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Friday, May 30, 2008

Miss Me Yet?

Still out on vacation, but I'll be back on Monday. In fact, my post for Monday was written a week and a half ago - you'll not want to miss it. Let's just say it's a timely reminder that could help reset the career path...

Since I bailed out on writing anything in advance for yesterday (too much work to clear up and align for when I return - sorry!), I'll end this week of posting in absentia by providing you with my favorite transvestite comedian and his take on the British culture.

British vs. U.S. Movies:


Stonehenge:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paid for Your Interest

A writer friend and I were recently discussing writing for trades and doing the other-than-average gig, to which I pipe up "I don't understand how a writer can look at a paying gig and not find a way to get interested in it. Can't they just find something interesting in the subject matter?"

His response: "Isn't that what writers are paid to do?"

Both this writer chum and I work in trade magazines and in some pretty uninteresting topic areas. But we both love writing for these publications because we make the work interesting. Add to that a check and hey, we're good to go.

There are gigs we all turn down because the level of interest just isn't there. I can't offhand remember the last one I rejected out of pure boredom, but I know I must have. More often, I turn them down because the work involved in coming up to speed does not equal the amount of money offered.

I've heard writers profess "I'll never work for XX industry!" or "You'd never catch me writing something that boring!" But isn't that counterproductive to your success? How do you know you'll hate it if you don't give it a go? By attempting other areas of writing or other industries, you might find your niche. You might find also a cash cow, for some of the seemingly more boring fields pay incredibly well. Don't believe me? I make $1 a word writing for an insurance publication. Are you still awake? Guess what I write? Company profiles. If you've ever written a feature story, you can write a company profile. Mind you, there's jargon involved and it does take a dose or two of knowledge in that particular industry, but if you decide now that it might be interesting to learn about a totally unfamiliar territory, you may find yourself working much more often than you do now.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fun While I'm Gone

Got this idea for a little group activity in my absence from Rebecca over at SmithWriting: Your favorite books.

Here are some of mine:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (life changing, seriously)
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr (the ballsiest memoir ever - a knockout!)
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (this woman knows description!)
Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor (the only book I've read 3 times and laughed through every time)
The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway (do we need his first name, I mean really?)
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (no finer fiction has ever been written beyond 'Sonny's Blues')
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (this book, and Owen Meany, will change your life)

What are your favorites? Why?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Link Love

Having a day off work to actually read blogs in their entirety was a luxury! The result: I've found some really neat posts that resonated with me. Hope you enjoy them, too. (Don't hate me too badly - gas prices in the UK are USD$9.20 a gallon, and that's considered a bargain.)

I don't know why I hadn't been to Peter Bowerman's blog before, but I found this gem on sucky business writing skills and that we writers should capitalize on that. I've often pondered putting together corporate writing seminars, and why not? The image of the company is represented in its people. Companies need us to help get their execs up to par.

Writer's Digest's Maria Schneider asks the question: how is the recession affecting writers? Interesting point to ponder, and the responses are just as interesting. Leave your comments on how you're doing.

My favorite Urban Muse brings up health insurance for freelancers. I'm fortunate that I have a spouse who provides this, but there was a time when I was without. Susan gives us links to resources that help us find coverage.

Anne Wayman's post on cell phone etiquette made me laugh out loud - because I agree completely. Anne has identified exactly why I have a love/hate relationship with cell phones. If you can't talk, don't answer it just to say so. Instant connectivity is a convenience, not a requirement. Don't get me started. :))

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Time Off? What's That?

This time tomorrow I'll have landed in London and hopefully, unlike last time, I'll have slept on the plane. I'm taking my own pillow and earplugs - if you can't get comfy with your own pillow, there's something seriously wrong.

It's time off. Serious time off. A vacation even! I'm usually shaky for about a day into it, still detoxing from last-minute preparations and working to get projects off the desk. This time, my plan was to cut out of work one day early in hopes of detoxing before I get on the plane.

He's already there. He took the big suitcase, so I'm blessed with lugging a mere carry-on. I've rolled my clothes, so I'm able to fit 8 shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, a dress and shoes (obviously not rolling the shoes), a pair of shorts and underthings with room for my makeup bag and hairdryer - oh, and a book. I feel like I've already won some kind of contest just getting that stuff in there. Perhaps there's an award for the most items in a KMart-purchased carry-on?

While I'm gone, I've taken the liberty of pulling together a few posts to fill the void. Thanks for reading, and I'll check in again in June!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Typos, Grammar Screw-ups, and Other Things that Tick Me Off

I was shopping at the mall with my daughter the other day when we saw it - a t-shirt that had an illustration of a trash can on it and a stick figure tossing something in the general direction of the can. The shirt read: "Put it in it's place." There I stood in the teeny-bopper section of the mall, ranting. I'm telling you, that typo even hurt to recreate just now. I turned to my daughter (who saw what was coming and avoided eye contact) and I said, "Do you see that? How stupid!" Pause. Then I added, "You know why that's wrong, don't you?" To which she rolled her eyes and sighed. "Yes, Mom. Just...move on."

I can't move on from stuff like that. It upsets the balance in my otherwise balanced existence. It's okay if I make a mistake. It's okay if she makes a mistake. What's not okay is that a mistake like that makes it through the manufacturing cycle. I mean, where was the proofreader that day? Did no one in the entire cycle understand basic possessives? (Then again, if these shirts were made where I suspect they were, no one was old enough to understand, but I digress.) I wanted to storm the checkout and berate them for allowing teenagers to walk around grammatically incorrect all day, possessively unaware....but the shirt was stupid, so I simply prayed the puberty patrol would bypass it due to its unappealing nature (or should I say "it's unappealing nature?"... snark).

Worse was the time a coworker called me over to her desk and pointed to an ad in The New Yorker. Right there, full page, was one line on a jeweler's ad that read: "In a league of it's own." In The New Yorker. Full page. If I had been the ad sales rep at the magazine, I'd have refused to accept the ad. But again, sales reps are not hired for their ability to spot grammatical errors, so it's no reflection on them. But someone should've lost a job over that - someone that jeweler hired to put that ad together.

I'm all for movements like the TEAL team (Typo Eridication Advancement League) or SPOGG (Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar). In fact, I want the SPOGG t-shirt that reads "Punctuation is Cool."

They would stop things like typos in major magazines. I saw one in a magazine I subscribe to - the editors chose a word to describe an outfit that was the equivalent of saying "bondage" when you mean "edgy." That they overuse the words "utilitarian" and "toughen" is bad enough - at least slow down long enough to use the proper word.

I've ranted enough. Typos will happen. Grammar will always be abused by the weak minded. How about you? What typos or instances of improper grammar have you seen? Which ones stand out as the worst you've seen?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Repetition is Good for You

Remember back in school when you were learning those spelling words or learning those math equations? If you went to a school like I did, you were expected to spell those words out five, ten times in order to remember. With math, you had to complete a bunch of similar equations in order to understand the concept. Same thing later in school if you were learning a language or memorizing historical facts or dates. It worked, didn't it? Let's apply that logic to some of the advice I've tossed around here on occasion, more specifically places and employers you should not be working for.

Here are some of the places/employers you need to forget about:

Startup companies. They may have a great idea or a great new service, but nine times out of ten they have no organization or cash. Good luck getting paid. I've been on the edge of that cliff more than once, which has made me swear to avoid them altogether. How can you tell it's a startup? They'll use language like "ground-floor opportunity" (synonomous with "low pay" anyway), or they'll say they're a new company or startup.

Foreign employers. To date, I've not come across anyone who's had any positive experience with a person in another country. Seriously, if they default, how are you going to collect? There are enough employers domestically to go around. Work with people who are subject to the same laws you are.

People with posses. This one isn't easy to spot at the outset, if at all. But nervous clients can tend to want to run their copy past friends, family, coworkers, etc. That's death to you and your check. No writer or editor can survive the onslaught of several, differing opinions and still serve the paying client's needs. No one. And it's totally uncool of your client to expect it. Do what I do - put a clause in your contract now that states no third-party involvement without both parties agreeing to such in writing. It's because I've had such experiences more than three times that I've started putting that into contracts. Make it a deal breaker so you have an out should it happen.

Job/client listing sites that charge fees. This one's never an easy sell. Others have had success getting jobs through these places, but they also have had more than their share of headaches as sites like eLance change the rules so that it costs a writer more to secure clients. I object to sites that charge writers for job listings as much as I object to sites that act as a clearinghouse for clients and writers. You never needed a third party to intervene before - why now? If you feel that strongly about representation for those connections, hire an agent.

The same goes for membership sites. There are some sites out there that expect you to pay for your memberships. Look, maybe you get some value out of rubbing elbows with other people who pay 20 bucks a month or more. If so, don't expect it to be anything more than an online country club. If you decide to join (and some may be fun - I can't say), do so on the assumption that it's more of a club and not so much a place to find work.

Anyone who posts an ad using the words "It's an easy job for the right person." In nearly every case this phrase is included, the "employer" expects you to work your arse off for much less than you should be paid for the job. This is a person who doesn't understand the scope of the project or worse, does understand and wants it for next-to-nothing. I guarantee any job with that phrase attached is going to pay crap wages.

Clients who won't sign a contract. Yea, I dropped a job once because the client wouldn't sign a standard contract. Anyone who avoids a written commitment is someone whose integrity should be reconsidered. I had one dude go ballistic on me when I refused to finish a project after he'd said he won't sign. He'd assured me he was a stand-up sort and that he's much more relaxed than that. How very cool for you, but I'm uptight when a client refuses the most basic arrangement protecting both of us.

There are so many more, but these are my biggies. How about you? What work or employers are you avoiding?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Too Many Twitters, Too Little Time

Thanks to all of you who joined in the first annual Writer's Worth Day! It was a great start to what I hope is a group effort to raise awareness, offer more support, and bring more value to our industry.

Onto other things... I read the Word Wrangler's rant about the proliferation of social networks and posts on how to capitalize on each one. He asked, very wisely, just how much is too much? I ask something a bit different - just how much time can one waste before one realizes that social networks are not much more than time sinks?

I don't Twitter. I have no idea what a Squidoo looks like. I have a Facebook page because my kid put it up for me. Same with My Space. I should go there sometime. I don't. And I still have a career. Go figure.

I do belong to two networks. One offers an array of professionals, and it seems to be the standard for business people. I've connected with other professionals and have used a few folks' comments in articles. I joined only after four contacts/clients invited me. The other is a female-only network, and it's just nice to be connected with other successful women. But I can count on one hand the number of hours per month I spend on either of these networks. Why? Because I think the time is better spent connecting directly with potential or existing clients.

The problem I see is there are more social networks to choose from, so folks are choosing them all. How exactly is that smart? If you belong to say 5 networks and spend about 15 minutes a day on each one, do the math. That's time you could spend calling or emailing clients, or sending out proposals or queries for actual work. So I ask you - are you applying any kind of vetting process in your search for the social network that best suits you?

Networks are fun. They're a great way to reconnect or to meet new people. But in my humble opinion, they are not a fantastic place to find work. From my view, most people on social networking sites are looking for work. Not too many are hiring. I left one social network because it was rife with people marketing the bejeezuz out of their companies or services, and there wasn't a lot of connecting going on beyond that. In effect, it was a waste of time and bandwidth.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Raising Awareness One Writer at a Time

This is it - my self-proclaimed first annual day to celebrate what we writers are worth. If you have a blog, please join me in saying yes to competitive wages and no to accepting what isn't worthy of our talents. Share your experiences, your advice, your support to all writers in hopes that we can convince our counterparts to appreciate themselves as paid professionals. Visit other blogs or forums and leave comments or links to this or any other site singing the praises of decent pay for decent work. We can't stop the crap jobs from coming in. We can, however, stop dragging down our industry by reducing the number of people responding to these ads.

Beginning writers, look. I know where you're coming from. I used to be a beginner myself, you know? I took jobs that paid somewhere around 50 bucks for more work than you can imagine. I've been where you are. You think you need those clips so badly that it's okay to take that job offering $5 for 50 articles.

No. No you don't. Those aren't clips - those are a serious waste of time and talent. If you were to point a potential client to those clips, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot. Why? Because real employers know what crap websites look like, and your work plastered all over it, even if it's good work, is going to reflect very badly on you. Suddenly this otherwise seemingly intelligent person has shown a lack of sound judgment. Whom you affiliate with is as important as any clips you might have.

Do yourself a favor - take a freelance job at the local newspaper. I'm serious. You get paid something for your efforts, and you build credible experience. Who cares if your community is your only audience? Believe me, it's much more impressive to show newspaper experience on your resume than it is to show that you churned out articles for an article mill or for a foreign-based "employer" who never did pay you those 40 rupees... Newspapers are where most of us started out. They speak very well to your ability and your reliability, as most newspapers have short deadlines.

Think you can't do a newspaper? Then find yourself a print publication (not online - not until you have the experience to discern viable jobs from trash) and start submitting paper/email queries. Do your homework (we all have to) and learn how to submit properly first. You can find lots of links (here, too) on this site and others that will help you.

If you need help or guidance, ask. We're always here to help. By all means, make sure you place a value on your work that allows you to earn the wage you deserve (note - that's much more than you think). Your career, and all of ours, depends on it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Have Titles!

Just a reminder - tomorrow is Writer's Worth Day. It's time for all of us to post on our blogs or leave comments around the blogosphere motivating our fellow writers in the beginning stages of their careers to value themselves enough to demand proper payment. Whatever you feel like sharing - education on what to charge or how to spot a raw deal, posts encouraging others to bring their prices to at least minimum wage, whatever moves you.

On to other things.... there should be a task force that prohibits dorks from using the Internet. Here I was, over 2 years into my Blogger experience when a writing chum points out that my feeds have no titles - and no content, for that matter. Uh, huh? She was kind enough to spend some time fixing the problem for me, which turned out to be lack of a Title space on my posting options. Why it doesn't default to this is beyond me, but I should've investigated a bit further. Thank you, Kristen. :)

The week is going much better. My Jetta will live, amen. It may not be 100 percent, as I think the bent axle is going to come back to haunt me, but my daughter can drive it while we're out of the country, which is good. We spent last night looking for flights to Heathrow, and like fools we waited until this morning. The price tripled. Oy. But again, we were fortunate. He called his travel agent. We were able to get the same ticket for just a smidgen more than what we'd have paid last night. Amen again.

I'll be out for a little more than a week. And I'm nervous. It seems like every time I have a vacation, I come home to zero work. Mind you, I do have ongoing work that keeps me busy at all times, but the larger projects tend to drop off if I'm not here to light fires under my career. How does one effectively come back and drop into work again?

Here's how I did it this time - I set up some smaller projects with deadlines shortly after I return. Knowing I will come home to some activity makes me feel much better about leaving. Also, I'm sending out a proposal today for another article project, which may or may not have a later deadline, but will still give me some work through the lean summer months. Another possible project waits, as well. A very busy company that needs editing help is on my to-do list for Monday. I've contacted them twice, and this is my follow-up to see if we can line something up for when I return.

It's always hard allowing yourself time to relax. Why not make it easier on yourself? What do you do to prepare both for your vacation and for the time after?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pledge with Me, People

I've read scores of blog postings this week both arguing against and defending low-paying, scummy wages (and please read this article to get yourself in the right mood). We've tried separately to shake others back into shape, but to no avail. We all know the problem exists. We also know that change comes from within.

I've preached it until I've turned numerous shades of blue and red. I've given cyber shakes and left my anti-nonpayment manifestos plastered all over the Internet. I've torn out my now-thin red hair over it. But I'm one person. I can't change the world by myself, nor can I personally slap upside the head each writer who agrees to less than he's/she's worth. So I'm proposing that all of us - all writers who hack it out for a living - band together and do something about it. Time for action. Solitary bitching doesn't cut it. Let's do something as a profession.

Let's set aside this Friday as Writer's Worth Day. Let's post in our own separate ways on our very own blogs (and leave comments on forums) the ugly truth about taking low-paying crap jobs, of devaluing yourself and in turn, devaluing all writers. Let's vow to post encouragement to beginning writers and help them determine how low too low really is. Let's find a way to be proactive in the push against the pseudo-employers who want nothing more than to get our hard work for next-to-nothing.

Please post this plea around the Internet. Let's help raise some much-needed awareness of how writers should conduct themselves - as business people who deserve to be paid for specialized services.

Let's take no more of it. Please leave your commitment to join the fight right here in the comments section. And join us all on Friday as we raise awareness and thus, raise rates.

Scams and the Scamming Scammers Who Scam Them

(With thanks to Al Franken)

I'm talking about rental car companies, insurance companies, and anyone or any company that sugar-coats anything unsavory and packages it as a "deal." Rental car companies, much like insurance companies, have you coming and going (ironic as that statement may be). I rented a car yesterday so daughter could get about while I'm out of the country in a few weeks. Only....she can't drive it. No no no... the accident that wasn't her fault that put my car out of commission? It's put her out of a set of wheels entirely.

She isn't 21. Rental car companies generally think the 19 year old girls are a huge risk (not the 57-year-old men who hit her car). Oh, if she had the insurance in her name (which would cost a mere $3K annually just for her, just for liability - HA!) and if she had a major credit card in her name (easier to do, but no freakin' way!), she could drive it. Not rent it, no no. Just drive it. So I must now consider how to get her mobile while I'm not around. Friends are still at school. Other friends work, too, and cannot shuttle her. We live in the freakin' suburbs, which means there's no public transportation. The suburbs are some suspended form of Hell reserved for people who think they'll always have a car handy. No sidewalks, no stores close by, no sense of community beyond waving to neighbors in passing. But that's another story, and another reason why I'm ready to head back to the country or deep into a city where neighborhoods still exist...

Rental car companies - legalized robbery in the form of arbitrary rules that they blame on their insurers, which is most likely true. Insurers base all their underwriting decisions on probability of risk. She's 19. That means she's not to be trusted with their insurance coverage. However, can they not allow for exceptions - even exceptions parents would be willing to fork over extra for, given that the child in question has a job and a real need for a car?

Alas, my project is due and I can't think about this now. I have a dull headache caused either by stress or that too-sugary margarita I had last evening - can't say. Neither one is good for me. That's what comes from trying to live a little at the end of a lousy day. My Jetta may be hauled off for good, destined to be parts for some undeserving soul. That car's in fantastic shape (beyond the obvious dork-induced accident damage), and it fits me. Best car I've ever owned. Odd how I'm clinging to this car. I was always so anxious to get a new car before, but this one, well, it's been good to me.

One positive note - I have in my hands a much-overdue check from the company that was giving me the obvious run-around. I don't know if my attorney/sister got in touch, but it was the very next day after I'd sent her the information and she'd promised to send a legal response that the phone call came with the promise my check was mailed. Until yesterday, I thought, "Yea, right." (which is, by the way, the only time two positives make a negative) I'm happy to say it's here. I'm be thrilled in about 14 days after it clears both accounts. At least some scams are easy to spot and easier to correct.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How Can You Expect the Unexpected?

I had big plans today. I got up early and got some ongoing project work out of the way so I could concentrate on an article that has a short deadline. Only I get this call from my child - "Mom, come outside. I've had an accident." Not what you want to hear when your kid's out with your car. Seems she was stopped waiting to make a left onto our street when someone came flying over the hill behind her, swerved to miss her, went into the center of the road and forced the oncoming car off the road, all while wiping out the side of my car.

No one was hurt, amen. However, after I got the tire changed (rim was bent something awful), it just didn't look right. Tires shouldn't lean inward, you know? So I took it up the block to the mechanic. He said, "Park it. That's not safe to drive." Something underneath is obviously bent, and I'm out a car. And she works. Time for the rental.

As Robbie Burns once said, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'menGang aft agley." Simply put, it doesn't matter what you think you're doing - you're just screwed so don't bother. (If you want a belly laugh, check out Eddie Izzard's bit on how that phrase may have come to be created - hysterical).

This puts me behind yet another day. That ticks me off, because I've scheduled two different outings this week. I may have to cancel one or both in order to get the car situation sorted out, and that, my friends, is where the sucky part comes in.

So how do you handle the curve ball in your seemingly organized life? I'm headed for the kitchen and some tea. You?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Best Posts of the Week

Some posts just warrant extra attention, don't you think? Maybe I'll make this a weekly habit, maybe I won't. But I've decided when I come across an invaluable article or blog post, I have to share it.

This one in particular caught my eye. Urban Muse Susan Johnston wrote an excellent guest post over on Deb Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs. Go read it. Seriously. It will enhance the way you find work.

Okay, this one was last week, but it ties in with Susan's idea above. The Word Wrangler lassoes ways to gain more blog traffic. Look, traffic equals brand awareness, folks. You want to have some clout when you go to that potential employer and request a higher fee. If your name is all over the place and people are looking to you for some answers, your chances might be a bit better.

I meant to mention this post last week, but I somehow overlooked it. Jennifer over at Catalyst Blogger has a great post on determining your rates. She's put together a great step-by-step guide for getting to your bottom line. Definitely something you should be doing.

What I like about Kristen King is her constant search for more ways to enhance her business. It's more than admirable - it's what we should all be doing. Kristen's just returned from a terrific conference, and she's already sharing things she's learned. One notable item - describe what you do in ten words or fewer.

Bob Younce has fast become one of my favorite bloggers. He gives it to you straight, and every bit of it is useful. And fun. I went back a few posts for this gem, which I've decided should be our Writing Commandments. Bob calls it 178 Ways to Improve Your Internet Writing, but honestly, it will improve everyone's writing. Personal favorites on the list are numbers 50 and 51.

Hate networking? Don't know where to start? Never fear - over on Biz Chicks Rule, Kristen King has given us a primer on networking, and it's a good one. It's do-able. It won't overwhelm you. Promise. Kristen gets two nods this week because she's putting the goods out there for us.

Have a favorite post you'd like to share? Leave your link love in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Your Other Boss

Now and then in your career, you're going to run into your other boss. I'm not talking God, and I'm not talking your spouse or better half - I'm talking about the client or client's company that wants control over your words.

You're going to see these people most often just after you interview them or their employees. It'll happen right as you're saying goodbye, thanking them for their time, and signing off the interview. Someone somewhere is going to say it: "May we see the article before it goes to print?" Your answer in nearly every case should be "No."

Unless you're writing for a pseudo-publication (one that looks like a magazine, feels like a magazine, but is actually a long-winded advertorial meant to sell ad space), your editor will not appreciate or accept any article that's been poured over by someone other than you and that editor. Let's look at why - the editor has a specific niche market to appeal to. She knows the voice. She knows what works. She also has a boss, and she has to please that person. Plus, if someone's legal department or board of directors (I'm not kidding) has painstakingly "approved" your copy for publication, she cannot do her job effectively because she's not privy to whatever conversations or changes have occurred along the way. Frankly, she's not going to care because this is a person or group of people who have just cut in on her territory, but you can see where this could get ugly quickly.

I've been faced with this request/demand for final approval more times than I can count. In all cases, I say it's not the publication's policy and if they'd like to ask the editor directly, they're welcome to. Only a handful of times has this not been enough. In those cases, I deferred all argument or discussion to the editor. That's not my battle to win or lose. I represent their company only briefly - it wouldn't sit well for me to upset their potential advertising base. Let them do that.

Sometimes it gets ugly. One recent case was unnerving as this woman wasn't taking no for an answer. She'd somehow mistakenly come under the impression that we were her employees. She insisted the moment the interview ended and well into the next week via email, that her company was not going to "allow" that article to go to print without their approval. Uh, unless I missed the memo, her company did not own the one I was working for, so the final approval she was wielding about like a sword was more like a plastic knife with a broken blade. She had no authoritative leg to stand on, but she didn't seem to notice or care. The editor was alerted one email into her repetition of her need for control, and he handled it beautifully. He stated the company policy to her again, and as he said, she must not like women because she rolled over the minute he stated it.

It still wasn't as awful as the time the PR dude expected me to send the article to him for approval. I told him no in every way imaginable. I sent him the quotes so his people could at least agree they'd said those things (I tape everything). He chose to create his own reality by ignoring me. When the article was not forthcoming, the phone calls started. Dozens of them. In one afternoon. I thank God for caller ID because what he wasn't understanding in email he was surely not going to understand in spoken words. He was angry. Yes, angry. I wasn't caving. I wasn't following his orders. He called my editor-in-chief, who didn't answer his phone right away. He then called the publisher and used some unsavory words to describe me. The publisher ended it with his "no", and that was that. I got an apology from my boss for the dude's behavior, and the publisher just shook his head and said, "Daniel doesn't quite understand what PR's function is yet."

Why am I telling you this? Because there's going to come a time in your career, if it hasn't already, where you're going to face this very issue. I guarantee it. If you know where you stand now, it makes it much easier to state that stand when the time comes. Oh, and if you get any lip at all, refer them to your hiring editor. There's no reason why you need to deal with these things alone. Editors have seen it happen time and again. It's not a stain on your career - it's just a side effect of dealing with egos.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Isn't That Special?

Once upon a time, a youngish writer had dreams of being a sought-after fashion writer. She wanted to write for Woman's Day, Ladies' Home Journal, and Redbook. She thought that was success, and she knew if she could break into even one of those magazines, she'd be able to call herself a real writer.

That writer works every day, and she brings home a nice four-figure salary each month. She's been published in scads of magazines, but guess what? She's yet to be in any of those magazines she once deemed critical to her success.

So what happened? That writer - okay, me - fell into specialized writing. I swear it was an accident. I needed to work in journalism. The job came up. It was very specialized. I got the job. I became good at it. I began to love it. Now, I work all the time in that field.

Frankly, I think most specialized writing happens accidentally. There are instances where the path to specialization is a no-brainer, such as a computer geek wanna-be writing for computer and technical publications or nurses becoming writers for nursing publications. But the majority of us are generalists. The majority of the jobs are for generalists. So the job ads have most of us applying for the same dang thing. Those who specialize get a much lighter field of applicants to compete with, and they score a few more jobs as a result.

Look at your past experience. Are there any gigs that stand out as similar, such as business writing, corporate profiles, white papers, proposals, etc? If so, any of those areas could be built up into a specialty area.

Use your past experience to find a specialty niche. If you don't have a specialty yet, don't be afraid to stretch into a new area. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but if you have to take a lower pay in order to learn something, do it (but be smart about how low you can afford to go). Don't look at these new areas as GASP! over your head. Anyone can write this stuff if they approach the gig with a healthy curiosity and the ability to ask the right questions of the experts being interviewed. Only a few areas are too tough for a beginner, and those wouldn't accept you without the clips anyway.

Go on. Explore! Tell me right here - what have you done in the past that interested you enough or you performed well enough at to build into a specialty? Or what do you want to specialize in? Anything fascinate you enough to make you want to learn more?

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Message to You From a Fellow Writer

If Harlan Ellison's message about valuing your own work doesn't motivate you to take yourself seriously as a writer, do yourself and everyone in the business a favor - take up knitting.

What do you think? Are you ready to get as incensed about people expecting freebies as he is?

Doing Nothing Wrong

So you sit there every day waiting for work to appear, but nothing, eh? The projects you had are finished and work seems to have dried up. You're searching, but in those same, dried-up spots on the Internet. Well, I'm here to tell you you're doing nothing wrong. That's right - the nothing you're doing is wrong. You're going about it the same way and it's not working. So that's equal to doing nothing. And it's wrong. Get it?

We've all fallen into that trap, too. We figure we scored that great gig on one of our regular haunts where we were somehow lucky enough to outshine the thousands of other writers worldwide (you're not just competing with those in the lower 48 anymore, guys). But the jobs there these days just don't look like jobs, nor do they ask for your type of expertise. Or worse, they simply don't pay enough to make it worth your trouble. Funny how that great pipeline can dry up in just a month, isn't it?

So mix it up. Instead of sitting there doing nothing, choose a new activity to drum up business. Remember those paper queries you used to write before computers and the Internet happened? (If you're too young to remember this, I'm older than I think.) Try writing one or two of those out. It used to be guides like Writer's Market were essential to our livelihood. Do you even own one? If not, sign up online (I'm pragmatic enough to know you're not going to drive to the bookstore right now).

If queries aren't your thing, make yourself a little brochure, a sales letter, and mail both to local businesses. Whom to target, you ask? Try first the print shops, for they get a lot of requests for writers. Oh, and tailor that sales letter to show you know they're not buying your services directly. Put a little effort into courting them. Start also with mid-sized businesses. You have a lot to offer them - newsletter writing, client letters, sales brochures, company employee communications pieces.... you see where it's going.

There are any number of things you can do to get your name in front of someone who might just need your help. Don't be afraid to leave behind what was once tried-and-true work avenues. These job sites dry up faster than a desert oasis in drought season. To survive, you have to head for a different water source. Just do yourself and your career a favor - don't continue doing nothing, for you get out of your career what you put into it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

This Week's Best in the Blogosphere

Fridays I'm usually all full of motivation because hey, it's taken me all week to rev up the internal engines. But you stick one cloudy, damp morning in there and the covers are coming back over my head and I'm hibernating. Today here in the East promises to be warmer and could it be? Sunny. I'm sitting here in shorts in anticipation (and since it's about 59 degrees out now, I'm trying to ignore the goosebumps).

Instead of regaling you with more of my typical rantings, I thought I'd show you some of the posts on other blogs that have caught my attention this week. As we know, my attention span equals that of my goldfish Fishy, so it's of heightened importance that these folks were able to keep me from blinking for a few minutes.

Bob Younce shows us How to Make $750 a Week Writing Part-Time for Helium. You go, Bob. Anyone willing to share that kind of info with the writing community is my newest hero. Everything he says to do he's done. If it's working for him, why not try it?

The War on Bunny Ears took place over on Rogue Ink. I'll admit - I had a tough time choosing a favorite post from this site, but she mentioned Eddie Izzard, and anyone who references the Transvestite God of Comedy is elevated several notches up my ladder of People I Really Really Really Like. Besides, there's a cool discussion on the overuse of quotation marks.

Over on Screw You!, irreverent soul Kathy Kehrli gives us an example of what a client who's clueless looks like. A Freelancer's First Draft is just ... well, it's typical of a client who wants to stay in control. But it's no less frustrating the fifteenth time it happens to you as it is the first time.

Should we Boycott Amazon? Dear friend Anne Wayman has been wrestling with this notion all week, and like Anne, I'm coming to the same conclusions about the impending monopoly on POD.

This discussion hits on the nerve of every freelancer. Should POD even exist? Maria Schneider at The Writer's Perspective gets our attention with Hey Graphomaniacs!, and her perspective, per usual, is crystal clear.

How about you? Got any favorite posts you'd like to share?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Calling in Sick

Don't you want to crawl back into bed the minute you wake up and realize you're out of sorts? Do you? No, neither do I.

Woke up with a bit of sinus pressure. As the day wore on, I realized this may be a full-blown sinus infection. My face hurts. (Reminds me of the bad joke my brother would say when we were kids, "Is your face hurting? No? It's killing me!") I want to go to sleep. I can't. I have a phone interview, an article due, and a house guest I'd forgotten about. That I'm able to work at all is a miracle, what with a house guest, but he's low-maintenance and it smells as though he's cooked some lunch. Amen.

While I might be able to get through today, there are times I cannot work. They include:

- Migraines. I'm lucky to live through these. Work is out of the question.
- Stomach flu. Uh, no. If I can't sit upright for more than 20 minutes at a time, I'm meant to lie down.
- Headaches. If it's just typing notes or finishing up something rudimentary, I'm good. But if it's creative work, it's nearly impossible to concentrate.

When do you hang it up and allow yourself to be sick? And did you ever think you'd deny yourself this benefit when you expected it of an employer?
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