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The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success first hit the shelves in fall 2003. We knew we�d hit a home run with the book because we dared tell writers that a lot of rules about freelancing are complete bull doo-doo. That said, we were quite unprepared for the fanfare, the kudos, and dare we say, the adulation, our blood, sweat, and late night coffee-swilling had wrought.
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There are three ways to make a good living as a freelance writer.
You can work hard and earn a lot of money — or you can scale down your lifestyle and live on less. Or, you could do a little of each.
I do a combination of both. As I’ve mentioned here before, I earn around $70,000 per year working 20 hours per week on a combination of writing for magazines and corporate clients, teaching e-courses, and mentoring writers.
But when my husband and I (and later, our son) lived in New Hampshire for six years, even with my income and my husband’s freelance income, it felt like we were often living on the edge, making just enough to get by. All our bills were covered, but we didn’t have much of a cushion and we didn’t get to travel as much as we wanted.
I could have worked harder and earned more, because I was working only two days per week, with a few additional hours scattered here and there throughout the week. But I value my free time over everything else, and I didn’t want to bust my butt for 40 hours or more per week.
So we cut down on expenses.
Out went the cable, which we had only to watch Project Runway 16 weeks out of the year. Goodbye went the personal trainer. Sayonara, daycare!
We started feeling like we had more breathing room, though juggling a two-year-old at home and two writing careers was not easy.
Then we made the decision that really put us ahead: We moved to North Carolina.
I’d estimate our monthly expenses are around $1,500 less here than they were in New Hampshire.
That’s $18,000 savings per year.
For example, our health insurance is $600 less per month. Rent is $400 less than our mortgage was. Heat cost us $500 every month in the winter in New Hampshire, while here in North Carolina the amount is under $200.
We also homeschool and my mom helps out with childcare, which saves us the cost of preschool and, later, private school. Because we both work from home on part-time hours, we’re sure we can make it work.
That’s the great thing about freelancing: You can live pretty much anywhere, so you’re not stuck in a pricey area. And we freelancers tend to like our freedom and to make our own decisions, and we’re not afraid to make choices that others wouldn’t make, like homeschooling or pulling up stakes and moving.
Whatever you do, wherever you live, is your choice. Some people say they have no choice but to do X, Y, or Z, but that’s not true. You may not like your options, and you may be facing a risk, but you always have a choice.
And as a freelancer, you have more choices than most. You don’t have to go with the crowd. So why not use your freedom and independence to craft a lifestyle that works for you? [lf]
I get a lot of writers in my Become an Idea Machine workshop
who want to write essays.
Scratch that. They want to get paid to write essays. Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to write — and get paid for — essays. However, if you’re an avid reader of popular newsstand magazines, you know that most of them aren’t packed with essays. Many don’t run essays at all; and the magazines that do run one essay each issue, usually on the back page and often from a writer who’s well known to the magazine and/or the reading public.
I like to encourage students and not squash their writerly dreams, so I gently suggest that they turn some of their essay ideas into something I call a “reported essay.” A reported essay reads like a magazine article — you’ve got your lede, your nut graf, original reporting and quotes from sources and experts — but the article includes those elements of essay writing that writers find appealing; the personal anecdotes, funny stories, teaching moments, and/or resolutions to situations that can help other readers.
Here are a couple articles I’ve written that I consider “reported essays”:
Deciding to Have One Child
Cookery Books: Britain’s Gift to America
I could have chosen essay form to detail my decision to limit our family size to one child or written a funny essay about how I travel to England with an empty suitcase to fill with cookbooks, but I’ve grown to love the marriage between personal experience and reportage.
Why should you consider reported essays?
Magazines buy more reported essays than essays.
Go to your local newsstand and flip through a couple consumer magazines. They’re typically filled with stories written by journalists and freelancers who’ve injected a bit of themselves into their articles. These types of articles are staples for a lot of magazines, whereas these same magazines may buy one (or none!) straight essay for each issue. There’s just a bigger market for reported essays over essays with no reporting.
Competition to place essays is fierce.
It’s simple: you’ve got a lot of writers wanting to sell essays and a limited number of outlets that will buy those essays. If you want to sell more work, you need to broaden your horizons.
You can sell a reported essay on proposal.
If you want to sell an essay, you must write the essay first then send it in to the magazine. It’s one of the rare instances where a writer ‘writes the article first” rather than querying for it. Why? You can’t tell the editor, “I’ll write a touching essay about what it meant to find my birth father after 30 years of searching.” He needs to read your 500 words, to feel what you went through during your search, to see how you changed through the experience, and to find some emotional connection to your story that will not only resonate with him, but will elicit an emotional response with his readers. Only by reading the finished product can he learn if your story is, indeed, touching.
If you reslant your idea and position it as a reported essay, however, you can query for it. You might open your query with a brief overview of how you found your birth father, then explain to the editor that your proposed article will show how three other adults fo
Many writers ask me, “What’s the easiest way to find clients?”
Well, here’s the thing: Do you want the easiest way to market — or do you want the way that will actually land you gigs?
I’ve discovered there’s an inverse relationship between how easy a marketing technique is and how effective it is.
For example: When I built my own prospect list several years back using a business directory at the library, called to verify names, and snail mailed sales letters, I got an 11% response rate of people asking for my information kit — and enough gigs to kick-start my career in copywriting.
But when I downloaded a mailing list from Hoovers a couple of years ago and mailed my letter to them, all I got was a guy e-mailing me to complain that his name had been spelled wrong.
Writers who research markets and send out well-written query letters and letters of introduction make way more money than those who pick the low-hanging fruit from the content mills and bidding sites.
I get better leads sending InMails to businesses that have looked at my LinkedIn profile than relying on my profile to entice people to contact me.
When I tried to attract copywriting clients via Google ads several years ago, I got zilch — not even a nibble.
In short: Shoe leather counts. There’s a huge difference between going out and asking people for work (yay!) — and doing the virtual equivalent of lying there on the couch and hoping prospects and editors will come to you (boo).
Of course, it’s a great idea to have a compelling website that ranks high for your search terms, and a good LinkedIn profile, and a nice Twitter bio. But those tactics equal you waiting around and making other people do the work instead of you going out there and drumming up work.
Don’t be like most struggling writers who take the easy way and then whine that they’re not making any money. Find out where your markets are and go after them with letters of introduction, query letters, sales letters, warm calls and cold calls, LinkedIn InMails, DMs on Twitter, and other forms of contact.
These are proven ways to get work. They’re not as easy as downloading a premade list or throwing an ad out there — but they’re more effective.
How about you: What’s been your most effective marketing technique for getting writing gigs? [lf]
Thanks to everyone who suggested podcast ideas for me. Two or three people from my mailing list asked me to present on how to break into freelance writing when you have no clips or experience — I’ll be giving those readers a free seat in the Basic version of my Write for Magazines class.
This is my first podcast and my first time using Garage Band, so please understand if this isn’t the most polished presentation ever! But I do like podcasts that come from the heart and offer great information, and I think this one does that.
How To Break Into Freelance Writing When You Have No Clips and No Experience
Add a Comment and let me know what you think! [lf]
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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It’s a Catch-22 I hear over and over again from my phone mentoring clients and on the Freelance Writers Den:
“I can’t make good money until I stop writing for the content mills, but I can’t stop writing for the content mills because it’s the only money I have coming in.”
At the content mills, writers typically earn around $15 per article, and they spend 40 hours per week or more churning out articles just to keep the lights on.
That’s no way to live!
The reasons for getting stuck in content mills are numerous. Some writers feel they don’t have the journalism chops to make it in the real world of freelancing. Some are trying to build up a clip file, not knowing that most editors of good-paying publications don’t take content mill clips seriously. And some writers simply don’t want to make the effort to find out where the higher-paying work is.
But whatever the reason, the upshot is the same: You’re stuck, and you want out.
The hard reality is that to get out, you have to make the time to look for better-paying work. Here’s how:
1. Cut down on content mill work.
Like I said, it’s a hard reality! Can you cut down on content mill work enough to spend a couple of hours a day marketing yourself to better clients?
It takes a leap of faith: You need to believe that if you turn down some crap-paying work, you’re creating a vacuum that will be filled with better opportunities. Take it from me — I’ve seen it happen often.
I had one mentoring client who didn’t have that faith, but she bit the bullet and took my advice anyway — and within 10 days, she had a trade magazine assignment worth $600. She said, “That’s like 20 content mill assignments!”
2. Work the night shift.
My buddy Carol Tice’s days are packed full with assignments — so when she wants to work on a special project, she often works the 8-to-midnight shift. If you want to make freelancing work, sometimes you have to suck it up and work hours that you’d rather not.
So if you’re working eight or more hours per day on content mill assignments, can you get up early or stay up late to invest some time in improving your career?
3. Market wisely.
Many writers are afraid to market themselves to better-paying clients because they’re imagining slogging for days on a single query letter, sending it to top magazines, and waiting weeks to hear back. Not exactly the best way to quickly get cash so they can move out of the content mills.
There are plenty of other, quicker ways to market yourself to magazines and online publications. My post 8 Ways to Land New Writing Assignments (Not Just Queries!) lists some of them.
For example, you can send letters of introduction to trade and custom publications, connect with editors on LinkedIn and Twitter, work on your website’s SEO, and network with other writers.
Also, remember that if you look beyond the national consumer publications, you’ll find thousands of good markets out there that are much easier to break into and write for.
This is a guest post by Diana Bocco.
You’ve probably heard the command before: Diversify.
In most cases, what they’re telling you to do is to try out different streams of income: magazine writing, book publishing, coaching or editing. But there’s another way you can diversify as a magazine writer: By looking at new and unexplored markets beyond your comfort zone.
Target small specialty magazines.
Trade magazines are not as strong as they once were. Years ago, you could find publications for almost every trade, from cement pouring to oil & energy to insurance. The recession took a big toll on trade mags and as a result many folded or stopped taking freelance submissions.
Many, but not all. Trade magazines are still out there and they pay well. For example, last year I sold an article to a wine making magazine for $650 and one to a paper industry magazine for almost $1,000. Do I know a lot about wine making or paper production? No, but I’m good at research and I found great experts to quote in the articles, so the editors were happy.
You won’t find trade magazines at your local bookstore – they’re mostly sold by subscription or given away for free to members of a certain union or organization. Still, most have websites where you can get an idea of the topics they cover and you can use your local bookstore to browse books on the same topic for story ideas.
Look at your niche with new eyes.
Whatever your niche is, there might be more to it than you think. Let’s take, for example, the fitness niche. The obvious market is fitness magazines such as Shape and Men’s Fitness.
But if you write targeted articles, you can sell a fitness story to a woman’s magazine (“Exercise for the busy career woman”), a college magazine (“How exercise can help you deal with the stress of college”) or a health magazine (“How exercise can decrease your risk of depression”). How about a children’s magazine? Sports Illustrated Kids magazine publishes stories on kids excelling at sports and fitness and Youth Fitness magazine recently published an article on common summer injuries in active kids and teens.
If you find a specific topic, you can spin it forever into different angles. A “how to avoid injury” article can be targeted to fit a running, skiing or cycling magazine. I once wrote an article on budget travel in Japan and then realized I could write similar articles about other destinations. That resulted in multiple articles and over $2,000 in assignments from travel publications, in-flight magazines and an expat magazine.
And don’t forget trade publications. You could target magazines aimed at fitness professionals, gym owners and sports management. These would require a very different type of article and approach, but it could be an interesting challenge to try.
Up until a couple of years ago, it had never crossed my mind to target international magazines. It seems like such an obvious thing to do, right? The UK, Canada and Australia have plenty of magazines covering the same fields you find in American publications. So why are you ignoring them?
Once I discovered international markets, my reach expanded a lot. I’m a frequent contributor to The Genteel, a Canadian fashion and design publication and I’ve sold stories to The Writer, Marie Claire Australia and UK’s Six magazine. My work has also appear
A guest post by Carol Tice
Does this happen to you? You’ve got an article assignment, and you’re all excited.
You get your research organized, and interviews if needed. You feel like you’re making good progress.
Then it comes time to write it up.
And you freeze.
That blank page is just mocking you.
And that deadline is looming in your face. Soon, you’ll have to face your editor and tell her your piece isn’t going to be ready on time.
What’s happened here?
You’ve got a complex.
You know your topic…and yet you can’t seem to organize all the bits and pieces of information into a coherent whole.
You can’t find the starting point.
You’re dead in the water.
How do I know about this? Well, I am the queen of this non-starter complex.
Especially if it’s my first article for a brand-new client. Massive, massive complex.
Much woe and teeth-gnashing ensues, and/or compulsive inhaling of entire bag of dark-chocolate Lindt truffles.
Fortunately, I know how to snap out of it and get the article done — even if the piece has a ton of different interviews and research I need to weave in.
Here are seven strategies for cracking the blank-page problem and getting your article written, and written well:
- Re-read the publication. You probably looked it over when you researched this market, but crack it open (or read it online) again now. Study their articles — how do they start? What’s the tone? How do they use quotes? Subheads? How do they end? Now, close your eyes and imagine the piece you’re writing in this publication. Often, you can envision the opening immediately by doing this.
- Start anywhere. Don’t get hung up on the first line or sentence. If you know the end, write that. Got a section of bullet-points in the middle that are easy? Knock them out. Now, you’ve beat the blank page and are well begun.
- Read and highlight notes. If you’re nervous about whether the material you need is all there, read and highlight all your notes. By the time you’re done, you’ll know whether you have all the information you need — or if you’re stumped because you need to find an expert to interview because you don’t know enough about your topic yet.
- Create an “idiot’s outline.” Making a real outline, where you graph what points will go where, has always seemed like a time-waster to me, especially for a 500-word or shorter article. Instead, create a source outline — simply list each source you have and the most important points they make, in any order. List any important stats you want to use, too. Now, you have a pithy list of the most important things to say in your article. Put them in order of priority, and you’re ready to write.
- Set the quotes. Sometimes, it helps to pull out the few great quotes you know you want to use and write them out. Then, start writing the lead-up and follow-on paragraphs that go around it…and by then, you’re well on your way.
- Write without notes, exact quotes or attribution. One of the biggest writing problems comes when we stop and start all the time to look up facts and name spellings and the precise wording of quotes we want to use, and other trivia. Instead, let all the fine details go and simply begin to tell the story. Let i
Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing surveyed more than 200 writers to find out what was holding them back from reaching the level of success they wanted.
The result? Many of you are confused about the nitty-gritty details of journalism — ethics, research, crafting an article, newsgathering, generating salable story ideas, and more.
To help writers gain confidence and earn more, we created the 4-Week J-School. We removed the J-school fluff you don’t need (the history of media? really?) and condensed the rest into four 1-hour sessions that are packed with valuable information. We also made the price tag much nicer: Journalism school can cost up to $30,000, but we’re doing it all for just $295.
- Story ideas that sell: What makes a salable idea — and where to find ideas that will knock editors’ socks off.
- Newsgathering 101: How to find the best sources for your articles, get the most out of an interview, and find solid statistics to bolster your query or article. (AND — how to avoid misleading statistics and sources with an agenda.)
- Article writing intensive: How to write an article that will impress an editor, including writing headlines, ledes, sharpening your writing style, deciding on a story type, using quotes, and weaving in experts.
- Journalism ethics 101: We’ll answer all the questions you have about conflict of interest, libel, plagiarism, accepting gifts from sources, reselling ideas, and much more.
Students of the 4-Week J-School also get:
- Four live, 1-hour phone sessions where you’ll learn from two seasoned freelancers and get a chance to ask them your questions in real-time.
- Downloadable recordings and full transcripts for each session.
- A free month of access to the Freelance Writers Den (ordinarily $25), where Carol, Linda, and other professional writers will answer your followup questions and critique your assignments.
- Guidance to write a 500-word, reported article and have it critiqued by two pros.
- Dozens of pages of helpful written materials and resource links that will heighten your learning.
If you enroll before Tuesday, May 14, you also get:
A free copy of Linda Formichelli’s e-book Get Unstuck! for Freelancers : A 6-Week Course to Boost Your Motivation, Organization, and Productivity—So You Can Do More Work in Less Time, Make More Money, and Enjoy the Freelance Lifestyle.
- All about Query Letters and Letters of Introduction — A bonus 1-hour recording and handout from Carol and Linda’s Freelance Writers Blast Off class. J-school doesn’t train writers on how to pitch — they assume you’re all getting staff writer jobs. (So 1997!) So we’ll fill in the gap with this training module on how to contact editors and get assignments.
We’re running the 4-Week J-School only twice this year, and we limit each class to 30 students — so if you’re interested, sign up now!
If you want to gain the knowledge and confidence to become an accomplished freelance writer, read more details — plus testimonials for our other course, the Freelance Writers Blast Off — on the 4-Week J-School page.
I interviewed writer Kelly James-Enger about the value of resilience — and how a freelance writer can develop it.
You’re a long-time freelancer, and you know a lot of freelancers who have been freelancing for 10, 20 years, or more. What kinds of attributes do they have in common?
Freelancers who thrive over the long haul have solid writing and marketing skills, of course. But they’re also able to adapt to an ever-changing industry, to continue to learn new skills, and to grow their careers in new directions. Personality-wise, almost all of them are flexible, independent, and resilient.
What do you mean by resilient?
To me, resilience describes the ability to get knocked down and get back up. All freelancers experience rejection, for example. Resilient writers are able to let rejections slide off of their backs and move on to the next potential market without letting it derail you or doubt your abilities as a writer. Resilient writers also adapt to changes in the freelance market and to move with the industry instead of against it. And they have an inner toughness that allows them to continue freelancing.
So how can new writers to develop resilience?
Keep in mind that when you freelance, everyone has an opinion about your work. Your query may be stellar but it may be rejected for a host of reasons that you have no control over. A rejection is only of that particular idea by that particular editor of that particular magazine. It’s not personal.
Your best response? Send out a new query to the editor who rejected you, and get that other query out to a market that may be interested in it.
Second, avoid a catastrophic mindset. I see a lot of new writers who immediately assume the worst when something bad happens, along the lines of, “oh no! The source isn’t available! I’ll miss my deadline!” Assume that every aspect of an assignment—lining up sources, interviewing them, writing the piece—will take longer than you expect, and plan accordingly.
And remind yourself of the times when you’ve faced a challenge and risen to it. Even if you’re a new writer, I’m sure you’ve overcome obstacles in your personal and professional life. That’s what creates resilience in someone.
What about more experienced writers?
I think that the longer you freelance, the more resilient you become. You have a story killed. (It’s happened to me a dozen times.) You survive. You become more resilient. You lose a client—a big client. You find another client to replace that one you lost. You become more resilient. I think another aspect of being resilient as a freelancer is to never rely too heavily on one or two clients—you want to have your “regulars,” but you want some diversity too to help protect your business .
Apart from the way you run your business, I think there are a couple of other aspects to developing resilience. Having fellow freelancers as friends who you can turn to for advice or commiseration definitely helps. And I’m a big believer in physical exercise, not just for your body but for your psyche as well. I feel calmer and more in control of my business after a good run or workout, so I make time for that every workday.
Do you write about resilience in your new book, Writer for Hire?
I had to double-check! I do talk about it in secret #44, Develop a personal persona. (Check out the book’s table of contents here.) Quoting from the book:
Develop resilience. Let me tell you, not every day of freelancing is all sunshine and roses. Some
In Lessons 4 and 5 of my Write for Magazines e-course, I have students find sources and set and conduct interviews.
I know this can be scary for newer writers — and I know it because a few of them always end up setting e-mail interviews so they don’t have to face the source by phone.
Some writers will argue that e-mail interviews are fine. You ask questions, the source answers them. Done! E-mail interviews also have the advantage of giving the source a chance to really think about her answers, these writers say. And what if your source is overseas?
But unless you really, really can’t get a key source to agree to an interview any other way, I advise against doing e-mail interviews. (And the operative word here is “key” — if the source isn’t absolutely essential to your article, you can find someone who is willing to talk on the phone.) Here’s why.
1. You get canned answers. The benefit of phone (or in-person) interviews is that you see the source as he really is and get unfiltered answers to your questions. Sometimes, the answers to questions you didn’t ask make the best quotes. But with an e-mail interview, you’re basically giving the source permission to spin his own answers — and you often end up with canned, sanitized corporate-speak, which makes for terrible quotes. Not good.
2. You waste time. Writers often think they’ll save time by shooting off their questions and just sitting back and waiting for the answers. But the benefit of phone interviews is that if questions that aren’t on your list come up as you do the interview — which they will — you can just ask them right then. With an e-mail interview, you have to e-mail the source each time a new question comes up, and wait for the source to reply to each one — resulting in a time-consuming back-and-forth that’s less likely to get all your questions answered.
3. E-mail interviews are easy to put off. I used to do e-mail interviews occasionally before I wised up, and one major drawback is that sources don’t treat them as seriously as phone interviews. With a phone interview, you set a date and time and (usually) the source is there when you call. With an e-mail interview, you send your questions and even if you give a deadline for responses, chances are you’ll get the answers back only after days of nudging the source — which means you risk rushing at the last minute or even missing your deadline.
4. Many editors don’t like them. If you actually ask your editor whether she’ll accept an e-mail interview, she’ll probably agree to one only if it’s a key source and he refuses to speak on the phone. And don’t think you can just adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy: Technically, when you quote from an e-mail interview you’re supposed to append the quote with “said Jones in an e-mail interview.” You got it — if you do it right, you’ll be outed as someone too lazy to do proper reporting.
5. There are no excuses. “What if my source is overseas?” you may ask. To that I say, there are many ways around this. For example, Skype is often an option; I interviewed someone in Taiwan via Skype just last week. If the source doesn’t have Skype, you can ask the editor if the publication will cover phone expenses, so you don’t have to shell out for an international call. And if all else fails: Consider it a cost of doing business and deduct the expen
Carol Tice surveyed more than 200 writers to find out their biggest fears — and she and I developed a free one-hour teleclass to help you blast past bugaboos like:
- Fear of rejection.
- Fear of making a mistake that will doom your chances.
- Fear of looking stupid & being embarrassed.
- Fear of picking up the phone.
- Fear of bugging a prospect by contacting them.
- Fear of success. (Yes!)
- Fear of not knowing enough.
Fear (have you guessed it?) is the number one thing that holds freelance writers back from achieving success — so I’m psyched to discuss this important topic and answer your questions in real-time. The call will be on Friday, May 11 at 12 pm ET (9 am PT).
To get the details on how to join this free call, sign up on Carol’s site. If you already belong to her e-mail list, you’ll receive the details as well.
I look forward to seeing you on the call on Friday at 12 pm ET! [lf]