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Friday, May 29, 2009

The Vendor-Client Relationship: Real World Style

Many thanks to our own Copywriting Maven for sharing with me this hysterical video. If you've ever wondered if you're doing the right thing in sticking by your price, wonder no more:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Post: Pulling it Together

Today, a mid-week treat for you: I'm thrilled to have Jenny Storm (also known as our own Devon Ellington), author if Dixie Dust Rumors, give us a primer on her novel-writing process. Many thanks to Jenny for sharing her tips and insights with us! It starts with characters that appear and lead her to the story...

By Jenny Storm

One of the most frequent writing questions I’m asked is what is the starting point for my work. 99% of the time, I start from character. A character appears and starts telling me the story. I take down the first draft, almost like dictation. Other characters wander in and out, telling me their sides of the story, adding or contradicting to what the original character presented. Sometimes, as the piece moves along, the original character fades back, and becomes a bit player in the overall book.

I usually have a vague idea of the plot, and jot down notes about points I want or need to hit along the way. About four or five chapters in, I usually have a solid idea of the ending, so I know where I’m headed, and I give my characters enough leeway to surprise me on the way.

In subsequent drafts, I tear everything apart and rebuild structure, logic, make sure events and sequences make sense, or, if there’s a fantastical element to it, at least make sure it works within the logistical confines of the book’s world.

DIXIE DUST RUMORS was a little different. I knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel set against horse racing. Since I love mysteries, especially in that age range, I wanted it to be a mystery. The character of Rose appeared, and her pesky but smart younger brother Simon. I still didn’t know what they were up to, but I knew it involved a horse their father trained called Dixie Dust. And I knew there’d be conflict at school between Rose and the richer kids of the owners of horses trained by her dad.

About a day or two after I started playing with these characters, a story broke where a so-called journalist with few credentials accused a jockey of impropriety in a big race. It was completely ridiculous and unfounded, but, of course, had to be investigated. I followed the story closely and was vocal on my opinions and the lack of ethics shown both by the writer (because that was no journalist) and the paper for publishing the story without checking facts. The jockey was cleared, of course, but his family, the trainer, the owners, etc., all went through a lot of unnecessary heartache -- which is why I don’t name the situation or the jockey in any of my interviews! They’ve been through enough.

The situation started to fuse with my characters, so I found myself working simultaneously from plot and character. I wanted the emphasis to be on Rose, my protagonist, and how these charges affect her daily life, especially in school, rather than focus on the adults or the jockey. It’s middle grade, the emphasis needs to be on the character in the reader’s age range. I changed quite a few things around in the situation, got an idea of the type of person I imagined would write something like this (having no knowledge of the actual accuser, and purposely not doing the research on the actual person) and it continued to evolve.

Then, I needed to people Rose’s worlds. She has the world of the racetrack, which is busy and complex, and the world of school, which is also busy and complex, and she had to move between the worlds much more than an adult would. The racetrack requires seven days a week, every day of the year. And, since Rose’s mother died and her dad was a single parent, that put even more responsibility on both Rose and her younger brother.

The public schools and neighborhoods around the track are pretty diverse, and it was easy to reflect that in the characters. Justin’s appearance was a surprise, but once he wandered in, I realized what a good foil he was for Rose. They both don’t quite fit in, but figure a way to cope.

The tense shift in the book is the biggest risk, and time -- and readers -- will tell if I pulled it off. Rose is telling us (the readers) the story that happened only a week or two ago, not looking back on it from a perspective of months or years. It makes sense that, when she discusses how things are done at the track, routines, etc., that she would use the present, but tell the actual story in the past. I had more present tense in earlier drafts, but felt it was a bit jarring, so I smoothed it out a bit in the edits. I haven’t decided if I’ll make the same choice in DEAD MAN’S STALL, the next Rose book, set during the summer meet in Saratoga. I need to get into it a bit more.

It was wonderful and scary to shake up the process writing this book. So often, people are afraid to deviate from “their” process and process becomes a form of prison. I find that it’s important to let each book dictate its own process, discovering what works -- and what doesn’t -- as you write and edit. Otherwise, the writing becomes stagnant, in my opinion.

Visit the Jenny Storm webpage to read excerpts and keep up on Rose and on other Jenny Storm projects:, and visit her on MySpace:

Jenny Storm publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. She’s been a fan of horse racing since she was seven years old, and collects juvenile mystery fiction from the early twentieth century.

Any questions for Jenny on the writing process?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Just Ask

One of the top tenets of the sales world is "ask for the job." So I took this idea to the social networking world last week. There's something to this asking stuff.

Within hours of my Twitter post about being available to "rock your insurance articles" I was approached by a new client to write for her company. We're still working out the details, but things look pretty good.

Friday I posted a note on LinkedIn saying I was available to handle writing projects. Didn't I get an email yesterday from a past client asking me to call him? We chatted and he promised to be in touch as soon as his world settled down in the next month. But my note made him reach out in the first place. I know he'll call when the project comes up. That's because I'll send out a follow-up note in 4 weeks to see where things are for him.

Are you using your social networking tools to ask for work? Mind you, I'm not advocating your getting on Twitter and pestering the life out of everyone with a pulse, begging for work. I'm saying when appropriate, announce your availability. Remind folks of what you do by saying something like "Just finished a white paper on a new CRM technology" or "Researching a cool article on market speculation." You'd be surprised who's listening. It wasn't a month ago I mentioned working a particular market niche company's blog posts on Twitter and receiving an invitation to work for another company doing the same thing.

You don't have to beat them over the head with your availability, nor should you ever beg anyone for work. But why not talk about what you're doing in a more constructive way? No one really wants to hire you because you just had a terrific grilled cheese for lunch. These tools are great for building a network, but you render them useless if you don't then tap into that network for your work opportunities.

What's your favorite social networking tool? What percentage of your business has come from that?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now? Hello?

It happened again. Right in the middle of negotiations with a new client, smack dab at the intersection of "I like this person" and "Here's my fee" - silence. Cold, echoing silence at the mere mention of what I'd charge for this project. My price was fair. It may even have been negotiable. But it's been a week since I last wrote. Could it be the Internet service on the client side dropped off for days? Is it possible the client cut out early for the holiday weekend? Have gremlins invaded their region? Locusts? Has swine flu and avian flu merged and they've all seen pigs fly?

Never fear - I'm on it. When they go silent, I get chatty. In fact, that works both ways. I have a client whose price was so low I couldn't even respond. I was thinking great, one more scam. However, when he wrote back and I explained his rate was too low, he met me halfway. Now I am happily engaged in commerce with someone I first wrote off. For that same reason, this client will hear from me again, though I won't give away my hand just yet. I'll ask if they're still considering and ask for some feedback. Then I'll decide if it's worth moving forward.

How do you handle the silent treatment?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Me and My Gang

Their gang colors were powder blue - not exactly fear-inducing garb. There were plenty of them, but we felt safe because this gang consisted of some of today's best and brightest creatives.

At Columbia's School of the Arts graduation Wednesday, the message delivered was this - stick with your gang. Jerry Saltz, art critic with New York Magazine and formerly with The Village Voice, told the graduates their best chance of success was in working, working (he really stressed that work begets work), and realizing your work has a value in the market. I'm paraphrasing what I think was a dynamic, accurate, and beautifully delivered message, but at the time, my first reaction was to cheer. I refrained out of decorum, but I will admit to many head bobs and a few muttered damn-rights.

Mr. Saltz confirmed what we've been trying to get through to our counterparts, friends. There's safety in numbers, but there's also strength and connections. Oh, and the more of you there are, the better you'll feel about setting a realistic value on your talents.

Other speakers echoed the sentiment, one telling the students they were about to enter the toughest market in decades, then saying "But this speech isn't for you - it's for the MBA students." Huge laughs when he said "Look who's laughing now" referencing the students' decision to choose arts instead of business.

It is a tough market. It's not an impossible one. Paraphrasing Saltz, success is about being in the community of artists and the artists' networks and not selling yourself short. Thank God someone told them for folks like us need all the help we can get. As each new crop of creatives hits the streets, eyes wide with dreams and possibilities, we watch them hit the wall that stands between most expectations and goals - that wall of reality. Prices in our market have gone Antarctic on us, and too many artists are taking too little money for too much work. While speeches and posts and Twitters may not stop all newcomers from the degradation of their talents and devaluing of their worth, it's going to stick and eventually, sometime between starvation and career suicide (or as Saltz put it, somewhere between the horizontal and vertical positions of the Titanic), some of these new graduates will see the desperation in their own situations and will say with defiance "But I'm damn good!"

That's what we did last week. We all saw the desperation of this market and amid our own suffering, we proclaimed our own worth. Don't you feel better doing so?

What message would you give to new graduates? Well, besides "Hands off my clients!" LOL

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Judging Journalism - by a Non-Journalist

I was all prepared to write this nice post today about what I'd heard and learned at my stepson's graduation from Columbia yesterday. That is, until Sid sent me a link to an article by a Swedish professor of media economics, posted in the Christian Science Monitor. It would seem the good professor thinks journalists aren't worthy of decent pay.

He starts with the premise that journalists look upon their work in sacred, moralistic terms. He then goes on to tell us why we fail and why we deserve low pay. Sorry, professor. You based your entire argument on a false notion.

Oh sure, there are a few journalists who think they churn out gold. I've worked with them. They don't necessarily get jobs because they're too damned busy arguing about why you took out an adjective or eliminated a sentence to make it all fit in the magazine.

But the rest of us? We create value every day for our clients. You contend we are not. Yet there you are writing for the Christian Science Monitor, making what I would assume is a decent wage. (If you gave that article away, shame on you.) So at the very core your argument falls apart because you yourself have used the media to make it.

You say economic value is lost on us, that we can produce only instrumental value, which in your opinion has little worth. We can't produce economic value, you say. Clearly, you've never worked as a freelancer.

It's as though the mistaken notion that anyone can write is at work here, for if you've worked as a freelancer, you know that's not so. We've seen resumes that look like train wrecks, website copy that screams amateurish, brochures that look like kids wrote them, or any host of business communications that do more to repel business than attract it.

You said "Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians." Here's the thing, professor. Any of us could read the textbooks from your classes and gain the same knowledge as those sitting there listening to countless lectures. Any of us could have the same knowledge you get paid to teach - for free. Does that mean that professors also have no unique base of knowledge? Since you learned teaching in the same manner I learned journalism (by going to college, sitting in classrooms, writing papers, and absorbing knowledge), it's not looking well for you either, professor. Better yet, we have something professors don't - real-world experience in the very subjects you teach. When was the last time you went outside the classrom and applied your knowledge to the real world? For that reason, I can't believe your argument that our base of knowledge is any less than yours. Seriously. Did you think that was going to wash?

I will agree with you - strongly - that journalists have gotten lazy with the vast improvements in the availability of access to information. Too often, they'll take what's on the Internet as fact. No more will they trace that information to its source to determine its validity. That, professor, is the point you and I will always agree on.

We will also agree that if journalists don't adapt, they'll die. It's already happening. Why? Because information they put into print is now free for the taking. I stopped buying newspapers years ago.

I realize this article of yours was aimed at journalists and more specifically newspapers, not so much the freelance world. And that generalists are the one suffering, and should be in your opinion, due to the lack of specialization. All true. What I take exception to is as I stated from the start is the idea that we idolize our work or that we can't churn out anything more than work based on beauty, truth, or harmony. Too often, great journalism is overlooked by such overstatements. Your own work incites thought, argument, and compels me to write this post, which will create discussion, debate, and affect change at some level, whether it's a change in attitude or a change in business practices. Either way, professor, your article and its effects on me proves your theory wrong. Journalism is much more than a sacred cow of the arts. It's a vehicle for change.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Catnip Person

Have you ever come across someone whose appeal is instant, whose manner is so easy or so charming that you can't help but want to know them? I had that experience this week. The client was calling me to go over changes, normally a tense situation for both client and writer, for one or the other is either avoiding hurting feelings or unsure how the other will respond to suggestions. This man was different. He started by praising what I'd done. Unnecessary, but sometimes folks feel better if they give you the good news first. I've had cases where the praise was followed by stern, even rude, feedback. So I wasn't too moved at that point.

However, during his suggestions, he was charming. He never lost sight of the fact that I was a somebody beyond this job. He talked about experiences, but never whined or blamed even when it was obvious he'd been wronged in a few cases. His voice was like a constant smile - he just wasn't going to let the world get him down, nor was he willing to take his troubles out on anyone else. I hung up the phone and prayed for a way to clone him. He's what I'd call a catnip person - someone whose appeal is heady. It has nothing to do with looks or sex appeal. It has to do with people wanting to be around that person because he makes them feel good - special - to be part of his world.

I compare him to the client I had a month ago who was so abrasive, so rude, and so egotistical that it wasn't until I wrote his copy framing him as one would a saint that he stopped griping long enough to say, "I don't know that I can live up to that!" No doubt in my mind, but at least he'd stopped saying things like "I never expected to have to teach you how to write" when I used a commonly-used term to describe his services and he found it offensive and "beneath" him.

Which person do you think I worked hardest for? Yes, I went through multiple edits with the grumpy dude, but the man with the charm - I worked my tail off to please him. I paid attention more because my character wasn't in question, nor my abilities, and I heard much more as a result. Whose fault is it that the grumpy person didn't get better service? I take the blame for not separating my stress from the job, but I think he should be shouldering the lion's share of this for his approach and his creating an impossibly hard working environment.

If the client is too hard to handle, I bow out. Why not leave room for a catnip person?

Since we typically vent about difficult clients, why not share something about one of your favorite clients?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Ultimate Hangover

Never fails that after a really cool party, you end up with either a headache or a hangover, right? Yesterday was no exception. Still high on the fumes of a Friday full of surprises, I got a rude awakening. One of my regular clients - an association magazine - has lost its freelance budget. No matter how great my ideas, they're not going to be able to buy any of them for the rest of this year. Gulp. Gasp. Egad.

Okay, Plan B. I have a specialty (not that I can't do other stuff, but this one pays really well). I started marketing to that specialty last week. Good thing, huh? Now is the time for me to get on the phone and get busy convincing these people they need my services.

Time also to step up meeting and conference attendance. While it may seem counter intuitive to spend money on conference fees and travel when the finances aren't necessarily there, it's crazy not to be face-to-face with clients right now.

And time once again to check in with some regular clients (and some whose ads I'd answered and hadn't heard from). Turn over every rock, check every pocket, look in places in which I've not looked for a while. People are hiring. It's just that some of the folks I'm used to hiring me are struggling due to strains on their industries. Magazines, I'm afraid, may not be the area to look right now.

This isn't a time to panic and start mortgaging the house. It's a time to find new ways to create opportunity. Yes, things are tight but no, work isn't gone for good. Good clients are still out there looking for good writers.

How about you? Where are you locating new opportunities?

Monday, May 18, 2009

After the Party

Know that feeling you get just after the last guest goes home and you start picking up plates and glasses? You're tired, you're reliving conversations and moments, and you're happy that your friends are indeed the best. Yes. It's like that today.

Thank you to every one of you for helping make the Second Annual Writers Worth Day one of the coolest parties I've thrown. I was floored by how many of you took it upon yourselves to spread the word. The efforts - and the words - were inspiring and a fantastic validation of my theory that we're all sick of inexperienced, desperate or unprofessional writers taking work that is beneath them. Thank you for getting the message out - that all of us suffer when one of us compromises his or her worth.

So what now? While it's great that we came together on one day, it's not enough. It won't end in one day, nor will we affect change in writers, and in a few of these job postings, in 24 hours. It's going to take all of us policing our counterparts, reminding writers to demand more and expect more. So whether it's reminders on forums, mentoring a writer or two, or building an opinion of respect among peers, our work has just started. Let's just consider Writers Worth Day to be the party that happens before the horses line up in the gates to get the job done.

Special thanks to those who posted after Friday - R. J. Medak, Sunday, Danielle Buffardi, and Horrible Sanity. You get the spirit of this, which is to continue the message beyond Friday. Thank you for your comments, your blog posts (Horrible Sanity and Danielle) and your continuing support of our market value and talents.

As promised, I visited to choose the winner of the Amazon card - the incentive for all who didn't seem to need an incentive to post and help the cause.

Drum roll........

Congratulations Tom Ellett! Of the 33 folks who posted, Twittered, or spread the news via LinkedIn, you were chosen as the recipient of the Amazon card!

Thanks again, everyone. I'll be back tomorrow with my usual blog posting. Meantime, the dishwasher's been loaded and it's time I take a nap. Back to work tomorrow.

How did you celebrate Friday? Did you do anything extra? Did you spread the word? Do you think you changed any minds or helped someone to see their value?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Second Annual Writers Worth Day

It's here! It's here! At the risk of my having a "phone book moment" like Steve Martin in The Jerk, the long-awaited Second Annual Writers Worth Day is here! Today is our day, writers, editors, and freelance creatives of all sorts. Today is the day we as an industry proclaim to our peers and to onlookers that we deserve fair wages for our talents. Nay, we demand that of our peers, because for too long we've been dragged down by those willing to compromise their value in order to get a clip.

No more! You're worth more than that - we as an industry are worth more than that. We care about your actions for a number of reasons - your career success depends on valuing yourself and your skills. Our careers depend on your turning down bad deals because each time you accept a lousy offer, you validate the existence of people who don't value writing skills. We want to help you succeed. We want you to understand it's okay to turn down a terrible deal. You don't need 10 extra dollars - you need to set your career on the right course from the start.

As I mentioned on Monday, there are a number of bloggers and Twitter users who are supporting the cause by spreading the word. Thank you to one and all! I'm spreading the love right back to them by offering an Amazon gift card (drawn randomly using a number generator) for all who post any mention of Writers Worth Day on blogs, Twitter, etc.

Please visit these blogs and people, who have taken the time to give you some pointers on how to value yourself and your work.

Devon Ellington
Georganna Hancock
Wendy Harrison
Lillie Ammann
Susan Johnston
Chantal Panozzo
AVR (a.k.a. Ana)
Debbie Elicksen
Kate Baggott
Erika Dreifus
Leon Sterling
Dan Marvin
Katharine Swan
Diane Parkin
AnnaLisa Michalski
Tom Ellett
Joshua Scheer
Gillian Swart
Jesaka Long
Kathy Kehrli
Ruth O'Toole
Kirk Petersen
Damaria Senne
Anali - Lisa Johnson
Amanda Nicole
Lisa Gates
Kimberly Ben
Anne Wayman
Keely H.

And thanks to:

Gabriella F.
Eileen Coale

(By the way - as I find your posts and your notes to me, I put your link here in somewhat the same order it appeared. If you don't see yours, nudge me!)

How can you spread the word today? As the folks above have done, here are ways to help get the word out:

- Blog posts
- Twitter tweets
- Facebook
- LinkedIn
- Email your friends
- Talk about it on forums
- Send my official press release to writer friends or trusted clients
- Promote it on your website
- Talk about it (loudly) at Starbucks

Through our efforts, our networks, and our gift of communication, we can help change the way writers view their worth, which will benefit us all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writers Worth Tip #6: It's Not About the Money

Oh, you didn't see that one coming, did you? What's she smoking, eh? Hasn't this woman been preaching endlessly about valuing yourself enough to demand the fees you deserve? I have and I still do. But I still say it's not about the money.

Here's what I mean - too many writers go into each job seeing the dollar signs. While that's great if you've managed to charge appropriately, it's not great if you've taken 12 jobs this week that pay $20 each because you need $300 for new shocks on your car. If you think "I need to find 4 jobs this month that pay $100 each", your focus is all wrong. Your focus should be on the whole, not the pieces.

It's a fine line, isn't it? You have to know what you need in order to reach your monthly/yearly goals, right? But now I'm saying don't make that the focal point and you're scratching your head. Hear me out - make it a part of your career progression process. Don't make it the main event.

Where to focus instead? On the job, folks. Focus on attracting clients and projects that make you happy, intrigue you, challenge you or help you reach a particular goal (such as writing for the Wall Street Journal or Ladies Home Journal). Look for things that help you advance your career in new areas, such as taking on white paper writing or writing for a medical publication. As you seek out new areas and new clients, you'll soon realize that your new rates are much easier to collect because you've shifted from worrying about having pocket money to growing an actual business.

Show of hands - how many of you are guilty of seeing the dollar signs first? Don't be shy. We've all done it. Was there ever a time when focusing on just the money has worked for you?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can You Tell Them the Truth?

There are two days left before the Second Annual Writers Worth Day! If you're posting something on that day or you're putting up the widget, Twittering, or Facebook-ing it, let me know in the comments section here, send me an email, send a pigeon gram... just let me know and you'll be entered in the drawing for the Amazon gift card!

On a project with a client, the client and I have both had some interesting dealings with the client's client. First it seemed as though Client L (the client's client) had a problem with brevity. He talked endlessly (and is probably still talking nonstop). I pulled the short straw and had to endure an hour-and-a-half conversation, one in which I asked questions but was talked right over. Finally, a friend who read my email SOS phoned, saving me via Call Waiting. It was a serious case of someone who didn't want to listen but wanted to be heard, and in his quest to share, he overshared. And he wasn't heard at all beyond the very odd, very personal information that had no bearing on our project. I've been in the situation before and yes, I tried the usual tactics to get him off the phone - talking over him, interrupting the minute he takes a breath, to no avail. His universe included one person.

When I had to call back, I changed my approach (and took two Excedrin before dialing - seriously). I heard him say hello and I launched into my speech, telling him we had exactly 15 minutes before I had to talk with another client. It took the wind out of his sails enough for me to take control and get the job done (in 20 minutes, but I got the information needed).

In talking with my client the other day, she expressed real concern over Client L's behavior. It would seem he'd been sending her messages at all hours and was becoming upset that she wasn't glued to her monitor late at night. She's handling him from her side, but what's odd is he's never spoken with her on the phone - only me. Perhaps in his monologue, he failed to realize whom it was he was speaking to?

It's clear to both of us what his issue is. He's not gaining new customers because he's not giving them a place they are welcomed into. In fact, judging from my interactions with him, they're probably not even walking on the same street anymore. I know how he can fix it. The client knows how he can fix it. Client L does not. That begs the question - can you tell someone his personality is getting in the way?

Obviously in this case, it's pretty severe. With someone that off-the-charts unpredictable, it's best just to let him assume you're the cause of his lack of business and let him move on. But in a less serious case, can you give your clients advice that could possibly offend?

In my personal opinion, I would. It does them no good if they're pouring money into a project only to get the same result due to something you can't fix for them. For instance, if your client is under the impression that his bragging is necessary to convey how special his business is, I would tell them that people rarely follow the loudest drummer for long and while they may notice him, eventually they're left covering their ears. Obviously, I'd be a little more tactful. Or depending on the client, I may say it exactly like that.

You may lose the client. But wouldn't you rather give an honest appraisal and offer free advice than let him go through writer after writer, customer after customer, not knowing the bigger issue?

Have you dealt with someone who needed to hear the truth? Did you say anything? If so, how and what was the result?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writers Worth Tip #5 - Getting Help

I had a pretty decent career going, but there was something missing. It wasn't until I took one teleclass from Lisa Gates that I realized everything was there except confidence. Sure, I'd been successful to that point, but I wasn't focused. In one hour, Lisa helped me turn things around and find the perspective I needed to go beyond the "okay" career and into something much more successful and lucrative.

Sometimes we need a little help, be it a coach, a writing course, a workshop, or a networking event. In the beginning, you'll soak it all up like a sponge. When you get ten or more years under your belt, it's a little tougher to see when you need some guidance or a jump start. But we could all use a fresh perspective once in a while.

Just be careful what you choose. I signed up for a workshop sight unseen once. The preliminary material on the website sounded good, the price was right ($30). But when the month-long workshop started, I realized it wasn't for me. The moderator had a great idea, but she wasn't vetting her audience very well. While new writers may have time to read 4 lectures a week (the smallest was 36 printed pages) and do twice as much homework, those of us established and working 40 hours or better a week just couldn't keep up. I'll confess - I was in the class about 10 minutes before I realized the format, the workload, and the lack of feedback did not meet my needs. I never did that homework or read beyond page 20 of the first lecture. Ironically, the workshop was about brevity and tight writing. Uh....

When you seek workshops and coaches (Lisa really is the best), look for material that meets your needs. Don't go at the process like you're sticking a fork into a moving slice of pie - think about what goals you want to attain. Think about how much extra work you can handle, and talk to some former attendees for their impressions of the material and the instructor.

The same for networking events, where you'll meet potential clients. Don't just show up with business cards. Show up with cards and your plan for presenting yourself as a professional, be it how you'll introduce yourself to how you'll listen and ask questions of those you meet. Show an interest in others, not just in promoting yourself. Have you ever been cornered at a party or an event where the person can't stop talking about himself? Yea, don't be that person.

If you can't put together a query, hire another writer or a writing coach to help you. Or read books on your industry. If you can't market, buy the book, hire the marketing coach, take the workshop, attend the conference. The more muscle you put behind your title, the better you'll present yourself, the better you'll feel about your career, and the more likely you'll respect your talents enough to charge what you're worth.

Writers, where did you/do you find help?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Take Part, Win a Prize

I'm astounded by how many of you have given your blog, email, and Twitter support to the upcoming Second Annual Writers Worth Day cause. Friday's the day! Here's the plan - if you post something to your blog this week before Friday that is dedicated to the mission of the Writers Worth Day (and includes a link to here), come back here and post it in the comments section (and send me an email just to be sure I see it). I'll compile them, post all links to your blog posts here on Friday, and you'll be entered to win an Amazon gift card! How cool is that?

Have you put up the widget? You've entered. Have you posted a link back to here and mentioned the cause? Yep, you too. Have you planned to mark the day with a post educating writers on their value in the market? You're absolutely entered! Mind you if you post ON Friday, I'll do my best to get your link up here as soon as I see it, but no guarantees. But you WILL be entered in the contest. If you can find a way to show me your Twitter support messages, you're entered, as well. (@LoriWidmer)

For those who want to send out a press release, go here. And copy me on the email you send to your friends.

My hope is to celebrate not just the value of our talents, but your participation in the cause and support of our industry. Remember, to be entered, you must tell me about it, either here in the comments or in email (both preferred).

I know some of you have already posted to spread the word. Thank you! And thank you to all who plan to participate. Here's our chance to make a small dent in the industry by educating our ranks on their true value. How do you plan to spread the word?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Writers Worth Tip #4 - Getting Involved in Your Career

Oh come on, you know you've been taking a passive approach to your career, don't you? No? When was the last time you actively sought out new clients? I'm not talking about cruising around the job boards looking to see who's hiring. I mean when did you last contact a prospective or current client and ask for the job? That long? Wow. No wonder you're depressed and don't think you're worth all that much.

Now's the time. Get off your duff today and start the first day of your new marketing plan. Compile a list of possible clients, make that brochure, create that postcard, and mail those potential clients something now. And as much as you hate to, follow up with a phone call in a week. If you decide to do all this in email, don't expect to get as much direct attention (or work), for spam filters, and spam laws, are your enemy. Go offline just once in your life here, okay?

There are a couple reasons why taking an active approach will benefit you. First, you're now in charge of who it is you'd like to work with and what industries in which you'll be concentrating your efforts. Imagine doing work you like instead of work you have to because it's all that was on Craig's List this week.

Second, you're now setting your rates instead of having them dictated to you by strangers who don't value you. That's going to reshape the way you think about your career and your worth in the market. If you can't state your rates and stand by them, you can't expect clients to do it for you.

I don't care if you're targeting magazines, newspapers, or corporate America - they all need writers and they don't know you're there unless you tell them. So, tell them. And tell them what you charge. With the possible exception of a few print sources, you'll be able to say "Here are my rates." Just make sure you don't undersell your talents. If you approached say Merrill Lynch and offered your writing services for $50 an hour, they're going to wonder what's wrong with you that you're so cheap. Study the market. Make sure before you present your rates that you understand what's standard in the industry.

So writers, what have been some of your more recent active career marketing moves? What's worked? What hasn't? What are you most afraid of?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Writers Worth Tip #3 - Walking Away

You put that query together and attached your URL samples or clips, and you got a response. Great! But there's something amiss - the client is saying "I need this yesterday, and I'm going to pay you $20 for 1,000 words."

No he's not. Okay, so you're sitting there idle thanks to a lousy job market. Your regular clients have stopped calling as often. You can't seem to nail down new clients. But what you can do is walk away. That's right - walk away from the only job to hit your in box in weeks. You won't be sorry for very long if you do, but if you don't, you'll not have a big enough boot with which to kick yourself.

I received another offer yesterday from a company I've turned down twice. Both times, I told them I can't justify working for 10 cents a word when three other publications are happy to pay me $1 a word. They're persistent - tenacious even - but they're not getting me. Ten cents a word for over 15 years of writing experience? They must be kidding.

So you're new to writing or you've struggled to get published. I understand. I've been there. Still, taking these lousy jobs just to get something, anything with your name on it is counterproductive. In most cases the work is extremely involved, tedious, and time consuming. Let's just say also that $20 - for what could be 4 to 12 hours of work - uh, why aren't you considering a job at the mall instead? And those clips? Worthless. Employers want to see a progression in your career, not a quick-and-dirty account of how you don't respect your own talents.

Every writer has his or her pain point. Unfortunately for the company mentioned above, mine is even higher than their 10-cent-per-word offer. The only way you'll know what your bottom line is will be to sit down and determine what your yearly income goal is. From there, you can break it down into monthly, or even weekly, increments. You'll soon realize how low is too low for you.

When you see a job offer with pay scales lower than minimum wage, walk away. There are other jobs. There are better paying jobs. You can find them. You don't have to accept these rates simply because they were available. Swine flu is available now too, yet you wouldn't take that on purpose, either.

Writers, what have you walked away from?

(Tomorrow, we'll talk about how to change your approach so you're not tempted to underestimate your market value.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Writers Worth Tip #2 - Spotting a Raw Deal

Regular visitors, you know how I feel about job boards. In general, they're a waste of time. Yes, you can find lucrative work there. No, you don't find it there regularly. More often, you find vaguely worded ads that hint at either "ground floor opportunities" or "free exposure." Once you've been burned by a few ads that sound great but turn out to be scams, you'll come to understand how to spot a raw deal just from the language.

I plucked this ad off Craig's List randomly - and no, not everything on Craig's List is this bad. It's not Craig's fault, either. But let me show you why this is a lousy offer.

"Our client has an incredible website dedicated to singles and their lifestyles. We are looking for new voices and personalities to submit articles to be published online. You will be the voice of reason, the voice of humor, the voice of inspiration, the voice of guidance, or the the voice of seduction!! Build your portfolio, and tap into our network of reader's to showcase your talent and make an impact on the lifestyles of singles throughout the tri-state area."

First off, if they're using exclamation points, that's an indication that it's more a marketing ploy than an actual job. Sorry those who love exclamation points, but they don't belong in ads.

Second, there it is. "Build your portfolio" and "tap into our network" - framed as a benefit to you, it's really a red flag. You're not getting paid. (It's true - the ad does go on to state "no compensation.") You're expected to be satisfied with a portfolio that's thicker by one lousy job and a nondescript network. Oh, and "reader's"? Come on - spell it correctly. Or perhaps there is only one reader who is possessed? Either way, not the job for you.

What are your red flags?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Writer's Worth Tip #1 - Beware the Bargain Shopper

We're counting down to the homestretch - the Second Annual Writers Worth Day is May 15th, and I'm asking all of you to spread the word today, tomorrow, May 15th, May 16th, August 2nd.... you get the idea. Find some way - your way - to make this your day to educate our masses. In the meantime, let's share some ideas, thoughts, frequently asked questions, etc. to start the ball rolling.

First thing new writers need to know - beyond how to take themselves seriously - is how to spot and avoid a bargain shopper. Typically, you'll talk with your client about the project, formulate a plan, then develop your project fee estimate. Once you present the estimate, it's not uncommon for a client to counter at a lower rate. This is where you can decide if that rate is acceptable or not. If not, restate your rate or come up with a middle ground (which I would not normally suggest - you'll see why in a minute).

Here's how to spot a bargain hunter - if you've come down partially in your fee (but not to his level), he's going to counter. If he does, thank him and move on. Seriously. Once I had someone state that my price wasn't within his range. Fine. What's your range? He gave me his figure. It was $8K less than my quote. I told him I could complete all three of his intended projects at 25 percent off each if he signed all with me. My best offer, and a darned good one. It would've netted him much more of a savings than his offer, and I would still retain some balance in workload-versus-fees.

He countered with an offer that was worse than his first. It's when I restated my last estimate and told him it was my best. Never heard from him again.

The problem is this - we know how much time and effort it should take to finish some projects. If not, we give a per-hour rate and an estimated time frame. We're doing our best to guess as accurately as possible and get the work done given any unforeseen issues. We're not negotiating based on a random number - we're negotiating on exactly the parameters we provide.

It's not an auction. We're professionals. No other professional will accept the same renegotiation of the price. Not mechanics, not plumbers, not landscapers or sanitation workers. The price is set so the job gets done and we can earn a living.

It may seem harsh, but too often the renogotiated price comes with strings. Either the client throws in additional, undiscussed work (in that case you respond with an additional contract covering just that work, even if it's "just" a small thing), or suddenly thinks the price is still too high. If they're bargain shopping, they're not really going to understand how the contract still needs to be paid if they change their minds and the parameters of the project.

I'm all for helping a client afford my work. It's why I offer PayPal options (they can pay by credit card there), monthly, or some acceptable option of getting the bill paid without bankrupting the client. But it's not within my power or desire to slash prices to where they get it for nothing and I lose billable hours dawdling with someone who probably wouldn't pay me my worth no matter how much money they had.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

Question: When is it ever acceptable to be nasty to another person?
Answer: Never.

Another question: When do you have to accept nastiness from a client or a writer?
Answer: Never.

We've all run into one or two people in our lives who just can't be nice when facing some sort of roadblock or disagreement. When it's someone you're working with, it can be brutal. And it's not just the stray client or two. I've seen some writers lashing out, in public no less, at their clients with some erroneous notion that because they're right, they're justified in calling names. Uh, no. You're not. (And before you ask if it was you, no. It's no one who's ever posted here, in my experience. Just random web surfing observations.)

A while ago I encountered a client who seemed great - until the last round of edits. If you tell me you don't like something or you question my methods, I can respond because that's something I can fix. But if like this particular client, you call my character into question, I'm going to drop you. If a client (or a writer, for those of you clients reading) ever gets into a "you're clueless" type of verbal or written tussle with you, get out. There's no way a person who can't treat you with common professional courtesy and basic human decency will ever be worth the fees you'd collect (or the project you need to complete or the fees to dump them, clients). I won't embarrass the client by saying what he said to me, but let's just say his words questioned my ability to form a coherent sentence. The trigger for him? One word. Seriously. A nine-line tirade questioning my education level, my work habits, and my abilities, all over one word.

I didn't tell this client what I really thought of his character because for me, this was business. His business style, however, was gawd-awful, and that did matter to me. But again, my focus was on getting the job done, not getting into verbal or written spats defending my honor. See, people who belittle over something so trivial don't really belong in my universe. Defending against senseless attacks is a waste of energy and it's pointless putting time into a toxic relationship. No thank you.

I finished that job as we were at the tail end when the thrashing came. One word changed his demeanor and altered forever my opinion of him as a person I could, or would, work with. I said goodbye when the project and invoice were sent to him. I didn't give him reasons. I behaved as I'd hoped he would - like a professional. A thank you and good luck.

How do you deal with difficult people?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Your Writing Peeves

We all have them - those things we hate to do, hear, or deal with. One of my writing friends loathes hearing a PR person ask for a copy of the published article, mostly because it requires her to get in touch with the editor, trace it back to the issue it appeared in, and ask for delivery, then follow up. A lot of work. (I've got a work-around for that one - when they ask, I supply the contact info for the editor.)

My peeve is similar - cannot stand it when a contact asks to review the article prior to publication. In most cases, that's just a big fat no-no due to editorial policy, but inevitably someone who doesn't know better (and shouldn't know - it's not their industry) will ask. In that case, they'll get their quotes in context for review, and I supply those happily. But it drives me absolutely nuts when I come across that one person in a thousand who won't accept that and will insist - once very rudely - that it's his/her way or the highway. Not exactly the way to get what you want - by threatening not to "allow" publication of an article you don't own in a magazine you also don't own.

That's my biggie. I have others, like the very occasional contact who will have his or her friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. review my work and now expect me to deliver his product EXACTLY how 12 other people want to see it. Impossible task, but this work-around is a clause in the contract that voids it should a third-party review be introduced by the client. Hate to do it, but it's a no-win situation when you're now forced to please not just the client who's paying you, but the friend who suddenly thinks he's an editor and has no vested interest in the project beyond wanting to show off and stroke the ego.

Another peeve - people who see one thing wrong and suddenly everything is wrong. Look, I'll please you, but you have to calm down. In one case of the entire piece being "wrong", I worked with the client and found that one sentence was the problem. Hardly cause for an entire rewrite, eh?

What are yours?
Words on the Page