Friday, May 31, 2013

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

There's money to be made from freelance writing—lots of it. For a few writers, this means big bucks. But for most writers, freelancing provides a modest income.

Today, the markets have changed drastically. While there may be fewer magazines and book publishers out there, other opportunities have opened up. We live and work in the digital age, a time when anything is possible. As they say, think outside the box. In fact, throw the box away.

There’s a vast expanse where whatever you write can find a home. The diversity of the marketplace is such that there are more ways for you to strike pay dirt than even some longtime professionals realize.

The flip side of the coin is the horde of writers and would-be writers after the bounty. There’s some 70,000 people in the United States alone that call themselves writers and have clippings to prove it. That’s a lot of competition.

Some major New York book publishers receive over 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year, out of which they may publish one or two. Today, it’s the sales department that decides what’s going to be published. It has less to do with the writing and more to do with the profit potential if a book gets published or not.

The average high-circulation magazine receives approximately 200 manuscripts a month. Some contend that the odds of selling to those outlets are overwhelmingly difficult. That's not necessarily so. If you’re a mediocre writer, then yes, you don’t have a chance in hell. But if you’re a more than competent writer, the chances of you selling are far greater. Perhaps only 20 of those 200 manuscripts will be good enough for an editor to take the time to read them.

Bear in mind that the flood of material that washes over editors' desks in publishing houses and magazine offices, in newspaper and syndicate offices, in television and movie producers' studios, consists mostly of badly written material. Well-conceived, well-written, and well-targeted material is scarce. Currently marketable material is even less available. The trend-setting story or article series is an absolute rarity.

Keep the following thought uppermost in your mind as you approach each new and potentially successful day: The many benefits of the freelance life and riches from your writing efforts, like the gold that lies under the mountains, come to those with the knowledge and ability to dig in the right places, the proper tools, and the overriding ambition to find it despite the often back-breaking work that's required. If you’re one of those 70,000 freelance writers, then you’ve made it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Beyond Book Royalties

The potential sales of a book are your real leverage when it comes to negotiating a contract. Think beyond royalties.  Never ignore the income that may be generated by resale of all or part of your book. Even when the advance and royalty schedule agreed on are better than you'd dared hope, keep your negotiation aggressive—suggest to the editor that he make up for your concessions by giving you a better deal on subsidiary rights.

Subsidiary rights specified in the contract determine, among other things, your share of any money resulting from a resale of the book to a paperback reprint house, book club, or as an ebook. A standard contract usually provides for a 50/50 split between you and a hardcover publisher. But the amendments you're looking for may change the contract to provide you with an increased percentage if the resale exceeds a certain dollar figure—for example, 55 percent for a sale over $50,000 or 60 percent for a sale over $100,000. You may not expect such a bonanza, but neither may your publisher. So nail down your chance at the lion's share from the start.

Every writer dreams of a big sale to the movies or for TV dramatization. While such possibilities are remote or the odds so great for either nonfiction or fiction, neither you nor your publisher may be motivated to bargain for the division of the spoils should there be a miraculous stroke of such luck. But no matter how conservative your expectations, it would be foolish to ignore such possibilities from your  contract negotiations.

It used to be that publishers would give you 90-100 percent of all movie rights without much fuss.
But that was before film producers began asking for the rights to non-fiction books—In Cold Blood is a good example—and short stories such as “Legends of the Fall” and even articles. Today, everything depends on the particular book, short story, or article. If you think a filmmaker might be interested in your work, then you ought to make sure you get your share of the film rights.

Since options for possible film use are considerably more common than outright sales, a good contract will spell out not only the percent of the proceeds that you’ll receive from selling the film rights but also whether you or your publisher will have the right to negotiate the contracts with potential buyers.

You should also follow the same process when negotiating foreign reprint rights. Make an educated guess about the potential market for your work in the countries not covered by the basic contract. Ask for anything up to 100 percent of all foreign sales, and be sure the contract specifies who will have authority to negotiate with foreign publishers.

Other subsidiary rights include permission to use all or part of your text in magazines, newspapers, and  on the Internet. First serial rights refers to publication in such outlets before the book appears while  second serial rights refer to reprint after book publication. You should receive 100 percent of first serial rights.

Most book contracts grant you only 50 percent of the sale price for second serial rights. But when your track record or expertise help gain such a sale, the contract should be amended to provide an escalating percentage for you as sales multiply.

Generally, publishers handle the disposition of subsidiary sales through departments set up to manage them. They especially consider resale for paperback reprint their prerogative, and some may even resent your interference in their transactions. You may or may not be informed of the attempts by your publisher to find secondary markets.

It's important not to duplicate your publisher's efforts to get part of your book into a top selling magazine or to sell the whole thing to a reprint house, even if you believe your publisher isn’t looking out for your best interests.

However, when it's clear that the publisher isn’t pursuing secondary rights as aggressively as you would like, then you might consider pursuing them yourself. If your book has drawn heavily on the expertise you've acquired in the course of writing shorter pieces, chances are you have a network of markets and potential markets for this kind of material. So when your book is in print, you're in a good position to contact other markets that may already know you. Among these may be a publisher who may be familiar with your work but never considered it.

Let's assume your book has received some good reviews—especially on book review or social networking sites. Collect and copy all the good notices as they appear and package them to promote your efforts at resale to magazines or newspapers.

Create a small brochure of quotes from the reviews of your book and mail it along with query letters to a broad range of regional publications. It may bring a number of requests from editors to see a copy of your book, and a good number of reprint sales may follow. However, before randomly sending out copies of your book to editors, see which ones are interested, then mark the section of the book you think particularly suited to the needs of each publication and send them off.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Betting on a Hunch

What do horseracing and freelance writing have in common? Actually, quite a bit. Before someone places a bet on a horse, he or she has to study the racing sheet—the lineup for the race. Based on the knowledge they glean from constantly studying these sheets, they pick a horse that they hope will be a winner and place their bet. But sometimes they play a hunch.

Hunches, intuition, and instinct can play a major role in freelance writing. A writer bases all of them on prior knowledge and experience and draws conclusions from what has been learned in similar situations.

Before the days of the automobile, people lost in blizzards or too drunk to drive let go of the reins and counted on the instincts of the horse to get them home. They took a calculated risk, knowing from past experience that their horse would probably make it home. Developing your understanding of your instincts, hunches, and intuitions coming from your subconscious to a fine point so that you’re in a position to take the necessary calculated risks is something you’ll need to work on.

You’ll have to rely on them many times for guidance in the management of your career as well as the shaping of your imaginative work. The trick is to induce your subconscious to work smoothly with the rest of your mind.

Unfortunately, all three of these are notoriously hard to schedule exactly. In spite of your encouraging them, they often doze in some dark corner of your subconscious. Perhaps the best way of luring them out is to lay out a rational game plan. By having such a plan you can lure your hunches to help solve problems.

You could apply this principle to plotting a course for your work over the next year. If you sit down and examine what you did last year with an eye to deciding what you’d like to do this year, you’ll have something to guide you when the hunches start occurring. Besides listing the projects you can count on, add some others just in case those don’t work out. Most likely you’ll get hunches about market trends, but you may also get a hunch or two about that sort of pieces may best fit the adjusted scenario.

In all probability you won’t sell to exactly the markets you targeted. But from experience—instinct—you know which ones will most likely buy the type of writing you do. Plus, you already know the editors with whom you have a working relationship. You already know how much time different types of projects take to finish. All of this gives you an instinct to search out places where your work is more or less guaranteed to be sold. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to find the right ideas early enough to stay ahead of your competition.

Hunches, instinct, and intuition can also play a part in predicting when markets will go bad. Sometimes, the writing, as they say, is on the wall. Unfortunately, you probably have looked up from your computer long enough to see it. Has a publisher been repeatedly late with payments recently? Is an editor forgetting that he or she made an assignment? Have market trends in a particular subject area been showing that there’ less interest in that subject? And is the opposite also true? Has a particular subject gotten more press lately, making it more visible?

Betting on a hunch in any of those areas is a calculated risk but one that may yield great results. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Are You Staying Competitive?

Okay, so you created a business plan and are on your way. But is that really enough? While that may have been fine to get you going, it’s not enough to keep you going, especially if you’re out to make a profit.

Whether you'd just like to sell your work steadily to quality markets without too much hassle or whether you like the idea of making enough money to be invited to visit luxury resorts or  test-drive the latest sport cars, you must look to profits. If you don't concentrate on having a surplus at the end of the year, you’ll fall behind. Profit requires knowing how to compete with the professionals so you may join their ranks.

So how do you stay competitive in this business?

First and foremost, you have to focus on your craft. Your writing has got to be the best it can be. After all, it’s your product and your livelihood. Are your writing skills up to par? But don’t just check the mechanics—spelling, punctuation, sentence structure—check your content. Is what you write compelling? Does it capture your reader’s attention and hold it? In this world of ever-increasing distractions, does your work stand out? Periodically check what’s being written about in your subject area. While you may be a fine writer, you may be behind the times with your content.

And what about your financial reserve? Do you even have one? Too many beginning freelance writers work so close to the wire that one unpaid job can knock them for a loop. Try to build up some sort of reserve so that you don’t fall into this rut. Once you end up there, you’ll find it difficult to get out.

How well do you manage your time and energy? Remember, time is money. If you don’t manage your time efficiently, you won’t make any. Do you work on several projects at once? Do you combine research for more than one project instead of flitting from one to the other? Do you get the most production out of the time you do have?
Have you set some priorities? Arrange your work in order of importance—what’s due first, perhaps who’s paying the most. However, while working on high-profile projects all the time can be rewarding, it can wear you out. Mix lighter jobs with more heavy duty ones that require more intense focus and energy.

Problems arise in this business all the time. Sometimes, you may feel as if one problem follows directly on the heals of the previous ones. Are you ever going to get a break? Often, you won’t. Do you have the stamina and patience to put up with the nit-picking of some editors and clients? Are the ones doing the nit-picking the ones who pay the least? Consider if working for them is worth it in the long run. When problems do arise, are you able to solve them quickly or do they linger and eat into the energy you need to complete your work?

Let’s face it, freelancing is a risky business at best. It’s like putting your right foot out and not having a steady ground to walk on. How do you handle risk? Are you an all or nothing person? Or do you balance risk with some conservative judgements? Ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?” You may be surprised with the answer. Freelance writing is a lot like playing the stock market. Some of your stocks may shoot upwards only to come crashing down the next day. Others may plod along steadily and in the long run earn profits for you. While the steady ones may not be as interesting, they don’t come crashing down too often. Taking calculated risks is good for business. Study the markets and know what you’re getting into before you make the leap.

And once you’re a success, how do you plan to stay up there. It’s a long way down and sometimes the rungs of the ladder break, causing you to fall quickly. There are a lot of ups and downs to freelancing, and it’s up to you how you handle them if you want to stay ahead of your competition.