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.