Blogging: Cold Emails

Blogging: Cold EmailsFirst, I must apologize for my absence. I took some time to myself this summer to do things that were not writing blog posts, and it was absolutely lovely. But let’s jump right in, shall we?

As a senior writer at my place of employment, I frequently receive inquiries from hopeful freelancers asking to write content for the company blog. Some of these want to drop links for companies they work for and others just want to see their work published on a blog that gets around 15k visitors per month. Either type is fine, as long as they meet our requirements.

The emails that I receive usually go something like this:

Hi Brittany. I was just looking over the _______ company blog and think that I could offer some great content for your readers! Let me know if you accept guest posts. Thanks!

Needless to say, emails like that don’t really do a lot for me. Now, since a lot of you are freelancers or at least freelance hopefuls, I want to use this post to 1) show you the right way to contact strangers, and 2) why you shouldn’t feel bad about sending cold emails.

Our basic requirements are as follows:

  • We’ll need to see 2-3 writing samples
  • You may not include affiliate (paid) links
  • The content must be 100% original (barring any direct quotes)
  • You have to suggest a couple of suitable topics
  • You remember that we are not internet or marketing stupid

Let’s break into the reasoning behind each requirement so that you can understand why each one is so important.

Samples help to show how skilled you are when it comes to writing. When selecting a sample to include, try to choose one that has a topic related to the business you are contacting. Always send at least 2, and no more than 5. Make sure that if they were published, the site they are hosted on is reputable, there are no spelling mistakes, and that any and all links work. It’s also best if the post is actually attributed to you and not someone else.

Affiliate links are not “the devil”, but if you’re writing content for a business, it’s underhanded and unprofessional to try to scrape a profit from their readers. Never include an affiliate link in an organic post  unless you have been given permission.

Original content is an absolute must. I don’t want to get dinged for duplicate content, and I also don’t want your recycled information. If you wrote a post for a business and it fell through and never went live, that’s one thing, but if your blog post was published elsewhere you had better think twice before asking me to give it to our readers.

Suitable topics are another must. Spend time reading any content that the business has on their site. Skim some of their blog posts and peruse a few of their articles. When you send your email, include 2 or 3 topic ideas that you really think will work for them. One of the worst things that you can do is to suggest a topic to me that would never fit with what we currently cover.

For example, I was recently contacted by a potential guest blogger who suggested, specifically, maintaining a pool. This was about a week ago and we’re on the verge of snow here in Canada. That topic is not timely, and it is far too specific for me to use since we cover much more general real estate content.

We’re writers and marketers, we know about the internet. We know that you want to get in some good backlinks, we know if you are actually talented when it comes to SEO, and we know when your writing skills are subpar. We aren’t dumb, we know the motivation behind your content is completely selfish, but so is our reason for accepting it—we like free content. So be honest and don’t bother trying to butter anyone up too obviously.

A Good Cold Email

That being said, I will judge you on your initial email, and it greatly affects my reply. If you frequently send out cold emails to businesses or individuals, I would suggest trying something like this:

Hi ________,

I’m a *insert writing profession* and came across your blog through *insert where you found them*. I thought that your post *insert interesting post name related to what you want to write for them* was very *insert an adjective or two of your choice*.

I am writing to ask if you accept guest post, and if so, what your guidelines might be. I have attached some writing samples in order to give you an overview of the topics I have covered in the past and my writing style.

I thought that a post about one of the following topics would be both a fit for your blog and beneficial to your readers:

*insert topic 1
*insert topic 2

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I look forward to hearing from you.

*insert name (example: Johnny Awesomesauce)

Are Cold Emails Bad?

No. They aren’t bad. Although most businesses will be savvy to the fact that you are only contacting them to either get your name in print or promote a client, we appreciate when you at least make a good effort to be polite, clear, and thorough.

Sometimes you may not get a response at all, other times you may get a short and direct “No.” But once in awhile, you’ll come across someone who wants to give you a shot and who, even if they do say no, will tell you why. I try to be that person as often as I can because as a writer I know that we are expected to accept rejection without an explanation, and it can be very tiring.

So if you’re trying to break into the writing profession by sending out a few cold emails, good on you. Take note of the tips in this post and understand that no matter how good you are, you are going to hear the word “no” often. But sometimes, you’ll get a “yes”, and when you see your post go live to thousands of readers, it’ll all be worth it.

Do you send out cold emails? Do you look for guest posting opportunities often?

I post funny things on Facebook sometimes, so if you like funny things, pay my page a visit. If you do not like funny things, just avoid it.

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work Experience

How to Make a Professional Portfolio Without Work ExperienceWe are all aware of the vicious circle that new grads and professionals face—employers want you to have work experience before they will hire you, but you can’t get a job without having experience in your chosen industry.

So, how are you supposed to get work as a writer if you can’t get experience anywhere?

It’s time to use one of those writerly tools that you have hidden away in your back pocket—your creativity. If you can’t find work to put in your portfolio, you’re just going to have to make some for yourself. Because the writing industry is booming with non-fiction postings right now, I’ll focus on how to build your portfolio as an online content creator.

To start, you’re going to have to do some writing that will showcase your skills, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. As someone who has been part of the hiring process for a number of writers, I can tell you that we like to see a variety of pieces, but prefer when at least one is tailored to our industry.

So if you can’t find paid or volunteer work, or what you have done isn’t necessarily relevant or appropriate for the jobs you are applying for, you need to start creating content specifically for your portfolio. That means writing for the sole purpose of having pieces to show potential employers.

Based on what I would want to see, potential topics include:

  • Tech content related to new products, services, news, and more. Pick something that you want to know more about so that at least you are learning something new while writing.
  • Real estate content about landlords, renters, the housing market, DIY projects, selling and buying tips, and first-time buyer and credit information. This is stuff you’re going to have to know at some point anyway, why not start now?
  • Small business and entrepreneurship posts about startups, employment, marketing, and anything in between. You’re basically doing that now if you are trying to start a freelance career, so write about your personal experiences.
  • Industry news and changes related to the places you are hoping to be hired at. Don’t be so specific that you can only use one piece per application, make your content general enough that you can show it to a variety of employers.
  • Writing and editing advice and tips. Show off your skills by working your way towards becoming an influencer in the industry. You can cover things like the technical aspects or talk more about creating a company voice and language.
  • Digital marketing trends. Generally, employers hiring writers now want them to know about SEO and other content-based technicalities. Write about how SEO works, how to use it best, and why it is important.

Aside from writing about these topics, make sure that you showcase your abilities in being a versatile writer. Switch up the type of posts that you are making by writing in a variety of ways, such as:

  • List posts
  • Case studies
  • How-tos
  • Short-form posts
  • Whitepapers
  • Sales focused content
  • SEO heavy pieces

And make sure that you follow best online writing practices with your content, whether you are sending it as a digital attachment or printing it out. That means that you need to make sure that you:

  • Have titles and headers.
  • Break up big chunks of content.
  • Follow best linking practices (specifically regarding anchor text).
  • Use bullet lists.
  • Avoid multiple fonts and overusing bold and italics.
  • Cite sources.
  • Never, ever plagiarize.

Although you aren’t going to be able to say that you wrote this content for a popular website or other online publication, your desire to showcase your skills shows both initiative and determination.

It also shows that, regardless of your lack of experience in the industry, you are fully capable of creating quality content, and that you really do know what you are doing.

Just make sure that you edit carefully and that your samples really are well done. To get an idea of what your dream employer wants in terms of content, spend some time looking around their blog to get a feel for their style and tone before you apply. That will help you to figure out which pieces are best to send them.

And don’t forget to switch up your style between pieces. It’s nice to see versatile writers who can go from sleek, enticing copy, to informational guides, to casual blog posts.

Once you feel that you have enough content, create a digital or printed portfolio, and show recruiters and hiring managers that you have what it takes.

Do you have a portfolio? Do you find it hard to get work as a writer?

I’m on Facebook if you want more.

Freelance Writers: Protecting Yourself

Freelance Writers: Protecting YourselfFreelancing is a tricky business. First, you have to establish what services you’ll be offering, and how much you plan to charge. Then you need to market yourself and make contacts, perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the trade. And then, after you finally get a client, you need to hash out a contract with clear terms so that you both understand what to expect from one another.

When I was contacted by my very first freelance client, I was delighted. We met, discussed the work, and then I asked if they wanted a contract. That was my first mistake. I never should have asked, I should have told them that one was necessary. Instead, they said no, they didn’t want a contract, and being strapped for cash and overwhelmed at venturing out onto my own for the first time, I acquiesced.

It was a disaster. Everything went smoothly at first, but after a few days the client checked in to see what the cost was at. I happily sent along a number, and immediately received a request to provide a list of every activity I had performed during every hour that I had charged for. Well, since we didn’t have a contract, we had never discussed it being my responsibility to do so. I certainly hadn’t cheated, I timed myself precisely. But I didn’t have a record of what I had done at each hour of the day for the previous week.

So, I wrote back and said, unfortunately, that since the work was mostly done, and that it was not something we had discussed, that it was quite impossible for me to oblige. I received a curt reply and a request to meet for payment the following weekend. I showed up, with the work I had done, and while the client was signing my check in a very full coffee shop, they loudly reprimanded me for my nerve and unprofessionalism.

Where some people would have wanted to cry, I just wanted to turn the table over. I had done the work, and I had done it well. I had charged a minimal fee because it was my first client, and they had declined a contract. They had never said, “Oh, and please keep a record of the time you spend on this to give me at the end of the project”. People were looking at us, and every word that passed through the client’s lips was like venom to me.

That experience taught me my very first freelancing lesson: contracts are a must, no matter how small the project, no matter how well you know the client, no matter how simple the terms are, you must have a signed agreement to protect both yourself and your work.

My first contracts were probably quite pitiable. I didn’t know how to make one or what to include. I never knew what I could and couldn’t put in writing, and I wasn’t sure what I could demand of my clients without scaring them away. But after improving them through the years with a variety of clients, there are a few key things that I always make sure to include no matter what they’re for.

To best protect yourself and your client, consider having clearly terms about:

  • Who will retain ownership of the work, and if you, the creator, may use the work in a portfolio or otherwise take credit for the work.
  • What exactly is included in the cost. For example, if you are charging a fee, does it include written and verbal communication, or just the actual work itself?
  • How much notice must you each provide to the other if one of you wishes to end the contract? This is important as it can help to give you time to replace the client and make up the income. I usually go with 30 days.
  • When invoices will be provided and when they need to be paid. I usually bill on the last day of the month and expect payment within two weeks. If you wish to charge a penalty for late payments, outline that in writing as well.

Of course, depending on the work, the client, and the freelancer, there are a number of other things you should include, but the most important advice that I can give is to have clear communication from the beginning.

As the contractor, you need to maintain control. Remember, you aren’t an employee, you are a strong, capable businessperson who is only interested in legitimate, paying, and solid contracts.

Before singing anything, talk to the client about every possible aspect of the relationship you may have together. Ask them about their expectations and requirements. If everything goes smoothly, do a draft of the contract and send it along for their review. This will help you to both understand what the outcome should be at the end of the term.

There’s no magic spell that will ensure a problem-free contract. There are always bumps, or sometimes even earthquakes, but by protecting yourself from the beginning you can help to ensure that you don’t get yelled at in a coffee shop by an ungrateful client while you try to keep yourself from morphing into a much less intimidating version of The Hulk.

What’s your best nightmare client story? Have you ever wished you had a better contract? Do you use contracts?

The Flavor of Writing

The Flavor of WritingWriters know very well that the style in which they write may not be sweet to every reader. Every piece of writing is defined by a genre, sub-genre, category, sub-category… and the list goes on. Some readers enjoy broad genres, such as fiction or non-fiction, while others prefer more specific categorization, like historical fiction or sci-fi.

Unfortunately, whether we will it or not, whatever we write inevitably falls into a class that defines it. This offers both positive and negative side-effects. The positives being that we can reach our readers more readily, and skip those who wouldn’t be interested in the first place. The negatives being that others who have written within our genre may have helped to create stereotypes that automatically cause readers to avoid our predetermined classification.

Of course, every genre can have romance, or humor, or history. However, the small details are not taken into account when vendors and publishers choose which heading to set above a book. To me, this is, in many ways, tragic. Separating books so clearly gives readers the ability to be as picky about books as they are about food. It’s just as easy to say, “I don’t read fantasy” as it is to say “I despise onions”. But onions always have the same flavor. Books do not.

One fantasy story could be found to be long and dull, while another could be enthralling and captivating. Not every fantasy has dragons, just as not every romance is about some young girl falling in love for the first time. It’s simple to say that you do not like one food or another, but the flavors of writing are more intricate and less defined. You could easily class one book in the sci-fi genre as an onion (or other despised food of your choice), and another as a slice of the most delectable cheesecake (or other delicious dish of your choosing).

The spark behind this post was an article that I saw about how GRRM has seemingly “revolutionised how people think about the fantasy genre“.  And, although I love his books, and will be watching the season premiere devotedly this evening, I have to disagree.

The reason why his books have become popular is because they got picked up by the right place at the right time. They have been thrust into the public eye, and, I suppose, in that way, they have made people think about fantasy differently.

But, there have been countless authors who have written quality fantasy over the years that have received much praise, and likely even more that have remained under the radar for whatever reason. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of high-quality fantasies out there that I have never even heard of. And part of that is because of the stereotype surrounding the genre as a whole.

GRRM was lucky. But even his books were a near miss. He started the series a long time ago, and it has only reached popularity in recent years. I have a plethora of books on my shelf that I would define as equal in quality to A Song of Ice and Fire, both in terms of writing ability and strength of story. Are all of them as wildly popular as GOT? No. Not even close. Should they be? Probably. If they had been given a chance.

So, next time you avoid a genre simply because it hasn’t suited your tastes in the past, remember that books are not as easily classified as onions (I just assume everyone else abhors them, because I believe they are the absolute worst). Remember that just because a book is classed within a genre that you don’t often sample, that doesn’t mean that it is anything like the last one that you tasted.

Books within the same genre are as vast in flavor and texture as a hundred course meal served at a banquet. Some are light, some are sweet, others are heavy and thick. Some are bitter and some are as smooth as cream. Some will leave you asking for seconds, while others will congeal on the side of your plate after an unpleasant sample.

Let your palate for books be much more tested and open than that of your tongue.

Have you ever been surprised by a book in a certain genre? Is there a genre that you avoid altogether? Do you think that GRRM had a direct impact on fantasy because of the quality or because of the timing of his books? 

Should you wish to hear from me more often, you can find me on Facebook, where I cordially invite you to join me.

Freelancing: How to Charge

Freelancing: How to Charge

Figuring out your role as a freelancer and actually finding clients is hard enough. But eventually you realize that you have to come up with prices, which is more complicated than it sounds.

You basically have 3 choices: hourly rates, project fees, or retainers.

Hourly rates are amounts that you charge by the hour (obviously). The benefit  of them is that you get paid for the time you put in, no matter how much or how little it is. The down side is that it will ruin your budget because you’ll never know how much is coming in at the end of the month until you’re sending out your invoices.

One way to ensure income on an hourly basis is to have clients on long-term contracts who require monthly services, such as blogs, social media schedules, etc.

Project fees are a step up from this because you estimate the total cost of a project and agree on the price before you start. Then both you and the client are clear on the price from the beginning. This can put you in a bit of a bind if you end up doing more work than you thought, such as if the client wants to discuss the project multiple times a day, or you encounter issues with the project itself.

When creating a contract for a project, I prefer to include clauses for extra work. I detail the project scope as best I can, and then include a clause or two about what will happen if the project extends passed a certain number of hours, or extra work is required.

Retainers are my favorite way to get paid, and they are good for clients too. A retainer is when the client pays you an amount each month no matter what you do. They are paying to reserve your time, and it is up to them to use it. Now, it’s not my favorite because there isn’t anything to do sometimes, it’s my favorite because it prompts the client to use what they are paying for.

I like having work to do, and sometimes clients can get busy, or even have you on a long-term contract, but won’t have much for you to do. Being on a retainer tells the client that you are there if they need you, and it tells you that you are valuable to the client.

You could end up doing a lot of work one month, and not as much the next. Generally, I find that retainers balance out in the end, without leaving either party feeling like they’ve lost anything.

How do I figure out a price?

How you come up with an amount, whether hourly, project-based, or for a retainer really depends on your location, your experience, and the client’s budget.

Some clients will have big budgets and some won’t. I try my best to fit my fees to my clients, instead of sticking to a strict price. Of course, I do have a minimum that I’ll take, but I think everyone deserves a little help now and then, so if I have to take a little less in order to help someone out I’ll do it.

Take into account the length of the contract and whether or not your client is likely to need you again in the future. You shouldn’t start low and then try to charge more the next time they need you. Keep your prices fairly even, and whenever you decide to change them, offer a clear, straightforward, and reasonable explanation.

Look at other freelancers in your area, and even consulting agencies to see what their prices are like, and then figure out what you need to make to pay your bills. Your price should fall somewhere between the two.

The best way to charge

I’ve had clients on all kinds of different payment structures. I am currently on three different ones with three different clients as I write. I try to judge the best way to price a project or contract based on the client, the scope, and the length.

About a year or so ago, I implemented a sort of mixed pricing method, which has been working out very well. I charge hourly for general tasks, and then for custom graphics, articles, or other projects that can either take a lot of time, or that will require extra work such as a stock photo, special computer programs, etc., I charge a fee.

So, that would mean that for social media scheduling I might charge $25/hour, and then for custom graphics for the social page, I would charge $50/each.

But what you charge depends on what you have to offer, what the client needs, and what you can afford to work for. Don’t charge pennies, your work is valuable, but try not to charge the, more than is reasonable. Just because a client doesn’t have a ton of cash to dump on you doesn’t mean that the experience won’t be valuable to you in the long run.

How do you charge? What do you think the best pricing method is?

I like to post awesome things on Facebook, so meet me there if you also like awesome things.

Promotional Posts

Promotional PostsThere’s nothing wrong with promoting things on blogs. Many authors do blog tours, request reviews, and exchange content. It’s a way to get the word out, and it’s usually free. That’s always a bonus for self-published authors who don’t have a lot of marketing experience, or a budget to put into it. It’s great to be able to help out other authors, but sometimes you run a risk with this type of promotion.

How? Let me enlighten you. Internet users are typically in-tune with what is promotional and what is not. It’s obvious when someone is promoting themselves, or promoting another. This is especially obvious if you are exchanging content. Say one person requests a review, and in return, they write a guest post for you. The chances of you being completely honest are taken down a few notches when you are receiving something in return.

If you hated the book, but are receiving content for your time, are you going to be blatantly honest, or are you going to at least try to give a good review, even if you’ve buttered it up a little? It’s an awkward situation—you can’t really feel good about yourself if you aren’t honest with your readers, but you also don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings. Of course, tact is always necessary, but the truth is worth much more.

If you’re like me, you’ll be stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it’ll hurt to get out of whatever you choose. I’m Canadian, we feel sorry about everything.

One way to navigate this kind of situation is to ensure that you tell your readers if you received something in exchange for your review or post. Transparency will at least give your fans a bit of understanding. A lot of the reviews I see are positive, but unless you only review books that you know you will like, chances are there will be a few that you didn’t like.

The second way is to just say no, in the best way possible. Unless you are going to be honest, saying no is the simplest way to keep your content free of promotion for others, honest, and based on what you want to write about. It’s not a bad thing to promote others, it’s just something that you need to be careful about. You have created a relationship with your readers, and it wouldn’t be sensible to jeopardize that.

The third way is to only agree to do a review after you’ve read the piece. Tell the author upfront, that unless you can give a positive review, you won’t publish it. They’ll likely be thankful for that, as well as understanding. Chances, are they aren’t looking for a bad review anyway.

There are other ways to do this, you just need to pick one that works for your blog and for your readers. If it fits with your content, and it’s something that you’re comfortable with, then go ahead. If it’s not, or you aren’t comfortable with the genre or subject, just say no. Be polite, be considerate, and be honest, but don’t do it just to be a nice person.

What do you do when asked for reviews? Have you ever said no before? Where do you draw the line with promotional posts?

Pro Writing—Alive and Well

Pro Writing—Alive and WellI’ve seen many posts in recent years about the declining need for professional writers. In general, most of them explain the hypothesis by saying that, somehow, technology is going to push writers out of their jobs and we are going to live in a world where computers produce endless amounts of content. This has caused a lot of young hopefuls, and even old hopefuls, to reconsider their paths. I mean, it’s all well and good to do what you love, but if that doesn’t pay the bills then you are in for a hard life, right?

But I think it’s a load of garbage.

Let’s look at e-books for a perfect example. I was recently dubbed a “purist” when it comes to books, and it’s a badge I will gladly wear on my shoulder. I don’t like e-books. I need the ever-wonderful feeling of a real book in my hands that doesn’t have a battery life, that doesn’t die if it accidentally gets wet, and that can proudly sit on a shelf and claim its place in my collection.

When e-books first made their way into the world of consumers, countless articles were printed claiming that “the world of publishing is at an end!”. Yes, well, that’s not quite what happened. Paper books are still sitting in or around the same number as they were when digital books came to life. In fact, the two seem to be living together quite peacefully, instead of taking up arms and fighting to the death.

Books are old things. And old things take a long time to exterminate. It’s not just what they deliver, but what they represent. No matter what happens, I have a feeling that they’ll be around for a long time in paper format.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”—Ernest Hemingway

The same thing is happening with writers. Our purposes may have changed—where once we wrote content for newspapers and pamphlets, now we write it for online websites—but we are still in demand. In order to meet Google’s extensive and complicated algorithms, big sites need to have fresh, keyword-rich, and original content. Duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and irrelevant posts get you dinged, and being in Google’s bad books isn’t something you want to experience.

We’re more in demand than we have been in a long time. If you truly want to be a writer, now is the time to start pushing for it. We’re never really going to go out of style, although the demand may wax and wane, as everything else does. As we enter into another period of the digital era, writers are becoming more respected, needed, and compensated than they have been in a long time.

Think about it this way: the internet is made up entirely of content. That content could be blog posts, articles, books, instructions, or just about anything else. The internet, the most popular thing in our world right now is based on what we writers do.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”—Robert Frost

Back in the day, being a writer meant going through a publisher, having your work rejected, and possibly becoming published at some point. We don’t have to do that now. I am writing a post at this very second that I decided to write. It won’t be reviewed by anyone except myself, the content hasn’t been tweaked for a certain audience, and it won’t go through a submission process. That in itself is something wonderful.

Of course, if you want to be a writer, you will not always be able to choose what you write. I’m employed as a full-time marketing writer, and sometimes I find my projects to be a little dull because they are non-fiction and they’re always based on law, real estate, finance, family, or estate planning. There are no dragons in estate planning, and finance is about as dry as a desert, but I’m not complaining. I’ll write whatever I’m asked to, and I will do it well because I’m a writer and that’s just what I want to be.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”—Anton Chekhov

What do you think about the way that the internet has changed the writing profession? Are you a writer now, or do you wish that you were?

5 Things Every Self-Published Author Should Know

5 Things Every Self-Published Author Should KnowEvery self-published author has a lot on their plate. Part of the challenge of self-publishing is that the writer takes on every

role of a publisher, from start to finish. It us unrealistic to assume that every author will be good at every aspect of publishing, though. So I’ve made a list of 5 things that I think every self-published author should do.

1) Edit, edit, edit. Learn about whatever language you are writing in and attempt to master it. Unfortunately, if you want your book to be popular and you want it to succeed, grammar and spelling play a huge part. When a reader picks up a book and they see in error within the first few pages, it takes away from the experience. If you didn’t take your work seriously by not editing it (or hiring someone to do it), why should the reader invest time in reading it?

2) Take Criticism and eat it for breakfast. Undoubtedly, you’ll be nagging your friends, co-workers, and family members to read the manuscript before it goes to print. Listen to what they have to say, especially if they are experienced readers. If they are honest, they will be able to tell you where the story is weak and where it is failing. Don’t assume that your story is perfect—that’s one of the key recipes to failure. Use negative feedback as a tool to get better, to hone your story, and to eventually produce something even bigger than you had planned.

3) Find out what a publisher actually does. It’s not enough that you want to write and publish a book. Chances are, you don’t understand the ins and outs of publishing unless you have experience in that industry. Own what you don’t know and turn it into something that you do. Follow the process from start to end and mimic it as best you can. Set realistic goals for yourself and make up a publishing plan. Taking on the persona of the big fish will help you to get farther.

4) Don’t underestimate marketing. Sure, many people have many things to say about marketing, but it’s an art just like writing. Good marketing will get you to places you didn’t think possible. If you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can help. A marketer will find your audience and tell you how to reach them. They’ll tell you how to run your brand in way that gets you want you want out of it. There are a lot of authors out there who run their own marketing and who would be so much better off with a little help. Don’t be petty, find someone who suits your book and your personality.

5) Push deadlines if you have to. Just because you said the book would be published on a certain day doesn’t mean it has to be. If you need more time to make it better, take that time. Don’t put out a piece of work that you aren’t satisfied with just to show that you can be on time. Things happen, books get delayed all of the time. Many well-known authors take the time that they need to write the book that they want instead of pressuring themselves to meet strict deadlines and schedules—think G.R.R.M. and Patrick Rothfuss. It might annoy a few people, but real fans will understand, and real fans are the ones that you want.

I’ve worked with many self-published authors. Some that took the project all the way, some that gave up half-way through, and some whose ideas were just too big for the amount of effort they required. All have been interesting experiences, but not one of them knew everything there was to know about being an author. Value the important things and make a book that you would want to read. Think quality, consistency, and professionalism.

Have you self-published? What did you wish you would have known before you started? Did you use any of these tips?

Freelancing—Will You Have to Work For Free?

Erika_9_typewriterIn short, and in my experience, yes. Because we are in a society where you need experience to get experience, an education is often not enough to get you a job straight out of school. Publishers, marketing firms, and other writer-hiring businesses want you to know what you are doing and to prove that you know. That’s hard when you are just starting out and cannot, for the life of you, find a paying job for whatever you took in school.

It’s disappointing to think that after you accrued a large amount of debt for being trained by professionals, you still don’t qualify for your dream job. It’s even more disappointing to take a job that you could have done before you ever went to school. Let’s note here that I am taking about writing professions here specifically.

Sometimes, the only answer is to start freelancing on your own. But potential clients almost always want to see a portfolio, or at the very least, examples of your work for other clients. How can you show them that you can do what you say if you haven’t worked on any projects yet? You can’t. Unless you work for free.

It’s a devastating blow sometimes to take clients who are willing to accept your skills for free, but who won’t pay you for them. It stings and it gnaws. But if you don’t do some volunteer work, how else are you going to get started? I’ve done my share of free/volunteer work and now I even do some just to be nice. If you find the right people to volunteer for, they’ll likely let you use the work for a portfolio as well as give you a great endorsement. Keep track of everything so that you can use it for a website later on.

I started out by doing an internship with a local magazine. It wasn’t paid, but it was simple. At the end of it, I had a couple of articles published in their national magazine, a recommendation letter, and a valuable reference. Aside from them, I have volunteered for an independent publisher, a clothing business, an RMT, a food business, and now I volunteer for a brilliant little organization called Leaf2Wing (they are trying to save Monarch butterflies by reestablishing milkweed growth in North America). I don’t really need the experience from volunteer work anymore, but it sure feels good to do it anyway.

My advice to any aspiring writers is to start finding volunteer work while you are in school.

  • Post free ads online, talk to friends and family, post flyers, and do whatever else you can think of. Do it while you are in high school and university. Start contacting newspapers, newsletters, publishers, book stores, author groups, and anything else related to your concentration. Make sure that you outline that you will use this work in a portfolio and ask them for a written endorsement after the work is done. Keep their contact info just in case you need to use them for a reference or if you want to check in later on.
  • Be wary of those who ask for too much for free. Set your limits and outline them clearly. I’d suggest using a contract for anything that you do, but sometimes that isn’t practical. At least have a saved email message with the terms outlined and a response back from the business or person acknowledging those terms.
  • Understand that although most of your experiences should be positive if handled properly, not everyone is a “good egg”. Some clients will disappear, get work to you late, or dislike your work for whatever reason. It happens. Suck it up, let it go, and move on.
  • Branch out a bit from your area of expertise. I took publishing in school, but now I work full-time as a writer, and I offer social media marketing, editing, small business planning, and even some design on the side. I haven’t been out of school for that long, but the more that you learn the more likely you are to find people to work for.
  • Don’t be afraid of other industries. I’ve worked with clients in real estate, dentistry, food, publishing, marketing, law, massage, and tons of other industries. Just because you are trained in a specific area doesn’t mean that other industries won’t need your skills. It’s all about gaining positive experience.

All in all, it takes a lot of guts to be a freelancer of any kind. The income is unstable most of the time, if not all of the time, managing multiple clients can make you feel as if you are being pulled in a million directions, time management is difficult in the beginning, and it’s hard to just go out and “find a mentor”, which is what I was told to do many times and never did, though I tried.

Remember that if you keep at it, you’ll get there. It might not always be fun, and it might not always be as magical as you’d hoped, but if you’re doing what you really want to do, and you find some happiness in it, you’re going down the right road.

Do you freelance? Are you hoping to freelance one day? Have you worked for free, or did you start out differently?

 

The Jobs Behind Writers

Work_life_balance_rat_raceBefore I went to school, I did a lot of research on what I wanted to be. I emailed people from all over the world who had the jobs that I wanted to see how to get there. This was how I figured out what I wanted to do. At first, I wanted to be a copyeditor. I have always wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to learn the intricate rules of writing so that I could write in the best way possible.

After figuring out where to go to school, what to take, and so on, I started classes and soon changed my mind about being a copyeditor full-time. I thought that I would despise sales and marketing, but I actually really enjoyed it. Although I have never liked selling things to people who didn’t want them, I found a lot of joy in assisting authors with selling their books and getting the word out to other people who would be interested in them.

I asked every one of my instructors how to start my career, but found the answers to be vague and less than helpful. It seems that writers, marketers, and editors all have different starts. It isn’t as easy as “go to school, graduate, get a job” like in some professions. I faced the usual “you need experience to get experience” difficulty. I did an internship and started to offer writing and editing online and through family and friends. My business did not prosper immediately, but after I signed on with an independent publisher, things got a little better.

Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I spent a few years gaining experience by offering social media marketing, writing, blogging, and even by volunteering once in awhile. I provided these things to many different businesses in various industries. I had to branch out from publishing, but I was ok with it. Still, the constant issue of inconsistent income had me down. Doing what you love doesn’t always pay the bills.

Tomorrow I will be starting my first job as an employee since I went to school. I won’t work for myself, I won’t be a consultant, and I won’t be a contractor. I’ve finally gained enough experience to become employed as a full-time marketing writer. This is both exciting, and a little overwhelming. I’ll still be taking some clients here and there, because I’m addicted to the high that comes with giving someone a hand, but I’ll be doing less and I’ll have a boss that isn’t me.

I know that many writers and editors start out by growing their own businesses while working full-time at an office or elsewhere. It’s what we have to do to get the experience that will get us to where we want to be. I don’t know if I am there yet, but I have been lucky enough to be able to catch a job doing something along the lines of what I want to.

Where are you on your journey as a professional writer or editor (or other)? What’s the best or worst job that you have had while trying to get to where you want to be?

Note: I’ll try to keep up on my posts, but I might miss a few in the beginning as I adjust to my new schedule. Bear with me, folks. I have a feeling I’m going to be pretty worn out.