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Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Writing is Sometimes Like Spaghetti Squash

What's on the iPod: Something Good by The Airborne Toxic Event

Back when big hair and shoulder pads were necessary accessories, Oprah and her personal chef put out this cookbook. The premise - if this woman could make Oprah skinny, she can make you skinny, too.

In the cookbook was a recipe that used spaghetti squash as a substitute for actual spaghetti. Sounded good enough, so I pulled out a pot and started to it.

Spaghetti squash tastes nothing like spaghetti. In fact, it's probably the worst substitute for spaghetti that a person could possibly use. Shredded cardboard would be better. Shredded car parts even. But I got insight into how Oprah lost all that weight - someone expected her to eat this crap and she didn't know how to cook.

Writing is like that sometimes. Sure, we pick up the super projects, the fun ones, even ones that introduce us to new topics and industries. But every now and then we pick up a spaghetti-squash project - one that promises much, much more than it delivers. It may suck even.

So how do you handle the spaghetti-squash project?

Lots of seasoning. The project itself may be gawd-awful, but you could spice it up enough to make it interesting to both your audience and you. Suppose it's a dry topic requiring an institutional voice. Yea, that's spaghetti squash. But even institutional writing needs to compel its readers to act. Do this - write it out conversationally first, one paragraph at a time. Then go back and replace your "It's" and "You're" to "The company" and "Institutional investors." It takes the sting out of going all third-person.

Antacid. Or in this case, caffeine, chocolate, or whatever it takes to keep your butt sitting in that chair until the first draft is done.

Side dishes. You have other projects, right? Give yourself a short break from the blandness of the main dish. Grab a side dish and get something creative down on paper.

Take out. That's your reward. Give yourself benchmarks. "If I get through two more pages today, I'm going for a latte."

Sell the cookbook. Now you know what you don't like. So why dip back into that pile for another? If you're sure every project will be exactly like that one, walk away from future work. If you hate it after you've finished it, you're not going to love it twelve projects in. Find projects that interest you on some level or challenge you in a better way.

How do you deal with spaghetti-squash projects?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trust in God, But Lock Your Keyboard

What's on the iPod: Karma by Alicia Keys
What I'm reading: The Skull Beneath the Skin by P. D. James


Yesterday I managed to get an article draft completed and worked a little on a press release project. I was able to get ahead of the work as I'm expecting a large project to come in this week or next. Better to plan ahead.

Surfing around the blogging world yesterday I hit upon some different sites. What's odd is I'm starting to see a proliferation of blogs repeating similar information, sometimes verbatim. While I'll let that to the bloggers in question to sort out amongst themselves, it does send up a red flag about content and ideas and our ability to connect to so many people at once. We're connecting to potential sources, but we're also connecting to people who wouldn't think twice about using our ideas or maybe our own words.

Case in point - a writer friend had put out a blanket query on a social media site a number of months back only to find his idea show up on another writer's blog the next day. Coincidence? Maybe, but his idea was pretty specific and it was a new twist on an existing topic. So was the post by the other writer. That another writer would take a story idea so blatantly is shameful. It's not illegal, but most writers have the ethical standards and common decency necessary to not shoot a colleague in the foot.

The blanket query was for reader experiences on this topic, which my writer friend said wasn't possible to find without a blanket query.

What can you do? Not much. Ideas aren't copyrightable. However, you can prevent it from happening to you in the future.

Don't tell all. If the idea is for a client and is proprietary, try masking the details enough so that the idea isn't revealed.

Use a website like ProfNet to find your sources. ProfNet allows you to cloak your queries so that others in the media don't receive your request.

Call potential sources. It's a little more time-consuming, but sometimes calling your sources directly is the best way to keep confidential assignments confidential.

Take action when laws have been broken. In the case of someone using your copy on their website, absolutely you should go at them with both barrels. No one has the right to take what isn't theirs.

Would I mention it to the other writer? Only if it became a habit and only if I was sure this writer was doing it purposefully in an attempt to either trump me or damage my reputation with clients. To be honest, no two writers will address the same topic in the same way, even if the idea is new. However, the novelty of a topic could be ruined and that isn't cool. Better to give your colleagues a little breathing room before putting your own spin on the subject.

Have you seen instances of theft of ideas or text?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Client Collaboration

What's on the iPod: The Sky is Crying by Stevie Ray Vaughan
What I'm reading: The Skull Beneath the Skin by P. D. James


It was a little coincidental that I was listening to The Sky is Crying yesterday - I wasn't shedding tears, but tension is building in a current project. Remember the "We didn't use it so we'll just pass on that invoice" people? Yesterday I had to get firm as the wheel-spinning was nearly out of control. I've put a number of edits and one rewrite into a small, usually quite easy project. The trouble is delivery of expectations. It's filtering through more than one person down to me. Any other time I'd be okay with revisions as I do charge hourly. This time, knowing that last time was a problem, I'm feeling my spine going rigid. I will not accept "We didn't use it" this time. And I will end the relationship if need be. I follow through on my word.

And it's proof that I need to market harder in order to replace this client before the expected happens.

That brings up the topic of expectations. Clients, writers, this is a collaboration. Both sides need to be delivering something to the other in order for this to work. Let's start with clients.

Clients can expect writers:
- to meet deadlines
- to deliver on or close to what was expected
- to partner with you to get the message right
- to be competent

Writers can expect clients:
- to pay invoices on time
- to give enough information to get the job done
- to allow adequate time for the job to be done properly
- to allow for revisions

That's in a perfect world. And for the most part, our worlds are pretty darned perfect. It only goes sour when one side of the equation fails to fulfill one or more of the expectations.

Clients and writers protect themselves from the let-down by signing contracts. Writers, if you come across any client who refuses to sign a contract, refuse to work with them. There's no reason why a contract should cause anyone to feel strong aversion - unless they're intending something less than honest.

Writers, what else do you expect from your clients? Clients, what do you look for in your writers?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More on Finding Work

What's on the iPod: Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen
What I'm reading: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson


I love Allena Tapia's latest blog post over on About.com. In it, she outlines how to be a profitable freelancer. Given that she herself has just topped the $100K mark, I'm apt to listen. That's a terrific list of things successful freelancers should practice.

Then there's finding the work, right? We talked about it a little here last week when I covered how to get that magazine gig. But what if your heart is set on getting a corporate project or finding ongoing work with an individual client? Where do you go? What do you do?

Here's what I do:

Research. Oh, stop groaning. It's not tough to research a company. Pick a company whose products or topics interest you. Go to their website. Look at their news releases, publications, etc. Do they have any? No? Then you've just found a potential client. Look deeper into their practices, their financials (if available), and decide if these people conduct business in a way you're open to.

Develop your own personal media kit. Again with the groaning? Really? This isn't hard. Mine is a resume, cover letter, and a few pages including client recommendations and samples. That's it. This is your sales brochure. Pretend you're writing it for your favorite client (you are).

Write your introduction. Whether you decide to call them or send them an email or snail mail, make sure you know what you want to say. Write your introduction well in advance. Then follow up with a phone call (if you've not called them in the first place). People want to connect with real human beings. Go beyond your written world long enough to introduce yourself and ask if they need your help.

Show them the benefits of hiring you. This is key. I could give anyone a laundry list of the things I've written and the number of publications where my work has appeared. Know what? They don't care. They're going straight to my samples to see if my writing fits their style. Frankly, that cover letter should be written in their style, but it should also convey to them what you're going to do for them, not just what you've done for others.

Think beyond corporate. While you're at it, why not approach printers and marketing companies to see if they have any client work or overflow work that could funnel your way? Use the same methods above to get their attention. Then land the sale.

How do you find work beyond publications?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend Re-entry

What's on the iPod: Modern Leper by Frightened Rabbit
What I'm reading: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson


Great day Friday - thanks to both Devon and Jenn for a terrific time. Meeting with you guys underscores the importance of having like-minded writers in your life. We get each other.

Had a nice weekend. After a few hours of pondering our approach, we decided to drive to Manhattan (the bus was sold out) and spend the day. The daughter wanted touristy stuff. In all the times we've been there, she's never seen anything beyond museums, rain/snow, and that fantastic Eddie Izzard show. So we headed first to Strand to fill up. I was thrilled to see the changes at Strand book store. We remembered it as dusty, hot, and loaded with books (not the place to visit first if you're wearing white). Thankfully things are much different. I picked up four new titles.

We then went to Toys R Us in Times Square. She wanted to see the Ferris wheel. We picked up a few gifts there, then headed off to Rockefeller Center. Top of the Rock, which was way too expensive ($21 each - to peer off the side of a building? Seriously?), but the views really were incredible. Then we met up with another in our party (he had a meeting uptown) and went off to St. Andrew's Pub (thank you, Devon) where we had terrific desserts. Dinner too, but the desserts were spectacular. Ironically, it was right beside the Irish pub we'd visited in April when we were there for the Celtic parade. How'd we miss that?

Yesterday I decided to finish some of these books and start new ones. The Devil in the White City was a terrific tale, start to finish. I'm in awe of research and writing that good. And last night I plowed through another chapter of Death Comes for the Archbishop. Since television sucks right now, it's easy to pick up a book instead. I will say I was exhausted from the heat on Saturday, which led to a few impromptu naps, and I had to put my book down a few times because I was getting drowsy.

Today, a ton of work. I'm a little unnerved that I have money owed, but no checks. That hasn't happened in a long time for me. And naturally, it's happening now because I just paid the IRS some back taxes. I'm squeaking by for the next ten days. And I hate it. Time to rattle a few cages and get these late checks collected.

How was your weekend?

Friday, July 23, 2010

How and Where to Look

What's on the iPod: Cherry Bomb by John Mellancamp
What I'm reading: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen

Great day yesterday. I managed one small project, got an article roughed in, and started lining up interviews for the newly-scored article. And despite my fears, the government agency I had to talk to wrote back immediately and is lining up an expert as we speak.

Today I'm off to play with Devon and Jenn. But let's chew on a few things before I get down to the "business" of having fun:

The question keeps appearing - if you don't find good work on the job boards and you don't work for a content mill, where do you find work? That last part of the sentence - where do you find work - is the key to what's going wrong. You're not finding work through any of those methods. You're letting work find you. And honey, it's bad work. Just look at those rates! Egad.

So now it's time for you to find work. Today, let's target magazines. Start with an idea. Here's one - are reversible mortgages a good idea ever? There. Not so hard. I usually start with a question like that. In fact, that idea came from one of those gawd-awful commercials trying to convince people to give up their home equity for a monthly cash payment. Ideas are indeed everywhere.

Next, figure out who wants that idea. I'd say this one appeals to the over-fifty crowd, those close to retirement or in retirement. So I'd say your magazines catering to middle class or better retirees would be a good place to start.

Now it's time to dig a little deeper into your question. What other questions does that question bring up? For me, I think I'd want to know:

- Who needs this?
- What are the dangers?
- What are the specific situations in which this might work?
- Are there benefits and if so, what are they?
- What happens in a typical reverse mortgage situation?

So who's going to answer those questions? Easy - go to ProfNet.com and look for some experts. Or you could see who's already talked about this just by reading other articles on reverse mortgages. And you should look around and see just what's being said on that topic. That's your preliminary research, and it doesn't have to be extensive. Just read enough to get a grasp on what the real issues are - this could change your questions as well as your approach.

Now write your query. In it, put that one item that jumped out at you when you first researched. Maybe it's a fact - how many people are using this, how many bankruptcies resulted from it, how questionable the sale of these mortgages are, whatever. Set up the query just as you set up the idea for yourself. Mention possible interview sources, then ask for the sale.

Next week, let's find corporate clients, shall we?

Writers - where do you find your magazine clients?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your Next To-do List

What's on the iPod: Floating in the Forth by Frightened Rabbit

Yesterday felt like a massive wheel-spinning. Playing dodge on the phone with interview subjects has never appealed, and much less so when I'm under deadline. So today is aggressive follow-up. By aggressive I mean I become more pushy and a little more of a pest than usual.

I was looking at this summer compared to last summer. The difference is incredible. Last year I was twiddling my thumbs, thankful for a bank account to sustain me. This year, I've worked straight through, exceeding my monthly earnings targets each month. July may not be an "over the goal" month, but it's still much stronger than last July.

It's because I've been marketing. I'm lucky - I have enough face time with clients that my marketing doesn't have to consume more than a few minutes a week. I have a wide base of clients and so far, I've only had to go outside that base a few times. That doesn't mean I won't still look for new clients. We live a quicksand existence - what's here and hot today is often sunken and lost tomorrow.

So how can you have a lucrative summer? Try building a new to-do list.

1. Market when you're busy. I've preached it before, but you can't avoid a lull in work unless you have something waiting for you as you're working on your current projects. Take five minutes. Seriously, five minutes. Send out emails to your current clients asking if they have anything you can help with. Take fifteen minutes and write a magazine query. Reach out on those social networks and let the world know you're available to rock someone's project.

2. Plan ahead. The slowest months of the year are typically July-August and November-December. Now is a great time to plan those holiday articles, start negotiations on new projects, and line up work that can sustain you through an expensive season.

3. Say no more often. Why are you stuck at the same income level? Because you've said yes to too many projects that pay too little. Or you've started one project only to see it plagued by project creep - the snowball effect of more work being piled on to your original project (and at that low, original price). Say no. Negotiate higher rates. Walk away if the project and fee doesn't fit.

4. Secure payment. They've owed you for three months, yet you're reluctant to push for payment. Stop being reluctant. They're welshing on the deal. Chase it. Chase it by various means - debt collection, litigation notices, whatever it takes. No writer should wait longer than 30 days for payment, and at three months, it's time to take serious action.

What else is on your to-do list?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where's the Kaboom?

What's on the iPod: Handle with Care by The Traveling Wilburys

I'm channeling Marvin the Martian today as I look back at yesterday morning. Really. Just the morning was weird, but what a weird morning. Like an unexploded bomb ticking away somewhere (hence the Marvin reference, all you Bugs fans). Flash back to Monday around 7 - he calls. The car broke down. In Brooklyn. I'm in Philly. Now what? Worse, he was late picking up our meditation monk in Queens, who was good enough to call looking for him. And he'd forgotten to take my cell phone with him (he's technology averse).

His plan - limp the car from Queens (he limped it to Queens eventually) and then limp it down 95. My role - drive north. The monk has a cell phone (how bad is it when your monk has more technology than you do, huh?), so we were able to communicate and find each other in New Brunswick. I got home after 11.

Tuesday was a wad of everyone else's plans spilling out at once and all sorts of requests from all directions. And I'm sitting here trying to work. I opened one email and closed it quickly. Did I see that? Yes, the client wanted revisions. Different client than usual. Didn't like the one blog post at all because it was "too negative." I'm a truthful writer - I don't blow sunshine, so if you want all roses, tell me so ahead of time so I can approach it like a marketing job. Luckily, I was able to get those finished rather quickly, even the one that was destined for the scrap heap. Let's hope they stick.

Once the blog posts were fixed and I had agreed kicking and fussing to be chauffeur to the household today (it's his alternator), had relinquished my keys (he went to get his car), had printed the bus tickets (monk leaving today), and started lunch for when everyone but me could eat (interview for an article), my head was pounding like a jackhammer against concrete. And it was noon.

But despite the fun, I got plenty accomplished. Don't ask me how. It was all a blur. But I finished revisions on the article that was assigned incorrectly, got an interview (and a good one, too) completed for another article, and managed to eat lunch somewhere around 2 pm. That's actually better than some days - I forget to eat.

Today is catch-up time. I have interviews to go over, a story to rough in, and blog posts for another job due. And then there's marketing. I've located a few forgotten sources whom I need to contact today.

It's rare when things get so out of control, but obviously not rare enough. I have a label already made for these types of posts - "work interruptions."

When was your last Kaboom day?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mixed Messages

What's on the iPod: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers

Yesterday was a bit of a challenge. I was sporting a whale-sized headache (sinuses yet again) and I finished a ton of work early enough to be tricked into thinking my day was over at 2 pm. Alas, the best laid plans.....

A project revision came in at 3 and sent me into stealth writing mode for the next few hours, which of course meant dinner was late and there was no exercising to be had. At any rate, the original one-sentence assignment turned out to be based on an article that was, well, the wrong one. I was sent the wrong information, which means I have a killer article that can't be used anywhere. Yet. I had to throw it out for this project, but I'll find a home for it. Meantime, I had to finish that story, which meant a refocusing of topic, audience, and effort. Luckily I'm billing hourly. And yes, this is the same much-loved client that recently didn't pay for an article not used, so I'm nervous about the time I'm putting into it. I don't want to sever the relationship just trying to secure what's due me.

New writers, that may seem like a really odd thought, but it's how you have to think. No matter how much you love your clients and their projects, if they don't pay, they're not clients. They're freeloaders. I won't call this client a freeloader because we haven't come to a point yet where I have to push for payment. But if they balk this time, it may well end the relationship and the bill will be due in full upon receipt.

I think the point is that even the best people with the best intentions make bad decisions. You can love them all you want. If they don't pay, you have to risk the relationship and stand up for your business. Period. If you owed them for their product or services, you can bet they wouldn't wait for payment. If any client ever gives you grief because "We didn't use it" you ask them if they'd accept that answer from their customers, too.

Oh, and before you hear it and think "Wow, he's got a point", don't ever let a client say "Well, I shouldn't have to pay because you can use it somewhere else and get paid." No. If he ordered it and you delivered it, he owes you for it.

Established writers, what long-standing client relationships did you have to turn your back on? Did you secure final payment? Would you work with them again? Why or why not?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Filling Up the Summer

What's on the iPod: She's Mine by Brett Dennen

Was it really too hot to move this weekend? Not much of a break when your plans to enjoy the outdoors run into a wall of heat and humidity. I managed a cup of iced chai at Starbucks and a flea market/farmers market with my daughter. In the process, I may have found my new desk.

I've been working on an old, borrowed desk for years. It's functional, but as attractive as fiberboard covered with fake wood laminate can be. The one I found is solid oak, mission style, and has a front drawer/computer tray.

We spent Saturday night watching Inception. I love Leonardo's acting, and I want to give this a full endorsement, but I can't. A couple of things wrong with it - the level of violence. I don't remember but one scene that didn't have an explosion or a killing. Also, Ellen Page's character made no sense. It's as though she were thrown into the mix because they needed another girl. I'm not saying the acting was bad - it wasn't. The writing didn't mesh.

I loved the premise and enjoyed the fantasy ride, though. The movie itself is quite a spectacle and yes, it was worth seeing. I will say I'd much rather have seen it on DVD and saved some cash, and I'd watch it earlier in the day because the dreams that movie prompted were not pleasant. And like I said, I wish the writing had been stronger in the sense that the characters meshed and that there was more opportunity for the actors to actually act.

Yesterday the daughter and I went to Atlantic City for some sand time. On the beach at 9:30, off by 11:30. Too hot, even with the water there to cool us off. We sought shelter in the casino, where at the penny slots I managed to win back the money I'd spent on parking. I'm not a gambler and I'm glad I don't enjoy it more. It was a diversion from the heat, and by the looks of things, the casino was enjoying all the attention.

Today it's dodging severe thunderstorms and getting small projects done. I have a few people I want to get back in touch with to see if I can line anything up for August/September. I have one big project starting at the end of the month and another one ending. Gotta keep things coming in, right?

How is your marketing going? What have you done lately that's worked? What isn't working?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lazy, Hazy Days

What's on the iPod: Silence, You by A Plastic Rose

I slept in! Yes! Well, I'd like to teach myself how to sleep really in, like say nine or so. My "sleeping in" resembles 7:30 instead of 6:30. I can't help it. I love getting up early in the summer. Too much day to enjoy.

I'm not taking today off entirely. I have an interview for an article that has to happen this week. But I'm only committed to about 30 minutes of work. The rest will be spent on reconnecting with clients, marketing for new ones, networking, and repotting my shamrock plant. We have our priorities.

While I'm out repotting, here are some link you might enjoy:

Georganna Hancock's Posterous: A useful link to templates setting up social media projects. And in general, I just love Georganna's wit and attitude.

Jennifer Williamson's Catalystblogger: This post in particular had me laughing, relating, and discussing it offline. Jen's got a great business sense. May need to work on that talking-to-strangers bit. (Just kidding, Jen)

Yo Prinzel over at All Freelance Writing: She's got the final word on discrimination - of all sorts. Yo is someone I want to hang out with in general, but the entire site is a must-read.

Jenn Mattern's All Freelance Writing: Jenn's the ringleader over at AFW (her title is "ringleader") and this article is another one of those laugh-out-loud, relatable experiences. I want to hang out with Jenn, too. And I will. Next week.

Devon Ellington's Ink in My Coffee: The entire blog is worth reading. She's been my first read every morning since she posted her first thoughts. It's a look inside a hard-working, successful writerly life, and it's a large bandwidth of friendship. If you read and comment regularly, she adopts you.

What are your favorites?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Covering the Freelance Tush

What's on the iPod: Old, Old Fashioned by Frightened Rabbit

What a day yesterday, in a good way. I accomplished more than I thought I could manage in nine hours. One article, three blog posts, two smaller projects, and a poem for my writing group. I didn't get a post for this blog ready, but given what paid work I did, I'm okay with that.

Today I'm starting a roughing-in of another article, an interview, and another ongoing small project. And today is marketing day. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm expecting one job to disappear within a few months. I've replaced it with smaller things, but I won't be satisfied until I find an equal-or-better replacement.

Dear friend and coach Lisa Gates has a post on her blog this week about asking for what you want. In her usual wisdom, Lisa touches on the crux of why many people fail at career advancement - we just don't ask. This is so true, and it applies just as much to freelancing as it does to a 9-to-5.

As I've mentioned here before, some of us freelancers get so tied up in winning the bid that we forget to make it worth our own efforts. We want to please - we want to get the job. I myself have made decisions and concessions too many times and ended up resenting the job and myself. I "negotiated" a job in which I receive $3,500 to write a complicated course. The three-month job as it was framed took eight months and was a mountain of work and research. The client wouldn't budge from the original price, either, even when I explained how much more was involved. Bad negotiating on my part.

Another "win" that turned sour - a ghostwriting job that was supposed to be two months and a handful of smallish chapters. That snowballed into two years and more rewrites than necessary. Luckily, I was able to renegotiate with the client and get a more lucrative, fair deal on those rewrites.

Then there were the projects in which I started with one client and ended up expected to answer to a posse of "editors." Unfortunately, most of those projects ended before the deadline. I did manage payment on most of them thanks to contracts.

These days I push back the minute I realize the scope and workload don't match the price agreed to. I have to. I'm protecting not just my business, but myself. Standing up for what you need, and asking for it every time, is the only way to run a successful business and act professionally. If you act professionally, you're more likely to be treated as such.

What were some of your not-so-great decisions? How did you resolve them?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pushy Client Tricks

What's on the iPod: Ants Marching by The Dave Matthews Band
What I'm reading upstairs: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Another uber-special moment yesterday brought to me by the IRS. I have to give them credit - they're exceptionally nice on the phone, and their letters have lost the judgmental attitude I once received. A few years ago, they chastized me for not using an electronic program to figure my taxes. Ironically, I had.

This time it was a miscalculation in two areas - education credits and child tax credit. It did seem too good to be true, but I'm a writer, not an accountant. And here's the kicker - I received two notices, apparently (though one has yet to arrive). One was a recalculation based on their error. You read that right. The IRS made an error. What's more, the woman on the phone with me admitted to it and apologized for it. It's why I can't hate them entirely.

The damage is minor this time. I'm getting better at the calculations. Here I thought I'd get it right this year. Ha! Stay in writing and editing, Lori. Math ain't yer thang....

A writer friend and I were discussing recently a project he's working on. He completed it per the email from the client. Imagine his surprise when she changed the parameters entirely, now thinking for that same smallish sum, he'd just rewrite the entire piece because she thought it would read better this way. Imagine her surprise when he turned her down.

Given the almost doubling of the project word count and the lack of any additional payment, I think he did exactly the right thing. The temptation is to push back on payment sometimes, but in this case he said it was clear this was going to be more of a hassle that might require several rewrites and payment debates.

It typifies an attitude in some organizations and associations that adding on to the project or deciding it wasn't what they wanted in the first place means tough beans to the writer who's already done the work. Not so. You as a contractor have either a formal or informal written agreement (email saves us more than we think). You completed the work as discussed. If the client was unclear, it's up to the client to pay for that lack of clarity in order to get the project right.

Maybe it's because the current corporate mindset is to pile the work on to the skeleton crew that's already overworked. The everything-for-nothing attitude is seeping into our freelance world. Maybe this changing of mind and project scope is fine inside a salaried environment, but freelancers are not required to fulfill a corporate-style role. It's like this - if you were paying a plumber $10K to install new sinks in the restrooms, he's going to install new sinks. He's not going to install new toilets, stall dividers, hand dryers, etc. for that same price just because you decided it would be cool to have everything upgraded. You're going to owe him more.

That's how it is with freelance writing services. If the client asks for XYZ and get XYZ, but then decides they didn't really want that but thought FGH would be much better, that's a new project. If the client decides he's not paying because he's changed his mind, that's his tough beans now. If you the writer completed the job as outlined, you're owed money.

Have you noticed any increase in clients expecting additional work under the same contracted price? How have you handled it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just Call Me "Hooka"

What's on the iPod: American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem

My favorite Screw You! writer Kathy Kehrli alerted me to a new comment on her January post regarding her Demand Studios experience. I had to laugh out loud - the poster likened professional writing behavior with "prostitution" going as far as calling Kathy's clientele that of a "high class escort" (minus the hyphen, mind you) and his/her own clients doing business with a "streetwalker." Yep, I laughed. Loud and hard. And then I commented right back.

I know I should let it go, but it never ceases to amaze me how many times professional writers are given a hard time for putting extra effort into creating a viable business model. In this case, the "high roller freelancers" (again with the lack of proper hyphenation) are busy "prostituting" to publications. The argument this time isn't all that original - the "writer" claims there's a formula and just by using that formula, he/she can make a whopping $18 an hour. Mind you, if there were faster Internet connections where this person lived, that could be as much as $25 an hour.

I laugh because even we high-priced "hookas" can get more than that using a similar formulaic approach. Once you've written for a magazine one time, you know that audience, that editor, and that preferred method of working. Their system - their formula - is opened up to you. You can now work with these people again and make oodles more money than someone writing for $18 an hour.

Moreover, the person said "This is just something to get me by for another year. It is not a career." Then why compare apples to oranges? You've just equated your "getting by" with our careers, and you've done so with disdain and a nose in the air. Hey, here's the thing - I advocate for career writers to do better by themselves. I don't approve of career writers getting locked into content-mill jobs because then they are, as you say, just getting by. They're not growing a business. That's why we professional writers - sorry, we high-priced escorts - get so vocal about it. We know other writers can, and should, do better. If you want to get by in that way, go for it. If you want to build a career, rethink it and do better by yourself.

And does this poster take into consideration all expenses? Health care? How about taxes? What about FICA and local wage tax? And is there any 401(k) saving going on? I don't care where you live in the US - you're paying taxes no matter how much you deny you are (unless you're cheating the government, which is just oh-so-smart, right?).

The poster signed off in this manner - "If they are making fifty to one hundred dollars an hour, it is amazing that they find the time to post weekly criticisms of 'content mill' sites." That should be a no-brainer. We're making enough money per hour so as not to kill ourselves to meet some impossible quota just to get by. I have just as much time to post as the person getting paid peanuts for their work - maybe more so. The criticisms are exactly that - about the jobs and the sites. It's not personal. If you make it personal, that's in your head alone. I don't agree with anyone's decision to work for these places. I think it's selling oneself short and doing oneself a great disservice. And it's putting a roadblock up in front of one's own progress - not mine. I make different choices. I choose to put a little more effort into developing a business based on proactive marketing and securing clients who are serious about hiring and paying for professional services.

If that makes me a prostitute, then give me a red light and a feather for my hat, thank you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Short Weekends, Long Lists

What's on the iPod: Free Fallin' by Tom Petty

I wait for the weekends, extend them by a day when I can, and still they fly by. We had a meditation monk here for two days, which was great. But it meant we had to arrange a meditation group, which can be a lot like herding cats with busy people and busy lives. Still, we pulled it off and it was a great evening.

Yesterday I cleaned up part of the garden before the temps went too high. I had company - the neighbor's cat came visiting, complete with his "Melt the humans with cuteness" look. I've taken to calling him Carl. He looks like a Carl. He's like Fabio - he'll always get by on his looks.

The afternoon was spent chasing down a bridal shower that I never did find. I broke the rule - I didn't respond in time. But since this is a friend and former neighbor and our kids are like extended family, I wanted to be there. So I drove to where Mapquest said it was. Nope. Nothing there. After about 20 minutes of looking, he was able to give me enough directions off the location website to get me there. But.... no shower. Cancelled. Turns out they moved the shower. I found out an hour into it, when I was home, exhausted, frustrated, and sunburned (the roof was down on the car). If I'd called and responded like I was supposed to, I'd have known about it. I didn't. My fault.

I watched Spain win over The Netherlands, then we "celebrated" the end of the World Cup (or they celebrated Spain's win and I celebrated the end of those HORNS) at our Irish pub. The evening was spent without television - instead, I devoured The Devil in the White City, which is turning into a fantastic tale.

Today is a list as long as my arm. Work projects all over the place, and someone needs to go to the airport at noon. One project revisions are finalizing just in time for me to write the next one. New projects came in last week, so my Monday is starting (and ending) early.

How was your weekend?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Little Irksome Things

What's on the iPod: Murray by Pete Yorn

Remember when you were taught to use a 50-cent word in place of a five-dollar one? In plenty of projects I handle and Internet postings I read, I see a multitude of sins against this piece of advice. So for the record, let's just get it all out in the open.

Stop the overuse of bad business terms. These include:

- Core competencies
- Value proposition
- Matrixed environment
- Value-added services

And please, stop using the above terms on your resume. Seriously.

Understand the meaning of what you're saying. This week's examples of how it's done wrong:

- Seasoned professional (Paprika? Hot sauce?)
- "We're protruding into these new technology spaces." (Does that hurt much?)
- "Project managed for the establishment of development of projects" (Huh?)
- "I'm willing to self-relocate." (That saves us from moving you forcibly.)

Don't rewrite it just because you can. So much time is wasted on revisions that swap around verbs, change up adjectives, and piss around with sentences to the point where the meaning goes missing.

- "I incentivize employees to propel past their goals." (I'm not even sure that's physically possible)
- "Homeless man under house arrest" (actual newspaper headline)
- "A non-double negative doesn't occur when no two forms of non-negation aren't not used in no not-same sentence."

Simplify it, stupid. I know - it's "Keep it simple, stupid" but we're simplifying here. If you write sentences that could rival a William Faulkner paragraph, you've lost me. I love Faulkner, but he knew how to do it. You don't.

- "Our fully functional, robust end-to-end user-friendly platform offers comprehensive scalability that, partnered with our revolutionary vendor management solutions, propels your business to the next level." (And what does it DO exactly?)
- "XXXXX-X is a preclinical stage biopharmaceutical company with a broadly applicable, proprietary simple platform." (Just because it's true doesn't mean I understand what you do.)
- "The simple platform enjoys an independent, unencumbered patent position and is free of target gatekeeping restrictions." (Can a platform enjoy? Really?)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Life Goes On

What's on the iPod: Sweetness by Jimmy Eat World
What I'm reading: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather


Dear friend Anne Wayman has a post up about saying no. It's a small word, easy to spell, but damn tough to utter sometimes. Anne has learned how, but how many of us have?

Here's the scenario: you're facing a new client with what seems to be a great project. During negotiations, the client says "My funds are limited. I need you to reduce your rate. If you do, I can promise plenty of work in the future."

Dilemma time: The client wants you to cut your rate in half in order to secure that phantom future work. And you're considering it. Why? Because you've been taught not to disappoint people, or you simply want to work so badly you're not really thinking about price.

Solution: Say no.

Real dilemma time: Now that you've said no, you're facing what was probably the biggest reason you hesitated and almost said yes in the first place - the client's reaction. I'm willing to bet the fear of the reaction is why a lot of writers say yes to lousy offers. And anyone who's had to say no in the past has seen reactions from "Okay" to "You arrogant, pathetic wad of monkey spit! You'll never work in this town again!"

Here's the thing - any client who would verbally attack you over a glitch in the negotiation process is one you're well rid of. Remember what you parroted in school - sticks and stones, people. If you say no and the client doesn't like it, the world won't end that second, nor will you ruin your career or bring on plagues and pestilence. Life goes on. The world will still turn in the same direction, the client will get over it, and you'll find either a middle ground or a parting of the ways.

Anne said it best - it's all in the delivery. She said her "no" in a congenial manner, and maybe more to the point, she was satisfied with her answer. If you as a business person can say no and know fully that it's the best answer you can give, that's going to be projected in your tone and your delivery. Life will go on. You'll still have your career and you'll still get work. You'll just feel much better about the work you're securing.

Do you find the fear of the reaction entering into your responses ever? How have you overcome that?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Pricing and the New Freelancer

What's on the iPod: Viva la Vida by Coldplay

Yesterday's return to work was pretty fruitful. I managed an article revision, an ongoing project section, and interview requests for an upcoming article. Also, I sent out an idea to my editor chum. All this while going to the dentist and helping someone in the house with an employment-related issue. Today it's a pile of ongoing stuff - blog posts, confidential projects, and possibly another article idea or revision.

I had to turn down a request to help someone out today. I don't like turning people down, but I'm coming to a point where my workload is such that I cannot continue to walk away in the middle of the day. And I'm beginning to resent that the requests don't seem to consider my time as having any value. That's not a good situation. I'll have to clear that up now before it becomes a bigger issue.

I had a nice correspondence with a regular visitor/chum here. We discussed rates for beginners and how to handle pushing for what you're worth. A snapshot of the situation: The company advertised, the writer answered, and the assignment was made without any further information. Also, there was no formal assignment letter or contract. And they're proposing paying ten cents a word.

My advice was to push back on the price, but not before asking some specifics, such as:

- Where is your website?
- Where are you located?
- Who is your target audience?
- Would you like me to supply my standard contract or will you be sending one?

And definitely say something akin to "My rates are normally a bit higher than that. Can you do better on the price?"

I like asking that way so you don't lock yourself into a price that may still be too low. Also, it gives the client that modicum of control that keeps them from walking away entirely. And frankly, they may walk away still. That needs to be okay with you. You're negotiating, not bowing down. You have to hold firm on your minimum price. Only you can determine that. Only you should determine that.

Negotiating with a new client is like a job interview; both sides are learning about each other. You have to know all the facts about the job before you can price it correctly. Plus coming across as a professional who is measured and careful in negotiations frames you as someone worth paying more for. Not that it will always work in your favor, but the jobs you lose as a result aren't really losses you'll grieve.

How did you price your first few client projects? What would you do differently?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Re-entry

What's on the iPod: War is Kind by Jakob Dylan
What I'm reading: Traveller's History of Ireland


Has it been just a week since I last worked? More like a week and a half, which makes sense given the disconnection from work, stress, and all things responsible I'm immersed in. We drove north to Ontario two Saturdays ago, where temperatures were a blessed 60-65 degrees and rain visited every day. Knowing what we were coming home to (up to 101 today), it truly was a blessing to be in cooler climes.

With all the rain, the fishing wasn't superb, but I managed a few large pike. The one that got away was massive, but because no one buys that story without photos, we won't relive it. Let's just say the top of my graphite pole snapped in two - he'd hit just as the lure reached the boat and was coming out of the water. Pike tend to take a lure to the bottom, so his quick exit was too much tension on the pole.

The birthday was gloriously uneventful. At first I'd wanted a party, but then I realized that no, I really didn't want the attention or fuss or bad jokes about taking that nine and replacing it with two new numbers. My mom and dad had a cake ready and my husband had gifts - a nice new point-and-shoot camera to replace the seven-year-old Canon, and a travel guide book. To Ireland. Yes, I'm going to Ireland. I was so thrilled I couldn't even speak. Anyone who knows me knows what a feat that is. Ireland has been that elusive dream, that place that's been calling me home for decades. As I get older, I feel more compelled to reconnect with the place that's been in my head and heart since I was born. Yes, I am blessed to have this man. He knows me and he spoils me. I can't even begin to spoil him enough in return.

Back on Wednesday evening, where I managed to avoid the computer until sometime late Thursday or Friday. The holiday weekend was wonderful. The two of us did fun stuff - First Friday in town, complete with good music and a nice light dinner. Saturday I sat up the sprinkler for the garden and perched myself on a beach chair right under it. Sunday, we went to Valley Forge Park and picnicked by the river - lentil loaf sandwiches with tomato-raisin sauce, my potato salad, and Snapple. Gotta have the Snapple. Then we went into town for fireworks.

And no, I didn't know yesterday was declared a holiday day off. He reminded me. So I managed one small project yesterday just to get ahead of this pile facing me today.

Now back to work. I have an article to revise, interviews to line up, blog posts to get busy on, and a new article to propose. And I have my daily projects due. Back to the dance.

How was your holiday weekend? What's new since I've been gone?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Links and Things

What's on the iPod: Poke by Frightened Rabbit

I love bloggers who make me laugh. As I was avoiding packing for my trip last week, I went around the Internet and found some hilarious posts on everything from Craig's List to ...

Craig's List: The Grand Experiment byClint Osterholz - Clint, you crack me up regularly. This was no exception.

Clients From Hell - Every post is worth reading.

Open letter to Proctor & Gamble by a customer on the edge - I don't know if it's an actual letter or a joke, but it kept me rolling.

Engrish Funny - You can't make this stuff up.

GraphJam - The funniest graphs you'll see.

What sites make you laugh?
Words on the Page