Friday, September 28, 2012

Revamping or Retrenchment

As your freelance career progresses, you may find that some of your ideas and avenues for publication just aren’t working out. Do you throw in the towel? No. Instead, you should revamp what you’ve been working on and try again. However, the damage may be severe—markets for your ideas begin to disappear, you’re running out of ideas, or you’re just not as interested in the subject as you were when you started. In this case, you may need to fall back and retrench. And much like soldiers in World War I who did just that to come up with a new strategy, so should you.

Revamping your operation or project isn’t as drastic. You may have to go back and do more research in both your subject and the market for it. Perhaps you’ll need to find some new contacts and get in touch with ones you haven’t heard from in a while. If you've corresponded with an editor previously and received encouraging words but no assignments, send him or her a short E-mail, saying something like “I contacted you a few months ago, and you said you’d be glad to look at other ideas I had. Do you have any stories you're contemplating? If so, can I help?" Reminding editors that you're still available to take on assignments isn’t such a bad one.

Revamping may also mean asking for more pay. No writer gets additional compensation without first showing that he or she deserves it. Keep a special file containing notes on all the best pieces you’ve written for a particular editor. While some editors will increase your pay automatically if you’re doing an outstanding job, others will need a little more prodding. If you an exceptional job on an article, be prepared to ask for more pay the next time around. But always leave yourself a graceful way out if the editor turns down your request. Don't burn bridges unless you absolutely have to.

If you’ve been specializing in a particular subject area and not getting too far with it, perhaps it’s time to take a second look at it. While revamping may also mean developing another specialty, remember that you’ve already put in a lot of time into the one you’re pursuing, and you’ll have to go back to square one if you begin again. Study your target market. Note changes in it and your specialty.

How has what’s happening in the world affected your specialty? After 9/11, the market for travel articles went into chaos. People weren’t traveling and advertisers stopped buying ads, so publications that specialized in travel had to pull back. Some went out of business. Likewise, have the effects of global events filtered down to your locality yet? You may be able to cash in on your specialty in local or regional markets—at least until the national markets recover. The recent economic recession had the same affect on a number of subject areas.

If you're pushing your skills into a new area, it's bound to make others a little suspicious now and then, even if you know you're competent to handle the new situation. Remind yourself this new arena is one in which you're going to have to sell harder than before. Be prepared. Do your research and come up strong.

If you manage to get an assignment in your specialty area every now and then, that should tell you that you should be able to get more. If you’re at a point where some editors trust you to deliver, you're halfway there. Assuming it may take several queries to land one assignment, prepare yourself for the strikeouts and keep after the home runs. Your self-confidence will grow with practice. Success, no matter how slight, whets the appetite as nothing else can.

Occasionally think outside the box. Even specialized publications run general pieces once in a while. Their readers are always looking to save money, travel, manage their lives, etc.

If you're changing specialties, you may have to go back a step or two until you've proven yourself. Move ahead quickly once you've established your new specialty. Be alert for chances to point out to editors that you're now as qualified as anyone else. Perhaps review books in your new field. You’ll not only increase your visibility, but you’ll also add free books to your personal specialty library, saving money in the process.

New technology in electronic books now enables you to further increase your visibility by self-publishing short books or articles in your specialty to sell on Amazon for Kindle. It’s a fact that Kindle has the lion’s share of the ebook market, so ignore Nook and other venues and concentrate on it. This helps provide you with a track record in your new area of expertise.

Sometimes it doesn't make much sense to continue in the direction you’re headed. If you've tried to make a go at a specialty but discovered you've hardly made headway, you might want to  reconsider. Retrenchment may be what's in order, before you get in over your head financially or otherwise. But retrenchment means giving up what you were doing in favor of starting something else. You’ll definitely lose money on this because income won’t be coming in for a while. Unless you have another source of income, only use retrenchment as a last resort. Don’t give up too soon.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Priming the Pump

Everyone has seen those ads from lawyers on T.V. promising to get money for you for pain and suffering. The law community disdains those ads. And so it is with writers. It’s long been believed that writers are above advertising. Isn’t writing an art above hawking? While it might be for those starving writers hidden in expensive city lofts—there are no more cheap garrets to live in, they’ve been taken over by Yuppies—the fact is that in today’s market, you need to advertise. Well, at least promote yourself and your work.

Even the slightest bit of self-promotion helps. Send a copy of an article you’ve had published to other editors who might find it interesting. They might surprise you can contact you to do something related. That same article may lead to a book contract. Since you can never tell when such happy circumstances will occur, it never hurts to prime the pump a little.

Even the slightest bit of self-promotion helps. Send a copy of an article you’ve had published to other editors who might find it interesting. They might surprise you can contact you to do something related. That same article may lead to a book contract. Since you can never tell when such happy circumstances will occur, it never hurts to prime the pump a little.

You might also compose a letter of introduction listing the writing or other services you offer and send it to local businesses either by E-mail or regular mail. Be sure to add a note about the best time to contact you and follow up with a phone call.

There are all sorts of organizations you can add to your list of possible promotional outlets. You don't have to actually belong to them to reap benefits. Occasionally, you can attend seminars by other professionals as a guest of a member. Socialize and do some networking. Let it be known you're a local writer with a particular project in production. Discreetly dropping such mentions can lead to new assignments.

Seek out local organizations of publishing or public relations professionals. Meetings of these groups offer fertile ground for discovering possible writing jobs in the corporate world. And don’t forget your local Rotary, Kiwanis, or Knights of Columbus. Some of these, such as Rotary and Kiwanis have breakfast or luncheon meetings for which they’re always seeking speakers. And while nothing may happen immediately, you never know when someone will contact you seemingly out of the blue and need work done. In fact, that person heard you speak and remembered you.

With the advent of ebooks, it seems everyone is getting into self-publishing books. Let's say you're about to publish a book on the proper techniques of social networking. Make a list of the obvious places your book might sell. Then add other prospects, no matter how farfetched they may appear. Think in terms of target audiences—groups, professions, even individuals of a certain sex or age when you devise your list. Ask yourself "Who would be interested?" Exhaust all the possibilities. Send an E-mail to your target audiences, announcing the arrival of your book as well as where and how to get it.

Have you appeared or are going to appear on local T.V. or radio? One writer did and then received hundreds of E-mails and letters from interested viewers and listeners. Later he was about to publish a book on a related subject and sent flyers promoting it to every one who had contacted him from his media appearance.

Whenever you try a promotional technique, be sure to measure the response that particular tactic had. Did new contacts and firm assignments result from your efforts? How soon? Is there some way you might speed up the process? Should you adjust the technique for better results or avoid doing it again?

Lastly, don’t overlook using business cards. In today’s electronic world, you may think business cards are passé.  Most people can’t remember names, especially with the daily media overload. It's far more likely they'll remember yours if you hand them your card. This is especially true if your name is a tricky one to spell. A well-printed card on hand also says you’re professional. For really outstanding cards at little cost, go to They offer 250 free cards as long as you pay the shipping costs. Of course, you’ll have to choose from one of their design templates, but they offer some very professional looking ones. For $10, you can get their 250 premium cards, customized for you. And don’t forget to save all those business cards you may receive. File them in a box where you can easily get to them when you need them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Red Pen Redo

You’ve sent in your first article and surprise, surprise, it’s going to be published. A few months later you receive a copy of your published piece, but you hardly recognize it. What happened? Who could do such a thing? The answer is simple. It’s been edited, perhaps even rewritten.

At first glance you’re livid. “That’s not my work,” you say while gritting your teeth. Well, actually, it is.—it’s just been edited, mostly likely for clarity and length. Remember the person you sent your article to, the editor? That’s his or her job.

Your initial shock goes back to when you were in school. Academics guard their written words like gold and subconsciously—and in some cases consciously—impart that attitude to their students. So everyone comes out of school think their words are golden. However, in professional writing, there are two routes of editing—all non-fiction, especially articles, can be edited by an editor without consulting the writer while fiction cannot and the editor usually returns it to the writer without publishing it. If you write a novel, your editor will send the manuscript back to you with notations and suggestions for editing, but leave the editing, itself, up to you.

Writers relatively new to this business sometimes consider an editor's cutting or rewriting of their prose a loss.  The majority of editors will help you work by editing it, but there are some who do go too far.  There isn’t a writer out there who can't profit from that editorial red pen. On the other hand, there are some periodicals where as a general rule copy is almost totally rewritten in-house to fit the peculiar, well-recognized style of the magazine. If you object to your work being fitted into their prose style, perhaps you should consider another profession.

To proceed farther faster in this business, you’ll need to become your own best editor. The old salts say you should give even the lowest paying markets your best work. Frankly, if you ask any business person if they truly practice this, they’ll laugh in your face. Let’s face it, it’s just not good business. And editors of cheap publications know this. Their goal is to get your best work for as little money as possible. Remember the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” If you do run across a particularly miserly publication, ask what they can afford to pay you and then tell the editor what you can do for that amount. Giving your best effort on a shorter piece will take less time and will add value to your income dollar. Plus the editor will respect you for your professionalism, even if you don’t get your work published at that magazine. If the pay is low, you might negotiate for more regular work. The income from doing a bunch of short pieces can add up over time.

To make each piece you write the best you can do, you’ll need to do some revisions. It’s best to study a publication to see how long the articles or short stories are and write yours to match that length than it is to write whatever length you feel like doing. There’s only so much space in a magazine, and if you expect to get published often, you have to pay attention to the length of your works.

As human beings, we aren't organized to spout forth perfection. That’s what the first draft is for. But after you’ve gotten down everything you think is relevant, then it’s time to take a closer look. Those who seem to be talented writers have most likely spent years silently developing and editing their pieces.

To sharpen your editing skills, try some of these exercises. With your 3,000-4,000-word article or story in front of you, imagine you’re required to edit it to fit a magazine page that only allows you 1,500 words. That may sound like a challenge, but how about cutting a 12,000-word first draft down to 1,500! You've got to be extremely concise and pack a lot of essential information into as few words as possible. In fact, today’s print magazines are running more 300-500-word articles than longer ones, following the lead of those on the Internet.   

If you still need help, ask an editorially talented friend, sibling, or spouse to critique your work.  Your writing will improve, and so will your ability to undergo the scrutiny of an editor’s red pen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Expanding Your Horizons

So you’ve managed to garner a bit of work in a few select markets. And the work you’ve received from them has been more or less steady. But you somehow feel that you could do more. Now may be the time to consider expanding your horizons.

Some freelance writers are generalists—writing about anything and everything that comes their way. Others write about a select groups of subjects, and still other specialize in one subject area. What one are you?

Have you exhausted the possibilities of your current markets? Might competitors of your present markets be interested in your work? You need to give this some careful thought. When pursuing new markets in the same subject area, you need to be cautious. Many editors of specialty magazines want you to write almost exclusively for them. If they get even the slightest indication that you’re writing for even one of their competitors, they’ll drop you like a hot potato. However, if that same editor has been holding off publishing your pieces and perhaps favoring other writers over you, then you should give his or her competitors a try.

What outlets have you ignored because you were too busy, disorganized, or too timid to try? If you have sufficient publishing credits behind you, it might be time to become more adventurous in your marketing? There may be markets that you tried long ago, and they rejected you? Remember, editors play musical chairs all the time. The editor that rejected your work has probably moved elsewhere by now. Even if he or she hasn't, try again.  Editors’ needs and preferences change. They're under constant pressure from their publishers to upgrade their operations.  Plus, your research and writing skills have most likely improved by now. And you may have a better idea of what they’re looking for. Your idea might be the very thing they've been searching for.

Have you been writing articles when you should have been putting together book proposals? Are you ready to write one? Beginning writers look at books as some sort of holy grail of writing. It’s probably because the authors get so much attention. And then there’s that author moniker. Isn’t it better to be an author than just a writer? Aren’t all authors writers anyway? Get off the impression bandwagon and decide if your skills are up to writing a book.  If so, think through some book ideas and pick the best, but not the most difficult, one.

Are you querying as many new markets with enough ideas to meet your financial goal by the end of the year? Don't worry about getting more acceptances than you think you can handle— remember the attrition rate on assignments. Remember, with rosier finances you can employ help or purchase better equipment.

Have you been promoting yourself as much as possible? Could you make yourself better known among editors and readers? All freelancers get caught up in the writing trap from time to time. As you receive more acceptances and assignments, your work load increases. And there’s only so much writing time in a day. What usually suffers is promotion since you aren’t literally bringing in cash with it in the present. Sometimes you just have to pay the bills and current cash wins out.

Should you write that novel that's been fermenting in your mind for so long? While this may be a great idea, it won’t bring in enough money to sustain you. A better compromise might be to write a series of short stories that you could self-publish as an ebook. Or perhaps work on a short non-fiction book that you can self-publish electronically or pitch to print publishers. Both will bring in some money while you work on your regular assignments.

By honestly answering the above questions, you’ll be able to plot a course for the months and years ahead while steering clear of unproductive paths as you broaden your horizons.