Friday, December 20, 2013

Share Your Gift

Christmas is a time for sharing and gift giving.  As a writer, you have a gift—a gift to share. And this is the time of year to do it.

Some people write letters to along with their holiday greeting cards. While these may be interesting to family and friends, they’re usually of little interest to acquaintances or business associates. As a freelance writer, you can use this opportunity to do something special.

If you write non-fiction, you can write a short article on a subject that interests you or that you specialize in. Remember it needs to be short—no more than one page single spaced. You’re probably used to writing much more, so writing something this short will be a challenge. But as a professional, you should be able to make this short piece as interesting and focused as a regular article for a magazine. The secret to be extremely focused. Take one small topic and elaborate on it. For instance, why not something on gingerbread. This could be as a piece focusing on a Christmas tradition, or a food decoration piece about making gingerbread houses, or something on the origins of gingerbread.

If you write fiction, you could write a very short story. Perhaps you’re used to writing short stories that are 10-20 pages long. You won’t have that luxury, so you’ll need to write a story that’s extremely short, but still has conflict and a climax. This will force you to have perhaps just one or two characters and action that takes place in a short span of time and at a single location. Let’s take the topic of gingerbread and see what sort of story you can write—perhaps a story about a gingerbread house that comes to life or a special gingerbread cookies or the story of a little girl who made special gingerbread cookies for a homeless person.

Whatever you write, your friends, family, and colleagues will appreciate it. But writing the story is only the beginning. Today, you have a number of ways of sharing your work with others.

With fewer people sending Christmas cards by regular, you may choose to send your story out by Email. Or perhaps you’ll choose to post it to your Web site. And with so many social media outlets available, you may want to post it as a note on your Facebook Page or perhaps post it on other social networking sites.

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll find it’s a great way to send greetings to those you love and also a great way to promote your work to those you’ve worked with throughout the year or those you hope to work with in the coming year.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Hard to Let Go

Just as in any serious relationship when one of the partners becomes disinterested or turns their attention to someone else, it can be hard for the other one to let go. The same applies to writers who become seriously attached to their work. As a professional, you can’t let this happen.

You must learn to step back and look objectively at anything you write. Beginning writers get caught in the trap of thinking that everything they write is good when actually it’s all probably pretty bad. That’s a hard pill to swallow for any writer.

Repeated rejection will often try to point you in the right direction, but most beginning writers ignore that signal. Instead, they blame the editor or whoever gave them the last rejection. Some, perhaps you, repeatedly show their work to others hoping that someone will finally say what they want to hear.

It’s doubly hard to let go of writing if it’s good. Perhaps you put long hours into it. If that’s the case, you may be reluctant to delete it for content or continuity. It doesn’t matter how long you labored over a section. In the end, you have to ask yourself if it’s contributing to the overall storyline, or in the case of an article, to the slant. If it isn’t, then it needs to go.

So where does this idea of hanging on to some of your writing come from? Most likely from school. In fact, most of your bad writing habits developed there. This isn’t anyone’s fault. In fact, you probably absorbed this idea from your teachers. It’s a common thing in academic circles to be possessive of your work.

It’s especially hard to cut sections from books. When working on a longer manuscript, you can lose sight of the bigger picture. You need to keep the whole project in mind and be relentless in our deletions. Whatever doesn’t contribute to the whole concept must go.

To put a positive spin on this problem, you might consider saving what you’ve cut to use in
separate stories or articles. These could be spin-offs or completely different pieces.

When you begin revising, be sure to save your work with a different file name each step of the way. All you have to do is add a number—2,3,4, etc.—to the project’s file name. That way you can always go back and review or possibly use what you originally passed over.

A good way to get some distance from your writing when you’re having a particularly difficult time cutting sections from it is to put it aside for a time to get some perspective on it. Not consciously being aware of your story, article, or book, will let your mind forget it. When you finally do go back to it, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. And your eyes are the one that should see it, not someone else who can only give you their subjective opinion.

As a professional writer, you need to develop good editing skills, so you can decide what form your writing should take. It’s not the reader’s job. It’s yours.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Brand It!

Cattle ranchers burn a symbol in the hides of their cattle so everyone will know that they belong to their respective ranches. Corporations have logos for the same reason. And today, people buy products based on their recognized identity. So what does branding have to do with freelance writing? A lot.

Do you think brand management is just for BIG companies like McDonalds, NBC, or Target? Think again. Branding is important to ALL companies for the simple reason that people buy from other people. People have personalities. Branding establishes and communicates a company's personality—your personality, otherwise known as your image.

In business, branding is the process by which you try to become the first business a person thinks of when they consider buying goods or services in your category. It’s the process by which you attempt to differentiate your business from your competitors. Although your name and logo are important features of your brand, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Think about YOUR company. Yes, even if you’re a company of one. What personality or image do you want to present to customers and prospects? Should it be warm, friendly, and down-to-earth? Polished, knowledgeable, and sophisticated? Well-traveled, cultured, and educated? When someone hears your name, do they think of a certain type of writing?

Do your current promotional materials—brochure, Web site, Facebook Page, etc.—reflect the image you want to present? Is your personality presented consistently in all forms of communication? If not, here are some ways you can make this happen.

To begin, you need to consider four key steps in managing your brand once you’ve created it. The first is to position your brand among others by identifying your unique benefits and image. Next, you need to develop a plan for making your brand identifiable. Then you need to guard  the integrity of your brand so only you use it. And finally, you need to build awareness of and preference for your brand.

Managing a brand is an ongoing process, not a destination. The work is never done. From time to time, you’ll want to tweak your brand to make it easier to identify or to make it stand out from those of other writers.

The secret to good branding is you shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. If you’re trying to grow your business, it might seem logical to expand your offerings, but that’s unlikely to be successful in the long run. It’s often better to narrow your focus until you’ve created a new category you can be first in. Many writers work as generalists, so no one knows them for a specific type of writing or for a specific subject.

You also need to control how people perceive you and your brand. It’s important that people are able to describe you and your business accurately. They need to know exactly what you’re able to offer them.

So rather than having the "right" name, the best brands are those built from the ground up on customer service and community. There's only one problem. You can't force a brand into existence overnight. It takes time to develop a successful brand—months, even years. But once it’s established, a good brand will stay in the spotlight, perhaps even longer than the business, itself.