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Friday, June 30, 2017

Writer's Anxiety: The Curse of the Freelancing Mindset







I had lunch with the awesome Cindy Kuzma, an extremely talented and successful freelancer, yesterday and we were talking about the anxiety-producing nature of freelancing. When you're busy with (well-paying) work, it's all good. You may be anxious about meeting your deadlines, but you're not anxious about whether you're making enough money. 

Then you hit a slowdown. And that anxiety starts ticking back up. That inner voice kicks in, muttering in my ear: 

What were you thinking? Why didn't you market more last month? What if that book deal doesn't come through? Why haven't you signed another book deal yet? Why haven't you heard back from that client? How are you going to pay off your broken-arm bills? Why is your health insurance so shitty? What happens if your insurance rates climb even higher? How are you going to save for retirement? Are you even going to be able to retire? Geez, why did you get divorced? At least you had health insurance and money for retirement.  Now it's all up to you. And your'e single...are you ever going to meet someone awesome again? Why are there so many weirdos online? Why didn't that guy from the Y ever ask you out? He probably thinks you're nuts. What are you going to do about your career? Maybe you shouldn't be self-employed anymore. What if you get sick? What if you break your arm again? Maybe you should get a full-time job. Yeah, then you'd have health insurance. But then you'd have to put on clothes and sit at a desk all day and what about the kids? Isn't freedom the biggest reason you decided to freelance anyway? Maybe your time as a freelancer is at an end. Accept it. There are worse things. Maybe you should go back to practicing law. But you hated being a lawyer...boy, you're screwed. Maybe you should go back to Trader Joe's. Remember, there's that 10 percent discount...and they'd let you wear overalls...

That inner voice is hard to quiet. (And by the way, I don't know about yours, but only rarely does my inner voice sing my proverbial praises. Sure, once in a while, my inner voice tells me I'm awesome. Usually it's more along the lines of "by the way, you suck.")

And while I've had work slowdowns before (it's part of freelancing), I'm finding that being slow feels very different now that I'm a single parent. When I was married, slowdowns still sucked. I worried about my the state (and future of) my career, and peripherally, about what I was making or not making. Now, with a 12-year-old and a 7-year-old and a mortgage and a cat and a puppy and a carnie goldfish that has survived for seven days against all odds and ridiculously high insurance premiums (and I'm healthy!), that money worry is no longer peripheral. It's right smack in my face. That drumbeat of "need money, need money, must make money" is a real thing. 

It doesn't help that I am by nature anxious. What I thought for decades was "energy" was actually anxiety. I was an anxious little kid, an anxious teen, an anxious adult. So what did I do? I chose a career (self-employed writer) that is, by its very nature, anxiety-producing. Whether I am anxious about tackling an assignment for a new-to-me client or anxious about meeting a deadline or anxious about making enough money to pay my mortgage, feed my kids, and yeah, save for retirement, or anxious about everything else, it's pretty much a given that there will be some chronic, low-grade distress going on. 

And you know what? That's okay. Because I still choose to freelance. I'd still rather have the freedom and the flexibility and the ability to be my own boss and yeah, the anxiety, than go "in-house" and work for someone else...at least right now. I am considering part-time work, and am staying open to all possibilities. But the biggest thing I'm doing is controlling what I can, and that means marketing. 

So I harnessed that anxiety and spent yesterday afternoon sending out some LOIs and follow-ups. I have a whole slew of contacts to circle back with next week as well. And I finished two assignments this morning, and locked down an editing job for the next few weeks that relieves my money anxiety at least temporarily. I've been doing this long enough to accept anxiety is part of the business. Figuring out how to make it work for you is what makes you successful at it. 

**New to the blog? Welcome! If you're serious about making your freelance writing business a money-maker, I suggest my freelance classic, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition

If you're more interested in getting into ghostwriting and content marketing, I suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition

If you're brand-new to freelancing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets walks you through the process of launching your freelance career

Finally, if you like your books full of shorter pieces, check out a different format--Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success is divided into five broad sections to help you make more money regardless of what kind of nonfiction writing you do. 



Monday, May 29, 2017

Know Your Worth...and Stand Your Ground





What's your ideal freelance work mix? For me, it's to be working on a book for a ghostwriting client with a mix of shorter content (mostly health and fitness) for corporations and content agencies thrown in as well.

Of course we can't always have our ideal. At the moment, my work funnel is nearly empty. (That means the coming week's priorities are marketing, marketing, and marketing.) Part of the issue is that I've had several potential book projects die on the vine. So I was excited to learn about a possible gig. It's the type of ghostwriting I do; I like the potential client; this particular book has lots of potential; and my calendar is looking empty at the moment.

However.

What's being offered, and what I charge to ghostwrite a book proposal--at the moment at least--are way too far apart to go forward. And I'm frustrated. I'd love the project, and I know I'm a good fit for it. And did I mention that work funnelI?

As a new freelancer, I would probably just sucked it up and taken the gig. But that's not how I work today.

Here's a look at my thought process:

1. I know what I charge for a book proposal--typically between $5,000 and $8,000 (though I've charged as much as $15,000 for one that grew to 100+ pages and took more than six months to write).

2. I know what a well-written book proposal is worth. (At least to the clients I work for.) And that, not surprisingly, is between $5,000 and $8,000. See how that works out?

3. The potential client has tried, and can't write the proposal on his or her own. Which means the client has to hire a ghost to make the book go forward.

4. I know from reviewing the material that it will take some time and work (probably four to six weeks) to create a compelling, giant-advance-grabbing book proposal. And while I'm willing to make that happen, that stretch of time means I can't take on another proposal or any other big projects. That's opportunity cost, which is factored into deciding whether to take on a big project.

5. Finally, and just as important, what I do as a ghost (and what we all do as freelancers) has value. If a potential client doesn't value the work I do, that doesn't set the stage for mutual respect and a positive working relationship. And when you ghostwrite a book for a client, those elements are essential.

Sure, it's hard to turn down work, especially when there's backend potential. But as a freelancer, you have to know your value, and be willing to say "no" if you and your client can't agree on it.

So if you're a new freelancer, think about what you charge. Know your bottom line--and know why that's your bottom line. Be prepared to back it up. It will make you a better negotiator, and help you make more money in the meantime.

**New to the blog? Welcome! If you're serious about making your freelance writing business a money-maker, I suggest my freelance classic, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition

If you're more interested in getting into ghostwriting and content marketing, I suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition

If you're brand-new to freelancing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets walks you through the process of launching your freelance career

Finally, if you like your books full of shorter pieces, check out a different format--Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success is divided into five broad sections to help you make more money regardless of what kind of nonfiction writing you do. 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Easiest Way to Crack Women's Magazines (and 8 Ways to Do It Well)


I started my freelance career two decades ago writing for women's magazines. My first sale was to Cosmopolitan; after that, I wrote for publications including Woman's Day, Family Circle, Self, Shape, Redbook, Fitness, Fit, and Woman's World

I had several reasons for doing so. First off, I was familiar with some of the publications already. I'd been reading mags like Cosmo and Shape for years before I pitched them. I knew what topics the magazines covered and what kind of stories that editors were likely to be interested in. 

But even more important, these magazines paid well, and used plenty of freelance material. While some sections of the mags might be produced in-house, the majority of them relied on freelancers for short FOB (front-of-the-book) pieces, departments, and longer features. 

While a lot has changed in 20 years, some things haven't. Women's magazines still work with lots of freelancers, and while some of their contracts request all rights, they pay in the $2/word range. Plus, there's still some cachet to writing for these big publications, and they make impressive clips when you're starting out. 

Best news of all? There's any easy way to crack these markets, even when you're short on clips. That was the message I heard from editors from Family Circle, Woman's Day, and First for Women when I moderated a panel on women's magazines at this year's annual ASJA writer's conference. 

The answer? Pitch "real women" stories. Editors from all three magazines said they're always looking for compelling pieces about real-life women, and these stories are often difficult to find. 

So, what sells? When pitching a "real woman" piece to a woman's magazine, keep these factors in mind: 

  • The woman you profile should fit within the magazine's readers' demographics.
  • The woman should have a compelling story to share. Consider the challenge she faced, how she overcame it, and the takeaway for the reader. 
  • Even if the story is sad, there should be some kind of positive or uplifting aspect to it. (Generally speaking, women's magazine readers aren't looking for depressing reads.) 
  • Send a photo of the person along with the pitch. 
  • Look for people who haven't been covered in national media (local media is usually fine). 
  • If pitching a story about more than one woman--say four women who have successfully started their own at-home businesses--strive for diversity in terms of age, race, geographic location, etc. 
  • Tell your friends and family members you're looking for possible story ideas. The bigger the net you cast, the more likely you are to find possible stories. 
  • If one market doesn't say "yes," try another. I pitched a story about a woman whose doctors didn't believe she was sick for years--until she was finally diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and successfully treated--to nine women's magazines and finally the ninth one assigned the story! 

I hope you find these tips helpful to pitching, and selling to, women's magazines. Good luck with your pitches! 

**New to the blog? Welcome! If you're serious about making your freelance writing business a money-maker, I suggest my freelance classic, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition

If you're more interested in getting into ghostwriting and content marketing, I suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition

If you're brand-new to freelancing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets walks you through the process of launching your freelance career

Finally, if you like your books full of shorter pieces, check out a different format--Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success is divided into five broad sections to help you make more money regardless of what kind of nonfiction writing you do. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

We're ALL Vegetarians...Until the Burgers Arrive


At a panel on developing a lucrative side hustle at ASJA (moderated by the awesome Damon Brown), I talked about the importance of using your experience to set yourself apart from other writers. Book authors know we're talking about something called "platform," which in short can be described as '"who are you and how will you sell this book so that the publisher can make money with it". 

Platform matters for writers of shorter content, too, whether you're pitching an article to a national magazine or sending an LOI to a content company. See, competition is stiff. You're competing against hundreds of thousands (more likely, millions) of other freelancers to get work. Oh no! Before you give up, though, consider that you're not competing against all of these writers at the same time, or for the same markets. Feel a little better? Good.

The fact remains, though, that you're still competing against a fair number of them if you're writing for a market that pays well (or even decently). How do you stand out, especially as a new writer? By thinking about something that makes you unique...and something that has value to your potential client or editor. 

Here's what I mean. I'm a certified personal trainer. I have been since 2007. And I've trained clients as a lucrative (okay, not really) side gig. Hence my presence on the panel. But I am not training clients right this second. Fact is, I haven't trained a client for almost two years. 

But do I confess this in LOIs, or to editors or agents I meet with? Hell to the no! (I also don't mention that my street slang is typically about five years' behind what people actually say.) I point out that I'm an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a fairly deep background in fitness. Guess what? Most freelancers don't have that qualification. So it sets me apart from the mobs of writers who want to cover fitness. 

Better yet, most trainers aren't writers. So, who is an editor going to think of when he or she needs a writer to cover something fitness related? Hopefully me. 

Now if an editor point-blank asks me about whether I'm training clients currently, I'll fess up. I won't lie to get a gig. But it's okay to make an impression that helps you stand out in a very competitive field. You don't have to be doing something full-time, or part-time, or even occasionally to "claim" it. 

As I said at the panel, "Am I training now? No. But can I say, 'I'm a trainer'? Of course. Hell, I can say I'm a vegetarian. Because right this minute, I am a vegetarian." 

"Well, we're ALL vegetarians!" added Damon. 

To which I responded, "Yeah, we're all vegetarians...until the burgers arrive." 

Mmmmmm....burgers.

Oops, I digress. My point isn't to sway the vegetarians to eat burgers. (Though they are delicious once in a while. The burgers, not the veggies.) It's to claim something about your background, experience, or credentials that helps set you apart. That's what I call being unique qualified. It helps you nail assignments and makes you memorable. And most of the time, being memorable is good. 

**A big welcome to my new readers. If you're serious about making your freelance writing business a money-maker, I suggest my freelance classic, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition

If you're more interested in getting into ghostwriting and content marketing, I suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition

If you're brand-new to freelancing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets walks you through the process of launching your freelance career

Finally, if you like your books full of shorter pieces, check out a different format--Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success is divided into five broad sections to help you make more money regardless of what kind of nonfiction writing you do. 



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Six-Figure Freelancing: Upcoming Events (Chicago and New York)

Is making more money--even six figures--your goal as a freelancer? If you're in the Chicago area, come see me present on Six-Figure Freelancing at Off-Campus Writers' Workshop in Winnetka on Thursday, April 21 at 9:00 a.m. OCWW is a great organization for writers of all stripes, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have about successful freelancing. Let me know if you're planning on coming!

I'll also be moderating a panel on Six-Figure Freelancing at this year's ASJA's annual writers conference in New York on May 20 and May 21. (I've posted about the annual conference before: if you're serious about your work as a writer, it's well worth the expense.) making money as a writer You'll hear from three uber-successful freelancers: Damon Brown; Wendy Helfenbaum; and Jodi Helmer. Each has a very different career path but all have  reached a level of success that many writers only dream of. 

Some of the strategies I'll cover on Thursday include: 
  • Specializing. Early in my career I took on any assignment, on any topic, that was offered to me. That helped me gain a lot of experience but meant that I spent a lot of time getting up to speed on topics as varied an animal dissection alternatives to community leadership schools to charity car shows to religious-based weight loss programs. Today I specialize in health, wellness, nutrition/diet, and fitness subjects (with a bit of psychology and self-help tossed in). It may limit my work opportunities a bit but makes me far more efficient in the long run.  
  • Developing regular clients. I have moved from doing mostly articles for print magazines to a mix of ghostwriting (mostly books and book proposals), content marketing, and blogging. I'm always looking for regular clients, however--those who will hire me more than once (and hopefully many times!) Even some of my ghostwriting clients have hired me to write more than one book for them, and that means I spend less time marketing myself. 
  • Working efficiently. Specializing and developing "regulars" is one way to to do this. Another is to use my time wisely. I use my mornings to write and save less challenging tasks (like doing interviews, sending queries, and doing background research) for the afternoons, when I'm not as focused. Sounds simple, but you'll get more done when you take advantage of your natural energy ebbs and flows. 
  • Building relationships. I do a lot of interviews even today, and always take the time to send personal thank-you notes to those I speak to. I also refer work I don't take on to other freelancers, and attend conferences like ASJA to meet not only agents, editors, and potential clients but other freelancers as well. Being connected means more than having a social media presence; it means having IRL (in real life) connections as well. 
Let me know if I can hope to see you this coming Thursday, April 21, in Winnetka, or on Saturday, May 21, at ASJA in New York! 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How to Say "No" to a Client You Don't Want to Work For

I've found that as a ghostwriter, I get a lot of leads that don't lead to actual work. Last week, I spoke with a potential ghostwriting client by phone. He had been referred to me by another freelancer, a friend of mine who doesn't ghostwrite books. We connected via email, and I asked him my standard list of questions I send to potential clients, which include: 

  • Do you plan to try to sell your book to a traditional publisher, or will you be using a print-on-demand company? Do you understand the pros and cons of working with each? 
  • What’s your purpose in writing the book? 
  • Who’s the audience for your book? Do you plan to sell your book, and if so, why will readers want to buy it? 
  • What’s your timeline? 
  • What’s your budget? (Ghostwriting an entire book typically costs $35,000+ depending on the length, scope of the project, author involvement, and other factors. If you have a manuscript or material already written that needs reworking or editing, we can discuss an appropriate fee.)
  • Do you have material for your ghostwriter to use (such as the beginning of a book, an outline, some chapters), or will your ghostwriter work with you to create the book from scratch? 
  • What’s your biggest hope for your book? What’s your biggest fear about writing a book?
The potential client didn't mention his budget (he said it was flexible) but it become clear during our brief call that he couldn't afford me. So I gave him suggestions about how to find a local ghostwriter who would be willing to charge less than I do, wished him all the best with his project, and thanked him for his time. 

I've written here before about the importance of knowing your rates, and knowing how much (or how little) you're willing to charge for different types of work. But there is an art to saying no. There's nothing to be gained by being rude or dismissive; I'd rather have him think of me for other possible projects, or if he knows someone else who may hire a ghostwriter in the future.

The lesson? While I don't waste time with someone who I know can't afford me, I do make an effort to help the person who contacted me. Even a brief call can lead to a referral that turns into work. Keep that in mind the next time you say "no" to someone. 

**Want to know more about how make money as a ghostwriter? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks, Second Edition: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs, and More, called the "comprehensive guide for getting started as a ghostwriter."  


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10 Questions You Must Ask Before You Hire a Ghostwriter

Do you dream of writing a book--but lack the time, ability, or both to do so? Like many would-be authors, you may be considering hiring a ghostwriter. 

The question is--how? Do you post on craigslist--and then try to weed through dozens or even hundreds of responses? Or Google to find the right person? Regardless of how you winnow your list, I suggest you ask the following questions of a potential ghostwriter: 

1. How many published books have you ghostwritten or coauthored? 

Be wary of ghosts who only have a few credits to their names. You want an experienced ghost who has ghosted books before--in general, the more, the better. At the minimum, you want a ghost who has authored and published his or her own books.

2. How many different publishers have you worked with? 

The more publishers a ghost has worked with, the better. Every editor and every house is different, so a ghost who has worked with different ones has more experience pleasing different editors--and meeting their requirements--than someone with less experience.

3. Have you worked with authors who have chosen 
POD, or print-on-demand, publishers as opposed to traditional publishers? 

Many authors decide to use a POD publisher instead of pursuing a traditional publisher. If that's the case, hire a ghost who has worked with clients who chose that route. An experienced ghost can also advise you on the right publishing package to buy from a POD company--and which things, like YouTube videos costing thousands of dollars to help "promote" your book--that are a waste of money.

4. How much do you charge? 
I've seen a trend (disturbing to a ghost like myself) of clients wanting to pay as little as possible for a book. Well, you get what you pay for. Depending on the scope of work, experienced ghosts typically charge in the range of $20,000 to $50,000+ to ghostwrite a book. If you think you'll find someone who will do it for significantly less than that (and forget about working for a "share of royalties" or some other nebulous promise), you can expect less-than-professional work. (Can't afford that? Consider writing your book on your own, and hire a developmental editor instead.) 

5. Can you show me samples of published work? 

While your voice is unique and a ghost will capture it, you want to see samples of his published work.  

6. What's your background? Have you written about the subject of my book before? 

One of the reasons I ghost books about health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, and psychology is because I've been writing about those subjects for more than 19 years. As a result, I have a deep background in these topics, and as an ACE-certified personal trainer and I know much more about fitness than the average writer. If you're writing a book about real estate, you want a ghostwriter who knows what "comps" and "curb appeal" mean. If your book is a memoir, you want a ghost who specializes in true-life stories. And if you're writing a cookbook, you may want a ghost who has experience developing recipes or meal plans. 

7. How do you typically work with clients? 

Some ghosts like to spend a lot of time on the phone with clients; others (like me) work almost exclusively via email. In general, the more phone time and back and forth, the more your ghostwriter will charge. Make sure to ask how the ghostwriter typically works with clients, and consider whether that jibes with how you want to proceed.  

8. Can I see your ghostwriting contract? 
An experienced ghostwriter will have a standard contract; make sure you read it carefully before you sign and pay a retainer. 

9. What kind of work can you perform for me? 
In some cases, you may provide all of the material your ghostwriter needs to write your book. In others, you may want your ghost to do background research, conduct interviews, and do other work in addition to writing. If that's the case, you'll want a ghostwriter who has a journalism or freelancing background. If your ghost can conduct independent research for you, that will save you time in the long run. 

10. Can you give me the names of former clients?  
An experienced ghost should have plenty of satisfied clients who will recommend him or her. (At this point in my career, 95 percent of my work comes from personal referrals.) If you're planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a book, it's worth it to vet your potential ghost. If you're not happy with what you learn, continue your search for the right ghost for your project.

**Kelly James-Enger ghostwrites books for a variety of clients, primarily those in the health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, and psychology fields. She's also the author of Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks, Second Edition: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More