>Be more profitable and productive in 2011

>Lots of people make money advising us on how to write more and make more money. It all boils down to two things: putting in the hours on focused work and approaching writing as a business. But these are not easy things to do; sometimes a little help doesn’t hurt.

I’m currently re-reading Kelly James-Enger’s Six-Figure Freelancing. It’s a great book, and I recommend it to anyone who is hoping to make money at their writing. If you don’t need the money, maybe this isn’t the book for you because it has a hardcore show-me-the-money attitude. But think about it. A six-figure annual income means you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with all the freedom and responsibilities of being self-employed.

A little less money-oriented is Sage Cohen’s new book, The Productive Writer. I know Sage as a poet, but it turns out she has been making money writing other things for years. If you’re not ready to spend money for the book, visit her website anyway. If you sign up for her mailing list, she will send you “10 Ways to Boost Writing Productivity.” It’s good stuff.

If that’s not enough, I teach online classes in freelance article writing, successful blogging and other topics. Visit https://writeraid.net/classes for details.

Have a wonderful Christmas and don’t forget to take notes on anything that might make a good story. For example, my aunt sent me this very interesting tea from a little shop in Washington. I think there’s an article there.

Happy holidays!

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>New FabJob book focuses on freelance writing

>I’m quoted in the new FabJob Guide to Become a Freelance Writer by Kelly Boyer Sagert. This e-book shows two paths to freelancing: writing magazine and newspaper articles, and writing in the corporate world. It’s a good overall look at the non-literary writing business, with lots of samples, charts, lists and links. Available only as an e-book, it’s a worthwhile resource. I know I found myself taking notes and marking lots of pages to refer back to.

The FabJob Guide emphasizes the business side of freelancing, with lots of information that can benefit all of us. For example, how many writers take time to make a business plan and budget? This book shows you how.

Corporate writing–PR, reports, brochures, blogs, newsletters, marketing materials, etc.–is not my thing, but I have done it, and it is probably the most profitable type of freelance writing. It all depends on what you feel most comfortable doing.

Sagert writes in depth about how to find and approach clients and how to bid on projects. If you can write, you can do it. Just know that instead of editors, you will be working with business people and will have to write what they want–gently guiding them with your expertise, of course.You may not get as many bylines, but you will be well paid and probably wined and dined, too.

Give it a look. I am not comfortable with the book’s title. I think it should be “becoming,” but all the books in the series follow the same format. In fact, if you want to find out how to be an undertaker, there’s a FabJob book for that.
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>Don’t Believe Everything You Read

>A recent article on how to get a newspaper job had me writing comments in the margins along the lines of “No!” and “Not a chance.” I worry about the bad advice that circulates in the writing business, playing on people’s hopes with misinformation. Please, don’t believe everything you read.

Let me refute some of the things in this article.

1) Part-time newspaper jobs can be gained by writers with little experience. No. This is unlikely. The smallest of small-town rags may hire students as interns or cub reporters, but even they need some training and some proof they can put a story together.

2) Letters to the editor can lead to a job on a newspaper. Not a chance. Letters to the editor are not articles, and editors do not hire writers based on their letters.

3) After you study the paper and write some letters, the next logical step is to do a job shadow. Most companies welcome people to do this. Maybe in other businesses, but I can’t imagine having someone follow me around all day while I work. It might be okay to have company while doing interviews, but when it comes to writing and meeting deadlines, I assure you no reporter or editor wants somebody hanging around to watch.

4) You can become a stringer—freelancer—for a paper with little or no experience, just a desire to learn. Again, no. Newspaper editors do not have time to teach you how to write. They need you to show up with the necessary skills already in hand.

5) When you want to write for a paper, call and keep calling. God, no. Every time you interrupt the editor’s work with your phone call, you make a negative impression. Do not keep calling and begging. Instead, query with your best ideas, follow up briefly and politely, and accept no for an answer if that is the response. If they encourage you to try again, do it.

Next time, I’ll discuss five more pieces of misinformation given to wannabe writers. Meanwhile, have a great Thanksgiving. While you’re passing the turkey, can you think of a few article ideas? I’ll bet you can.
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>Read All About It

>I’m late again. I get so immersed in my projects that I miss my blog deadlines, but I don’t miss the ones I get paid for. Need I say that if you promise to turn in your work by a particular day and time, you should do it unless you’re dying? Get a reputation for missing deadlines without warning the editor, and your career is toast.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I was thinking about reading. One of the things I ask students the first time we meet is, “What do you read?” I’m no longer surprised when most of them read only genre fiction–mysteries, suspense, romance, fantasy, etc–and a few admit they don’t read much of anything. This is not good.

If you want to be a writer, you must read the kinds of things you want to write. Reading good writing helps embed the rhythm and rules of good language in your brain, no matter what you read.

It’s fine to read novels. I gulp them down like candy. But if you want to write for newspapers, you’ve got to read newspapers. I don’t care if you read them on paper or on Kindle, but you’ve got to read them. Ditto for magazines. It’s the only way to know what’s getting published and get a feel for how you can make your work fit in.

Editors always complain about getting submissions that are totally inappropriate. One way to avoid this is to read the publication before you submit, then tailor your ideas to the market. Plus, if you read enough, you’ll know if your idea has already been used. And, you’ll be a much better informed person.

So, what do you read? What do you want to write?

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>Anxious about queries? Read this

>Are you nervous about approaching editors with your ideas or your stories? It’s normal. In a way, every query is like a applying for a job. You might say the query is the application, and your outline or book proposal is the interview. Success means a new opportunity, work to do, and the potential for money and more work. Failure means starting over. Anyone who says this is their favorite part of freelancing is probably being sarcastic. Love the writing? Yes. Love the research? Sometimes. Love the money? Always. Love pitching your work? Not so much.

But it’s not bad once you get the hang of it. If you are excited about your idea and you know it fits the publication you’re pitching, AND if you can communicate your excitement and prove that it fits, you will succeed.

To help you in that quest, you might want to invest in Moira Allen’s new edition of The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, which just came out from Allworth Press in September. I have a piece in there, Chapter 17, on pitching to agents at writers conferences. I’m proud of it, but that’s just a tiny taste of all the good stuff in this book.

Allen and various guest authors share step-by-step instructions for preparing queries, pitches and proposals for all kinds of articles and books. Want to sell a column? They tell you how. Want to sell a travel article? The instructions are here. Want to know three ways to make your query irresistible? Page 51. Want to find writing work in the corporate world? It’s here. It’s all here.

Moira Allen is the longtime publisher of Writing-world.com, which offers a monthly newsletter, articles on every imaginable facet of writing, and more. She is also the author of Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, also from Allworth Press. I have a chapter in that book, too.

Make sure you buy the SECOND EDITION of The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals. The first one is good, but a lot has changed in this computerized world since it came out. Besides, I’m not in it. 🙂

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>Should you take a class?

>I have taken hundreds of classes. I’ve taught quite a few, too. The one thing I keep hearing from my former students is that they wish I would teach some more so that they could start writing again. They can’t seem to get going without a class that gives them deadlines to meet. Until recently, I thought these people were just lazy. All they had to do was sit down and write. But lately, with a million other things on my mind, I’ve been thinking about taking another class. This freelance life can be lonely and formless. A class would give me deadlines and people to work with. But then I look at the price and the content of the class and know that I wouldn’t learn anything new. For me, it’s not time to take a class; it’s time to get to work

However, a writing class can be a real boost for many people. The key is to find a class that offers what you need at this time. Is there a skill that you want to learn, such as writing queries or writing great leads? Do you need a general overview to help you get started? Is someone you really admire teaching the class? Are you thinking about trying a new kind of writing? Do you need someone to critique your work?

There are lots of good reasons to take a class. Maybe you do need a class to help you get going with regular assignments and deadlines. Just know that like riding a bike, sooner or later the training wheels have to come off and you have to balance on your own or park the bike on the grass and go do something else.

I didn’t set out to advertise, but since we’re talking about this, I offer several online classes which you can read about at my website, www.suelick.com. Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, has some terrific classes for both beginning and advanced writers. Check out the listings at www.ChristinaKatz.com. Do a search for writing classes and you will find plenty of listings. Just make sure to check out the teacher’s credentials before you spend money or time on their classes.

And if, like me, you know what to do but don’t seem to be doing it, let’s all just try to do one thing to further our careers every day. You’re welcome to report here if you need to be accountable to someone.

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>Got clips?

>Queries and clips go together like bagels and cream cheese. When you approach a new editor with an idea, he or she is going to ask to see samples of your published work. If you have never published anything, then the best you can do is offer to send a finished manuscript. But once you have published, you’ll want to send clips.

Ideally those clips will be your best work and be related to what you are proposing to write. If you’re querying for an article about dogs and all you have is that piece you wrote on baby quilts, go ahead and send it, but if you have something about dogs, that’s the best.

Now how do you do it? Back in the olden days, people sent “tear sheets,” pages torn out of the actual magazine or newspaper, along with their letter and SASE. Then we got good photocopiers, and we could send copies. I have done that for many years. In fact, I have a file drawer stuffed with alphabetized copies of past published work.

However, the world has changed. We’ve gone digital. Most newspapers and magazines and certainly all web zines want queries and clips sent by e-mail. It’s hard to send a piece of paper through cyberspace.

So what do we do? We computerize our clips. If your article was published online, you can make note of the URL and include it in your query. But you can’t count on that article always being there, so copy it into your own file. I use the Adobe PDF program, but there are others. Search online.

If your article is only on paper, have it scanned onto a CD or flash drive, or onto your hard drive. For a long time, I rarely needed to do this, but the world has gone digital. I recently bought my own scanner (Canon CanoScan 8800F). It’s a complicated beast, and I’m still figuring it out, but I have already put some of my best clips on my hard drive, so next time I send out an e-query, I can send my e-clips. I can also clean out that file drawer.

Some editors still work by snail mail, so do keep paper copies, if you have them, or be ready to print out your computerized file, but first priority is to get them into your computer.

A writer’s clips are essential tools. Keep them handy and ready to send out with your great ideas.

Questions and comments encouraged.

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