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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One More Day

Mini Milestones

One more day for you to surf on over to the Biz Chicks Rule site and vote for yours truly, possibly scoring your own prize in their What I Want to Be contest!

It's also one more day before the nonpaying client gets notice of litigation. I try to be fair and nice, but I was promised the check would be sent by last Friday. Yesterday's correspondence confirmed it hasn't been touched. When one promises something and then a few days later follows up with a "Could you get this invoice processed for her, please?", it's an obvious attempt to delay payment. Worse, each time I inquire, another person gets piled on to the ever-growing list of people who are "handling" my invoice. Last week, the director promised me on the phone (damn him for not putting it in writing!) that he was handling that invoice himself. That's when I was told payment was almost in my hands.

As a business person, you don't need to put up with that. The minute you smell the runaround, even if it's well before you'd normally escalate things in order to get payment, start the process of litigation or collection. I'm serious. I usually allow three months before I give the litigation notice. I'm two months in and I know one more month isn't going to change anything. The contract I signed with these people stated very clearly they were to pay me bi-weekly. Those were their terms. It's been 8 weeks. I'm done with them.

Right now, I'm scaring up info on attorneys who handle these types of cases, for this isn't simply a nonpayment. This is also a potential copyright infringement. See, I add the caveat to each project (when I suspect trouble, as I did this time) that copyright does not transfer until the bill is paid. That's a much more serious infraction, in my opinion. And yes, I've managed to secure the ability to find out if this project is in use. Luckily, this client isn't quite as adept at avoiding payment as he thinks. He handed me the ability to prove the product's use in one of his attempts to avoid payment. He may have outwitted himself alone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two More Days!

That Smell isn't Rotten Fish

Only two more days remain in the 'What I Want to Be' contest sponsored by B5 Media. My odd little rant about cowgirls and rodeos and nurses fainting was added as a finalist, and the post with the most comments by April 30th wins. So if you haven't commented already, or if you want to share your own story, hop over to Biz Chicks Rule where my brain dump is posted and leave a comment. You could win too, for there's a winner chosen among all the commenters, as well. Thanks to all who have left their comments for me. I appreciate it!

On to other things - how do you know a good deal from a bad deal? Sometimes it's easy, such as with "opportunities" that pay squat or job offers that sound more like legalized slavery than actual jobs (such as writing 500 articles a month for $20 or something equally depressing). But then there are those "deals" where you can't shake the feeling it's just a load of.... well, you know. I'm facing one such deal right now. My gut is telling me it's more work and more hassle than I'm willing to put into it, and frankly I think it's a stall tactic, for this client hasn't paid me yet. And that, dear friends, ticks me off. But again, payment was promised to have been sent Friday. I will bide my time until Thursday before I attach the next late fee and bring in the lawyer. This is a business, not a game.

I read the agreement for this new, exciting offer. First off, spell check for gawd's sake. It's a legally binding contract that states I get paid (I quote here) "... fifty percent of the gross profits (40%)..." Now I'm not a mathematically adept person to begin with, but how did we lose 10 percent in translation? That's not the only place this particular error occurs, either. It goes on to say I get "forty percent of ad revenue (30%)..." Uh, hello? Anyone home?

What's upsetting me is the fact that there is too much vagueness to this deal. Much talk about my being expected to promote this venture as part of the deal, but nowhere is it spelled out exactly how much promoting I'm expected to do. I smell more than one loophole to deny payment here, and that's enough for me.

I'd already decided this wasn't a path I'd go down when I came to mention of other arrangements. One was that I would resell some of my other work to this company so they could produce a longer project from that work. Suddenly, that offer's turned into them developing this project for me to buy for my site. What, you mean my site that I told you was no longer an active site? I don't know what's in the Kool-Aid over there, but I'll pass.

In this case the decision has been made quite easy thanks to vague terms, changing criteria and a missing paycheck. But my gut was telling me run like hell. That's your barometer, too. I don't care how fantastic it all sounds on the surface - if your gut tells you something's wrong, don't do it. Better to be safe than to risk nonpayment or worse, to owe someone a ton of money for a lousy deal. Had I listened to my gut about the guy who had the Foundation (who is now in jail), I'd not have been embarrassed nor would I have received the hate mail for helping the jerk.

Your instincts are usually right. Listen up each time you're faced with one of those "fabulous" offers.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Temp Agency Primer

I was talking via email with a writing chum this weekend about temp agencies. It occurred to both of us that not many of us know a thing about how to "work" an agency, from choosing one to maintaining a working status. Since I've been working with one for over four years now, I'll share what I know. Not that it's the do-all-end-all guide to temp agencies, but it may help a little.

Sign Up Now
You're busy right now, right? Overworked a little? That's a great reason to steal a few hours from your day and get to a temp agency. Because you're so busy working, you're not marketing (I know you - you're just like me). The work will be completed and you'll be idle.

The idea is to get on the rosters now in order to secure a gig when things dry up. Temp agencies - good ones - screen their clients. For writing and editing, that means you're going to be tested. It's a process that takes a few hours from your day, but it's worth it in terms of work.

What Agency is Best?
That's tough to tell without an interview. See, as they're talking to you about your experience, you should be doing exactly the same. What kinds of work for writers or editors do they get in? What percentage of their work is writing/editing gigs? How long between requests from their clients for writing/editing work? Who are their typical clients requesting such work? That's how you know if this agency is one you can call on during the lean times.

For my money, I'd start with Aquent, Boss Staffing, and the Creative Group. All are reputable places, and I've been an Aquent "talent" for longer than I've worked anywhere else. They're very well organized and their staff works with you, not against you. Consider them your personal agent.

How Often Will I Work?
If the agency gets a lot of editing and writing assignments, that can be personal choice. I can call Aquent at any time and make myself available for work. It may be a week or two, but usually they have something on hand or coming in. Some temp agencies have an online personal page for all talent, and there you can set your availablity. Again, with Aquent, they actively check those pages.

There are times you're not available and your agency still calls. It's okay to turn down work. They'll call back. The availability of reliable, good talent is pretty hard to come by. If you work your heart out for the temp agency and maintain a professional demeanor at their client's location, you'll not lack for work.

What about times when you take a long-term gig only to have work at home pick up again? That's fine. Always let your temp agency know you're freelance and that this is a possibility. I've had to drop out of long-term commitments for that very reason, and they still call. Just make sure to give them ample notice and let the employer know you'll be stepping out because of commitments at your "regular" job.

Temping is a great way to supplement the income when times get tough. Bonus - you can make some very strong connections, too. I'm still friends with my manager at the last temp gig. We walk in the park once a week together and she's now part of my meditation group. Other contacts have turned into work opportunities beyond the temp gig itself. Networking is abundant, and it can ensure that temping is something you won't need to be doing regularly.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Strange Facts about a Strange Writer

For all of you who were kind enough to give me some comment love over on the Biz Chicks Rule site, thank you! If you haven't yet, I'll love you for life if you did. Or I'll promise to stop bothering you at home - whatever works for you.

Prompted by one of those odd little questionnaires that seem to litter cyberspace, I've decided to reveal a tad about myself you may not know. This was also prompted by a fellow writer's revelation of one of her client's pie-baking prowess (long, odd story we won't go into here).

Odd facts about Lori:

- My first "sale" was 50 bucks I won in the Pittsburgh Press Bad Writing Contest. I was the best of the worst for 1988. How ironic that it started my career (not too ironic if you know me)...

- I currently own 30 pairs of shoes, six of which were purchased in the last three weeks. I had 31 pairs, but I gave one pair to Dress for Success. Evened out the number nicely, and feels a lot less Imelda Marcos-like.

- I am fluent in redneck.

- I'm a huge fan of Ghost Hunters. I've heard ghostly stuff, but have never seen an actual ghost. I'd probably die of fright if I did. I do believe, but when I'm by myself in the house at night, I convince myself I don't believe.

- I spend nearly every lunch hour watching What Not to Wear.

- I wish I were an auto mechanic. I love diagnosing car problems and tinkering on cars. I value my own car enough to stop at changing oil and lightbulbs, but my wish is to get greasy and really tear a car apart and put it back together.

- I'm afraid of thunderstorms. As a teen, I saw our cow Andrew Malcolm struck by lightning. The fear came before poor Andrew was toasted, though. (I don't know what's more disturbing - seeing the cow killed or having a cow named Andrew Malcolm...)

- I read everything from Faulkner to theories on quantum physics.

- I volunteer to tutor a Vietnamese woman every Wednesday. We have learned how to order food at McDonald's, what idioms are, how to say "chill out", how to order a margarita (our field trip), and how to read English. And we laugh. A lot.

- I have the attention span of a goldfish. Huh? Who are you? Why are you here?

What are some odd facts about you?

"What I Want to Be' Deadline Soon!

Help a girlfriend out here! My little story about what I wanted to be when I grew up has been named a finalist in the What I Want to Be contest. There's still time to add your comment to the Biz Chicks Rule blog and help me win that sucker. Just one or two words, sentences, whatever. You can tell me I'm a putz so long as you tell me on the blog post in question. See, I need more books. No, I don't want them. I need them. It's an addiction that rivals that of my current shoe situation, but hey, they're books. We all love books. We love winning gift cards that can be used to purchase books. And we love knowing that our comment might also win us a little prize. So comment at this blog post before April 30th and you might even win something - besides my undying gratitude, that is. If you leave your comment there, I promise to give you a post tomorrow filled with odd little facts you didn't know about me.

I'm going to anyway, but I digress. :)

Secrets You Keep from Your Clients

Jennifer at Catalyst Blogger has a neat post up, inspired by my newest favorite blog Rogue Ink. What exactly do you do that you'd never tell your clients? Here's my list:

What I do that I don't tell them - I sweat that deadline like it's my due date and I'm too big to waddle to the hospital. I cannot, will not, miss a deadline. It's against my genetic makeup to do so.

I start work around 7:30, once I'm done blogging and reading. Okay, more like 9. But I rarely leave this chair until 6 or better. Or maybe 5, but never earlier than 4:30 and only after a game of Mah Johng. It's written in stone practically.

I get the a sick feeling about sending the first draft. I make a gazillion caveats to lessen the blow for them if they're seeing something other than what they wanted.

I fret grammar mistakes. I am NOT the world's authority on style points, and I've been known to screw up on a few.

I get genuinely excited about a new project. However, that excitement fades if the client becomes a demanding pain, or if the work isn't what was agreed upon.

One more thing I don't tell clients: I will work my tail off as though my reputation is on the line. But if you bring in others to question my work, I'm outta there. But that one I'll tell you.

How about you?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Internet's Full of Great Big Meanies

When is it ever okay to shoot the messenger? I was reading a chain of posts on Freelance Writing Jobs this week where in response to Deb posting a low-paying gig and saying how nice the people were to work for, she was inundated with nasty emails. She's accused of not looking out for writers, of promoting low-paying jobs, and of being less-than-forthcoming about how much she makes freelancing. Are they kidding? So basically, she works her tail off to find gigs for writers and a select few thank her by chopping her head off and insisting they know her annual income. Screw that! Frankly, that Deb doesn't shut that site down and thumb her nose to the lot of them (using some select fingers in the process) is a sign of her good character.

Given this and the issues at Tess Gerritsen's now-dormant blog (and I'll mourn its loss until she comes back online, no matter how long that takes), it's pretty clear there are people in this world who just are not going to be happy no matter what you do or say. To dissect someone's good intentions and make it sound heinous, or to take someone's opinion and make it a career-ending faux pas is just stupid. I liken this kind of mean-spirited treatment of a fellow human to the same behavior of those who would watch a Disney movie only to locate sexual references. It's a huge, hurtful waste of time. Before you go boo-hooing about your right to your opinion, let me say you DO have that right. But that's no excuse for acting like a complete jackass and trashing someone's reputation. That, my friends, is a line that should never be crossed. Yet here we are, staring at two instances of that line indeed being crossed.

Well, actually three instances. There was an attack of a more general kind over on Rogue Ink. The way Tei handled it was ... well, just terrific. She voiced her discontent, but then she encouraged everyone to go to the guy's site and give him something to smile about. She really handled it well, as did Deb, as did Tess.

It's called personal responsibilty for your actions. To tell someone you disagree, even strongly disagree, with what they said is one thing. To say that they're jerks for having their own opinion or that they're heinous individuals is to say that it's up to them to act like you or think like you.

Maybe you guys can tell me exactly where this attitude of entitlement comes from. I'm at a loss. Just because it's online, it's okay to hurt someone intentionally? Just because you're hidden from view, it's safe to be a jerk? What is the psychology?

Making Hay

This may be the strangest turn of events in my little ol' career. The client of a few posts ago did respond to my follow-up effort to secure payment owed. He called me personally, which is always a plus in the client column, apologized for the delay, and explained he'd be making sure that payment was sent out this Friday. Now you know I love a good promise as much as the next guy, but if that check isn't here by Thursday, guess who's getting another late fee?

The conversation turned to this client's current promotion in the company. He started in on my favorite subject - risk management - and I let it be known how envious I was of his new position. To which he replied, "I didn't know you had a risk management background!" (Note to all writers: Never assume they remember your background. Remind them.) He then went on to ask me if I had material "lying around" that I could resell to him for a risk management project. Before I could answer, he suggested I develop the project from scratch. As I tried again to answer, he then said, "Maybe you'd like to be a value-added reseller (VAR) for us!" Mind you, I knew what these were (you basically act as the storefront for another company's products, and you receive a cut of the profits), but never did I expect the offer.

So, a 30-minute conversation starting with an apology for missing payment turned into three offers, each one sounding more lucrative by the minute. What do I think of it all? I'm willing to listen. I'm the type I don't make snap decisions on "deals of the century" (though he never labeled it as such), nor do I agree to anything without lots of paper backing it up. Do I think it's a ploy to detract from payment? If so, he surely doesn't know me very well, for unless payment is forthcoming, all this talk of more and more deals is just hot air. The road to Hell is paved with promises and too-good-to-be-true offers. If this is just another attempt to stall my quest for payment, it's going to tick me off royally and send me to the attorney that much faster.

My question to you - have you had any experience with a VAR arrangement? I'm getting the impression that I'd be responsible for marketing my site, and I'm assuming I'd have to make some assurance that the marketing would be adequate. Beyond that, I've seen nothing, so I'm not getting too interested in researching it until I see actual paper spelling out what the deal really is.

Anyone? Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Answer Via Harbrace

Okay, so Devon was somewhat correct in her assessment of what was wrong with this sentence:

"Injustice is easy to accept," said the judge. "it is justice that is harder to accept."

The sentence could very well read

"Injustice is easy to accept," said the judge. "It is justice that is harder to accept."

However, let's see what Harbrace College Handbook says. The example is similar, so I'll stick with our sentence here.

"Injustice is easy to accept," said the judge; "it is justice that is harder to accept."

Huh? A semicolon? What's Lori smoking? Here's why; a semicolon separates two independent clauses. Since these sentences could very well be considered independent clauses and part of the same thought, there's the case for the semicolon. But placement - what's that about? According to Harbrace, page 218, "semicolons and colons always go outside the quotation marks."

So the "more right" answer is to use a semicolon after "said the judge."

If I've learned anything at all about grammar it's that rules are rarely the same among style books. Anyone have a different book saying something else?

Mourning the Loss

I remember the first time I stumbled on Tess Gerritsen's blog. I was jumping from link to link through other writers' blogs when I landed on this warm, personable, honest little blog about the life of a published writer. I'll say right here - I didn't know Tess' name until I found that blog, so I came to know her through her own words, not her published works. I linked to her almost instantly, for this was a woman with a sense of humor and a self-deprecating nature - two of my favorite attributes in a person.

This week, however, Tess' blog is silent and will remain so. Tess is fine: no worries there. But her honesty was a bit too much for some folks and she felt the wrath. I'm not here to say whether she deserved it or didn't. Everyone has their own threshold of what is acceptable/unacceptable. My opinion is she did nothing wrong and others have misconstrued her words. That opinion is not held by others.

As happens in blogs, the discussion continued elsewhere. Words were not minced, feelings hurt, misunderstandings exacerbated, and now one of my favorite sites (and people) is silent as a result.

I hate this. It's a current problem in the media, too. Someone says something considered unpopular or politically incorrect and all hell breaks loose. Deservedly or not, we hang people out to dry and forget to notice anything else about them.

Because of the backlash, Tess has decided to hang up blogging. I didn't post any of the blogs in question where she was taken to task. I don't want to promote or propogate retaliation in any way. So please, don't add fuel to the flame. But do mourn the silencing of another voice, and please do look at how it happened, why it happened, and how we can maybe go forward with a more forgiving attitude toward our fellow man.

End of soapbox.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Totally Cool!

Over on Biz Chicks Rule, my comment on what I wanted to be when I grew up was named a finalist in their contest! You can find the post here. Please comment and help me score a gift card (for more books, of course).

Thanks for pointing it out to me, Kristen, and for the link love over on your site! Please spread the word and leave a note over on the Biz Chicks Rule site. And don't forget to visit Kristen's blog today - she's giving us a virtual tour of her office (and we get to see Pickles and Murphy in person).

Your Grammar is Blushing

Friday was stunningly gorgeous here! Imagine pear trees in bloom, apple trees blossoming, tulips at their peak, and redbud trees sporting purply-pink buds. It was great to sit in the park and enjoy it all. Never have I planned better for a relaxing day off!

So what did I do? I sat my beach chair under a tree and read ... a grammar book. Call me a Word Nerd. Also, I read my friend's essay, which I'd been promising to do for a while and hadn't had time. It was excellent, as I suspected.

I'm back today feeling recharged, not to mention feeling glad I'd not waited until today. The sky is overcast, it's in the mid-fifties, and we're expecting rain.

I learned a few things as I read the grammar book. I expected to, for grammar is not exactly my strongest area (so sue me - I write; I don't memorize or retain). One particular rule has come up a few times over the past week. My writing chum and I discussed it at our weekly "writer's guild" meeting at Starbucks, and I've seen the mistake happening to the point where I'm sure it's probably part of acceptable grammar these days. Let's test you; What's wrong with this sentence?

"Today," said Chet, "Turned out to be a beautiful day."

See it? Since the sentence is broken up by "said Chet", the capitalization of "turned" is wrong. Check your grammar books. Go on. It's right there on page 124 of mine.

More interesting and less common is the way this sentence should be punctuated. I'll leave this one for you to ponder and comment on, but what do you think?

"Injustice is easy to accept," said the judge. "it is justice that is harder to accept."

There's a mistake in there. Anyone?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Captain Comma

The Proofreading Superhero

It's not odd that I spent yesterday morning lamenting the death of true proofreading with my writing chum - we do that a lot. What is odd is that today I come across the world's only known (in my mind) Grammar Superheroes, who are a team of four edgy editors hell-bent on ridding the world of typos (good luck in Chinatown, kids). The members of the TEAL team (Typo Eradication Advancement League) go around with pens in hand correcting public displays of misspelling - literally. The blog is great, and the photos of the corrections - well, they make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Seriously.

One of my biggest peeves on this planet is the death of proofreading at all levels of publishing - from the Wal-Mart sign right on up to Wall Street Journal and beyond. If I see I typo in something I'm reading, I can't go on. It's as though some alien force has invaded my brain and all my eyes can see is a big "ERROR! ERROR!" sign flashing. I cringe. I fuss. I circle. I bitch. And the bitching? Lasts for days. I remember the Time-Magazine-April-2001-Issue incident as though it were yesterday. Four typos in the upfront section - are they kidding me? Don't get me started.

But now, I feel vindicated. And yes, safer. It's one thing to feel powerless to typo disease. But to have a group of vigilant individuals wiping out the offenses before our very eyes is just ... (sniff) ... special. It's also inspiring, for my Sharpie is now in my purse, ready for action.

Now if I could find a way to rid the world of the "then" when you mean "than" offense....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Planning to be Lazy

That's right - I'm so freakin' organized that I actually plan my days in order to play hookey from work relatively guilt-free. See, it's a gorgeous week here on the east coast. The flowers are in bloom, as are the trees, and it's going to be scrumptious tomorrow - 80 degrees and sunny. So what am I doing? Working my butt off so I can enjoy a day in the fresh air. I worked 11 hours yesterday and will be putting in about the same today so I can sit back tomorrow after lunch and maybe read a book in the shade of a good tree.

You're a workaholic too, aren't you? So tell me - do you ever get the urge to just run away from the office, even for a few hours? Yes? Then do it. Plan for it. Schedule it. Keep your eye on the weather report, pick a day, and do it. Too often we get locked in the notion that because we're freelance, we have to be "on" all the time. We have to work harder to get by, that's true. But if we took 24 hours for ourselves, would the world come to an end?

Can't bring yourself to take a day off? Okay, try this. Take your random midweek day off, and make it up on the weekend. Mind you, I'm all about my weekends. I covet them, protect them viciously, and enjoy every second of them. But if you really can't bring yourself to justify one day off, it's okay to switch it up and work a random weekend day.

Or you could think of it this way; If you were working for a company, you'd damn well argue for your vacation days, sick days, and personal days. So why not the same for your freelance company?

Go on. Relax. It won't kill you. Heck, you might even enjoy yourself. :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Squeezing Blood from a Rock

Nothing's more frustrating than working your fingers off to meet a client deadline only to have to wait and wait.... and wait for payment. I'm sitting here right now with two nonpaying clients, both of which paid on time in the past, but haven't quite met my deadline. One I'm not too concerned about - it's an established publication and I'm sure it's a matter of rerouting the invoice to the right person. The other - I'm concerned. It's a newer company and the internal process has been askew since I started with them. They owe me - a lot. And I intend to get it.

This particular client promised 7-day feedback and bi-weekly payment. No feedback. And it's been 6 weeks since I've finished the project. Maybe they had a specific bi-weekly period in mind ... (snark)

Here's how I intend to get my cash. First, I remind them one month out that they're more than a little overdue. I attach the amended invoice with late fees, and I copy my attorney (all done). Next, which is today's task, I resend the invoice with yet another late fee, copied to my attorney, and add the reminder that the material I wrote states specifically all over it (made it the header) that the copyright does not transfer to them until the bill is paid in full. That gives me a little more legal clout should things get ugly.

If none of that works, I send the last invoice with the third late fee attached, copied to my attorney, and where I have the line "Please pay within 15 days to avoid late fees", I amend it to say "Please pay within 15 days to avoid litigation." I also make prominent mention of wanting to avoid litigation in my email to them. There's no doubt what the next step will be.

My writing friend said to me the other day that because they were a newer company, my payment "went into some black hole somewhere." My response? "I'm going in after it." See, their financial woes are not my issue. They owe me. Period. Oh, I do expect a bit of "You did this wrong" or "You gave us something we didn't want", but that's too little too late. I've heard that song-and-dance before, and I know a stall tactic when I see one. They themselves wrote into the contract that feedback would occur within 7 days. They themselves set the payment parameters. They've breached the contract by not honoring either equation. What they try to argue with me now is moot.

Pay up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What's Your Purpose?

My cousin had this Jack Russell terrier that was tearing up her house. She tried everything to calm him down - nothing worked. Then she came across someone who knew the breed well. "He needs a purpose," this person said. She suggested the dog be given something uniquely his own in order to occupy his energy. My cousin armed the dog with a ball, and his behavior problems disappeared. He now had a purpose - to chase that ball and to harass it into submission. It's inherent in the breed. They are bred for one reason - to dig foxes out of their dens - and without that purpose, they're twisting in the wind.

We writers are like that too, you know. We need a purpose in order to be good at what we do. But that's where our similarities end, for every writer needs a different purpose. Me, I need a steady paycheck and challenging subject matter. Other writers may think that true writing is only found in novel writing, while others still may find that consumer magazines are the only way to go.

Find Your Purpose
Ask yourself some questions about your goals. Do you want to see your name on the masthead of a magazine someday? Or are you most happy seeing a long list of magazine credits on your resume? Have you collected enough credits and are looking strictly for retirement funds? Or are you new to freelancing and want to impress people at parties with a list of your writing credits?

There comes a point in your career where you stop looking for stuff to put on your resume and start looking for things to pay the bills and pad the retirement fund. You might even become weary of the freelance cycle and want a desk job to get some rest until retirement. You'll know when you're ready to shift focus. It'll happen almost automatically in your brain. My advice? Go with it. Allow yourself to redefine your writing purpose. It can open up a realm of possibilities work-wise, and it can enhance your career just a little bit more to be doing something because it's interesting or sexy or high-paying enough.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Grow Up Already!

What do you want to be when you grow up? Here's a fun post by Kristen King over at Biz Chicks Rule. Leave a comment and possibly win some cash!

My question to you is a bit different. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer? What did you want to do before that? And is your current gig the one you've always wanted?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Victim of Your Own Cycle

Ever been so busy you can't find time to market? Welcome to the club. I was talking with a freelance friend and she was thrilled to be working so much, but as she said, "The problem with that is that I have absolutely no time for marketing, which in turn means I'll be scrambling for work again once all these assignments wrap up. This is an aspect of freelancing I still struggle with, so feel free to blog with some advice for me if you're so inspired."

Inspired I am. What do you do? How do you set yourself up now so that the workflow continues? Here are a few tricks I pull out whenever work dwindles -

Call on past clients. Can't repeat this one enough. These are people who have hired you in the past and liked what you did (we assume). Send them a quick email, leave them a voice message. My standard is "I have some free time coming up in my schedule. Is there anything I can help you with?" Most times you'll hear no, but you're staying in touch. When that project does come up, they're more likely to remember you.

Write a few queries. Magazines and websites are still looking for content. Break out the article proposal routine and get your ideas circulating.

Search the Internet. Most of you know I've become disenchanted by our online job offerings. I'm not suggesting you go out and take a two-bit job. I'm suggesting you conduct a Monster or CareerBuilder search for "freelance" work. It may turn up nothing, but the few gigs that do appear are going to be much more lucrative than those found on Craig's List.

Check Craig's List. Didn't see that coming, did you? Look, there are work opportunities there that aren't junk. You know what a good job looks like. Use a critical eye and scan the local listings. A gem may indeed pop up. Just don't expect CL to provide you with tons of legitimate work.

Send your card to local ad agencies and print shops. This should be planned during your down time, but you need to have some prepared material to send out. I have a brochure, a letter, and a business card. Also, I have a list of businesses within a 20-mile radius that might need some interim help or that print shop whose customer says, "Know any good writers?"

Call a temp agency. It's one of my last-resort plans, and it's bailed me out of some lean times. A good temp agency that's pre-screened you can help you find quick work when the savings account dwindles. Most jobs are onsite, but you might be able to score a quick telecommuting gig.

Take five minutes at the end of your day and try one or more of these ideas. With more people outsourcing to save money, you may see that impending gap in work disappear.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Random Stuff for a Tuesday

This post is dedicated to stuff that's been on my mind. No theme. Just stuff. Hey, give me a break here. At least I remembered it was Tuesday! (double-checking to make sure she's right...)

I mentioned Entrecard last week. I have one. It's right there to the left of this post. It's a "calling card" system of meeting, greeting, and advertising. I was enamored with it - for about three days. Now I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered. People are dropping their cards alright - they're dropping two and three times a day. Why? Because each drop gets you an advertising credit. So these "dropping hos" are doubling and tripling up, which is annoying to those of us who are still looking at it as a nice way to discover new blogs and get some credit in the process. And to make matters worse, you're rated on how often you reciprocate. Good grief.

Had lunch with a friend yesterday, and we discussed all sorts of writerly topics. It was refreshing! And it was wonderful to see her. Because we live in two different cities, it's not often we get together. That's probably good - we'd be a lethal combo. :))

One of the topics we brushed up against was what Kathy Kehrli brought up on her blog not long ago. How much damage to our industry can we endure from those writers willing to take jobs that pay crap? Everyone from the beginner to the veteran is complaining about how "employers" aren't paying like they used to. Why should they? Too many in our ranks are willing to do the work for mere pennies - or worse, free - in order to get some "published" credit. I'm here to tell you your credit is as crap as the payment you didn't get for it. Have some self-respect, people!

Read on another blog about a situation the writer has - a client bringing in noneditorial types to "edit" on a project. Raise of hands - how many have had this issue? (my hands are both up) How did you deal with it? How would you deal with it? It's a toughie. You want to continue, but it's pretty obvious - at least in the writer's case (sorry, can't remember where I read it) - that the client's project is already toasted. Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Saving Money at the Hairdresser

Thank God for TurboTax

If you're a writer who understands and appreciates a good math equation, this is not the post for you. For the rest of you, if you fight the ugly fight with the 1040 and the dreaded Schedule C every stinking year only to have the IRS correct your hard work, listen up. Until this year, I'd thanked God for thick hair because most of it landed on the floor in piles. I'd spent countless weekends and weeknights laboring over two 1040 forms - one for "practice" and one to fill out once I'd obliterated the first one. Each year, the IRS would send the inevitable "correction" sheet with calculations that make everyone but me say "Duh". One year, I got a "had you bothered to use an electronic filing software program, you could have avoided mistakes" from the IRS (I'm not kidding - even they were getting snippy with me). Sadly, I had. I'd used some free software available on their site. Was it my fault it wasn't up to snuff?

Last year I attempted to head off the correction letter by letting my husband the tax geek wanna-be look it all over. He did. The letter came anyway. How can that be? They never correct his, and he gets literally all smiles and excited over the whole process (I blame overindulgence in caffeine for this irrational behavior).

But this year I was determined to get an accountant. And of course, I put it off. Luckily, I was on Fidelity's website adding to my 401(k) pot when I saw the offer for a discount on a TurboTax download. Given my past experience with the federal government and my growing concern that an audit would cause more pain for all involved than it would be worth, I bought the thing.

AMEN. Never has it been this easy to file my taxes! Mind you, I'm fairly organized, but I did have to scare up an errant receipt or two, so the process was a bit longer, but in all, it took me 4 hours. That's it. Four hours to be handheld through the federal and state forms. Filed electronically. Thrilled to have paid electronically that which was due.

The only step left is for the government to approve it. Hey, if they don't, fine. At least I didn't lose hair nor hair color going through it. I know I missed one or two small deductions, but that was my fault (phone bills weren't on my spreadsheet - my bad). And the deduction might have reduced my bill by 20 bucks. I'll live. Just keep your fingers crossed that this year, they send me no letters. Unless, of course, they want to send me a gold star for finally getting it right... ;))

Have you used this? Any software? What's your favorite way to get through this?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Raise Your Awareness One Click at a Time

Thanks to Michele on Writing the Cyber Highway, I'm now part of the Entrecard madness. I'm loving it. The blogs you're introduced to just by cruising around and dropping your card - it's crazy! Here are a few this week that stand out:

Chris Parish has written a book called "The Last Whale." The blog is worth a read.

We all love when someone bothers to tell us how to make money online. Here's one blog that does it quite well.

Everyone loves a pirate! Join the crew. :)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

How to Suck at Sales

Before I get going, you have to read this post on interviewing techniques. I love this woman!

Back on topic - sucking at sales. Now what's she on about? you're probably thinking. This is a writing blog - why the devil do we need to know about sales? I bet you've already figured out that we writers are also in the business of selling our services. Look, you can't be in any business these days without some element of sales. 'Tis a necessary evil in our profession. Some so-called professional salespeople can't even do it right.

Yesterday is a case in point. I took my watch in to the retailer I'd bought it from. When I walked in, I was greeted with a wide smile from the salesman. He asked if he could help me. I handed over my watch and said, "I'd like to have the battery replaced in this."

It was as though a thundercloud formed over his head. His smile disappeared. He was cordial, but the wide grin and the eye contact vanished. He spoke only minimal syllables back when I asked questions, and provided only the basic information needed to get me taken care of. He did help me value the watch since he knows the product intimately, but when I thanked him and said good day, he never made eye contact. I was the only other person in the store, so he can't claim he was too busy.

I've encountered that in the past - the moment they realize the sale isn't happening, off goes the charm. Tell me - where does this approach ever make sense? I find it confusing, especially since in this case I already had one high-end watch from his store (not his most expensive, but teetering right around four figures). A warmer demeanor could very well have sealed another future sale. Instead I thought, "Jeez, if I ever want another one, I'll buy the bloody thing online."

Think about your encounters with potential clients. Not counting the "employer" types who try to get you to write 50 articles for $5, when was the last time you couldn't strike a deal? How did you respond back to the employer? Did you respond back at all, or did you mutter "Whatever" and move on? See, you may not get that job today or even tomorrow, but in about a year or even two years, that person may be looking for someone with your experience to handle a different project. And your demeanor from past contact will certainly be remembered, especially if you were professional and wished the person well in the search for a better fit.

You face tons of competition these days. You need to use every opportunity to leave a favorable impression on the people we come in contact with. They'll remember and appreciate the effort you put into your dealings with them. They'll also remember when you didn't bother. Which image would you rather leave them with?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Begging the Question

Continuing on our interviewing path, we come to the part where you've done your homework. That's right - you have to know a little bit about what you're talking about, too. See, it's not enough to go into an interview and say "Tell me about quantum physics." Somewhere you should have at least a cursory intro to the topic. Read an article or two. Look on this person's website (or company website). Really read. Then jot down questions that come to mind. Remember to keep them relevant to your slant. The questions should be a bit more focused than just the preliminary "What is it?" "Where do we apply it?" kinds of questions.

A recent interview I conducted was for an article on a specific glaucoma drug and its cosmetic affects on the eye (it made the eyelashes grow to ridiculously lush and gorgeous lengths). The audience was pharmacy professionals. So the questions had to be focused more on the affects of a drug becoming a cosmetically applied drug instead of for its intended purpose. The questions were centered around that. Can one obtain this drug without a prescription? If so, what happens to prescriptive authority? Is the FDA concerned? What precedent would be set, if any? Are pharmacists concerned? How have pharmacists helped discover off-label uses in the past? What negative side effects exist?

You get the picture. Get curious. Oh, and get a tape recorder. Not all writers enjoy taping interviews, but I do because it keeps my mind from being too focused on what was said. Often, I would miss a prime opportunity for a follow-up question. I take notes, as well (tape recorders do fail), and I tape. It's up to you, but I can tell you from experience it works very well for me.

Make about seven questions. I say that because five is never enough to get to the meat of any topic, and seven makes you think a bit harder to come up with them. Sure, if you want, do the who/what/when/where/how/why questions you learned in J school, but don't be afraid to ask the beginner question or the tough question. If you're writing about a topic that's brand new to you, don't pretend to know everything about the subject. Instead, say this: "This is all new to me. Can you explain it, please?" You'd be surprised how many interviewees are dying to enlighten people on what they think is a very exciting topic. I have asked this question numerous times and have never been turned down or treated like an idiot for it. It's a common-sense approach for writers like us who have to be 5-minute scholars on an unfamiliar topic.

Also, remember that your experts know people. If you're looking for another expert or a place to locate statistics, ask. Some will volunteer the information, but you're well within the interview protocol to ask. Some will point you to people with firsthand experience in the topic.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Good chum Devon Ellington has a terrific post over on her blog today about interviews and when to accept that some people just don't want to be interviewed. That brings up a very good point - if your interview subject says yes to your interview request, do you have the first idea how to go about conducting an interview? If not, today's your lucky day. I'm avoiding a deadline, and I've done a lot of interviewing. Because there's a lot to learn, I'm going to break this up into a series of posts over the next few days. Today, let's get to the attitude.

Attitude Matters
This past weekend, I was on the receiving end of a few interview questions. While three reporters did a good job, one barely registered a pulse. Her tone was that of someone who'd just discovered she'd put marmalade on her toast instead of jam - the Eeyore syndrome. "Oh deeeearrrr...." She was as excited as a stoic on a rainy Monday, and it showed in her questions. I gave her answers that would've led to some deeper insights had she bothered to notice. That she said, "I don't even know if we're going to run this story" seemed odd since she called me, not the other way around. Her enthusiasm was catchy - I felt like I was wasting my time, too.

Anyway, approach your interview with a bit more enthusiasm, please. If you've done your research and found the right source, that person has a ton of information that's useful to you. And just remember - he or she took what may be a very interesting path in order to get to that point in their lives. You could learn something.

Start with how you greet your interviewee. Don't launch into questions right away. Pretend you were just introduced at a party at your request. Thank the person for taking time to talk with you. Smile as you talk - it really does come across to the other person. Be yourself. If you're a boring sludge, then there's not much I can do to help. But most people possess some form of happiness, so convey that. You're glad given the time of day that the person was available. You know someone in the city they're working in. You've been there, or you heard they just had a huge blizzard. Ask how that person got into the business they're in (if it's relevant to the interview). Those are all comments that would help relax the person on the other side of the conversation.

Once you warm them up, make sure you ask them questions and remain interested in their answers. You've done research beforehand - enough to understand a little bit about the topic. Now's the time to give this person the courtesy of asking smart, well planned questions. And that's tomorrow's post.

Tomorrow: Begging the Question
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