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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Up for Bid

It continues to amaze me when I see writers who have built careers on leading other writers to make smart career choices suddenly decide the money's the goal. One writer, who shall remain nameless, has decided to offer a book on how to make money on one particular bidding site. By bidding site, I'm talking Guru, ELance, and others that force writers to compete for work by open bidding.

Here's why it bothers me - this is a writer who, for at least twenty years, has instructed writers on how to do it wisely. A writer who, in my opinion, taught many of us how to get started. I used this writer's advice a few times. But now, I'm no longer listening.

I used to belong to Guru.com back when it had another name and during its transition to the new name. It helped me find two gigs in little over a year. One was fairly ongoing. One was a book deal that never quite paid enough. But it also helped me with something else - it made me realize that even paying for a membership, which I was nuts enough to do, didn't bring in any better caliber of work.

In fact, my $74.99 membership (3 months worth) netted me such fabulous offers as writing articles for $4. You heard me - $4. When I complained to the Guru.com powers that be, the response was measured, but the message was clear - if they pay to post the job, we don't really care. With that kind of vetting (meaning none), why pay exactly?

That's why this particular writer promoting, in a book no less, a writer's guide to using these sites disturbs me. Here's why:

It puts writers in the passive mode. You're relying on jobs to come to you. You're not actively searching, nor are you screening clients because most times, you don't have enough information to know who is offering work.

It gives clients control over writers' earnings. Some would argue these places, and others like them, allow writers to bid their rates and allow clients to decide who they'd like based on skill, ratings, and price. But let's face it - too often writers lower the rate to try winning the bid, or the clients state plainly their very low rate. Under a bidding situation, writers don't have the control over their businesses they need.

It brings out the worst in clients. Not once, but three times I was chastised for asking, in one case in particular, ten times that of other writers. Yes, I explained that this is my job not my hobby and that I earn that in the open market, but clients on bidding sites typically don't care. They want to see how low they can get you for, and a few of them will turn to intimidation and guilt trips to try getting the price down.

It tarnishes your image. I don't care how far along in your career you are, if you're bidding for work openly, you're looking desperate. Maybe you are, but is that the lasting image you want clients to have of you? Yes, you can get decent work in some cases, but if clients are seeing your career in the hands of others (and if you're passively seeking work, guess what?), that's an image that will stick.

It becomes your sole source of work. We are a lazy people, we humans. The minute someone gives us an "easier" way to do it, we're on it. And too often we writers tend to think "Wow! No marketing beyond this site and this step-by-step form." Pretty soon, you're not extending yourself to new clients as much as you should be. There goes your income level, and there goes your client base.

Yes, people can make decent money on these sites. But the risks, to me, outweigh any long-term benefit. I know some of you do use these sites to augment your income. If so, tell me why, tell me your experiences, and tell me how your career is better off. In my experience, it's a soft trap. You know it's not the best approach, but you're comfortable there and hey, occasionally you get a decent job.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Working Smarter

Spent a great weekend just reconnecting with the man and enjoying some yard time. The lack of humidity made it marvelous gardening. The neighbor's cat, per usual, was a constant companion. I would sit on the swing for a break and he'd make a running leap for my lap. If they're not careful, he may move in with us permanently. Not that we'd have any say in the matter - the cat's calling the shots here.

Today I play catch-up and try to get well ahead of my workload. The thyroid lump that was diagnosed in June? Over the weekend I noticed it. Literally. What I was unable to see before is very apparent on my neck. And I'm feeling it as I turn my neck, drink, wear a seatbelt....I think the four-month wait-and-see is over prematurely. So there will probably be surgery in my immediate future and an endocrinologist in the aftermath to help me understand how removing something so vital will affect the body.

The large project I handle every year is now front-and-center. It normally takes me a month or greater to get the formatting down. However, this year I've found a way that may just make the mammoth task easy as a few days. That's because this year's project has not changed drastically. The changes I've made to the copy may be able to be merged. I'm going to test it later today, but I'm excited. I used to go page by page, applying Word styles to an HTML document. If this works, I'll be dancing. I'll still have some cleaning up of widows, but that's a damn sight better than walking through 300 pages and changing heads, subheads, and bullets.

We're also looking at a number of weeks in which he wants to travel. He has a lot of vacation time to use before 2011. As much as I hate to, I may be working on one or more of those trips. My laptop is pretty basic, but it should do the trick. I'm never a fan of taking time off and using it for work, but if I get one vacation that's strictly fun, I'll have to work the rest. Unlike our 9-to-5 counterparts, when we freelancers take time off, we have to recover those unearned dollars somehow. My plan? Travel articles. :) Actually, the plan is to continue an ongoing project, which normally takes a few hours a day, and limp by on that and two other ongoing-project checks.

How was your weekend? What have you done lately that helps you work smarter?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Not-so-special Offer

Well, it doesn't take me long to get back on a tear, especially when I sense an attempt to get out of paying a writer a decent wage. This week is no exception.

I don't know what it is or why it is that some prospective clients find it their business to define our businesses for us, but it seems there are those out there who think without them, we'd be eating generic Cheerios while living in a cardboard box. I won't detail the "special" offer I received not long ago because it would clearly identify the client, but let's just say I was given a "You're really lucky we're taking you on and making your life easier!" message.

It's not always easy to tell when someone is trying to convince you they'll be paying you less. But after you've felt the singe marks from being burned, you'll get to seeing it sooner. Meantime, keep an eye out for these red flags, which I've seen firsthand:

You won't have to market for projects. Really? Since when does one project or even ongoing projects from one client make the career of any writer? You certainly do have to market. In fact, it's a safe bet marketing got you sitting across from that client in the first place. Don't laugh. Also, try to resist the urge to lunge across the table aiming for the jugular. I've handled it by saying with a smile, "Actually, yes I do. It's how we've met, in fact." A client's project or series of projects does not an entire career make. No writer would put the bulk of their work into one basket. That's career suicide.

We'll have to get you to drop that rate. Funny, here I was thinking I was going to have to get you to raise yours. If the client says "I can't afford that" that's an entirely different statement from one saying "You'll have to..." One is a statement of fact. The other is a statement of ridiculous proportions. You determine your rate. NO ONE tells you it's time to lower it. Never let any client dictate your rate. If you do, you might just as well hand them your checkbook and let them run your finances.

This will make your career! Unless it's Donald Trump looking at you saying those words, don't believe it. The importance people place on their projects is directly proportional to the lack of importance actually attached to said projects.

We'll pay you more later. How about now? How about you start out by paying me my rate? Show some good faith by negotiating something a lot more fair. You're saying "Trust me!" and in the next breath saying "But for now, I'll just do what I want and you'll take it." If they want to negotiate a lower rate going forward, fine. But starting out? Never believe the "We'll bump the pay up later" line. It rarely happens. And once again, a client is treating you a bit like an employee, dictating your rate. I had one instance where contractually, my rate went up after three months. Funny how their calendar has so many more days in their months than mine, for they kept insisting that no, we didn't start this month, we started that month. And when their self-dictated month did appear? You guessed it. No raise. Buh-bye.

We'll need your hourly rate. Doesn't sound heinous, does it? Hear me out. I used to think quoting hourly was a good idea. However, experience has shown that the minute the clock is ticking, the clients' eyes are on that clock, too. Normally, not a big deal. But in one project, I was given two hours to complete a job that would've taken six or more to do properly. Why? Because the client said there was only two hours' worth of money to be spent on it. The result was as expected - it wasn't completed perfectly. When the client went ballistic, I staved off that storm by reminding them it was their time limits that tied my hands, not my lack of skills. And you can bet in their minds, they expected me to "donate" the time needed. No, because I expect business people to run their businesses properly. That includes paying what it takes to get the job done right.

What are some of the the attempts at lower payment you've heard?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Doing What We Do Best

Thanks to everyone for the wishes and condolences as I put 600 more miles on the car to chase down ghosts. It was a cathartic time, made possible by two of my dearest chums - Kim and Michele, along with the additional help of Sir Jack Daniels. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your time to talk me through an unexpectedly rough loss. Kim, I know you're reading, and you were right - as the Indians say, the rain on the funeral day is a sign that the loved one has reached Heaven. I like that.

I was taken aback by the greeting in the funeral home. His youngest sister recognized me, shouted my name, and wouldn't let go as we soaked each others' shoulders. Mind you, I haven't seen her in 30 years. His other sister crushed a few of my organs, and wouldn't let go most of the night. His dad's hug brought more sobs from me. And apparently, driving that far to see your first boyfriend is something incredible - his stepmom, God love her, took me around to the relatives, introducing me and announcing my travel feats.

What was really shocking was the greeting from his partner of 20 years, a dear woman whose warmth far exceeds her stature. As I was introduced to her she latched on, hugged me, and thanked me more than once for the letter I'd sent her man a few months ago. She said he'd read it often, and she'd read it to him again the day before he died. Her relatives had read it and were glowing about how wonderfully written it was. And that's when I felt like a sham.

See, I'm a writer. Am I not supposed to do this right? If they'd said, "Nice note. Thoughtful of you" I may have felt a little better about it. But the glowing reports made me almost ashamed. Yes, I put my heart into it, but no, it's not a struggle for me to say these things. Thanks to being a Cancer, I can emote with the best of them. Also, being a writer, I usually can get it in the right order and neatly put. And thanks to my Aquarius rising, I can put the emotional crap aside for a second and get the damn message out before melting into a puddle.

I don't like taking praise for something that personal. I'd rather look at it as his stepdaughter said as she fought back tears - he read it often over the last few months and he was touched by it. She said it really meant a lot to him. To me, that's golden. If it helped him, it was worth all the praise dribbed and drabbed and all the shameful feelings for doing it right because that's what I'm trained to do.

And now, back to work. Goodbyes were uttered, love was shared. All the memories are now tucked in a nice, warm corner where they can glow and remind me of special times.

Back to the page. Back to life.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Time Away

Because I'll be traveling back home to say my goodbyes in person, I won't be blogging today or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, visit a few of my favorites:

Screw You!
Ink in My Coffee
About Freelance Writing
All Freelance Writing
Simply Stated Business

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beyond Demand

A sad day yesterday - I learned over the weekend that my first boyfriend lost his fight with cancer. It wasn't unexpected, but I don't think anyone can really be prepared to hear that sort of news. I'd done my mourning, said my goodbyes, resolved in my own mind that which wasn't resolved decades ago. I meditated, prayed, and bid him a loving farewell. My prayers and love to his family, whom I hope to see soon.

On to writing news. Our very own Irreverent Freelancer Kathy sent me this link to a revealing blog post about Demand Studios, written by Carol Tice. What's revealing isn't all that surprising. First, the blog reports the company is about to launch a $125 million IPO (inital public offering). Not surprising that the business model, which pays writers up to $15 an article, includes going public for big bucks.

Even the news of the company's list of potential business threats comes as no surprise - not to me. Google, which seemed to me to embrace the content mill garbage at first, is now considering, according to DS's disclosure papers, labeling its content as spam. That's right - spam. That speaks not only to the saturation of content, but perhaps even the quality of much of it.

For me, here's the surprise. Demand Studios's business disclosure reveals it is losing money. Yep, they underpay their writers, giving them easily one-tenth what they could earn elsewhere and they're still not able to make a profit. The business model, in my opinion, is weak on the provider side. How could it not be weak on the management side, I ask?

Demand made much effort in the news about its smart business model, its fairness to its contributors, and as the company increased its public patting of its own back, the question mark started to form. Why? If your business model is working, if you're making money and being such a strong "employer" to the masses, why do you need to spend money to increase that image? Because you're failing. At least that's the message resonating throughout the company's public disclosure.

I know there are those who think Demand Studios is a great place to work, a place to wait out a recession, or the only option they have. Whatever your view, know this - if you put all your effort and focus in one client, you're betting on the stability and loyalty of that client. That's a foolish business model. And please, don't say the recession is killing you. I'm working like crazy right now, which is usually my slow period. The work is there if you look for it.

The fact is this; if Demand Studios - or whatever content mill you work for - closes its doors and it's your only client, you're now without work. And you're going to have to start from scratch, if you're even able to. Have you bothered to learn how to market, or did you think you'd just write those articles from the company's wish list for the next five years?

If you currently work for Demand, now would be a good time for you to consider putting that effort into learning how to market - how to approach clients, build a network, secure work, build a reputation, and grow a business. As I've said repeatedly over the last few years, any company that undervalues your skills is not one to put all your focus on, or any, for that matter. Choose clients who need writers and aren't afraid to pay a decent rate for the talents you possess.

Should the company and others like it be forced to close up shop, put yourself in a position to move on to greater things much more quickly. Don't wait for the hammer to fall. Think of it this way - if your house started to burn, would you wait until the flames hit the back of your computer chair before logging off, or would you get out and find safety faster?

Apply that same logic to your career.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Your Writing Blog Sucks

Remember your first blog post? Remember all those plans you had for posting regularly, growing the readership, increasing your business awareness? So what happened?

I know plenty of you who have terrific, must-read blogs. For very different reasons, each of you has attracted an audience and has found a way to distinguish your blog from the masses. But there are a few of you - if you're even visiting here - whose blogs are memorable for the wrong reasons or completely forgettable. Are you committing any of these blogging sins?

You don't post regularly. Most bloggers have a regular schedule, be it once a day, once a week, twice a month. Where it goes wrong is when you have nothing to say and you decide to go silent. Or worse, when you apologize for not posting sooner. Your blog is a reflection of your business approach. If you can't be consistent in blogging, that's sending a message that you're not consistent in meeting deadlines.

You can't write. Strange, but true. I've read writing blogs that are poorly written or loaded with "duh" statements - one actually said something like "Good writing is interesting. Bad writing is not." If you can't put the same passion or talent into your blog as you do your writing, don't blog. And if you can't master simple grammar, please don't embarrass yourself publicly. Brush up on the basics before blogging.

You don't have a focus. Every blog I visit regularly has a purpose. Be it insider industry talk, gossip, catching up on someone's life, or reading writing-related tips and posts, these blogs know what they're about. If you're giving advice today and talking about sex tomorrow, well, you'll probably still have readers because of the sex part, but you'll lose a few people who came there to hear about how to query a magazine. And if you decide to talk about books or electronics for ten posts or so amid a writing blog, you've lost them.

You don't interact. There are bloggers who seem to loathe their visitors. It's the only explanation I can muster given that pointed questions go unanswered and comments go unacknowledged. And God forbid anyone suggest to these bloggers that visiting another blog and interacting is a good idea! They stay in their safe little world.

You look down on your readers. I've seen it firsthand - bloggers who tend to lord over their audience, tossing out the occasional comment to those who are perceived to be in a position to further the blogger's career.

You talk out both sides of your face. Oh, ye of short memory! Your readers remember everything and don't take kindly to your respinning of the facts to suit your current mood. Stay true to your word.

You veer off topic. Blogs are free-form communication, no doubt. But if you go off half-cocked (or fully cocked) on a tangent about religion or politics when you've positioned your blog as something else, you leave us readers thinking "Huh?"

You don't get personal. If you want an authoritative blog, that's fine, but even that requires you become a little more personal in your approach. You're not talking down to your audience. You weren't hired by any of them to teach them how to improve their lives, so cut out the professorial approach. Befriend the readers. Really befriend them. They're here because you share something in common. Celebrate it with some friendly banter.

What makes a blog suck for you?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Being Memorable

What's on the iPod: Nothing - no time to listen!

I'm still plunged deeply into the large project with little sight of any finish line. But I managed to get some other client work done before nine a.m. yesterday, which opened up the rest of the day to chunk down this project.

Also, I had some nice email exchanges with someone whom, in my recollection, I've never met or talked with before yesterday. He'd just referred me for an ongoing job with a local firm. Why? Because he'd been reading my writing for years. Apparently, he liked what he saw. I'm now in line for the gig thanks to his recommendation. Did I mention he and the prospective client found me on a social networking site?

I love that people still remember my writing from a magazine I've not been with in seven years. It means I've done something right somewhere. If I were to guess, I'd say it's that I connected with the audience.

So, you're memorable, too. You've connected to your audience. Don't think so? Try writing something controversial (well, don't. Just imagine it.) I didn't realize how many people read my little articles (really little) in the local newspaper until I began getting calls at home from people either upset with something I wrote (and as I told the source then, don't say it if you don't want it in print), upset with something someone has done to them that I needed to write about, or wanting to give me their side of an argument. At the time, I made $15-$35 an article, depending on the newspaper, so if you think your impact is measured solely by the amount you earn....

Obviously, ticking off your audience and inciting endless phone calls isn't the goal. The goal should be to create awareness of your existence, interest in what you're presenting, and the desired feedback to your clients.

Here are a few ideas for creating an impact:

Understand the end user. Be it an article or a brochure, know who it is you're talking to. Know also what they're looking for in terms of information, and know how to reach them. That means studying the magazine (like we talked about yesterday), asking very specific questions of your clients, and researching competitors to see what their audiences are talking about and responding to.

Say it like you mean it. I've admitted fully that my first risk management article was a complete shot in the dark. I had no idea what the industry was about, but I had that eight-page press release and a 500-word assignment. I decided I was probably going down in flames anyway, so why not have fun with it? The hook - somewhat irreverent - resulted in 3 1/2 years on staff. So, when you go to write that piece, how are you approaching it? Are you bored at the outset? Boredom transfers onto the page. Shake it off, find something interesting about it, and then write like it's the most exciting thing you've ever heard of.

Give them what they expect or better. When I started my tenure at the magazine, I was told to leaf through older issues to get an idea of what they printed. What I saw was confusing - not just because the topics were technical, either. Some of the writers were talking so far above their audience it's a wonder they didn't insult some of their readers (they may have). I decided if I had to write like that in order to fit in, I'd soon be giving myself lethal paper cuts. I applied the same have-fun-with-it approach to my first few assignments. Amen for fantastic managers, who let me own my approach with the copy. The result - happier me, happier managers, happier readers.

That doesn't mean you can be irreverent and downright smart-assed. Every client has different expectations. You can, though, walk a fairly thick creative line between what they require and how you present it. Keep in mind always the voice, tone, and focus, but don't be afraid to get excited about the topic in print. It will show.

Keep your name out there. Even if you generalize, there's no reason why you can't keep your name front-and-center with your target audience. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. allows you to mingle and remain in the spotlight by talking about your latest projects, interacting with those people whom you'd love to work with, reconnecting with existing clients, and positioning yourself as an expert or a damn fine choice for any client.


How have you become memorable?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Cross-over

Yesterday was one of those days where I got up from this chair and walked a mile. I'd been sitting in the same spot, powering through a big project, since 7:30. At 5 pm, I was toasted. Today it's a second pass on some of the smaller sections, and pushing forward again.

I had sent out a number of queries two weeks ago, and they're starting to roll back in. I sent one - my first one - to Redbook. I expected nothing, so their response was a pleasant surprise. While I didn't get the assignment, the rejection letter was full of compliments - words like "well researched idea" and "your writing samples show you have strong talent" and the best "we encourage you to submit in the future." Thank you. I will.

It's surprising to me because I don't write for consumer magazines. Maybe a smattering of small clips at smaller pubs, but nothing like one of the "top guns" of magazines. But that's probably more because my experience in trades hasn't always been viewed as experience that can transfer. Little do they know.

I'm of the opinion if you can tackle a complex technical article, you can certainly take on a consumer article. Why? Because we're all consumers. We all know what bugs us, what concerns us, and what we love and hate. Writing for a trade requires getting to know the audience and their industry. Writing for consumers - getting to know yourself and your neighbors.

And it's getting to know the magazine in all cases. You have to know that magazine before you put fingers to keyboard. You have to be able to hit their voice, their style, and their audience. And here's the key - not all women between 24 and 40 read Redbook. How much money do they earn? Are they working women or at-home parents? Do they live in the suburbs or the country? Where do they shop? What are their interests? The answers will give you your focus.

Look at the ads. Read the articles. What's the tone? Whom do you see the magazine's writers talking to? What is that person's life like? What do they worry about? Cruise the Internet site. What articles are being read most, commented on most, and what ideas pop out of those comments or that article that you can capitalize on?

How do you approach magazines?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How Low Do You Go?

At this writing, I'm sitting at my new desk. It's a solid oak mission-style desk with a keyboard drawer and no other storage. And yes, that's exactly the way I want it.

I'm a hoarder of sorts - not to the level of being on a reality cable show, but I save books, papers, notes that I can't decipher a year later, you name it. I store around me, and organize useless stuff atop any flat surface. My old desk had a hutch top. Great idea - unless you're me. It was filled with "essentials" such as nail polish, cuticle softener, batteries, assorted cords, containers filled with paper clips, etc. When I bought the desk, I bought it on looks alone. Function is something I have to work out without the help of a manufacturer. This served the purpose - a bigger workspace. And already I've pared down and thrown out a ton of unnecessary things. More to come.

I was talking with a writer chum about her latest project proposal. Her client offered to pay her going rate for one month, but then asked for a slight decrease in price thereafter for the next three months. What to do? She did the smart thing - she defined "slight decrease" and set in her own mind what would be acceptable. Whatever the outcome, she went into the negotiations with the confidence of knowing her price was right for her - as well it should be.

I can relate - I was just asked to reduce my rate by a client. It was a one-time reduction to fit within their remaining freelance budget. And it was a very small reduction, so I said yes. They're also a favorite client and to me, this is good for the relationship to be flexible when I can be.

So what do you do when someone asks for a price reduction up front?

Decide your own limits. Please, do this first. Know in your head the amount you need to turn a profit and pay your bills. No one else can know that but you. Make a pact with yourself - don't go under this limit. Stick to your word.

Define the reduction. Get it in writing - what are they paying at all stages of that contract? What is their idea of a reduction? Is it reasonable or another attempt to get something for nothing?

Do the math. If you let the client say, "I know you charge $100 an hour, but my budget is $1,200 for the whole project" and you don't know what your limits are, you'll be tempted to take it because hey, $1,200 isn't entirely chump change. However, if the project is going to take you three months to complete, you've just screwed yourself. Know all the details up front.

If it doesn't fit, walk away. Why writers are hesitant to turn down work is understandable. We do have to pay bills. But if you accept every job that is paying less than you can afford to work, you're robbing yourself of the chance to get a better project paying your rate. Seriously. If you're busy killing yourself for a few bucks an hour, you don't have time to look for better clients, do you?

How do you respond to price-reduction requests? What has been your experience with reducing your fee to meet a client's needs?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Freelance Screw-offs

Thanks to everyone involved for the great discussion last week about new writers and some of the over-inflated expectations they have of us who've been at it a while. I hope it didn't chase any newbies off, but that it helped you understand the frustrations we face when we try helping and run right into a brick wall. Doing for yourself in your career as much as you can will empower you. We can't do that part for you.

I was talking with a few colleagues about a few run-ins we've had with other writers, editors, and those in the writing profession at some level or another. We've come to the unofficial conclusion that there are some people who, despite their best intentions, are still employed and earning money.

They screw up. Hey, we all do. But these screw-ups are more consistent, habitual things or personality quirks that can, should, and do sink their chances of repeat work or promotion. Some of my favorite screw ups:

The Prima Donna. He was an interesting freelancer. Great copy, but God help you if you touched a sentence! Worse, he'd interviewed a key source (and key advertiser) when he was having a tough day. The result - the source was highly offended and refused to be interviewed by him again. We were just lucky he didn't refuse to talk to our publication.

The Jealous Writer. He actually told his boss the freelancer was a lousy writer and hard to work with. Why? Because the writer knew more than he did on the topic he'd assigned. Worse, he called the writer to chastise him about facts that were, in his mind only, incorrect.

The Latecomer. A week after the deadline, here comes the writer with his story. What? You know I'm always late! What's the big deal? The big deal was that our issue was laid out two days after his missed deadline. Buh-bye.

The Nervous Nelly. Most writers could take the one-paragraph assignment and run with it. Some asked extra questions. This one asked for sources, questions, and practically an outline of how we expected her to write it. It wasn't long before we realized it was easier to write it ourselves.

The No-show. I assigned the story. When it didn't come in weeks later, I emailed her. Did I miss it? No, she said. "I decided it was too hard and I wasn't cut out for it." Really? And you didn't think to tell me before I had this gaping hole in the magazine copy? Needless to say, her name disappeared from the freelance roster.

The Justify-my-existence Editor. Too many changes to the copy usually signals a problem either on the writing side or the editing side. In getting help with editing one month, I had one of the colleagues pitched in. I saw the frustration his writers must have seen - "I'd rather you phrase it this way" kind of notes all over perfectly good copy. He ripped one good article apart with just these types of edits. Worse, he introduced errors by rephrasing facts and, God help him, trying to revise quotes. Thank God for Track Changes. Made the job of rejecting his "help" that much easier.

If you're a writer, you can avoid being the Prima Donna, the Latecomer, the Nervous Nelly and especially the No-show. Do your job as agreed, expect and welcome edits, ask questions that are targeted, and if you think for one second it's over your head, say so quickly. Act professionally.

If you run into another writer's or editor's jealousy, there's not a lot you can do beyond abject flattery and trying your best to convey your wish to please him/her. If this person holds power over you and has decided he/she doesn't like you, you're pretty much out. Unless you can go to the powers-that-be at a later time and query directly, write this one off.

The editor who edits just because he can is a little easier, but frustrating. You can work with someone who's nitpicking every syllable - this is someone who's still willing to work with you. Your job is to keep quiet unless the facts become skewed.

What types of freelance screw-offs have you come across?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Brain Freeze

Today's workload is much lighter. I labored through a complex article, complete with Congressional debates aplenty, expert advice up the wazoo, and more than enough last-minute debate to keep me reading every release up until Congress took its break. Today, it's on to cloud storage. My life is one evolving issue after another.

Because my brain has frozen, refusing to work any more than it has to, I decided today is Share Favorite Links Day. It's a new celebration I just invented.

Here are my favorites this past week:

MarketCopyWriter Blog: Thank you, Lorraine Thompson, for advice and articles that damn near write our career paths for us. If you're not reading her, what's your problem? Get over there!

About.com Freelance Writing: Continuing on yesterday's theme of newbies finding answers, Allena offers up her advice. Great resource all around.

All Freelance Writing: In short, I want to be Clint Osterholz's slave. He never ceases to amuse and enlighten.

The Well-fed Writer Blog: Follow Peter Bowerman. Seriously. He offers up juicy debate, interesting topics, and awesome advice. Here, he takes on niches and the beginning writer.

What caught your attention this week?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Freelancers: Why We Don't Owe You All That

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time a new or somewhat-lost writer chastised me for not helping more.... well, I wouldn't even have a nickel. I've been fortunate. I've yet to come across new, lost, tired, burned out, or otherwise unmotivated writers who think I owe them not just advice, but hand holding to the point of telling them "First you do this. Then you do this. After that, you do..."

But some experienced writers get lambasted with complaints. These aren't complaints like "The editors are all fools! What do I do?" These complaints are more like "You OWE it to me to help me!" Devon can attest to this - she's been hit with the righteous indignation of the clueless plenty of times.

This week, our Irreverent Freelancer also got a "Sorry, but you're not helping me at all" response to a post in which she defended her stand on a particular issue. The comment Kathy left was "I disagree with you on these points." The response was akin to "You're not telling me where to go for work." Complete disconnect in thoughts there.

First of all, if someone here says "You're not helping me", then A) they're not reading, because this site is loaded with advice, and B) based on the amount of help expected, they should get out the checkbook 'cause I gotta eat too, and C) they'd have a right to bitch a little IF I weren't helping because this site is a "help" site of sorts. I've framed it as a resource. But to bitch to others whose sites are not framed that way? Huh?

In Kathy's poster's case, it's frustration. The "Where do I go from here?" dilemma is pretty common. Hitting your head against the same low-paying job walls is made tougher by not knowing where to look. Sure, the poster could've framed it better, like, "Where can I go for help with that?" Tact is an essential part of freelancing, too.

So, freelancers who want to know where to look, here's a little help per your request:

Blogs that specialize in helping. Just because it says "writing" or "writer" on it doesn't mean it's a blog designed to help. Most writers are helpful, but when they are posting about the work they've accomplished or some project upset and someone changes the flow of conversation to center on themselves, such as "How can I find work/where do I start?", that's a bit selfish and disruptive. Look for blogs offering advice. You'll see it if you're looking. And before you ask the general question "Where do I start?" (and please, DON'T ask that question), try reading those blog posts first.

Writer forums. Plenty of free help is waiting for you, and lots of already-posted free advice. Writer forums allow you to interact more easily and help you integrate into the writing community that much faster. Not all bloggers have the time to respond to every post (though I think it's a great idea that builds community).

Writing coaches. If you want to tell someone they owe it to you to help, pay them. And frankly, only then does anyone owe you anything. Writing coaches are great resources for helping you in your specific niche or with an ongoing issue.

Search engine queries. Why does no one think to use the Internet to find help or work? Sure, we race to the job listings sites, but why not race to the search engines? Not only can you find work, you can find answers to nearly any freelance question you have (except the broad, really lazy "Where do I start?" question - can you tell I really detest that one?).

Social networking. Just yesterday I received a letter of introduction from a potential new client via a social networking site. I was recommended by someone whose name I didn't recognize, but who knew of me from that particular site. Why aren't you participating in the easiest marketing you'll ever do?

Yourself. Oh, you're not going to like this one. If you expect to be successful at writing, you have to put your own time into it, not just someone else's time. Start with finding those basic answers yourself. Read books, browse the Internet, list areas of writing you're interested in, research how-to articles (how to write white papers, how to write press releases, etc.), and take time to learn how to approach freelancing. Try things, make mistakes, dust off, try again.

Writers, have you been told off for not helping? Where do you find answers? What's the best question you ever received? Worst?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Worthy Tip: Reuse, Recycle, Repeat

Ever get those days you think you worked three times harder than others, but accomplished half? That was my yesterday. Got a client project done in the morning, but like bad Chinese food, it repeated on me twice. Minor stuff, but it made me realize that reminding clients to send all information ahead of time is something I should do automatically. I did manage to get half an article completed. Waiting for one more interview, which will be today, and I can wrap this one up and cash the check. Then on to the next.

I received another client kudos yesterday. It doesn't happen often, but when they say "Great job!" or "Love this! Thanks!" it makes my day. And when they send you a detailed note on how and why they loved it, it makes my next marketing plan.

I'm into re-purposing these days, so why not apply that to the business? Here's how you can work smarter:

Reuse. All that research you're doing for that current article could come in handy if you decide to refocus the topic to fit another publication. For instance, that technical article with all those statistics - those statistics could form the query for your consumer article query.

Recycle. Remember that article you wrote a few years ago on that timely topic? Is it time to revisit it? I make mileage from ongoing topics, such as insurance reform, workers compensation legislation, or how the gadgets we couldn't live without have or haven't changed our lives.

Repeat. If clients are singing your praises, ask if you can use those words on your website or in emails (with or without attribution). Why tell new prospects how fabulous you are when you can show them what your current clients think?

How do you re-purpose?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time to Take Up Juggling

Yesterday was much more productive than I expected. I finished a smallish project in the morning, then devoted the afternoon to research and outlining an article. A large project due in a few weeks ago has a delivery date - I should see it by the end of the week/Monday of next week. That gave me enough time to get the stuff on the desk started and in great shape.

Control. What an illusion! Just when I thought I had a handle on things, another project came rolling in from one of the queries sent out last week. Great! Only... deadline is sooner than expected. Still, it's a month out. I tend to panic prematurely, but the result of said panic is work that's done ahead of schedule. I'd much rather pop a Tums or two than miss a deadline.

Then comes the delusional thoughts - what if all of those queries I sent last week are accepted? There were three others. They were targeted. Hey, it's possible. Okay, not probable, but possible. Even the best-targeted queries get rejected for one reason or another.

What I noticed is that the long-tail project will finish October 1st. Let's hope. I've blocked out a few weeks after that for Ireland. It's one of those projects where despite the best intentions of all involved, it could hit the fan quickly and unravel.

So what do you do when work extends into your personal life? You don't let it. My plan going forward is to finish the projects in front of me ASAP, then concentrate additional time to the long project, and yes, I may even work a weekend or two if need be. The work isn't hard - just time-consuming. If the plans get screwed up on the other side of the working relationship, I will take that vacation anyway. Tickets are non-refundable. The client knows my time constraints. I'll do my best, but I won't lose money because of someone else's bad planning, indecision, foot dragging, plagues, or locusts.

I purposely avoided vacations this August (I usually head to Ontario twice a summer) so I could get work commitments completed. I couldn't expect that planning an October getaway would interfere with a project I'm about to be assigned. But as I said, the client knows. It's up to me to be available within reason, not endlessly.

How do you handle projects and time away?

Monday, August 09, 2010

How to Blog Like You Mean It

Today's a busy one. Plenty of work came in - none of it from my marketing efforts but plenty from older contacts. You never know.

I had a conversation with a few folks about bloggers and trust. We came to the same conclusion; there are some people who ruin it for themselves. Blogging isn't rocket science. It's finding something to say and saying it with honesty and consistency. That last part is crucial. Some bloggers just talk out both sides of their mouths.

Luckily, bloggers-gone-bad are rare. But we all make mistakes in judgment, say things we can't take back, or tick off someone or many someones who don't agree with us. It's those bloggers who can't own up to that who find themselves going down in flames.

So if you're blogging or wanting to, follow the simple plan for keeping your readers' trust.

Don't lie. Honestly, do you think your readers can't see through that? Even stretching the truth a little can, and most likely will, catch up with you.

Do be honest. Even if it's painful sometimes, be honest in both your approach and your responses. It's so easy to lose trust, and so hard to win it back, if you even can.

Don't play the emotion card. I've seen bloggers who can't win people to their side of an argument resort to emotional manipulation to win sympathy. Sure, sympathy you'll have, but when your readers get tired of your whining, you'll be singing to an empty room.

Do own up. You screwed up. You tossed out a fact or an argument that was flawed, weak, or just plain untrue. The moment you say "You know what? I was wrong" you gain a lot more credibility than that attempt to gain sympathy by saying "The nasty emails I'm getting made me cry and kept me up all night."

Don't endorse products you're paid to endorse on your personal blog. I endorse few things here, none of which I've been paid to endorse nor have talked to the companies directly about at any point prior to my saying "I LOVE this." That's the way it's going to stay. And when I run across something I don't like, I say so. It's called journalistic integrity. The moment I accept money to endorse a product, I'm no longer a journalist. I'm a paid mouthpiece. Big difference.

Do be upfront. If you're paid to push the latest product or service, say so in your post. Believe it or not, your readers can tell. I stopped following a few bloggers because it was blatantly obvious they were being paid to drop that name or product mention in their posts. I don't know about you, but I feel cheated when I read stuff like that. If the bloggers had bothered to say "This is a paid endorsement" I'd have read it and not thought twice about it (but would have questioned why a personal blog is suddenly a paid, endorsement-laced advertisement for the highest bidder).

Don't state facts that aren't facts. It's why I can't follow too many political blogs. I simply cannot see facts turned, nor can I see one more blogger say things like "EVERYONE does this!"

Do remain skeptical. If you're presented with something that sounds factual, don't pass it on blindly. Remember that photo of the kid supposedly taken on top of the World Trade Center as the plane was coming in? If you fell for that and didn't check up on it, maybe you shouldn't be blogging.

What blogging sins drive you away?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday Weirdness

What's on the iPod: Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

Why am I so glad Friday is here? It wasn't a tough week by any means. I may be working today in an attempt to finish up a smaller project in order to get going on the massive one due in any moment. At any rate, I'm probably not going too far from the desk today. But I'm feeling like playing hoookie.

Stupidest thing I saw this week: A guy riding his bike in a 45-mph zone, against traffic - texting.

Nicest moment: Singing along with the Celtic band, two cosmos in, and missing Ireland (a country I've never seen) to the point of tears. Blame the cosmos to some degree.

Weirdest moment: The message left on my cell phone - in Hindi.

Latest guilty pleasure: True Blood. Hate the vampire craze, but that vampire Eric is just, well, scrumptious.

I'm happy for: the return of Project Runway.

I'm thrilled about: the vote in California.

I'm still laughing about: This ad on Craig's List.

What about your week was noteworthy?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Losing the Career-by-numbers Approach

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

Got a post up over at About Freelance Writing. Check it out!

If you know me, you know I love Lisa Gates and think she practically invented life coaching. In her latest Craving Balance post, Lisa says this: "If you don't study the masters, you'll continue to paint by numbers." Her point - you define your own self, your own life, your own career. You do it as much by inaction as you do action. See why I adore her?

So instead of copying off someone else's paper, what can you do to take charge of your career? Try this:

1. Set your own expectations. Who cares if your high school English teacher thinks you were a screw-off? You can live up to those expectations or decide right now that you're better than those idiots think you are.

2. Emulate your vision. Anne Wayman, the reigning queen of envisioning your book, has always said when she gets stuck career-wise, she envisions where she wants to be. You'd be surprised how that plays in your own mind. Once you espouse that feeling, your actions will lead you.

3. Move on it. That's right. Get off your ass and get that career in gear. No one will do it for you, and no one should. Decide what it is you need to do in order to go where you're planning.

4. Ask for help. Different from getting someone else to do it, asking for help is gathering those people with the knowledge and experience to give you answers and point you in the right direction. Just don't expect them to hand you a primer on how to do everything you need. That kind of advice is readily available for a price on Amazon.

5. Surround yourself with smart people. The masters of your trade - other writers and editors - are showing you every day how they're doing it. Are you paying attention?

How did you take charge of your career?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Worthy Tip: Upping Your Game

What's on the iPod: You and Your Heart by Jack Johnson

Yesterday was one of those rare days - ones I used to dread, but now am thankful for. There was a lull in the work. Nothing due, nothing coming in that needed immediate attention. That was my cue - I grabbed the laptop and headed to Panera. I managed to get poetry written, an online course chapter completed, and some edits to various personal projects. And I got a few queries out.

Here's what I don't get - I hear people saying "But content mills are all I can get!" I don't buy it. One simple search proves that's hogwash. But hey, as I said before, if you think it's such a great deal to work yourself sick for $5-15 per piece, go for it. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

But if you're not wanting to head down that road, or if you're there and you want to get out, here's how you up your game.

1. Open your browser. In your favorite search engine, type these words: "Writer's Guidelines."

See how many pages came up? That's because it's a complete falsehood that there isn't any work out there for us writers. There's a magazine, a price range, and a genre for nearly anyone - for free, right there in your search engine results. Go on. Look.

Those of you who think $5, $10, even $15 is all you can get without having to market heavily are deluding yourselves. How long did that search take? All of what, five seconds? Well, ten if your connection is slow. And now you have more than enough opportunity staring you in the face. These jobs pay anywhere from five cents a word to two bucks a word. Already you're looking at much better pay rates, even at the five-cents-per rate. (If you're writing 500 word at $10 for your content mill grind and you write the same amount for a magazine, you've just earned two and a half times that with a magazine. Plus now you have a published clip from a reputable place.)

2. Pick one. Scroll the list and see what appeals. This will take you three, maybe four minutes to find one that stands out. Open it. Like what you see? Then read the guidelines completely. Another three or four minutes of your time. Browse the online magazine. A few past issues. There went maybe eight to ten minutes.

3. Formulate your idea. I like to do it after I've familiarized myself with the publication so I don't have to keep reworking the idea to match different styles and voices. And sometimes the ideas come from reading the guidelines or the past issues. You do it the way you prefer. This is the hardest part of the process - finding an idea you'd like to write about. This could take you two minutes, it could take you two hours. Depends on you. Can't think of anything right now? Save this to your Favorites folder and go on to the next one that looks interesting to you.

4. Write the query email/letter. This will take you another five or ten minutes, depending on how familiar you are with writing queries.

5. Repeat. Do this once a day. Find that 20 minutes out of your day to scroll through a basic search and find new markets, better pay, more credible jobs. By the end of a typical month, you'll have sent out 20 queries and found 20 new work possibilities.

It may take some time for you to craft queries that will land you the gig, but eventually the jobs will come. And you can put the content mills behind you and build a much more lucrative career that you can be proud of.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The No-wait Policy

What's on the iPod: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

Super weekend. I know it's Tuesday, but when you have a nice time off that lasts into part of the week, that's a good thing. We met with a friend on Saturday for some bonding time and support during a rough period in her life. She's family on many levels, so it's great to be able to help and lend an ear when she needs it.

Spent that afternoon digging through a junkyard for car parts. Had a long list of things to scare up, so we went armed with tools and plenty of focus. Yes, I loved it. Remember, my not-so-secret dream job was to be a mechanic. I managed to find a grab handle for the daughter's VW - only it was for the right side. She needs it for the left side. No, they're not interchangeable. Back to the dump. He found tires for his son's car, and some mounting supports to replace rusted ones. We came home, cleaned up, then headed to the Bloomingdale's sale. Yes, I realize the irony of my own existence - from the dregs of auto purgatory to designer clothing shopping in the same day. It's weird, but it keeps me balanced.

We spent Sunday in town. First at the Irish restaurant for the bi-weekly Celtic music, then as we headed home we stumbled upon a concert in the local park in town. Turns out it was a Mummer's string band, complete with Mummer in full costume. Going from Wild Irish Rose to Beer Barrel Polka isn't easy, but it felt right at the time.

Work wise, things are a little in flux. I have one project that was due in four days ago with a deadline of Thursday. No way I can get the work done by the final deadline if it's not here by that agreed-upon deadline. I know they know this, but there are always things that get in the way of the best intentions. However, I'm also not sure I'll be around or available in two weeks when the powers-that-be are finally able to wrap things up and send this over. I want to be, but it depends on whether some of my queries hit their targets.

Frankly, I work on the assumption that no work in hand equals no work. Unless I'm handed a project, I can't know if they've changed their minds or are delayed. I assume nothing and move forward with my schedule. Waiting doesn't pay - unless you're on retainer.

It's one of the toughest things we deal with, isn't it? Often work potential comes our way with a "We'll be in touch shortly" or an "Are you available this date?" I give them two weeks out or, if they're very specific on the dates, a definite answer (usually yes). What I won't do is give a yes for a specific period that extends indefinitely. I can't. Projects come in at all times and I have to give priority as they come in. If a client has scheduled it, I've made room for it. If it doesn't show, I move to the next priority. If the missing project shows up midway, I work it in, but only after I finish the priorities ahead of it. It's only fair to all clients.

So today I'm working on a new project instead of waiting for the missing one. Also, I'm arranging new projects to fill in that two-week gap I left for that wayward project. Loyalty is one thing - eating and paying the bills is another.

That's my no-wait policy. How do you handle projects that are delayed?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Monthly Assessment - July 2010

What's on the iPod: Mustang Sally by The Commitments

I'm still in denial about July being gone. It didn't end well, with a few frustrating moments brought on by people I suspect are fussing to get out of payment. I'll drop them once again, only this time for good. I don't play games, and these antics are incredibly childish. I don't mind clients pointing out inaccuracies, but they actually have to be inaccurate. And this mention came as the invoice crossed their threshold. I'm done.

Meanwhile, other work did get done this past month. I managed an article for a larger publication. I completed lots of smaller projects, and I got a few checks. Unfortunately, I got a small project from the IRS - had to pay back taxes. There went the nest egg, and right at a time when the other projects were not paying. Wonderful.

Let's hope August is better both in terms of payment and with client relations. Here's what July looked like in detail:

Queries:
I sent out two queries and landed both assignments. Amen. I'm happy to be working again with a colleague in the same industry. He's great fun and I enjoy his unique personality.

Job postings:
I didn't waste my time with more than one. And frankly, I'm not surprised the one didn't respond. My price usually scares them off. I'm fine with that - we wouldn't match well if money is the central concern.

Existing clients:
Most of my jobs came from existing clients. I have three regular clients and have re-entered relationships with a few others. It's great when they have confidence in your abilities and you like them.

I'm due a large project this week. Actually, I was due it last week. I'm not sure where it went, but I'm going to press forward. Sitting waiting doesn't pay my bills. When it shows up, I'll shuffle the work and make room.

New clients:
There was a nibble, but I think my price didn't match his budget. Again, I'm fine with that. He needs someone who's able to give him work for a much lower rate. I don't think he'll find someone competent, but since he's an individual and not a company, I get that.

Earnings:
On paper, I'm in decent shape. This month's invoices were under my target by $900. I'm not happy about that, but since it's mid-summer - typically the slow period - I'll take it.

Bottom line:
Much more marketing will go into effect this week. I'm due a large project, but lacking its appearance, I have to get some smaller things going to fill in the earnings gap and make up for the IRS-related expense.

How was July for you?
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