Sunday, August 20, 2017

Organization is Paramount

Readers see only the words on the printed page or screen. They have no idea of all the words that pile up to get those particular words in front of them. While some people think writers pull their ideas and words only out of their heads, most writing requires research—and lots of it—as well as draft upon draft. All this research and drafts must be kept in order to keep any writer from going insane.

To be a success as a writer, you have to be organized. Have you ever been in someone’s office and all the desks are buried in piles of paper? While those who work in that office most likely know what’s what, any new employee or some hired to take over while another is out sick may find the whole mess daunting. Without organization, production slows or even worse ceases.

When computers first came on the scene, manufacturers said they would lead to a paperless society. Obviously, they didn’t mean writers. In fact, that really hasn’t happened and probably never will. There are some things that just can’t be digitized.

If you haven’t done so already, you need to get organized. Many writers wait until a slow period to do this, but somehow that slow period never seems to materialize, so they just keep piling new material on top of old. Sooner or later, it’s almost impossible to find anything.

Back in the day—whenever that was—people used filing cabinets. But unless you have endless space, they’re only a temporary solution, good for newer material at best. So where do you put your archives. Big businesses have large warehouses in which they store their archive files. Or the hire another company whose business is storage to do that for them. Oh, but you say that today most of your files are electronic and you can use the Cloud. That’s all fine and dandy for computer files, but you can’t store any paper on the Cloud.

Manila folders have long been the basis for a business’s filing system. They worked back in the day and they work today. You should create a file folder for every writing project. For those projects that are big, like books, you’ll need multiple file folders and eventually a file box to store them in.

When writing a book, for example, you should create a separate file folder for each chapter, plus extra ones for appendices and the general concept and outline. You could place all your research notes for each chapter in the chapter’s folder or you could use additional folders to store them.In the end, you’ll amass a good amount of material, some of which you may want to use again.

Each article and book chapter should also have corresponding computer files—several for research, one for the rough draft, and successive additional ones for revisions and rewrites, each numbered in succeeding order.

In addition to all your writing files, you may also have a well-organized library of several hundred books. While you may use most of these for reference in researching your work. But you may also keep books you’ve read and might read again.

Go to any office supply store or search them online and you’ll discover a myriad of items designed to help you get organized. Stackable trays, for instance, look like they would be good to get clutter off your desk. But in fact they can produce more clutter. While you may plan to use them for sorting current material, they tend to get clogged up, so you’ll need to periodically  clean them out.

It’s also a good idea to keep everything you use most often closest to your desk. This can be article folders, notes, a scheduling book, etc. You may also want to keep a calendar with automatic reminder alerts on your computer. Paper calendars can’t remind you of a deadline or appointment with a sound or by flashing on a screen. If you use a smartphone, you can even set up the reminders in your phone.

To read more of my articles and book excerpts, please visit my Web site. And to read more articles on freelance writing, grammar, and marketing, go to Writer's Corner.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Right Time

Too often writers are consumed by the content of what they’re writing. Few consider whether the subject is timely or not. To be a successful freelance writer, you have to consider whether it’s the right time to write and market your idea.

While some subjects are “evergreen,” or good for just about any time, most are time specific.  Evergreen pieces appeal to an editor any time of year. Even so, you still have to get things out ahead–at least 2-3 months for short stories and magazine articles, and perhaps a year ahead for a book idea. It’s not what’s trending now but what will be trending in the near future. In some ways, you have to be somewhat of a fortune teller to predict what readers will want down the road.

Many beginning writers get frustrated when they get rejections from publishers for their work. While the writing skills of some may be lacking, the reason for the rejection could be one of timing. Many think they can send any article, short story, or book idea in at any time and the publisher will just love it. But it all comes down to timeliness.

To market your writing successfully, you have to take a hint from retailing. Department, discount, and online stores would never think of putting out summer clothes in June or July (or December or January for those down under). Summer is already here. Instead, they put out their summer collections in April or May, several months ahead of when the clothing might actually be worn. Ads for back-to-school clothing and other items now begin to appear in July, barely a month after most kids have just gotten out of school for summer vacation.

So to get your ideas—or in the case of short stories, your text—to an editor at the right time, you have to think ahead. Whatever you’re sending out now—except articles to newspapers if you can find any to take them—should be on topics that will appeal to editors three to six months from now. This works especially well with seasonal subject matter.

Writing about events in a timely manner is another thing altogether. There are three ways to approach this—write about the event before it happens, write about it after it happens (news), and write about it coinciding with an anniversary of the event.

Most publication relations writers write about events before they happen. This produces interest in the event and encourages readers to participate or attend it. Newspapers usually publish stories about events after they’ve happened, giving readers a review of the event. Magazines like to publish articles on events to coincide with the anniversary of an event because they need to plan far in advance. Knowing which type of publication you’re targeting will allow you to know how you should write about an event.

Trending subjects can either have a short life or a long one. Articles about a political election or the election process may only be of interest to readers for a shorter time while those that concern diet trends may have a longer timeline. It’s important to know which trend is which in order to pitch ideas that won’t be outdated by the time an editor gets to them.

Seasonal pieces are perhaps the easiest to write and sell because seasons are well established. The four seasons of the year—summer, fall, winter, spring—the most general, but you also have those holidays around which retailers plan their sales—Christmas, Easter, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and back-to-school. You can easily make a list of ideas for each season and be assured that most or all will sell.

So while it’s important to write well, it’s just as important to write timely pieces that you know will sell.

To read more of my articles and book excerpts, please visit my Web site. And to read more articles on freelance writing, grammar, and marketing, go to Writer's Corner.