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Monday, March 31, 2008

Clients Who Lie

Over the weekend, I received a call from a reporter at the New York Daily News. He introduced himself to me, apologized for calling on a Saturday, and then informed me that a former client had been arrested - to which I replied, "Good."

See, I'd found out quite a bit about him shortly after I'd taken him on as a client and had written one press release for him (on a volunteer basis, no less), for it prompted a call from a detective in New York City who'd said "Your client's a known crook." He went on to explain that the client had been arrested in the past on fraud charges, and he said that he was currently under investigation for fraudulent activities. This detective also gave me the name of the lead investigator, a detective who confirmed everything and also sent former arrest records, as well as other solid evidence that this man was in the habit of presenting himself in a less-than-honest fashion. Here's another link showing the timeline of this guy's background, very little of which hit the news beyond his immediate area.

What could I do? Nothing beyond helping wherever I could. My hands were tied. While they had evidence that he'd been in trouble in the past, nowhere in his present endeavor, which was what he'd hired me for, had he committed any crime. I could recall the press release - if I could find all instances of it. I managed to get it removed from one site, but it was circulated throughout the Internet at that point. I confronted him, to which he wrote an indignant email to me, and also passed along a veiled threat. At that point, I wrote him off and went on with business.

What happened to me from the time the client was "found out" by me and arrested has been interesting. I occasionally get anonymous emails to the tune of "shame on you!" for "supporting" such a man. I spent a good deal of time defending myself and assuring these people (who were so cowardly they couldn't even sign their names) that I was indeed aware of it, that I was no longer associated with him, and that law enforcement was already on to him.

But why shame on me exactly? One guy, who was brave enough to sign his name, said I didn't do a thorough enough background check. Uh, while I agree that in this case it would've been a great idea, how many of us have the time or money to do that? For a press release? I did obtain the client's paperwork showing nonprofit filings, and I did search the Internet. I turned up nothing. However, the detective on the case sent me links to older articles (that didn't appear on my searches), showing arrests. But shame on me? Really? Isn't that aiming the venom in the wrong direction? With this dude, the signs were not readily visible. My typical searches turned up nothing. He provided proof that he had a nonprofit. He even sent me to a site where some dude wrote him a song in honor of his foundation. It seemed it was all above board. To find out it wasn't enough stung, but to have others acting like I was the criminal was uncalled for. I trusted someone on his word (with a little back up, thankyouverymuch). Apparently, that's reason to be treated in like fashion to the criminal.

So this begs the question - when you're dealing with a new client, just how much do you have to know about his or her past? Is it becoming our jobs to conduct thorough investigations before taking on a client?

Friday, March 28, 2008

How to Apply for the Job

Given the strong discussion on other blogs this week (and here) regarding client feedback on how to win the gig, I figured now might be a good time to share with you how I go about applying for work. Look, everyone does it differently and no one way is the only way. I'm simply going to offer you one more perspective. Given some of the things I've been reading, some people really don't know how to go about it. Others aren't really applying themselves (those I can't help so much). But if you're new to it or you're frustrated by your efforts, I hope I can offer some new insights.

Let's take an ad. I'm pulling one straight from Craig's List - I've only just seen it myself. I chose one that sounds like it pays:

"I am looking for someone who can write and submit press releases for my company/website. I will provide the topics for content. If interested, please respond back with asking price."

So what's your first step? Put together your query letter. Please do not write to the employer for more information. They get at the least 100 or more inquiries. They don't have time to answer your questions. You have to do this with just the information at hand. If you can't, move on.

The query should address the points asked for in the ad. Mind you, this one is small, but you can still do this. Start your query in a way that's going to impress:

"Philadelphia, PA (or wherever you live). March 28, 2008. Fabulous Writer, a veteran writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, is pleased to announce her new partnership with her latest client, Press Release Client. The partnership makes this the 23rd client Fabulous Writer has provided press release writing services for in the past 15 months."

(If you haven't figured it out yet, you're Fabulous Writer. Fill in your name there.)

That's your hook. But why go out on such a limb, you ask? Honey, I answer, you are competing with hundreds of writers, many of whom will not make much effort at all. If you take the time to be creative and position-relevant, you're going to stand out. Maybe it won't win you the gig, but that person's going to remember you when you follow up in 4 to 6 weeks to see if he/she has found a suitable person.

Moving on. Next paragraph is your meat and potatoes. This lists your relevant experience first. Never written a press release? Then list any corporate writing you've done. None of that either? Then list your magazine, newspaper, or other client experience. This is critical. You have the attention of your reader. Deliver the goods. In this case, something like this:

"In addition to her press release writing skills, Fabulous Writer has provided corporate writing expertise to a large client base. These include brochures, website copy, media kits, and white papers. Also, she has written over 150 articles for numerous consumer and trade publications, including The New Yorker, Writer's Digest, USA Today, The Atlantic Monthly, Contractors Monthly, and Barron's."
There. You've told them about you in a succinct and readable fashion.

Don't forget to add this line:

"Her average rate for press releases is $150 per release with a negotiated discount for contracted ongoing work."

Remember? They asked for your asking price in the ad. Don't forget this! A lot of writers would say, "But what if I price too high?" Then this is not the client for you. You have to learn now to set a rate and negotiate from there. If the client is unwilling to negotiate, that's not your client.

Now, ask for the sale.

"For more on Fabulous Writer and her work, please visit the URLs listed below. Thank you for your consideration." (don't do attachments - they clog up email and tick off people with slower ISPs) "Thank you for considering Fabulous Writer and her expertise for your projects. She appreciates it, and hopes to hear from you soon."

Best regards,

Fabulous Writer"

While the ad did not mention a resume, make sure to have one handy. I wouldn't send it without being specifically asked to, but you can send a link to your online version, if you have one.

Spell check. Oh yes, you do need to be told. I've done it. So have you. We've all sent out copy that has one minor error in it on occasion. Don't let the job slip by because you didn't take five extra minutes to look it all over.

If the press release format throughout the query letter seems to be too much of a good thing, you can always break off from the "hook" into a more first-person account in your second paragraph. Don't forget a transition sentence in your first - something like "If this announcement has you intrigued, please read on to see what I can offer you."

Please - you're applying for creative work. Be creative! Don't bore the daylights out of the employer or do the safe thing. Safe gets you buried in someone's email. Creative stands out. And for God's sake - follow the directions. Don't send a one-line note saying "Call me" or "here's my resume." That employer's going to put as much time considering you as you've put into applying.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Looking for Work in All the Right Places

Tamara Berry has a fantastic post over at eMoms at Home about where we writerly types can find some profitable avenues for our talents. Give it a read.

Specializing
Tamara said it best. The more experience you have in any one specialty, the better your chances of charging more for your services. I specialize. I'm able to get that $100/hr., and I'm able to land tough-to-fill assignments because of it. What's more, articles in my particular field are paying me $1/word right now. Mind you, that's not always the case, as magazines are often limited in budget, but it's great work when you can get it.

Print
That brings me to another point Tamara brought up. Writing for print. We are so used to the lazy search - go out on the Internet, look for work and hey, it's all Internet-based or something quite akin to working in a more free-formed fashion. But when was the last time we did it the old-fashioned way? When did we scour the market guides and magazine racks to spark our creative imaginations? Hmm? When was the last time we wrote an actually snail-mail query?

There's something to be said for the speed of email. If editors are open to it, you can get your ideas in front of them instantly. So can everyone else. How the devil are you to compete with anyone and everyone sporting the very same Internet connection? Simple. Put it on paper and mail it. Hard copies are a bit more time-consuming, and yes, you do look like a bit of a rebel to editors, but guess what? The hard copy is harder to ignore. There's your proposal. There are your clips. They're there in a more formal manner, which raises the level of response a bit. Sure, you may still be rejected, but your editor is now going to pause long enough to mail that rejection back in the SASE you've included.

If you're sick to death of the lousy ads on the Internet and scrapping with thousands of other writers and wanna-be writers for those gigs, try taking one or more of the suggestions in that article to heart. Look where others aren't looking, and build a reputation as a specialist. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If You Don't Want to Hear it, Don't Ask

Writers are a strange lot. We live for a word of any sort from a potential (or current) client, and when we get it, we get huffy. Case in point - Deb Ng has a lively discussion going on over on her blog right now involving a potential employer who was kind enough to let her and her readers know why he hadn't hired anyone who applied to his job posting. The real story isn't whether this particular employer is asking too much. The real story is turning out to be why writers are feeling particularly justified in labeling this employer's explanation as arrogant, full of attitude, etc. Frankly, I'm embarrassed for my breed.

See, I read the story. I read the ad. Nowhere in any of it can I determine where a man who wants someone to properly represent his brand, and who's willing to pay pretty darned well for it, is somehow offending us writerly types for saying that some who applied were not able to follow simple directions. Look, I applied for the job. If I don't get a response, I'm going to assume it's because I didn't fit the profile he was looking for. He wants someone with some very specific criteria. I hit on most, but maybe not all. And my reaction to that rejection will be the square root of nothing.

Perhaps it's because we have been bombarded by awful ads, pathetic job offers, and a general lack of respect, but folks, we're lashing out. In this case, I see no good reason for it. If he writes back to me and tells me I don't fit, fine. If he ignores me, fine again. If he writes back and gives me constructive criticism, ouch, but still fine. If he writes back and questions my sexuality or my moral terpitude because I forgot a comma, then and only then am I apt to think he's crazy.

But he hasn't done that. He's chosen to explain to an Internet audience why he couldn't find anyone to fit his project. He's told everyone who will listen how to win him over and get the gig. That's a gift. Why exactly are we examining the mouth of the gift horse?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Are You Legit?

There's a bit of a back-and-forth discussion over on About.com's Freelance site about the legitimacy of weblogs as "real" writing. Some say yes, some say no, while others are just there to play Grammar Cops and rip the hostess Allena's post to shreds (lighten up, people!). One poster went so far as to say the entire post was too boring for him, yet there he was, posting at length....

This begs the question - is writing a blog "legitimate" writing? In other words, could you or have you used your blog as a portfolio piece? Is that how you define legitimate? If not, what do you consider to be legitimate writing?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Guest Article

It's funny the things you get into when you comment on someone's blog. I was over at Georganna Hancock's A Writer's Edge blog when I made the comment that writing for trade magazines is just as creative, if not more so, as writing for consumer publications. Georganna was quick to say "Want to make a guest post out of that?" Hence, I give you the link to my article, available for free on Georganna's site, Trading Places. Give it a read and let's discuss.

Back yet? Good. Okay, what stops you from writing for trade publications? Or, if you do write for them, what can you tell others about the work?

Sending Your Client to Time Out

We love a client with a strong idea. We don't even mind so much the client with a strong opinion. But what we won't tolerate is a client with a penchant for getting his or her way every time.

It's not that clients shouldn't get their way - they absolutely do own the ideas and the project. But when the client's reputation or product will be worse off for it, we writers have to push back.

In one instance, a writer friend's client fussed and complained on three separate occasions that the friend didn't write the piece requested properly. On the very last fuss, my writer friend pushed back. She stated quite frankly that if she made the changes the client was requesting, it would damage the product and would not achieve the desired results. She also stated just as firmly that she could not make those changes in good conscience knowing the client would suffer for it. In this case, the client apologized and listened. My writer friend did get her way that time, and it benefited the client.

As I listened to her account, I couldn't help but recall a number of my own client projects in which pushing back would've been a much better plan of action than just acquiescing despite the gut feeling it wasn't going to work. But sometimes clients need some discipline. They hired us for a reason - to give them a great result. If we allow them to storm their way into one bad decision after another, we haven't done our jobs properly, have we?

So next time you're facing the stomping foot of a demanding client, examine closely the proposed changes. Are they sensible? Do they enhance or detract from the client, product, or service? Then act accordingly. Part of your job does include protecting a client as much as possible, even if it's from himself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unclogging Your Writerly Pipes

When asked once about writer's block, novelist Allan Gurganus said, "My theory is you don't get it if you don't believe in it. I've never heard of anyone getting plumber's block, or traffic cop's block...."

I couldn't agree more. Writer's block is this myth that keeps permeating throughout the industry. We cannot claim to be writers if we haven't suffered for it! What hogwash.

Writer's block isn't. Writer's anxiety and fear is. Boredom is. Perfectionism is. An easy excuse is. But to place some mental incapacity on your creativity because someone suggests it must be so is just crazy making. Can't finish that novel because of "writer's block"? Think about what is really stopping you - fear of writing yourself into a corner, fear of not being able to get all the ideas down coherently, fear of writing a bad story, laziness.... it's not a "block" - you haven't lost your ideas or your abilities. You're just afraid to write and see where it takes you.

You're anxious, you're afraid, you're tired of the story, etc. Or you've written your heroine Sylvia and her faithful dog to the edge of the cliff, but you don't know if you should make them jump. Is that a block? No. It's a creative decision to be made. What to do with it? Why not try writing it both ways, eh? Why throw your hands up in the air, declare a block, and give up without trying?

Frankly, I'm willing to bet more "writer's block" resembles someone looking for an easy way out of a sticky writing situation, as in "Couldn't finish that novel - got a bad case of writer's block." To which friends and colleagues would nod in agreement and make sympathetic murmurs. Get an ego stroke right alongside the permission to fail to reach the goal - who wouldn't use writer's block in those instances?

Do yourself a favor - toss this writing myth in the trash pile next to the "write what you know" garbage. Don't fall back on a made-up excuse for your own inability to press forward.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Screwing Up

We've talked plenty about what to do when you're faced with client screw-ups and mistakes made in interpreting client wishes. What we've not talked much about is what to do when we make mistakes. We do, you know. Not every action is directly related to someone else's inaction or miscommunication. Sometimes, we just screw up. So what do you do when you're the one with the red face?

Own It. You did it. Own up to it. Nothing is more childish or more annoying than your attempts to cover the gaffe or worse, your attempts to blame it on someone else. Having been in numerous situations where the client or a colleague will blame someone else or worse, turn the blame back around, I can say these people look way unprofessional.

Ask yourself how you'd feel if you approached someone who messed up and didn't admit to it. Would you trust that person again? It can only benefit you to take the blame when it belongs to you. You'll be a better person for it.

Fix It. Apologize once, then get to the business of fixing your mistake. Oh, and don't be crass enough to fix it at your client's expense. If you really messed up, you really need to set it right. You may not get the client business again, but you stand a better chance of it if you don't apologize more than necessary and you don't belabor the point.

Move On. I'm one to talk, for I take mistakes personally, and I agonize over them. Don't do it. Just fix it and move on. It's all too easy to find negative feedback these days. People who have no clue how you work are just dying to tell you how to fix your process. Clients who aren't interested in paying you are itching to find a way to get the work for free, even if it means lying about your abilities or stretching the truth. If you let that stuff get to you, you'll slowly kill your career and your self-esteem. Remember - not all clients and writers are a good match. Shed the notion that you suck and go find your next project.

Look Back and Learn. No, I'm not deliberately contradicting myself, but you do need to get past your emotional assessment of the situation first. Once you have settled yourself down, go back over it to see where you could possibly improve things the next time out.

Mind you, be careful of all situations in which you take blame and fix mistakes. There are clients out there who would be only too happy to take advantage of your good nature and get something for nothing. Only you can really judge if you've made a mistake (and be honest with yourself). But when it's obvious to everyone, including you, that you messed up, own it, fix it, and learn something from it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy St. Paddy's and Happy Anniversary!

I find it exceedingly ironic that today, my "unofficial" national holiday is also the day I started this weblog two years ago. That I get to celebrate my heritage and my passion at the same time - well, that calls for a Guinness! And no green beers, please. That's just wrong.

Thank you, loyal readers and wanderers-in for sharing this corner of cyberspace with me. Without you, I'd be the sound of one hand clapping. Without you, I'd not grow personally or professionally. Without you, I'd be whining in my soup to no one at all. Thank you for hanging in there, for agreeing, for disagreeing, and for keeping up the good fight with me.

Clients I Won't Work For

Nor should you...

No, it's not another post about low-paying clients. If you don't know enough by now to avoid those jobs, I can't help you. This is a post about how to know when to cut bait with a client whose rates are fine, but where something just doesn't sit well.

We've had them, haven't we? These are clients who start out with such promise, but where things quickly dissolve into rather unpromising situations. I've come across a few whose work I would avoid like smallpox. They include:

The Control Freak: Everyone wants to be in control of something. But when that something is your project's work process, it's a no-win situation. Never allow the client to call the shots. While he may have editorial approval of what you have written or edited, he cannot own the way in which you work. That's a sure recipe for disaster.

The Posse: This one has happened to me a few times. You're working with the client, when suddenly you're receiving feedback from everyone that client shows it to. Now instead of writing for one, you're expected to please the posse. Don't do it. Your job will turn from a creative one to a clerk-typist one. You lose complete control over the product because your client now wants to please her friends. Or worse, she could now think her friends know more than you do.

Start-up Companies: Please. Spare me the raised eyebrows. I've seen my own work go unpaid thanks to about three of these "fantastic, ground-floor opportunities". That they were indeed legitimate from the very start made the failures all the more heart-wrenching. That I didn't get paid has soured me to ever working with another start-up.

Contractless Arrangements: Never. Won't work for anyone without some written arrangement. Even an email verifying what is expected of me is better than nothing. I once turned down ongoing work because the client flat-out refused to consider a contract. Somehow, I couldn't see beyond that big red flag waving to trust him...

24/7 Connectivity: Believe it or not, I've had clients expect me to be available at all hours all the time. No, that's called a full-time employee or more specifically, your live-in servant. I'm freelance. Unless you're wanting to pick up my benefits for me, it's simply not possible.

So, who won't you work for?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sammy Simpson's Book Goes Live!

I'm excited to announce that a client of mine has released his audio book, Tuned In - What's Your Format?, on Amazon. Click here to pick up your own copy.

In Sammy's own words, "Get Tuned In with Ideas worth Listening To for Your Work, Your Money and Your Life.

"A self-help/personal development audio/coaching series that uses the concept of broadcasting and radio as a metaphor to have you look at yourself to change your work, your money and your life in some way. Whether it be for more money, better relationships, letting go, positive thinking, success, recognition or addiction.

"The Tuned In ideas are easy to understand so you can apply them immediately to a daily routine (just like listening to radio to and from work) and change your life forever."

I had the pleasure of consulting with Sammy on parts of his book project, and I'm thrilled to see his hard work coming to fruition.

Congratulations, Sammy!

Can You Hear Me Now?

Networking. Quick - what just came to mind when you read that word? Standing with a cocktail in one hand and a business card in the other? Calling people indiscriminately and trying to convince them you're the writer for them? Pushing to get the job even if it means pushing too far? Time to rethink that.

Too many people say "I can't network!" when they really mean, "I don't know what to do first". Let's look at networking as something completely different - meeting people.

You've met people, haven't you? I'd bet you've met some pretty nice people over the years. Some not so nice, but the majority - I'm thinking you've done pretty well for yourself. So why not meet a few more?

Start with the people you work with and for now. You've been friendly with an editor, right? You've probably chatted up someone in town who owns a business. And you have writers and editors in your circle. Those people, along with your family and friends, are your network.

So are you going to approach those people with your brochure, your sales pitch and your intent on closing a sale? Of course not. You're going to treat them like family and friends because hey, they are. That's exactly the attitude you need when you approach strangers, including those who could funnel a lot of business your way. Think of them as one more friend, one more acquaintance, one more interesting person to know. Ask questions of them, take an interest in who they are as people, not as what they could do for you.

Three years ago, I attended a hospitality suite held by a national company. I knew two people in the room, but I was eager to meet a few more. I put my hand out to one man, and he and his colleagues turned out to be a blast to hang out with. At the time, I was glad for someone to talk with, and we shared war stories of the industry and just enjoyed meeting one another. Years later, the one man - president of his company - contacted me telling me he had work that I might be perfect for.

That's how to network like you mean it. Approach every person like they are a new friend, not a new conquest. It's much less work, it's not painful for anyone, and you make friends along the way. Who cares if they can help you? In the end, you've enhanced your life just a little by knowing them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When Your Rep is at Stake

Your mother always told you to be wary of strangers. Her advice doesn't sound so overprotective now, does it?

Understand this - in each and every dealing you have with people, whether friendly dealings or business dealings, your reputation is on the line.

When Bob Younce commented on yesterday's post about how he makes sure he remains directly involved in the working relationship of any subcontractor, it made sense. This is your brand. This is your reputation. You are only as strong as your work and your working relationships.

In no instance was that brought home more clearly to me than in the case of recommending someone for a gig. It was a writer whom I'd gotten to know over the past year, and one who'd come to me asking for help when business was dropping off.

Here's where you have permission to kick me. While I didn't have a lot of personal experience with the person, I went ahead gave a recommendation to one of my best regular clients. A few weeks later, the writer is blasting this client and its business by name on a blog. The first I realized there was a problem was when I read about it in cyberspace. Fortunately, the post in question was removed (thank you for that, at least), but I couldn't help but feel used and hurt that a colleague would do that without considering how it might affect my career.

It's rare that I hand out recommendations anyway. I've not always been in that position. But no one wants to face the prospect of a sour deal for someone else affecting them.

Bob's notion of working as a facilitator of the relationship can help to alleviate any misunderstandings, especially if you have a great relationship with the client to begin with. In some cases, obviously, you're not going to be able to be part of that picture, but in those times that you can, go ahead. Jump right in there and put a little time into protecting yourself.

Guard that professional reputation like a lion protecting cubs. It's okay to be sympathetic, but be choosy about who you give recommendations or referrals to. Our reputation does indeed extend to the people we do business with, even if it's a cyber acquaintance. Tread carefully.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heinous, Man

Kristen King over at Inkthinker has a great post up today on the 7 Heinous Practices You Should Stop Immediately. I love her writing style, but the real gems in this post are the tips. Kristen's hit every one, too.

A few that stuck out in particular were numbers 6 and 7 about reciprocal work and the ensuing embarrassment. Let's tackle those one at a time. Reciprocal work, as one of Kristen's commenters brought up, is often tough to do. But it doesn't hurt anyone for the recipient writer to acknowledge the referring writer in some way. A book by a favorite author, an Amazon gift card, or maybe even lending an unpaid hand whenever the writer is busy. Me, I'm content with thank yous, but if it's a case of someone always needing a referral and I've never had any type of reciprocation, well, I'm not so into being helpful for the fourth or eighth time. Besides, each referral you give out is a direct reflection on you. Hence, number 7.

I have had a few instances where I've referred people to clients. The times I have did work out, except for one. That one came very close to sinking my freelance ship, too. It was a referral to a well-paying client, and the writer I referred nearly ruined my career with this client because of bad behavior. Not sure about bad writing, but the behavior was just awful, and it caused a lot of grief for me. And I got no apology, either, despite the fact that I'd taken a huge risk is referring this writer in the first place. Instead, there was self-righteous diatribe about how awful this client was. Rare is the day I want to physically hurt someone, but I was close. I know some clients are not for everyone, but that's no way to repay someone's kindness, eh?

In one case I referred a writer friend to a client and the client embarrassed me. The work my friend did was torn to bits (this is a veteran writer with tons of big-name clips). The client took out all references, thus making every statement plagiarism of some form. I protested. The friend protested. The client ignored. Thank God we were both working as subcontractors for this person with no visible link back to the buyer. But that another writer would do that (yep, the client was a writer) and turn around and offer that up is just nuts. It was the last day either of us worked for him.

As Kristen's post points out, you have to conduct yourself like a professional and not like a trained animal who occasionally bites its handlers. Treat your writer friends well, and accept the same in return. Don't refer if you're unsure. Don't expect reciprocation, but if you're receiving help from another writer, do acknowledge it in some small way. Act human, not heinous.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Busy Making Money

Forgive my absence of late. I'm up to my elbows in work. But I promise to be back tomorrow with some developing news....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

You Don't Know SWOT

After getting some less-than-positive feedback on a project recently, I couldn't help but notice a recurring theme in my criticisms over the years. I wanted to not notice, because who wants to dwell on weaknesses? Frankly, you do. And you should.

In marketing terms, it's known as SWOT - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It's an examination process that helps businesses identify the validity of their operations. It's used for just about every function within a company, and every initiative a company plans to launch. You examine your core strengths, your inevitable weaknesses, the opportunities that are ripe for the picking, and the threats to your success.

So why aren't you using this formula for your writing career? You probably already know your strengths - writing, editing, proofing, grammar, whatever. But have you really looked at feedback or at your own work with a critical eye to see where you're weak? And honey, we're all weak at something. To admit to it is to understand better your own abilities. To ignore it is just foolish.

My weakness - I tend to rush through things (blame hyperactivity) and often I'll make mistakes. Usually, they're smallish, but somehow amateur mistakes. In one project, I forgot to finish a sentence. In another, I missed an obvious edit. I work hard at pacing myself, but I do have to live with the notion that my work may not be stellar because I tend to obsess about deadlines that are weeks or months out.

So what are your weaknesses? What do you notice about yourself, or what have others pointed out to you? How can you adapt your work process in order to compensate for it? Can you compensate for it? These are questions you need to be asking and finding answers for.

As for opportunities, when was the last time you spent an hour brainstorming on new areas you could tap into for work? Ooo, that long ago, huh? Try it right now. Spend five minutes (time yourself if you must) writing down writing opportunities you'd like to go for. No limits - just write. Novels, ghostwriting, research, consumer magazines....just keep writing. After five minutes, look at your list. Choose one thing on it and build an action plan around it. Where can you find this work? Who do you know who might be able to guide you? What do you need to learn before starting?

Now, the threats. Make a list of those. Some that will probably pop up include lack of work, inadequate marketing skills, recession, inexperience, lack of contacts, laziness (let's be completely honest).... whatever shows up on your list must be a truthful, revealing picture of your current work environment, your own weaknesses (yea, those are threats, too), and outside influences. Now, as with the opportunities list, choose one item on there and get to work eliminating it.

What to do with the remaining items on your list? Repeat the process. Identify one, and work to eliminate it from your list.

If it works for businesses, why not for you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

I had my day off. It was marvelous! I sat with a girlfriend gabbing over life at Starbucks (living the ultimate stereotype), and I spent the rest of the morning in the mall just browsing. I bought a new apron (heavy-duty cook here), and I bought some marvelous teas at Teavana. Then I was home.

Something odd happened when I got home. I sat down to watch some tv, which is a bit of a luxury in the middle of the day, and I started thinking crazy thoughts. They went something like this: "I should check my email" and "If I start that project now, it'll be finished by tomorrow and I'll be one step ahead." I battled these thoughts for as long as I was in the house. In fact, when my husband came home, he found me on the computer, though I was playing Scrabble. So much for my day away from the computer.

But I fought that urge, boy. A lot. I popped in an Eddie Izzard DVD and lost a few hours to laughter. I had walked my feet off at the mall, so there was no taking a nice stroll in the park. I couldn't escape. I was battling my own drive.

When I'm in the house, I think work. I guess a lot of us who write from home are like that. So how are you going to spend your day off?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Faking It

She claimed to be a white woman raised in poverty by a black foster mother. She watched her foster brother die after being shot by gang members. The woman, Barbara Jones (pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer), also claimed to be selling drugs for an LA gang. It's a totally bizarre tale set forth in her memoir, Love and Consequences. And it's all fake, according to a newspaper report. Thanks to her sister, who ratted her out, Seltzer's book is now being recalled. Read it here.

This is what ticks me off about the lack of ethics in our industry. Shame on Seltzer for lying. Shame on her for deceiving us and for deceiving her publisher, whom I bet will now employ at least one fact checker for every nonfiction manuscript. What's upsetting is that if this kind of issue continues, how long before publishers say "no thanks" to all memoirs and cut back seriously on nonfiction because they can't afford to employ so many researchers?

A smaller chunk of the blame must land on the publisher, Penguin Group. While I don't think it's their responsibility to police manuscripts, there should've been one look into Seltzer's past - a record from high school, an old address, anything - that could have disspelled her claim instantly. Unfortunately, ethical behavior cannot be assumed these days. It must be required.

Seltzer's not the first to sell fiction as nonfiction, but she's definitely making money from a purely fictional story. So that begs the question - if it's fiction, why didn't she market it as such? Because, folks, we want to believe. We want to buy her story, and stories like hers. We want to be shocked, amazed, entertained. We want to live vicariously. We can do that in fiction, sure. But somehow, a "real" story seems to get our juices stirred just a little more.

Call me old fashioned, but I think lying in print is wrong. Silly, huh? Have I lied in print? Yes. I've not admitted to my weight on a few forms. I don't know that I'd readily admit my age on paper, either. But to make up a childhood or to deceive readers just to sell books? That hurts not only your publisher and your readers, but it leaves an ugly stain on the industry.
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