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Monday, April 30, 2007

Writers and Contracts

I'll keep it short and sweet: Here's all you need to know about contracts.

Article by Sharlene Thomas

Enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Ask

Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture delivered by Terry Gross, host of NPR radio’s Fresh Air. Terry is the consummate interviewer – she has spent the last 32 years talking with everyone from politicians and dignitaries to authors and entertainers. She’s also a wonderful lecturer – she entertained a capacity-crowd of 300 at my alma mater, Rosemont College. What was clear as Terry spoke was her ability to connect with her interview subjects, even though the majority of those interviews were conducted remotely, not face-to-face. Even in the most controversial of interviews, Terry was connecting to this person and establishing a rhythm.

After the lecture, I thought about how it is that someone might explain to a new writer or journalist the fine art of interviewing. In Terry’s case, she has a tone and a pacing to her voice that causes most people to allow her to continue in areas that may not be comfortable for them. That’s a gift. Also, she said she researches prior to the interview, and she relies on the pre-interview that her producers conduct with the interviewee. As she put it, there is a lot of vetting of the potential guest before she gets to the actual interview.

For us, we’re not so lucky to have that process. But we do have methods that can work well for us. For sure, we should do our homework before the interview. That’s a given. Yet having a connection with an interview subject is a technique that must be cultivated. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years, and what works for me is getting in the mindset that this person I’m about to talk to is someone I want to know. It’s not just another executive or just another interview to get out of the way. This is a person with an interesting life (don’t we all have interesting lives?) who has something interesting to say, and it’s someone I can learn from.

I am by no means in the same league as Terry Gross, who is in my opinion the queen of the journalistic interview style. She quoted John Updike when explaining how she views her guests, saying that their lives can serve as specimen lives, a view into the uniqueness of all of us. Her life, her interview style, is a model for how we can find a common ground with which to approach not only our interview subjects, but perhaps all our clients. But in light of that, we can at least attempt to find ways to carve our own interview style.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Turning Down Work
We all know to trust our guts, right? We understand that if the client's needs and our abilities/focuses are not meshing, it's okay to turn down the work. But where do you draw that line? Here are just a few examples of the times I've turned down work and why. It may help you to make that decision when you next face it.

- The client is a bit gaga. It wasn't the client's crazy streak that made me turn down the job, but it was the last straw for me. He shared too much too quickly within minutes of our first conversation, much more than you'd share with your girlfriend of ten years. Yet the real reason I didn't take his project was that he could not convey to me in terms I could understand just what it was he wanted. He was all over the map. At first, his tale seemed intriguing - attempted murder, blackmail, character bashing - but when I couldn't clearly see his story, after numerous attempts to bring him back on point, I knew it would be a fruitless effort. He may think his life as a woman is why I didn't write his story. It's not. It's his lack of clarity and his inability to tell me in even the simplest of terms what he wanted.

- The sliding pay scale keeps on sliding. Don't get me wrong - if a client offers me steady work for a little less money, I'm not normally going to turn that down. But when I talk with the client's representative and I'm given one price that's already well below my usual price, and then the note from the client lowers it even more, I'm walking away. I don't care what the first conversation promised at that point. The end result is too little money for too much work. It is about the cash. It has to be. I'm a business. If I were to offer you the same deal, Mister Client, you'd say the same thing.

- The communication channel shrivels up. At the moment, I'm trying to extract overdue payment from one client who is easily the most uncommunicative client I've had to date. She was the project lead, yet I had to pull information out of her. I got more feedback from the secondary players than the pivot person. Now I'm tryng to get information about my months-overdue invoice. I don't see a happy end to this. It's not about salvaging a faulty relationship at this point - it's more about getting what's owed me.

-The relationship is faulty. As I just said, there are times when relationships are just a big mess. For whatever reason, you and your client just aren't working out. It's okay. You can break it off. Consider what it would be like if this were a significant other - would you hang in there despite the mess raining down around you? (If you said yes to that question, this blog cannot begin to address how badly you need therapy, but I digress.) Think of this as a relationship without emotional entanglements. You can be professional, cut the ties, wish them well and move on. This is one relationship that ends without someone having to arrange to pick up their clothes or argue over custody of the cat.

Those are just a few times where you might find the need to say no to work. What are your experiences? Why aren't you walking away from that deadend work?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

Freelance Jobs - Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Scams Getting Trickier
I received an email yesterday that admittedly had me wondering if it was legitimate. By all accounts, it wasn't. The "how long have you been a member of our credit union?" questions from people I've never heard of, promises of twenty bucks if you complete the survey, and they ask for your account number in order to do transfer the cash. Red flags! Red flags! However, this is not your average scam. Upon checking, I found out this is a legitimate company that also posts all of its contact information on its website. It's listed in the Yellow Pages. Member of the Chamber of Commerce. In the community for years. The problem is that Sun East Federal Credit Union is being targeted by scammers who are mirroring their website in order to look legitimate.

Why them? Why not? As I said, they check out as legitimate members of society. What better front for a scammer than a real company? Here's a suggestion - if ANY company, known or unknown, asks for your bank account numbers or your PIN, run like hell. Their goal isn't to get your feedback or help you. Their goal is to part you from your money. I don't care if PayPal, eBay, Bank of America or even the IRS asks. NEVER NEVER NEVER give out your PIN or personal to ANYONE!! Legitimate companies never EVER ask for this in email. I don't care if they promise you a seat in Parliament - the only thing you'll get is cleaned out. Run like hell. Oh, and spread the word, please. As writers, we owe it to folks to alert them to stuff like this.

And check out some of the job opportunities posted below:

Freelance Copywriter
Freelance Editor
Copywriter (onsite in Chicago)
Freelance Journalist
"Green" Copywriter
Book Editors
Writer - Luxury Pet Site
Freelance Book Editor
Online Writers - Beauty
Freelance PR Writer
The Deafening Silence

There's a disturbing trend in magazine writing these days - silence. There are rumblings from writers about the lack of communication of any form from our editorial counterparts. From ignored queries to equally ignored invoices, editors seem to have adopted this code of silence that has many a writer scratching his or her head.

What gives? Let's look at it practically. It's no secret that publications have suffered financial crippling of one degree or another thanks to free information via Internet. That has staffing slashed right alongside budgets. Editors are often doing the work of two or more people (I was once the entire editorial department for a month, but that's another story). Their time is precious and already has a thousand demands. Could that be the answer?

Maybe. But it helps you none if you're sitting there months later wondering if anyone has even received your query, and your follow-ups appear to have fallen into that same black hole. I'm sitting here looking at seven queries I sent out in January, none of which were every responded to beyond one who said he'd received it. What to do?

I hate to say it, but the old days of editors and writers following agreed-upon protocol are over. The new order is this - if they want it, you'll hear about it. However, that's not to say you shouldn't still try to get a response. It used to be frowned upon to call an editor and interrupt a busy person. I'm of the opinion that if the courtesy to respond to me has to be foregone for other things, my courtesy in not disturbing this editor must also be foregone. Yes, I'm advocating calling and seeing what's up. Mind you, if the publication clearly states no phone calls, honor that. If you get no response the usual way, that may be your answer. Move on to a more responsive publication.

And sadly, this may mean more diligence on our parts. For there's another disturbing, albeit infrequent trend in publishing today - the use of a freelancer's ideas by a staffer. Ideas are not copyrighted, yet the editor who uses those ideas verbatim has acted unethically and could owe you some money.

As this trend and its effects shakes out, we may come up with an alternative solution that will relieve overworked editors of too much protocol and still give us the answers we deserve. For now, I say a quick call isn't going to kill your chances. I'd suggest calling after business hours. That way, your editor can listen and have another reminder to at least follow up on the email you'd sent (and don't forget to leave your email address on your message). Remember - you're a busy person, too. You took the time to send a well-crafted query. That deserves a response. Keep that in mind as you're dialing.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Tax Man Cometh

I cannot tell you how much I dread tax season. No, dread is not strong enough a word. It's the only time of year I feel inadequate, underemployed, broke, broken, terrorized, claustrophobic and under a huge microscope. I'm nowhere near a math person (hence the writing career - it's more of avoiding what I'm bad at rather than sticking with what I'm good at). So it's with all those emotional entanglements that I face the 1040 and the Schedule C.

Can anyone at ALL explain to me why you get three lines into the 1040 when you realize you have to fill out a different form before proceeding? Oh, and in that form, you must once again jump to yet another form, which also requires you to complete the worksheet... I hate it. I can handle a straight 1-through-77 step process that is the 1040. What I cannot do is juggle multiple forms, do math (insert shudder here) and be expected to get the correct answer. I'm an English major - my brain isn't wired for this.

This year, I got smart. I started with Schedule C. Who knew it would make the process easier? For nowhere in the tome that accompanies my forms (bless you, IRS, for at least providing the instructions, but could you please provide instructions for ALL lines next time?) does it state that if you complete this form before that form, you'll have an easier time of it. That's what's lacking - a step-by-step process on how to go about presenting a self-employed existence on paper.

I did find an excellent resource for self-employed folks like me who struggle with the beast every year. One of my problems with Schedule C is the lack of clarity on certain line items - a problem that has prompted the IRS love letters I get months later adjusting my totals. Thank you, National Association for the Self-Employed, for the easy-to-follow guide to filling out Schedule C. It was a godsend when I came to line 18 and said "WTF does this mean?" (For tax time, folks, brings out the potty mouth in me - I've found it's much easier to recover from a cursing jag than a crying jag)

I did begin using Quicken to track my expenses and income. It's nice, but it's far from a perfect setup. I wanted to do numerous functions that the system wouldn't allow me to do. I wanted categories to coincide with my line items on Schedule C (see? I did do some advance planning). Unless I just don't know how to do it properly, it seemed my program doesn't allow that.

Maybe I'm behind the curve. Frankly, I don't make knowing my tax forms and my tax filing process part of my life. It's that time of year when I stop buying groceries in order to cover whatever tax liability I'd missed, and when I make an appointment with the hair salon to get rid of the gray that will surely come from it all.

Now the only thing left to do is mail it. After I finish my prayers....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Job Listings
Marking Time for Money
How long have you waited to get paid? Revisiting my invoicing post yesterday for just a moment, one writer responded she'd been waiting a year for a publication to publish her piece. And naturally, they pay on publication. Nothing upsets me more than to hear of writers having to mark time while editors hold on to a piece for endless amounts of time. Frankly, I'd wait no longer than six months, then I'd retract the submission and shop it elsewhere. If it's an article with time-sensitive info, I'd wait no more than a few months before taking it to another pub.

In general, there seems to be a general lax in standards among the publishing community. Gone are the days when a query is responded to, let alone acknowledged. Writers sit not knowing if the query is being considered. Follow-up requests for status updates are just as ignored. Is there no more protocol within the publishing community? Or is it that we happen to have an influx of management that does not believe in wasting precious time treating its hired help with proper respect?

I don't know. This is one I need to ponder for a while. Maybe I'm too old, but I remember a time not so long ago when editors and writers alike followed a standard procedure that showed respect to our colleagues. We communicated, as those in the communication industry should. But maybe I'm just hearing the horror stories. Please, if you have a success story, or you'd like to nominate an editor or client who has been a professional from start to finish, tell me so we can sing their praises here.

Here's today's list of job openings. Good luck!

Freelance Project Writer
Freelance Design Writers
Freelance Copywriter
Freelance Tech Writing
Experienced Developmental Editor
Writers for Jewelry Newsletter
Website Copywriter
Book Editor
PT Technical Writer (Telecommute)
Freelance Tech Writers
Financial Writer

Monday, April 09, 2007

Bringing Home the Bacon

It's not enough to actually earn a living at freelancing. If you've been in this business for a while, you understand that not every client is forthcoming with the amount due. Sometimes, and I hope for your sake it's not often, one or two will fail to pay after a few attempts at collection. So what's your recourse?

Have a Plan
Start with making sure you establish a regular billing routine. Mine goes like so - I invoice at the same time I deliver the project. I then print out that invoice and stick it in my folder marked "Current Invoices." Also, I open Excel and mark down all the info (if you have Quicken or Quickbooks, that would be a good place to log your entries). I set up alerts on my Outlook calendar for one month from now.

Setting Up the Invoice
All invoices should have a few things - the name of the client, the deliverables (project name), and the amount due. Don't forget to add your name and address. Phrases to include:

"Please pay promptly to avoid late fees."
"Thank you for your business."

There are other phrases to add, but I'll get to those in a minute.

Work the Plan
If the invoice is not paid in 30 days, I tack on late fees (mine are 25 percent) and resend the invoice with a friendly reminder. Again, I print that invoice out, staple it to the first one, and mark it in Excel and Outlook. If the client responds immediately (within a day or two), I'll usually waive the late fees. We all lose invoices - now's the time to be cordial about it. If, however, the client is incommunicado, I'll wait that 30 days before sending out what I consider to be my last invoice for payment. This one will have two months worth of late fees and will have the line, "Please pay to avoid litigation" displayed prominently on it. To date, that line has never failed me.

Leave a Paper Trail
All of this systematic invoicing serves two purposes. First, it keeps you on top of your bookkeeping and keeps you from losing the chance to collect what's due you. Second, it gives you a paper trail. Remember when I said to add the line regarding litigation? That line is one you need to learn how to act on. If you promise it, deliver on that promise. All of your invoices will show any court that you were active in your attempts to secure payment. That works in your favor.

Invoice Tips
One more thing to add to your invoices - a disclaimer about the transfer of ownership. I have one line on my invoices, which is added on the second invoice - "Rights transfer to customer upon full payment of invoice." This helps you in another way. If your client turns out to be a slacker when it comes to paying, you can add copyright infringement to any lawsuit beyond small claims court. Check with an attorney to clarify this point as laws will differ in each state.

So far, I've not had to go through small claims. I would, however, do so if need be. As a freelancer, you should also consider what it takes to file a claim, and what to expect. Some freelancers choose to go through a collections agency. I don't. The reason is I was told by an attorney that collections is costly and not any guarantee that you'll get what's owed you. Just make sure whatever you do, you're willing to follow through in order to receive payment.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Latte? What's That?

As promised, I'm presenting the other side of the freelance world - the side where work is uppermost and lattes are things we hear about but haven't experienced for ourselves. Today's freelancer is Kathy Kehrli, who walks us through her typical day. Kathy's been hard-core freelancing for a number of years, and she's graciously taken the time to give us an inside look. Thanks, Kathy!

Is yours a "latte life"? Why or why not?
Well, my hot beverage of choice is tea, but usually the only time I'm
sipping it is while I'm embroiled in one project with two or three waiting
in the wings, or late at night, when I'm wrapping up last-minute details
(like emails) I never got around to during the day. And that's all assuming
I can carve out enough free time to boil a cup of water!

What's your typical work day like?
Most weekdays find me working pretty steadily from 9 to 7. Now not all of
those hours are billable hours, of course, but running a freelance business
entails far more than writing an article or two every day in between sipping
lattes! There's also marketing (which I try to do every week regardless
of workload), responding to potential clients who contact you, attending to
revision requests, invoicing, accounting, etc., etc. There's so much to do,
in fact, that some of it is often reserved for weekends.

It's been said that we freelancers can set our own hours, be our own bosses and work from coffee shops. Do you agree with this? Why/why not?
In some regards I do set my own hours and I am my own boss (I've been known
to fire a client or two...or three or four...over the years), but let's face
it. Clients have deadlines and demands that need to be met. They call the
shots, ultimately meaning we freelancers have many bosses even if we don't
call them by that title. As for working from coffee shops, I'm lucky to be
able to get to the bank once a month, so forget about Starbucks.

What's the biggest challenge facing you as a freelancer?
For me personally, it's juggling multiple projects when several ongoing
clients call upon my services at the same time. But I also spend a lot of
time advocating for freelancers' rights, so I'd have to say getting the rest
of the world to treat us like the professionals we are is an even bigger
challenge.

How would you advise someone starting out in the business?
Although being a freelancer is a fulfilling role, it's not an easy one. The
work's not just going to come to you and it's not going to happen overnight.
If you've got talent, a drive to succeed and the willingness to devote to
it, you will succeed. If you're expecting to spend half your day hanging out
in coffee shops, you're probably going to go broke faster than you can sip
down a latte.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Freelance Gigs - Tuesday, April 3rd
And a Vent

Funny how my vent days seem to be coming on a somewhat regular schedule. This one is justified - again today I read an article by a completely clueless person (too strong? Too bad - it's true) as to how we freelancers spend our days. This article pointed first off to freelancers sitting at cafes sipping lattes. If you want to present yourself as someone who knows what the hell a freelancer does all day, never start like that. That's a myth spread by those who haven't any idea what it's like to really work at freelancing. As I stated in my last entry regarding "the latte life", these are not real writers. These are, to quote Kendra from Girls Next Door, posers. None of these so-called professionals have ever spent the eleventh hour delivering copy that's been rewritten numerous times thanks to a committee of clients who cannot decide. These same "writers" have never chased down deliquent bills, never had to pay quarterly taxes, never had to dig to work to survive. These are the ones who ask "How do I start freelancing?" They're too lazy to do even the most basic footwork in order to chase the dream. That leads me to wonder just how strong or real that dream is.

The article did make a few good points, like we can set our own schedules, meet neat people and learn things, but the author makes the assumption that we are free birds left to fly where we want. Alas, even a bird has to land. Those schedules we keep resemble more a 9-to-5 than a "Gee, I feel like writing today" schedule. We can work wherever we want, but we'd better have a wireless connection and a phone that accepts forwarded messages. We are also painted as being our own bosses. That's only partially true. We are at the beck-and-call of not one, but several "bosses" who pay us to do their dirty work. And that's fine. But we cannot, as the article states, say "take this job and shove it!" to anyone we please. If we did, we'd soon be out of people who are willing to work with us.

In response to the recent incidents of folks touting us as latte-sipping, laptop toting stereotypes, I'm going to present an interview with a real writer this week. The latte crowd has had its say. It's our turn. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here are a few gigs I found that may fit. Good luck!

Magazine Writer
Freelancer for Website
Freelance Reviewer/Writer
Freelance Researcher/Writer
Freelance Copywriter
Freelance Content Author
Freelance Copywriter
Copywriter - Catalog
Freelance Online Associate Editor
Freelance Sports Writer
Proofreaders
Freelance Writer
Reporter/Freelance Writer
Freelance Blogger
Freelance Copywriter
Words on the Page