Print-on-Demand: The Bad



This is the second post in a series about print-on-demand publishing: namely programs like CreateSpace that allow authors to upload, format, and publish their books in both ebook format and a hard-copy version that is printed as customers purchase it. This is where we will begin to delve into the cons of this publishing style. To read the pros, click here.

This post will more specifically deal with the cons presented to talented/serious authors. Next week’s post, The Ugly, will deal with the problems that arise when someone who’s hardly even finished a school paper decides to wake up and write a book in a few weeks.

The Disadvantages of POD:

  1. The Stigma: No matter how good your material is, if you publish through a print-on-demand program, you will have to combat the stigma created by those folks I mentioned in reference to next week’s post. It’s not fair, but it’s true. But how will people know? Well, for one thing, say you publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book details will list your publisher as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Now, not everyone looks down there, but more and more people are learning to because they’ve been burned by print-on-demand books before. The price is usually another giveaway. Print-on-demand books go for less to draw in readership without the help of a major publisher pushing the book sales. Not a bad thing in itself (especially since traditionally published books’ price tags are getting ludicrous these days); just another flag to cautious readers. I guarantee you if a smart reader (I’m referencing reading affinity not IQ here) comes across a print-on-demand book with a premise that intrigues them, they are going to take a hard look at the sample before purchasing.

    Now, if that sample is well-written, thoroughly edited, and makes them want to read more, you can still make a sale. However, some people have grown wary of those samples, too, because it seems like some POD writers (typically those who charge higher prices for their books and have a plethora of reviews that are clearly paid for to cover up the atrocious, honest ones) just put a ton of effort into the beginning to make the sale and then let things slide downhill from there. Sometimes that just happens honestly, too. Many writers start out the story really strong because the passion for the story is high, but they can lose enthusiasm and focus along the way (it’s happened to me before). That’s what beta readers and editing are for, but POD lets you skip both of those.

    Of course, even if your material is able to speak for itself and earn you steady sales, you will still have to deal with the stigma within the writing community itself, which is entirely unfair. For more about my thoughts on that, read my post on Elitism in the Writing Community.

  2. Amateur Presentation: POD programs allow you to format the inside of your book and create the outer cover by yourself. Unless you have real design experience/talent though, I wouldn’t suggest it.

    Now, the inside formatting isn’t quite as important or difficult to nail as that cover, but it still counts for something. The problem with a lot of these programs is that either the ebook’s or the hard copy’s inner formatting suffers because usually only one file is created and then dumped into both mediums. In reality, you need two different file types and each one will need to be adjusted to fit properly on the page or on the screen. What often happens is that the ebook version flows nicely, but if someone orders the hard copy, the inside is all wonky: random, huge spaces between paragraphs or half of the lines are indented while the other half aren’t. Also, usually hard copies have a serif font and ebooks have a sans serif. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you open a hard copy and see a sans serif, something feels off. All of these little quirks just don’t look professional and gives a bad impression as someone thumbs through the book. If a book like that were pulled off a shelf rather than ordered online, it would be put down almost as fast as it was picked up.

    The cover of your book is what grabs your reader’s attention. There are millions of books out there, and yours has to stand out in a fraction of a second or it’s going to be overlooked. The covers you can create solely with a POD program are going to look like poop unless you’re some sort of wizard. At least purchase some good stock photos to work with. Honestly, you should hire a designer to do the cover. If you can, shell out the $100-$200 it takes for a good one. I worked with an author who hired an artist she liked, and I cannot tell you how many of her book reviews briefly mentioned how beautiful the cover was. I guarantee most of her sales were made because that cover was too gorgeous to look away from when scrolling through Amazon. After that, the content spoke for itself, and she has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

    Presentation matters, and POD in and of itself doesn’t allow you to create a professional impression. You have to go beyond the platform and hire outside help, but many times, authors are drawn in by how easy and inexpensive the whole process is and don’t take time to slow down and ask themselves if they’re doing right by their book. Which brings me to my next point.

  3. Too Easy?: The biggest problem with POD isn’t the programs or their mechanics, it’s how people use them. These programs make publishing so easy that anyone can do it with a few clicks of a mouse. You could finish the final edit of your book and have it published that same day, essentially. Publishing your work is exciting, and I fear many authors get caught up in the rush of “I can really do this all by myself!” and forget to slow down before clicking publish.

    When you’ve gone back and edited that second or third or fourth draft, that just means it’s time to hand it over to someone else, not time to publish. You’ve done what you can for the moment; now you have to see how others receive it. You have to get it vetted; ideally by beta readers and a professional editor. Now, I understand not everyone can afford to hire a professional editor, but please, people, at least take the time to contact some beta readers. Pretty much all of them do it for free or for very cheap. It’s usually a hobby they love doing (that can also give them fodder for their blogs), and it gives you outsider insight into whether your book is achieving everything you want it to achieve.If you can’t afford a real editor, for the love of God run it through a reputable spell-checking program. Your book is dead in the water if readers find too many typos in that sample. And don’t just accept every correction the program makes automatically, either. Those kinds of programs, especially ones that attempt to correct grammar, can do weird stuff to your sentences every now and then. Go through and check all the changes it made, and just know that it didn’t catch everything, I guarantee it. But hey, it’s going to be a hell of a lot cleaner.

Final Thoughts

SLOW DOWN is the main point I’m trying to get across, if you hadn’t noticed already. Take the time to evaluate your budget and see where you might be able to put in a little extra money to substitute the shortcomings of a POD program. If nothing else, take the time to allow others to vet your material and then do the necessary edits that result before even thinking about uploading it to a program. Don’t give in to the temptation of an easy fix, and allow the whole POD system to work for you, not against you. Your book deserves it.

Print-on-Demand: The Good



When I talked about Elitism in the Writing Community a few weeks ago, I mentioned print-on-demand publishing only briefly, deciding it was a large enough beast to tackle separately.

The world of print-on-demand publishing has exploded in recent years, and many writers look down on it with a wrinkled nose and a grimace … and not without justification. However, there are many layers to this publishing option, with a long string of benefits and detriments.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole operation, myself, so I thought I would do a little series of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Print-on-Demand Publishing. Today, let’s start off sunny and talk about the good.

The Biggest Benefits of POD:

  1. No Politics: Traditional publishing is dominated by the Big Five: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Now, all five of these have a bunch of imprints that specialize in different genres and whatnot, but when you think about how many people are trying to “make it” as writers and send their stuff to these giants, it is so easy for great books to fall through the cracks and get looked over. There are are nice number of smaller publishers (though the numbers are shrinking by the year), but they are usually very selective because they can only produce so many books per year. It’s hard enough for even a widely published short story author with a large platform and a good agent to get selected from among the pile of submissions, much less someone with no publishing history with a book that isn’t “mainstream.” The politics of this can be very frustrating. Just because it’s the first book you’ve submitted for publishing and you have a smaller following than someone else, your content shouldn’t get overlooked, but a lot of times it does.

    With POD, there’s no god-like authority figure to pick and choose who is worthy and who is not. You don’t have to wait for the luck of the draw for your book to be picked over another that is just as good and in the same genre.

  2. No Hoops: Getting traditionally published isn’t nearly as easy as just writing the book, editing it to perfection, and sending it off. Not by a long shot. Unless you want to end up in the dreaded slush pile that’s only ever ventured into by publishing house interns or assistant editors trying to prove their worth by nabbing a bestseller, you have to find an agent. To do so, you have to undergo a sort of application process, where you send a synopsis of the book, define who you think it’s marketed toward, prove that you have a platform and following of people who will buy your book, list books that are similar to yours that have done well, and provide the first thirty pages or so of the book, etc. You must send this out to many agents to actually land one. Agents mostly pick books subjectively with a knowledge of marketability in mind as well. They have to like the material to act as your champion, peddling your book to the Big Five.

    Once you land an agent, he or she has to go through the same process you just went through essentially, but about tenfold, sending it off to his or her connections in the industry and trying to get someone to bite.

    If you want to opt for a smaller publisher, a lot of times you don’t need an agent, but you have to do all of the legwork yourself, jumping through the many submission hoops and writing up a stellar proposal. Your proposal needs to be written just as well or better than your book itself. It’s an art, and it takes lots of practice to master.

    Many authors try traditional publishing first, but they aren’t familiar with the proposal process, they’ve had many agents all try to fundamentally change their book based on their own personal preference, or they’ve just never gotten responses either way and feel ignored. All of this is very discouraging, and eventually some folks say, “To hell with it.” In POD, there are no hoops. You just upload your very best into a program like CreateSpace, and you automatically have an ebook and a hard copy version.

  3. No Deep Pockets Required: This is what sells some authors on POD over the more traditional self-publishing option. In traditional publishing, the publishing house pays for all the expenses of producing and marketing the book. In regular self-publishing, the author carries the weight of those expenses. After you’ve paid for an eye-catching cover;  paid for a professional(s) to do a content edit, copy edit, and proofread; paid to have it formatted and printed; and paid for the marketing, your pockets will be significantly lighter. Now, I suppose you could find someone with lackluster or zero talent to do all of these things for dirt cheap, but that would be money wasted in my opinion.

    In POD, while it’s still a good idea to pay for an editor and marketing materials, the printing and formatting all happens through the free platform (they take a percentage of sales, but usually it’s no money immediately out of your pocket). I would suggest still hiring someone to design a cover, but you can do that yourself in the POD programs as well. Some also have an “auto-edit” program. This isn’t a real substitute for a professional, but if you really have no budget, it’s a handy tool to catch a lot of little stuff you might have missed. You should also always edit the hell out of the book yourself anyway. The point is that with POD all of the expenses can be taken away, and then you can pick and choose the things you want to put your budget toward.

    Ideally, you’d want to get professionals to do everything, but not everyone has that kind of money.

Final Thoughts

POD works really well as a sort of first step so long as you actually put real effort into making your story great. With a great story that’s been edited to the best it can be, the money and the politics shouldn’t have to matter. With POD, they don’t matter, and that’s the real beauty of it. It allows authors to get their work out there so they can begin to build a following that will look good to a publishing house. It allows authors with a great story but a very low budget to actually produce a book and display their talent to the world. POD isn’t going to make you filthy rich, but if your content is high quality and you work like mad person to get the word out about it, you can potentially make enough to pay to truly self-publish your next book.

In short, when used correctly, POD is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. The problem is, it’s very easy for people to use it incorrectly and stain the name of writers everywhere. But that’s a subject for a future post.

Dos and Don’ts of Twitter Cold Pitching

Dos and Don'ts


Last week I posted about my success with the 90-Day Pitch Challenge. So this week, as promised, I’m going to talk about how I used Twitter to successfully reach out to prospective clients with cold pitches. For the challenge, I did a mix of cold pitches and regular applications to jobs posted on job boards. Almost every single person I sent a cold pitch to, I found on Twitter.

I hadn’t planned it that way, but it ended up being the best way to reach my desired clientele. Now, I did send some cold pitches to websites like Screenrant and other sites I read on a regular basis to try and land a gig as a web content proofreader, and I didn’t need Twitter for that. So, if you are looking to work with a business or established site, you probably won’t need to use Twitter—you can just google the type of business you want, go to the website, and find the careers page. But I work with authors, and authors’ sites don’t have a careers pages. I can’t just Google “fantasy author” or “author official site” either. I would only get big time authors who already have publishing houses and the editors that go with them. So I used Twitter as a tool to not only find writers, but find the appropriate contact information to best reach them.

You may remember Anne, PurpleInkPen’s first official client, from my last post. Well, I found her through Twitter. It does work, so long as you approach it in the right way.
So here are some Dos and Don’ts of pitching through Twitter.

Do use it as a database:

Twitter is a searchable database of millions of potential clients. You can insert terms related to your specialty right into the search bar, and then manipulate the search tabs to search people with those terms in their tweets, twitter name, or description. Once you’ve found your first handful of people to pitch (which hardly takes a minute or two) the real work starts.

Don’t use DM unless you absolutely have to:

Be honest, how often do your read or pay attention to your direct messages on Twitter? Most of the stuff I receive through DMs is rather spammy. DM’s are usually never directly addressed to anyone because they are sent out en masse to all new followers. Also, I follow a lot of authors on my Twitter because it’s the nature of my business, and plenty of them have automatic DMs that basically just toot the author’s own horn or practically beg me to buy their book on Amazon. The point is, I hardly glance at my DMs, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Something has to catch my eye (like maybe my name at the beginning of the message) for me to keep reading, and it sometimes takes me a while to actually click into them to make the notifications go away because I just don’t care.

Now, I did send a few DM pitches myself, but I did as much research as I could about the person I was pitching beforehand. If I had to DM it usually meant they didn’t have an official website. Sometimes they had a site but just not a contact page. Still, I read their tweets and saw what they were working on so that I could personalize the DM and try to catch their attention. However, I didn’t receive a response back from over half of them. It’s just not very effective, so avoid it if you can.

Do use it as a tool to find contact info:

The beauty of social media these days is that everyone links all of their media outlets together as much as possible. Authors link to their webpages, blogs, and books on Amazon in their Twitter description. Booyah!

There’s no excuse to send a DM when you can easily click on the person’s webpage link and contact them through email with a subject line that will catch their eye. If you send a pitch through a contact form on a website or blog, I guarantee it will at least be looked at. I know that I always check notification emails from my blog and emails from my business website’s contact forms right away.

Just make sure you actually read the About page at the very least. Come on, you have a whole site full of knowledge about the person, what they are working on, and what makes them tick. Don’t squander it. A good pitch is personalized. I always mentioned the person’s latest book in my pitch, whether it was already published or (even better) if they were currently working on it (the best is when you find a recent post that says “Yipee, I just finished the last chapter of my first draft!”). Twitter can open the door to all of the knowledge necessary to write a crazy good pitch.

Don’t get sidetracked:

The downside to using Twitter is that it is a social media platform, a.k.a the leading time-suck currently in existence that will suck you down into a black hole and spit you out an hour later, groggy and disoriented, watching a video of a cat dressed as pirate “singing” the Spongebob theme song. Please, for the love of God, stay on task! Resist the CuteEmergency tweets! Don’t even look at your own feed. Keep yourself trained on those search results and jump from the person’s Twitter page to their official site as quickly as possible.

Do use it to establish a connection:

If you’re going to HAVE to send a DM, you need to interact with the person’s feed first. I know, I know, I just said don’t get sidetracked, so how can I tell you to scroll through a possible client’s feed? Well, if you have self-control issues, you may not want to do this, but hopefully you can manage it. It’s research. Just shut your eyes against the funny and cute tweets and focus on the ones that relate to the business you want to do with this person.

I prefer to go to the person’s official page and react to what I read there in my pitch. However, not everyone has an official site. For instance, I may find someone who says in their Twitter description that they are the author of an upcoming book, but they don’t have any links in it. First, I google the hell out of their name, attaching it to “author” “writer” “book” and “.com.” If nothing pops up, that means they don’t have an official page yet (really, they should have had one well before now if the book is coming out in a month, but I digress). Then, I start scrolling through the Twitter feed. You don’t have to like every single tweet (please don’t, that’s super creepy). Pick one that actually says something interesting, asks a question, etc. and reply to it. Liking isn’t nearly as effective as replying. When they see your name on that DM, they probably won’t remember that you liked that one tweet. However, if you started a conversation with them, they will be far more likely to remember you and actually read what you sent.

So long as you’re using Twitter as a tool rather than a pastime, it’s the perfect cold pitching device if your clientele isn’t easily Googleable … is that a word, because it should be? People use social media, blogs, and websites to display to the world who they are and what they are doing, and Twitter helps you to uncover all of that information so that you can write a pitch the potential client will actually care about. Personalizing a pitch shows the recipient that you cared enough to spend a little time learning about them and reading their stuff. If you can personalize a pitch well enough that the recipient actually opens it and reads it all the way to the end, you’re ahead of the game. That’s what Twitter can help you do.

90-Day Pitch Challenge: Completed

Pitch Challenge

Today marks the final day in the 90-day pitch challenge I started alongside the launch of my official licensed business, PurpleInkPen, on May 1st. The challenge came from Gina Horkey and her site Horkey Handbook. You may remember Gina from my Expert Roundup post a little while back. The idea of the challenge (which you can find here) is simply to write up a pitch template or two and start looking for work: whether it be on job boards or through a cold pitch (politely approaching a client you think may want your services even if they haven’t got a job post listed). Gina suggested sending out ten pitches every weekday for ninety days.

At the end of my ninety days, I’m ecstatic over the results. This month, my income broke into the four-figure mark for the first time! I now have multiple recurring, long-term clients I love working with who are actually paying me professional rates. Sort of makes me wonder why I putzed around for nearly a year only working one job at a time. When I launched PurpleInkPen, I upped my prices from (decent) beginner rates to professional ones. I sadly had to let one long-time client go because he couldn’t match my new rates. So, starting off I was down a client and nervous beyond belief, but that only made me throw myself into Gina’s challenge harder, and it definitely paid off.

Here’s a month-to-month breakdown of how it went.

May 2016

I came out swinging in May, scouring job boards for posted gigs and Twitter for cold pitch prospects (next week I plan to outline how I successfully used Twitter to land clients). I was also reading two books on traditional freelance writing at the time (see what I learned from them here and here), so I looked for magazines to pitch articles to, as well. In addition, I was taking a course to become a certified professional book editor.

Needless to say, I worked my butt off. For the first two weeks or so, I held to the ten-pitch-a-day idea hard. However, since I wasn’t just cold pitching, I was running into applications (not to mention the course work for my certification) that slowed my progress, and for the rest of May I made my rule five pitches minimum and ten maximum. I slowed down because some job applications made me fill out paragraphs and link to past work, and just needed a whole lot of adjustment to my already customizable templates, even though I ended up creating about ten of them for all sorts of common scenarios I was running into. I highly recommend having multiple templates and creating more as you go. I had three specialties I was pitching (book editing, ghostwriting, and web content proofing), and I had a cold pitch template and a cover letter template for each. I then added extra tweaks to them as I went. For instance, I had a book editing cold pitch template for people who were editors as well as writers; the approach was slightly different.

Gina’s challenge isn’t just to pitch, though. Part of it is to follow up on each pitch as well. So, I pitched during the day and followed up at night. I had templates for follow ups, too. I kept track of everything in a journal. I wrote down who I’d pitched/which jobs I’d applied for, when I had sent the pitch/application, what the client needed, and the contact method I’d used (sometimes I had to contact clients through a blog contact form instead of email, or even Twitter direct message when I found no other alternative). Then, I kept track of who I had followed up with, who had said no, and who had said they didn’t need me just yet but would hold my information for the future.

I also pitched a feature article to a magazine and wrote an essay that I submitted for inclusion in an anthology.

I didn’t record any yes’s! I started to panic. I was working from about 9 to 6, hunting down clients, outlining possible guest posts, writing up articles, blogging, following up, and just generally emailing like a madwoman … and nothing.

June 2016

Third day of June, I landed my first client: a very talented literary fiction author by the name of Anne Leigh Parrish who needed proofreading services for a short story collection she was thinking of publishing and the first fifty pages of a novel she wanted to send to a literary agent she was already in touch with.

It happened so fast that I was in shock. Even though I’d had plenty of other clients before, this was a new triumph. Anne became PurpleInkPen’s first client, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better one. I got paid a professional rate to read some truly wonderful stories. That’s living the dream, right there.

I kept pitching while I worked for Anne, but I only did five a day. Even though I slowed down my pitching, my work load increased. Other clients I’d pitched in May started responding to my follow ups. I landed two long term ghostwriting jobs that I’m still working to this day. For the first, I write simple reviews on various products: anti-aging creams, pet products, and even the occasional testosterone booster (based on web research without actually testing it myself, obviously). The second is an expert on substance abuse recovery who has hired me to help him write a book for parents of children who are addicted to drugs. It’s a very interesting subject, and the client is one of those super enthusiastic people who leave you feeling like you’re down to run a marathon every time you finish up a conversation with them.

After those two clients came on board, even though I kept aiming for five pitches a day, I really didn’t have time to send out more than three.

July 2016

In July, my work for Anne was wrapping up, but my two ghostwriting clients amped up the workload. Instead of ten reviews a week, I started doing fifteen to twenty. The substance abuse expert asked me to copy edit his blog posts in addition to writing the book.

My pitching has become sporadic at best this month. I’m tired at the end of the day (mentally, not physically … I sit at a desk), but it’s a good tired. I really don’t feel guilty about neglecting my pitches simply because I cannot take on anymore work. Why? Well, pitches I sent in MAY are still paying off. A company who put me on their backup list of authors has hired me to write a nonfiction book for teens. I have authors who are finishing up books planning to use me as their copy editor when they’re done. I have people contacting me through my LinkedIn page because of comments I’ve posted in writers’ forums.

If I were to keep pitching at a steady pace, I feel it would be unfair to the potential clients I was pitching, especially if I was responding to job boards. People on job boards need the work done now, often with strict deadlines, and I wouldn’t be able to provide it if they picked me. However, I do plan to keep doing cold pitches when I get time every now and then. A cold pitch can put me on a client’s radar before they actually need me. After one of my current jobs is done, I’ll pick it back up more regularly because I’ll actually have a time slot available.

Gina, if you happen to read this, thank you! This challenge paired perfectly with the next step in my career, and it gave me a structure around which to succeed. This challenge is the reason I’ve broken the four-figure barrier.

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer or if you’re already a freelancer and want something to boost you to new heights, I strongly suggest you try out this challenge. If you can actually manage to send out ten pitches every day of the challenge and handle the inflow of client work you’re bound to get, you’re a superhuman and I want to know how you did it.

If you have no idea how to write a pitch, Gina can help you there, too. Here’s a link to her Ultimate Pitching Template. I definitely saw a boost in initial responses (aka getting a response without having to follow up) when I melded my first pitch templates with tips from hers.

Tomorrow is the first of August. New month, new opportunity. If you’re a freelancer or you want to be, start the challenge and get pitching! It really does make a difference.



Elitism in the Writing Community


Since becoming a freelance writer and editor, I’ve interacted with many self-publishing authors. Some become clients, and they send me their manuscripts to make sure that they produce the best product possible. They work hard, and they are good writers. Some have best-seller potential in my opinion (but, hey, what do I know, right?). That’s why it infuriates me that authors such as these are looked down on in the writing community.

As I started growing my business, I took all of the experts’ advice and started networking. When I created my LinkedIn profile and joined multiple writer discussion groups, I really started to see this elitism rear its ugly head in nearly every thread. Mostly, it’s an underlying tone, but sometimes it’s downright rude. The most common perpetrators of the outright displays are people in their late forties or older who have been traditionally published in the past. I suppose this makes sense, as these people became writers in an era where self-publishing was basically unheard of. But the reality is that the number of publishing houses is shrinking significantly, and the houses that are still kicking have smaller staffs and take on fewer books even though the number of submissions they get hasn’t diminished at all, but rather swelled because there are fewer options for authors to submit to. Traditional publishing starts with great writing talent, no doubt about it, and requires extreme perseverance, but breaking in essentially comes down to the luck of the draw. One fabulous author is chosen while countless others in the same genre who are equally as fabulous get overlooked or rejected. So those authors who have been rejected again and again, while seeing books that are equally as good as theirs appear on bookstore shelves, turn to other options that are now available to them in this generation. The game has changed, but the mentality hasn’t caught up.

Maybe I should take the time here to define what I mean by self-publishing. This is when the author sends the book to beta readers for critique, pays to have it professionally edited, pays to have it printed, pays for the promotion, sets up their own press coverage and appearances, and generally captains the whole process. It’s damn hard, and it isn’t cheap, and to take it on you have to really believe in your book and its potential to be great. It shouldn’t be confused with print-on-demand where the author uses a tool like CreateSpace to format and produce ebooks at little or no cost out of pocket for the author. Print-on-demand is a whole different beast. On one hand, it allows great authors who have a lower budget and have been discouraged by the traditional routes’ nitpicky rules and inner circle bubble an outlet to grow their platform and funds. On the other hand, it allows people to publish without the much-needed vetting system and with no financial consequences, which can lead to really (and I mean REALLY) crappy books being published, which helps to spur on the elitist mentality. But I digress. Print-on-demand is a big enough topic for its own series of posts.

My point is, regardless of which route an author chooses, they should be treated with the same amount of respect. But the reality is that self-published or print-on-demand authors are judged by people who haven’t even read their work. A self-published or POD author’s friends and family probably think she’s hot stuff (and she is!) for writing a published book, but when that same author tells a community of writers about her book and then sees their enthusiasm and encouragement drain off their faces and out of their words when she says she’s self-published or “indie”, it makes that author feel inferior. It makes her feel as though her work is sub-par because a big house didn’t pick it up, and if a big house didn’t love it, then it must be mediocre garbage. Right? Wrong!

What bothers me most is that this elitism isn’t just geared toward authors who have finished and published a book. The worst of these elitist assholes go after beginners!

In one of those LinkedIn forums I was talking about, a beginner writer asked about platforms where he could post his stuff online. He said he wasn’t worried about money, he just wanted to see what others thought of his work. Now, in this post, he said he had short stories to share, but then he asked what platform would allow him to post chapters in installments. So, it was a little unclear if he wanted to post short stories or a novel or both. Either way, I told him about the site I’m currently using, Channillo, because you can post both short stories and novels there. A man whose snarky comments I had noticed on other posts commented simply, “Short stories have chapters?” He then commented on my post about Channillo saying, “I think Hannah has missed the point.” Oh really, jackass? I answered the question. You responded with a smartass comment that didn’t explain anything to this beginner who was just looking for support. I told him so in a more civilized way, asking him why he thought I’d “missed the point.” He said that this poster shouldn’t be writing and sending out his work if he didn’t even know the proper terminology yet. So terminology is the precursor for writing a good story? Really? Tell me more.

Then, some other people (all middle aged or older) started saying that this smartass knew what he was talking about because he had an impressive resume in the traditional publishing industry. That doesn’t excuse the fact that, one, he commented on a post where he didn’t have the answer the writer was seeking, and, two, he didn’t correct the poster in a way that taught him anything. I agree that this young man needs to be clear on whether he’s writing a short story or novel and know that even bigger short stories don’t really have “chapters.” But why can’t you just say that? A nice traditional publishing resume isn’t a license to be a jerk.

Even more recently, I posted my own question on a forum that was a sort of a survey about which type of editing writers prefer to have. I stated that I was a freelance editor and curious about the responses. The first woman to comment rambled on about how a real editor needs to have experience at a publishing house or else they really don’t know what they are doing. (So I suppose I’m not a real editor. Oh shucks.) She also said that she had such experience, so she edited all her own stuff. She never answered my question. Surprise, surprise. I pressed her for a real answer and got a long-winded response about how she got published as a journalist at 19 and has been getting published for thirty years, so she doesn’t need outside help and nobody sees her work before it’s published except the publishing house editor (Sort of a contradiction. Do you edit all your own stuff entirely or do you have it edited at a publishing house?) At the end she gave me a blip saying she preferred content editing. Thanks for the bread crumb after the preachy lecture.

Now, this woman’s history in publishing was impressive, and if she had actually engaged me in a conversation and answered my question in an educated and friendly manner, I would have admired her. Instead, I found myself wanting to smack the smug smile off her face in her profile thumbnail. I also found myself saying, “Who the hell are you?” I had never heard her name in my life. I guess getting your stuff traditionally published doesn’t automatically make you J.K. Rowling. Who knew, right? What I can pretty much guarantee you is that J.K. Rowling would have actually answered my question the first time and wouldn’t have talked down to me.

Really, people, this has to stop. Writers should be supporting each other. It’s hard enough battling your own self-doubt about your work without somebody who has achieved the ultimate writer dream of getting traditionally published (not having to pay anything out of pocket, charging full price for your book, and not having to shell out money on heavy promotional material) putting you down before even reading your material. If you see elitism in online forums or anywhere else, please put those jerks in their place. If we keep allowing them to steamroll us because of their accolades, they’re just going to keep doing it.

A Freelance Time Management Guide That Doesn’t Suck

Expert Roundup(1)


My husband has been bugging me to make a time management post for a while now because he has no idea how I work from home and stay on task. He’s a procrastinating perfectionist, which makes for a very difficult combo for time management. He’s either avoiding doing tasks by watching TEDtalks or other “teaching” videos, or he’s taking three hours on a task that should take thirty minutes because he’s started over five times because it wasn’t “good enough” the first four times.

Time management has always come naturally to me. There were only about five times in my entire high school and college career that I was late on an assignment. And no, that’s not hyperbole. So, I’m going to pluck out things I do in my daily work routine and explain them here in the hopes that they will help someone.

But I’m going to try and avoid all the lame shit that you see listed over and over again in short little SEO-laden blips on sites like Buzzfeed. AKA:  Get off social media, Make a list, Take a break. Whoop de doo! Thanks for the five minute procrastination break, Buzzfeed.  Yeah, I’m going to talk about lists, but I’m not going to just tell you to make one, I’m going to tell you how to make an effective one.

Make the Workday a Routine

Routine and scheduling create habits. Habits keep you on task. Always set your alarm for the same time every weekday morning, and get up as soon as it goes off. It’s so easy to hit snooze and say, “I have all day.” Don’t do it! Those little snooze breaks only make you sleepier and set a procrastinating tone for the whole day. I don’t care how you do it—put the alarm in the hall and make it cluck like a chicken on crack if you have to—just make yourself get up when it goes off.

Eat lunch at the same time. Take all your breaks at the same time. My first break of the day is walking my dog, and the last one of the day is taking my dog to the park to play with her buddies. Since I created a routine for her as a puppy (to inhibit potty accidents as much as possible), she now knows what time we do those things, and she whines to go at the same time everyday, keeping me on schedule. Habits stick once you make them. Now, if doing the same thing for a break everyday sounds terribly monotonous to you, mix it up, I don’t care. It will still work so long as you take the breaks at the same time. The point is that once you’ve created the routine, your brain subconsciously knows how much time you have to complete tasks. It also begins to associate those times with working and will be less likely to wander or constantly whine for a break.

Give yourself thirty minute windows for when you start those breaks so that if you’re booking it through a task, you don’t just have to stop and move onto break time like a pre-programmed robot.

Have a cut-off time for your workday. Mine is six o’clock. That’s when my husband gets off work and I start making dinner. After that, I’m done. Now, I’m a freelancer, so the work isn’t ever actually done. For instance, I answer emails all throughout the day, but I don’t do any heavy lifting after six. If you don’t have a cut off, you’ll burn out. It also gives you a deadline for getting the day’s tasks complete. If you procrastinated in the morning, you will have to bust your butt in the afternoon to meet your cutoff. After a few times of sweating it out that way, you’ll begin to learn your lesson and readjust. If not, maybe freelancing isn’t the lifestyle for you.

Make a To-Do List You Actually Use

You can make to-do lists for each day, for your annual goals, for the week, or for the month, but they only produce results if you use them correctly.

First, put the to-do list somewhere that you see it all the time. Mine is in the journal I use to keep all of my business things organized. A list of my sent and followed-up on pitches are in there. Outlines for articles I’m writing are in there. Notes from my recent book editor certification course are in there. The point is, I open that journal multiple times a day. You can put yours next to your computer or on your computer. I work best with handwritten lists. I don’t like having tons of documents pulled up at once on my desktop or having to search through files whenever I want to pull up a to-do list. I’d rather just pull it across the table, but that’s me.

Create a consistent visual way of marking off completed tasks. Sounds simple, but so effective. I create check boxes on my handwritten lists. There is a sense of accomplishment when I put checks in those boxes. If that sounds terribly boring, use Pokemon stickers or multicolored pens when you make yours, just do something that makes the list look more complete by completing tasks. Unchecked boxes haunt me. Maybe you really want to use that Squirtle sticker. But ha! Can’t do it until you complete that task.

Just make sure you aren’t spending more time on crafting your list than doing the tasks. Don’t sit there and wrack your brain trying to think of all the things you could possibly need to do today and write them out in painstakingly neat handwriting where every letter is written in a different color pen. Jot down the main tasks you need to complete for client’s first, and then scribble out anything else that pops into your head throughout the day as it comes to you. A list shouldn’t be another way to procrastinate.

Birds of a Feather

Good time management is all about manipulating your brain into being its most productive. One way to do that is not to make it juke from one type of task to the next.

At the moment I’m writing this, I have two long term clients who are giving me lots of consistent work each week. Client A needs 15-20 product reviews written and proofread. Client B needs a 200 page book ghostwritten and proofread, along with blog posts that need copyediting. So, both clients require writing and editing.

Your brain works better if you keep it on one task until it’s complete, especially in writing. Any writer knows that it takes a few minutes to get in gear when you first sit down at the computer. Then, once you get cooking with grease, the words fly out of the keyboard. Why stop in the middle of that process and make your brain readjust to an editing task or even a different writing task that requires a different style? It slows you down big time.

Sometimes I complete Client A’s writing and then move to Client B’s writing. Other times I complete Client A’s writing and editing before I move to Client B’s writing and editing. It just depends on how fried my brain is. Sometimes I can’t write two different pieces right after each other. But I still keep birds of a feather together by staying within the same client’s work. However, if I do this, I usually take a break before I edit the piece I just wrote so that I can get some distance from it. That’s why I prefer the method of writing both, taking a break, and then editing both.

Do the Math

Let’s stick with my current clients as examples. Client A has set deadlines. Each batch of reviews must be done in one week. Client B has let me take the deadline reins entirely, so I’ve created my own deadline of a chapter a week (just the rough draft right now). Really, they’re pretty short and I can do them in three days, not five, but I have allotted some extra time for the client to send me the necessary materials because he’s very busy.

Setting your own deadlines can be difficult when you’re first starting because it requires you to estimate how long each task will take you. If you get a client who has no set deadline, though, it usually means they are more laid back. That means you can set a longer deadline that you know you can make without the client freaking out. Then, if you turn things in earlier, the client thinks you’re a badass. They have no idea you miscalculated; they just think you work super fast.

So why am I jabbering on about deadlines? Because they help you determine how much progress you have to make on each assignment every day. If Client A sends me a batch of fifteen products to review, I have to do at least three a day. I prefer to do more earlier in the week so that the last day can be allotted entirely to editing the reviews. If Client B still hasn’t sent me his notes for the chapter by Tuesday afternoon, I know I need to email him a reminder because I need three days to write and edit the chapter. If I have a client who needs a manuscript edited in two weeks, I have to divide the number of manuscript pages by the number of days I have to complete it to figure out how many pages I have to edit per day.

See where this is going? It’s not rocket science. It’s simple arithmetic, but it’s the single most important time management tip, in my opinion. Knowing the minimum amount of work you have to do for each client each day let’s you know if you are behind or ahead of schedule, so you can adjust accordingly. Sometimes shit happens and you get behind. If that happens, just recalculate your daily task. If you’re ahead of schedule, that means you’re going to have a little free time on Friday. I would suggest not taking that “free time” until the last day. Start your weekend early rather than taking a longer break during the week. Longer breaks put a crack in your schedule and can incite a downward spiral in the day’s progress.

If You Made It This Far …

Thanks for reading! I think I’ve gone on long enough. I hope I told you at least one thing you haven’t heard a million times. Let me know which tip was the most helpful to you. Do you have any time management tricks that I didn’t mention here? Let me know in the comments.

Hopefully tomorrow you can go kick Monday’s butt.




5 Reasons I Love My Communications Minor

5 Tips(1)

When I signed up for classes at my Freshman orientation, I knew I wanted to be an English major. There was never any doubt. As for my minor, I did what everyone told me I should do and chose Education. Freshman year, it didn’t matter, because I was getting all my gen. eds. out of the way. Sophomore year, it only took one semester of Education classes to know it wasn’t for me. I didn’t hate those classes, by any means, but I found no joy in them either. So, I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do. It took a whole other semester, but I finally settled on Communications after going through the class listings and realizing that much of Communications is about writing.

Here are 5 reasons why I couldn’t be happier with that choice:

  1. Expanding Your Range: This is ultimately the reason I chose Communications, and it’s how I always answered the question, “Why did you choose Communications?” during those time-killing introduction exercises nearly all the professors do on the first day of class. Communications will teach you how to write a wide variety of things, not just academic papers or literature. I learned how to write for newspapers and television news. I learned to write press releases, pitch letters, and advisories. Those last three are very lucrative skills if you actually enjoy them. People/companies pay through the nose for a great press release. Most importantly for me, though, I not only learned the format and the tone of how to write them, but I learned the persuasion principles that make them so effective. Comes in handy in my blind pitches and applications.
  2.  AP Style: AP is the style guide of the business world and of Communications courses. It is also the style guide for most magazines. That makes it a very important style guide to a freelance writer. Now, I only minored in Communications, and personally I find AP Style to be way too nit-picky. So do I know it like the back of my hand as I do MLA (the style guide of English courses) or even Chicago? No. Still, I am familiar with it, and it allows me to apply to a lot more jobs.
  3. Multi-Media: Communications courses are tailored for journalists, and the big thing in journalism in the technology age when newspapers and other older journalistic outlets are dying a slow and painful death is having multi-media skills. The journalist who stands out is the one who can research, write, film, and edit her own television clip, and take a few nice pictures, too, in case the editor wants to post them on the website. In my courses, I learned how to film and edit a news segment. I learned how to record and edit a sound byte for radio. I learned how to use the program InDesign, which is a majorly helpful tool in formatting books. I designed posters (one design was actually used around Chattanooga for an event) and fancy resumes and websites, all of which have helped me effectively sell myself in my freelancing career, especially recently.
  4. Interview Skills: The raging introvert in me would love nothing more than for me to become a hermit who never leaves her house except to run errands and who only talks to her husband and their families. Alas, that isn’t good at all for someone who now runs an official licensed business from home. That’s why I’m so grateful for the interview skills my Communications courses gave me. I hated the assignments that required interviews. They actually terrified me. But, I’m a hard-core goody-two-shoes who always does her homework, so I was forced to do them. And once I actually sat down with the person and started asking my questions, I wasn’t scared anymore and I learned something invaluable. I know how to ask open-ended questions to get the best answers. I know how to properly quote sources. I know how to interview in person and over the phone. I know what kinds of questions to ask for different pieces. If you want to write articles for magazines as a freelancer, you MUST know how to interview. If I hadn’t been “forced” to interview people in a school setting where it “didn’t really count,” I never would have done it and I would never have had the confidence or the know-how to talk to a ghostwriting client about what they want their book to be. I wouldn’t know how to get the answers to personal questions I sometimes need answers to in order to fill out a non-fiction book. I wouldn’t know how to steer the conversation back to the point while talking to an energetic client who keeps going off on rabbit trails. If there is one thing you need to get a book or take a course on before becoming a freelance writer, it’s interviewing.
  5. The Bleed-Through: So many of my Communications courses bled into my English courses. This probably wouldn’t have been the case if I only focused on English Literature, but I have an English Writing Degree, so I took a number of courses on the publishing world and writing persuasively, or “with style.” At the same time I was learning to analyze and write papers on ad copy in a rhetoric class, I was learning to write that ad-style copy in a Communications course. While I was learning how to adapt to different writing styles in an English course, I was learning to write entirely different kinds of styles in a Communications course. I had an English course on editing and publishing and a Communications course on design that both touched on typography (the study of fonts … riveting, I know, but surprisingly useful) and formatting.

If you’re in school, thinking about going back to school, or debating what online/certification courses you should look into, Communications is definitely something you want to consider if you are even remotely interested in freelance writing. If you’re already an English major and you don’t want to be a teacher, know there is something else that pairs just as well. Communications is the perfect minor for the English major who wants to actually be able to get out of college and land any sort of job that requires writing, because you’ll have the skills to write just about anything by the time you get that degree in your hand.

5 Tips to Ease Perpetual Proposal Pain


Freelancing allows you to work from the comfort of your own couch, let’s you choose your own assignments and lunch breaks, and can be done while wearing pajamas. There are plenty of perks. But freelancing is a job, and every job has its downsides. One of the biggest headaches is sending out countless applications, advertisements, proposals, and pitches.

When you freelance, you are your own boss, but you have to find your own clients or you’ll basically be the boss of nothing. This means constantly scouring job boards for work that fits your niche and sending out feelers to potential clients who don’t even know they need you yet. So, as a freelancer you are constantly writing up proposals and pitches, filling out the same info about yourself and what you do while trying to tailor each one to the specific job/individual.

I have to do this even more often than some freelancers because I work on manuscripts (either editing them or ghostwriting them), and even the most seasoned writers usually don’t have more than two manuscripts completed or outlined in a year. So, each editing job I land usually only lasts two months tops (more like two to three weeks for a proofread) and each ghostwriting job, six months tops (and the paychecks are well spread out). To make a solid income, I usually need to have three clients at a time at all times. That means tons of marketing and applying, and it can be exhausting, especially if you don’t use some tricks to cut back on the time consumption.

So, without further ado, here are five tips to ease the perpetual proposal pain:

  1. Templates: This is the big kahuna. If you don’t have a template, you’re going to lag fast and hard. I’m not saying slap a generic template into every pitch or application. In fact, never do that. A generic Dear Sir/Madam in a blind pitch is rightly viewed as spam and your emails will end up in that dreaded folder. The key to making a template that doesn’t feel like a template is to only fill in the things you keep finding yourself saying over and over anyways and then leave blanks for things that ought to be personalized. To do this, you will have to send a few applications and pitches from scratch to see the things that always come up. Obviously, in an application you need a brief paragraph detailing your skill set/relevant background. If you have a niche, some skills will apply to every application you submit. Fill those into a template so you never have to type “I’m familiar with Chicago, MLA, and APA style guides” ever again. With a blind pitch, you should always have a brief section about why the client needs your service and what it will provide them, and then a brief description of who the hell you are. The part of your template that should have the most blanks is the opening paragraph. That is where you personalize the message to the job you are applying for or the person/business you are pitching. It is where you prove that you’ve read the want ad and/or done your research on the accomplishments and needs of the client. Having only one paragraph to fill in is a hell of a lot better than having to type up the exact same sentences over and over and having to worry about proofreading them each time. (P.S. If you aren’t proofreading your proposals and pitches, somebody ought to bonk you on the head like in a V8 commercial.)
  2. Set a Goal: In order to keep up consistent work, you have to pitch and apply consistently. Right around the time I was launching PurpleInkPen, I took up Gina Horkey’s 90 Day Pitch Challenge. (In case you don’t remember, Gina was one of the lovely ladies in my recent Expert Roundup.) Her challenge is to send ten pitches every day for ninety days. I will detail my experience with the challenge at the end of this month, but I can tell you now that having a set number of pitches to do definitely motivated me. You need to keep track of the pitches you send anyway, so one thing that gave me an extra boost was to write out the numbers 1-10 (Or, when I started getting overwhelmed with work on top of pitching, 1-5) in my notebook in the morning. It’s disappointing to see unused spaces at the end of the day, at least to me (I hate wasting lines in my nice journals), so I wrote out the numbers to motivate me to fill in the lines.
  3. Set Aside a TimeThe best way to ensure that you don’t slack off on your pitching is to make it a habit, and one of the best ways to do that is to make it part of your routine. When I first started focusing on pitching, I didn’t have much client work on my plate, so I did mine first thing in the morning, and I made lunch my reward for finishing. Then I did follow ups on past pitches between 3:00 and 4:00 pm and took my puppy to the dog park when I was done. Once the pitches started working (yippee!), and I got slammed with work, I lowered my daily goal and relegated pitching to early afternoon. Setting a time frame made me keep my butt in front of my computer and get the darn things done so I could get to the next part of my day (whether it was taking the moaning and groaning puppy to the park or making dinner).
  4. Apply to What You Want: One of the time-sucking things I found myself doing was applying to anything and everything that even remotely had to do with writing or editing, even if the job sounded like it might lead to chaotic hours, covered a subject I knew nothing about and didn’t want to, or paid less than the rates I had set for myself. Why did I do this? It’s simple. I was worried about money. My husband, who worked overtime while I was in college, is currently going to school for an AutoCAD certification, and it cuts back on his work hours. I thought it only fair that I fully supplement that income he is losing, since he worked overtime to allow me to quit my waitressing job to finish my last year and a half of college. So, I started seeing figures in my head and I panicked. I needed money now, so why not apply to every writing/editing job with a paycheck out there, right? Wrong. Applying to those jobs was time consuming because I often had to add a lot to or completely rework my templates because the jobs were outside my niche. The greatest thing about freelancing is that you choose your own assignments, and I was sacrificing that in a nervous grab for a  paycheck. I didn’t land any of those jobs. The time I spent laboring over those applications could have been spent taking a little extra time to seek out jobs that were a great fit.
  5. Remember the Silver Lining: At the end of the day, if you are a freelancer, your job rocks. Yeah, it can be unbelievably nerve-wracking and you have to put in a lot of effort, but that effort is going toward something you actually enjoy doing. You get to work on what you want, when you want to, and most people at “traditional” jobs can’t say that. When you start to get a headache from all those proposal and pitch submissions, look down at yourself. What are you wearing? I bet it isn’t panty hose or a suit. One time I stopped in the middle of sending an email and realized, “I’m conducting business in a bathrobe with a wet towel on my head.” That was the moment I realized I’m a badass. If you’re a freelancer, you are too. Don’t forget it.

Who Does No. 2 Work For?: The Editor, Writer Relationship

No. 2

I recently got an interesting response back on one of my blind pitches. Through the pitch, I asked an author who had a mystery series in the works—let’s call him M—if he would like a copy editor. His response was that he was interested but since he was the PIC, he wanted to be able to set the “agenda and style.”

Now I stared at that acronym, PIC, for quite a while, wondering what in the hell it meant. I tried googling it and came up with a whole lot of explanations that didn’t make sense,  like Partner in Crime and Pharmaceutical Inspection Convention. At last, I came upon Person in Charge, and it clicked. It made sense because M had also sent me a long list of questions I was to answer, with the remark that “the right answers will be credentials enough.”

I have no problem answering questions to prove my ability. In fact, I have encouraged writers to do so when deciding on a freelance editor. However, the nature of M’s questions raised a red flag. But more on that in a bit. First let’s talk about that term, PIC.

While the author should be the person in charge of their creative work, that isn’t the attitude you want to go into editing with. It suggests an “I’m always right” attitude that neither the writer nor the editor should have. You’re not always right about comma placement or whether a long, complex sentence full of commas and semicolons makes sense to the reader. That’s why you’re hiring an editor. Reversely, an editor is not always right when enforcing a rule, as it could unintentionally alter the writer’s intended meaning for a sentence. The writer and editor have to understand and listen to each other. A relationship has to be formed in order for the book to profit. The writer must acknowledge the editor’s expertise, and the editor must acknowledge the writer’s creative freedoms.

When I finish a proofread or copy edit for a manuscript, I always feel a degree of friendship toward the author, even though I usually haven’t ever met them in person. That’s because during the editing process, there is a sharing of a creative work, a story to connect over. Good editing requires a give-and-take relationship between writer and editor, and it forms a sort of bond. That cannot happen if either party goes into the project with a PIC attitude, only taking and never giving. No friendship can be formed if the author doesn’t offer up their story, and rather holds it close to their chest, defending it with sword and shield. No trust can be formed if the author is balking at the editor’s every mark.

That brings me to M’s list of questions to prove my credentials.

As I’ve said, I firmly believe that the final say in creative matters should be the author’s, not an editor’s. I also always make sure to tell my clients that sometimes the application of some rules (usually comma rules) may change the intended meaning or tone of a sentence, and if that happens, the author should feel free to break the rule and ignore my correction so long as they know exactly why they are doing so.

However, every single one of M’s questions was about whether I had “the ability and expertise” to let things “slide.” Could I leave a comma splice be or leave out the serial comma? Could I put reader emotion ahead of the technically correct? Could I allow a gesture in place of a formal dialogue tag?

If there had been only one or two of these sorts of questions, no flag would have been raised and I would have happily told M that I have no problem ignoring a rule or two for the sake of a piece. For instance, while working with author Jackson South on his debut novel, I threw out the rule about fragments. Normally, fragments are seen as incomplete thoughts, and when done accidentally, they are. However, Jack writes fragments intentionally and masterfully. They don’t feel incomplete; they give new meaning. They are all over his book, and I left the vast majority of them alone.

The problem was that all of M’s questions were about ignoring rules. It suggests to me that he isn’t going to like most of my edits and would probably have made for a very difficult client. The truth is, the rules are there for a reason. True, they can be broken, but it must be done intentionally and with a solid reason behind it. If the entire manuscript doesn’t follow the rules, then you are left with an unprofessional-looking piece and you really have no reason to hire an editor in the first place. If you want to hire an editor to ignore all the rules, then you are really looking for validation, not an edit. You want someone to praise your prose and say, “It’s so wonderful I didn’t have to touch a thing!” That just isn’t realistic. Even the greats have editors.

Needless to say, I didn’t end up working with M, and I shudder to think what it would have been like to give him a substantive edit (suggesting changes to plot and character) rather than just the copy edit I had proposed. Part of being a good author is knowing that you always have room for improvement, so find an editor that can help you do that and don’t take each crossed-off comma or inserted word as an insult. A good editor is there to help and will make sure not to eradicate your vision with an overly strict enforcement of rules. The real PIC is the story, and a good author and editor will do what is best for it, together.

12 Things You May Not Know About Traditional Freelance Writing: Part Two

12 Things


In last week’s post (12 Things You May Not Know About Traditional Freelance Writing: Part One), I told you I bought a second book on traditional (editorial) freelancing, which is writing articles for magazines and journals. Well, I’m going to share twelve more quick tips that I learned from that second book as well.

The book I’m highlighting in this post is Zachary Petit’s The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work, and Thrive on Your Own Terms. Petit is both a writer and editor (Writer’s Digest and Print) for magazines, and his unique perspective of having worked on both ends of the business makes for some very insightful advice and a fun read. Some of the most valuable things you will find in this book are his breakdowns of what should be included in different types of articles, such as profiles and Q&A’s. His work is very journalistic and investigative in nature, so he also includes a whole chapter on interviewing sources. Since I minored in communications, I was familiar with most of the techniques and tips, but there were still some things I found myself jotting down.

As with Kelly James-Enger’s book in Part One, this list barely scratches the surface of what Petit’s book teaches; it’s merely a few facts and tidbits that I was completely naive about before reading. You may notice that many of them have to do with contracts and taxes because, to me, the legal part of the business is the most confusing and the part about which I know the least. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

So, without further ado, here’s some things you may not know:

  1. Difference Between Consumer and Trade: Consumer magazines are the ones everyone is familiar with because they are all over newsstands, bookstores, and specialty shops and are meant for general audiences interested in the subject matter. Trade journals are intended for people in a specific industry for business-to-business use. Trade journals are harder to write content for because they are so technical and specialized, but there is a lot less competition when querying a trade journal and they usually pay better.
  2. Feature Categories: The main types of feature articles usually fall into four categories—journalistic feature, profiles, Q&A interviews, and how-to.
  3. Back of the Book: The pages that follow the features are the Back of the Book (BoB). They are usually around 300 words and are a great place to break in, especially if you have a sense of humor. Petit explains that the BoB is usually full of humor and quirky recurring bits like Writer’s Digest’s “Reject a Hit” (mock up rejection letters for famous books).
  4. Editor Hierarchy: While some smaller magazines may not have all of these titles on their masthead, the typical breakdown from highest to lowest is Publisher, Editor in Chief, Executive Editor, Managing Editor, Senior Editor, Associate Editor, Assistant Editor, Copy Editor, Research Assistant, Intern, and Contributing Editors. Some publications will have an Acquisitions Editor; if so, that is who you send queries to. But if not, and if no one is listed in the submission guidelines, send queries to the managing editor. Petite provides details about each editor’s duties in the book.
  5. Kick: The closing line of an article. Always make it count.
  6. Links NOT Attachments: When you are sending samples of your work to convince an editor that you can write the piece you are querying, always send them via a link. Even if that article isn’t published anywhere (it’s best if it is), put it on your website as a PDF you can link to. Why? According to Petit, the magazine’s tech department people will have a hissy fit if an editor opens an attachment from an unknown source, so they don’t do it. In fact, they have been taught to automatically delete any email that shows up in their inbox with an attachment. Your query won’t be read.
  7. Always AP: Perhaps this is because I don’t usually read magazines with an investigative angle, but the prevalence of AP style in magazines surprised me. I had figured most of them followed Chicago, but AP is the rule. So, get yourself familiar with it to score extra points with editors.
  8. The Danger of “Pay on Publication”: I defined this and its counterpart (Pay on Acceptance) in the last post, but what I found out from Petit was that a magazine can potentially just hold onto your piece for years or even indefinitely, never publishing but not officially “killing” it, and you never get paid. Always push for a Pay on Acceptance clause in the contract.
  9. The Reprint Clause: Even if you only grant the publication First Serial Rights (which is the best option), there may be a clause in your contract that allows them to reprint the piece in any of the company’s other magazines or in a collection/anthology. Some publications pay you a percentage of the original article price each time they reprint it. Others do not.
  10. The Indemnification Clause: While I love these clauses as a ghostwriter, you don’t want them in an article contract. They usually state that “all claims” filed will be aimed at you, not the magazine. Now, if you violated ethics in an investigative piece, you probably should bear the brunt, but “all claims” means that if a crazy person gets irrationally offended by the piece and decides to sue on trumped-up claims, you have to deal with that … out of your own wallet. Petit suggests telling the publication that this may infringe on your ability to get the whole story (if you are having to walk on eggshells) and move to get it struck from the contract.
  11. The “Same Subject” Clause: This clause states how long you have to wait until you write on the same subject for a competitor. If that subject is your niche, that may cause you problems, so make sure you talk to the editor and explain your situation, and you can probably get that clause adjusted. If not, it probably isn’t worth it.
  12. Business vs Hobbyist: As a freelance writer you must make more than you spend on your business (aka turn a profit) to officially be called a business. Before you reach that point, you are technically considered a hobbyist. So, be more cautious when listing deductions on your taxes until you are an official business.


Bonus Tip: When filing deductions on your taxes, be aware that if you deduct the whole cost of something like a computer or software (like Word), you’d better be using it entirely for work.

These tips aren’t even a fraction of the information crammed into this book. Traditional freelance article writing isn’t what I want to do full-time, but the advice in this book has still been invaluable to my business. If you’re interested, grab it off Amazon and get reading.