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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Repackaged or Respun, It's Still Theft

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Yesterday was another fruitful one. I completed a draft for the second of three projects, did a complete overhaul of another project, and started preliminary work on a third. Oh, and I conducted an interview for an article in there somewhere.

Thanks to Meryl Evans for alerting me to this call for articles. As she said in her tweet to me, "Doing a Huffington?" Indeed, for while there isn't direct mention of it, pay is most likely not happening. You're able to repost to your own blog after it hits their site, and only if you include a link to the original source. Right. Great way to build their own traffic for free while you get to help them. No thanks. Need I remind anyone that professional writers shouldn't even take these "offers" seriously? Good. Moving on.

At the same time I was getting that note from Meryl, I noticed someone asking for article spinners, which is a bit more disturbing to me. Let me give you the Wikipedia paraphrased version of what article spinning is - taking an article and rewriting it to create another article with a slightly different focus. And if you do this with automatic software, you might even get to avoid plagiarism and copyright infringement charges.

How does this differ from theft? In my opinion, it doesn't. Not sure how the legal community would view it, especially given the copyright laws that apply quite well to the print world but don't always translate adequately online. Yet that's not what worries spinners. Nope. They're more concerned with losing face with Google - search engine results pages are their Valhalla.

Here's why serious writers should never consider article spinning:

It's not your work. I don't care how much you alter the content of the article, it's still not your original work. It belongs to someone else. Period. Come up with your own ideas and write it in your own words. Don't "borrow" from others.

It dilutes your brand. Imagine this - if you'd spent six weeks and 20 hours of research to write your article, the one that paid you $2 a word and got you in that coveted magazine, how happy would you be to see that content watered down and respun by some hack who got a few dollars total out of it? If a client sees this work alongside yours in a search result, is he automatically going to assume you were the originator, or will he assume you lifted the idea?

It kills your reputation as a serious writer. I don't see serious editors lining up to hire article spinners. Who wants to work with someone who has rewritten other people's ideas? Why would they risk copyright infringement or plagiarism charges?

It sucks for all involved. The only person making money off this practice is the person paying (and paying poorly) for the spinning. Why support someone who has no problem taking or expecting stolen work?

Do you think it's theft? Why/why not?

Does anyone want to tackle how this might translate against current US copyright law?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Communication Vaguery

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Super day yesterday. I managed great headway on three projects, finishing one, roughing out another, and starting the third. I hope to have them completed this afternoon. Then on to the remaining two.

Yesterday was also an exercise in frustration and futility in one case. I belong to a meditation group. I help the monks financially. When one of them called last week, I sent out a check. That's where I realized the irony of the situation, for a small check to a meditation group spiked my blood pressure to dangerous levels, and has convinced me that females have particular roadblocks they have to overcome in order to succeed.

The monk (a female) called and hinted at donation. I took down the information - name, address, etc. Confirmed it all. Sent it. Asked the others in the meditation group via email to help. That set off six phone calls and nearly a dozen emails over a three-day span.

Really? I got a call back from the monk. She was saying that now the check I sent (with the wrong name on it, mind you) should have been sent to a different address. Not only do I have to send a new check, but I now have to send it elsewhere and there's no one who's able to tell me why she didn't tell me that in the first place. Then someone brought up why I'd asked only the women in the group and not the two men. Then that sparked another conversation about unwritten rules and gender. All of this over one check. One.

It punctuates a point I've often thought to be why some women don't do well in business situations; there's just too much dancing around what you want or need and not enough stating it. I've seen a few men fail because of this same issue, but it is inherently a female problem. Prove me wrong. Please.

I would love to say this was an isolated incident. I can't. I worked in an office once where I'd asked a simple question of a manager about a woman who'd just gotten married - how would she like her name to be listed in the directory? That one question set off an email string that eventually had 12 female managers commenting. And not one of them ever resolved the question. They just discussed it to death. I solved it by picking up the phone and calling the woman directly (and I'd have been flogged verbally for doing so had they known).

We writers are no different when working with clients. Either we're waffling on what we want or the clients are. Here's how to avoid that same, frustrating scenario:

State what you want clearly and plainly. Don't say "Here's an idea for an article." Say "May I write this for your magazine?"

Ask for very detailed information. If the client is the waffler, ask pointed questions. In my case, I was able to determine from the monk what she wanted by saying "What do you want me to do?" Simple is best.

Ask for what you want. Note that the monk hinted at needing cash. Had I not been paying attention, I'd have missed her plea for financial support. She needed to say "I'm calling to ask for your monetary support in helping us meet our goals." I get that. Likewise, you need to say to your clients "Here are my parameters and these are my terms." Don't make them guess or surprise them later with your bill.

Keep communication to only those who need to know. By involving more people in your client communications, you're muddying the message and you're going to have a harder time getting what you need in order to get the job done. Ask one person, two tops. Don't work with a committee of eight unless all eight are signing the check.

How do you get down to the point? How do you get clients to clarify their messages?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Marathon Time

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NaNo count: Don't ask. Just. Don't.

Here's the thing - I was on track with NaNo until Tuesday. That's when the parents arrived. I had been able to get a good deal done on it, but then I hit some snags in the plot and then the work from the clients came pouring in, then the relatives for the holiday. I bailed. I'll get it done, but I'm unable to kill myself in order to meet the self-imposed deadline. So there you go. Lesson - never proclaim publicly that you won't fail. It's a sure guarantee you will. ;-)

I don't feel too badly because I'm working with three new clients and happily meeting tight deadlines. After this past Summer of Intense Drought, I'm not complaining. But there are six projects in my hands, all due within ten days. Time to sprint.

I want to thank all of you who surprised me with nominations and seconds for the Write to Done top blog contest. You who know me know I never liked the feeding frenzy that surrounds some of those contests, but being nominated and having such nice things said about this blog really means the world to me. I've won already no matter what the outcome. Thank you.

Today the work will come first because my commitment is to those people who are needing my help. My manuscript will figure into it, but only after I get everyone sorted and things organized so that I can work mini miracles with the small amounts of time I have. All crossed fingers and any good vibes are welcome.

Bouncing back to our conversation on Wednesday about negotiating from a position of strength, Carl said it best in his comment - "Structuring your business so that you have a predictable flow of leads is the key."

How true. If you have two clients and a trickle of work, you're eagerness to get more work in is going to be your negotiating position. If you have five clients and enough work to keep you quite busy, you're going to be more selective in what else you take on. For example, I'm working with some big corporations right now, all of which pay my top rate without flinching. I was approached by a client a few weeks back who dictated their rates to me.

A few things are wrong with that. First, I don't let others tell me what I'm charging any more than a customer would tell a kitchen installer or a lawn service what they're going to bill. I'm a business and I set the rates. If they pay it, I'll work myself like crazy for them. If they don't, best of luck to them.

Second, I'm not in a position to take on projects that don't pay what I normally charge. I'm already working quite hard for people who better value my skills. They're going to get my full attention, not the guy who tries to sneak in about 30 percent under my usual fee and expects constant attention.

The way to keep yourself in that same sweet spot?

Keep marketing. I sat idle for about eight days. Each day started and ended with marketing and reaching out. It paid off. Every one of these new clients (well, except for one) came from that push. Plus I have one more client I'm talking with about possible future work.

Keep the price commensurate with what you're already doing. Client One agreed to my rate (which is an increase I implemented early in the spring). When Client Two came along, I gave them that same rate. Client Three is paying it, as well. Why? Because the first two proved that it's a rate I can command. Same goes for you - if your best client is paying you $100 an hour, why not expect that of your other clients?

Keep aiming higher. The trick for me was to hit on clients that were used to working at a higher level, meaning they are corporations and they expect to pay for quality work. If you search for clients higher up the food chain, you'll have an easier time finding someone willing to afford you.

Have you raised your rates? What has happened when you did? If not, why not? What barrier is getting in your way?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy ....?

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! Mine was great. The parents were in, all but one kid was home (and I miss him), and the girls did the cooking - all of it. I can't remember the last time I was able to sit down on a Thanksgiving and watch tv and enjoy company. What a treat!

I ventured out yesterday for Black Friday shopping. The difference is I go out at 2 PM, not AM. My prediction - the economy is about to surge upward. There wasn't a parking space to be had, and this was midday. I've never had to fight the crowds in the afternoon, but there they were. Fifteen minutes to find a parking space, then lots of patience to wait in lines. I got what I was after, and I paid a pittance for it.

The parents are back home and the stepdaughter is leaving today or tomorrow for Maine. It was so nice having a full house. It was a stress-free holiday, probably because I wasn't cooking. I could have several more of those without a problem.

We went out for Thai food last night - husband, daughter, and me. We stopped at the store to get some ice cream, and the girl at the checkout said "Happy, well, after-Thanksgiving, Black Friday or whatever...." Then she said "What exactly do I call it now?"

I said "Happy weekend" and smiled.

So happy weekend to you. See you all on Monday. :-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When You Hold the Cards

I'm still hanging around with the folks, so I'm scheduling this post in advance.

I had a chat with a writer friend earlier in the week. He was talking about his most recent client meeting and how he managed to stand firm on his rate to a client that was doing a little dancing around the price. The reason he was able to get what he quoted - he was holding all the cards.

He knew the client had tried other writers and that it hadn't worked out because none of them had the experience necessary for the project. He knew the client management would push back on price. He knew his response when they did - I'm worth it.

I love his response. He said he felt empowered by the fact that the client's team mentioned the troubles with former writers who didn't have his level of experience. He knew that in order to take on a project where others have failed is indeed risky (did they fail because of lack of experience or because the client is difficult to please?). So he charged accordingly. Even better - he was able to tell them the price included a protection fee for him should he miscalculate the size and scope of the project. They didn't like it, but in the end he was able to tell them with confidence that they're getting quality and experience for that price. They agreed.

I'd wager that you're also in a position many times to negotiate a rate that underscores your value. When you have that specialty or are familiar with topics or similar projects, you can charge more for those skills because those are not easy skills to come by. If you write press releases constantly, you can charge for knowing how to put those together effectively.

Here are some suggestions for your next client negotiation:

Know your value. I can't stress this enough - your specific skills have value to people who need them. If you're a pro at putting together case studies, your clients who need those written should expect your rate to be higher than a writer who doesn't do that very often.

Keep true to you. I've turned down any number of clients who would have paid me lower rates because I know I'm worth more. I can help them get something done, but if they want me to handle the whole thing, they have to compensate me for my time. All of it.

Know what they've tried before. If you're going in to resurrect their failing project or you're replacing a substandard contractor, that's all information you can use to push for your rate. And you should. You don't know what kind of mess you may have to unravel, nor how much difficulty it will be to get their project up and running again.

Know your BATNA. I've used this term before. It's your Best Alternative to Negotiating an Agreement. If you know you can walk away, that's your BATNA. If you know you want to make this work, figure out your absolute bottom line and stick to it. If your counteroffers and theirs aren't even close, use your BATNA. Know before you start negotiating what your alternative is. It helps you stick to your price and your negotiations.

Have you ever had a negotiation in which you held all the cards? When was the last time you negotiated from a more valuable perspective? Do you often know your full value when negotiating price?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Headache-inducing Marketing

NaNo count: same as yesterday

I swear they smell when you're thinking about a vacation. I'm taking time off beginning noon today. I decided that Friday. That's when projects began to arrive, all needing priority, most having the same deadline. It's about to get interesting.

My mother is the type who leaps out of bed if she hears anyone in the house moving about. She doesn't want to miss anything, I guess. I'll have to sneak downstairs if I expect to get any NaNo writing done or any project work started. Once they're up, there's no way I can concentrate.

I sat down yesterday and opened my email. One thing stood out very clearly - some people market well, while others.... I received two emails from two different writers. One I know a little and have attended her Webinar. Another I've shared lunch with on a few occasions and "hung out" with during the newsgroup days of the Internet. I just subscribed to her site on Tuesday of last week. Yesterday, I unsubscribed.

It was too much. Not that I won't tolerate a few emails from friends trying to promote something. I'm fine with that. What I object to was what felt like pushiness. In under a week, I received five emails, each one selling something else or touting something. It was exclamation overload, and it hurt to read it.

The other writer? I still get her newsletter and will continue to. She sent two notes in the last week. Neither one contained a single exclamation point. But more importantly, she knows how to deliver her message. Here's what I saw:

No shouting. She stated her case in one sentence up front, then supported it with a minimal amount of prose.

Focus. I know exactly what she's selling. With my friend - the one I've lunched with - it wasn't obvious on first read. Or second.

Relevance. This is a writer who knows how to market; her emails presented something relevant to me, her reader. The other writer - I'm still trying to figure out what it is she's selling and why I should care.

Thoughtfulness. This is where the first writer scores huge points over the second writer. She's thoughtful about her audience - what they want, need, and how to reach them. She's also considerate about how many emails per week she's sending. She limits it to one per week. Honestly, if she sent more than one, I'd not mind because they're not begging for business. They're offering a service.

Brand identity. She knows what her strengths are and what her products and services are. It's clearly stated and you know this writer is her brand. The other writer has a brand, but she seems to slap it on thickly as if convincing her audience about its usefulness is a struggle. Plus I got varied emails citing different services, none of which seem to tie together.

Urgency without the hysteria. There is urgency to sign up before this deadline or that one, but I didn't feel the same sense of "DO IT DO IT DO IT!" that I did with the second writer's emails. I paid much more attention to the first writer's emails as a result. No one wants to sign up for another person's stress.

So how do you send out your message to your clients? What turns you off instantly? What gets your attention and keeps it?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Morning Dash

NaNo count: 35,025 words

How was the weekend? I'm glad to be back at the computer. As much as I love time off, I'm aching and tired from cleaning. We have all four bedrooms full and the basement had to be set up for one more bed. I wish everything was finished, but I've made huge headway. I managed a little bit of writing for NaNo yesterday, but not as much as I'd like. It's tough to type when you're starving and falling asleep.

Today is a busy one. I was sent three projects late Friday and I have to go over those today to see if they're straightforward or if they have to wait for vacations to be over for more information. Also, I have an interview for one of the articles. Plus I expect to get revisions back on another projects draft.

Anne and I have some work to do, as well. She and I are putting together another Webinar, and the details have to be worked out and marketed today. Stay tuned - it's going to be a good one.

I'll be taking off tomorrow after lunch, re-emerging Friday or Monday, depending on who's still here. Stepdaughter's boyfriend arrives today, stepdaughter tomorrow. Daughter's boyfriend's fever (pneumonia) broke Friday and he was able to drive home Saturday. He's not able to work yet, but he's better. Amen. Mom and Dad show up tomorrow via train. I've planned meals for the next four days, including a vegetarian/carnivorous Thanksgiving. They eat it - we don't. I love cooking, but pleasing so many palettes is always challenging.

What's on your plate this week (besides turkey or non-turkey products)? Are you working? Hosting the holiday or traveling?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Link Love Friday By the Numbers

NaNo count: 31,104 words

It's hard to imagine how much one thing can really dictate the day for you. Yesterday I spent the day working, but my focus was on my daughter's boyfriend. He's upstairs right now getting over pneumonia. He came for a weekend. Last week. Poor kid was burning up and there was a point where we discussed seriously heading to the hospital again. Luckily, the antibiotics finally took hold and his fever broke for what appears to be the final time.

Despite the worry, I managed a new client project that I'd hoped to get out yesterday. As I hit send, in came yet another project (three, actually). I'm tired thinking about all I have to get done.

Today is a phone call with a client and some roughing in of two articles due in December. Then I hope to get back to NaNo, which was a struggle to get to given the pneumonia worry.

So it's link love time. The ironic thing about these posts are that each one was chosen for its content, but that the whole of them are numeric in nature. Here's what I mean:

12 Places to Find Freelance Writing Gigs: You Demand Media hangers-on take heed - Susan Johnston is giving you a road map to better work. Use it.

30 Ways to Generate Writing & Blogging Ideas: Anne Wayman sends us ideas just when we need them (or maybe I'm projecting).

3 Simple Healthy Habits for Writers: Thank you, Sharon Hurley Hall, for bringing us this guest post reminding us that we can't do our best without fueling our vessels properly (Ntathu Allen is the author).

Four Steps to Building a Platform: Meryl Evans gives simple advice for building and maintaining the personal platform.

Feel free to share your link. What's inspiring you this week?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Writers Need Strong Backbones

NaNo count: 30,115 words

Super day yesterday. I lined up a few interviews for the article assignments, then I spent the rest of the day talking with new clients. One was a referral, which was a surprise phone call. Another was the confidential client whose vetting process took a bit longer than expected. But I'm happy to be on board with them and helping. Still another is a large company with local ties - one I'd sent a letter of introduction to. I'm just hoping I have enough days to get everything done.

It's when it pays to be accommodating, but not a pushover. For as much as we writers need to please clients, we need to know when to assert our limits. That's why I advocate building a strong backbone. Here are some ways to give yourself some added strength:

Raise your rates. Nothing says "I'm a professional" like a good, strong fee structure. If you've already taken on more than you can handle, that's an indication that your price could be higher. Why? Because you're now in demand and you're sitting on a reputation for delivering quality stuff.

Give clients a three-day window. In other words, they call today with that must-have project. Automatically look out three days from today and that's the first day you can touch it. Why? Because you have other work that has to be completed, too. Three days, for me, seems like enough time to make headway on the other work and a short enough time frame that the client on the phone isn't going to miss some serious deadlines.

Make an active to-do list. You non-list makers can stop groaning right now. If you have more than two things going at the same time, you need to write it down, look at it, and figure out how you're fitting it all in. Plus having it written down helps you see what you've taken on should another client call with an urgent project.

Tell them you're booked. Watch how popular you become, too. Obviously you can't do more than your own time will allow. It's okay to say, "Sorry, but I'm working on three client projects right now. I'll have time in about XX days, if that will work for you." That's not dropping them on their ears - that's keeping you from taking on more than you can handle effectively.

What do you do to show your backbone?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Organization 101

NaNo count: 27,551 words

Super day yesterday in terms of actual seat leather. I picked up two article gigs and was able to get busy on them right away. I have a few of the interview sources lined up already, so it's a matter of scheduling and getting it done.

I spent some time working on my website redesign. I'm not a designer at all, so it's taking a bit more time than a professional could manage it in. There's a certain look I'm going for, and I'm making sure it's consistent.

Last week and this week have provided some unexpected free time as I wait for word on a few more projects. Let me rephrase - as I market while waiting. We never wait for work without doing anything else.

I was reading Amelia's blog during a brief break in the action (a.k.a. my concentration). She has a nice post up about productivity and being caught up in what her mom calls "paralysis of analysis." It's the story of many things you can do, no direction in which to go first. Amelia, you're not alone.

Currently, I'm working on NaNo, but I have my website to redesign, too. Plus I have another project that I need to revise, and more marketing to do for the upcoming conference in April (I'm a notorious pre-planner).

So how to do it all? Here's what works for me:

Prioritizing. I could drop NaNo and get to that website, but NaNo, for me, is a priority. Naturally it's secondary to client work, but only just. I've committed to finishing something rough by the 30th, and I will. My point is this - take your list of musts and wants and figure out which comes first, second, etc.

Scheduling. Now that you know the order, figure out how much time you'll devote to each one. If you're working on your novel first, is an hour in the morning enough time, or do you need two hours in the afternoon? Open Outlook and make your appointment. Just be sure to leave a little time open to handle client work and emails should they come in.

Treating it like "real" work. You'd no sooner slack off on a client project than you would gouge your own brain with a fork. Treat your side projects the same. They're important, as well.

Repeating. Organization works if you're consistent with it. You can teach yourself to be organized, but it takes practice for some. For others who are born with some gene deformity that won't let them be late for anything including that first cup of tea in the morning, well, we don't see what all the fuss is about anyway.

When you have the gift of some free time and lots of projects, do you organize it or do you find yourself sometimes twisting in the wind? How do you handle a long to-do list?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Technology and Today's Writer

Nano count: 25,015

I took a partial day off yesterday (three hours, to be exact). It felt like a week. For some reason, I came back to this desk feeling like such a slacker. I hadn't touched my NaNo manuscript much, so maybe that was it. I did manage to get some queries out and some pitches to a favorite editor on her request.

Technology must be on everyone's minds. I had more than one conversation yesterday with writers about technology. Sharon Hurley Hall has a nice post up on Cathy Miller's site about cloud computing. It's something I'm set up for, but have yet to use fully. This post is a good kick in the right direction.

Aside from where you compute, how you compute can save you time and effort depending on the tasks you're trying to complete. Here are my must-haves:

Digital recorder. Make sure you find one that has decent software (mine does not), and if a recorder exists that comes with power cord, buy it. The batteries last a while, but why worry about batteries dying during an interview?

Recording device. I use a little widget I got from Radio Shack that routes the phone line through the digital recorder. Paid about $15 for it. Or you could use this recording device, which I also have. It's basically just an earpiece that plugs into the recorder and picks up everything as you talk.

Backup. You know you've been meaning to, and you know it's critical. But why do you find yourself post-crash wishing you'd done it? Because you're like me and think nothing bad ever happens in your bubble. I just got a 2 TB NAS for under $250. Cheap insurance. Also, I back up my Word files to Mozy.com every day. You can never be too careful.

All-in-one. I can't imagine working without this. To think of how many trips I'd have to make to Fedex/Kinko's just to send a fax or scan something? No way. They're dirt cheap. So is a distinctive ring tone (complete with new number) for your fax on the same phone line ($4.99 a month is what I pay).

A fast computer with enough space. Invest in your career. Get the computer you want that has enough space and capabilities to handle your work. To do otherwise ties your hands and slows you down.

An online market guide. Use whatever one you like, but an online guide to the magazine and book markets is a godsend when you want to research new markets. I use Writer's Market, but you use whatever you like.

PDF writing/editing software. Not just readers, but real software that allows you to edit the PDFs. I had two jobs where I used it, and I think without it, I would have been severely handicapped. That I had it impressed the client enough that I was handed more work.

A cell phone. I won't say a smart phone because I don't own one. I don't plan to, either. Synching things doesn't matter to me as I work from here (hence the need for cloud computing should I become mobile). If I upgrade to a new laptop, then we'll talk. But a cell phone is very useful for going on client meetings - especially if you can't find them or need to tell them you're waiting in their lobby. If you want a smart phone, knock yourself out.

Some neat things I've heard about but not used yet:

Dragon Naturally Speaking. Writers tend to like it. It takes your conversation and turns it into text.

Google Voice. From what I gather, you get your own phone number, you take and make calls through the app, and it will transcribe for you. Not sure what the cost is, but it's on my to-do list.

Evernote. I have it on my NookColor, but have yet to get the memory card required. But Evernote is supposed to be a super note-taking application. And it's free.

What tools do you use?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Deep Breaths

Nano count: 23,204 words

Maybe it's because I had so much going on that it felt like the weekend was a blink. Here it is, Monday again. I did get some "me" time in, plus yesterday was our group meditation practice in the city. Nice way to start a new week.

The Firebird Festival is December 10 and I'm already looking forward to it. For those unfamiliar with it, our town - Phoenixville - hosts the annual "bird burning" and it's a fun celebration. There are street performers, performers taking up temporary residence inside local businesses, and of course, native drumming to chants of "Burn that bird!" We're going to have our collective meditation practice, then head off as a group to take part in the ceremonies. Even if that's not your bag, there's food. Where else can you get a funnel cake in December, I ask you?

I watched with particular interest something that saddens me to see. A popular blogger had put up a post - one that was encouraging and helpful - and the comments were more concerned with grammar gaffes and sentence issues in the post. Because this is a writer, they said, the posts should have been stellar. Here's where I jump off that particular "get it right" train. I'm all for getting it right for clients and for ourselves as much as we can. Yet in my opinion, blogs are not the place to eviscerate because of some mistakes. Here's why I think that:

There are no copy editors. Not every writer is a strong editor or proofreader. A writer's blog should be as close to perfect as possible, but we're all human. We all have lousy days.

It's unprofessional. Not so much the mistakes - they can be corrected if someone mentions them in private, not in front of God and mankind. The moment you start pointing fingers, you're pointing four more back at yourself. If you're doing it in public, you have ulterior motives that go beyond the mistakes you've found.

Blogs are informal. Most blogs are non-paying things we do. If you want to chastise someone because their bullet points aren't parallel or their use of commas doesn't jive with your copy of the style guide, save your breath for bigger issues, please. If you're coming to me, know that I'm not paid for this and I do it because I give a damn about your career. If you can out-write me, you don't need me. Therefore, no sense in coming back to point out my mistakes, which are probably easy to find.

We're all guilty at some point. If you wanted to find mistakes in my blog posts, you probably won't have any trouble. I knew a blogger who had huge mistakes constantly in the blog - the wrong pronouns, dangling modifiers, you name it. I never pointed it out because A) that would embarrass, B) it would mean I needed to be super diligent with my own posts (glass houses, you know), and C) it didn't really matter in the long run. I was not a fan of that blogger at all, which is another reason I didn't say anything. Just felt wrong to go there.

I get that writers have to be on their game 24/7 should the clients be watching. What I don't get is why mistakes have to be pointed out in public. It doesn't reflect well on the blogger, sure, but it sure doesn't make the commenter look anything like a professional. If I were a client hiring a writer who could be part of my team, I wouldn't see "team" in that move at all.

Thoughts? It's a tough one because I get why we have to take care, but I think there's an informality to this form of communication.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Link Love Friday and Musical Stuff

Nano count: 20,086 words

Happy Veterans Day to all service people living and beyond. You cannot know just how much your sacrifices and your service means to the rest of us. Thank you.

A nice day yesterday. I'm still waiting for an expected project to roll in, so I had time to work on Nano. Also, Anne and I had our second free monthly mastermind chat with some of the Five Buck Forum members. We rolled around some ideas, chatted about business stuff, and enjoyed the camaraderie more than anything.

That call left me feeling really good, so I put that energy into my manuscript, and I was able to find that thread that ties the characters together. It's solid, and it makes sense for what I'm trying to present. Amen.

I also took some time to find fun stuff to share with you.

20 British Expressions You Will Never Hear in the US: This from good chum Sharon Hurley Hall.

One Big Reason Why Commercial Writing Pays Better and Resists 'Off-Shoring' (and Why this Other Kind of Writing Doesn't):
I practically proposed to Peter Bowerman because of this post.

Do Your Goals Need a Gut Check?: Cathy Miller cranks out another awesome post.

Content Marketing Planning That Really Works: A great guest post by Katie Saxon over on Susan Johnston's blog.

A new music obsession, and just one gorgeous song:



Share a link, a song, whatever. What's inspiring you this week?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Nano No-Nos

Nano count: 17,194 words

A great day yesterday. Once the first Someone With Tools left, I was able to get a lot of writing in for Nano. The second SWT never showed, so I had ample time to get my thoughts down. I'm relishing this short-lived free time. My word count doesn't necessarily reflect the progress I feel I've made. There were some major plot points worked out yesterday, so I'm excited.

There seems to be a ton of great advice out there on how to approach Nano to increase your chances of success. Frankly, you could use a lot of that, I suspect, to increase your results in a non-Nano setting. But since Nano is rolling off everyone's tongue this month, I'm just going to stick with that.

Advice is great. Advice that fits is even better. Knowing what advice works for you and what doesn't requires a bit of trial-and-error sometimes. Nano isn't the time to test every theory, but it is a time to opt out of advice you already know won't fit you. If it's not something that works for you in your nonfiction world, I don't imagine it would work in your fiction world, either. I could be wrong, but for me, I have some basic truths I already know from having written several children's and young adult manuscripts.

What doesn't work for me:

Setting word count limits. Some days I can write 3,000 words and some days I can muster only 300. If I set a limit on myself of 1,500 words, I'm going to feel good one day and lousy the next. Worse, I'll see those extra words and think I can slack off a bit.

Editing as you go. I'm a born editor. Every word gets thought out twice as I type. But in fiction writing, that's a dangerous habit. I've had manuscripts stall and die because I was busy re-reading and fixing. That's why Nano works for me - I have to press forward.

Watching the clock. When I write, I don't say "Okay, just fifteen minutes and I'll quit." I just write. If I'm on deadline, maybe then I'd give myself a limit, but it seems to me it's the death of creativity to have fingers on the keyboard and eyes on the clock. Just write until you're happy with your progress.

Laboring over an idea too long. Two days ago my scene was giving me fits. Instead of trying too hard to force something plausible out, I just gave it one of those "what the hell" moments - I wrote whatever came into my brain. It saved the scene and saved me from discouragement.

The funny thing about my list is it may not be the same as yours. What doesn't work for me may be just what you're needing. I have one friend who cannot understand how I can write without an outline. Honestly, I've tried it. I found myself getting so stuck in the outlining process that I never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It doesn't work for me because I'm more fluid than an outline would allow. As long as I can see the ending, I can write it. Outlining works beautifully for her, though. Different strokes.

Are there approaches you use in either your fiction or nonfiction writing that you know don't suit you? What are they? What works better for you?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

After You

Nano count: 13,386 words

Despite my plan to spend all of yesterday on Nano, I had to go out of the house twice. I'd bought something that had to be returned that day or I lost my chance to do so. Then I had to send the large project back, so a trip to the post office in the afternoon. I still had plenty of time for Nano, but the scene I was writing was tough, so I managed only 3,300 or so words - maybe a sign my character isn't well defined. Today I have a little more time to devote to it, so I fully intend to give it my all. These next few scenes I'm seeing in my head are stronger, easier to write (I hope).

I see a lot of people struggling with Nano because they're not finding time for it. I'm about to propose something really wild, a crazy notion that might actually work - put your personal writing first.

It was a tough lesson for me to learn. It's one I'd learned a few years back during a coaching session with Lisa Gates, who said to put yourself at the top of your priority list. Likewise, if you bump your own writing to the top of your priority list, it no longer seems so daunting to find those fifteen minutes to an hour for your writing. Isn't that why we all became writers - to write what we've been dying to write? Mind you, I love writing for clients, but inside me are stories and ideas and poetry that have to come out.

Some ways to make that happen:

Put everything after you. Start your day with your own writing. Make those first keystrokes every day yours.

Insert heavy doses of discipline. Hemingway used to sit down at the typewriter in the morning and not move until noon. Every day. It worked for him - no reason why it can't work for you.

Find your sweet spot. Maybe your brain doesn't start working until noon. Maybe you love writing in the evening instead of watching television. Write when it suits your own creativity, but write.

Make an appointment with yourself. Literally. Use that Outlook or Lotus Notes calendar and schedule your personal writing.

Give it the same level of importance. Don't think that because you're not seeing money from your personal writing (yet) that you have to put clients first. What do they say on the airlines? Secure your own mask first before assisting others. That advice applies to making you a happier writer.

What gets in your way? How can you prioritize so that your writing is first?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Carving Out Biz Time

Nano count: Still 10,001 words

Very long day yesterday, but I accomplished two of my three goals. I had time-sensitive projects that had to go out ASAP, so they took priority over even my personal writing. Nano suffered. But since Nano doesn't pay the bills, I made that sacrifice without any reservation. Besides, I have today to put down what I hope is a lot of work on the book.

I finished one project late in the day, then tried printing the invoice. Uh. No. Printer wasn't working. Really? Nothing had changed since Saturday when it was used last (that I know of). But for the second time in two months, I was trying to get the printer to print. This time, it had somehow been switched to wireless mode, which hasn't worked since I bought the stupid thing. That's a battle I gave up out of sheer frustration, so I know I didn't change the settings. It was (is - I'm writing right after resolving it) 8:30 last night when it was fixed. Amen. Invoice printed.

I'm going to take today for Nano and marketing. I do have to get a project back to a client, which means a trip to either FedEx or UPS (I have no love for UPS delivery in this area, so guess which one I'm picking if I have the choice?). Beyond that, working on the book.

It must be the season for repairs, etc. We have two things going on this weekend that require someone to be at home for the eventual arrival of Someone With Tools. It's the eventual part that annoys me (and everyone else on the planet). I know tomorrow's SWT will show up within a half-hour window - very good about that in the past. However, today's arrival of another SWT is completely up in the air. He may show up right now. He may show up at noon. Two. Four. Maybe not until the next day. Hard to say.

Because of my location, I'm Designated Door Opener. As DDO, I must make myself available for these impromptu visits. In fact, today's SWT tried showing up three weeks ago to no avail. To which I say uh, use a phone? I had no idea he'd try showing up at all (again, phone?). He'd alluded to a possible stopping by a month prior, so it's no surprise I was running errands when he did arrive. So I have little patience with a random show-er-upper. Today's plan is to call him and get an ETA. I have a life and other things to do. Nano.

It's really hard not to resent or feel a little overwhelmed when you're the one at home to answer the door (except for Paula's neighbor, who tends to think it's Paula's job to gossip with her) and ask the pertinent questions of the delivery or repair people. Worse is if the requests come in last minute. Here's how I handle some of these requests:

Say no. Who says you have to be there just because you're "there"? Physical location notwithstanding, sometimes you just don't have the fifteen minutes to two hours to spare shuttling the repair people through the house. Or playing taxi. Or deciding on dinner.

Reschedule to suit your schedule. So someone made that appointment when you have a conference call? Reschedule the appointment - not the conference call. Work comes first before any arbitrary appointment time. If it's not convenient, don't agree to it.

Make the appointment yourself. The best way to avoid having to work around the damned appointment is to get on the phone and arrange it yourself. That way you avoid any work conflicts.

Ask for backup. Just because they're out of the house doesn't mean it has to all fall on you. It's okay to ask someone to get your back once in a while.

How do you deal with interruptions?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Morning Quarterbacking

Nano count: 10,001

Wow, that weekend went by quickly. I spent a bit of it working. I have a large project in that is time-sensitive, and I took it on knowing the weekend was going to be sacrificed to some extent. I'm glad I spent those few hours on the project - I think I can wrap it up today.

Good thing - I have another client project that I want to get out today, as well. I got the first draft done on Friday, but wanted it to sit a bit before I sent it out. It never hurts to approach it after a few days of rest.

The weekend wasn't a total wash. We tended to errands on Saturday, then went to see Tower Heist. Finally they've billed a movie as a comedy that was actually funny. Hilarious movie. Great performances, especially by Alan Alda.

Yesterday I worked a bit in the afternoon after spending a few hours cleaning (yes, I cleaned - what's this world coming to?). We went over to Molly Maguire's for dinner, and happened upon not the usual Irish music sessions, but a benefit for the Irish radio station. There were tons of performers, and some exceptional fiddle playing. I'm talking world-class fiddle playing. Some great pub songs (bawdy and fun), and a performance on fiddle by a young man (I'm guessing ten or eleven) that was so heartfelt. How do you do that at such a young age?

Then there was the redheaded boy, about five years old, who was doing the jig with the other girls in his dance class. Adorable!

Home to see football. Ugh. Let me just say there were some calls by the officials that had even the announcers going "Huh?" We lost by a hair, and thanks to a holding call that was clearly missed by the officials. He had his arm out and his hand wrapped up in our defender as he caught the ball - and no flag. Alas, we live to scrap another day.

The work is laid out before me today, so I'm going to get right to it.

What's happening in your world this week? How was the weekend?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Link Love Friday

Nano word count: 7,555

After spending a nice lunch wishing a good writing chum happy birthday (hey, Bob!), I landed back in this chair close to 3:30 yesterday afternoon. I have two pressing deadlines, one of which is about to arrive via Fedex and the other I've had enough time to read through once and ponder. This morning I'll work on that one and await the arrival of the larger one. Both have close deadlines, but I'm already working out in my head how I'll split my time to get them done. I have my weekend blocked out for a few hours of work on one. Rare is the weekend I'll give up, but these are both new clients and I'm eager to please. I'll relax when the work is done.

I fell into the chair in the library last night. I'm nursing a sick husband best I can, working (the work always arrives when you're stressed, doesn't it?), and trying to maintain my marketing schedule, Nano writing, and book editing. That sound you hear is the twang as my last nerve stretches just a little farther.

I had hoped to give you a post today that was worthy of a Friday - fun, humorous, a little decadent. Instead, I'm going to give you links to some neat posts that are all of those things, plus helpful.

Why I Won't Read Your Book Manuscript For Free - Anne Wayman says it because we all want to, but can't find the words. Follow her example.

The Great Comma Conundrum - Susan Johnston makes a very good case for why comma placement matters, and what Johnny Depp has to do with it all.

Let Your Energy Dictate Your Day - Meryl K. Evans tells us what I needed to know yesterday. But it's in the bank for next time.

Cats, Colons, and Semicolons - Probably the funniest way to remember your punctuation, all thanks to Liz Craig's grandmother.

3 Ideas Beyond the Freelance Echo Chamber - Thank you, Jake Poinier, for pulling us out of ourselves and into reality for a while.

Didn't Get It Done? That's Your Own Damn Fault - Steph Auteri proves once more why I follow her. Straight talk, good advice.

What's on your reading list this week?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Many Irons, Fires are Starting

Nano count, Day two: 5,126 words

I decided to keep track of Nano work right here. I'm accountable for everything else monthly, why not Nano daily? Feel free to post your own writing results here during this month (or any month, for that matter).

I had a good day yesterday. I met with a prospective client whom I'd sent a note to last week. I got a lovely lunch, good company, and an assignment out of it. Turns out they were looking for a writer who knew the industry and didn't have that usual learning curve to overcome.

The contact wasn't a letter of introduction so much - I knew them. My contact there had sent me a number of interview sources over the years, and we'd exchanged friendly emails in the past. When I saw her name on the contact list for this company, I knew I had to get in touch. Every interaction you have counts.

I see a number of client contacts starting to gel into bigger things. The massive contract stuff for Confidential Client is over and now I'm waiting to hear back from them on getting going. Another possible client - someone I've interviewed numerous times - is about to take on a large, local client company. When that happens, I should see some work from that. Then there's the client who's expressed lots of interest, wants to talk, but is too overwhelmed with work to call back. I've backed off knowing when she has the time and energy, she'll get in touch.

The fear is everyone will come at once and want projects done yesterday. However, I'm one person and I don't see a cloning in my immediate future. It's when a project triage helps - those things that must come first do, those that can be pushed back a day or so are, those that the clients may not need right away are renegotiated for a longer deadline. Only once was I so inundated with work that it affected the quality - I have seven projects, five of them due in a three-week time span, two of them rather large. I mucked up a smaller one because I let my quality control slide and facts went into a story that were localized results, not national. Bad timing. It was a new client, someone I'd known a while and really liked. Ouch.

So here's what I recommend if you want to avoid that pain:

Under-promise. The temptation is to over-promise sometimes, especially with new clients. Do the opposite. That doesn't mean you can't over-deliver. It just means you haven't locked yourself into a commitment you can't possibly keep.

Test deadlines. The project I have to do today isn't actually due today. I'm glad. I have another project going on and I didn't know how I'd get to it. But if they say they need it in two days, tell them it's more likely you can have it to them in three or four, depending on the work. Mind you not everything has that same flexibility, but do ask if there's wiggle room in the deadline.

Set that time aside. Those of us who have lived through the famine side of a feast-famine cycle (namely all of us) are tempted to take on everything that comes our way, no questions asked. But we can't always do that, can we? If that project is big, complicated, or from a client whom you're working with for the first time, block the time off on your schedule for that project alone. Don't take on anything else until you've made serious headway.

Say no. It's okay. You won't die. Neither will they. If you can't take it on because you don't have time, say so. Apologize, tell them how strapped for time you are, and offer to take it on at a later date. They're free to say no, too. It's called a business decision.

What do you do to organize your schedule for large amounts of work? Have you ever said no to a client based on lack of time? How did you work that out with the client?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Trending

If it could get in my way yesterday, it did. I sat down at seven am to get my NanoWriMo writing done. By nine it was obvious that wasn't happening. I was interrupted six times, then the phone started ringing. Sorry Mom, I have to go. Then some banking and other essential errands at noon. I came back home fully intending to get tons accomplished. Right. The printer ran out of ink (at least the Canon would warn me) in the middle of a print job. It couldn't wait - I was putting together my portfolio. I thought I'd wait until three and get it. Then the phone rang. It must have been relatives-bug-your-self-employed-relative day. I sat down again to put words to Nano (so to speak) and my daughter came home from work. Luckily, she knows that look I get when I'm stressed, and she disappeared. I got my quota done and then some, and managed to send out three LOIs and two queries.

One thing I've noticed is that client work comes in cycles. You've probably noticed that July and August are often like the Sahara in terms of projects and clients returning your calls. November and December are much like that, too. There are trends with every client type and project type that can be planned for. Here's where to look when the droughts arrive:

Magazines in the summer months. Magazines are still flush with budgets mid-year, so if other client work is dropping off, send out some queries or ask your favorite editors for some assignments.

Corporate writing in the fall. Something about September and October makes corporations buckle down and get back to business. Perhaps they're working on a fiscal-year budget, or perhaps they have to show quarterly results somewhere along the food chain. Either way, get in touch with them in September.

Ghostwriting and editing in January. Thank heaven for resolutions! January is a great time to pick up book writing/editing gigs from those who fancy themselves writers. They're fresh off their resolutions and ripe for the picking.

April and May for press releases. There's something to be said about conferences and trade shows in the spring. It brings out the newsy-ness in clients who want something - anything - to announce. Get in touch with them prior to the shows (see my post on working a trade show) and line up the press release/trade show communications work now.

April, May and June for college catalogs. I've worked with one college client that has tended to work on their catalog the same month it's due, but even that system is being changed. Reach out to colleges and universities before the end of the spring semester to be considered for help on the catalog or other marketing materials.

October and November for spring conferences. We've talked about it already, but reaching out months ahead of the trade shows and conferences gets your clients thinking about preparations, and shows you as someone who's on top of the planning.

What trends have you noticed? Where do you look for work when your usual sources go silent?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Monthly Assessment: October 2011

Why did I think I'd get a thing done yesterday? I had a scheduled MRI in the morning. There went the morning. Then I had a few small issues to clear up, plus contract odds and ends to finalize, and some insurance-related documents to dig out. By the time I looked up, it was 4 pm.

Today is Nano, so I hope to have my 2,500 words down before 10 so I can concentrate on other things, like marketing and getting my portfolio ready for tomorrow's client meeting (never got to it yesterday). I'm feeling a bit of a sore throat again, so I'm hoping to avoid yet another virus.

New month, new assessment. It's time to see what all that marketing netted. Don't forget to post your assessment in the comments:

Queries:
I sent out eleven magazine queries, one with two ideas. Those two ideas were given an immediate yes, but a "next issue" assignment (a quarterly pub). I'm promised a third idea - this one generated in-house. Not bad for a "how are you" note.

Letters of introduction were where I'd concentrated my efforts. Fourteen sent, four responded to. Not bad odds, actually. One resulted in the upcoming client meeting.

Job listings:
Didn't even look. Those aren't my clients.

Existing clients:
Right now, I'm looking at two potential assignments from two existing clients. The three-in-one assignment is an editor I enjoy working with. On top of that is overflow work from a PR client. I lost an ongoing client, but I suspect I'll be back on board once they catch up with blog posts.

I finished a large project for an ongoing client that I thought would be small, but that turned into a few more projects than expected. It was nice to send out a beefier invoice.

New clients:
Post-conference follow-up is starting to pay off. I finally got contract stuff cleared away for work with a conference contact. Also, the conference I go to is five months away, so I started getting in touch with the vendors. One of those notes (mentioned above) is resulting in tomorrow's meeting.

Earnings:
Not super this month. It's a little over half what I normally bill. However, I'd billed quite a bit last month, so I have the cushion, and I've been waiting for projects to arrive that didn't happen last month. This month for sure, although I never wait for a maybe. The Five Buck Forum is gaining popularity, and we're getting some good Webinars lined up.

Bottom line:
Thanks to following up, I'm looking at three projects and possibly a fourth. Sending multiple ideas to the magazine editor paid off, and I'm seeing results from pre-/post-conference contact.

How was your October? What surprised you?
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