Saturday, April 29, 2017

It’s All in How You Say It, Not What You Say

Clarity is all important to a writer. You must make sure that what you say is clear to your readers because, even in this age of technology, they can’t always contact you easily and ask a question about what you wrote.

All writers come out of the educational system which emphasized that more complex words showed a higher level of intelligence. After all, as a professional writer, shouldn’t your vocabulary be better than that of your readers? The answer is an emphatic no.

It’s not about how many words you know but how many common words you can use to express yourself.  Complex or $25 words—they used to be $20 but inflation has caught up to them—are words beyond the average reader’s vocabulary for which they can’t get the meaning from the context. So the first rule of clarity is to stay away from #25 words. But there’s another side to clarity.

Readers are constantly bombarded with  deceiving wording in the weekly supermarket brochures where they purchase their groceries. Sometimes, it’s the fine print—they must buy four of something selling for 4 for $10 to get the discounted price. Another ploy is that an item is only for sale at that price on a particular day of the week. But the latest has been the lack of clarity in the ads in the weekly circular. Often shoppers don’t know what to expect until they get to checkout and end up paying a higher price because they didn’t understand the ad in the first place.

Dunkin Donuts recently offered their customers on their rewards program, “Dunkin Perks,” 50 bonus points if they spent $4 using their Dunkin Donuts debit card. What they failed to mention was that customers had to spend $4 before taxes. Now that seems like a simple omission, but many customers probably got caught spending only $3.99, plus tax which brought them over $4. While they thought they would get the extra points, the company denied them their bonus points for one penny. Here, clarity was the key. And unhappy customers equals bad press more so today than previously.

Sure, what you say is important, but how you say it to your readers is just as important, if not more so. Don’t expect your readers to make a leap. What you perceive as clear to you may not be to them. This could be a leap in time, a leap in place, or a leap in understanding. How many times have you said something to someone, who is obviously hurt by your comment, only to quickly add, “I didn’t mean that.” If you didn’t mean what you said, then you should have said it another way. The same applies to writing. But it’s even more critical here because you can’t say, “I didn’t mean that” to a reader you don’t know and can’t see.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

How Good of a Salesperson Are You?

No, you aren’t applying for a job in a retail store. But to be a successful freelance writer, you do have to be a good salesperson—as good as anyone who sells in a high pressure environment. You need to develop selling skills on a par with the best traveling salesmen.

Many beginning freelance writers are so consumed with the act of writing that they forget about selling their work after they’ve finished writing it. But writing and selling should go hand-in-hand. You need to do both jobs equally 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 markets. And you should, too.

While you may tackle the first step—creating a partial list—you probably don’t follow up 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?

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.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What is a Story?

Writers tell stories. And it’s not just those who write fiction. No matter whether you’re writing an article, a short story, or book, you are, in fact, telling a story. But you’d be surprised just how many writers, both novice and professional, really don’t know what a story is.

The classic rule is that a story should have a beginning, middle, and an end. Everything you write pretty much follows that format. But do these three things make whatever you’re writing a story?

Centuries ago, Aristotle noted in his book Poetics that while a story does have a beginning, a middle and an end, the beginning isn’t simply the first event in a series of three, but rather the emotionally engaging originating event. The middle is the natural and causally related consequence, and the end is the inevitable conclusive event. In other words, stories have an origination, an escalation of conflict, and a resolution.

Your story needs a vulnerable character, a setting that’s interwoven with the narrative, meaningful choices that determine the outcome of the story, and, most importantly, reader empathy. Basically, a story is a transformation—either the transformation of a character or sometimes of a situation. But above all, you must have some sort of conflict.

At its heart, a story is about a person or persons dealing with tension. Without obstacles and without a crisis event that initiates the action, you have no story. The secret to writing a story that draws readers in and keeps them there isn’t to make more things happen to a character but to create more tension as your story unfolds.

The beginning of a story must grab your readers’ attention, orient them to the setting, mood and tone of the story, and introduce them to your main character, whom they will grow to care about. If readers don’t care about your main character, they won’t care about your story.

So how do you introduce your main character to your readers? Begin by having your character perform some sort of action as your first scene opens. Remember, your story is part of a larger whole—a life that has been ongoing way before the story that your telling has even begun. So you must jump into the storyline as it passes you by. You want your readers to grab your main character and hold on tight. Your readers will be propelled through the story until they get to the point where they will let go—the point at which the story ends. But even though the story ends, life goes on.

The crisis that tips your character’s world upside down must be one that your protagonist cannot immediately solve. It’s an unavoidable, irrevocable challenge that sets the movement of the story into motion.

You can introduce this crisis into your story in one of two ways. Either you can begin your story by letting your character have what he or she desires most and then ripping it away, or by denying what he or she desires most, then taunting them with it. So, your character will either lose something vital and spend the rest of the story trying to regain it or see something desirable and spend the rest of the story trying to obtain it.

Two types of characters inhabit every story—a rigid one and a flexible one. The rigid one remains stubbornly unchanged while the flexible one will change as the story progresses. Your main character should always be the flexible one. The crisis in the story will forever your main character who will take whatever steps to try and solve the struggle.

Unfortunately, your protagonist will fail because he or she will always be a different person at the end of the story. If this doesn’t happen, your readers won’t be satisfied. By the time of your story’s climax, your main character will have made a discovery that changes his or her life forever.

Your character will make this discovery by being clever enough to piece together clues or will show extraordinary perseverance or tenacity to overcome the crisis.