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.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Systematizing Your Research

Sometimes there's good reason to more research then you need. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you need to do research—how much depends entirely on the complexity of the subject and the scope of your project. But no matter how much or how little research you need to do, developing a system of research will not only get what you need but keep you from getting frustrated in the process.

But whether you need stacks of material or not, apply a system for getting your material quickly, using it most effectively, and retrieving it later when you may need it. Libraries are convenient storehouses. Your research for any given project may well begin with a trip to one. If you’re just starting out in freelancing and aren’t yet equipped with a large collection of files and clippings, you’ll want to rely heavily on public sources.

To get the most from your research in the least amount of time, you’ll need to mix the research techniques of four kinds of professionals—the reference librarian, the university scholar, the investigative reporter, and the detective. Knowing how each of these experts does their research, what resources they rely on, and what tricks they apply will help you systematize your own research, getting what you need faster and more efficiently..

Reference librarians approach research through their knowledge of a wide variety of indexes, almanacs, dictionaries, bibliographic titles, and vertical files at their disposal. Getting acquainted with the reference material available to you will be one of your first priorities. Good reference librarians have a wealth of information at their fingertips. They’ll point you in the right direction—often long after your inquiry and until you’ve built a sizable file of information on your subject. They also seem to know everyone in the area and state who might be of help in your search. And since interlibrary loan agreements link  most libraries are linked to others in their states and nationally, there's little information that shouldn’t be quickly and readily available to you. If you let your librarian help you uncover these sources, you'll be able to do your research much more easily.

University scholars are another source you can turn to. Their knowledge is highly specialized, and they’ve spent their careers developing in-depth comprehension of particular information. Not only will they be cognizant of related disciplines and esoteric facts, they’ll be acquainted with a great many others in their field of expertise. You may want to ask them for letters of introduction to their colleagues at other universities, museums, or laboratories if these people can help you get the information you need. From these scholarly research techniques— concentration in great depth on one subject—you can borrow the discipline of thoroughness, without carrying it nearly as far as they do. Their techniques are particularly useful when you need to learn about a subject from the ground up. To find scholars, contact your nearest college or university or check out Who Knows—and What, among Authorities, Experts, and the Specially Informed, which covers 12,000 specialists in 35,000 areas of expertise.

Investigative reporters wade through criminal indictments, police complaints, warrants, arrest sheets, bail applications, court hearing reports, and interview transcripts to obtain the information for their articles. However, unlike scholars, they have to complete their research within a specific amount of time to meet their deadline. Good reporters know they must check their facts and quotes thoroughly but that eventually, the deadline wins and they must settle for what they’ve got, so they take lots of notes along the way.

Detectives and private investigators work with probabilities, official documents, confidential indexes, and government resources. Their specialties are the law and human behavior patterns. Some of the tricks they use to uncover information can be particularly helpful if you’re in search of anecdotes and colorful copy. They’re masters at combining what often appears to be infinite patience with timely impatience. Talk to a detective, and you'll discover how easy it is to gather quite a bit of data about people based on just their driver's license.

Remembering how each of these experts goes about their work is the first step to systematically approaching your material. With your project questions laid out in front of you, decide which expert's procedure is best. Often you'll use a combination of them.

Obviously, the kind of research that yields the most complete information takes ingenuity and constant practice. Remember, research often begins in the library, but it doesn't take place there exclusively. You may even end up doing research while sipping your morning coffee and watching the news.

Research, especially for books, may seem endless. Your head will become so crammed with information that you may even dream about it. When that happens, it usually means you're well on your way to understanding your subject enough to write about it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bluffing It

Bluffing isn’t only for poker players. As a freelance writer, you may find that every once in a while it will come in handy—but be prepared to fast-talk yourself out of a jam should you get caught. Generally speaking, bluffing is making someone think one thing when another or even the opposite is true.

As you start out in your writing career, you don’t have much going for you. You most likely haven’t published much or perhaps nothing at all. And trying to get something published seems to be an uphill battle. It’s a bit like trying to get a loan from your bank without any credit. And while you can’t bluff your way out of not having credit, you can stretch the truth somewhat about publishing.

For instance, let’s say you’ve had an opinion piece published in your local paper—if it still exists. You can list this accomplishment when querying an editor, just don’t say the piece was for the Op-Ed Page. Instead say you had an article published in such and such a paper. It will be difficult for an editor to track it down. But the credit still looks good and isn’t a lie. If you can get short pieces of 300 words or so published in print or on the Internet, that will help to bolster your professional image, especially if the idea you’re pitching is a really good one. What you’ve published and where you’ve published it won’t matter much.

The second bluff you can easily do is to make yourself look successful. Just as dressing for success can make a business career, so dressing your work can help start your writing career. Too many beginning writers think it’s just about the writing. There’s a lot more to it than that.

Start by designing a professional letterhead and perhaps even a simple, but professional looking Web page. Although you’ll most likely be conducting most of your correspondence electronically, you should make a good impression, nonetheless. Beyond correspondence, design your own invoice or get a free pre-formatted one from the Internet. Nothing says you’re professional more than a businesslike invoice.

Along with the above, its imperative to format your writing correctly. The writing biz has standards, and you should learn and follow them. Even if your writing isn’t that great, editors will more likely read it if it’s a good idea formatted as professionally as possible.

A third bluff that may come in handy sometime in your career, but especially in the beginning, is obtaining an interview from a prominent person or celebrity when you’re not writing for the top markets. In this case, it’s important to be honest with the person or their publicist. Don’t lie, but, on the other hand, don’t’ tell them everything.

For example, find out as much about the person as possible. Flattery will get you everywhere in this case. Make an appointment and have your questions prepared ahead of time. In fact, it’s a good idea to send them to the person or publicist in advance of the interview. As in the case above where you list credits that lead someone to believe they’re more than they are, you’ll need to do the same.  Or you can bluff your way into seeing the person.

When George P. Chapman of the Westerly Rhode Island Sun wanted to get an exclusive from Albert Einstein, he pulled a trick that got him past the impatient crew of big-time reporters waiting outside, straight into the genius's living room.

Though he was a reporter, he was also a telephone repairman. Wearing his lineman's boots and work clothes, carrying his tools, Chapman strolled casually to the door of Einstein's summer cottage. "I've come to look over your phone," he said.

The maid let him in, saying, "Good. The professor has been trying to get Washington, and the dial is slow." Chapman produced a can of oil and fixed the recalcitrant machine. Then he turned to Einstein and announced he was a reporter for the local paper. Could he have a statement? He got his scoop with a smile.

Bluffing has its place in freelance, but remember not to overdo it. Once you’ve established yourself, use your own knowledge and credits to build your career.