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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.
Statistics for The Renegade Writer
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 13
“To believe a thing impossible is to make it so.”
A short while ago I wrote a guest post for Copyblogger on how to earn $250 per hour. It got an amazing response from readers.
…for one reader who thought I was selling writers a false bill of goods by suggesting they could possibly earn that much.
He was so upset that he started trolling the reviews on Diana Burrell’s and my e-books, trying to bait writers who left positive reviews by posting inflammatory comments.
In one of those comments, he wrote something like, “By Linda’s reasoning, you should be able to make six figures working 10 hours per week.” He said this as if it was clearly in the realm of the ridiculous.
Last year I earned six figures working an average of 10 hours per week. (Some weeks I worked more, some less. Some I worked a ton, some I didn’t work at all.) 2014 was a banner year for me. In previous years, I’ve earned anywhere from $70-90,000 working those same hours. (And you have to remember that not all working hours are billable writing hours.)
When I saw this disconnect between the troll’s belief and the reality, I realized this is a HUGE problem for freelance writers (and people in general). Everyone feels as if their own experiences are the rule. If THEY can’t imagine themselves earning super well, then they believe that NO ONE can do it.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
The Two Kinds of Writers
Writers are split into two camps:
On one side, we have the writers who see someone who says they’re doing great, and they become angry. “That can’t be true! They’re scamming us! It’s impossible! No one makes THAT much writing! Prove it!” And at the same time they’re crying foul, they’re a little jealous.
On the other side, we have writers who see people doing well and are INSPIRED. They hear another writer is earning six figures and they become determined to do it themselves.
Not only that, but the writers in this camp are happy for the freelancers who’re out there kicking ass. They know writing is not a zero-sum game and one writer’s success doesn’t take away from THEIR chances. In fact, it makes their chances even greater: A writer who’s doing well proves it can be done, and that’s a good thing.
Guess which writer is going to be more successful — the one who feels it’s impossible to do amazingly well, or the one who’s inspired by other freelancers’ successes to work harder and achieve more?
If you believe it’s impossible to make a good living as a freelance writer, then you almost certainly are not going to earn well. That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophesy. And it’s also flat-out wrong. For every writer who grouses that it’s impossible to earn well, there are dozens of writers who are making it a reality.
But if you see someone doing what you thought was impossible and use it as motivation, you can do anything.
“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.”
Write, Don’t Gripe
I have a writer friend who makes three times what I do. Hearing that just makes me want to work harder. Another friend — who had never written anything before — wrote his first novel, pitched it to an agent, and just received an almost-6-figure advance from a major publisher. YES!
Many writers would say these people are lying. They would demand to see the novelist’s contract, or the freelancer’s tax forms. And they would work themselves into a lather trying to prove these feats are impossible — while the writers in question are laughing all the way to the bank.
Which writer do you want to be? The one who believes making a good living writing is impossible? Or the one who shows the world it IS possible?
Stuck writing for the content mills and struggling to pay your bills? Yeah, you and a TON of other writers!
Content mill owners and misinformed writers have been spreading the word that if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, you need to start out by writing for cheap-o content mills, bidding sites, and revenue share sites that pay you pennies for your hard work.
And even worse, after spouting this lame advice, they offer no tips on moving on up out of the mills to start earning some REAL money as a freelance writer! So too many writers keep slaving away at the mills for $5 per article, and they burn out before they can rack up a decent amount of pay.
Well, I’m here to change that. One of my passions is helping writers earn a decent living, so I scoured the web for 50 posts that will help you escape the content mills — from motivational posts to basic articles on how to break into more lucrative forms of writing.
Not Convinced You Want to Leave the Mills?
Lots of writers are afraid that if they leave the content mills, they’ll be left with nothing at all — and even $5 per article is better than that, right?
Not so. I rounded up a bunch of posts that will convince you to kick the mills once and for all. They show why content mills aren’t a valid “step up” to real freelancing, how the numbers don’t add up, and more.
1. The Science of Undervaluing Yourself (And How To Overcome It)
Author: Sean D’Souza
A cautionary take about undervaluing yourself as a businessperson…plus great stories about clients who complained about spending $250 on one of his products, only to go out and blow $2,500 on a vacation or $30,000 on a new car. You think you can’t command high rates? This post will make you think again.
2. Writers Explain What It’s Like Toiling on the Content Farm
Author: Corbin Hiar
A telling quote from this enlightening post: “‘I was completely aware that I was writing crap,’ she said. ‘I was like, I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’ […] ‘Never trust anything you read on eHow.com, she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.” Be sure to read the comments!
3. Why You’ll Fail at Freelancing if You Suck at Math
Blog: Profitable Freelancer
Author: Jen Mattern
You may be thinking you can make the numbers work as a low-paid content mill writer, but they just don’t add up. Read this post and you’ll stop fooling yourself.
4. The High Cost of Earning Little
Blog: Ask MetaFilter
Not a blog post per se, but this thread will show how U.S. freelancers pay more in taxes than the employed — which makes writing for the content mills even less worth the effort than you thought!
5. The Reality of Writing for Content Mills: 14 Writers’ True Stories
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Carol put a ton of investigative work into this post, and the result is a real eye-opener. If you’re not quite sure the content mills are something you want to avoid, reading this will MAKE you sure.
6. Why You Shouldn’t Write for Content Mills
Blog: The Matador Network
Author: Michelle Schusterman
Michelle writes, “Still…work hard on queries and send them out daily on the off-chance of getting a response months from now, or write the toilet vent piece for a guaranteed, immediate $15? I went the mill route. Here’s why I shouldn’t have.”
7. Content Mills: Why Aspiring Writers Should Avoid Them
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Not only do content mills not give you the experience you need to become a better — and better paid — writer, but the whole content mill model is at risk of dying. Carol offers these and more reasons why you should steer clear of content mills.
8. 3 Things Writing for Content Mills Can Teach You About Freelance Writing
Blog: The Writing Base
Author: Samar Owais
One lesson learned from this post: “There’s nothing like earning $5 an article to make you realize you’re never going to achieve your goals if you keep writing for these rates.”
9. 6 Crucial Lessons from Writing for Content Mills
Blog: Be a Freelance Blogger
Author: Shannon Cutts
What writing for content mills has given you: You have a thick skin, good self discipline, and a warrior mentality. Now, Shannon wants you to use those winning traits to land decent paying work!
10. 5 Pros and 5 Cons Using Content Mills to Start Your Freelance Writing
Blog: Freelance Writers: Expertise for Newbies
Author: Melony Candea
One notable “con” of writing for the mills: “It is a plain, hard truth that you can’t use a lot of your content mill experiences to sell yourself to quality sites once you’re ready. It doesn’t matter how well written the pieces are, the sites themselves have a slight smear on them within the writing community.”
11. Quit Getting Paid Peanuts: 10 Tips for Freelance Writers
Author: Heather Lloyd-Martin
A big takeaway from this post is that if you don’t think your writing is worth much, clients won’t either. Here’s what to do about it.
13. So You Want To Make A Living Writing? 13 Harsh Truths.
Blog: Write on the River
Author: Bob Mayer
Think everyone’s doing better than you, and it makes you want to just give up and stick with the mills? Love this quote: “People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about ‘my career has gone down the crapper.’ Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you.”
14. How I Make a Living as a Writer and You Can Too
Blog: James Altucher Confidential
Author: James Altucher
Learn the realities of writing for money, including Altucher’s revelations that platforms are shit and bookstores suck. An eye-opener!
15. The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living
Author: Sonia Simone
Here are all the intangibles you need to make a living writing, from love to confidence to support. But don’t be fooled — this post goes beyond touchy-feely sentiments to share some key real-world insights.
16. How To Make A Living As An Author: Joanna Penn With Mark McGuinness
Blog: The Creative Penn
Author: Joanna Penn
Here’s how bestselling author went from writer to successful author-entrepreneur. My favorite line from this post: “Stop thinking like needy artists or freelancers living hand to mouth, and start thinking and acting like creative entrepreneurs.”
17. 3 Ways to Escape the Content Mills & Earn More as a Freelance Writer
Blog: The Renegade Writer
Author: Linda Formichelli
I think it’s important for writers to know there is a VAST, good-paying market in between content mills and hard-to-break-into magazines and businesses.
18. 8 Strategies to Building Your Freelance Writing Career
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
Lots of good, solid nuts-and-bolts advice that will help you pitch your way to success in a market Brian says is getting easier to break into — thanks to email and the Internet.
19. So You Want to Be a Freelance Writer
Blog: Freelancers Union
Author: Kate Hamill
Kate, head of the Freelancers Union, gives the scoop on starting a freelance writing business.
20. Creating a Stronger Freelance Writing Business
Blog: Words on the Page
Author: Lori Widmer
A sample of the “why didn’t I think of that?” advice you’ll find in this post: “Look where others aren’t–right at the doorsteps of the companies and people you want to work with. Suppose you write about organic gardening. What associations cover that industry? Who are the experts? The PR firms? What publications support the growers, suppliers, manufacturers, or organic landscapers? Go to the sources themselves with your pitch. Do your homework, write your introductory letter, and follow up in a few weeks.”
21. To Become a Successful Freelance Writer, Start Here
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Are you one of those aspiring writers who says, “I’ll get started as soon as I determine my niche/decide on a business name/learn this fancy word processing program”? Carol tells you how and why you need to just take action NOW.
22. How to Stay Sane While Building Your Writing Career Part Time
Blog: The Write Life
Author: Ali Luke
Some core takeaways from this post: Be realistic, look into cutting down on your non-writing activities, and create systems that work for you.
23. 3 Secrets to Quickly Grow Your Freelance Writing Income
Blog: Make a Living Writing
Author: Carol Tice
Spoiler alert: Use your job and educational background to score gigs, even if these aren’t the topics you’re passionate about right now.
Yeah, But How Do I Actually GET These Lucrative Writing Assignments?
Somehow I knew you would ask that. So I gathered posts that outline the very basics on breaking into several different kinds of writing that can pay well. If one type calls out to you, you can do some Google-fu to dig deeper into the details.
First, a couple posts that outline all your options for writing niches that are worth pursuing:
24. What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?
Author: Terje Johansen
Wow! Get all the details on 25 types of writing to choose from — from technical writing to resume writing to journalism.
25. 105 Ways to Make a Living Writing in 2015
Blog: All Indie Writers
Author: Jenn Mattern
From ad copy to write papers, this list offers 105 ways for writers to make money, well, writing. My fave quote: “If you aren’t sure where to start, or if you’re worried that there aren’t enough potential writing gigs to go around, consider this: Just about everything involves a writer in some way.”
And now, the newbie guides to breaking into better writing niches:
Freelance copywriters can earn $50, $100, and more per hour for writing ad copy, brochures, newsletters, product descriptions, and more.
26. How to Become a Master Copywriter in Just One Year
Blog: The Write Life
Author: James Chartrand
I love how this post doesn’t promise instant riches, and also delves into some of the mental aspects of becoming a copywriter.
27. How to Become a Freelance Copywriter
Author: Joanna Wiebe
Solid details on how to build a portfolio, find clients, and more.
28. The Freelance Copywriter’s Unfair Marketing Advantage
Author: Brian Clark
Being a successful copywriter is about a LOT more than knowing how to write well. Brian discusses how to differentiate yourself from all the other copywriters out there.
Online Writing 101
Basically any writing for an online market counts here: Web copy, online newsletters, articles, and other types of writing that appear on the web. Pay varies widely, but bigger businesses tend to pay more moolah.
29. How I Make My Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)
Author: Ali Luke
Ali earns not just from her writing online, but from affiliated activities like coaching and running a membership site. Here’s the scoop on how, why, and how much each earns.
30. How to Make Money Writing for the Web
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
Brian leaves nothing out of this informative post — from websites that list paying freelance jobs to tips on the craft of writing for the web.
Content Marketing 101
Content marketing is writing that’s meant to entertain and educate with an eye to garnering readers, loyalty, and sales — and can include blog posts, e-mail newsletters, and more. Pay varies, but many businesses are learning it’s worth it to pay more for good content.
31. How Freelancers Can Break Into Content Marketing Writing
Blog: WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age
Author: Jennifer Gregory
Jennifer outlines the steps to becoming a content marketing writer in this post that includes a load of great resource links.
32. Getting Started as a Content Marketer
Blog: The Content Marketing Institute Blog
Author: Joe Pulizzi
Not exactly a blog post, but a web page by industry pro Joe Pulizzi that offers up a list of resources for newbies who want to break into content marketing.
33. Epic Content Marketing: How Business Writers Can Profit From The
Blog: High-Income Business Writing with Ed Gandia
Author: Ed Gandia
Ed interviews content marketer extraordinaire Joe Pulizzi (does that name sound familiar? to get the scoop on what content marketing is and why it’s a good market for freelance writers.
Magazine Writing 101
This is MY baby, and let me tell you: Some magazines pay zilch, while top markets can pay $2 per word and up. I’ve actually been paid well over $2,500 for a single article for a newsstand magazine. Other magazine markets that pay include trade publications, custom publications, and online magazines. If you’re interested in breaking into this market, you may want to check out Carol Tice’s and my upcoming Pitch Clinic class. We show you how to write a killer query or letter of introduction, and we two magazine editors on staff to critique your homework!
34. How to Get Paid to Write for Magazines: The Ultimate Guide
Blog: Boost Blog Traffic
Author: Linda Formichelli (Who is that chick, anyway?)
I know this is one of mine, but it really is an ultimate guide! Get the details on who will buy your articles and how to pitch them.
35. How to Write for Major Magazines
Author: Allena Tapia
Allena has some great tips on which editors to pitch and how to flatter your way to success as a magazine writer.
Want write blog posts for clients? Lots of businesses are realizing the value of maintaining an interesting updated blog, and they’re looking for writers who can make it happen. Pay varies, but $50-$75 per post is common, and you typically don’t have to do all the research and interviewing you’d do for a magazine article. You can also earn money from your own blog through selling products, running ads, and doing affiliate marketing.
36. How to Start Earning from Your Blog – Right Away
Blog: Write to Done
Author: Carol Tice
Carol lists a bunch of ways to attract blogging clients — but notes that if clients aren’t coming to you, you need to reach out to them. (And she has tips for that too!)
37. How to Become a Highly Paid Freelance Blogger
Blog: Writing Happiness
Author: Marya Jan
Choose a niche, gather testimonials, and blog your butt off! These and more tips will help you get started as a paid blogger.
38. How to Become a Freelance Blog Writer
Blog: Freelance Switch
Author: Leo Babauta
Lots of advice for the blogging newbie. One great tip: “Once you’ve got some subscribers (a couple hundred would be awesome), don’t submit your stuff to the social media — let your readers do it for you. And they will, if the article is worthy. If it’s not worthy, you don’t want to submit it anyway. The effect of a popular article — or more accurately, a few popular articles — is big, in terms of becoming a freelancer. It gets you noticed by other blogs, and they’re your real market.”
Self-Publishing E-books 101
Self-publishing is tough to earn a lot from, but even so it beats the hell out of the content mills. You own your content and can sell it wherever and however you like, and online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make the selling process simple. My Amazon titles earn me a few thou in royalties every year.
39. How Can the Average Writer Make Money Self Publishing E-Books?
Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest
Author: Brian Klems
A very thorough discussion of the ins and outs of publishing e-books, especially hitting that sweet spot with pricing.
40. Self Publishing Podcast 116: What We’d Do If We Were Just Starting Out
Blog: The Self-Publishing Podcast
Author: Jacob Tullos
This podcasts addresses such newbie questions as: Should I start a blog? What should I blog about? Should I write a full novel or focus on shorter books? Should I break in with a series or release a standalone title first?
41. How to Make Money on Ebooks
Blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
Author: JA Konrath
JA Konrath makes a living from self publishing, and in this post he gives an overview of what it takes — including a Q&A of common newbie questions and a pro/con list for traditional vs. self publishing.
Ghostwriters can make a mint penning books, articles, and blog posts under their clients’ names. I’ve ghostwritten a couple of small Chicken Soup books that paid $5,000 each, and know from experience that series like Idiot’s Guides and Dummies books (though you’re technically a “co-author,” not strictly a ghostwriter, because your name appears under the subject matter expert’s name on the cover) can pay $10,000 and up.
42. How I Ghostwrite Other Writers’ Books
Blog: The Write Practice
Author: Joe Bunting
Joe offers a thorough discussion on the ethics of ghostwriting, how to land gigs, and the process for ghostwriting a book.
43. How to Be a Ghostwriter
Blog: Standout Books
Author: Robert Wood
I love how this post outlines the different types of ghostwriting you can get into, and gives advice on breaking into this niche.
44. So You Want My Job: Ghostwriter
Blog: The Art of Manliness
Author: Brett & Kate McKay
The authors interview Dean Zatkowsky , who averages $150 per hour for ghostwriting. Lots of great info on what to expect if you want to get into this field.
And that’s 44 posts to help you break out of the content mills, say buh-bye to writing for peanuts, and make a good living as a freelance writer. If you enjoyed this post, please share with all your writer friends via email, on Twitter, and on Facebook!
You know what Linda and I hear from freelancers a lot?
“I wish you two had written a follow-up book to The Renegade Writer.”
When we hear this, it drives us a little batsh*t crazy. Here’s why.
We did. Years ago.
It’s called The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock. And here’s a little secret:
It’s even better than The Renegade Writer. At least that’s what Linda and I think. So I thought I’d tell you a bit of backstory about the book and why this gem of a book isn’t as popular as its big sister, The Renegade Writer.
When our first book took the freelance world by storm–okay, okay, that means we spotted it on the shelf of our now-defunct Borders–we pitched a follow-up book idea to our then-publisher Ed at Marion Street Press where we’d show readers pitch letters that sold. Only we had a twist: we’d interview the writer to learn how they came up with the idea, why they wrote their pitch they way they did, and what the experience of writing the ensuing article was like. Then we had a second brilliant twist: we’d interview the editor who bought the idea so we could show writers what captures the attention of this wily beast.
Ed loved the idea and gave us a book contract. He thought we should add an extensive FAQ at the beginning of the book that answered just about any question a writer might have about pitching an idea to an editor, and we did. We had our own questions, and we gathered questions both from new and experienced freelancers.
Next, we reached out to our network of writers and editors and asked them if they’d be willing to share with our readers a pitch letter that worked. I thought we’d have to twist a few arms and break a few legs to get people to volunteer–especially editors!–but it was easier than we thought it would be. Both writers and editors were generous with their words and their time, and it didn’t take us long to compile what we thought was a breakthrough tome for freelancers.
Here’s where we found the unicorn poop at the end of the rainbow. Right around the time our book went to press, Ed decided to sell Marion Street Press. Our book was released with little fanfare … and even less marketing support. Unlike The Renegade Writer, Query Letters That Rock was never picked up by the chain bookstores, or even the independents. Our poor little baby, Renegade Jr., was on his own.
We were hopeful that the new owners of Marion Street Press would recognize the potential of our info-packed book but despite promises of marketing blitzes and publisher support, they never came through for QLTR. In fact, they even went so far to stop paying us the royalties they owed us, which led us to getting the rights back to our books. That ended up being a Good Thing, although we didn’t realize it at the time.
Linda and I did the best we could with our books, but we had quite the learning curve. I won’t bore you with the details, but one day we both woke up–not together, you dirty-minded filth-monger–and decided it was time to behave like a Real Publishing Company, albeit a “renegade” one. More on that another time.
For right now, though, I want to say it loud and clear: there IS a follow-up tome to The Renegade Writer and it’s called Query Letters That Rock and yes, I’m biased but it’s a great book. Seriously. I read it now and then myself and marvel at how different writers express themselves and how wonderful it is that we can all have these different voices and STILL sell our work. It’s actually very reassuring to me, and I think when you read a few of the queries, you’ll feel reassured and inspired yourself.
To show you we’ve got the goods and to share just how awesome this book is, we’re offering a free sample. You don’t need to join anything, enter your name, or do anything but click this link and download:
Yes! I want to download a free sample of The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock!
— Diana Burrell
p.s. If you’re feeling especially flush, you can order my e-book, Rock-Solid Queries: The 10 Surprising Reasons Why Magazine Editors Reject Your Ideas … and How to Write Queries That Get More Acceptances Today, along with Query Letters That Rock.
It all started with a bowlful of marbles.
For years I wrote for many of the major women’s and health magazines — Woman’s Day, Health, Family Circle, Oxygen, Fitness, Woman’s Health, Redbook, and more. And part of my job was to always be researching my markets, so I read a LOT of these magazines every week.
It seemed that every year, each magazine in this niche would run an article on foot health where a podiatrist would recommend several exercises readers should do to keep their feet in good shape. One of these exercises was to toss a handful of marbles on the floor, and use your toes to pick up each one and deposit it in a bowl.
And every time I read this, I asked myself, “Is there a single woman, anywhere in the universe, who actually does this? In a country where the vast majority of women don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of regular exercise, is anyone out there taking the time every day to work on their toe strength?” It baffled me.
This next section may seem like a non-sequitur, but what I’m going to talk about now ties into all this and there is a lesson, I promise.
The Comparison Game
Even though I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to the craft and business of writing, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to just about every other part of my life. I like my house to be beautifully designed and sparkling clean, I stress when my toenails are chipped, I insist that every meal my family eats be as organic as possible and has all the macronutrients in the right amounts, and until my recent back injury, I was hiring a personal trainer to work me out three times per week — and feeling bad that my belly looked, well, like that of a 46-year-old woman.
You know how we tend to compare ourselves to others? Well, in each area of my life I’ve always compared myself to the foremost person I know in that field.
- I compared my house to the home of my friend who’s a very successful interior designer.
- I compared my energy and fitness to the full-time personal trainers I’ve hired.
- How did my eating stack up to the diet of that woman who runs a blog about the evils of processed food? This mom uses a special app while on road trips to find breakfast spots that offer organic, free-range eggs. What would she think, I asked myself, if she saw me pick up $1/dozen eggs at Target?
- Our son’s lunches needed to look like the ones featured on healthy mom blogs. (Oh damn, did she MAKE those whole wheat tortillas?)
- How did my last e-course launch compare to the marketing genius with 15 employees who broke $1 million on his last launch? Ugh.
Comparing upwards was a recipe for dissatisfaction and stress, but it was so hard to stop. Can you relate?
And Then It All Falls Apart
My back went out in July, and after getting a lumbar steroid injection a week ago, the pain reached a horrifying peak (ironically…aren’t those injections supposed to alleviate pain?). I ended up on the sofa for several days, being waited on hand and foot by my husband, our son, and our exchange student.
I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t clean. I couldn’t even work that well because it was difficult to balance the laptop on my knees as I sat in the one position that didn’t cause agony.
I’ve been grateful for all the help I’ve been receiving, and didn’t want to criticize how anyone did anything for me. Gift horse and all that.
But guess what?
My husband gave our son an apple for breakfast before his dance class — yes, just an apple, before a strenuous hour of ballet — and the universe did not implode.
It took me a couple of days to get back to a client who couldn’t download the materials she bought from me. She was fine with it.
We had family over for my birthday and bought pizza and cake instead of my stressing over a homemade dinner and dessert all day as usual. Everyone had a great time.
I spent half a day surrounded by dirty plates and glasses because my husband got overloaded with to-dos. I survived and so did everyone else.
And that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment:
The Experts Picked Their Battles
The experts we compare ourselves to have devoted their lives to being the best in that one area.
- The podiatrist offers magazine readers toe exercises and probably even does them at home because foot health is his entire life. He may eat fast food every day and live in a messy house, but damn, his feet are in great shape.
- The famous author who pumps out a bestseller every year — I guarantee she is not on top of her laundry and she probably doesn’t take a shower the entire week before a deadline.
- The mom who runs a blog that features beautifully styled photos of her kids’ hyper-healthy, homemade bento box lunches — creating those lunches is what she does for a living. We don’t know about the rest of her life. Hell, maybe her marriage is falling apart and her kids are entitled brats. But all we see is the thing she’s perfect at, and we extrapolate that to the rest of her life.
- Personal trainers’ lives revolve around fitness. They run daily and have their split routine down to a science, and that’s what we notice when they train us. We see the thing they’re best at and assume they’re perfect in all aspects of their lives as well. But look a little closer and we see that maybe they’re poor marketers or get behind on their bills occasionally.
I’m not trying to be all Schadenfreude here. I’m not saying we should pick apart experts’ flaws to make ourselves feel better. What I’m trying to get across is that the experts chose one area of their lives to truly shine in, and that’s really all we can expect of anyone else — or ourselves.
Now, Pick YOUR Battles
We see these experts in our lives, and they seem to have it all together and be perfect at the one thing they do, and we aspire to be the same.
But the thing is, despite what magazines and Internet gurus would have us believe, we can’t emulate every professional and expect to retain our sanity. We can’t feel guilty that we’re not doing daily toe exercises and writing bestsellers and crafting bento box lunches and taking our kids on weekly educational field trips and walking around with perfectly coiffed hair and rock solid abs and measuring the macronutrients in our food.
Pick your battles. What is the one thing you do — or want to do — better than anyone else?
Maybe you’re a brilliant writer or entrepreneur. Or you’re a devoted homeschooling parent. Or you always look put-together and beautiful. Or you’re a wonderful host, and your home is a place friends and family love to gather. Or you work hard to rock six-pack abs and upper arms that don’t jiggle when you wave.
Don’t hang your self worth on having it all going on in every aspect of your life — let your self-esteem stem from your own personal superpower.
I’m not saying you can’t be a good parent and a good writer, or you have to let your health go to pot if you want to have a beautiful home. Self improvement is always great, and as humans we’re always striving for better and more. But realize you can’t do it all perfectly, and no one expecting you to. (And if someone is, you probably don’t want them in your life.)
You won’t see any bowls of marbles in my closet. My top skill is writing, so that’s what I’ll focus on. Take a few minutes to think about this today: What’s your superpower, and what do you need to let go of so you can shine?
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. Committing is using overwhelming force to solve a problem or reach a goal. It’s pretty much the opposite of the baby-steps approach. When you Commit, you do whatever it takes to make happen what you want to happen. You can use one giant, crazy, unbelievably powerful tactic, but it’s even more effective to combine several tactics at the same time — which we discuss in this self help e-book.
In Commit, we talk about hiring help, creating accountability, and amassing the resources you need to get off to a mighty start. In this concise and actionable personal development e-book, you’ll also find details on how to prepare for your Commit practice…how to troubleshoot common problems…and 20 ideas for reaching your goal or solving your problem through massive action.
Interested? Check out the 22 five-star reviews and get your copy on Amazon.com here!
I’ve been working on a new e-book called Control: Take Charge and Live the Life YOU Want, and this essay grew out of one of the chapters I’ve been writing. This book won’t be out for a while because, well, I just started it…but if you want to read something great, check out my top-rated new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. One writer committed her way into lining up $29,700 worth of work in one month!
Why the Phrase “It Is What It Is” Makes Me Want to Punch People in the Throat
There’s been a cultural shift towards all things Zen — accepting what is, being happy no matter what the circumstances, expressing gratitude for our blessings, and greeting irritating situations and people with a compassionate smile. The phrase “It is what it is” has invaded the vernacular.
That is wonderful. There are many things we can’t control, and it makes sense to accept them rather than rail against what you can’t change.
But in some cases, we put on our Zen faces for things we can and should change, because we’re feeling under-confident about taking charge. We’re afraid that we’ll upset other people if we insist on getting what we want, even if we’re perfectly justified in doing so…or sometimes, we’re feeling lazy or unmotivated and it’s just easier to pretend to accept the way things are.
The Gratitude Trap
In early 2008 I suffered from daily, debilitating panic attacks, and I complained to my therapist that I hated being on antidepressants…and while I was at it, I wasn’t thrilled with my Tourette’s medication either. They made me tired, and both boasted a long list of scary-sounding side effects; for example, the Tourette’s med can cause tartive dyskinesia, a permanent condition that causes — wait for it — uncontrollable movements such as “wormlike motions of the tongue.”
The therapist said, “Instead of being angry that you’re on these medications, why not feel grateful that medications like this exist that can help people live normal lives?”
I couldn’t argue with that, so for years I practiced gratitude. “Hey, I just saw a report that my Tourette’s med is causing men to grow breasts. Oh well, I’m grateful this medication is out there helping people.” And “Wow, I just read an article on how antidepressants aren’t nearly as effective as we think, but tapering off them can cause horrible withdrawal symptom — but I’m grateful because who knows…this medication may be what stopped the panic attacks.”
After reading one too many articles about the dangers of these medications, it suddenly hit me that “be grateful” can be just another phrase for “suck it up,” and decided to wean myself from the drugs. I researched methods for tapering them down to minimize withdrawal symptoms, and bought books on natural Tourette’s relief. These are actions I could have taken in 2008 and saved myself a lot of grief, but instead I was placated by the Zen-like idea of gratitude. Now, I feel like I am the one in control of my body and my health.
Being thankful for our blessings is important, but gratitude can be dangerous if it’s used to keep us stuck and take away our control over our lives. Think of the unhappy worker who says, “I’m lucky to have any job in this economy.” Or the wife who says, “I’m grateful to have any husband at all, with all these kids to take care of…so what if he’s emotionally abusive once in awhile?” Or the writer who says, “This content mill pays me only $10 per article, but I’m lucky to make money doing what I love.”
Not Accepting What Is
Accepting what is can translate as settling for less than you deserve or making do with less than you need. When you settle or make do, you’re giving up and letting the situation control you. You’re saying other people are in charge of you, and you’re going to just roll over and learn to deal with it. The philosophy of accepting what is, when used at the wrong times, results in a sense of loss of control. And my philosophy is that what we humans most desire is a feeling that we’re at least somewhat in charge of our lives and what happens to us.
Instead of trying to impress others with our Zen-like attitude when faced with a challenge, we should make sure that what we do and what we get is what we want and need.
An example: My web hosting service (I’m looking at you, WP Engine) was dinging me an extra $50 per month in overage charges due to search engine web robots that were indexing my site hundreds of times per day, which pushed my site over its visitor limit. I worked with the web host for months to block the bots, and the best they could do was offer a lame suggestion to sign up for their next-higher plan, which cost $70 more per month than the one I was paying for. I finally gave up, thinking “Oh, well. You’d think that a web host that charges premium prices wouldn’t be so petty as to penalize me for every bot that visits my site, but I’ll just learn to live with the $50 per month overage fee. It is what it is. Ohm.”
Finally, one morning I woke up with yet another $50 invoice sitting in my inbox and I had the sudden realization that I don’t have to deal with this. It took all of 30 minutes to research cheaper web hosts that allowed unlimited visits, to sign up with a new host, and hire them to move my websites over to their service.
The sense of control and satisfaction I felt when I was done was enormous. Before, I was letting my web host control my money, my time, and my emotions. Now, I was in charge again. Never again would my morning be ruined when I checked my email and found a $50 invoice waiting for me.
The phrase “It is what it is” often means “Shut up and deal with it” when someone says it regarding a situation we can change. If we want to gain a sense of control over our lives, we need to insist on getting what we pay for, being treated well, and feeling worthy of other people’s best efforts. We need to speak up confidently, though kindly, when we’re getting less than we deserve. Saying “It is what it is” when something you bought doesn’t work the way it should, or you’re asked to sign a contract that goes against your best interests, or someone mistreats you, or you receive something that’s not up to par…that’s handing over control of your money, time, and self respect to people who don’t deserve it.
When your favorite contestant on American Idol comes in second place, that’s a good time to say “It is what it is.” When you are, say, cheated out of money by someone or asked to sign an onerous contract, saying “It is what it is” is a sign of laziness and lack of control couched in Zen terminology.
Here are a bunch of clichés, all of which are apt: You are in charge of your life. You hold the steering wheel. Why should you settle for less in your life because you don’t want to rock the boat? Zen platitudes like “It is what it is” and “be grateful for what you have” work when you’re facing the inevitable…they don’t work when you have even the smallest possibility of making a change for the better. [lf]
My new e-book — Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action — is all about creating a life you love by throwing every ounce of energy and resources you have at your biggest problems and goals.
I’m thrilled that in less than a week, Commit has racked up 16 five-star reviews on Amazon! And I’m even more excited to hear that readers are starting Commit practices to build their businesses, lose weight, and more.
Freelance writer Penny Hawes has been Committing to a BIG income goal this year — and she lined up more than a third of her income for 2015 by the first week of February. I interviewed Penny to find out:
- What her Commit practice looks like.
- How one decision helped her go from feeling broke to achieving her goals — and then some. (Penny took advantage of NINE Commit tactics to make it happen!)
- How Committing has helped her with the winter blahs and self worth issues.
- What her work style was like before she started Committing.
- How many Letters of Introduction she plans to send out to help her reach her income goal. (You won’t believe it!)
- How she reframes cold calls to make them less scary. (Hint: It’s about the service, not about you.)
- How Committing is like body surfing.
- And much more.
I know some Renegades prefer to listen to interviews, while some (like me) are readers — so I have both options for you.
Download and listen to the interview (25 minutes)
Download and read the interview (PDF, 12 pages)
I hope you get a lot out of this interview, and that it will help you start your own Commit practice!
If you want to read Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action, here’s the Amazon link…or just visit to check out all the awesome reviews, including one that says, “I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon!”
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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We humans have a big problem: We have exciting goals and dreams, but we feel stuck. We spend a lot of time thinking about the actions we need to take, but don’t actually do them consistently. We then become overwhelmed with our day-to-day lives and let our dreams languish…and we settle for lives of mediocrity and regret.
Or, we have problems that keep us from being our best selves, but don’t have the energy or know-how to defeat them. Money woes. Relationship issues. Health problems. And more.
And sometimes, we experience both situations: Dying dreams and too many problems.
Can you relate?
Thinking small — living inside the box, keeping our greatness inside us — is what consigns us to this life of what-ifs and if-onlys. If we have big dreams and big problems, we need to go after them in a big way. That’s what Committing is all about.
I’m super excited to announce that my new e-book Commit: How to Reach Your Goals and Solve Your Problems Through Massive Action is done and is awaiting formatting before it goes up on Amazon.com. In fact, I’m so excited that I wanted to share a 21-page sample of the book with my readers with no strings attached. You don’t need to enter your name, join a mailing list, or buy anything.
If there is one tiny string attached, it’s that I would LOVE for you to share this sample with your friends and family members you think would benefit from its message.
TO DOWNLOAD THE BOOK (PDF FORMAT), CLICK HERE
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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This was a super-popular post Diana wrote in 2013 that inexplicably disappeared from the blog soon afterward. (Hmm…a conspiracy?) Searches didn’t bring up the post and we thought it was lost forever, but miraculously, Diana just found the text of the post in an old email. So here it is again — as relevant now as it was in 2013. Enjoy! –Linda
This weekend I took on the arduous task of getting my receipts, pay stubs, and financial records in order for that shiteous day in April that shall not be named. I made such swift progress that I was able to begin inputting my earnings data into Turbo Tax, whose developers should win a trio of Nobel Prizes for Economics, Mathematics, and Peace.
I was cheerfully typing away, trying to avoid eye contact with that little box up in the left-hand corner that tells me how much I’m going to owe, when I got to the section where I input income not included on a W-2. For those of you outside the U.S., a W-2 is a wage and tax statement that employers file with the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS for short. Most freelance income isn’t reported this way. If you’ve made more than $600, the vendor must report it on a form called a 1099-MISC. If you’ve made less than $600 per year with the vendor, that income isn’t reported at all.*
So here I am, typing in the figure from one of my 1099-MISCs, and Turbo Tax starts asking me questions about it with answers I can click. Like “What is this payment for?” and “What did I get the money for?” My answers lead me to a screen that read, “You have a business. Congratulations! The payment you received from X is considered business income to you. This means that you own a business, even if you received payments from only one payer.” Then Turbo Tax informed me I could deduct qualified expenses relating to my business.
Well, duh. I know I’ve been a business for almost 15 years, and I continued inputting the stacks of 1099s. Um, just kidding on that last bit.
Earlier this month, journalist Nate Thayer posted an exchange he’d had with an editor at The Atlantic, who wanted to “repurpose” an article he’d written elsewhere for their magazine in exchange for a form of payment many professional writers abhor called “exposure.” He had asked for cash payment to fulfill their request, which The Atlantic declined to pay; many blogs and writers more eloquent than I have backed Thayer or told him to get off his high horse. I don’t have much to add to that conversation, so I’ll stop here.
(Full disclosure: I’ve written for The Atlantic and wasn’t paid. Unlike Thayer, I approached the editors with my idea, knowing fully I wouldn’t be paid. My reason for writing was to attract readers to one of my blogs, which was mentioned in the piece, and as far as that goes, I walked away satisfied with the “payment” I’d received. In short, I exposed myself. And I liked it.)
What I take issue with is a comment from a Gawker article (another site that doesn’t pay writers) called “When People Write for Free, Who Pays,” which was written in response to Thayer’s post, and that blogger Amy Gutman noted on her blog, Plan B Nation:
“My friend spends hours upon hours working on his model trains which he displays and are enjoyed by many people who see them. He never once asked to be paid for his efforts. Don’t act like your calling is so much more noble and worthy than his.”
This is the kind of attitude I run into far too often when I tell people I’m a writer. They assume writing is hobby for me, like knitting or sewing or genealogy, and that I must love it so much that I leap at every opportunity to express myself in print — for free! I think it’s pretty clear from reading Nate Thayer’s blog (and Gawker’s post) that Thayer isn’t a hobbyist on par with a guy screwing around with his toy trains all weekend. Not that there’s anything wrong with screwing around with toy trains … or knitting, sewing, or researching one’s family history, three hobbies of mine that are actually businesses for other people I know. Yes, my hobbies are a lot of work and I don’t expect to be paid for them, but none of them are my JOB, like writing is, which is what these dumb-asses don’t understand. (P.S. Please don’t ever ask me to knit you a sweater. Yes, I knit for fun. Yes, I want to keep it that way.)
When I run into this attitude, I have to point out that my father, a chemist, absolutely loves his work. You could say chemistry is his calling. Today, he’s in his mid-70s and still runs his laboratory and tests municipal water supplies for harmful pathogens and soil for chemicals that will poison your family. You can’t sit down to dinner with my dad without him going into some long monologue about bottled water and what a racket it is, and how he goes out on the weekend and buys Perrier, Poland Springs, and Pellegrino and tests them all (for fun!) and it’s all just tap water in pretty bottles. But because he loves chemistry and sometimes does crazy little experiments for fun in his lab, by the Gawker guy’s logic, maybe he should be offering his services to municipalities for free because he loves chemistry so and because his calling isn’t any more worthy than that of a guy who builds toy trains on the weekend.
Then there’s my husband. He’s a brilliant MIT-trained computer scientist who runs a consulting company. He loves writing code as much as I love entertaining readers with my rants. He writes code on the weekend, just for the fun of it or when he’s bored, unlike I, who would rather eat chocolate ice cream — or knit! — than write anything. So hey, rather than bring home cash next week, maybe he should just donate his code to the well-funded Cambridge startup that hired him. My stomach growls at the thought. Here’s something else: I actually have more academic training in my field than he has in his. But maybe because I’m just a writer, and we know practically anyone over the age of 10 can construct a sentence on paper, his calling is more noble?
Then there’s my friendly mechanic down the street. OMG, this guy is awesome. Don’t ask him about Subarus, though. He loves them but he can go on for hours about the ongoing problems he’s seen with their head gaskets, especially in models older than 2008. Like mine, unfortunately. This guy is all cars, all the time. So next time I bring my car over, I think I’m going to ask him for an oil, lube, and filter — on the house. I’ll tell him in exchange I’ll tell all my friends he gives the best lubes. I know he’s going to love and appreciate that exposure almost as much as he loves working on Subarus, even though he complains about them sometimes.
For almost 15 years, I’ve filed a form called a Schedule C with the IRS, where I declare the income I’ve made, as well as the tax-deductible expenses I’ve incurred, for my job. Yes, that’s right…in the eyes of the IRS, my writing is simply a job. There’s nothing noble or that noteworthy about it.
I just checked Turbo Tax as well as my Schedule C. Neither includes a checkbox asking me if I enjoyed the work I got paid for. Wouldn’t that be nice, a tax break for those of us who don’t orgasm every time our fingertip hits a keyboard!?! The IRS couldn’t give a shit whether I love my work or not, how long I trained for my work, where I trained, who reads me, what I write, if anyone likes what I write, if I give away my writing for free sometimes or hold onto it for the highest bidder, if I write on the weekends, or how many hours a week I write. In their eyes, I’m just a business, an entity that earns taxable income from writing, a portion of which they’re entitled to.
If that’s good enough for the IRS, it should be good enough for the rest of the world. — Diana Burrell
*PSA. If you have unreported income, report it. I know writers who squeeze every expense out of their tax return but willfully leave off unreported income they believe will never be detected. Au contraire. If you get audited, the IRS will scrutinize every detail of your financial life until they’re satisfied, then hand you a bill for the pleasure, complete with fines, penalties, and interest on that unreported income. It hasn’t happened to me, but it has happened to people I know. So don’t be stupid to save a couple hundred dollars. End PSA.
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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So, I’m working on a new Kindle e-book that’s NOT writing related, though it applies beautifully to writers of all kinds:
COMMIT: How to Blast Through Problems & Crush Your Goals Through Massive Action
COMMIT is about throwing every available resource at your goal or problem, all at the same time. I talk about the benefits of Committing and various ways you can do it — and include examples of how it works for different goals, from losing weight and beating anxiety to starting a business and cleaning out your garage.
Committing this way is how I’ve built a successful freelance business, beat depression, and reached all kinds of personal goals. In the book, I also tell the story of a Commit fail that resulted in my furniture and rugs being destroyed.
The book isn’t done yet, but as part of my own Committing to getting it finished, I commissioned three covers — and I’d like you to tell me which one YOU like best. I’ll be keeping your votes and comments in mind when I make my final selection.
Just click on the image to see the covers bigger, and let me know in the comments whether you prefer Option 1, 2, or 3. On Tuesday, December 23, I’ll randomly select one winner who will receive a free copy of the book when it comes out.
Thanks, and I look forward to seeing what you think!
(By the way, the covers are from James at GoOnWrite.com!)
By Tiffany Jansen
Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where George accompanies his girlfriend to a funeral?
It’s post-wake and everyone’s at her parent’s place noshing on hors d’oeuvres and sipping punch. George finds himself in front of the potato chips, so he takes one, sinks it in the dip, takes a bite, and dips the chip again; much to the annoyance of his distraught girlfriend’s brother.
A knock-down, drag-out fight ensues before the very upset girlfriend kicks George out.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a double-dipper.
And why not? It’s the only way to really enjoy that French onion dip and get the most mileage out of your chip.
Freelancers should be double-dipping too. Not their chips (unless they’re into that sort of thing), but their writing.
Double-dipping is a golden opportunity not enough freelance writers take advantage of.
So how does double-dipping work in the freelance writing world? Here are five easy ways.
1. Sell reprints.
It’s been published once, why can’t it be published again?
How to do it: The first thing you want to do is make a list of publications that cover the topic of your article. Then, check out their website and writer guidelines to see if they accept reprints. If you’re not sure, ask. Send the editor a friendly email telling them about your article and why you think their readers would be interested. Ask if they’d like to purchase it as a reprint.
Keep in mind: It’ll pay a fraction of what they pay for original works and they may want you to tweak it a bit to fit their market. But it sure beats having to come up with a new idea, pitch it, research and talk to sources, and write a new piece.
2. Repurpose old content to fit new markets.
Not all publications accept reprints…but that doesn’t mean you can’t reuse old content.
How to do it: First, find a market that covers your topic. Go back to your research notes and interview transcripts, and write a pitch that covers a different angle of the story with publication #2’s audience in mind. If you quoted someone in the first article, paraphrase in the new one. Where you paraphrased, use quotes. Include information that didn’t make it into the original article.
Keep in mind: You may want to consider doing some additional research in case things have changed, or find one or two additional sources. But the work load is going to be a lot less than what it was the first go-around. Only this time you stand to earn the same amount of money… maybe even more!
3. Send pitches in batches.
When you come up with a brilliant idea, don’t save it for just one publication – share the love! There are tons of publications with audiences that would love to know more about the topic you’re pitching. It’s just a matter of re-framing each pitch to fit a variety of publications.
How to do it: Let’s say you’ve got a great story idea about traveling with babies. Of course parenting magazines would be interested, but so would travel publications, women’s glossies, maybe even custom publications for baby product companies. As you’re doing your initial research and collecting sources, think about what these various audiences would want to know and how/why they could use this information. Tweak each pitch to suit each market.
Keep in mind: Unlike the tactics above, here you’ll be writing completely different queries and completely different articles for each publication. While parents would want this information to help them in their travels, a pediatrician might want this information to help her advise parents who wish to travel with their little ‘uns. A women’s magazine might want to provide tips on how to have a smooth flight for travelers finding themselves on a plane with a baby. The difference is, you do the research once and get multiple articles out of it.
4. Send simultaneous queries.
The idea here is to send the same query for the same idea to editors at multiple publications. When you send out a query, you could wait months — or even a year — only to have the editor respond with a resounding “no.” Sometimes editors take a really long time to respond to queries…if they reply at all. Rather than wait around for them to get back to you and risk having your idea become stale or already-been-done, cast your net wide and find that article a home ASAP.
How to do it: This one’s easy — find a bunch of publications that fit your topic, write one query, and send it out to editors at all of those publications.
Keep in mind: You may have more than one publication show interest in the article. However, you cannot sell the same article to more than one publication. In this case, it’s a first come, first served thing. But don’t let those other publications go home empty-handed. Offer them the same story, but from a different angle. Or pitch them a few similar ideas instead.
5. Once you’ve got ‘em, keep ‘em.
The thing about queries is they can get a “yes” or a “no” or be met with silence. There’s not much you can do about the third instance, but you can turn a “no” into a “yes.”
How to do it: An editor might turn you down for a number of reasons: the timing’s off, someone else has already covered it, they’re not interested in the topic, they’re having a bad day… But just because they say “no” to one idea doesn’t mean they’ll say “no” to another. If they’ve emailed you back, you’ve got their ear. So take advantage by replying with a “Thank you for getting back to me. I completely understand. Perhaps [insert new idea here] would be a better fit?”
Keep in mind: That you suck as a writer or the editor hates your guts is rarely if ever a reason for a rejection. Odds are the rejection is based on factors you have absolutely no control over. If you get a response, thank them, tell them you get it, and offer up a new idea. This shows that you’re persistent and not just a one-idea dude. Then send the rejected query somewhere else.
When you have a chip — er, idea — get the most mileage you can out of it by double dipping, and you’ll get more assignments (and more money) with less work.
Tiffany Jansen is an American freelance writer and translator in the Netherlands. She is also the author of an award-winning children’s historical fiction series. You can find out more about her at www.tiffanyrjansen.com.
P.S. Carol Tice’s and my next Article Writing Masterclass starts in January, and we have THREE editors on board to critique your homework assignments and answer your questions: Current editors from Redbook and FSR (Full Service Restaurant) Magazine, and a former Entrepreneur editor. In this 10-week class, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to land lucrative article-writing gigs. Learn more and read raves from students on the Article Writing Masterclass website.
You’re wondering how you’re doing as a writer. I know, it’s hard to not have a handle on whether you’re doing well or poorly!
So you ask another writer, maybe one who’s more experienced than you:
- How many queries do you write per week?
- How much are you earning?
- How many assignments do you get every month?
- How long does it take you to write an article or a blog post?
- How many ideas can you generate in a brainstorming session?
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t make sense to compare your progress with other writers’ numbers because, well, there’s nothing you can do with that information.
For example, say you know another writer sends out three queries a week. What does that mean? Is that writer the last word in marketing? And are you even comparing apples with apples? If you are a stay-at-home parent of three young kids and have only five hours per week to work, and the other writer has no children and can work 50 hours per week, it doesn’t do anything for you to know how many queries she manages to send out — except to give you a guilt complex.
Plus, every writer has different superpowers. I can write a 1,000-word article in an hour once my interviews are done. When you ask me how long it takes me to write an article and I tell you that, should you feel bad if it takes you four hours? No. Writing fast happens to be a strength of mine, but maybe your superpower is writing kick-ass headlines, or generating ideas, or negotiating.
Another example: Maybe you talk with five writers about how many ideas they generate in an hour-long brainstorming session and they say five to ten. You know you can develop only two ideas in an hour, but that usually they will both result in assignments. So who’s doing better?
Finally, things change as you progress in your career, so talking to someone with more experience isn’t as helpful as you would think. For example, a pro writer doesn’t send out many queries. You know why? Because he doesn’t have to. He has a roster of clients who come to him with work. So if you heed the oft-told advice to look to more experienced writers for benchmarks, you could be led astray.
There’s a saying I found in a book, and I wish I can remember what that book was so I could properly credit it, but here goes:
What other people do is a data point, not a decision.
It’s always nice to know how and what other writers are doing, but you shouldn’t base your decisions or self-esteem on their numbers.
What matters for YOU is that you’re always improving your own numbers: Your income should be going up, the time it takes to do various tasks going down, you should be getting better assignments, and the percentage of pitches that end in assignments should be increasing.
If you’re doing that, other writers’ numbers should not matter one whit. As long as your stats are improving, you can be confident you’re on the right track. [lf]
I’ve been noticing something weird from aspiring writers lately.
And it’s not the fact that we’re always starting forum threads about their favorite type of pen, though that does weird me out a bit. I mean, who’s doing writing assignments and blog posts with a pen? It also seems like a stalling tactic…hey, let’s have a rousing conversation about writing tools instead of actually writing!
No, it’s that they’re always asking me (and Carol, the Den Mother at the Freelance Writers Den) how they can break into the Huffington Post.
Why, for the love of all that is good and holy…WHY?
So we ask these writers why they want to write for a market that doesn’t pay its writers, and they reply that it will be good exposure. They think if their writing appears on this particular site, editors of paying pubs will see it and burn up the keyboard to offer lucrative writing assignments.
When I hear this, I want to turn into your grandma. Women writers, has your grandmother ever told you, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man”? Well, the same philosophy applies to writing: It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich mag as a poor mag.
If you can break into the Huffington Post or some other market that pays in exposure only, then you have what it takes to land assignments from markets that pay actual money. The same amount of effort can bring you a poor mag…or a rich one. You still need to craft a killer query. You still need to write a kick-ass article. Why not do it for pay?
The whole idea of writing for free for a poor mag to eventually attract a rich mag doesn’t fly, anyway. Because, you know what? You can find a metric buttload of paying pubs that have as large a readership as the Huffington Post. So if your goal is to write for, say, health magazines, you could go after the poor mag with a big audience, like HuffPo — or you can pitch a rich mag with a big audience, like Health. (And which one do you think the editors of Fitness, and Women’s Health, and WebMD are more likely to be scoping out?)
The poor mag tries to entice you with exposure, hoping you don’t realize you can do the same writing for pay AND exposure. Don’t fall for it. [lf]
Also, a BIG announcement: Carol Tice and I will be running our Article Writing Masterclass again in January. This 10-week class includes five info-packed lessons on everything from nailing a mag’s style to dealing with revisions; plenty of free resources and extras; and assignment critiques by actual editors. (Last session, we had a Redbook editor and a former Entrepreneur editor.) Carol and I will be offering a special deal just to people on the class’s waiting list, so sign up for the waitlist now!
I’ve come to the conclusion that most writers don’t read as well as they write.
Every time I send an email, I get back several responses asking questions that were answered in the message. For example, I’ll say, “The call is at 5 pm Eastern time,” and a few people will respond, “What time zone is the call in?” Or I’ll invite readers to join a waitlist to receive an announcement when a class registration is open, and that the class will cost $X, and inevitably some people will write back with, “I signed up for your class using that link you sent and didn’t get the materials.”
I feel okay saying this because it’s something I struggle with myself. I’m impatient and tend to skim emails, instructions, and so on — and wind up asking “duh” questions that later make me want to kick myself.
Just today, I received a long email about my son’s soccer team and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out when his practices are. Only after I sent a desperate email to the coach did I reread the message and realize they had attached a schedule.
We writers tend to be scattered and easily overwhelmed. I’m not sure if these characteristics are typical of creative people (probably), or if there’s something about the writing life that makes us this way.
But knowing this, lately I’ve been making an intensive effort to thoroughly study and understand everything I read.
This is especially, super, vitally important because most of our communication with clients, editors, and sources is via email. And too often, I get frantic messages from writers saying things like, “I just read my assignment letter and realized I was supposed to write a sidebar — and the article is due today!”
Here’s how to bump up your reading comprehension: (And yes, I’m working on doing these things, too!)
- When an editor sends you instructions or a request, read them carefully — then read them again. If, after careful reading, there’s something you don’t understand — ask.
- When you’re scheduling an interview or anything else, double-check to make sure you know what time zone it’s in, and whether it’s AM or PM. It’s amazing how many people automatically assume everything happens in their own time zone!
- If you received an email from an editor that seems to be missing a vital piece of information, like the word count of an assignment, go back through your communications by reading through all the emails in the thread. Chances are, he mentioned it in a previous email.
- Re-read your assignment specs right before you begin writing. Chances are, you’ve forgotten some details from when you first read them.
Writers, let’s get reading — and we’ll cut out a lot of angst, do better work — and get more assignments!
How about you: Have you ever misread a piece of information from a client or colleague — and if so, what happened? Bonus points if your story is funny!
So recently I got a complaint from someone that said — and I’m paraphrasing:
I love your Monday Motivations for Writers and free goodies, but every time you start marketing something, I need to unsubscribe from your list and re-subscribe again when the campaign is over.
Every so often I hear from someone who is shocked and appalled that I market products and services to the people on my mailing list. Their entitled attitude is that I should maintain a list of 5,000+ subscribers, pay $70 per month in email hosting fees, and spend hours of my valuable time churning out informative content — for nothing.
The feeling is apparently that I (and other writers) should be providing information and products purely out of the goodness of our hearts. To actually expect to earn money from our skills, knowledge, and effort sullies this sacred profession.
Well, let me deliver a shocker right now: I’m in business to earn money, and you should be, too. Luckily for me, this goal coincides with something I’m passionate about and good at: Helping freelance writers make a living doing what they love.
If I can provide valuable information and products that help other people live the life of their dreams, I feel pretty good about asking for money for it.
You know why? Because if I didn’t accept payment for this service, I simply wouldn’t have the time, money, or bandwidth to help others. I’d be working 40+ hours per week for someone else, with no energy left over to create helpful content, build classes, write blog posts, or maintain a mailing list.
The attitude that we should provide labor for free out of a sense of love for what we do is bad, bad, bad for freelancers. Isn’t this the stance we get from content mills and various magazines and runners of Craigslist ads that say, in essence, “We don’t pay, but isn’t writing fun?”
If you provide a valuable service to society, you should have no problems asking to be paid for it. And yes, your ideas, your writing, and your knowledge are valuable to society. Also: Just because you love something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for money for it.
My view is, we’re all salespeople. When you pitch magazines, you’re selling an article idea. When you apply for a full-time job, you’re selling your skills and your time. When you start a blog, you’re selling your ideas to an audience that you hope will do something for you — whether it’s buy an info product, click “follow this blog,” or hire you as a writer.
So seeing as how we’re all salespeople when it comes to our professions: How would it feel if an editor asked you to keep pitching and pitching so she could use your ideas, but told you she had no intention of ever hiring you to write an article? (But please don’t stop the ideas!) That’s how I felt when this writer said she consumes my newsletter and freebies, but unsubscribes every time I have something to sell.
(I certainly don’t mind people hanging out and enjoying my newsletter, blog posts, and occasional freebies without buying from me. Many people do that, for their own reasons. It’s when they complain about the fact that I market to my subscribers that it crosses the line.)
If the idea that someone would market to you sends you screaming in the other direction — or if you feel someone is pulling one over on you by providing freebies and then daring to try to sell something — this could be pulling you down, professionally. Marketing is not something to be afraid of. It’s not a dirty trick. In most cases, it’s someone asking to receive value in return for providing it — so they can provide even more.
How about you: Have you ever gotten complains when you tried to market yourself or your writing? What happened? Bonus points if it’s funny! [lf]
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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, Break This Rule
, Freelance writers
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, magazine editors
, rejection from editors
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This post is by Deb Mitchell.
I’m definitely more of a “rules are there for a reason” than a “rules were meant to be broken” kind of girl. It just never occurs to me to buck the system, and frankly, that’s served me well all my life.
But when my freelance writing career stalled (despite the fact that I had 5+ years of experience with clips numbering in the triple digits), even playing by the rules top freelance writing experts teach wasn’t getting me anywhere.
“Send pitches to newsstand pubs and LOIs to trade pubs.” Check.
“Email editors – NEVER call them!” Check.
“DO NOT clog an editor’s inbox by attaching your clips.” Check.
“Whatever you do, take time to research each market and NEVER, EVER use a template email.” Check, check.
I was spending loads of time researching markets, ferreting out the appropriate editors’ contact info and meticulously wordsmith-ing every email from scratch. Despite my best rule-following efforts, none of the editors contacted me back. Not. One.
There simply aren’t words to describe how frustrated and discouraged I felt. Giving so much time and effort with nothing to show for it eventually took its toll. On a daily basis I was at best, fighting despair and at worst, sinking in its depths.
In the midst of all this, I started working with a writing mentor (the one-and-only Linda). She calmed me down and gave me a few pieces of advice which I, of course, followed to the letter. I got a few lukewarm responses from editors as a result, and I even sold an article to a new-to-me (but not great paying) market.
Sure, it was progress, which lifted my spirits to a degree. But let’s face it — I was still working long, hard hours for minimal payoff. NOT a sustainable pattern for any small business.
Then Linda gave me a tip that helped me think outside the box – and believe me, it was one I NEVER expected to hear from her or any freelance writing expert.
“Why not try calling some editors?” she said, “And write a great LOI email you can quickly tweak for each market. Ask if they assign to freelancers or if they prefer pitches.”
Um, excuse me, what did you say?? Call editors?? Write one LOI to reuse over and over?? Pitch to trade pubs?? Break rules?!?!
As if that weren’t enough, Linda challenged me to call 25 editors in one day.
The thought of doing things that are widely considered no-no’s freaked me out enough, but seriously, 25?! Believe it or not, the part that scared me the least was the actual cold calling. I have a background in sales and I’m good at talking to people and I like marketing myself. Maybe, just maybe, the reason my by-the-book efforts were flopping was because my approach felt inauthentic. Calling editors seemed much more “me” — I’d just always thought if I did it, they’d view me as unprofessional (and kind of hate my guts for bugging them).
But with Linda, a seasoned pro writer, saying it was OK, I didn’t hesitate.
Armed with a three sentence script Linda wrote for me and a short and sweet LOI template email, I started the challenge.
I didn’t even get to leave voicemails with five editors before my phone rang.
“Deb, I was just delighted to get your message!” Really and truly, an editor was calling me to tell me she was happy I’d called her — not “hacked off” or “appalled” or even just “annoyed.” It seems she’d heard my voicemail right after leaving an editorial meeting where she’d learned an article slated for the next issue had fallen through. I’d also thrown caution to the wind and sent her my LOI email with my resume and a clip attached. She’d seen something in my article that would make a perfect story to fill that empty spot. Could I get something into her within a couple of weeks?
I know, right?!?!
After all my nose-to-the-grindstone work and months of angst over doing things the “right” way, all it took was literally a couple of phone calls and I had a gig that paid more than triple what I’d been getting! Even better, the editor ended our conversation by saying this was “the start of a very beautiful working relationship.” Hello, future high-paying gigs!
I’m no expert when it comes to freelancing, but I do think there’s something to this whole “find what feels right for you” idea. Just because the freelance writing books and classes say “Do this” or “Don’t do that” doesn’t necessarily mean those rules are hard and fast. It took me having someone of Linda’s caliber giving me permission to break the rules for me to do something that in the end felt natural and comfortable for me. And it worked.
As long as your approach allows you to both be yourself and to “sell” yourself as a competent professional, it’s worth trying something out of the ordinary — especially if you’re feeling stuck. You can’t predict how editors will react, but if you’re being genuine and gracious to them, no reasonable editor would hate you just for doing something differently. If they do, consider yourself lucky to have been warned about their inner crazy before you got stuck working with them.
So what will you try that’s not in the books? Be brave and take a risk. Go ahead — run with a stick in your mouth! Jump on the good furniture! Call an editor! Take it from me — it’s good to be bad.
How about you? Have you ever broken a rule of freelance writing and benefited as a result? Or have you found a marketing tactic other freelancers would scoff at, but that works for you? Let us know in the Comments below!
Deb Mitchell is a freelance writer in Charlotte, NC specializing in writing about interior design and women’s interest topics. She also works with business clients to make their websites and client communications the best they can be and with students as a general writing and college application essay coach.
Say you’re a new freelance writer. (Sound familiar?) You ask someone with more experience whether you should start a blog to help attract clients and let you use blog posts as clips.
Chances are, the other writer will tell you it’s absolutely, totally imperative that you have a blog. I even heard one freelance writer tell a poor newbie, “You only have a website? But that’s so STATIC!”
I’m here to tell you that if you’re asking whether you should start a blog, the answer is No.
And if you’re wondering what topic to start you blog on, the answer is that you shouldn’t.
If you start a blog, it need to be because you already have something you really, really want to say. Something you’re so passionate about that you can’t hold it back. Something that you can envision yourself writing about regularly for the indefinite future.
For example, Diana and I have written over 1,000 posts since 2006! That’s the kind of commitment you need. If you don’t feel inclined to write 1,000 posts on a particular topic, a blog may not be right for you.
Blogs are not an easy clip. If you start a blog, you will need to keep it updated, because nothing looks sadder to prospective clients than a blog that hasn’t been updated in six months.
Also, you’ll need to promote your blog if you want to get comments — so you don’t feel like you’re just writing to yourself all the time. Blogs are meant to be read.
And…what happens when you start getting some real published clips and no longer need the blog? Will you just let it die? Will all that work be for nothing?
It’s way easier to just start pitching clients based on your experience — for example, if you have a foodservice background you would pitch businesses in that industry — or to do a free assignment or two just to get the samples.
And don’t forget that your (static!) website works as a clip. If you have some kick-ass copy on there, prospects will be able to see you can write.
There is the issue that fresh content will push your website up in the search engine results, and blogs are of course perfect for that. But you can get a similar effect by updating your portfolio as you garner new clips.
If you have plans to monetize your blog and a topic you’re passionate about, go for it. And if you want to offer blogging as one of your services, you’ll want to show prospects that you can do that. But if you feel you need to blog just for the clip — there are better, easier ways to do that. Ways that won’t have you on the hook for the rest of your working career.
How about you: Have you wrestled with whether to start a blog? How did it end up? Or did you start a blog for the clips and later felt burdened with it? Let us know in the Comments below!
Many of my email mentoring clients have so many ideas and projects that when they try to decide what steps to take next, they feel stuck. There are so many actions they could be taking at any one time that they freak out — and do nothing.
I have the same problem, and one day Renegade Writer co-author Diana Burrell said to me, “Pick one thing and do it. It doesn’t matter what you pick — just pick something.”
I’ve been following her advice ever since, and that was the inspiration for the new checklist 50 Ways to Build Your Freelance Writing Business Today – No Matter How Much Time You Have.
I created a list of 50 action items that will move your freelance career forward, whether you have 5 minutes…30 minutes…an hour…or a whole day free. I then hired the graphic designer Azita Houshiar to create custom illustrations and design the checklist, so it is a pleasure to look at and use.
To use the checklist: Print it out, or keep it on your computer’s desktop. When you have some time, just go to the section that corresponds with how much time you have, randomly pick an item, and do it.
You’ll be one more step towards your freelance writing goals, and you’ll build forward momentum to help you get the next step done, and the next.
To get your free checklist, fill out the form on this page…it will take about six seconds:
Note: If you are already a member of my mailing list — the one where you get Monday Motivations for Writers emails — I’ll be sending you a copy of the checklist, so you won’t need to fill out the form.
Enjoy the checklist, and happy writing!
You come up with a mind-blowingly awesome article idea: You’ve discovered some really cool thing, and you want to write about it.
For example, you’ve found out something fascinating about how train schedules are developed, or how makeup is made, or a unique museum, or a new business that’s just opened its doors.
So you have this amazing idea — why is everyone rejecting it?
This kind of idea is what I like to call an “Isn’t This Cool?” idea. You’ve found something neat, and you want to share it with the world.
But sadly, most publications don’t want to just share random interesting things with their readers. Each magazine has its own slant, and the product, fact, business or person you found needs to fit in with their mission.
For example, let’s take the idea of some weird aspect of how makeup is made. You want to send it to a women’s magazine, of course. What woman wouldn’t be interested in finding out this cool fact about how her mascara is made?
But women’s magazines are service publications, meaning most of their articles offer some kind of advice. So the editors wouldn’t be interested in this fact about makeup unless their readers can actually do something with it.
So if you have an idea where you think, “Isn’t this cool?” — ask yourself, “So what?” Why would readers care? How can you make them care? What can they do with it, or how can they apply the knowledge right now? For most publications, your ideas need to be useful and actionable.
For example, maybe women need to avoid makeup products that are made with this method, and you can round up the types of products this applies to so readers know which ones to look out for. That’s an idea you could pitch to a health magazine.
Or, let’s take the article you want to pitch on the Burnt Food Museum, and yes, this is real. (“Hey, this museum exists. Isn’t it cool?”) Rare is the magazine that would want you to just write about what a weird museum you found. It would do better as, say, a round-up of weird museums in New England readers can visit, complete with info on location, price, and hours. Now, readers can do something with that information.
Some magazines do run “Isn’t This Cool?” articles. For example, magazines for hobbyists love to run interesting facts about their hobby — how it developed, who’s doing interesting things with it, and why some aspects of the hobby are the way they are. Maybe a magazine for train enthusiasts would want to run an interesting fact on how train schedules are developed. And I once wrote an article about the world’s largest marble collection for a collectors’ magazine.
But for most markets, you’ll want to go beyond a cool fact. Dig until you figure out what makes this fact relevant to the readers of the pubs you want to pitch.
Sometimes, this means the idea you pitch will barely resemble the one you first thought of. And that’s okay! That’s how the idea process works. You get what I call the “seed” of an idea, and when you nurture it, it grows into something useful and beautiful that doesn’t look anything like the original seed.
How about you…do you have an “Isn’t That Cool?” idea you’ve tried to pitch? How do you think you can reslant it to be more salable? Let us know in the Comments below!
By Linda Formichelli
This is a reprint of this week’s Monday Motivation for Writers email. If you’d like goodies like this to land in your in-box weekly, sign up for my mailing list!
I’ve had many mentoring and Write for Magazines clients who say, “I didn’t send my idea to X magazine because I don’t think I have enough relevant experience” or “I was sure if my idea was exactly right for this website so I didn’t send it.”
Now, of course you want to send relevant ideas to magazines that need them. But you are not the expert in what the magazine needs — the editor is.
What you’re doing when you don’t send a pitch you wrote is you’re pre-rejecting yourself. You’re saying No to yourself!
Give the editor a chance to say yes or no. You risk more rejection when you put your ideas out there, true — but you also increase your chances at acceptance by an infinite amount. Why limit yourself?
When you send a query, the editor may say No, in which case you’re no worse off than you started. But there are other things she may do as well:
- Give you an outright Yes. Woo hoo!
- Say, “I like this idea but would like you to change it in this way…” Score!
- Reject your idea but be so impressed with your pitch that she offers you a different assignment. May I say “Score” again?
- Reject your idea but be so impressed that she keeps your name on file for future assignments. Nice!
Remember, garnering an assignment isn’t your only goal when sending a pitch. Another very important goal is building a relationship with an editor, even if he has to say No to your query. As long as your pitches aren’t totally off-base, you have a chance at connecting with an editor who may hire you down the road.
If you pre-reject yourself, you’ll never start building those relationships.
So the next time you’re on the fence about whether to send an idea to a market, go ahead and just send it. Do your best, write a kick-ass query, and get it out the door — then work on the next one.
P.S. The last Write for Magazines session of the year starts on June 1…this is the class that’s helped students break into publications from Woman’s Day to Spirituality & Health to E: The Environmental Magazine. I made the crazy decision to accept 30 Premium students instead of the usual 10, and as of this writing on Thursday there are only eight spaces left. Also, if you jump into either version (Basic or Premium) of the class by tomorrow afternoon, you get an early registration bonus: a free copy of Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, which I sell for $4.99.
In the Premium version of my Write for Magazines e-course, I critique three article ideas from each student.
I’ll take an idea that’s almost-but-not-quite there (which is almost every idea) and show the student how to play with it, how to experiment with different angles until it’s just right to pitch.
And you know the response I often get?
“Since you didn’t like that idea, here’s another one.”
No, no, no!
Article ideas rarely pop out of a writer’s head fully-formed and ready to pitch. Even someone with 17 years’ experience (ahem) comes out with what I call SEEDS of ideas. A seed is the most basic form of an idea before you nurture it into a fully grown, salable article idea.
When you brainstorm, generate as many ideas as you can without judging them. Then, go through them one by one and start playing with the topics, angles, and markets to turn seeds into fully realized ideas. Like so:
If your idea isn’t newsy enough:
Here are three tactics you can try:
- See if you can find a recently-released book on the topic, or one that will be coming out around the same time you’re aiming your article for. (Search on Amazon.com and sort results by Date Published instead of Relevance.)
- Search for stats showing that what you’re pitching is a trend, or is becoming a trend.
- Figure out if there’s some way you can attach your idea to something that IS going on in the news. Maybe a celebrity just announced that she has some rare disease you wanted to write about, or you want to write on a marketing topic and a big business made the news with a major marketing fail.
If your idea is too narrow:
Consider finding three or more similar things and pitching them as a roundup. For example, instead of pitching an article on an historic attraction in your area, find four cool historic attractions and offer a roundup to a regional magazine.
Or, bring in other, similar but distinct topics. Instead of writing a pet health article only for ferret owners, expand it to include cats and dogs and pitch it to a general pets magazine or one of the women’s or health magazines that have pet departments.
If your idea is too broad:
Take one thin slice of the idea and blow it up to feature-size. For example, every health writer is pitching about the GMO issue, and frankly, this idea is big enough to fill a book. Is there some small aspect of the topic that hasn’t gotten much press, that readers may not already know about?
If your idea isn’t relevant to enough of your target market’s audience:
Is there a magazine or online publication that caters to an audience to whom your idea WOULD be relevant? For example, if a certain autoimmune disease affects only 2% of women, it won’t be of interest to a women’s magazine. But it WOULD be of interest to a magazine that targets people with autoimmune disorders. (And you’d be surprised at the publications you can find out there.)
If your idea is too vague:
Ask yourself, “What ABOUT topic X?” For instance, you want to write about job hunting for seniors. That’s pretty nebulous. What ABOUT job hunting for seniors? How to make your resume relevant for modern jobs, the top 10 best work-at-home jobs for seniors, how to volunteer your way into a paid job?
If your idea is just plain boring:
Consider: What’s the opposite of your idea? Editors love surprising, counterintuitive ideas that surprise readers and make them think.
Years ago I noticed that peanuts were getting a bad rap due to allergies (they had been recently kicked off of airplanes), so I pitched and sold an article called “In Defense of the Peanut” to Oxygen, about the health benefits of the beleaguered nut.
If your idea is about how to save money on groceries (been there, done that), you turn that into an idea on when it makes sense to spend more on food. (I did this for Fitness magazine, in an article called “Splurge or Save.”)
If your idea is on how to market your small business (snooooze), turn that into an article on how to attract customers without marketing.
So from now on, when your brainstorming session produces ideas you fear are stale, overdone, too narrow, or too big, don’t give up in despair. Remember, these are seeds of ideas, and you can nurture them until they grow into perfect pitches.
How about you: Did you recently come up with an idea you thought stunk? Can you apply some of the tips above to make it, well, not stink? Let’s play with your article ideas right here in the comments!
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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By Carol Tice
You’ve got a great story idea, and think you’ve found the perfect magazine to send it to. There’s only one problem: you have no idea if that magazine ever uses freelance writers — or if they do, if there’s any pay involved.
You could spend days developing this query — pre-interviewing sources and crafting your pitch — only to find out it’s not a paying market. That’s a big time-waster, so you want to find out if you’ve got a real opportunity here or not before you dive into your article research.
Fortunately, it’s not too hard to determine if a magazine is a paying freelance market, and if so, how much they typically pay. That is, if you know where to look.
Here are six tips for quickly finding out if a magazine pays:
1. Use directories
The Writer’s Market and Mediabistro’s How to Pitch guides both offer information on their listed magazines for what percentage of the publication is freelanced out, and of pay rates. If the magazine you want is in there, you’re set with the info you need.
Of course, you might take a quick browse through those and find your target magazine is not listed. If so, that’s a strong clue that this might not be a great market for you, especially if you’re a new freelance writer.
The Writer’s Market is a fairly exhaustive compendium of magazines that are open to using new freelance writers, assign a lot of freelance articles, and offer at least some pay. Thats right — not all the magazines in the universe, but magazines that fit those parameters.
My sense is the magazines where editors take the time to fill out the survey form and send it in to Writer’s Market tend to fall into that sweet spot. When your target pub isn’t listed, that’s a clue that one of those factors may be missing at that magazine — they’re not open to new writers, they assign only a very small proportion of their bylines to freelancers, or they don’t pay.
Personally, I always want to concentrate on magazines that assign out 50 percent of more of the publication to freelancers. The lower that percentage is, the less likely you’re going to get an assignment.
2. Find guidelines
Many magazines have their writer’s guidelines right on their website these days. Poke around there and see if you can turn up any “write for us” information.
If they’ve got guidelines, it will often give you at least a range of pay. It also may be a treasure-trove of tips on which sections they take freelance articles on, article lengths, the appropriate editor’s email address for various departments, and more.
3. Tap Google
Don’t overlook the insights the mighty search engine might bring you if you do a search on “pay at X magazine.” While you’re at it, you can do a quick reputation check by Googling “X magazine sucks” or “problems at X magazine.” That might give you a bit more background on whether you want to pitch this market.
4. Investigate ads
One thing I learned in my 12 years as a staff writer is that magazines are rarely fully staffed. If they have staff writers, they always seem to be short one and in the hiring process.
Do some searches on job-ad compilation sites such as Indeed.com, or on LinkedIn and see if they’re hiring staffers. If they hire paid writers full-time and do use freelancers, it’s a fair bet that they pay freelancers, too.
5. Ask your network
If you don’t know other freelance writers, you need to. Don’t think of other freelance as the competition — they are your sounding board and may know about magazines you want to try. They can refer you gigs, too.
For instance, for many years I wrote for a city magazine that was a notorious slow-payer. Literally, they paid often more than six months after I wrote the article! If I’d asked around among other local writers, I could have found that out right quick and spared myself some lean months.
To get started getting connected with other writers, you can Google “[your city] freelance writer” and see who comes up in the first few pages. Those are writers you want to get to know.
6. Get it from the horse’s mouth
When all else fails, see if you can scare up a phone number for the magazine and call. Barring that, find an editorial email and try that. View lack of response as a strong indicator that they don’t pay.
Bottom line: It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of quick research to get a strong sense of whether a magazine is a paying market. Then you know whether to invest more time in creating that query letter you had in mind.
Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog and founded Freelance Writers Den. To earn more as an article writer, grab her free handout — 7 Ways to Get Editors’ Emails.
It can be scary to put yourself out there as a freelance writer.
“What if I screw up?” You ask yourself. “What if I make a mistake that ends my freelance career before it even starts?”
I have news for you: You will screw up. Royally.
But I promise you, it won’t be the end of your career.
Any (truthful) freelance writer will tell you that she’s made mistakes and lived to tell the tale. Some writing gurus like to put forth an image of utter perfection, but even the most published writer — if you gave him enough wine — has stories to spill about the times he’s messed up.
To show you how even massive goofs quickly become yesterday’s news, here are the top four mistakes I’ve made in my freelance writing career.
1. The Egregious Spelling Error
When I was starting out as a copywriter in the late 1990s, I wrote a sales letter to that proudly stated:
“I can spell zyzzygy, onomatopoeia, and Weltanschauung, and am one of the few people who knows the difference between it’s and its, you’re and your.”
I sent this out to oh, maybe 100 or 200 prospects via snail mail. And one day, I got an email from one of these prospects to let me know that the word is actually spelled syzygy.
* facepalm *
Man, did I turn red. I may have even tried to cover for myself in my return email. But the fact is, I bragged that I could spell a word that I couldn’t spell. I wasn’t even close.
And guess what? No one else seemed to notice. I went on to do copywriting for companies like Pizzeria Uno, Sprint, OnStar, Bay State Gas, Sarnafil Roofing, and Wainwright Bank.
2. The Worst Article Idea Ever
Way back when I first started pitching the national women’s magazines, I sent an idea to Family Circle and a few other publications called “Quik Dri Cheez: Why Advertisers Can’t Spell.” I promised to answer the pressing question of why advertisers and product creators routinely spelled product names in odd ways.
If you can’t see why this is a terrible idea for a women’s magazine, you need to stop reading now and sign up for my email list to get a free packet of 10 really good query letters — to see how much more spot on every one of those ideas is.
You’d think a doozy like that would inspire an editor to say “Please lose my email address.” But the more I pitched the better my ideas and queries got, and I ended up writing for Family Circle a dozen times.
3. The Embarrassing Query Subject Line
Once I read a great tip on how to format email subject lines for a query letter: Include the title of your query, the fact that you’re a freelance writer, and your name. That way, editors would be grabbed by your headline, understand you’re not a PR person, and be able to quickly find the query if it got lost by searching on your name.
What a great idea! I wanted to pitch an article on how to combat unpleasant body odors like bad breath and stinky feet, so I sent out a query with this headline:
Query from Freelance Writer: What’s That Smell? Linda Formichelli
As the email zapped off the screen I realized — too late — that it sounded like I, personally, was the thing making people wrinkle their noses in disgust.
Guess what? The article sold to Women’s Health.
4. The Time I Was Banned By a Magazine
Years ago, I read that if you wanted to write two articles about the same topic, in order for the pieces to legally be considered new, they had to be 10% different. That means when you rewrite an article, you have to make sure at least 10% f the copy was changed.
So when I wrote an article for a money magazine about the financial benefits of being healthy, and then reslanted it for a health magazine, I changed up the copy as much as I could and thought I was in the clear.
The first editor thought otherwise. Somehow he discovered that I had written a similar article for the health magazine, and accused me of sending him a “warmed over” version of a story I had already sold to someone else. He also made it clear I was no longer welcome to write for that magazine.
I was humiliated. How had that handy rule served me wrong? I lost a great client that day.
Now I know that when you write on a similar topic for two different magazines, every word of it needs to be different; you can’t reuse even a single phrase or quote.
I never did pitch that financial magazine again, but my career hasn’t suffered in the slightest. I felt embarrassed, apologized, and moved on. And here I am, still standing.
If you’re worried that you’ll make a mistake that will end your career, I hope these stories put your fears to rest. As long as you do your best, learn as you go along, and act like a professional, you can enjoy a long and lucrative freelance writing career. I made some scary-bad screw-ups and
How about you: What major mess-ups have you made in your freelance writing life, and how did they affect your career? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. The Freelance Den — the learning and support community that helps freelance writers move up and earn more — is celebrating its 3rd anniversary this week! We’ll be opening to new members, and Carol Tice and I are offering a free Ask the Den Mothers Anything live call on Thursday at 3 pm EDT. We’ll be on the line as long as it takes to answer everyone’s questions. To be the first to know when the Den opens, and to get dial-in info for this call, join the Den waitlist now!
Last spring a writer (let’s call her Jill) emailed me that she was pitching a profile of me to a UK writing magazine — and would I be available for an interview?
Here’s how the conversation went:
I’m interested in interviewing you for [magazine]. If you are agreeable, I’d need to ask you a few questions in order to prepare my pitch.
Hi, Jill! Did you want to ask your questions via email or phone?
I live in Australia, Linda, and find email is simplest because of the different time zones.
Will just ask a few questions to start with. If my editor at [magazine] likes the proposal, I’ll be in touch again. If he’s already accepted something similar, I’d like to pitch the interview to [two other magazines] if you’re happy with that.
Here goes -
* You list Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle and Writers’ Digest as magazines you’ve sold to. I’m wondering how many you’ve sold to each. What’s the most number of commissions you’ve had from any one magazine that you’ve broken into by initially breaking rules?
* Are there any rules you definitely wouldn’t break?
* What’s the most daring way you’ve broken a rule and gained a commission?
How many magazines have you broken into by breaking rules?
[I answer all the questions, which takes about 300 words.]
My editor at [Magazine] is interested in the interview. I’ll need to slant it to UK writers subbing internationally, and also point out if any of the advice is wrong for the UK market. [Following are 11 questions, many of which are actually composed of two or three separate questions.]
Hi, Jill! That’s good news!
This is a LOT of writing. Can we do a phone interview? I’m available outside of business hours since we’re in opposite time zones.
I’ve been thinking what the best way to proceed might be, Linda. I didn’t mean to swamp you with questions.
One thing I’m wondering is whether you’ve already written pieces that I could read and draw on, that might cover some of this.
Then perhaps we could Skype?
What are your thoughts?
I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to write or research for you on this project. I think you will be better off finding someone else to profile.
Okay, so what went wrong in this process?
Let me start off by saying that unless you are just looking for bare facts — data mining, basically — email interviews are less than ideal. I do them for a column where I’m asking for dates, prices, and workshop names for events, but in all other cases I rely on the phone.
But to be fair, I did give Jill the option, thinking there would be just a few questions. Instead she slammed me with 15+ questions (which actually ended up being more like 20 questions). I spent 300 words on the first set, and estimate it would have taken me another 1,200 words at the very least to answer the second set.
Hmm, does that sound to you like I’m writing an entire article?
Then, when I offered to make myself available at some weird time of the day to make it easy for this writer to do a phone interview, she responded by asking if I had ever written anything she could basically lift for her article. Because God forbid a writer should have to do an interview outside the 9-5, right? Much better to ask your source to spend a couple hours writing and researching your article for you.
It reminds me of the writer who interviewed me, and when I asked her to send me a link to the article when it went online, replied, “Oh, just Google your name and the name of the magazine and it should come up.” Um, no. I just took half an hour out of my workday talking to you for no benefit to myself so YOU can earn a few hundred bucks — you can spend 10 seconds emailing me a freaking link.
As a freelance writer, I have done interviews after my normal bedtime and before my usual wake time with people in opposite time zones. I have paid for a Skype phone number and added funds to be able to call overseas to people who don’t have Skype. And I ALWAYS let my sources know when an article I interviewed them for has been published, and try to get them a copy if it’s not available on the newsstands.
In short, I never put the onus on my sources to make it easier for me to do my job.
Too many would-be writers have the impression that freelance writing is a cakewalk — and when they find out to their horror that they have to do actual work, and that it (gasp!) may not be 100% convenient for them, they look for shortcuts.
I’ve earned up to $85,000 per year writing (and yes, this was before I started earning income from my classes) because, well, I worked my ass off. Freelance writing is a job. It’s not all sitting at cafes with a laptop and a cup of joe, typing away as the muse strikes. I really can’t fathom why any person would think that this is the world’s only job where you can put in little effort and reap great returns.
As a freelance writer, you need to put in the hours and shoe leather to get gigs, do great work, keep your clients happy, and deal with sources in a way that they’ll want to help you again in the future. In other words, it’s work.
Enough of the vent. How about you: Can you tell us about a time you went above and beyond in your freelance writing career? Or how about describing a time you dealt with a lazy writer? Let us know in the Comments below! [lf]
The other day I was chatting with my Renegade Writer co-author, Diana Burrell, and she mentioned something that horrified me.
Diana teaches the fabulous Become an Idea Machine workshop that’s helped students land in the New York Times, Parenting, Success and other publications. She told me that more frequently than you would expect, she’ll suggest a student read through some magazines to help spur ideas, and they’ll reply:
“Oh, I don’t read magazines.”
Or, even worse:
“I hate magazines!”
I know this is not an uncommon scenario because when I do query critiques, sometimes it’s clear to me that the writer has not cracked open a magazine. Believe me, you can tell! For example, they’ll be pitching an edgy men’s publication and their query sounds like a government report, complete with 5-dollar words, passive case overdrive, and footnotes.
I’m not even sure how to respond to what I’m seeing out there. Why would anyone think that magazine writing is the only job in the known universe where you don’t need to know anything about the medium you hope to make money from, your clients’ products, or the marketplace?
It’s like if you were applying for a job as an accountant and you told your interviewer, “Well, I don’t know what accountants do and I don’t much like numbers, but will you give me a job?”
Of if you wanted to work at McDonald’s and you told your interviewer, “Oh, I’m a vegan and I’m morally against eating meat. I refuse to learn about your menu or serve burgers, but I want you to give me a job.”
This sounds ridiculous in all contexts — except, for some people, when talking about a freelance writing career.
I think there are a lot of Internet-famous business “gurus” out there who like to plug writing as an easy work-at-home gig where all you need is a laptop and the ability to string sentences together. After all, it’s FREElance, as in FREE to do whatever you want.
And that’s true IF you want to write $10 articles for the content mills.
But if you want to earn some decent money writing for top-notch trade, custom, and consumer magazines, for the love of all that is good and holy, you need to actually familiarize yourself with the magazine market.
When you want to become a magazine writer, reading magazines becomes a full-time job for you.
- You read magazines you want to write for from cover to cover and study the writing, the departments, how articles are structured, and even the ads.
- You read magazines you don’t want to write for, just for the hell of it.
- You read Writer’s Market in its entirety every year.
- You browse magazine directories online.
- You become known as the crazy person who carts away stacks of outdated magazines from your hairdresser’s and doctor’s waiting rooms. (Yes, I have done this!)
- You ask your neighbors to put their old to-be-recycled magazines on your porch. (Yep…done that too.)
When you go to the effort required to get to know the market, eventually it becomes ingrained in your brain. It becomes part of you.
So, for example…
- When your kid’s school bus driver mentions she’d like to get into writing, you say, “Oh, you should try School Bus Fleet magazine.”
- When you have an article idea about how to handle your tween’s hormonal temper tantrums, you know Family Circle may be a good market, but Parents is not.
- Your article ideas become sharper and more focused because you’ve read hundreds of magazine articles and know what’s been done and how you can do it differently.
- You’ll know that Inc. magazine ran an article two issues ago on a topic you want to pitch, so you’ll need to come up with a fresher slant if you want to query them.
This is not optional, folks. If you want to write for magazines, you need to read them. No, you need to study them. Lots of them.
Here’s your challenge: Today, right now if you can, read a magazine from cover to cover, studying every part. Or, if you have a copy or are near a bookstore or library, start browsing through Writer’s Market and read all the magazine guidelines.
How about you: Do you love magazines? Do you read them? Why or why not? (Hey, does this sound like a high school essay question?)
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I know what you want: To get more freelance writing jobs. And to earn good money doing what you love. And to enjoy the freedom that comes with controlling your own career.
That’s nice — but guess what? Editors don’t care what you want.
All editors care about is that you make their jobs — and their lives — as easy as possible. And for you, that means going beyond turning in great work on time. (Turning in great work on time is the bare minimum requirement.)
If you want to keep raking in the freelance writing gigs, you need to be freaking epic. You need to go waaaaaay beyond what the hordes of other freelance writers are doing.
Here’s how to level it up – and get more work:
Give Without Getting
Everyone loves a surprise freebie. What little extra can you offer your editor clients, without going broke yourself?
How about this: When you come across some news tidbit or research study you think would be perfect for a particular publication, but don’t want to pitch it yourself, send it to the editor anyway. Tell him, “I found this study I thought you’d be interested in. Hope you find it useful for X magazine!”
Or maybe you’re working on an article and come across some information that is important, but doesn’t quite fit in the piece. Write it up as a quick sidebar, and tell the editor, “I had some extra information, so I wrote up a sidebar you can use if you have room. Hope you like it!”
With some creativity, you’ll find many easy, painless ways to offer little extras to your clients. That puts you ahead of all those writers who turn in an article and call it a day.
Get the Best (Not the Easiest!) Interview Sources
Too many writers pick the first expert sources that come to mind: They go for people they already happen to know, like local professionals. “I need to interview a podiatrist? Hey, there’s one on my street!” Or they send out a HARO request and choose from among the people who respond.
When I recently wrote an article for a national health magazine on pet health, I needed to find two expert sources. Of course, I have a local vet who is great. But instead of going the easy route, I called a national veterinary organization and gave the PR rep my exact specifications: I wanted one male and one female vet from different areas of the country — and they needed to have a published book through a traditional publisher or work at a well-known veterinary hospital.
I got exactly what I wanted.
My editor did not ask for these requirements; I just knew these would be the very best sources and would impress the heck out of her.
When you’re on the search for sources for your articles, think of who would be the absolute best person to interview. You may think they’re out of your league, but you won’t know until you ask — and often, you’ll be surprised.
Push Your Style
If you can write in a clear, readable style, that probably puts you in the top 25% of freelance writers out there. But where you really create value and become epic is in bringing an amazing style to everything you write.
When I write an article, in my final edit, I go over every sentence and ask myself, “Is this the best possible way to express this idea? Is there any way I can make it more concise/interesting/entertaining?”
Writing for magazines (and copywriting, by the way) is about more than conveying ideas to readers in grammatically correct sentences. You need to do it in a way that entertains and keeps them interested as well. The perfect turn of phrase, the (truly) humorous aside, the killer lede — these are the things that keep readers — and editors — coming back.
So the next time you write an article, or a query, go over it one last time and make sure every sentence is as tight and compelling as it can be.
Don’t be one of the many writers who say, “I turned in an article on time. My sentences are grammatically correct. The end. Next!” Push yourself to be freaking epic and you’ll be rewarded with epic assignments in turn.
How about you: What do YOU do to level it up in your writing and business? What have editors’ responses been? Let us know in the Comments below!