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Friday, October 30, 2009

Monthly Assessment - October

Oh my lord, was this a long month or what? We had an extra few days to play with, which turned out feeling like an entire extra month stuffed into October. While the time may have flown by on the calendar, there were a lot of days to contend with.

October is a critical month for me - maybe for you, too. It's the month where I get to earn December's money. Figuring any project starting in October and billing somewhere in or just after the month, I can count on checks coming in right around December. Just in time to spend it all on holidays.

Let's get to my accountability section, shall we?

Except for this last week and a half, I hit the queries hard. I followed my own rule of contacting seven clients a week in general. That meant I sent out query letters to a number of new magazines. In a few cases, I simply introduced myself and sent along an idea for consideration, almost as an afterthought. I wanted to show them I was flexible and would work from their ideas, since there wasn't an indication either way on what they would like to see. Only two magazines returned notes to me. Two out of ten - that's unacceptable behavior from professionals, but I'm powerless to change it.

Job postings:
For the most part, I steered clear of job boards. The competition's insane right now, and frankly, job board posters are showing more of the low-ball offer trend than is acceptable. So I responded to zero job postings this month.

Existing clients:
Here's where I went to town. I contacted a dozen clients, mostly just checking in to see how they're doing. From that, I received a dozen responses. Great return on time investment! One has resulted in a new ongoing gig. Another is a ramping up for work needing to be done in December, when the rest of the freelance business dries up. Still another is looking to get moving mid-December on a longer project. All answered - not all had anything for me. That's okay. I talked shop with a few and generally kept in touch.

Two ongoing projects at the moment have me knee-deep in work. For that reason, my last week and a half was a little lame on marketing. I need to fix that. Market while you're busy, I always say. Time to take the same pill.

The good news - earnings are up about $1,500 over last month. Still not at my target, but I'm just shy of it by $1K. Better. With this extra work beginning to show up, I'm hopeful November will be the month that puts me over the mark.

Bottom line:
Letting go of a lower-paying client because of higher-paying work was a good decision. I quickly replaced that income with ongoing work that in one project outpaced those fees by triple the amount. Avoiding the job postings didn't hurt me in the slightest. In fact, the more active approach has opened up a few new areas of concentration. Also, the marketing plan is working. Let me rephrase - working the actual marketing plan is working. The plan is as effective as the time put into it.

How was your October?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Working Like a Pro

A while ago I was part of a two-person writing team that the client had assembled. This particular client was just forming a business, so there was a bit of miscommunication on meeting times, call times, etc. In one case, the client had made, and missed, two separate conference calls. Frustrating as it was, we showed up for the third one, as did the client.

The client apologized for his earlier absences. That should've been enough. However, the other writer decided it was time to teach this guy a lesson. So for the next five minutes, we were locked into listening to his side of why he doesn't like to be kept waiting. Ironically, his tongue-lashing kept us all waiting.

A number of things he did wrong - he let his anger show. He copped a condescending tone and launched into a here's-why-I'm-a-bigger-person speech. He ended with why it was unprofessional for the client to be so unorganized. And again, the irony - his anger was just as unprofessional.

Also, he let the client have it publicly. Okay, three people doesn't necessarily constitute a crowd, but the point was no matter how justified his words may have been, he needed to speak to that client privately - not in front of me.

Plus, hauling me into it by proxy was thoughtless and disregarded my time - the very thing he was accusing this client of doing.

And that anger? Yea, it never belongs in a client-writer relationship. I don't care if that client set your house on fire. You stick to the facts. Blathering on like an idiot over waiting 20 minutes seemed pointless. We all know we waited. The client had apologized. Move on.

I was upset too, mind you. I had put aside time for these calls. How I handled it - I contacted the client directly, asking him if everything was okay. Once I found out it was, I reiterated that he missed both calls and that in the future, I'd have to bill for that time as I'd set it aside and couldn't work on other projects. I ended with "I'm glad things are fine."

I'm still working for this client. The other guy? Nowhere to be found. The difference in our reactions is what's been cited to me - indirectly - for why I remained on board and he didn't. I left the emotion out of it. I stuck to the business impact of the client's tardiness. No one wants to hear - from their contractors, least of all - that they're big screw-ups who can't organize a phone call without a committee.

Occasionally my client will miss a call or forget an appointment. No problem. I simply add that to the next bill. And if that call comes in an hour, or even 30 minutes later, it goes to voice mail. I'm usually in the middle of someone else's project. I can't drop everything twice in one day. Most clients get that.

Then there are the clients who haul out emotions and guilt tactics to make their point. That's your cue - walk away. Anyone who thinks it's okay to negotiate rates with righteous indignation or with the sappy, "But it's a labor of love for me! I don't have the money..." is not your client. That's an anchor about to go around your neck.

When was the last time you had to forgo the emotions and stick to the facts? How'd that go?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Repositioning Your Brand

You're a brand. You know that, right? Whether you're just starting out and trying to define your career or you're a few years or decades into it, you have a perception in the market. Beginning writers - you struggle with this most, but it's not tough to position yourself in a way that secures a strong foothold in the profession. Maybe you beginning writers have an advantage over us veterans. You can decide from the get-go your market, your clients, and your direction.

We who have been at it a while have had an old-fashioned upbringing - we started small, built and built and built, suffering burn marks and hard lessons along the way. But we too can reposition ourselves and create a better career.

Define your mission. Yes, you should write a mission statement. Something like "I deliver exceptional marketing results through powerful imagery." Find your niche market, your interest areas, your wish list of things you want to be doing instead of what you're doing, and apply a mission statement to it.

Define your brand. This is a little different. Your brand encompasses your mission, but it's more than that. It's the value - the benefit - your clients get from hiring you. My brand would look something like this - "Extensive experience in risk management, insurance, and finance writing and editing." While I do more than that, that's my core brand.

Align your marketing to your mission and your brand. Here's where the real work comes in. If your mission involves marketing copy, you should stop targeting magazines. That's taking you far from your mission. Instead, start contacting agencies and corporate communications departments. Your key audience, the one that will help you maintain your mission, is right there.

Brainstorm ways to expand your client base. With your brand and mission defined, think of how many ways you can apply those to clients. For example, I know writers who write web copy. They also teach web writing courses, and they hold seminars for companies teaching their employees appropriate electronic business correspondence (emails in particular). You could be a speaker at conferences on your topic. You could hold online courses helping others learn your skills. Whatever your brand, there's a way to expand on it.

Consider certification. For me, the obvious certification would be in insurance and risk management areas. For resume writers, certification in resume writing. For copywriters, copy writing and editing. Etc., etc.

Guest post. Want your brand to reach new clients? Write guest posts on your topic for blogs in your targeted industry. This positions your brand as a sought-after expert, and as a familiar voice in the industry.

What more can you do to develop and expand your brand?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Busy? Charge More

It's been a busy month for me - busy to the point where I've ignored my workouts, haven't read books, and glance through magazines in passing. My husband said, "Time to raise the rates."

He's right. When the work is coming in faster than a writer can handle it, that's an indication the price is right - too right. Time for the price to be adjusted.

But what about clients? How is that going to play out with the client base? In my experience, you will lose a few, but the stalwarts - the ones who understand your value - will stick around.

Good friend Anne Wayman has often said that higher rates beget more clients. It's one of those odd phenomena that holds true. If you charge more, you attract clients who are more committed to paying your fee to get quality writing.

So how busy have you been? Is it maybe time for your rates to be raised? In fact, when was the last time you allowed yourself a raise?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Myths About Queries

Welcome to a new week! Since so much of last week was spent in direct contact with new-to-this-blog writers, I'm assuming there were some newbies in the crowd. And hopefully, a few have stuck around. If so, this post is for you. And veteran writers? You, too.

Remember what your first query letter looked like? No? Is it because, like me, you've blocked it from your memory? Those first attempts were pretty awful, weren't they? But worse is the lingering misconceptions we cling to - those query-writing myths that could be keeping us from getting the job. Time to change that.

I can't give it away. Yes, I committed this crime. I wrote a query to an editor that was so veiled, there's no way that editor would've known what I was trying to sell. You've done it too, right? You've sent a query and thought "I can't give them my best opening because I'm saving it for the article!" Wrong! The editor is your first audience. Write that query beginning as though this is the article. Put in the excitement, the drama, the anecdote, or the stunning facts that are going to land the assignment. More importantly - most importantly - address this question: What does it mean to this publication's readers? For example, "I will talk with XYZ Company's Todd Doe for his impressions on how Crater Explorer readers can improve their equipment function and gain more accurate crater measurements." If you can make the correlation between the article and the readership, you've shown you get who they are and you've increased exponentially your chances of acceptance. If nothing else, you've impressed them with your ability to present strong, relevant ideas.

I need to remind them of how important this topic is. So you think saying "Your readers really need to hear about this" is going to help? Try this - present the facts, the angle you're taking, and show, don't tell why it's important.

I'll let them decide on a focus. No you won't. They're not going to enjoy doing your job for you. It's a tough market out there right now. You need to present everything, including your understanding of their audience, slant, advertisers, etc. If you can't be bothered, neither can they.

I'll tell them the idea and figure out what I'm doing later. Guess what? Later's not coming. That's because presenting an idea with nothing to show you're capable of following through, or that you have a clear direction is just lazy. Try this - locate potential sources with the right credentials to contribute to the topic (if you haven't joined PRNMedia and used ProfNet, here's your chance). Show the editor some of the questions you're hoping to answer with this article. Give that editor a mini-summary of your topic, who's going to be quoted, and where it's going. Otherwise, it's going nowhere.

This query is going to six magazines. Tell me you don't do that. Every magazine - EVERY magazine - has different audiences, viewpoints, advertisers, needs, etc. If you send an idea for crocheted tea cozies to Crafts Monthly, don't think it's going to fit into the scope of what Redbook or Marie Claire. Extreme examples, but the point is no two magazines are alike. You have to approach them with different sales pitches.

I don't have to read their magazine. They'll buy the idea if it's good. Right. First, they may have already published a similar story - have you looked at the last six or more issues? Second, who's their reader? You might not want to sell a "cheap family vacation" story to a magazine catering to the over-$100K crowd. You'd know that if you looked at the advertising. If there are high-end jewelry ads, ads for luxury cars, or ads promoting exotic destinations, these people don't care about how to save a few bucks on family vacations when the family may have a permanent place in Martha's Vineyard.

I should apologize for my lack of experience. Oh no you shouldn't. You should present the idea, and add any of your experience that's relevant. Read that again. Relevant. No one at Scientific American is going to care that you wrote filler pieces for Pittsburgh Magazine unless those fillers are directly related to Scientific American's main focus.

They say no email queries, but I'm sure they don't mean it. Hell they don't. Do you realize how many emails the top magazines receive in a day? When I was on staff at the trade magazine, I was wading through hundreds a week, of which few were actual queries. If we'd been a high-profile magazine accepting email queries, triple that number. Give them the information in the way they expect to receive it.

In fact, read all the submission guidelines and follow them. Experience shows that many writers don't. If they want snail mail, send it snail mail. If they want clips, give them clips. If they don't want phone calls, don't call. Don't think you're the exception. If they don't know you personally, you're not.

Anything you've learned about query letter writing?

Friday, October 23, 2009


It's been a long week with both work and this blog. Normally I put up my post, enjoy your company, and go about my business. Wednesday (and spilling over into Thursday) I played hall monitor and basically let people run rampant here in an attempt to allow two sides to speak at once. For that reason, you're not getting much out of me today.

Things I've learned via the conversation and in general -

- Monitoring grownups is often tougher than monitoring high school cliques. And I wonder just how many people who never resolved high school angst still battle it out in their adult lives? I don't want to have to monitor again. It's too damned exhausting and it takes away from my work.

- I was way too lenient on the blog Wednesday. The bad behavior started almost instantly. My fault for not putting a foot on it. The purpose of Wednesday was to allow opinions to be expressed, not allow people to divert from the issue by accusing, getting upset, and generally stomping around on my community. Blog regulars, I apologize for not halting it sooner.

- I'm so glad things will soon return to normal here. I'm tired!

- There's an undercurrent on the Internet that I hate. It's the "You don't agree with me? How dare you! I hate you!" attitude. I hope we proved here this week that we CAN disagree and still get along. But somehow I doubt it.

- I truly hope my allowing the discussion to take place here does not impact my business or my clients. I put up with entirely more than I needed to in order to allow for open dialogue. And frankly, the sniping and bickering was draining. I don't want a client coming upon this blog to get the impression that this is just another place where women pair off to claw at each other. And let's face it - it's women.

- I've got really good blog friends. I know some of us share opposing opinions on a number of issues, but every one of you whom I've known through this blog continue to amaze me at how professional you are. I'm glad to know you all. I love that we can disagree and still like each other. That's the kind of people I'm happy to call friends.

- Giving someone the space to express their opinions is always a good idea.

- No matter what you say or how you say it, there's always going to be someone who's going to find a hidden agenda.

- Farm Town on Facebook was a big time suck. I'm glad I let my crops go to waste.

- I'm much stronger in my resolve than I thought. BS has begun rolling off me like water from a duck, and I'm much faster at seeing people's true motives.

- I've built a pretty good career - one that I'm proud of, with some neat accomplishments. I'm glad I've put the effort into building a business.

- Sometimes what you say and what people hear share no common element.

- Demanding respect never gets it for you.

- Vanilla bean ice cream has that little bit of crunch that's pleasantly unexpected.

- New shoes can fix any bad mood.

Tell me you guys have learned something. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theft, Rebranded

Whew! Yesterday was quite a discussion day, wasn't it? I want to thank everyone for chiming in, pro and con, over the content mill debate. I want to thank Deb Ng once again for voicing her side of things. Much appreciated, Deb.

In Tuesday's post, some disturbing commentary came up and I'm loathe to let it pass without some serious discussion. One of the posters brought up this hypothetical idea of finding corporate clients, working for them, and then reselling that content to content mills. He mentioned press releases and articles as potential resell opportunities. It doesn't matter - it's wrong on both counts.

Here's the thing - when you write for a client, you write their copy in exchange for a fee. When you hand it over, it's theirs. Not yours. I'll repeat that in case you missed it - that copy is not yours. I don't care how entrepreneurial you are or how resourceful you think it is; you cannot resell a product that isn't yours to begin with. Just because you generated it doesn't mean you own it. You don't. Have I mentioned yet that you can't sell it because it's not yours?

I'm stressing this because to do otherwise is unethical at best. Legally, you're looking at breach of contract, copyright infringement, theft of intellectual property, theft of trade secrets, damage to brand and reputation, damage to the ability to compete, etc. And hell yes, you're going to be fired for it, as well you should be, in my opinion.

Circulating someone else's press release without their permission? That's just as bad. While it may seem logical that companies want all the added attention, it's not your choice to decide where that release is going to be seen. It's the company's choice. Imagine this - you hire someone to write a press release for your own company. You select the news organizations where you're going to send the release. Maybe it's because your product is new on the market and you want to get it into New York Times et al before your competition can trump you.

But your Google Alert shows your press release out there on a content mill site. What? How can that be? Because your writer took it upon himself to circulate your release on the Internet. Worse, he got money for it, money above what you'd paid him so that you retained all rights to your release. So now, are you happy for the "added exposure" or are you pissed because someone's making money off your proprietary information and tipping off your competitors, thus damaging your competitive edge and weakening your brand? Suppose you worked for Apple and it's their release on their newest product? Think you're going to be seen as having tons of initiative? I think it's more likely you'll be seen as a thief.

If this is a gray area for you still, don't take on any clients. Please. Until you understand that the money you collect for those projects transfers the project ownership to the client, you're opening yourself up to all sorts of legal action, and you're damaging your client's business.

Have any of you seen this in practice?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Content Mills: Deb Ng Responds

While I may not change my mind, everyone who visits here has the chance to tell their side of an issue. That was my response on Friday when the content mill discussion turned to why people had left the Freelance Writing Gigs community. I extended the offer to Deb Ng, who has found herself in the middle of this firestorm. Those opposed to content mills (I'm in that camp) take offense with her recent professional alignment with Demand Studios. Those who support content mills as viable work options see no problem with it.

Deb is back to state her case and list her reasons why Demand Studios was a good choice for her. I thank Deb for taking the time to put this together, and for returning to the midst of naysayers (myself included) to express herself. The post below is 100-percent her words, no edits.

From Deb:
On Wednesday evening I arrived at my hotel in Las Vegas only to find they lost my reservation and had no room at the inn. After flying for six hours and riding in the 90-plus degree heat in a cab with no air conditioning, you can imagine how I felt as I dragged my big old wheelie suitcase across the busy intersection in search of another room. Thankfully, I found a place willing to accommodate me and I set up to relax with a cup of coffee and some email. Only there were tons of emails, all calling my attention to Angela Hoy’s piece against Demand Studios at Writer’s Weekly. At least I think it was against Demand Studios, because my name was in there. A lot. It appears Angela Hoy, someone who I respected and considered my freelance writing mentor, and have sent a ton of traffic to in the past, was a little upset with me. I couldn’t tell if it was because I encouraged Demand Studios writers to write in with their experiences or because I have a partnership with Demand Studios. It didn’t matter though, the damage was done. I cried. Then I went out to dinner with some friends and got over it.

I’m not here to comment on Angela Hoy’s piece, though.

Throughout the next few days I received links from blogs questioning my choice to partner with Demand. Aren’t I supposed to be for the advancement of writers and work at home moms everywhere? How can I do that and endorse Demand Studios, a … shudder content mill? How dare I? I also received some very nasty notes from people who jump to some amazing conclusions.

Before I defend my choice, I want to thank Lori for inviting me to tell my side of the story. She’s the first person to do so. I’ve been called out on many blogs and forums for my decision but this is the only time someone asked to hear from me. That’s class. Even though I lost Lori as a community member, I appreciate her respectful argument and invitation to rebut. I decided last week I wouldn’t go from blog to blog defending myself. People tend to twist words and argue and beat every little point to death. So many things have been taken out of context lately by people who I considered friends and colleagues and it’s been kind of hurtful. I knew if I ran off half cocked and defensive it wouldn’t help my cause.

But I digress.

Here’s why I’m happy to be the scapegoat in this whole Demand Studios content writing argument.

There’s not a day that goes by where a representative from a content site doesn’t reach out towards me with a request for advertising or sponsorship. Several have offered me amazing money for endorsements. A couple offered to buy my network of freelance writing blogs so they could endorse themselves when I wouldn’t. I think it’s safe to say I must have turned down about $50,000 worth of advertising in the past year or so. I said no to one very low paying place and they offered me an obscene amount of money to reconsider. I told them to use it to give their writers a raise, but they didn’t. Throughout the years I’ve also been very vocal about the opportunities that I consider unfair.

It occurred to me that I had a good opportunity to align myself with a company I felt (and still feel) treats writers well. Maybe if I endorse a company I respect it might encourage new writers to seek out better paying opportunities rather than those paying lower.

It’s really hard to write about my partnership with Demand Studios without sounding as if I’m giving a sales pitch, but in order for you to know the reasons for my decision, you’ll have to know what led me to my decision.

Everyone thinks Demand Studios came to me throwing dollar bills and I whore’d myself out for the advertising revenue. The truth is, I contacted them. I wanted them to know I thought they were doing a good thing. I wanted beginners to know there was a place to start- and it paid over minimum wage. I wanted the people who are frustrated with reading poor writing on the web to know there was a place hoping to eliminate that.

Everyone who has followed me over the years knows I put community first. It hurts when former community members suggest I’ll sell out to make a buck. I hope most of my readers trust me enough to know I’m doing what I feel is right.

There are many reasons I heart Demand Studios. Some of them I can tell you, some I can’t…at least not yet.

I know that…
- Demand Studios wants their writers to succeed and does everything they can to help.
- They offer mentoring and tools for success - DS editors work with writers on grammar and usage
- They pay above $10 an hour
- They’re choosy about their writers and the writing
- They flew in a bunch of writers to find out how they’re doing and how they can improve.
- They want their writers to earn more money and work on ways to make this happen.
- They have higher paying opportunities available to members and advertised on their forum
- They don't require their writers to meet a minimum payout and, in fact, pay for all approved articles twice a week
- They're offering affordable healthcare for their writers.
- There are many more good things coming from Demand Studios.

The real clincher for me was the writing. They don’t just simply sign up writers and say,"OK, write whatever you want, use keywords and let’s get those advertising dollars rolling". They aren’t looking to flood the web with content. They are looking to put out useful, educational, well-written content. There are a lot of complaints about rejections, but the truth is, we expect this with magazines and newspapers. Why should Demand publish poor writing? If a piece doesn’t make the cut, it’s not published. Isn’t that the way it should be?

It would be hypocritical for me not to advocate “content mills.” I did very well writing web content. It was a wonderful place to begin and an even better place to supplement my income later. I enjoy it and I don’t find it to be an embarrassing or demeaning way to make a living. What I don’t advocate are the mills that hire writers at one rate but continuously lower the rate as time progresses. What I don’t advocate is writing for a buck or two for a blog post. What I don’t advocate is accepting any old bit of writing for revenue. But content mills? Why not? Why can’t I advocate them if they pay a livable wage and show respect to their writers? Why can’t I choose the one I feel to be the best opportunity and offer to endorse them? I’ve never been against content sites. I’ve been against the content sites that treat writers poorly. I wrote for Write for Cash, WiseGeek, b5Media, Know More Media, and LoveToKnow, so it’s clear I’m not against writing content.

I’ve also been clear that I don’t expect writers to write web content forever. I hope they use it to gain experience and use it to land higher paying jobs. I’ve been vocal about that. However, to me writing is all about choices. I’m not one to bash writers about the choices they make or the writing they do. I like to present the best opportunities and let writers make their own choices. To call them names or suggest they have no self respect for writing for Demand or any other website is just mean and wrong.

We see a lot of disgruntled writers bashing Demand Studios (and other places) all over the web. It's funny how long standing members of my community will trust them, writers they don't know, over me, someone who has been working hard every single day to present the best opportunities and protect their interests.

Until you can meet the people behind Demand (like I did), see how they work (like I did), see their plans for the future (like I did), meet with the writers (like I did) and write for them (like I still do), you can’t say they’re a terrible place to work. Sure you can listen to some people who have had bad experiences, but then you can also weigh them against all the people who are having positive experiences.

Am I a sell out? Maybe. If promoting a place you believe in is being a sell out I can accept that. I might go down for this, but at least I’ll do so knowing in my heart of hearts that I’m doing the right thing.

Deborah Ng
Freelance Writer/Professional Blogger/Social Media Consultant

Freelance Writing Jobs
The Number One Online Community for Freelance Writers


So, Words on the Page community and visitors, what do you think? Whichever side you're on, you're welcome to post your opinions here. For visitors, keep it clean, please. One thing I will not tolerate is character bashing, name calling, and any other high-school leftovers. State your opinion. State it as strongly as you like, but be adult. I know my community members here don't need to be told that, but those of you new to this site - consider it a gentle reminder that may or may not apply to you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are We Finally Getting It?

With the great content mill debate still fresh on my mind yesterday, I followed links left behind on Writers Weekly to see what the temperature was among writers across the Web.

While there were a number of "Love (insert content mill name)!" posts, there was a groundswell of posts expressing comments like "fed up" or "ridiculous" to describe their experiences and overall feelings about working for pennies for these places. I read many (not all) comments and saw a trend - even writers who aren't interested in putting time into building their client bases are turning their backs on content mills. If you're one of them and you've stumbled upon this site looking for help building a credible career, welcome. We're thrilled to have you.

The old argument I keep hearing from writers across the board (and in private forums I belong to) is that my notion of working for newspapers is outdated and no better than working for content mills. Uh, how do you figure?

First, you have a credible news source. Newspapers are almost always run by larger publishing groups. Content mills are run by business people wanting to maximize profits, minimize costs.

Newspapers have staff editors who earned their jobs through education or career advancement. Content mills that have editors have ones that are business people or contractors who are paid roughly the same as their contributors. One will give you editorial oversight. The other will give you fits.

Newspapers print relevant, original copy that connects the community with its readership. Content mills print whatever they happen to think is the hot issue du jour, and if it's rewritten from some other content, so be it.

Newspapers are connected to credible wire services that pick up and redistribute articles (and writers' names). Content mills are connected to their own sites, loaded with advertisements, and they redistribute articles in order to grow their own profits (your name or not on them).

Newspapers pay low wages. Likewise, content mills. The difference is after a while, newspapers will give you a raise (I received two). Content mill prices vary, but usually downward. Remember, the idea is for the owners to maximize profit, minimize costs.

Newspapers give you usable, published clips. Content mills give you scores of churned-out content that employers see as proof you don't value your career.

While newspaper jobs have disappeared, there's still a need for correspondents (stringers, as they're also known) to work on a contract basis. Or hey, there's always gaining a foothold in the magazine industry by writing for lower-paying markets. Even the lowest-paying magazine market I ever worked for paid me ten cents a word. It takes just a few articles in credible publications to build a solid resume and move up the food chain. For those working for the content mills, they'll be there a long while, churning out content, before they realize there's no real career advancement possible in killing yourself for chump change.

Where are some of the places you started? How much better did they pay than content mills?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Critical Learning

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on Friday's post expressing your opinion on the content mill issue. Deb Ng has agreed to stop by and write a post voicing her side of things, which given her history is exactly what I expected from her. You may not agree with her opinion, but she's always been okay with that from what I've witnessed. That kind of acceptance is the best forum for real discussion.

In Friday's comments, I made mention to one of the more ardent of Deb's supporters that these complaints, which veered from content mills to why they left her blog community, that all complaints were learning experiences. She has the chance to rebuild her community if she can find a way to address and repair these issues. The reasons given by all of you on why you were no longer visiting the blog are gifts.

Companies learn from complaints. They examine them, measure their frequency, and they build responses to them that attempt to regain the customers they've lost or are about to lose. The smart ones put a lot of stock in what their customers say. They use them as business improvement tools. Why shouldn't we?

Usually, the complaints are the last we hear of that customer we're working with, but there's no reason why our clients' complaints can't teach us and help us improve things in the future. Taking a bad situation and improving it is just as critical to our success as it is for other businesses (yours is a business, you know). For example, I once had a horrible outcome to a long-term project. The client had pulled all the strings from the start, which skewed my editing process and caused no end of grief when he blamed me for edits he'd removed. Worse, he'd handed the whole project over to another person, who said I wasn't much of an editor because of the "mistakes" in the copy. Lessons learned - never let a client control your editorial process, and have a contract that's voided the moment a third party starts advising.

But be careful. Not all complaints are useful. I've had more than one potential client gripe about my rates, which are much higher than the pittance they shell out, or the clients who complain three months after the check was due that they hated everything you did. There are such things as lousy, self-serving complaints. Those we ignore.

When have you learned something from a complaint?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Definitive Word on Content Mills

There are many reasons why I've been an Angela Hoy fan for years. Angela heads up the marvelous Writer's Weekly site, the online Bible and writer's manual for the freelance writing profession. Her ability to cut through the BS and give you a clear picture of specific publishers, magazine groups, and "employers" has earned my respect and the respect of thousands of hard-working writers. She chases down non-paying clients. She warns us. She informs us. And she lets us be part of her family.

As I wrote my post about selling out a few days back, I had no idea Angela had put together an article on Demand Studios. She also called out actions by Deb Ng, owner of, who has recently entered into an agreement with Demand to run their ads on her site and has since advocated working for Demand. This has caused quite the uproar among professional freelancers, who have discussed, debated, and argued the move on various blogs. I will openly admit it prompted my post on selling out, and it revealed my opinion a bit more than I wanted to reveal it. (For the record, though I admire Angela Hoy, I don't know her beyond her site, save for maybe three emails over a span of six years. I'm merely a writer who holds similar opinions.)

I'm not a people basher. I'm not someone who enjoys or strives to call out others. But I'm an advocate for fair pay and fair treatment of writers. To me, ignoring my advocacy in deference to another writer's feelings is cheating myself and cheating you.

I have never had any debates, arguments, or even detailed conversations with Deb Ng. I am a Twitter friend of hers. But I cannot agree with her decision to promote Demand Studios as a legitimate source of income. As Angela's newsletter article reveals, writers are selling ALL rights for the potential $20 per article (not a guaranteed amount, we're told). Some writers are fired when they question assignments. All are being underpaid. To promote that, to me, is to deceive people into believing this is legitimate work. It's not. It's the online version of serfdom. It's bondage. And any writer who sticks with that sort of bondage is a fool.

That's why I have issue with Deb promoting this content mill. She's openly admitted, to her credit, that she's receiving money in exchange for her advocacy. It's disclosure, but it's still advocating to those pursuing a professional writing career that bastardizing themselves for a clip is okay. But to blame Deb entirely for writers accepting these wages is unfair. Writers have to take responsibility for their own careers.

The bottom line, for me, is if you take a content mill job, you are allowing yourself to be used. You're allowing yourself to be underpaid, and you're agreeing to let these companies leech off you and make exponentially more money from your article than you'll ever see. Angela said it best: "Five to fifteen dollars for a well-researched, well-written article, with references and illustrations, is pathetic. Claiming it isn't makes you a laughingstock in the industry. Everybody's just afraid to say it to your face. I'm not."

Make that two of us who aren't afraid to say it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Passive Marketing the Google Way

Writing chum Dana Prince has a really cool blog post up about passive marketing. She makes a lot of sense in how valuable clients find us - the Google search. Click on her link in the post and see her suggestions.

While she advocates posting to content mills to up your chances of being found on Google, I'm not going to do that (sorry Dana - I hate content mills). But here are a few ways to increase your visibility on a Google search.

A weblog on your specialty. If you're going to write for free, write for yourself for free. Putting up a weblog based on, say, health care or fashion is a great way to increase the hits you get on a Google search. Concentrate not just on great content, but on keywords that will come up in a Google search, such as "HIPAA" for health care or "designer trends" for fashion. In my specialty, I'd put lots of reference to risk management and insurance. Lots of insurance, so that when the potential client goes looking for an "insurance writer" my name floats near the top of the results.

Articles on your specialty. No, not content mill articles. Articles for online publications, print pubs (that often post articles online), or even your own website. Put some effort into writing for higher-paying markets (or for yourself) and watch your name rise in the Google search results.

Blogs for others. Blog posts are easy things to write. We can charge less as a result, but they're also a great way to get your name attached to your specialty, especially if your client allows you to openly author the posts. Let me explain - my own blog work has been of the ghostwriting variety. That pays the bills, but it doesn't give me any more credibility to a client looking for an insurance or risk management writer. If your client allows you one or two "guest posts" for the sake of increasing your own visibility, go for it. Or guest-post on a cyber-friend's blog, using those very keywords you need to get your name associated with your specialty.

Tons of keywords on your own website. It seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many of us (myself included) fail to put enough terms in our code or in our copy that points clients to us. Maybe that's our first step?

What do you do to improve your Google results?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Selling Out

When I posted my enthusiasm over Microsoft's Office Workspace freebies, I worried I'd be viewed by you readers as selling something. Worse, when an MS employee stopped by to thank me, I felt like a real heel for even bringing it up, despite the fact that I was thrilled to pieces with what I'd found. I like these new products, so I went overboard in telling you guys. It does look advertorial, but I did warn you it would.

But it brings up a point about writers and other professionals who "sell out" - who join forces with companies or services and then start evangelizing or worse, feeding those companies clients. I brought up the MS stuff because it's free. If it wasn't, I'd tell you. I also think I mentioned my ongoing frustrations with Microsoft, which has resulted in a few Microsoft Sucks posts in the past. And more in the future, guaranteed. Frankly, if my husband weren't anti-Apple and if it weren't so damned complicated to switch, I'd be on an iMac. So I think I'm good.

But lately I keep coming across people who have indeed sold out. It makes me nauseous to see it, too. One blog, which used to be devoted to helping a writers avoid content mills, now accepts ad revenue from one and has softened the message on what's acceptable pay. And the blog owner is taking a thrashing in the blogosphere for it. Another takes a "live and let live" stance, since the blog owner clearly works for one or two mills. So those in defense of lower-paying gigs may be doing so for a reason.

It's why I'm thrilled that the FTC has put some parameters around such writing, requiring full disclosure (as well it should be anyway). It's like that advertorial that pops up looking like Google News, when in fact it's a company trying to sell its work-from-home scam. It's framed to imply that Google is informing you, and maybe they are, about something that sounds mighty shady to this writer. When I saw writers posting "Hey, check this out!" I couldn't believe someone would buy that crap. Then I had a disturbing thought - perhaps these "writers" are working for said company. In one case, I don't believe so as it was posted on a closed writing forum. But in others, I wonder?

When you allow your opinions, your writing, or your actions toward your readers to be skewed by advertisers, free samples you've received, or anything that's could be construed as a payoff, you lose your credibility. Your reputation, which is hard won and easily lost, is history. How can I believe anything again from someone who says one thing but does another?

I have a fashion-related blog. Recently I received jewelry from a manufacturer. I gave an honest appraisal, including the bad stuff, and mentioned the free gift in my post. To do otherwise is to cheat the reader. It's why I won't work for magazines that use only advertisers as "experts" to quote. Those aren't magazines - they're revolving advertisements that deceive their readers.

What instances of selling out have you seen?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why You're Not Cheap

My favorite Catalyst Blogger Jen has an excellent post up about defending one's prices to clients. She gives you great advice on defending, not lowering, your prices.

I can't help but think you're sitting there, new to freelancing or just never comfortable talking price, thinking the client has some justification in debating what you charge. You may be thinking "Yes, my rates are a little high. I mean, I live in .... and here, no one can afford that." Or it could be that the minute a client mentions price, you feel the guilt crawling into your gut and you can't possibly charge that. But just like Jen said, the minute you compromise your price, you compromise your standing with that client.

Here are some reasons why you can't lower your fee so quickly:

Your client will nickel-and-dime you throughout your relationship. Yes, they will. One client paid a meager sum for blog posts, but would pay much more for newsletter articles. That lasted about a month, then he was back complaining that he didn't see the difference, so he wasn't comfortable paying the agreed-upon higher price for the articles. Buh bye.

You get a reputation. I had one client to whom I had given a rock-bottom price for his project. He referred his mother to me. Only Mom expected the same rock-bottom price not for one website page - for her entire website. He'd told her I was cheap (isn't my mother proud right now?). I couldn't escape the mindset with him or his mother, or frankly anyone else he'd refer to me. I had to let that referral stream go. Amen.

Your client's financial issues are no more your concern than yours are to him. They do it quite often. They say "I can't afford that." Some will even go so far as to justify it further with the gawd-awful line "I just paid a designer / web host/ accountant most of my money." That's no excuse. Your price is built on your ability to conduct business and turn a profit. You deserve a profit, just like they do. Would they raise the price if you said something like "I can't work for that because I have to pay for my kid's braces this month"? Hell no. So don't let that sway you. Give them alternative payment options, but price breaks are only for ongoing work and regular clients.

You attract bottom feeders. Once you're used to dropping your price at the mere mention of cost, your level of clientele begins to dip. You've shown you have no faith in your abilities and no backbone when it comes to justifying your price. They smell fresh meat, and they'll pass your name down the same food chain to other clients who won't value your services. Worse, you begin to target clients at that lower level. Ask for what you need and stick to it.

The client who wins the fee debate controls the project. Normally I'm not about who has control of what in my life, but in my work, if I can't own the writing process, I'm merely a clerk-typist. If a client wrests control of the price too easily, that client is going to be picky and uber-managerial throughout the rest of the project. Don't think it's a direct correlation? Try it. Better yet, avoid the agony and just listen to those of us burned a few times by that very phenomenon.

Why won't you drop your prices?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Technology that Rocks

Stand back - I'm about to sound like an advertorial.

I'll admit I'm usually late to the technology dance. The newest gadgets or tools aren't something I feel I have to have. But I just found some technology that makes my work easier by making it portable - Windows Workspace.

Sporting a whole lot of envy over Apple user Devon's recent MobileMe connectivity, I went in search of Microsoft's response - surely, I hoped, they had one. And did they ever. Windows Workspace answers one of my peeves about wanting to take my work outside the study. No more USB drive needed - Workspace lets me access the same document from my desktop or my laptop.

When it's downloaded from the Office Live website (which I highly recommend you browsing - there's more cool stuff, all free, that may be applicable to your work), the program puts this handy little "Save As" feature on your existing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. You just save it to the Workspace. You've got 5GB of storage space. The program is free. It's also a fail safe should your hard drive die. My gawd, I'm becoming a Microsoft evangelist here. Those of you who know me, who've shared my frustration with Gates & company over the odd lack of shared formatting over some MS products, know that I'm not exactly Microsoft's staunchest supporter. But I've drunk the Kool-Aid.

So far so good. I'm loving the ability to just save it and run out the door with the laptop - no worries. It's there. No need to check my laptop bag six times for the USB stick. You can download the beta version of Workspace here.

If that's not enough to make you happy, try the Windows Live Mail program, another freebie. Since working remotely means I don't have emails handy, this one is a godsend of a different sort. You can collect all your emails in one place, addresses and all (those that are compatible - I have one that's giving me fits, but I suspect it's the provider). One note of caution - empty your delete and spam folders first. The program uploads everything.

The entire Windows Live section has tons of tools that allow you mobile IM, blogging, browsing, photos and movies. Mind you, unlike Apple that thought to package it all together, each Windows Live tool requires a separate download. But I like that it allows you to choose what you want without forcing the rest on you. Here's the Windows Live site.

There's other stuff (isn't this just like Christmas?). Those of you with no professional website (shame on you!) will love the free website that comes with its own email addresses. I'm tempted to take my site there - my guess is I'd be able to get my email from my website finally forwarded to the central Windows Live Mail. Here's that link.

All this took me a grand total of 30 minutes - from the initial Google search to complete installation. Mind you, Microsoft does NOT make it easy to find this stuff on their site. I had to locate it through Google's search. But I can't be too harsh with them now. I'm finally happy to own a PC.

What's your favorite application or download?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rate Debate: Do Real Writers Actually Buy Into Low Rates?

A spirited debate is taking place over at Michelle Rafter's blog about content mills and rates. I urge you to visit and comment. Surprisingly, both camps have strong defenders. I think I'm now a huge fan of Michelle thanks to her no-nonsense look at the topic and her own thoughts, which echo mine.

And naturally, I had to enter the debate. My argument is, and will always be if you can make more money at a minimum-wage job, then dammit, take the minimum-wage job and save your self-respect.

The debate itself is a month old, but I found some very disturbing sentiments in some of the comments. Not too many people agreed that $3 jobs were worth anything more than a laugh and a click away, but when I saw respectable writers commenting on how the $20 jobs are better, I had to speak up. You know me - I can't see anyone advocating slave wages for skills that many think they have, but clearly don't.

Worse, I saw mention (and I can't remember who said what - read it and let me know) of those rewritten article jobs - the badly disguised plagiarism cases waiting to happen - and there was a hint of validation in how those jobs were framed. Something akin to "I may not like them, but at least they pay better." Mind you, not everyone has yet to recognize this new twist on copyright infringement and plagiarism, so I can't hang anyone out to dry on this yet. Let's just say the scum who offer these "jobs" do a good job reframing theft.

My bottom line to this? Twenty bucks is NOT an acceptable wage for ANY article or any one project. Twenty bucks, to me, is one-quarter hour of my time. No, let me restate - that's almost my quarter-hour rate.

And those $3 jobs? Please. They're jokes. They're someone's idea of being a "business person" by offering pocket change in order to justify a business card title. It's crap.

Real writers - please tell the wanna-bes and those who are apparently clueless how you find real work. Please let them know in the comments section here and over on Michelle's blog how real writers operate. I'm growing quite hoarse here doing it so often and so loudly.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

When Quality is Your Trump

We've talked a lot about sticking to your hourly rate and defending it rather than lowering it. So what happens after you hold firm? Typically, those potential clients not interested in paying for quality disappear. But you know what? That's a good thing, for it now frees up your time to find clients who appreciate value and skill.

In the past I've had instances where the clients have said no to my price and walked away. Sometimes they've taken great offense and walked away cyber-shouting at me, calling names or tossing out the written indignations meant to make me feel guilty. Sadly for them, I've heard it before. That kind of emotional warfare doesn't sway me one bit. In fact, it cements my decision to stick to my price, for I had just weeded out major trouble. Professional clients, like professional writers, don't argue, call names, or try to diminish the other party. They simply say no thank you and move on.

But every now and then a client will come back and say, "Wait. You're right." It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's about the best validation you can receive for acting professionally and charging professionally. I had that happen, and it's great.

The client paid a low amount for ongoing work, but paid me market rates for other projects. When the client approached me trying to lower the market rates, I said no thank you. They moved on. But then they came back with the words every writer wants to hear "Name your price." Why the change of heart? Because the work I gave them was worth every penny I charged, and my rates, while in line with the market standard rates, were not the highest on the block. The client, facing a search for someone with the same skills who would do that job for those low wages, realized it was time to buck up and pay the right price.

I didn't take them back. At the time, I had been disenchanted with some of their business practices, which included a few attempts to pass of higher-paying work as the lower-paying stuff. It tarnished their reputation as fair players. There wasn't a price high enough for me to take them back as I'd always wonder just how much defense I'd have to bring to each assignment and how much I'd have to watch my back.

Writers, please. Don't accept someone else's rates, especially if that someone has a hissy fit or insists it's all they can afford. If you were to use the same tactic or the same argument with them, I guarantee it would never work. I can't afford to lower my rate, yet when I counter this with some clients, they tend to get upset in a "who do you think you are?" way.

The point is your price is your price based on your skills, your experience, and your business model. It's not a flexible number that anyone can manipulate. It's yours. Hold fast to it and make sure if it's amended, it's at your discretion and not someone else's. Your argument - the only one you need - is that you deliver quality, and that trumps any low price any day.

When has holding out for your price benefited? What are some of the more outrageous reactions you get from those unwilling to pay?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Word to the Cheapskates

Dear cheap startup, viral marketer, and any other "employer" wanting writing for nothing:

I keep seeing your ads all over the Internet. And I hope your responses from actual writers are more of the "you must be joking" variety than people actually foolish enough to think you mean what you say. I'd like to bring up a few points with you. Going forward, I hope you understand that the following is something we will not budge on.

I will not be moved by your exclamation point overload. Even one sends up a red flag. Two sends chills up my spine. Three to 30? That sends you right into the spam folder.

I will not partake of your offer of free exposure. I have a weblog. I have a website. I have all the free exposure I need, thank you. I know it's a spin put on your ad to divert from the obvious - you're not paying. Go away now.

Your labor of love means nothing to me. Seriously. Do you care that my business is a labor of love? No? Then why on earth should I care about yours? Oh, because I don't. It's just another ploy to get someone to buy into your dream without you having to invest in it yourself.

I really don't believe it when you say if I do this for a few bucks now, you'll compensate me better later on. Call me crazy, but I believe that business people should not start a business if they don't have adequate funding for that business. Also, your lack of planning does not mean I'm itching to make sacrifices for you. Here's a thought - how about you sacrifice something and pay me my standard fee? A weak-assed business model like yours won't make it too far into the future, and I want my compensation now, thanks.

I won't be available 24/7 via email, IM, or any other method. You aren't paying me enough to own my every minute, so listing such silly requirements in your job ad is pointless. Oh, unless you're truly interested in paying benefits. Requirements that are that strict changes the definition of our relationship from client-contractor to employer-employee. And laws exist that make it your job to pick up my healthcare the minute you put such strict parameters around my time.

I'm not revising or rewriting anything that didn't originate from you or me. Let me clarify - if you didn't originate the copy you want me to revise or if I didn't write it for you specifically, it's called theft. It's plagiarism, copyright infringement, and it's illegal. Not to mention sleazy. Pay people decently to originate copy for you and you can avoid ugly lawsuits.

I won't work for you if I don't know where you are. Please. Addresses from PO boxes are SO last year's scam artist tactics. Man up and get a real address. Unless your goal is to con people into doing work for you and then not paying, in which case we're on to you. No address, no work.

If it's perfect for the stay-at-home mom or the college student, then don't expect a real writer. You're hysterical. You require industry expertise, college degrees, and references. But for what? $1 articles? Either target people who aren't real writers or pay more for professionals. Otherwise, stop annoying the hell out of everyone.

I won't engage in a bidding war with you or anyone else. Here's my rate. If you ask nicely and give me sound reasons why, I may consider a one-time price break. If you're shopping around for the cheapest writer, you're not serious enough about quality.

No free samples. Ever. I have enough experience and enough clips to show you my writing ability. If you want something more targeted to your industry, that comes with a fee. To expect a "writing test" upon application is absurd, especially if the writers are experienced. From my experience, you don't have the editorial background to be able to tell anything from those samples. Try this - rely instead on track record and client recommendations. Stop wasting everyone's time and for the love of Pete, stop trying to trick us into giving you free copy through these "tests." Do you honestly think we hadn't figured that out yet?

So take these to heart, cheapskates. If I have anything to say about it, you'll no longer have access to professional writers. Instead, you'll get the uninformed, unskilled, and wanna-be crowd who don't know enough about writing or negotiations to stand up for themselves. The rest of us have real clients to tend to, thank you.


A professional writer

Want to add to the list?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Scam That Pretends to be You

A break in our usual writerly discussions today - I saw a disturbing segment on The Today Show about a scam has the potential to catch us all. Scammers send you an innocent-looking email, you click on a link, and they have instant access to your email and Facebook passwords as you type them. From there, they get to work emailing all your friends from your accounts asking for money. And your friends? Some of them are all too eager to help.

It stands to reason that you shouldn't click on any link from an unknown email sender, but it bears repeating. Also, if a friend approaches you via email asking for money to get back from England or anywhere, make a quick check to see if that friend isn't sitting right where you'd expect him or her to be.

One that nearly caught me was the person calling to offer me a free Yellow Pages listing. He wanted to verify my information. Something didn't seem right, so I begged off. Then a few hours later, another woman with a thick accent called for the same reason. Four calls and two days later and yes, I was sure it was a scam.

Any scams you're aware of?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lateness on the Edge of Town

I spent Friday afternoon attaching late fees to a few invoices. Mind you, I'll never see the late fees paid - not one late fee I've sent out has ever been paid. Well maybe one, but out of dozens, that's not too successful. I haven't pushed it legally yet as the amounts, so far, have been too low to justify legal costs.

My goal, though, is to get my original bill paid. Late fees get that process going again. In one case recently, I was in constant contact with the client, who was prefacing each conversation, unprompted, with "I'll be writing your check on Monday." I should've asked which Monday. It took a few months and a few late fees. My rule is three invoices, the last one mentioning litigation. It's worked every time.

But in some cases I've managed to get late bills paid while still maintaining the working relationship. No, I don't promote working with people who ignore your invoices. I'm saying sometimes clients just drop the ball on accounts payable. You don't have to sever the relationship just because they were a week late. In fact, it's only after two months of invoicing will you really know if they're worth the trouble. If they apologize and pay instantly, you've got a good client. If they've ignored two invoices and you're preparing the third, collect your money and then forget who they are.

But do have your invoicing system in place, including your plan for those who don't pay on time? I include a note with the final invoice stating clearly the overdue status and that avoiding litigation comes in the form of a valid check written to yours truly. This information goes on the invoice, too. There's no way it can be missed if you bold it and put it at the top of the invoice. For me, mentioning litigation works every time. I've not had to press it, but I know how to if I need to.

How do you get the bills paid?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Bringing Up the Uncomfy

Sometimes they just need to hear it. Sometimes clients need to know exactly why you left, what they can do going forward, and how they can succeed post-you. I'm not talking about the fly-by-nights who want to justify a $1/article job as "exposure." I'm talking about legitimate businesses making critical mistakes that are chasing away good help.

I had one such conversation recently. Didn't want to, either. But when the former client reached out and asked for some suggestions, I gave them. I was candid, but kind. Frank, but friendly. In order to attract a writer with your requirements, you have to pay more than you are now. Otherwise, you're in for a long search.

That my suggestions resulted in utter silence as a response didn't surprise me. But it doesn't matter. I know I conveyed what they needed to hear - what they asked to hear - and that going forward, they won't be surprised when the next writer says "Wait, that's not a fair price." I didn't tell them anything untrue. In fact, my delivery was much, much kinder than they'd get if they posted those rates openly.

Normally I wouldn't care if I insulted someone who didn't value my skill set. But in this case, this client was in an industry where I work. I wanted no chance of them talking me down to other potential clients. As I said in previous posts, if the worst they can say about me is I demand fair pay, I can live with that.

What surprises me is the lack of understanding some clients have toward our rates. Maybe they think everyone is a writer at heart, therefore our skills aren't really all that special (and how wrong they are). Maybe they're of the mind that designers hold the real skills and that writers, and writing, are add-on things we need but don't need as much as we need bells-and-whistles on our websites. The frills are great, but if the frills come with no clear message, how are you going to convince people to part with their money? Anyway, I digress. This will always baffle me.

So how do you approach difficult client conversations? Any particularly good outcomes? Bad outcomes?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don't Toy With Me

It seems to be a much-practiced habit - writers who stand up publicly for the rights of other writers, for better wages, for respect, dammit! But then look under the surface and oops! There you are - those projects you don't want to admit to taking, those projects that you took that you'd be ashamed to admit to, the ones you try justifying to yourself and others, those "clip building" attempts at a career. Oh, honey. I've been there and done that in terms of taking jobs that are too low in price. But I don't wear the t-shirt any longer.

Somewhere in our minds we justify that taking a job paying ten cents a word is a way to "break in" to the industry. I've done it. You've done it. But really, how often have we progressed beyond that price, or for that matter, any further into that industry? I used to have a "one-and-done" policy of article writing for magazines. One article to get into the industry, then move on to higher-paying stuff. Only I didn't move on. In fact, I stayed. By the end of my relationship with one publication, I was so resentful I couldn't stand it. And I resented myself for taking the job. They were clear what they'd pay. I accepted it. Bitterness that followed? My fault entirely.

I know some writers who still work for well under $1/word. I know writers who think residual income lies in posting articles on content mill sites. These are people I adore and respect. Know what I think is missing in their business choices? Clearly thought out side effects. Really. In the case of say one article on a content mill site, how much money are you earning? How much would that "residual" income make if you'd put some proactive marketing into the idea? About 30 minutes of real research into magazines and you could easily quadruple (or better) that payout.

Another side effect - the loss of respect. In one case, writers were shocked to learn of an experienced writer putting his stuff on a content mill site. Shock turned to disbelief as he had posted numerous blog entries berating these same sites. Worse, he accepted ads from these sites. You must be kidding.

Content mills aside, my theory on accepting less just to get the foot in the door is simple. If everyone takes this approach, magazines will soon learn they can drop their rates to ridiculous levels and still fill pages. Don't think those lower-priced jobs you take don't affect your future rates at other publications. Just try getting top dollar from XYZ magazine when they know you worked for ABC, and they know what ABC pays its writers (this info is almost always readily attainable on the Internet).

I'm up front with you guys on everything I do and say. For that reason, I'm inviting you to come clean. Right here, tell us the job you cling to for whatever reason. Tell us in your own words how you've justified it, and tell us how you will move beyond it. No judgments here - just an opportunity for you to openly examine those projects that are beneath you and make a proclamation of your own worth.

So, pull up a keyboard and tell us. Don't be shy. You're among friends. And we've all been there, too.
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