Archive for the ‘Advice for writers’ Category

To some extent, if the economy slows, so does every aspect of it. So freelance writers shouldn’t be surprised that it gets harder to find work.

That being said, even if the economy were to genuinely recede, businesses and non-profits would still need written communication. I was reminded of this fact recently while at the website of the financial guru Dave Ramsey. He had this to say about radio, which I think applies to all sorts of freelance writing as well.

The recent RAB convention in Atlanta had some great answers. Selling Radio in a Challenging Economy, a seminar presented by Mike Mahone and Dave Casper, suggests thinking LONG TERM (Now there’s an idea!). In the last century, advertisers who held out and even bumped up their advertising budgets ended up “on top” during and after an economic crisis. Although money might get tight and the country as a whole might seem worried, people aren’t going to stop buying. The advertisers that stay focused and continue to brand themselves can expect huge results.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Back in the 1930s, Kellogg maintained its advertising during the Great Depression while Post did not. As a result, Kellogg gained domination of the dry cereal market and held onto that domination for half a century. (Casper, 32)
  • Heavier advertising was also credited for the improved performance of Revlon and Philip Morris during the recessionary years of 1974-75, while sales of Avon Products and Hershey Foods slumped after advertising cuts. (32)
  • During the 1975 recession, Chevrolet increased their advertising while Ford cut theirs by 14%. In the end, Chevy’s market share rose by 2%, and five years later, Ford had not regained its share points. (33)

Obviously, cutting advertising budgets during a recession or economic slump can have major, long-term, negative results. We tell our listeners all the time that choosing the easiest way out is rarely the answer when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You have to work hard and look at things with a long-term perspective in mind. And that’s exactly what your advertisers need to do starting today. The minute you bail, you start losing brand recognition in the marketplace.

For the full Selling Radio in a Challenging Economy PowerPoint presentation from the RAB conference, go to This information is fantastic and will revolutionize the way you view advertising and the economy. The RAB is an excellent resource for your staff and has a wealth of tools to begin implementing today.

Not only does this point obviously apply to writing and those in a position to make decisions about writing, it also applies to freelance writers themselves. No doubt there are plenty of people who made a living by writing during past hard times, and that will be true in this bump in the economy.

Perhaps not

Five Words You Can Cut,” is a helpful reminder. I would have added “very” to the list (I almost used it in the previous sentence). My personal weakness is for “perhaps.”

What is you special weakness? What word attracts you but is not helpful to your writing?

Since one of my jobs at S&Q is literary agent, I found this blog entry by Colleen Lindsay to be really helpful. Here are the bottom line facts that she lists:

YA fiction 50k80k
urban fantasy / paranormal romance
80k – 90k
mysteries and crime fiction
= cozies: usually 60k – 70k mark), most: 80k to 100k
mainstream fiction chick lit: 60k to 80k words; literary fiction: possibly as high as 120k but lately less; thrillers: 90k – 100k; historical fiction as high as 140k. Nothing under 50k.
science fiction and fantasy = Should be the same as adult fiction; a few editors consider 100k ideal for good space opera or fantasy; \ a truly spectacular epic fantasy: maybe 120k /130k.  (Sequels may be allowed longer)

On the last point made by Lindsay, I noticed the other day that the Inheritance Trilogy no longer a trilogy. It is now planned as a four-book series for exactly this reason. Christopher Paolini had the third and final book all planned out, but when he wrote it out it grew way too long (see the video here).

I have to wonder why Lindsay is dealing with so many gargantuan manuscripts. My suspicion is that writers are thinking only of “the story” and not about selling themselves to a publisher as a profitable person with whom to partner. Being obsessed with “the story,” is just fine if you don’t care about being published. But then why bother to even submit the manuscript?

Publishing companies have a great many expenses. No doubt they all hope that some one book will take off and be a huge seller. Who wouldn’t want to be the beneficiary of a J. K. Rowling popularity bomb?

But you can never plan on that. Rowling’s books are great but that does not mean that there are not plenty of other great manuscripts out there that no one ever hears about. One can’t plan to be a world famous multi-millionaire from writing a book any more than one can plan to win the lottery. And publishers can’t plan on that either.

What you can do with a reasonable chance of success is become a reliable hard-working writer who creates material that a publisher can trust to produce. If you have some giant of a book you must get published, your best chance is to succeed at conventional works so that publishers will give you a chance when you propose a mamoth book.

By the way, Lindsay provides a lot more commentary and discussion so make sure you visit her post.

Let’s consider an analogy. Perhaps you have heard of Freecycle? Consider the precious items collected at this great humor blog, which we all know are genuine.

Freecycle — a fantastic community that’s also home to some of the most extreme social cluelessness and gaspingly funny avarice in the online world. This blog will document it all. Posts are reproduced unedited in their entirety, with only identifying information removed.

One might guess from this sort of phenomena that trying to find freelance work through a bidding website may not be a productive use of one’s time and energy. Here is one witness that such a guess is accurate. I’ll reproduce just a couple of his exhibits without his commentary:

I need someone to write 100 articles for a web site. I can only afford to pay $1 per article but this may lead to more work later. Also, all articles you submit will be checked through Copyscape.

I’m looking for someone to write 10 product reviews of (insert product type here). They need to be done quickly and I’ll pay $30. Just to be clear, that’s $30 for all 10, not per review.

I recently watched Arrested Development – Season One and got a sad chuckle at the mention of the video series, “Girls with Low Self-Esteem.” Wouldn’t it be great of sleazy productions would be that honest about what they are doing?

But it would also be a great title for one of these bid-for-a-writer sites.


The bottom line is that they are looking for people who think their work is of no value and their only hope for approval is to give it away cheap.

There are lots of howto books out there for those who want to be freelance commercial writers. Many of these books can be skimmed because, while quite helpful, they are also full of hype (or else they are simply trying to bulk up to be book length).

While this is quite do-able for reading, in my opinion, it is entirely insufferable in audio form. I have greatly benefitted from reading books that I think would have driven me insane if I had been forced to listen to them.

I bring this up, because it applies to my podcast listening. One essential element in starting a new (and it is still new to me) business, is feeling like one belongs to a new group. That is an intangible but highly necessary benefit which people crave, and it is the engine behind all sorts of networking, meetings, and professional associations. The attraction for these things cannot be explained simply by the purported value of the usable information one gains from them–even though without that information one might look elsewhere.

So I look for podcasts. And I have found that some types of formats are simply insufferable. Ultra-successful experts who claim they can solve all your problems simply don’t work for me. I want people who are still on the journey. Reasonably successful people who are honest about their lives their work and their needs for improvement are much more encouraging and helpful. (The other kinds of audio casts might be helpful if I could stomach listening to them.)

So, here are too “real” podcasts I have discovered recently and expect to keep up with.

  • Freelance Radio
  • Freelance America (warning: there is an “explicit” warning on this one in iTunes and, while that doesn’t seem exactly the right description, I would not listen to it with children in the room.)

Both of these are really encouraging and worth listening to.

This story is pretty terrifying to me.

In speaking with PayPal they told me that because I don’t have a shipping code or proof of delivery for a tangible product, I’m not covered by their Seller Protection Policy….  The only resolution of the claim was that, well, the credit card company is going to side with their own customer. I never received a response as to what the outcome was after I had put my case forward and supplied evidence of receipt of the product and service. The full transaction amount remained deducted and there was nothing I could do about it.

My policy has to been to wait until a mailed check clears.  I’m sticking to it.

SF author and freelancer John Scalzi has recently been blogging about money issues for writers. He just posted a link to this great personal story of how one writer got into the business. She is more of a “pure” freelancer than I am, writing for publication under her own name. What’s odd about this is that she mentions The Well-Fed Writer which, according to my memory, didn’t encourage pursuing magazines. That was John Scalzi’s advice, which is why I now own a copy of The Writer’s Market, which I have never used to find work (Though I have found another project for which it is necessary. No. Not a door jam. Something to do with publishing.)

But maybe her story will convince me to try something new, even though my chance of breaking into the biological sciences journal industry is approximately zero.


About books about how to make money writing

Leveraging Literacy: advice to would-be commercial writers in the pastorate or some other job that needs economic augmentation

I hate to admit it, but talk of recession really scares me. But there are always winners in economic shake-ups.  News of the impending end of traditional media outlets might mean that those developing other sorts of marketing, especially in new media, might actually find new business. 

I used to work in a normal office with fellow workers in cubicles and rooms.

And I loved casual Fridays. I never wanted to dress up. Later, when I worked in an office by myself and had to go and visit people, I became aware of the help a “power tie” could offer. But I still preferred ultra casual.

Now I am a freelance commercial writer. I can dress down as much as I want on most days. Yet I increasingly find I hate being too casual. I prefer to avoid blue jeans for other more professional looking pants, and try to make sure my shirt at least has a collar.Why the change? As far as I can tell, I get a lot more work done if I dress like I’m working. For one thing, it provides a definitive start to my day. I walk out of the bedroom with a strong sense that I am now on the clock.

So I was glad to see that others think that dressing for work is an important key to productivity. Anna Goldsmith at Copyblogger includes, among her tips for successful freelancing, this gem:

Take off your pajamas. No, I’m not saying you should work naked, but dress like you’re going to the office. Because, guess what? You are. Even if your “office” is your kitchen table, putting on regular work clothes gets you into the right mind-set. It also makes it less embarrassing when the UPS man shows up in the middle of the afternoon.

Her other tips are great too!

By the way, one piece of advise about getting testimonials:  When you have a happy client, ask immediately for him to write a blurb you can use.