Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reaching for the Top

It’s the end of another year and time to take stock of what you’ve accomplished. Take a moment to list your outstanding and most successful projects. Perhaps you’ve reached a plateau at which you’ve been selling a variety of short articles to regional or trade magazines. You’ve definitely succeeded but not at the level you want. Do you still long to write for the top markets in your subject area? This year may be the time to make that longing a reality.

No one can promise you'll be able to make that enormous leap into top-paying markets. But if you’ve bolstered your credits by doing good work in the lesser markets, you’ve put yourself in the running for a shot at the top. If you’ve learned how to formulate queries that sparkle with excitement and precision so that top editors will take you seriously, then you’ve got a chance.

Too many beginning writers start out by sending queries or manuscripts to the editors of top publications only to be shot down or, worse yet, ignored. They wonder why their work is constantly rejected with form letters or Emails. Most never stop to think that perhaps they’re just not good enough. In order to crack the top markets, you have to be able to write well and have a bit of luck.

Improving your writing skills is easy. The more you write, the better you’ll become. However, you may need some help along the way. Be honest with yourself and list the writing skills you either lack or that need improvement. Once you have that list—and it shouldn’t be that long—you should do something about improving your skills.

Lady Luck also plays a big part in getting plum assignments. Being at the right place at the right time or offering the right story to the right editor at the right time is the key. That’s a lot of “rights.” And you can’t hope to always be in the right position for a particular publication. To do that successfully, you must study the periodical, inside and out, forwards and backwards, for at least a year’s worth of issues. Get to know how the editor thinks. Read their commentary at the beginning of the magazine, then read the readers’ comments and the editor’s reply to them.

Explorations into this rarified territory may lead to frustrations. Sometimes you'll be ahead of your time with an idea or concept. Have you ever been out of step? Have you ever appeared foolish because you forecast what others can't yet envision. Is your style of expression too avant garde for all but the most fearsome publisher to toy with. Don’t write for the culturally elite. Write for the masses. There are quite a few magazines aimed at the super rich. If you aren’t a jet-set type of person, then you won’t know how those readers think. For example, if you always camp out when you travel, you’ll have a hard time writing about ultra luxurious hotels with any credibility. Your budget-minded approach will constantly force you to question the high price of everything.

With a strong belief in your idea and a good deal of perseverance coupled with patience, you may find that your ideas will eventually pay off handsomely.

To reach for the top in freelancing, you'll want to consider all the possibilities. Other than negotiating for a position as a special correspondent or a columnist, or adding photographs to your package, or reexamining your ideas to see if they were ahead of their time when you first presented them, your path through the freelancing ranks might begin with writing for newspapers, then move to the pulps and small-circulation magazines. Eventually you might get a few pieces published in middle-market periodicals paying from $300 to $500. From there, you might move up to those paying $750 to $1,500 per article.

If you find yourself poised to reach for the top rung of the freelance ladder as the new year dawns, stretch as far as you can and perhaps you’ll make it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

An Old-Fashioned Christmas in the Burbs

Every year the holiday season seems to get longer and more glitter-filled. People rush around buying trees, presents, food, and decorations. All to satisfy their need to bask in the glow of an old-fashioned Christmas—a concept created by greeting card companies and retailers to get people to buy, you guessed it, more stuff.

What exactly is an old-fashioned Christmas? The pundits say that you should savor the traditions that have helped countless generations celebrate the season of Jesus' birth. If that were so, it would be more prudent to break out the shamrocks since it has been proven that Jesus was actually born in March.

And there’s certainly no lack of cultural traditions that you can follow, depending, of course, on your family’s heritage. While many people decorate Christmas trees, it was actually the Germans who started that practice. Consider the image of families trudging through knee-deep snow to swing axes and claim the trees that will grace their parlors. Today, families are more likely to ride over to a nearby tree farm in the warm comfort of their SUVs while their children sit in the back seats texting their friends on their cell phones. Once there, they pile out and climb aboard a hay wagon to be pulled passed rows of carefully manicured fur trees that look more artificial than the artificial ones. And after they’ve picked their trees, everyone can sit by a fire and drink hot chocolate. Now all that someone has to do is put this scene to music—oh, that’s right, someone has.

And what of the carolers singing their way through quiet streets, and grateful residents offering steaming mugs of cocoa?  You can thank the Brits for that practice. While people still carol, they’re more likely to bring their own hot chocolate from the nearest Dunkin Donuts.

And, of course, all the grandparents out there delight in the children—little ones stringing popcorn. Actually, they eat most of it and throw the rest at each other. And what of their small, hopeful faces pressed against windows? Just what do they see out there in their development?

And who can forget the candlelight tours of historic homes. Don’t they just make you feel warm and cozy. They’re great to look at but would you really want to live there? Outside, imagine horse-drawn sleighs gliding down snow-packed streets. When was the last time you saw a horse-drawn sleigh in your neighborhood?

Think of the deer in the evening shadows, eating up all of your prized azaleas. And what about those yule logs popping in hundreds of fireplaces. Chances are the fireplaces are gas, and the only yule log you’ll see is the one burning on T.V. with carols playing in the background. You might consider building a fake brick fireplace, then putting your flat-screen T.V. in the opening and hanging those special stockings made just for filling above it on the mantel. All you need now is the smell of pine and a wood-burning fire. Oh, that’s right, you forgot to plug in the holiday air freshener.

And don’t forget the Christmas feast. No figgy pudding for you. This year you’re serving a turkey with all the fixin’s that you picked up at your supermarket, along with a “freshly baked” pumpkin pie that you have warming in the oven.

What holiday would be complete without St. Nick? Well, Easter for one and Fourth of July for another. But again thanks to the Brits and the Dutch, you have the jolly old elf to keep your pre-schoolers enthralled. For the rest of us, he might as well be the guy with the white beard selling cars in the T.V. commercial.

But what an old-fashioned Christmas really means is sharing—little gifts in bright wrappings, a pie baked for the needy, an extra dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, neighbors invited over for cider and eggnog and store-bought cookies.

Slip out on Christmas Eve to shuffle along your neighborhood streets. Treat your eyes to the sight of a thousand lights strung around windows, trees and doors. Try to imagine what it would be like to smell the ginger cookies baking and the turkey roasting, if people actually did that any more. Feel the gentle touch of snowflakes gliding down. Wish whoever you meet a “Merry Christmas,” knowing that you’ve just spread a little Christmas cheer of your own.

Here's wishing you and yours a holiday filled with love and happiness. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Business Side of Photos for Freelancers

Adding photography to the list of talents you offer editors will greatly increase your odds at getting published. After you purchase a digital camera and get some instruction in using it, you’re almost ready. Before you start taking photos to accompany your articles, there are a couple of things you should know about.

The kind of photos you take of your family and on your vacations just won’t do. These more then likely are snapshots, quick shots you take on the fly without much thinking. To create good photographs, you’ll need to know what you need to illustrate your work.

Before you begin taking your own photos, study the photos used with articles in the magazines or other publications in which you want to be published. Notice how many people are in them, what information they convey to the reader, and whether they’re in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) format. Search for the listings for these periodicals in Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market or some other market directory. Read what the editors require in photos or contact them to get a copy of their publication’s photo guidelines.

While you’re at it, check to see what they’re looking for in cover photos. Photographers working regularly with these periodicals usually do the covers, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Remember, cover shots are always in portrait format. Be sure to leave an area clear of objects and such at the top for the magazine’s title. Keep cover shots simple, especially if the publication places other text on it. Again, check back issues of whatever periodical you plan to shoot a cover shot for to see what they’ve done in the past. A good way to increase your odds here is to include several good cover shots in the selection you send along with your article. If the editor places your article in a prominent place in the magazine, chances are good that he or she might choose to use one of your cover shots to lead readers to it.

When composing your shots, be sure to get in close. Always imagine that your photo will be printed no longer than a quarter of a page. If it’s that small, the closer you are to your subject the better. Also avoid crowds of people. Unless the art director—the person who ultimately lays out your article and photos—decides to make one or more of your shots double-page spreads, readers will be barely able to see the people in the crowd.

Art directors of today’s periodicals like their photos to be bold and graphic. They’ve learned from the pages on the Web and want to make their pages stand out, too.

Good exposure is paramount. If you can’t figure out how to refine your exposure or are just starting out, shot everything on AUTO. No one will know. It’s the end photograph that counts. If it’s a good one, you’ve succeeded, no matter how you got there.

Another photo selling point is to give editors a good selection of photos. Let them choose which ones they want to use. How many photos you send along depends on the length of the article and status of the magazine. For short pieces in lower-paying markets, three or four photos might do, but for longer pieces in higher-paying markets, you might send up to 20.

Today, most digital cameras have rather high megapixel resolution. That means that the photos they produce are huge—too big to send along with your article text. Before you send your photos, you’ll need to resize them and change their resolution to 300 or 600 dpi (dots per inch). Make each photo 6x8 inches or 7.5x10 inches by 300 or 600. The higher the resolution number, the larger the image file size.

Freelance writers used to send their photos as slides or color prints. Today, almost all photography is done digitally and sent electronically. If you don’t know how to attach photos to your Email messages, you better learn fast. When you have a larger amount of images to send, send several messages, attaching three or four image files to each message. Most likely your editor will have high-speed Internet service, but even so it’s best to break up your photo group in case one or more of the messages drops into the black hole of cyberspace.

Some publications pay extra for photos while others include them in an article/photo package. If some of the periodicals you want to work with don’t pay very much, you might consider letting the editor know where he or she can obtain stock photos to use with your article. If you’re not getting paid extra for your photos—or at least enough for the package—you might want to forego taking your own in favor of using others that are readily available.

Learn how to use a digital camera and shoot photos with some imagination. Shots with different angles, shots with different lenses, shots with impact are the ones editors like.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Add Value to Your Writing With Photos

Today, we live in an iconographic world. Images bombard us from every angle. In the good ole days back in the early 20th century, photography was a new form of communication and for the most part stood by itself. As the century progressed, writing changed as photographs drew readers to articles and stories. Photos topped the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines. It was the photos that began to be the main selling point for periodicals.

Many freelance writers look at photography as a chore, an extra step that takes them away from their main purpose, writing. In fact, photography can enhance writing, adding a third dimension to an otherwise two-dimensional medium. But creating good photos is a skill, and one not easily learned until today.

Photographs add value to any piece of writing. Most editors want them included with articles. Some pay extra, others include them in the price of the package. So as a freelancer in today’s upside-down, inside-out world of publishing, it will pay you to take the time to learn some photo basics.

With the advent of digital photography, learning to take good photos just got easier. One of the big advantages to using a digital camera is that you can see your photographic mistakes right after you make them. Instead of waiting until after your film has been processed to see your results, you can see them instantly. This allows you to retake the photo if necessary to assure you that you have the image you want and need to complement your story.

However, not all digital cameras are created equal. Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing a cumbersome, extremely complicated DSLR—a digital Single Lens Reflex is a camera which has removable lenses. Just because a camera like this has all the bells and whistles doesn’t necessarily make it a good one for you. And while you’re at it, forget the photo vests and all the other pseudo-professional gear. A fancy camera and fancy gear won’t make you a good photographer. You’ll only look like one. What you need is a good basic camera that will enable you to capture what you need to enhance your writing package and make it more saleable.

With today’s high-resolution, high megapixel-sized digital cameras you can obtain good photos without much effort. In fact, you can operate the camera on the AUTO setting and get fine results. No one will ask you how you took the photo. They’ll only see that it works perfectly with your article or story.

But you will need to learn a few things. Check in your local area for a non-credit digital photography course. These run from 4 to 10 weeks and cover all the basics. Don’t worry if the course isn’t taught in a computer lab. Remember, you need to learn to use your camera, not a computer as such.

The best type of camera to start out with is a compact model. One like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8, which sells for less than $200. It includes loads of features, allowing you to take great photos without straining your brain or your budget. Learn to use this type of camera well, then consider moving up to a super-zoom.

A super-zoom digital camera has a powerful zoom lens that will enable you to take photos at an extreme wide angle for overall shots to a long telephoto of up to 600mm. The cameras weigh less than a pound, and everything is included—no extra lenses to buy or lug around. This helps with your budget and your back. But start off with a simpler camera first. The photos you get from it will work just fine with your writing.

NEXT WEEK: More on using photos to improve your odds at publishing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Writing vs. Selling

Many beginning freelance writers are so consumed with the act of writing and producing material that they forget about selling their work until the last minute, after they’ve finished writing it. But writing and selling should go hand-in-hand. One job needs the other to be a success. So before you even begin to work on a project, have an idea of where you’ll potentially sell it.

The best salespeople begin their sales campaigns by developing a list of prospects. They glean names from whatever source they can, building a list of people to contact. Though over time you’ll amass a list of people you can count on to help with research, you also need to begin a list of potential markets—and not just markets but personal contacts in those markets. You can achieve this by sending out queries for projects or sending material out on speculation that some editors will begin to buy. Once you have your foot in the door, insert a doorstop and keep that door open.

After a top salesperson has a short list of contacts, they’ll sort through it to find the best-sounding prospects so they'll save time and money by avoiding blind alleys. They make their initial contacts, then review what happened, noting all reactions. Then they use these notes for follow-ups. They’re constantly looking to expand their market.

While many freelancers tackle the first step—creating a partial list—they fail on the remaining ones because, let’s face it, most freelance writers are lousy salespeople. While creative burnout and procrastination often plaque their writing, the same thing happens when they're trying to sell their work. In order to expand your freelance writing business, you have to avoid this. Remind yourself that at times freelancing may be 50 percent writing and 50 percent selling. And while large businesses have sales departments to handle selling their products, you don’t.

Be realistic about your markets. Remember, there’s loads of competition—a recent statistic puts the number of freelance writers in the U.S. at nearly 70,000. To get anywhere, you have to stand out from the crowd. Your material and your presentation of it have to offer editors the best and more of it than others can provide.

The first step is developing your prospect list. You’ll need to study the market and learn the possibilities so well that the market seems to evolve by itself. And don’t start at the top. You’re sure to fail. Begin at the bottom and work your way up. Start with the easiest markets, which most likely will also not be the highest paying. But the easier ones have less strict requirements and demand less work overall than the highest paying ones. Plus, you’ll have a much better opportunity to get published in them. But remember that you’ll only be working with them for a while to build up your credibility as a writer.

If you’ve already begin to publish your work, review your original markets. If you're working well with them, negotiate with the editors for higher pay or perhaps ask if can become a contributing editor. As such, you won’t get any more pay, and you won’t be doing any editing. But you will have your name on the magazine’s masthead, which will impress other editors higher up the pay chain.

When the same bland renewal notice for a magazine subscription arrives in the mail, you usually toss it in the trash. If you intend to renew, you most likely don’t do so on the first notice, but two or three later. The same goes for the reaction by an editor to the same presentation. If you want to renew an editor's interest in your material or build up assignments on a higher level than in the past, think about upgrading your presentation. How well does it sell your ideas? Is your timing and the sequence of your ideas logical? Is the market holding you back or are you holding yourself back through lack of expertise, timidity, or just plain fear?

Today, freelance writers have all sorts of sales tools at their disposal—Email marketing, Web sites, social networking, etc. But just like regular advertising, you also have mass mailing. Have you ever thought about designing a brochure showcasing your work and sending it along with your queries? Can you do the same digitally and send it along with Email queries? Have you given any thought to developing your own Web site. Not a personal one, but a professional business site that’s aimed at editors? (These and many other marketing topics will be appearing in future editions of this blog.)

Remember, some of the nation’s top freelancers spend as much as three or four hours a day on the phone and the Internet keeping in touch with publishers and editors. Start making the time to do the same if you want to become a success in this business.

Friday, November 23, 2012

10 Ways to Keep Your Bank Balance in Check

Thanksgiving Weekend always seems to be the time when people look for bargains, especially on Black Friday. But as a freelance writer you need to look for bargains all year long. The best way to stay ahead of your bank account is to follow these easy steps.

1. Try to keep a cash reserve in your account to cover the slow months. Use it only for this purpose and replenish it as soon as possible. An easy way not to overdraft your account is to make this cash reserve invisible. In other words, set your ending balance without taking it into account. So when you’re at zero, you’ll actually still have money in the bank. This allows you to not only keep some money aside but also to avoid those high overdraft fees.

2. Another way to keep your income safe is to open a special savings account and deposit all your income in it. Then transfer funds to your checking account as you need them to pay bills. This method works especially well with a sporadic income flow.

3. To make bill paying more efficient, create a Bill Pay Sheet. At the top list all the months in two rows. Under them, list your regular monthly bills set up in categories—mortgage or rent, utilities, credit cards, insurance, etc. Next to each bill listing put the date due in parentheses, followed by the amount you need to pay that month. You can then add up all your bills to see how much you’ll need that month. Cross out each bill as you pay it to keep yourself on track.

4. Synchronize your accounts receivable with accounts payable as much as you can by your early planning method. Know when you’re supposed to be paid, and if you don’t receive payment within a day or two of that date, let your editor know.

5. Apply for credit with your suppliers. If you’re on friendly terms, ask to pay on a periodic basis, if need be, especially if you have established a good credit rating. Explain that your income arrives in spurts instead of on a regular weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis if this is the case. Some suppliers may be willing to bill you on a two-,three-, or four-month basis—allowing you a discount if you pay early. Talk this over with them, explaining it saves them billing and postage costs. Another possibility is to open credit accounts that allow you to pay in three-month or six-month installments with no interest if paid within the allotted time. This works well with car and dental care.

6. Slash expenses to the bone. You can only cut corners so far. But a close analysis of your budget may uncover frills that you can do without briefly without hurting your professional stance. You’ll be amazed how much you can cut your budget and still live a healthy and happy life. Doing this will not only make you more efficient, but will make you the envy of your friends.

7. You might be able to apply for a short-term bank loan for your business, but chances are no bank will loan you the money. Banks are in business to make money, so unless you’re borrowing $50,000 or more, the usual minimum for a small business loan, you’re out of luck. You might want to check credit unions you, your spouse, or other family members may belong to. A last ditch effort may be to borrow some money to hold you over from a family member or friend—this normally isn’t a good idea, however.

8. Join forces and share some of your expenses.  Get together with other local writers or even friends to share services.

9. Take a temporary part-time job. If you do work part-time, try to work at a job that is somewhat related to your writing or the subject matter that you write about. This way, you won’t be wasting your creative energies.

10. You might try applying for a grant. This, like a bank loan, is a slim possibility. Remember, while there are loads of grants out there, unless you can meet their requirements, they might as well not exist. And if you do apply for a grant, be sure to follow the instructions to the letter. If you don’t, you’ll surely be rejected. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Try, Try Again—All at the Same Time

Once taboo, multiple submission has become a fairly common practice in publishing today, especially in this economy, for certain types of articles, for some book proposals, and for finished book manuscripts. But if you want to try this method of marketing your work, you need to do it with caution. Usually, editors will accept a multiple submission if they know that others are receiving the same material at the same time. So it pays to be honest and aboveboard.

If you’re new to publishing, you may assume that the quickest and best way to reach potential customers is to send your article, short story, or book proposal out to as many editors as possible, hoping someone will pick it up for publication. While this may seem logical and works in other fields, this sales blitz technique doesn’t always work in publishing.

First, you may get positive replies from all of the editors at the same time. Unless they’re in non-competing markets, there’s no way all of them can publish your work at the same time. In once instance, a writer sent out an article to several publications. One editor replied and said he wanted to publish it. So the writer agreed. He didn’t hear from any of the other editors, so the writer assumed that none of them wanted it. A month later, he received an Email from one of the other editors, saying that she had published the writer’s article in the current issue of her magazine. The editor who had said he would publish the article did so in that same month. When he realized that the article has appeared in a competing publication, he was livid and told the writer he would never publish his pieces again. This sad story has a silver lining, however. As it turned out, the editor, who failed to inform the writer that she was going to publish his article, paid five times as much as the first one who did. The writer went on to become a regular contributor to the higher paying publication. But this isn’t usually the way the story ends.

Normally, when magazine editors find out that a writer is sending out multiple submissions, they blacklist that writer and make it impossible for him or her to sell to periodicals in that market. So when sending out articles or short stories to magazines in competing markets, you need to be extra cautious.

Only send a submission to more than one magazine editor if that publication is in a non-competing market. So before you decide to do this, compile a list of non-competing markets that may be interested in your piece. What defines a market is its demographic focus. So only send the article to one magazine aimed at seniors, one at small business owners, one to women, one to men, and so on. Markets are also defined by the subject matter of the periodical, such as travel, antiques, teens, finance, etc. And never, never send multiple submissions to the editors of top-paying magazines. That’s a sure-fire way of never getting published again. Remember, multiple submission works best with sales of one-time rights to non-competing markets, as with spin-offs (See last week’s blog.)

On the other hand, book writers routinely submit multiple book proposals to half a dozen editors at a time. While some magazine editors take their time replying to unsolicited submissions, most reply in a reasonable amount of time, especially with today’s Email. Book publishers, however, are notoriously slow.

As far as books are concerned, multiple submissions are simply good merchandising. You send out a partial book or proposal to a publisher, and you may have to wait up to two months for them to say no. If you received a two-month turn-around from six different publishers, one at a time, with your original, it would take you a year to cover all six. By sending out six partials or proposals at once you can cover the same publishers in two months, and get your product to 18 publishers in only six months. This is especially important if you have a subject that’s tied in with the news. Within a year or even less, the book idea might be so out of date it wouldn’t be worth publishing.

When agents offer book material to several editors at once, they tell them that they’re considering other offers. They don't, as a rule, use the term multiple submission since some editors still resent the idea. Other terms, such as "We're exploring this idea with several publications," seem to be more acceptable.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Spinning Your Way to Profits

Too many writers move from one new project to the other.  They never consider all the work researching each one and literally close the book on each as they finish it. That’s such a waste of time and potential resources. Back in April of 2010, I wrote about doing spin-offs in this blog. I concentrated on using research over and over again, but this time I’d like to show you some other ways you can spin your way to profits.

Remember the old saying, “It takes money to make money.” Spin-offs—making your material work in a number of ways—allow you to make your money earn money. While you may not have any control of how much interest your bank pays you to let them “use” your money, you do have lots of control when it comes to using accumulated materials, as well as actual articles and stories, if you own the rights to them. So let’s start there.

Unless you’ve sold an article or story for all rights, you still own secondary rights. If you’ve sold articles to newspapers, you’ve most likely sold them First Serial Rights for their market. That means you can sell that same article to any other newspaper in the country. The big papers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are exceptions to this since they often buy exclusive or all rights, but they also pay the most. If you can find newspapers buying articles these days, you may have a treasure of articles just waiting to be used. And while smaller papers don’t pay as much, selling the same article over and over can reap big rewards for practically no work.

You can also rework previously published articles by updating them or changing their focus. You may only need to change the beginning and end of an article to enable you to sell the re-vamped piece elsewhere for secondary rights. Many markets will gladly buy secondary rights. There are quite a few markets out there that pay only five cents a word or even $35 total. While that may not seem like much, if you can find five or ten like that, you’re on your way to self-syndication.

Another way to use spin-off material is to sell the same magazine article to a number of specialty magazines. If you’ve written on a general enough subject, you can tailor the article to fit different markets just by changing the slant. An article about display techniques could be sold to magazines dealing with retail sales, antiques, home decoration, even collecting. It just takes some creative imagination on your part. If the magazine is in the lower end of the pay scale, don't bother to query the editor. Instead, just send the article, attached to an Email, explaining that you’re sending the article to see if that editor might be interested in publishing it. If your article covers a topic of universal interest, the editor will most likely purchase it.
Not only can you write spin-off material, you can also sell reprints of what you've published to specialized markets and databases. For instance, an article on stress management, reprinted separately, might be of interest to corporate managers who want to see that their management trainees have a copy. Companies and associations also buy material to distribute to their customers via newsletters.

Spin-offs do two things: They add a little more revenue to your bank account while spreading  the word about your expertise.

But cultivate your sources carefully. Take time to rework the same ones. For example, to get information for an article on the ten questions investment brokers are asked most, a writer who specializes in writing about investing might contact some of the stable of resources he or she has built up over the years. Plus, with a specialty, you’ll already have a backlog of material at hand, so most of your research will already be completed.

Finally, to create financially successful spin-offs, you need to have at least 90 percent of the research material already in hand, and you have to be a fast writer. Try not to spend more than two days on a spin-off piece. If it takes more time than that, you’ll be losing money. Also, try to have your major markets pay for all the research costs by doing more research than necessary in the beginning. That way the cost won’t come out of your pocket later if you need a little more material for your spin-offs.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's All About Technique

As you proceed through your writing career, you’ll change as a writer.  While some of this change may occur naturally, you’ll have to work at improving your writing skills and developing your technique. The best way to do that is to write as much as you can and study the works of other writers.

Unfortunately, you’ve been taught just the opposite. While you studied literature in school, the aim of that exercise was to get you to understand the thoughts of famous writers and not necessarily their techniques. In their quest to make sure you didn’t copy parts of the works of other writers, your teachers pounded the idea that all your thoughts needed to be original. The last original thought not based on work that had been done previously most likely was that of the first person who learned to write. So why should you be any different.

While it’s okay for artists to sit in front of the works of old masters and copy them, the same doesn’t apply to writers—at least that’s what you were taught. In fact, it’s just the same. In order to improve your writing skills and develop good technique, you have to look to other writers, but not those who wrote long ago—in other words, not those found in traditional literature. Instead, you need to read and analyze the works of contemporary writers—at least ones not further back than the 1940s and 50s.

To begin, you first need to learn to read like a writer. Read over a piece of writing to enjoy it for what it is, but then go back over it and study the writer’s technique. If you liked it, ask yourself why. If you didn’t, also ask yourself why. See if you can figure out what made you read this in the first place. If you have a favorite writer, read as many works of his or hers as possible, then pick part of a particular one to study.

In order to study a piece of someone else’s writing, you need to put it in the same format as your own. Copy a few paragraphs of particularly good writing into your word processor. Make sure it’s double spaced, then print it out. Look at it as if its your own writing. What do you notice about it? Are the sentences consistently long or short? What about the types of words used? Does the writer employ any special techniques?

After you’ve studied this sample of another writer’s work, compare it directly to one of yours that’s similar in topic and tone. Why is the other writer’s work better? Now try to write a few paragraphs of your own on the same topic and in that writer’s style. The more you read and study of that writer’s work, the more of his or her technique you’ll subconsciously pick up. Over time, by reading and studying a number of other writers, you’ll soon develop a technique all your own that has bits and pieces of the technique of others woven into it.

A good way to get yourself moving forward is to put together a reading program. Pick writers who you like and who write about similar topics. Also pick a few that write about other subjects that you don’t. If you’re a non-fiction writer, start with non-fiction works, but pepper your program with a few really good short stories or novels and pieces of creative non-fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, start with works from the same genre as your own—historical fiction, romance, mysteries, etc.—then pepper your program with a few select biographies and works of creation non0-fiction. Follow this program for three to six months. Afterwards, you’ll begin to notice a distinct improvement in your writing as your writing skills and technique improve.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tapping the Markets

As a beginning writer, you must try to place your work in almost any publication just to get some credits. However, most markets open to novices pay little or nothing. And while you’ll get some credits, you may starve in the meantime. These first markets include church publications, fillers for local newspapers, and features for weekly newspapers. The amount you get paid doesn’t seem to matter as much as seeing your work in print. But when the initial thrill of publication wears off, it’s time to move on. You've paid your dues and sharpened your writing skills.

The next step is to assess your financial foundation and potential. If easy, though insufficient, income sources have to kept food on your table while you experiment with higher paying markets, you should be sure that you can rely on your initial markets for steady assignments and that you can shorten the time required to complete them. Try squeezing your bread-and-butter work into the first week or ten days of every month. That way you’ll be assured of at least some money to pay your bills.

Also, are you psychologically prepared to face these writing chores every month. While they may seem like a bother, the work you get from them will build up both in credits and cash.  Conversely, can you quickly switch over to even more demanding but business-expanding assignments, perhaps even within the same hour?

Your progress might proceed like this: Currently, you’re writing a combination of feature articles for several local newspapers in your region and brief but interesting local travel stories. If you play your cards right, you might even be able to sell the same article to say four or five publications, as long as their readerships don’t overlap. This way you only have to write an article once, but get to sell it several times. Your weekly article may bring in say $35. If you sell to five papers, that’s a total of $175.

Check with your editors and line up a three or four months of work for them. But to plan that far into the future, you’ll need ideas and that’s where those clips you’ve been saving come in. Clips are like fine wine, the more they age, the more valuable they become. Digging through them will provide you with lots of ideas—many of them updates on the topics covered. Topics are constantly being redone and published again in this business.

Go back and study those periodicals where you bombed out the first time. Editors change and you’ve grow more skilled, so your chance of scoring with them the second time around is good. Carefully peruse their table of contents.  How do their published articles differ from yours? Are they offering their readers lots of tips or are they more general in scope. Can you revamp any of your queries to include details you missed before? Perhaps you've misread or misinterpreted the writer's guidelines, or possibly the editorial direction has been altered while you’ve been concentrating on other publications. If you can’t rework your queries, look in your folder of clips to see what you can find for higher-paying markets. Set yourself a timetable to send out 20-25 new queries within two weeks to the markets you've picked. Work as furiously as you can on this to get the ball rolling. Then while you’re waiting, you can work on some of your bread and butter assignments.
Pull out all the stops. Sharpen your writing technique. Study the work of writers you admire— analyze it and compare it to your own.  Copy a paragraph or two, then print it out double-spaced, just like your own work. Doing this will help you see it as writing on a computer and not the printed page which will help you compare better compare to y our work. After you do this, rewrite what you’ve copied in your own style, using your own words. Try this exercise from time to time during your writing career.

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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's All About Hype

In today’s media-centered—and some might say media-crazy world—the word “hype” has become a household word. According to various dictionaries, hype means an excessive amount of publicity, followed by a commotion caused by it. It can also mean an advertising or promotional ploy. And lastly, it can be information that’s deliberately misleading.

Public relations is all about hype. The more it touts a product, service, or destination, the better it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, the public is gullible. They generally believe what they hear. To be noticed in today’s markets, you’ve got to hype yourself somewhat.

I used to do a lot of travel writing. In the research process, I often traveled with other writers. During the first two to three days of a trip, everyone bragged about themselves. However, after two or three days, this wore thin and the real writers began to appear. Some made fantastic claims about where they had been published or about a book they’ve written, but when it came down to it, the “real” writers in the group outshown the wannabees or those just starting out.

Another person I met a while back at a social gathering said he was a writer. When I asked what he had written, he spouted off some topics having to do with the environment. It seemed he had everyone’s ear. I listened intently and the more he went on about his writing, the more I realized that while he had a few short articles published, he really was only dabbling in it. He may have impressed the folks in the crowd, but I doubt he could the same with editors.

Here’s where the term “ bamboozle” might be appropriate.  One explanation says it originated with an ancient Chinese custom of punishing swindlers by whacking them on their hands and backs with bamboo poles. Ouch! But, seriously, too much hype is just like that.

While you can fool some of the people some of the time, you can’t fool a professional writer—one with lots of experience. He or she will see through you every time. Editors are the same way. Most have been in the business for a good while and know the ropes. They can smell the hype a mile away.

So how do you hype yourself without going overboard. First, be honest. Promote the best work you’ve done and promote it to the right people. If you’re trying to break into a new market and have never written anything for that market, editors we’ll know. Get to know as much as you can about a new market before trying to break in. That means not only what’s being published in that market but also knowledge about the subject. Also, know who to promote yourself to and when.

The bottom line is that your writing will speak for itself. But at times it will need a little help from you. Know why you’re the best person to write a particular article or book. Convince editors using the facts. Avoid too much hype.

One thing you may want to consider is creating a slogan for yourself on which to build a promotional campaign. Advertising campaigns from "Ask a man who owns one"to "Does she or doesn't she?" all relied on slogans. The word slogan came from war cries. The Gaelic sluagh, meaning army, and gairm (a shout) evolved into slogan. For my company, Bob Brooke Communicaitons, my slogan is “Communications for the new century.” This implies that my writing has a contemporary style and gets its point across in fewer rather than more words.

You’ll need a certain amount of hype to make your voice heard in the ever more crowded marketplace, plus you’ll need a "battle cry" to hang your writing efforts on. And remember,  don't go so far as to bamboozle anyone because eventually they’ll see right through you.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ten Things to Do to Achieve Freelance Success

Anyone who plays the ponies knows that in order to boost your odds you need to know and do all you can. Guessing won’t get you the big money. And neither will closing your eyes and pointing to just any horse in the race. So it is with freelancing. To become a success, you have to make it happen. To do so requires you to honestly look at yourself and your business operation for weak areas that need to be improved upon or eliminated.

To get started on the right track, ask yourself the following 10 questions:

    1. Have you learned all you need to know to present yourself in the most professional manner? Look at related areas that might help. Tap any and all sources, including this blog, to learn all you can about the writing business.

    2. Have you kept current with the changes in your industry? What problems do other independent business owners—commercial artists, printers, bookstore owners, consultants, etc.—face every day?

    3. Have you studied your competition as much as possible? By noticing how other writers accomplish what they do, you may be able to pick up some of their techniques to improve  your business practices.

    4. Have you paid attention to current legislation that's bound to affect future business decisions in the industry? To do so you must read online news from Web sites in the industry and subscribe to their E-mail newsletters to be kept up to date, as well as  maintain open lines to important contacts who know about or may be able to influence that legislation (editors, elected officials, influential business persons, etc.).

    5. Have you joined any writing and/or business associations that may offer connections with fellow writers and markets? Have you participated in seminars given by experts in your field?

    6. Have you observed outstanding people in other fields and attempted to discover by what means they leaped forward in their careers?  Did they make bold changes of direction, timely innovations, or conceive creative promotional campaigns? Take time to lunch with friends in other businesses or fellow writers and quiz them intelligently.

    7. Have you set performance goals for yourself and stayed with them? Goals are a great way to motivate yourself.

    8. Have you honestly evaluated the work you've done? Take a hard look at what you’re producing and perhaps seek the opinions of others in the writing field.

    9. Have you trained yourself to troubleshoot problems? Solve problems as they arise rather than put them off until later.

    10: Have you learned to delegate and practiced motivating others to cooperate with you? You can’t do it all by yourself. Try outsourcing some smaller tasks of your business to allow yourself more time to write. When your business reaches a point where you can afford to hire help, and you need it, do so.

You’ll want to return to these pump-priming techniques repeatedly throughout your hopefully long and happy freelance career. You can't afford not to.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Doing the Lecture Circuit

As you get more into freelance writing, you’ll probably discover that you’ll need to support your writing efforts by going out on the road. You’ll have to brave audiences, interviewers, and television cameras to push your wares. This isn’t such a bad idea when you figure that the more visible you are, the more your writing will sell, especially if you’re doing books. The opposite is also true---you don't have to write a bestseller to find yourself in demand for speaking engagements.

And even if you don't have a book to promote, speaking engagements are a good way to promote yourself and your specialty, as well as to make some extra money. Begin locally at first. Start with small audiences and once you’ve gained the needed confidence in your abilities and in the value of your efforts, you'll be ready to speak before larger audiences and receive higher fees.

And speaking of fees: Organizations love to call the money they give you to speak an honorarium. Just as the word “literary” implies that you’re writing on a higher plane, so the word “honorarium” implies that it’s an honor to speak to a particular group, and since it’s an honor, the organization doesn’t have to pay you as much. Take the word “honorarium” out of your vocabulary. In order to give a good presentation, you have to spend time putting it together, so you need to be paid a fair amount. This might be as low as $25 for a short speech to several hundred for a one to two-hour lecture, to well over $1,000 for a six-hour seminar.

The best approach to being sought out as a speaker is by creating a good programs to start with, letting program chairmen know about them, and then letting your reputation spread. Charity groups, schools, businesses, clubs, retirement villages,in fact, all sorts of organizations might be interested in your presentations. Program chairmen are always looking for something new and interesting. Let them know what you have.

Your programs can be anything you make them, from a concise speech to a well-integrated Powerpoint  presentation. You’ve got a lot of material in your files just waiting to be used. Think about the work you've published and the amount of information you gathered that you didn’t use. What is there in it that would make a good program? Take a topic from your main subject, or look back into the files of your research material to see if there are other angles that, developed a bit further, might be of interest to your audiences. Use your own illustrations or find some that will illustrate your material. Remember, it’s important to develop an inventory, but certain programs may really catch on, so you’ll be able to do them a number of times. It’s much like selling reprints of your writing, only live.

How do you go about getting your name around to the right people? There are two schools of thought here. One is that you should be subtle about making arrangements and the other is the direct approach. 
Whatever method you use to line up speaking engagements, make sure you’re as professional as possible. Some believe you should never ask to be a speaker—always be in the position of being asked. They’re the ones who use the term “honorarium”—this attitude comes from the academic side of the lecture fence. But you’re not an academic. You’re a writer. Therefore, promote yourself as such. Eventually, people and organizations will come to you asking if you’d speak for them.

To seek a broader audience for your lecturing, produce a simple flyer announcing your subjects for either  seminars or speeches. Post it where influential people might see it. Hand out a few to your business friends asking them to pass them on to appropriate people. Create a special speaking page on your Web site where you can list some of your most successful programs.

As a spinoff of lecture engagements, you can also teach continuing education courses, either in-depth on the same subjects or on other related to the kind of writing you do. For instance, let’s say you write about genealogy. You could develop a short course to teach the basics. You can even develop courses based on the type of writing you do—article writing, short-story writing, novel writing, for example.

If you’ve written a book, you may want to alert the local press, so they can send a reporter to cover your talk. And don’t forget local radio and T.V. stations that may want to schedule you for an interview.  For radio, you can even do this from your home via phone. Create a press kit and email it to local media outlets along with a good digital photo of yourself. Have a professional photo taken or take it yourself, but make it as professional as you can.  And be sure to prepare a short bio to send to the organization for which you’ll be speaking so that whoever is in charge will be able to introduce you properly.

And when you’re doing a lecture or seminar, be sure to bring along copies of your articles and place them strategically around the room. Keep a couple in reserve in your briefcase to hand to special people you meet. If you have a book coming out, bring along a sample copy and order blanks for it. Call attention to the existence of all this material before you leave the podium if the person who introduced you failed to do so.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gallant Giveaways

As a freelance writer, promotion can come in variety of forms. Sometimes traditional advertising works, depending on what sort of writing you’re doing. But often, you’ll need to think creatively about promoting yourself and your work.

First, think about your specific qualities as a writer. What would best project your image in some silent, ever-present reminder to your readers or clients? The obvious answer is some form of writing—a visual example of your work, but with a twist.

Make a list of places where you can place an example of your work—Web sites, blogs, newsletters, etc. Do a search for Web sites that deal with the type of subject matter you write about. Check them out individually and see if they accept articles on their sites. Pick a half dozen and either prepare short, 500-words-or-less articles on topics that would appeal to them or customize and update pieces you’ve written previously. Send your sample articles off to the webmasters of the sites you’ve chosen. Do this for each separate subject area you write about. You may not see instant results, but eventually you’ll notice Email messages from people looking to know more about you and your subject. You may be asked to write for other sites or give permission to use one of the pieces you’ve already posted.

In today’s world of social media, you should have no problem getting some attention from your sample promotional pieces. People will tweet about them on Twitter, post links to them on Facebook, and in general talk about them. But most of all, you’ll have gotten the word out about you and your work. Remember to include a short bio with your pieces with links to your Web site and Facebook fan page. This is how you get people to notice you.

A second easy way to promote yourself and your writing is by writing something special to include with your holiday greeting. While many people have stopped sending Christmas cards as such, there are lots of other ways to get a greeting out there. For instance, you can prepare an ecard. Write a holiday article or story and find or create an illustration for it. Put the illustration and the story in the body of an Email or lay it out in your word processing program and save it as a PDF file. Just about everyone can open a PDF file. And those with ebook readers can read your story on them. If your story or article is memorable, you’ll be surprised how many people will send an Email to let you know that they’ve shared it with their family and friends. You can send the same story or an even more professional version to your editors for both periodicals and books. You’ll be amazed what a little viral marketing can do.

Along the same lines, check out blogs that may invite you to be a guest blogger. Like Facebook, not only will all your followers read it, but so will all the followers of the person for whom you’re guest blogging. To begin, check with fellow writers and see if you can exchange blogs with any of them. Not matter how you do it, the results will benefit you.

Of course, if you do more corporate writing, you may want to consider small gifts from time to time, but especially during the holidays. What would you like to be representative of your work through the year—a desk calendar, a bookmark, a pen with your name on it? You can have your contact information imprinted on a variety of objects, from pens to penlights. It pays to be creative here. Choose an object that stands out from the crowd. One writer/photographer saw an ad in a national coin magazine—a reproduction of a Viking ship on an old coin. He had some of these inexpensive but handsome items attached to a paperweight with his name and phone number on it and sent them to his favorite editors.

A travel writer knew a craftsman who could inexpensively reproduce various items from her world travels into almost anything. From time to time she commissions felt bookmarks, picture frames, desk boxes, etc., and sees that the editors and publishers she knows get a unique reminder of her work each year. If you’re going to go this route, make sure your gifts are well made and not tacky. A shoddy gift will hurt you more than help you. Try to give gifts that are useful as well as tasteful, so the person receiving it will see your name frequently.

Just as there are ideas all around for articles and books, there are obviously all manner of ideas for publicity about your freelancing business. Watch for them everywhere. Allocate some of your time to develop them in your special way. Make notes on possible angles, amusing tactics, or catchy jingles and slogans. You can interpret many of these ideas, so they won't require expensive chunks of your budget.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Developing a PR Plan

It used to be if you were an author, your publishing house would promote you and your books. Today, with tight budgets and the competition from ebooks, many publishing houses leave the promotion of books up to you, the writer. And if you’re going the ebook route, then promotion is all up to you. Whether you’re a book author or another type of freelance writer, you’ll have to come up with a public relations plan if you want to make your books and such a success.

Developing your own public relations (PR) plan is an important ingredient in your total marketing mix. It helps expand your reach into other areas, reinforcing any advertising you may have done or are planning to do. Your PR plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should lay out some basic directions for you to follow.

A PR plan should be a well-developed part of your ongoing work as a freelancer. Good public relations requires organization, discovering who your target market is—in other words, the public in your public relations—, and how you can be of benefit your target, and how you can best tell them about what you have to offer. Your target will shift depending on what you’re trying to promote. If you’re promoting your work as a magazine writer, then your target will be magazine editors. However, if you’re promoting a new ebook, then your target will be your readers since you’re offering your book direct to them.

Use your own enthusiasm and energy to not only create your plan but keep it together.  The first step is brainstorming. Think of all the usual groups that you might approach—college students and teachers, teenagers, religious groups, art groups, service clubs, social service agencies, etc. You’ll no doubt come up with many others, such as government officials, Chambers of Commerce, social groups, study clubs, senior citizens, ethnic groups, professional organizations, even friends of your local library. After you've made a list of targets, combine them with your objectives to develop your own unique strategy.

Basically, any thoughtful campaign you use to make your abilities known to a new market or to remind an editor of your talents, will have three objectives: promoting good will, supporting ongoing  publicity about yourself and your skills, and obtaining new and better assignments.

Examine the situation as you would any writing project. First, analyze what you think would best suit your objectives. Once you know that, research your markets for overlooked areas and contacts. Thoroughly check details and statistics involved before you make your pitch. And finally, consider your resources and how best to apply them. Naturally, your objectives must be geared to the results you wish to obtain and how much you can afford to spend in time and money to get them.

If you’re promoting yourself to magazine editors, for example, create a schedule for reminding them that you're still available. You know the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Occasionally, send a copy of  an article you've published to other editors simply for their enjoyment. You never know when one of them may ask for permission to reprint it. Create a “What’s New” page on your Web site and send out E-mail announcements with a link to it.

If you’re writing and publishing books, try to get your book reviewed—hopefully, a positive one—and send the review to editors or other interested parties. Stories about you in newspapers and in online blogs are a great form of free PR. The same goes for speaking engagements. Keep copies of letters or emails thanking you for your good work at conferences or other speaking venues. Also post them on your Web site, so visitors can read what others are saying about you.

Keep up-to-date background material about your work circulating everywhere. Never assume information about you gets to the right or helpful source without your guidance.

And finally, a PR plan is only as good as its effectiveness.  Note what works and what doesn’t, then adjust your plan accordingly.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Star is Born

In Hollywood’s golden days, stars could be discovered working in malt shops and diners. Even today, would-be actors work in eating establishments around Hollywood, hoping that an agent or casting director will see them and give them an audition. Oh, were it that easy for writers.

Unfortunately, you, as a writer, won’t be given a break on your good looks. Most beginning writers think it’s only their writing that counts. What they don’t know is that they need to promote themselves as writers and creative thinkers.

As a one-person business operation, you need to keep yourself out front in all public endeavors which can further the cause of your business. You must consider all presentations of yourself as exploratory—the beginnings of friendships and working relationships that you plan to extend. Networking is the key to good promotion, but it’s only one part. Precede interchanges with new contacts by promoting your basic qualities as a writer. With every promotional effort you send out, try to imprint those qualities, strikingly and memorably, in the minds of the people you deal with.

In order to successfully promote yourself as a writer, you have to be constantly alert to new opportunities which may appear at the most unusual moments. If possible, notice how professional writers promote themselves—what do they do, what to they say—and try to emulate them. Notice how they’ve acquired a forceful, effective, yet graceful way of putting their message across. What you may discover is that promoting yourself may require you to be more aggressive, forceful, and, yes, even somewhat daring.

You must project those three qualities in an attractive manner to insure success. Professional promotion isn't bullying. It’s effective persuasion. If an editor likes you as well as the work you do, he or she is far more likely to use you a second time. It's as simple as that.

Someone once said, "Doing business without advertising is like winking at someone in the dark. You know what you're doing, but nobody else does." As a freelancer, it's all too easy to spend your time winking in the dark. But whether you live and work in a city apartment or in a suburban house, the time will come when you need to toot your own horn. When it does, you need to be prepared.

To begin, start saving clippings of your work from the beginning. As your work improves, so will your clippings. Replace those first ones with better ones from better publications. Along with them, compose a resume listing all the places where you’ve been published. Update this periodically, replacing lower market publications with higher market ones. If you’ve done other types of writing for other clients, list the positions you've held, the kind of work you've done them, the dates, and any other pertinent information that describes your writing abilities.

Along with your resume, you’ll need to prepare a biographical sketch. This can be as short as a few sentences or as long as several paragraphs describing who you are and your accomplishments.. The shorter one you’ll need to send along with any articles, stories, or books you sell. The longer one can be used for your social networking pages on Facebook, Linkedin, etc. Create a folder in your computer titled “Promotion” in which you can save files of your resume, bio, and such. Occasionally, you’ll need to create different versions, perhaps for different subjects you write about. Save these with appropriate names so that you can easily find them when needed. To make updating your promotional material easier, create a file in which you list information on your jobs as you do them—titles of writing pieces with publication name and date, place, date and title of lectures or workshops you’ve presented, etc. When it comes time to update your bio, you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Looking Into That Crystal Ball

While it would be nice to have a crystal ball to look into to tell what’s going to happen in your freelance writing career, as far as technology is concerned, it’s just not possible. But there are ways you can predict or at least forecast what may happen. And with a little luck, it will.

If you’re determined enough, you can make anything happen. Your mind is a strange and fascinating thing. Let it work for you. So the first step when looking into the future is to think positively. Imagine yourself a success, and you’ll most likely succeed.

To help plan for the future, know where you hope to be in five years. What kind of writing—articles, stories, books, or a combination of these—do you anticipate producing? How much money do you want to be making? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you obtain the skills necessary for you to succeed.

To make sure you get where you want to go, you’ve got to create a five-year plan. This shouldn’t be set in concrete, but be flexible enough to change as time goes on. But at least you’ll know where you want to end up at the end of that time.

Begin by figuring out where you want to be at the end of your career. Do you see an end, or do you plan to write for the rest of your life? In the beginning, you may not know where you fit in the freelancing world, but after a year or two, you should have a pretty good idea. A freelance career is a living thing. It changes and evolves as it goes, so you’ll need to do the same.

Imagine where you’ll be two years from now. Do you see yourself working full time as a freelancer or do you plan on working part-time for the foreseeable future?

What kind of assignments do you want to receive on a regular basis? And what do you need to know to get them—knowledge, experience, kind of people for contacts, etc.? What have you done so far that will help you get started along this path? Make a list or a spreadsheet of every writing project or job, noting how you did it, with whom you were in contact, and how much you were paid. Seeing that information all together on paper will show you just how well you’re progressing or not. And if not, you’ll be able to see where you’re falling short.

What barriers do you see between where you are now and where you want to be in five years? Don’t be shy or sugar-coat the your situation. Note everything in detail. Is the lack of sufficient funds holding you back? Do you see a way around this? Do your family and friends support you, either financially or emotionally? Do you feel like a writer?

Analyze the current publishing situation. Things haven’t been so great lately. Will that affect your long-term plan. How can you adapt your plan to fit into upcoming industry changes? Do you see yourself publishing ebooks or are you set on print publishing?

How well do you present yourself and your talents? Are you shy about promoting yourself? Do you think that writers shouldn’t do that? Too many beginning writers pick up that kind of attitude from their schooling. To be a successful writer, you have to live in a studio apartment and starve for your craft. That’s nonsense. In today’s world, writers are working professionals just like lots of other people. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Do you overreact to criticism? Beginning writers are notoriously thin-skinned. You may think everyone is out to steal your work. If it’s worth stealing, then perhaps you’d have something to worry about. But as a beginner, it mostly likely isn't. Instead, concentrate on making your writing the best it can be.

Are you trying to handle everything yourself instead of looking for the right kind of help? If you’re having problems with a particular skill, get some help, either through a tutor or a class. Find out all you can about the kind of writing you intend to do. Read lots of examples of it. Become very familiar with its style or organization. Don’t think just because you read articles, stories, or books that you know how to write them.

What warnings have been coming back to you that you've ignored? Have you had the same pieces rejected again and again? Have any editors hinted at why they’ve rejected your work? Try to get some feedback, even from your friends. After all, some of them may be avid readers.

Creating a five-year plan will force you to keep track of the people and places where you'll find help in accomplishing your goals. You won't veer off into sidelines that aren't financially rewarding enough. A five-year plan also maintains vigilance over your best, most lucrative and satisfying ideas. Be both realistic and ambitious—five years can be a very short or a very long time. But if you don't look that far ahead, you'll discover you've lost much more than just five years of your time.