache.

Anyway, that's not what amazes me. It's what I find when I go searching for contact information on vendor websites - or what I don't find, to be precise. Where is the name of your CEO? Where is the address of your company? Where is anything that humanizes you beyond your product/service? I continue to be shocked that these professionals often don't realize that they're missing a huge selling point just by omitting anything remotely human from their sites.

And let's talk about the writing. There were two sites bragging up huge clients, and neither of these would've gotten my business based on their websites. One-page list of "this is our product" and we install/deliver/whatever. One didn't have any contact information beyond an "info@cluelessvendor.com" email!

Needless to say, these were the first folks on my list to receive my brochure of writing services. They'll probably be the last to be clients because it seemed obvious to me that these folks weren't valuing what words could do for their businesses. If I were, say, Weight Watchers, and I was looking for a software solution that helped my call center track calls, log customer information and helped them to enhance the customer experience, I sure as heck wouldn't think that a site with two paragraphs and no identifiable information would have a clue about customer service!

When you're building your website and/or your marketing materials, make sure you give enough information to your potential clients so that they can A) understand what you're selling, B) reach you, C) see that you're a professional and D) care enough to want to contact you. While these days it's usually wise to keep identifying info (especially the home number) under wraps, give something - location, toll-free number, cell phone number, whatever. Give an email address (or better, a feedback form that hides your email from spammers). Give something. Just don't give the wrong impression!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Death to Paper Queries!

I can't believe it took me an hour to "dash off" a query to a major publication! It's not the conceptualizing, nor is it the writing of the query. It's the printing of the letter, the envelope, the sample clips and the stamping and mailing. I'm sorry - what century are we in again? Why on earth are major, and I do mean major publications still using the arcane, tree-killing system of snail-mail queries? I would have dropped the notion of sending this query entirely had it not been for the fact that this fit like a glove.

Maybe that's the point. If we take time to do all that additional prep work, we're going to target our queries better. Sadly, publications do have to consider this. Otherwise, People magazine's going to be inundated with travel articles and Playboy is going to have one too many articles on Cooking Sexy.

But honestly, are paper queries really going to deter the determined? I remember when paper was the only way. I remember sending out tons of queries a week, and I can guarantee you that not all of them were well-targeted queries. It's out of sheer laziness that many people send off bad queries, but I think even snail mail submissions suffer the same affliction as emailed ones.

I've spent a lot of time avoiding queries to pubs that don't offer email submissions, but I can't avoid them forever. I wish, though, that they'd realize that bad is bad despite the delivery and modernize their systems.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Body Parts and Censorship

If you were to read a book to a child that contained the word "scrotum", would you be offended? Or would you see it as a no-nonsense description of a body part? That's the controversy boiling right now over a Newbery-winning book The Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

The story, in which ten-year-old Lucky hears this word through a hole in the wall, depicts how the word intrigued the boy and started his adventure. The author defends her work, saying in essence that it's just a word. Meanwhile, some librarians are vowing to pull the book, while others are defending furiously Ms. Patron's right to write.

What do you think? Here's the link: New York Times story

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Breathe!

Oy! (she said with her fake Irish lilt) What a week! I've been busy before, but this week topped it. How busy? I went through most of yesterday thinking it was Thursday! So I spent the day conducting three interviews, sitting in on a web demo of software, and writing three articles - all before 5 p.m. My brain was still buzzing at 10 p.m! Hence the reason I'm here today, BIG chai tea in hand thinking today's a good day to kick back and breathe.

Do you take time to breathe? I don't mean finish one project and grab lunch before you start another. I mean really breathe. Stand up from the chair, walk outside, get in the car and just allow yourself some space. That's on my agenda today. I have no pressing issues, and only minimal amounts of work to accomplish, so I'm outta here! Actually, I'm using my time "off" to shop for office supplies and to buy a new desk chair.

Oh sure - there are projects to start, revise or find. Yet as Scarlet says, "I'll think about it tomorrow." :))

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why I Blog

Another day, another meme. Today I've been tagged by both Kathy Kehrli and Kristen King and asked to list five reasons why I blog. So here goes:

1. I blog because I have to get it all out.
The problem is there aren't enough hours in the day or ears available when you work at home. Sometimes, you must vent or discuss or just type to keep from going stir crazy. It's my sanity-making exercise.

2. I blog to organize my thoughts.
Sometimes things seem too overbearing/difficult/unruly/insane until I write it all out. Discussing it here, even if it's with myself, helps me to organize my thinking and work things out.

3. I blog because I have things to share.
One of the hardest parts about starting a freelance career is knowing things. Do I need a contract? Who should be queried? What's a decent rate for caption writing? What happens if they don't pay? You have questions. I have answers to some of them. I'm more than happy to help you get through some of the rough spots. We're a tight-knit community of writers. If we don't look out for each other, who will?

4. I blog because of the friendships.
I love building friendships and connecting with others through these blogging communities. I've met some wonderful, quirky, interesting people who are all part of a great community of unique individuals. Who wouldn't want to be part of it?

5. I blog because I care.
I want you to succeed. Back in the day, I had help from veteran writers and it was a real gift to have these folks share their knowledge so freely. I care about your success as much as they cared for me by taking the time to help. If I can help you, then my reasons for being here are worthwhile.
Steady Work

I'll admit it - since my dry spell this past year (read that my "severe drought") I'm much more concerned about sitting idle for more than a day. That started me on a search for regular work. And lo and behold! Didn't I find two regular gigs?

I'm here to share my hard-found wisdom with you all. If you're freelancing, please get yourself into at least two gigs that pays regularly. Assure yourself of a fairly steady amount of income monthly so you can pursue other work while knowing other work is there.

So why did I say two? Take a lesson from corporate America. Diversify. I know one three-year-old company that was the driving force in its industry. However, they had 38 percent of their business with one client. You guessed it - the client cut back its budget, and this company lost most of its revenue stream in one day. It closed up shop less than a week later.

Here's what to look for in a regular gig:

- Regular assignments (duh!)
- Decent pay (upwards of at least 50 cents a word)
- Work that isn't too time-consuming (what's the point if you have no more time to look for higher-paying gigs?)
- A contract (without it, you're going on the word of the hiring person, which could be questionable)

Notice that I keep saying "fairly steady"? That's because even though these are regular gigs, nothing is guaranteed. For example, the job I signed on for today would be an income of $1,800 a month for me. However, it's a startup publication. What's here today could be gone tomorrow. Never assume the permanence of any situation. Always take on more if you can.

That's it. That's what I hope you'll consider. If it helps you to bolster your income and strengthen your freelance career, amen! I think it will. So far, it's working for me.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Phrase That Pays

It worked again! For the second time in three months, I advised a colleague to use the following line at the end of a long-past-due invoice:

"Please pay within 15 days to avoid litigation."

This time, my colleague and chum Kevin Prutzman applied it to a very late bill. Nearly instantly, he was paid! What is it about that phrase that works like magic? Let's face it - who wants to be sued?

Apparently, not too many people would want that. I've had it work for me when the bill was nearly seven months past-due. My friend Gerda used it when her invoice was ignored for nearly eight months. So in my little circle, it works.

When to Use?
Clearly you don't want to be slapping that line onto the bottom of every invoice. Threatening a client, new or established, into payment from the outset isn't going to earn you much repeat business. But obviously there has to be a line you draw. Do yourself a favor - draw it now so that when faced with this situation, your action plan is clear to you.

I will wait three months for payment before I use the line. The first month late - okay, we all misplace things. The second month is more questionable. By the third, it's pretty clear this bill's being ignored.

Also, understand that there are people in the business world who will ignore even that little phrase. For them, you need to have an additional plan. It's called small claims court, and I advise you to know how to utilize it. It costs somewhere around $30 to file a claim, but before you do, make sure you're documenting the fact that you've attempted more than once to extract payment from the client. Have paper proof. Also, it's wise to file your claim in the county in which that client does business. The judgments, I'm told, will adhere a bit better if there's no jurisdictional line to cross.

That's not guaranteeing payment, but if you secure a judgment against a nonpaying client, there's a better chance that you will get some payment in the future. It's also a lesson to that client and others that your services are not freebies.

Go forth and bill wisely. :)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

Here's to my second official bitch-and-moan day! My chum Kathy Kerhli (who taught me the fine art of bitching with style) wrote an interesting post the other day about a client who kept expecting more and more out of her long after he'd stopped paying. I thought to myself "Wow, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that." Lo and behold, not two days later, here I sit dealing with the same thing.

It started with an article that appeared in my newsletter. The company wanted reprints. No problem, here's the price. I got the nod and put together the reprint copy (which includes new layout, adding company logos, etc.). Had a bit of trouble getting the company's logo inserted (bad graphic files), so it took a little longer. I spent a number of hours on this, which was not going to net me much, but I wanted them to be happy with the print quality.

I sent off the final product yesterday. The note comes back on permissions - can we do this, this and oh, can we print from it? I say yes to all of the above, and add, "Assuming you mean beyond what we're printing for you." The note back - "No, we have it from here."

Uh uh, pal. That's not what we agreed on. My last (and final) note on this is "Since we don't charge for the PDF when it is coupled with our printing, I'm attaching the invoice for just the PDF. Thank you!"

I could be a real pain and push this and get the full amount out of him. I have his emails directing me to get a price for printing and to arrange it. If I wanted to get nasty, I would. However, I'm not into nastiness. I'm into fairness and professionalism. Just because someone switched rulebooks midway through the game doesn't mean I have to go by the new rules.

It's a lesson in sticking up for yourself and for standing firm. The work I did for this person was directly related to my understanding that it was a paying job, not grunt work so he could effectively "dump" me when he got what he wanted. The corporate version of a player. Give me a break!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Run Forrest, Run!

The temptation as you're first starting out is to take anything that pays even a penny a word. However, there comes a point in every writer's life where the job description makes a person want to flee for the exit. Trust that feeling and read on.

I had this feeling a few weeks back. Got a message from a bloke wanting me to write his book. Oh, it was juicy enough to make me want to call back - attempted murder, government cover-up, all the bells and whistles that makes a writer salivate. Yet in conversation with said bloke, I came to the determination rather quickly that he may not be easy to work with. Enter descriptions that rambled. Okay, he's excited. So I asked pointed questions. Still, the story went all over the map, and the clarification did, too. I couldn't nail him down to giving me even the briefest of overviews of one single point. Imagine about 30 more minutes of this conversation and you feel my pain. All the while he's interjecting the phrase "I've had tons of writers quit on me." Okay, what do they know that I don't?

Undaunted, I kept pressing for info. I wrote notes feverishly, thinking somewhere in his babble there was a story. Oh, there was, but it was at the point my pen went still and my jaw dropped. For this bloke, in this preliminary phone call, started to relay his past life in pantyhose. Honestly, that's his real story, but the weird vibe I'd felt on hello was cemented. I really don't care about his gender life at all, but that he had to tell me then and there, along with telling me even more personal stuff, sent the warning flags a-flying.

He does have a story, and I hope he writes it. I just cannot be his writer. Nope, it's not based on his transgender choice. It's based on his breaking that inner wall of intimacy way too quickly and in the way in which he delivered his information throughout. I've learned long ago to trust my instincts and to believe that my uncomfortable feeling should be heeded even at the risk of being non-PC. If he had told me a few conversations later, no problem. But on first meeting, it's like ripping off the bandage and saying "Look here!" while you're eating dinner.

Also, he was not, no way and no how, going to be able to convey to me in any coherent way what his story was. I got some of it, but it didn't make sense when I tried adding it up later. Maybe a better writer would take a stab at it and succeed. Then again, he'd been through more than enough writers, so I'm betting it's not me. In the past, I've written entire books based on a client's brain dumps in email. But those had at least a little substance to chew on. That he was almost murdered under questionable circumstances for reasons that never seemed to materialize? I don't think a Pulitzer winner could make that story work.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Week that Blew Up

Did you ever have one of those weeks? I just came off one of the strangest weeks in my career. It started okay, but midweek it all went ka-flooey. I had written an article for a pub I've written for in the past, when I get this call on my answering machine. The article I'd just sent to the editor didn't pass muster. He mentioned "cut and paste" and "need to edit" - huh? It would seem your overworked writer here, while working on her laptop, sent a file over to her main computer so she could finish writing. It contained cut-and-pasted material, which I use to match against the product I'm reviewing. When I start to write, I'll use those points from the vendor's info to jog my memory and write my own thoughts.

You guessed it. In my haste to get it out the door, I sent the wrong file. How embarrassing! I may have lost some credibility too, despite the fact that I'd sent two articles and the other did not have the obvious problems this one did. I corrected the error by sending the right document, but I feel like an idiot for not making sure the right doc was attached in the first place.

Shake it off, as they say. However, yesterday yet another boo-boo. This one had the client writing a terse email and using words like "good faith" and "very disappointed." This boo-boo was fixable, but I don't think the client has read my note back, which could clear it all up instantly. So as the weekend draws on, he's hating me more and more. This one was really dumb - I gave him the wrong page count on a huge project. That mistake inadvertently shaved 100 pages off the total - less than I'd told him a few weeks prior. Yikes! I sent him the project to prove there really was more, but oy!

I'm not a superstitious person by nature, but I swear I did not inquire as to the status of two other projects for fear more explosions occurred. In my already weakened state, it would've done me in.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I've Been Tagged!
I'm still not sure what a meme is, but Yvonne Russell just tagged me and told me I'm it. :) So I'll follow her lead and come up with my own personal contract:

I will serve all clients with the same amount of attention and respect. I will work hard to grow my business, despite the allure of a morning at Starbucks. I will make personal goals and work hard to reach them. I will not misrepresent myself or my skill levels, but will continue to learn new skill sets to bring value to my customers.

That sounds more like a mission statement than a contract, but it's a start, right? So go on. I dare you. Make your own statement. For this, I shall tag good chums Anne Wayman, Kathy Kehrli and Audrey the Editor.

Have at it, ladies!
Words on the Page