Rewarding Client, Freelancer Relationships

client-freelancer

 

There are a lot of mixed emotions when you land your first freelancing client. I was absolutely ecstatic because I was going to get paid to help someone write a fiction book. I couldn’t believe someone was actually going to pay me money to do the thing I loved most. But there was also an overwhelming and almost crippling desire to not only succeed, but excel at the work. When I turned in the first assignment, I felt like I might puke waiting for the client to tell me what she thought; I wanted so desperately to make her happy. And making the client happy should be one of your top priorities, or else you’ll never stay in business. Your client’s are entrusting you with important work that they can’t do on their own, and you should always try your very best to deliver the best end product you possibly can.

However, when you first start out, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that your clients should make you happy too. As briefly discussed in last week’s post (What Is a Work-for-Hire Contract?), your client isn’t your employer. You’re your own employer; the client is a like a fellow business person that you are collaborating with. You must each treat the other with equal respect. Some clients don’t understand this, and they will try to make you do work that isn’t required of you. Many clients will understand and make an effort to shift their attitude if you simply explain that you are a work-for-hire business owner who must be paid for any new additions to the assignment. However, there are clients out there who don’t seem to even think of you as a human being and resort to bullying tactics. I’ve worked with only one. Clients like this will try to get more work out of you by telling you what you delivered was subpar or “unacceptable” to try and make you insecure and desperate to please them. Now, you must always take time to consider if the client is right. If you delivered crappy work, the client has a right to complain. However, there is a simple test for this. Ask the client exactly what was wrong, saying that you would like to know so that you can avoid the mistakes in the future. That client I mentioned had loved the editing sample that I did for him to get the job, but when I did the exact same thing on the real assignment, he berated me, saying that what I had delivered just “really was not good at all,” and he was shocked I’d turned it in that way. I asked what was wrong, and his explanation made it very clear that he was trying to get me to rewrite the piece (which was deplorably written, by the way. I had slaved over it just trying to make it speak real English) rather than just edit it. I didn’t do a rewrite, and I parted ways with him immediately. If your client can’t tell you what was wrong, or if their explanation shows that they just want more unpaid for from you, stick up for yourself and get out of that relationship.

You’ve become a freelance writer because you want to make a career doing what you love and only what you love: writing. Your clients should never make you cringe at the idea of writing one more word for them. Now, not every client needs to be your best buddy, but they must always treat you with the same respect and courtesy you show them. Likewise, not every writing assignment needs to make your jump for joy, but it does need to be worth your time.

I write product reviews for an online company. That job isn’t exactly thrilling, but I love it. My contact is very kind, always prompt, and works with me when I have questions. I get paid consistently, and I get paid well. That weekly payment into my checking account makes me very happy.

The best thing in the world is when you find clients you really connect with. My contact for the product reviews and I only talk business, but I have made lasting relationships with other clients. I edit author’s prized possessions: the work that sprouted straight from their own head. That’s an intimate thing, and it’s one of the most rewarding. I have formed strong bonds with a number of authors I’ve worked with. There are two authors in particular who’s work I greatly admire, and though I’ve never met them in person, I feel they are friends. Intimate friends? No. But friends. One of those clients recently emailed me, ecstatic, to tell me that the book I’d proofread for her got picked up by a publisher. The fact that she thought of me in that moment and wanted to share her celebration with me made me feel great.

Ghostwriting a book for someone is also very intensive and requires a connection between myself and the client. If we don’t click, the book isn’t going to work. I am currently writing a book for parent’s of drug-addicted children for a man who runs a rehab center and has personal addiction experience. He provides all the info and all his ideas, and I turn them all into a cohesive work. This requires phone calls. It also requires me to ask him personal questions about his own battle with addiction. As a result, I probably have a stronger relationship with him than any other client. When we call, we mostly talk business, but we also casually talk about crazy stuff that happened to us that day (his life is hectic and sometimes hilarious, let me tell you). He’s the kind of person who infects you with his consistently upbeat attitude. He talks faster than a chipmunk on coffee (Hoodwinked, anyone?), and I always hang up the phone feeling both incredibly pumped and a little like I just ran a marathon.

Freelancing is damn hard. You run everything. You have to take charge of every aspect of your business, and it can seem never-ending. It can also be downright frightening to swap a steady, secure job with benefits for a constantly fluctuating (even if just slightly) income. That uncertainty of income is always going to be there as a freelancer, though it will decrease over time. So why do it? It lets you do what you love from the comfort of your own home. That’s damn sexy. But if your clients make you miserable, it really puts a damper on the pleasure of that independence. Drop those bullying clients and start crafting rewarding with relationships with people who truly appreciate what you do for them.

 

What Is a Work-for-Hire Contract?

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If you want to write as a freelancer for a living, you’re a “writer for hire.” Many clients will want you to sign a work-for-hire agreement/contract. In the simplest sense, this means that you are working for the client as an independent contractor and the work you are providing is the client’s after you’ve received the payment. This means the client holds all the rights to the work you provide once they’ve paid for it. You will get work-for-hire agreements for things like writing content for a business website, blog posts, articles, reviews, you name it. The point is that once you’ve been paid the client can do whatever they want with it and distribute it however they like as much as they like. Duh, you wrote it for them specifically, not for yourself. Usually if you’re working for individuals, these distinctions of being an independent contractor and rights going to the client are self-explanatory, and the client won’t ask for a formal contract. You can write one up if you want, of course (see last week’s post to help figure out when you need a contract), but it’s usually companies that want to make the formal distinction. Why? Well,  you aren’t actually a full-time employee of the company, and they want to define you as an independent contractor so they don’t have to provide you benefits or help you out with taxes .

To be considered an independent contractor, you must be engaged in a specific occupation or be the proprietor of a specific business. This just means that freelancing is your job (even if it’s a side job). You can start an official business, like I did, but you don’t necessarily have to have a business license to be an independent contractor. If you have a business license or a Federal I.D. number (this is something you get if you incorporate your business and/or want to hire employees) you have to submit that information along with the contract, but if you don’t, you just have to provide your Social Security number for the company to put on record. The second requirement is that you work entirely unsupervised. Now of course you want to communicate with the client and cater to what they want from the project, but you aren’t in the company’s office being watched over by a manager. Ultimately, it just means you’re responsible for your own work. Lastly, to be an independent contractor you have to provide your own equipment for the job. The company isn’t going to pay for a new laptop. If you need a specific program to complete a job, like InDesign to convert a print manuscript into ebook format, the company isn’t going to pay that monthly fee to Adobe. If you’re an independent contractor you cannot present yourself as an employee of that company. For instance, you can’t update your job description on LinkedIn to include that company’s name, like “Ghostwriter at ABC Media.” You aren’t a ghostwriter at ABC media, you’re a freelance writer doing some ghostwriting for the company. Your work for that company should go in your portfolio, not your job title. Likewise, your clients can’t claim to be a partner in your business or your employer.

Just because they pay you money doesn’t mean you’re their employee. You’re the boss of your own company, which is under contract to do one specific job for the client’s company and nothing else. You can’t receive benefits like health care even if the work you are doing for that client requires full-time hours, but the client can’t make you do anything outside of that contracted job for them. If you’ve worked at a 9 to 5, you know that your job description usually includes a whole bunch of things that really have nothing to do with your title. You get a bunch of busy work on top of your regular work. Not with freelancing. Don’t ever let your client push you around and add on extra stuff that wasn’t in your contract. Your client is not your boss, just as you aren’t the client’s boss. You’re two equals swapping services (money for content). Understanding that dynamic and boosting your confidence in your work enough to actually stand by it can be the difference between a satisfying job and a nightmare scenario that buries you under piles of unexpected work that you aren’t actually getting paid for. 

Now let’s talk about the second main component, which distinguishes a work-for-hire contract from other forms of freelancing contracts. All rights for the written material belong to the company as soon as you are paid for creating it. You are paid a set rate for that work, and once it’s done, you don’t get any more money. Now, what will change from contract to contract is how much credit you are getting for that work. If you are working as a “ghostwriter-for-hire,” your name will not be anywhere on that work. I write product reviews for a big online company, and my name does not appear on those reviews, and while I can provide the company’s info and details about the work I do for them on my portfolio, I can’t take credit for the specific reviews. I get paid very nicely for that work and I have plenty of other writing samples, so I have no qualms. I have another writer-for-hire contract that allows me to have my name on the work. It’s a publishing company, and I am writing a short history book on Frank Lloyd Wright’s life for teenage students. My name will be on the book cover and I can take full credit for it. I can’t, however, sell that book myself, and I don’t get royalties from the sales the company makes. I’m getting paid more than I would for, say, a guest blog post, but I’m not getting paid as high as my usual ghostwriting rate either because I’m actually getting credit. I’ve never had a contract like this before, and I’m trying to feel out if the rate is right for the amount of work and if it’s fair compared to what the client will make distributing the book to schools. I haven’t completed the project, so I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m enjoying trying it out. I really like my contact at the company and the content is more fun to write than any of my other projects.

One last tidbit about these sorts of contracts I want to share is the importance of an indemnification clause. If the contract a company sends you doesn’t have an indemnification clause, DEMAND one. This clause protects you from cuckoo-heads who like to sue left and right. It also protects you if the client somehow goofed and had you write about something they didn’t have the rights to or provided you with false information. Essentially, an indemnification clause says that once the client has approved your work, accepted it, and taken on the rights, it’s their problem. If one of the company’s whose product you reviewed didn’t like what you said about them and wanted to sue, the company who posted the review is responsible for dealing with the legal fees to fight the lawsuit, not little ole you working out of your apartment with only a few thousand dollars in assets to your name. However, it should be noted that work-for-hire contracts also contain a clause about plagiarism. An indemnification clause doesn’t protect you against legal ramifications if you provided the company with plagiarized material, and it shouldn’t. Don’t plagiarize, people! Duh. Now, that plagiarism clause ought to go both ways as well. If the company gave you plagiarized material and presented it to you as their own or added plagiarized material after your turned the content into them, that’s their problem.

If you’re a freelance writer, work-for-hire contracts are going to pop up sooner rather than later. Understand what they are, what purpose they serve, and remember that you are your own boss. Take charge, demand fair treatment, negotiate a fair agreement between your needs and the client’s, and those work-for-hire jobs can be your bread and butter … and sometimes a whole lot of fun.

*I am not a lawyer, people. The info I’ve shared here comes from my own experience and should be taken with a grain of salt.

To Contract or Not to Contract

To Contract

 

Running your own business is HARD. Things you never really thought of when deciding you wanted to be your own boss keep popping up like an obnoxious fifth grader grinning in serial killer fashion and shouting, “Hi! Hey! Hi! Look at me, lady, look at me!” inches from your nose so you can smell sugar-coated cavities while you feel your nerves shattering into tiny pieces. (Wow, that escalated quickly.)  One of those little buggers is contracts.

The first contract I ever signed was for the internship I got right out of college editing a fiction manuscript. I read it, signed it, no big deal. I didn’t have to write it. When I got my first paying gig, ghostwriting a fantasy fiction book, the client provided the contract. It was a rudimentary contract that should have had more stipulations on her end, but neither of us really knew how ghostwriting worked. (You can read how that turned out here.) For my most recent ghostwriting project, I’m working with a substance abuse recovery expert to write a nonfiction book for parents with children suffering from drug addiction. When I landed that deal, I had a website, an impressive portfolio, a killer pitch template that had grabbed his attention, and a hell of a lot more confidence. The client saw me as the expert, and thus he left the whole contract process to me, just requesting that I include a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA). At first I was excited that I would get to craft every detail of the contract just to my liking right off the bat. Then I went, “Oh shit, I have to write a contract!” When I first launched PurpleInkPen, I told myself I needed to get some contract templates written up … but I put it off, and it of course came back to bite me in the bum. I knew there were sites that provided legal templates, so I got to googling and found plenty. I quickly downloaded a ghostwriting contract and an NDA. Still, I scrambled all that day to balance the work I already had and go through, read the contract template I chose, customize it to my desired specs, and send it to my brand new client in a timely fashion. My brain hurt very badly at the end of the day. Don’t do that to yourself.

BONUS TIP:

The sites I ended up using were printablecontracts.com for the contract and SEQlegal.com for the NDA because they were both free. SEQ Legal is actually based in the UK somewhere, and I had to go through and change a lot of spelling and change pounds into dollars, but hey, it was free. There are other more popular sites that will do most of the heavy lifting for you like Rocket Lawyer. I started using that site initially. It asks you to fill in some basic info and it implements the answers throughout the whole contract, but you have to pay before you can see the finished product. I wanted to read the whole contract before I paid, so I did the extra legwork and just got a free template. There is another site called legaltemplates.net that boasts free templates. I haven’t checked them out personally, but they are high on the Google results page.

Contracts are a scary thing if you’re not a lawyer and you don’t have the bucks to keep one on retainer. You’ll worry you’re going to accidentally screw yourself over, you’ll rip some hair out trying to wade through legal jargon, and you’ll ultimately end up asking yourself, “Do I even need this stupid thing?” Well, in my humble opinion, the answer to that question depends on the nature of the work involved.

Let me explain through what I know best. I always, always, always want a contract when I do ghostwriting work, but I haven’t had a contract involved in an editing job since that very first internship. Let’s break down why.

Why You Might Need a Contract:

The biggest reason I use a contract with ghostwriting is because the nature of the work is highly confidential. In ghostwriting, your client’s name goes on what you write for them, not your name. If a contract isn’t in place to clearly state who has rights to what, what the ghostwriter is and isn’t allowed to do with the material, etc., you can find yourself in a legal nightmare of he-said-she-said. This doesn’t just apply to writing books. I ghostwrite product reviews, too, and you bet your frilly bonnet I have a contract with that client also. Normally with ghostwriting, the client insists on a contract, but even if a client didn’t want one, I would insist on it. Now that I’m more educated on the subject, I make sure I don’t get screwed with a raw deal from a client who doesn’t take my professional needs into consideration, usually because they simply don’t know/understand my needs. For instance, I now always make sure there is a clause in the contract that states when and how I can use samples from the work for my own professional betterment. I do a lot of ghostwriting, and if I couldn’t use any samples from that work, my portfolio would be sparce. Some clients don’t care if I use their name along with the samples and post them freely on my portfolio (but nowhere else). Others want me to keep the project description discrete and make sure anyone requesting a sample from their work signs an NDA. I completely understand that, and I respect that agreement. But I make sure that agreement is stated in the contract so a client couldn’t sue me for sharing a sample later on.

If your niche deals with sensitive information and/or could get you wrapped up in legal ramifications, you NEED a contract. Suck it up and write one up.

Another reason you might get a contract involved is if you’re dealing with a large business or if you’re getting your own work published through someone else, like a magazine. A large business will probably want you to sign a W9 and a contract so they can write off your services on their taxes. They will always provide that contract, so no big deal on your end; just make sure you actually read it. If you’re submitting articles to a magazine and getting paid for it, you want a contract. The magazine will provide one, but make sure you negotiate it to get the best deal. For instance, you want to make sure that once they accept your article, they have to pay you right then. Some contracts will state that you don’t get paid until the article is actually published. Sometimes stories get pulled or postponed for months, so you want to be paid regardless of whether it actually shows up in print. You already did your part of the work, so you should be paid for it regardless.

Why You May Not Need a Contract:

I don’t bother with formal contracts when I edit manuscripts or website content because there really aren’t serious legal ramifications involved with the work (It’s undoubtedly the client’s work and always will be; I’m just polishing it). Also, the work itself is a little more casual. Being a book editor is a very special thing. You become a confidante with whom your client is sharing their paper and ink baby; sometimes, I’m the first person to ever read it. There is a mutual trust involved. Plus, I make sure I get paid in installments (an initial down payment, a payment at the halfway point, and a final payment when the work is delivered) so that if a client ever doesn’t pay up (hasn’t happened yet, thankfully), I didn’t edit a whole manuscript and end up with nothing to show for it.

Still, someday a client might refuse to make a payment. I might unknowingly work with a cuckoo bird who decides to sue me for damages because somebody pointed out a solitary comma error in her manuscript after she’d published it. That’s why I utilize informal contracts through email. After I discuss the details of the work with the client, I send an email that lays out everything: the client’s name, what I’ll be working on, what kind of edit I’m doing, the deadline, and the price. Then, I ask the client to respond letting me know that everything looks good and that they agree. They usually attach the manuscript in their response, too. I save those emails, and they serve as an agreement. If someone were to contest my work, I could whip out that agreement and show that I did everything according to what we had both agreed on. If a client didn’t pay, I would send an email threatening legal ramifications (after a few much nicer emails reminding the client that I need to be paid for my services) and let the client know that I’ve kept our emails as a written agreement that they would pay me and how much.

With editing clients, I also ask for a larger down payment than I do with ghostwriting clients. This lets me know that the client is serious about getting this done and ensures that I get paid a nice sum even if the client backs out halfway through.

Final Thoughts

I would suggest you always have some form of agreement laid down, but just feel out your clients and take your niche into consideration when deciding if you need a formal contract or not. If a contract for everything makes you feel safer, by all means, go for it. It can’t hurt. However, if contracts make your eye twitch, take a few calming breaths and decide if something a little more informal can work just as well for you.

Print-on-Demand: The Ugly

Print-On-Demand(2)

 

This post is the third and final installment of my series on print-on-demand publishing. So far, I’ve covered the pros and cons of POD for serious writers, but now I’m going to dive down and tickle the dirty underbelly of the beast.

Not everyone can write. There, I said it. Sure, anyone can write a cute note to their loved one in a Valentine’s card, and plenty of people can write a good English paper, but writing fiction and poetry is an art form. As with any art form, everyone can try it out, but not everyone can do it well. I like to do paint by numbers (yeah, not sure I should have admitted that on the internet), but I would never call myself a painter. I even have some natural drawing talent inherited from my father, but I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I can draw from example only, copying from a movie cover or a picture, but I can’t draw straight from my head for the life of me.

The biggest problem with POD publishing is that it provides an incredibly easy outlet for anyone to publish their first attempt. Before POD, sure, anyone could try to write a book, but that book couldn’t see the light of day unless it went through a rigorous process of submitting and editing. The writer who just wrote in the name of boredom would likely not bother to put in the effort required for submission, and even if they did, amateurish attempts were sent packing by the publishing house staff. Now a writer can get instant validation through POD, and it’s creating a dark cloud that hangs over real writers, threatening to strike them with lightening at any moment.

The Damage Caused by POD:

The stigma surrounding POD stems directly from the fact that, through it, everyone and their mother can be a published author with a real hard copy book. True, the writing community is very, very wary of POD (often to the point of unfairness), but someone who isn’t a real writer doesn’t give a crap what the writing community thinks. They just like to tell their buddies they’re a published author. Those friends look at each other and then to their friend who’s never written anything longer than a text of his own volition before now and say, “Jimmy John wrote a book? Damn, how hard can it be?” Okay, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration. For someone to actually complete a book, they probably have to have at least a little enjoyment for writing and have experimented with it before. However, I have seen some books that could very well combat that idea. There are some books out there that beg the question, “Does this ‘author’ even read?” Honestly, some of them are so bad that the person can’t possibly be a real reader. If they were, surely they would have looked at what they had written and realized it was utter crap compared to everything else they’d ever read. But Jimmy John’s friends probably aren’t big readers either, so they probably don’t read the book, or if they do, they don’t have many references to compare it to. So Jimmy John is an author. How hard can it be?

It spreads beyond Jimmy John’s friends, too. Many casual readers don’t know much, if anything, about the publishing business. To them, a hard copy book is the real deal. A book is a book, and anyone with a book is an author. So, they are mildly intrigued by the book description on Amazon and purchase Jimmy John’s book because it’s a bargain. Then they read it and after one chapter (or even one page) go, “Good grief, this garbage got published?” This reader will now be far more wary of cheap books on Amazon, and it may drive her away from a POD book by a very talented but as of yet undiscovered author.

Worse still, she may purchase a book by Fiona. Fiona is another “author” who woke up one morning, remembered that one story she wrote in grade school that everybody loved and praised her for, and said, “Hey, why haven’t I pursued writing a book yet? I’m not doing anything today.” Fiona has a smidge of natural talent, but she hasn’t done anything to hone it. That’s far more dangerous. She comes up with an idea and sets to work. Her plot is intriguing, but her characters are lifeless because she’s never written dialogue before. It’s clunky and cliched. There’s little to no character development and the narration is lackluster, but it isn’t a complete steaming pile of poo on a hot, humid day like Jimmy John’s.

Our casual reader purchases Fiona’s book, and gets all the way through it. The reader kept going because there was something there she wanted to hang onto. She wasn’t totally engaged, but she wanted to see how it ended. The plot was interesting … but it fell flat at the end. The protagonist had the potential to be endearing … but she ended up being a bit dull. The villain had the potential to be frightening and highly dangerous … but he ended up being just a nuisance who was easily defeated. The writing itself was just ordinary, like your slightly boring friend telling you about how their family barbecue went last weekend. Too much exposition and not enough depth. The exciting parts ended way too fast and there were some plot holes. Fiona only has a vague idea of what makes a story good. She likes to read at the beach, but it’s not her favorite past time. Without POD, she probably would have still written the book because she’s adventurous and likes trying new things, but she wouldn’t have ever been able to get it published, at least not the way it is when she first types THE END. Now with POD she can. Our casual reader gets through her book and goes “Meh. Not bad, but wouldn’t recommend it.”

A little while down the road, our casual reader has an odd dream that she thinks would make a good book. She wrote a few short stories as an assignment in high school or college. She could do it, right? The danger doesn’t come from this casual reader wanting to write a book. That’s great. She ought to try and see if she likes it. But because she read Fiona’s book she thinks, “How hard can it be? That book wasn’t even that good and it got published. I could write something like that.” The casual reader’s/would-be writer’s expectations of the quality standard she must reach are now lowered significantly. She doesn’t have to write like Stephen King or Dean Koontz; she just has to write as good as Fiona and she can be a real author. That’s the biggest danger of POD. Publishing your first attempt at writing is only slightly harder than publishing a Facebook post or a Tweet, once you have it written down. So, even if a writer has some potential, he or she doesn’t take the time to hone his or her craft and turn those words into art. That writer just publishes because he or she has no idea what serious publishing or serious writing entails.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to mediocre and truly awful attempts being published daily through POD programs, the idea of “How hard can this be?” sticks and spreads, and it grossly undermines the talent of real writers. POD has the potential to be a beautiful thing where artists can both share their art easily and get paid for it. However, its greatest strength is also its greatest flaw. It’s built to be easy and pain free. Great! If only truly talented writers use it. Yeah, right. This is the age of the internet. Anyone can say and do anything they want online, even publish a book.

If you’re a serious writer thinking of using POD, please, use it correctly. Think of it as traditional publishing minus the politics of submission and the drawn out printing and distributing process. That still leaves rigorous editing, implementing feedback, getting a stellar cover design, marketing the product, and actually giving it your all. Don’t let the ease of POD lure you into laziness. The real tragedy is when a talented author with the potential for greatness allows the very platform that could launch them to greatness to become a crutch that delivers a subpar product.

 

Print-on-Demand: The Bad

Print-On-Demand(1)

 

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

Print-On-Demand

 

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

Elite(1)

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.