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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
A subliminal message about how much you would like to pay for each book. :)
A week ago, Diana and I decided to try an experiment: All the e-books in the Renegade Writer Store (except one) would become Pay What You Want, meaning you, the reader, decide what to pay for each one.
The minimum price was $1 because that’s the minimum my order processor allows. (And they do charge me for each download!)
The deal was this: We would try this experiment for one week, and if we liked how it turned out, we would keep this pricing structure.
Here are the results:
- Around 330 writers took advantage of the Pay What You Want offer.
- The average order was $6.50.
- Sometimes an order was for a single book, but mostly they were for multiple products.
- Many, many people scooped up every book we have at $1 apiece. (Now you need to READ them all, LOL!)
- The lowest order amount was $1. The highest order amount was $30 (for multiple books). (That was pretty exciting!)
- Most writers paid below retail for the books…but some paid around retail, and just a few paid higher! (And this is not a judgement in any way…readers paid what they could afford or according to how much value they thought the books would bring.)
- We got orders from all over the world, including Canada, the U.S., Serbia, and Nigeria! (Discovered one reader from Serbia went to the same high school as our Serbian exchange student!)
- Several writers emailed me to say they hope to make sales based on what they learned in our books, so they can come back and pay more for them. Aw! (I’m actually thinking about creating a way for writers to come back and add more to their payments if they feel they’ve gotten a ton of value from the books. )
So what’s the verdict?
Of course we, the authors, feel we deserve to be compensated well for the value we provide in our books. We worked hard on them, and they cost us beaucoup cash for design, editing and so on. I also pay the order processor, and need to pay for tech help—for example, I paid $500 to have the books pages set up, and another $500 to get them converted to PWYW.
And of course, these books are meant to get writers gigs and change their lives! We think that’s worth at LEAST the $5-10 most of the books were originally priced at.
On the other hand, once we eat the sunk costs, it costs us very little to provide these e-books.
AND…since our mission is to help as many writers as possible reach their freelancing dreams, having 330 people get their hands on our books is excellent news! We want to reach EVERYONE—including those who can’t yet afford to hire help, take classes, or buy full-priced books.
So…drumroll…we decided to keep the PWYW pricing structure!
That means from now on, YOU choose what to pay for each book, e-course book, and checklist…including Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, which comes with a boatload of downloads (originally $9.99), The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success (also $9.99), and the Write for Magazines E-Course book (originally $29).
(And soon, very soon, I’ll be posting a meditation I created called Positive Thinking for Writers as a PWYW product. I wrote the meditation and it was produced and voiced by a former public radio reporter! It has everything…soothing music, nature sounds…IT’S AWESOME.)
Yep, you can get all these goodies for as little as a buck each.
Don’t have much cash? Pay the minimum. You’re rich? Pay more than retail and reap the karma that comes from covering a less advantaged writer.
Here’s where you can do that:
Please do spread the word to all your writing friends! You can post it on forums, share it on Facebook and Twitter, and let your writing groups know they can now get these helpful, valuable books for a minimum of $1 each. (BTW, we reserve the right to change our minds in the future…but for now we don’t foresee getting rid of PWYW.)
Here’s a tweet you can use if you like:
Renegade Writer e-books are now Pay What You Want…permanently! That means YOU choose what to pay! http://www.therenegadewriter.com/store/
Thank you, thank you for helping us make this experiment a success! We’re so excited to get our books into as many hands as possible!
I’m VERY excited that actress-turned-podcaster Yin Chang interviewed me for her iTunes “New & Noteworthy” podcast 88 Cups of Tea!
Tune in to learn:
- The big differences between query letters for freelance writers VS. authors
- I share exactly how to pitch a query letter and advise what to include in it
- Why it’s crucial to avoid content mills
- How I earned $40,000-$60,000 worth of writing gigs just from referrals
- How being a professional “class-taker” can ironically hold you back from achieving your goals
- Why it’s crucial to start pitching even if you feel like you’re not ready to
- How diversifying my work helped me cope with moments of burn-out
- How having your own website as a freelance writer can help your career and the important things to showcase
- Why you should break the hard and fast rules in freelance writing
- How to determine your own pay rate
You can listen in here:
P.S. All the e-books for writers in the Renegade Writer Store (except one) are Pay What You Want until Friday…this is an experiment, and if we like the way it goes, we’ll make this a permanent change. That means, at least for right now, YOU choose how much you’d like to pay for each book (with a minimum of $1 each). SO far we’ve had about 300 orders, most containing multiple books. Some writers are picking up EVERY book at $1 each, some are buying just a couple at a higher price, and some are in between. Have fun!
As you’ve probably guessed by the name of this blog, and the book it stems from, here at The Renegade Writer we’re all about doing what works for us. Experimenting. Trying new things. Bucking the status quo.
My personal life is the same way…yes, I LIVE what I preach. I’m proud of my freelance writer/board game designer husband; ballet-dancing Montessori-going son; and two lovely exchange students, from Serbia and Indonesia. (See the gratuitous photo of my three adorable kids to the left.) In October the nuclear fam and I are going to Europe, and in November we’re hitting Tokyo—because Eric and I can work on the road. (And if we time our trips to hubby’s business travel, he gets a free ticket, which is kind of key.
I tell you, we love not being normal…and I want to help others who want to be as weird as we are!
So: While most normal, status quo-type business owners want to squeeze every penny they can out of their customers, that’s not what we’re all about here at The Renegade Writer. Yes, I like money. However, I’m also passionate about helping writers earn a living doing what they love most. And, I’m someone who loves experimenting to figure out what works best for myself and for the writers I help—instead of always going with what’s expected and normal.
All that leads to this:
Not everyone who wants to become a writer has the means to get quality help—good e-books can cost $10 and more, and coaching can exceed $350 per hour!—so now, almost every e-book in the Renegade Writer Store is now Pay What You Want, with a minimum of just $1. I want to get the helpful info in these books into as many hands as possible, no matter what their situation.
That means YOU choose how much the books are worth to you. Yes, even the Write for Magazines e-course book that retails at $29 (and is based on a $267 course), and books like The Renegade Writer, Commit, and Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race—which retail at $9.99!
You can pay less than retail…or if you’re rich you can pay more and reap some good karma because you’re covering someone who can’t afford as much. (But $1 is the minimum my shopping cart service will accept for each book…probably because they charge ME 75 cents for every book I sell!)
HOWEVER…this is an experiment. I’ll be offering the books as PWYW for just one week—until Friday, September 18—and will then take stock of how it went. If we here at The Renegade Writer are happy, and our readers are happy, we can keep the PWYW pricing. If for some reason it just doesn’t seem to be working out…the books go back to retail prices.
Want to gather up a virtual armload of books that can help you write killer query letters, quit your day job to write, reach your goals through massive action, write faster, build confidence as a writer—and generally live and love the freelance life—all at a price YOU choose? Here’s the Renegade Writer Store, where every book but one is now PWYW. (The one that isn’t is only available on Amazon…and speaking of Amazon, our books will remain full price on that site.)
Have fun loading up on books…I think you’ll dig everything we have! I hope this helps many, many aspiring writers make their freelancing dreams a reality.
My 6-year-old son is a dancer: He takes several ballet classes and a jazz class every week, and has done tap as well. (That’s him at the Nutcracker rehearsal last year…sorry, I couldn’t resist!) So when a local Irish dance studio did a demo at T’s school and he asked to take lessons, I raced to sign him up. Encouraging his passions, and all that.
A weekly class costs $45 per month, but one month I had a brain fart and dropped off a check for $40. The next day, I got a polite reminder from the studio owner that I had sent in the wrong amount — fair enough — and I responded that I would drop off the $5 at T’s next lesson.
But at that very point, T decided Irish dance wasn’t for him. (I have to say I was relieved…driving T to dance five days a week and then sitting in a waiting room with 3-year-old copies of Dance Magazine is not my idea of a good time.) He had taken only one session at the beginning of the month, and after that I just stopped taking him.
A few weeks later, the studio owner emailed to ask where T had been, and I said he decided to stop taking classes, but perhaps one day he would change his mind.
She responded, “Okay, we hope to see him again…and by the way, you still owe me $5.”
I was taken aback: We had paid $40 and T had taken one lesson that month. I responded, “I think the $40 I paid covers the one 30-minute class T took!”
To which she replied: “Sorry, we don’t prorate for classes not attended.”
Now, of course, she was right. In fact, I’m sure I signed a contract agreeing to this very thing. But…seriously?
My husband and I joked for a while about sending the dance school a box of 500 pennies, or mailing five one-dollar bills a week apart, but finally I said, “Just send her a check for the five dollars and be done with it. I never want to deal with this school again.”
So the business owner got her five dollars — win! — but she lost potential future business, not to mention word of mouth. Because if anyone ever asks me to recommend a good place for dance classes, you can be certain I won’t be suggesting that school.
Ever hear the expression “penny wise but pound foolish”? This usually refers to people who cut costs unwisely and end up paying more in the long run. But it also applies to writers who are SO invested in coming off as professional, and so hyper-vigilant about not getting ripped off, that they turn off clients.
For example, one student of mine who had been attempting unsuccessfully to get good-paying clients for over a year asked, “A prospect wants me to come in for a meeting. My time costs money! So how much should I charge them?”
I understand the thought behind this: You want to look like a hard-bitten pro, and it’s true — your time IS worth money.
But is it really smart, when you’re desperate for work and someone shows an interest in hiring you, to go all hardcore and demand payment for an exploratory get-to-know-you meeting?
The same goes for writers who go into a frenzy when a client asks for a revise, or when an editor asks for 200 more words or a photo caption that wasn’t included in the contract. You need to consider whether it’s worth doing a bit of extra work for free to keep a good client.
(Of course, if this is an abusive client, one who pays pennies, or one who consistently asks for extra goodies with no compensation — you’re well within your rights to put your foot down…and hopefully ditch the client for good.)
Think about the last time you were at a café and you dropped your drink. (This happened to me just last week!) In 100% of the cases this happens, the barista will offer to replace the drink for free.
Now, the café owner is certainly justified in making you pay for the new drink. After all, is it HIS fault you had case of butterfingers? And drinks cost money, so he’s losing five bucks by offering you a free replacement!
But if he’s smart, the business owner understands that the cost of the free replacement drink is eclipsed by the goodwill created when he offers it to you. You’ll keep coming back and ordering more coffees, ad you’ll tell your friends about it too. That’s five bucks well spant.
Give to Get
Not only should you think hard about demanding money when a good client asks for a little extra here and there — but you should make it a point to offer little freebies even when the client doesn’t ask:
- An extra sidebar you create with research you couldn’t fit into the article.
- An introduction to someone who can help your client.
- Some tweets and Facebook posts to promote an article or blog post you wrote for a client.
- The occasional little gift just to say “Thank you,” such as an e-book or a box of candy.
- Ten minutes of consulting time to help the client with a question or problem you happen to have the expertise to solve.
Yes, you’re spending your valuable time, and sometimes your hard-earned cash as well — but it’s worth it to foster loyalty in your good clients. As they say in Big Business, it costs much more to get a new client than it does to keep an old one.
Don’t Be a Sucker
I know you don’t want to be taken advantage of — and you definitely don’t want to come across as a doormat.
The trick is, when you agree to do free work, convey how much it’s worth and that you’re doing the client a favor.
For example: “I had some extra materials I couldn’t fit into the article, so I created an extra sidebar, no charge. I hope you can use it!”
Or: “I normally charge $X for that kind of work, but you’re such a good client I’d like to offer it to you gratis.”
This way, you graciously offer something of value to your client — but you also get across the concept that there is indeed worth to your offering, making the favor even more valuable in your client’s eyes.
At the same time, you keep the requests for freebies to a minimum because you’ve made it clear that these are things you normally charge for. And if the client DOES ask for more, they won’t be shocked when you say, “Sure, I can do that — how does $X sound?”
Remember, don’t be a stingy Irish dance teacher…you may get your five dollars, but you’ll lose a client. [LF]
P.S.Two new (awesome!) classes coming up that you can register for now: (1) Write Big: A Fear-Busting Bootcamp Experience: Practical exercises, live coaching, a challenge, and bonus goodies to help you overcome the fears that are keeping you from writing, pitching—and succeeding. (2) Freelance Writer’s Pitch Clinic: A class on how to write killer queries & LOIs. Your homework will be critiqued, and your questions answered, by editors from Redbook, Forbes, and Writer’s Digest/Print Magazine. And…you have the chance to get a full refund on the course fee!
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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So this week I ran another Twitter game. (You may remember that last week I did #killaqueryin5words.) This one was #sourcefromhellin5words, and the idea was that we writers would give five-word phrases that would make us want to never interview a source. Like:
- How much will you pay?
- Who else are you interviewing?
- Can I see the article?
- Is the article out yet?
- Sorry, I forgot the interview.
- I’m the foremost expert!
- We’re creating a new paradigm!
- You should mention my book.
- I could talk all day!
What was really cool was that ProfNet and HelpAReporter, the two biggest source-finding services for journalists, got in on the action, so we had a ton of submissions…and also, expert sources who use those services got a lesson in what NOT to do when working with a writer. Not only that, but ProfNet did a post about the contest where they featured their favorite contributions!
As with last week’s game, some tweets were just so AWESOME that I decided to offer prizes to my favorites. And they are:
@anngol: “Oh you’re not from Redbook?” #sourcefromhellin5words [This was hands-down my favorite! The snobby source…ugh.]
@write4income: (In response to everything you ask): “That question is too personal.” #sourcefromhellin5words @LFormichelli [Persnickety sources don’t get called back!]
@lilbusgirl: How’s 10pm your time sound? #sourcefromhellin5words [Yeah, because we writers don’t have a life!]
@CaroleeNoury: Answers are in my book. #sourcefromhellin5words @LFormichelli [Hint: We journalists need to get quotes straight from the source; we can’t just pull quotes from books.]
@RobinDarling: “I read it on Wikipedia” #sourcefromhellin5words @LFormichelli [And you call yourself an expert?]
@danielcasciato: “Get a quote from PR” @LFormichelli #sourcefromhellin5words [Yes, we writers LOVE sanitized PR-speak!]
@RAHolloway: “I will need final approval. @LFormichelli #sourcefromhellin5words [Now THAT’S good journalism!]
?@rebekah_olsen: It all started in 1965…(when you only need one quick quote about their work) @LFormichelli #sourcefromhellin5words [I hope you took a bathroom break before this interview!]
Winning tweeters, I’d love to offer you a free book, course, or checklist from the Renegade Writer Store. Please choose your favorite and email me at email@example.com with your selection! (FYI, I’m out of town because my grandma passed away. So please be patient and I’ll send you your book next week for sure. Thanks!)
Thanks so much to everyone who played #sourcefromhellin5words. It was a blast!
On Monday morning I’ll be launching a new Twitter game called #editororgasmin5words. I think you can tell what we’re looking for here! Some examples I’ll have on my Twitter feed include:
- Yes, I’ll write for free! (Yes, we can get snarky in this game!
- I created an extra sidebar.
- I fact-checked all stats.
- Pynchon agreed to an interview.
- Can I file this early?
The game will start Monday at around 8 am ET (New York time) and run all day. (Please wait until then to start posting, and I’ll retweet your contributions!) Just add the hashtag #editororgasmin5words to your post, and feel free to tag me at @lformichelli!
If you want to get announcements when I hold a new Twitter games like these, please join the Renegade Writer email list! You’ll also get a free e-book and checklist for writers, plus my Monday Motivations for Writers emails!
Where are you working right now?
Is it at your dining room table, surrounded by dirty breakfast dishes? At your local Starbucks? In a well-appointed home office?
Wherever you’re working as a freelance writer…the space needs to work for you.
And your home office is about more than physical space—you also need to think about your phone service (and voicemail message), your equipment and supplies, your working hours, your mailing address, and more.
To help you create a home office that improves your focus, creativity, and professionalism, I interviewed Dr. Joe Webb, the co-author of The Home Office That Works: Make Working at Home a Success—A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Telecommuters. (He’s also someone I used to do karate with in Rhode Island!)
During this interview, Joe reveals:
- The importance of a door that closes. (And it’s not just to keep people out!)
- Why you shouldn’t use your home address as your mailing address.
- Options for home office space if you don’t have an extra room.
- Why you need to project professionalism to the outside world…even if people never set foot in your office.
- How to adapt your work hours to the pace of the day.
- The most important item in your office. (Don’t skimp on this!)
- What to do if you share a phone line with your family.
- How to communicate your work hours with clients without going all TMI.
- How to deal with loneliness when you work by yourself at home.
- The professionals you really need to hire.
- And more!
Listen to the interview. (MP3)
Download the PDF transcript.
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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No big fanfare here since my mentoring usually fills up pretty quick: I wanted to give you a heads-up that I have a new monthly mentoring package that includes three Skype calls, query and website critiques, email support, and a load of goodies.
I’ll be accepting five writers in September…and actually I already have one writer signed up so there are just four spaces left!
(Yes, I will be doing this throughout the year, and the “month” starts the day you sign up so it doesn’t have to be the first of the month; however, FYI, I’ll be away for two weeks in October.)
Looking for solid information, motivation, and accountability—to help you move up and earn more as a freelance writer? I work with new, mid-career, and advanced writers…so check out my mentoring page and touch base at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to set something up!
Thanks so much, and I look forward to working with you…
The Renegade Writer
So the other day my husband Eric, who’s the news editor over at BoardGameGeek, told me about a board game publisher that created fun Twitter games like #BoardGameBand, where tweeters would come up with fun mashups of board game titles and band names — like “Frankie Goes to Hollywood Blockbuster” or “Dungeon Petzshop Boys.”
“Why don’t you do that?” Eric said.
Ding ding ding!
Together we came up with the hashtag #killaqueryin5words, and the premise was simple: I wanted writers to offer up five-word phrases that would cause an editor to trash their magazine query.
I launched the game on Monday morning, seeding my feed with such 5-word screw-ups as “I never read your magazine,” “You don’t publish poetry, but…” and “Google says you like chocolate.”
#killaqueryin5words took off! Writers around the web got a good laugh reading hilarious (but sadly common) query snafus. (In fact, contributions are still rolling in!)
Then I had another brainstorm: Why not pick my favorite #killaqueryin5words tweeters and offer prizes?
The #killaqueryin5words Winners
Here are my top picks. If you’re listed as a winner, please choose any e-book from the Renegade Writer Store that you’d like to receive for free (yes, even the $29.99 one!) and email me your choice at email@example.com.
I have to give props to @GiulianoDebra because she contributed more posts than anyone! (I think someone was procrastinating on their work yesterday. ) Congrats, Debra!
Next, I was super impressed that @NewJerseyWriter created the graphic you see at the top of this post just for the game. She used morguefile to find the photo and Canva to create the image. She also gave me permission to use her graphic on the blog. Thank you, and please choose your prize!
Another winner is @justinrbannon for his insightful tweet about the game: “Perhaps the most concerning thing about #killaqueryin5words is that it’s provided more than one actual tip.”
Most Hilarious (But Sadly True)
Finally, I had trouble choosing just one most awesome #killaqueryin5words tweet, so we have five winners:
1. @danielcasciato: I’m giving you first dibs. #killaqueryin5words @LFormichelli
2. @BretteSember: “you’re probably not interested but…”
3. @sharonnaylorwed: #killaqueryin5words “my writing group loved it!”
4. @RitaMailheau: #killaqueryin5words To Whom It May Concern
5. @BillDavisWords: I’m here in your lobby #killaqueryin5words
These tweets showcase five fatal query flaws:
4. Laziness and lack of research, not to mention a stiff writing style!
Congrats to the five of you…please choose your prize!
One thing I discovered is that Twitter doesn’t seem to save hashtagged tweets for long, so if you want to check out the funny feed, do it now! It’s at https://twitter.com/hashtag/killaqueryin5words
I have a great idea for a new writer Twitter game for next week…stay tuned!
Thanks to everyone who participated in the #killaqueryin5words game. It’s been a blast!
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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This blog post is from today’s Monday Motivations for Writers email. Want to get insights like this in your inbox every week…plus a free e-book and checklist for writers? Subscribe today!
I hear it from a lot of writers I mentor and teach: There are no good markets for me! WHO am I supposed to PIIIITTTTTCCCCCHHHHH???
One of my most popular Renegade Writer posts is called A Hidden Market for Freelance Writers, and it’s all about trade magazines — B-to-B publications that cover all aspects of running a business in a particular industry, such as foodservice, printing, or retail.
You can usually find a trade that caters to some business you have personal experience in…which makes it easier to break in without clips, because you can say, “I have 10 years’ experience working in foodservice industry and boast the know-how — and industry contacts — to help your readers with this topic.”
Also: If you look beyond the newsstand, you’ll find magazines targeting just about every hobby and interest you can think of. Are you clipless? Find a magazine catering to your hobby and pitch there, using your experience as your creds.
But a lot of writers try to catch me out by saying, “I’ve been a sheep farmer for the last 20 years. Who am I supposed to write for? Huh? Huh?”
Let me call B.S. on the skepticism. Here’s a list of magazines I found within about two minutes using the Google:
Still think you can’t find a market that’s perfect for YOU to pitch? (Correct answer: No.)
Oh, and for that skeptical sheep farmer: Here are a few just for you.
If the idea that there are no markets for you is getting you down…buck up, figure out your interests, do a 5-minute Google search—and start pitching!
Are You a Writing Fangirl…Or a REAL Writer? 7 Ways to Tell
We writers can spend hours every day thinking, dreaming, talking, and ruminating about writing. We love what we do!
But when we use these activities (and I’m loathe to even call them “activities”) as substitutes for actually writing…that’s a problem. We leave the realm of serious writer and enter the realm of — fanfolk.
And it’s a sneaky problem, because geeking out over all things writing feels like we’re being productive. We call it brainstorming, networking, getting motivated, whatever. But what it is not, is WRITING. Oh yeah, and MARKETING. And otherwise getting off our butts and going after, and completing, paying writing assignments.
(Caveat: I’m not saying we’re not allowed to have fun, kill time, and kibitz on writers’ forums. It’s when these time-wasters placate us into feeling productive — or we’re more interested in the trappings of a writer than in writing itself — that there’s a problem. )
Seven Signs You’re a Writing Fanboy/Girl:
1. You wear your Grammar Police badge with pride.
Writing forums, email discussion boards for writers, and blog comments are full of posts like these:
- My client just sent me an email where he used ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’! *headdesk*
- Look at the typo in this newspaper headline! What is journalism coming to these days?
- Hey, blogger…you call yourself a writer? There’s a word missing in the second paragraph.
Pointing out/kvetching about other writers’ grammar mistakes make you FEEL good because hey, you don’t make mistakes like that so clearly you’re a superior writer. But is it getting you more gigs? Is it getting more writing out of you? Or is it simply wasting energy you could be using to get more assignments?
The person who made the typo is writing. What are YOU doing?
I have a guest post on the MakeaLivingWriting.com blog that goes into much, much more details on why you want to pit away your Grammar Police badge. (With 177 comments…clearly a hot button topic!)
2. You give a crap that The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play. (And you know that it has 1,787 words.)
Look on almost any writers’ forum and you’ll see long threads where writers discuss their favorite pen (who writes in pen anymore?), post interesting factoids about Shakespeare, share motivational quotes from Hemingway, and hash out the details of the latest plagiarism/book banning/angry-author-screwed-by-publisher case.
I call these “fanboy writer posts.” These writer trivia posts show you’re a big fan of all things writing…but do they actually count as writing?
3. You’re a member of 10 writing organizations.
Here’s your email sig line:
Jane Smith, Wordsmith Extraordinaire
National Writers Union
Science Writers of America
Mystery Writers Association
Medial Journalists’ Society
East Podunk Stitch & Bitch Writing Club
Romance Writers of America
[Add five more here]
Guess what? Editors and potential clients do not look at this list and say, “Wow. She must be a serious writer. Let’s hire her!”
Being a member of (most) writers’ associations does not prove that you are a writer. If you shell out your $150, you can get in. Even if you’ve never written a word in your life!
Join the organizations that pertain to the exact type of writing you’re actually doing. Not the genres you wish you were in, or the ones you think will impress people. And only join if you plan to be active in the group (which includes — wait for it — writing.)
4. You are the proud owner of a vast collection of quill pens.
Many writers love the trappings of writing more than the actual act of writing itself. So we see aspiring writers posting photos of their collection of mugs with writerly sayings; getting/talking about/comparing/sharing on social media their tattoos of Remington typewriters; collecting recycled-paper, leather-bound journals (just for looking at, natch); and strolling the aisles of Office Depot coveting the fancy pens.
Anyone looking at you, with your exclamation point tattoo and “Writer at Work” doorknob hanger, would think you are a writer. But…are you actually writing? Don’t delude yourself: A collection of quill pens does not a writer make.
5. You take writing classes you don’t need.
Wait a minute…did I just say that? Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot because I teach a ton of classes for writers here—but seen too many writers take class after class in order to avoid having to actually pitch and write.
(Many instructors LOVE students like that…they pay good money, don’t do the work, and the instructor gets something for nothing.)
A multitude of certificates from writing classes is the sign of an insecure writer who always thinks she needs to know more before getting started — or the sign of fanfolk who love showing off their creds more than they do actually writing.
Yes, take a class to learn the skills you’re lacking, whether it’s writing the perfect pitch, running a writing business, or crafting an article that will sell. Then…go out and do that thing. That’s what makes you a real writer. If you come to a a roadblock because you need more skills, THEN you can take more classes.
This goes for free classes, too. Just about everyone with something to sell online offers a free class/instructional webinar/training call to get people on their email lists. It’s tempting to try them all! But unless you need that exact skill right now, you can hold off until you do.
6. You love books.
Writers love spending lots of time on Goodreads reviewing books. And weighing in on the latest literary controversies (is The Goldfinch crap or not?) And discussing On Writing and Writing Down the Bones and The Artist’s Way. And bragging about how many books they have in their homes. (I have over 1,000 books! Oh yeah? Well, I have 1,500. Here’s a photo to prove it!)
But the fact that you have a library overflowing with books, a shelf full of writing manuals, and 500 Goodreads reviews (especially of those writing manuals!) does not show you’re a writer. You talk a good game, but do you have the ass-in-seat-time to prove it? Serious writers with limited time use their time to — write.
7. You call yourself a “scribe” or “wordsmith” on your business card.
You are not a scribe, and you’re not a wordsmith. These terms bring to mind unpaid writers jotting down poems for the love of it — or monks copying Bible passages. (My editor at a writing magazine kept changing the word “writer” to “scribe” in my articles and it drove me batshit crazy…as much as I loved this editor!)
You are a serious, well-paid businessperson who offers writing as a valuable service. Right?
So: Are you a fanboy/girl or REAL writer? And if you say you’re a real writer: Prove it today by shutting down the forums, putting away the writing manuals, resisting the urge for one more class or one more writing group membership…and writing.
Stephen Guise is the author of the new book How to Be an Imperfectionist, and I was excited to be able to interview him for The Renegade Writer…because we writers often let perfectionism keep us from getting out work out there.
In this interview, you’ll learn:
- The difference between chance and failure
- How confidence = comfort
- Why quantity is more important than quality
- The perceived benefits of perfectionism
- How setting the bar low can actually help you get more freelance writing jobs
- Why partial success is still success
- What’s better…thinking or acting?
- Much more!
You can download the PDF transcript here and download the sound file here (which has my awesome new intro music!).
Also…when I asked Stephen for a “cover image,” he misunderstood and sent me a headshot. I decided I’m totally going to include it as eye candy for the ladies!
Enjoy — and feel free to pass these files around to your writer friends!
P.S. Carol Tice and I are offering the audit version of our 4-Week J-School RIGHT NOW! Cart closes on July 30, which is two days from today. Want to gain the skills and confidence to land — and write — lucrative article assignments? Check out the success stories from our previous students on the J-School page. Work at your own pace…your access never ends!
Ethics is in the air!
(I can see you right now saying, “Um, what?”)
By that I mean Carol Tice’s and my 4-Week J-School Audit is on sale until July 30 (a BIG welcome to the 80 of you who have signed on so far!) — and we have a whole lesson on journalism ethics. And because we’re talking so much about ethics in our marketing materials, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers.
One awesome writer sent in this question:
I was surprised to read, in your post about mistakes you have made, that it is not okay to reuse ANYTHING from a previous article, not even a phrase or a quote. I’ve never heard that before. In fact, I seem to remember you or Carol encouraging us to reslant and resell our stories as a way to get double duty from our work. If we can’t reuse our quotes, that doesn’t seem like it saves us anything. I’ve been planning to try and spin a couple of my stories in different ways for different markets. Comments?
Stealing from your own previously published work is called self-plagiarism, and it is a big problem. In fact, as you’ll see in the post I linked to above, I was once fired for it before I knew any better.
While it’s not technically illegal to reuse portions of your own work (unless you signed a contract forbidding it), and some debate whether or not it is unethical, according to this article on Slate, it’s all about the expectations of the audience. So, for example, when I compile blog posts into a book and make it clear in the subtitle that the book is made up of previously-run blog posts, no one seems to mind. As long as the information is new and helpful to the audience, it is likely not a problem.
But when you write for magazines or online publications, your first audience is your editor. You need to ask yourself: How would your editor feel if she saw another article that had the same quotes or phrases as the one you just turned in — especially when she bought first rights or all rights to your piece? I’d wager she wouldn’t like it very much.
And that’s all that matters if you want to keep getting freelance writing jobs. You can debate the ethics of self-plagiarism with her until your face turns a lovely shade of blue…but if she thinks it’s unacceptable — which I assure you she will — then it’s a no-no for you. (And with Copyscape, you certainly won’t get away with it.)
But take heart! When developing a new pitch/article, you can still reuse:
- Your idea (Reslanted for a non-competing publication; for example, I once wrote a diet article for Oxygen and then reslanted it for Men’s Fitness.)
- The knowledge you gained writing the original article, which will make your research much faster.
- Your sources. (Though you would need to re-interview them or use quotes you didn’t use in the original article.)
Journalism ethics is a sticky topic — you need to know not only about self-plagiarism but also libel, using proper citations, quoting sources, fair use laws, and other practices that can keep you from getting sued (or at the very least, in trouble with your editor).
If you’re not up to speed on these topics, consider joining the 4-Week J-School Audit today. You’ll not only learn the ins and outs of journalism ethics, but also get the scoop on generating salable ideas, writing pitches that sell, and crafting compelling articles. The class is self-paced, and you get access to the materials (including the tasty bonuses) forever. And we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee! Go to the class page to check out the testimonials from happy students who have gotten freelance writing jobs after taking our class.
Jordan Rosenfeld is the author of the new book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to a Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice, and I was excited to be able to spend 30 minutes with her discussing:
- How editors and agents want to be seduced — they WANT to say yes! — and how many writers muff it up by talking down about themselves.
- How to banish distraction — both the home kind and the Internet kind.
- Why you need a Writer’s Code, and how to create one.
- What it means to “go where you’re welcome” in your writing, and how it can help you get more freelance writing jobs.
- The biggest problem that keeps writers from succeeding.
- How to handle critiques without wanting to curl up into a fetal ball and cry.
- And much more!
You can download the PDF transcript here and download the podcast sound file here. Feel free to share these with your writer friends, and please do share on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!
This post is from this week’s Monday Motivations for Writers email. To get these emails in your inbox, plus a free e-book and checklist for writers, you can sign up here.
Ever send a query to an editor and realize — too late — that you had a typo in the lede? Or accidentally hit “Reply All” on a sensitive work email?
Wonderful Renegade reader Cherese Cobb let me know about a solution: unSend.it.
unSend.it is a free service that lets you track email opens, edit emails and attachments AFTER they’re sent, and steal back emails you wish you’d never sent.
I tried it out with a couple Gmail accounts of mine. Sign-up was super easy thanks to a slideshow that covers every step.
If you choose the unSend.it mode where you’re able to edit emails after they’ve been sent — and even after they’ve been opened — the email is converted to a graphic on unSend.it’s servers. I have to say, that looks a little wonky to the recipient. For example, when I tried emailing myself with this option, as the recipient I wasn’t able to copy the e-mail’s contents since it was a graphic, not text.
Something else that’s a little strange: If you unsend an email, according to the site, “unSend.it removes all content from the body of the email (including any attachments) you sent. The email itself will always remain in your recipient’s inbox along with the subject line—however, all email message content will be removed.” But…guess having your editor see a blank email is better than having her see one you meant to send to your best friend venting about said editor!
You can also opt for the mode where you can only unsend emails and edit attachments, in which case your email comes through as regular text.
There’s also a tracking-only mode, and you can choose to have unSend.it email you when recipients open your messages.
A cool perk is that you can change modes for individual emails as you send them out by using shortcode such as [att] for “attachments,” which means you have control over that particular email’s attachments even after you send it.
Hope you can use this cool tool to take the worry out of pitching! (Thanks, Cherese!)
By the way, I love sharing tips from my readers. If you have a good one and I can use it, I’m happy to send you an e-book gratis as a thank you!
P.S. Have you seen my new Writing Assignment Checklist, which I’m selling for just $1.49?
A couple weeks ago I created a Query Writing Checklist, and it flew off the virtual shelves!
Then, while on a road trip (I do my best thinking while driving), I was like—Duh, Linda! Now writers will need a checklist to use when they’re working on a writing assignment! (You know, the assignment they got using the query checklist.)
Whether you’re writing for a magazine, a website, or a paying blog—there’s so much to think about and remember when you’re working on an assignment:
- Did I get a contract…and did I sign it and send it back?
- What are the payment terms?
- What was it the client wanted from me, again? Did she want a sidebar?
- Who am I interviewing?
- Oh man, what was that source’s email address?
- Did I include a source list with my assignment?
- When did I follow up with the interviewee?
- Did I remember to proof the article?
- Is each fact in the article backed up by an outside source?
- Did I write a compelling lede? A great kicker?
- Did I remember to thank the client?
So I did it…I created a fillable PDF Writing Assignment Checklist that covers:
Stage 1: Assignment Details
Stage 2: Sources & Research
Stage 3: Proofing the Article
Stage 4: Turning in the Assignment & Onward
Wherever possible, I also included links to websites and blog posts that will deepen your understanding of that particular element—from finding expert sources to creating a source list to writing an amazing kicker.
The Writing Assignment Checklist is a fillable checklist, meaning you can fill in the blanks and check off action items right on your computer.
Download the checklist and create a duplicate copy for each query idea…you can use the Writing Assignment Checklist over and over!
And even better—you can get this helpful checklist for just $1.49. I know…super cheap, right?
If you’d like a copy of a checklist that will help you track assignments and turn out great articles (and blog posts, and case studies…)–here’s where you can get it.
(And if you missed the Query Tracker Worksheet, that’s here!)
P.S. If you get the checklist, please download it to your hard drive and make duplicates before you start filling it out. That way you’ll have enough checklists for all your pitches, and will be able to save and print them. (Do not open and fill out the PDF in your browser or you will not be able to save and print!)
P.P.S. Did you know Carol Tice’s and my new e-course Escape the Content Mills is on sale this week? Sale ends Sunday…check it out here!
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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I received such a wonderful response to last week’s post Why You Should Charge What You Like & Not Feel Bad About It. Thank you!
After doing more considering on the issue of how much writers (and other freelancers/entrepreneurs) should charge for their products and services, I have a few more thoughts I’d like to share.
1. What Can Your Prospect Afford?
To that question I say: It doesn’t matter.
Too many writers get a reach-out from a prospect asking for a price for a blog post, article, or newsletter — and then wring their hands trying to figure out how much the prospect can afford to pay.
The writers say, “I don’t want to go too low and screw myself, but I also don’t want to go too high and not get the gig!”
The thing is this: Sometimes people won’t be able to afford you — and THAT’S OKAY. There are plenty of prospects who can afford to pay what you charge.
Set your hourly rates based on what you need to earn to cover your expenses and make a good living — and when someone asks what you’ll charge for a blog post, article, or web copy, you simply figure out how many hours the project will take (pad it a little!), multiply it by your hourly rate, and propose a flat fee.
If your fee is close to what the prospect can afford, and they believe the value you provide will be worth the price, they’ll say Yes. If your fee is a little high for them, they’ll try to negotiate. But if you aren’t even in the ballpark — say you would charge $500 for an article and they were thinking more along the lines of $50 — then you say goodbye. They are not a client for you.
[Tweet This] Remember, you are under no obligation to make sure everyone who wants or needs your product or service can afford it. If that were the case, you would be charging zero.
I occasionally get an email from a writer complaining that they can’t afford one of my products, services, or classes, because, well, they’re writers, and writers don’t earn much money as a rule. (Not true!) But all I can do is charge what the thing is worth, and let the customer sort it out for themselves. I’ve had writers tell me they can’t afford a $2.99 e-book, so if I felt I needed to price everything at an amount everyone could afford, I would just be giving everything away.
And that’s no way to run a sustainable business that can serve people for years to come.
This leads to the second point, which is…
2. You’d Be Surprised What People Can Afford
I’ll bet you’ve had this experience: You ask a friend to join you to watch that new blockbuster movie, and she says she can’t afford it. But a week later, she rolls up in a brand new Mercedes and starts bragging about her ski trip.
What people can afford is entirely subjective. Often when someone says they can’t afford something, what they mean is it’s not a priority for them.
A business coach once told me that other people’s finances are none of my business. I may think, “Oh, I shouldn’t charge this much because poor so-and-so would never be able to afford it.” But you just never know. Maybe poor so-and-so just cashed in a winning lottery ticket. Maybe he inherited a gob of cash. Maybe he just got a raise.
Not only that, but charging less (or not offering a certain product to a certain person) because you think they can’t afford it infantilizes your customer. Adults are perfectly capable of determining which products can services they want and need, and how to pay for them.
Instead of getting all up in your customers’ financial grille, just charge what you need to and let HIM figure out how he’ll pay for it. You don’t know what’s going on with him financially, so it’s best to just not worry about it.
You’d be surprised at how fast people will come up with the money if they really want something.
So when you’re trying to figure out what a writing client can afford, well, just don’t. Set your prices based on how much you need to earn to hit your target income, to be compensated fairly for your skills, and to cover your overhead and expenses. If someone can’t afford your writing, that’s okay.
You’ll find there are plenty of clients out there who are HAPPY to pay your going rate.
Whether you’re pitching your idea to a magazine, a website, or a blog — there’s so much to think about and remember when you write and send a query letter:
- Is my idea timely?
- Is my idea relevant to enough of the pub’s readers?
- What sources should I approach about a pre-interview?
- Oh man, what was that source’s email address again?
- Could I offer this idea as a chunky format with lots of box outs…or a chart…or a quiz?
- Did I nail the magazine’s style?
- Do I have an enticing headline (and how do I create one of those, anyway?)?
- Wait, did I follow up with editor X?
And even if you remember everything you need to so — inevitably, just as your query email to your dream publication zaps off the screen, you notice…a typo.
I had a HUGE brainstorm: How about a checklist that writers can use with every pitch they send, to make sure it has all the elements that will entice an editor to say Yes?
So I did it…I created a fillable PDF Query Letter Checklist that covers:
Stage 1: Developing the Query
Stage 2: Proofing the Query
Stage 3: Sending the Query
Stage 4: Tracking Your Query
Wherever possible, I also included links to websites and blog posts that will deepen your understanding of that particular query element — from developing a story idea that sells, to learning about the nut graf, to finding expert sources.
The Query Letter Checklist is a fillable checklist, meaning you can fill in the blanks and check off action items on your computer.
Download the checklist, and create a duplicate copy for each query idea…you can use the Query Letter Checklist over and over!
And even better — you can get this helpful checklist for just $1.49. I know…super cheap, right?
If you’d like a copy of a checklist that will help you develop, send, and track killer query letters — so you can get more assignments — here’s where you can get it.
Drawing by Dawn Witzke.
Right now we’re in the middle of a session of my Write for Magazines class, and I’m getting these questions/statements a lot from students:
How much should I research a magazine before I know it’s a good market for my idea? Right now it’s taking me hours.
I want to pitch this publication, but I can’t find their writer guidelines so I don’t know if they use freelancers.
I researched this magazine to see if my idea is a good fit, but they don’t have a good department for it/they’ve never run anything like it/Mercury is in retrograde — so I think I won’t pitch them.
I just want to tell all the writers out there:
When in doubt, pitch.
If you have even the slightest inkling that your idea would fit in a particular magazine, go ahead and send it.
As you know, I recommend sending simultaneous queries. (If you didn’t know that, you can read all about it here.)
That means you’re writing one query that you’ll be sending, tweaking as necessary, to multiple publications at the same time.
If you already have your query written, then it’s no skin off your nose to send it to one more magazine. It will take you only a few extra minutes to research the editor’s contact information and tweak the query as needed. If it ends up the pub doesn’t use freelancers, or doesn’t have the space for your idea, or doesn’t pay, then you’ve only wasted a few minutes — and your query is still under consideration by a group of other editors.
No problem, right?
And get this: If your idea is even a somewhat close match for the magazine (which it is, right?), you’re probably ahead of 90% of the pitches they get. I once heard a Family Circle editor tell writers that they shouldn’t pitch her articles on the sex life of frogs. She said that because people do it.
Let the editor say Yes.
You need to research a magazine only enough that you can be reasonably sure your idea will fit in it.
What you don’t need to do is spend hours poring over back issues and guidelines trying to figure out why your idea won’t work. Why spend all that time and effort thinking of reasons not to send a query?
Instead, give the editor a say. Editors are smart. They know a lot more than you do about their magazine and their audience.
And only the editor can know if, say, he’s about to start a new department where your pitch would fit perfectly, or he was just wishing he had an article on X (with X being your idea), or one of his freelancers just flaked and he needs another good writer pronto.
Or maybe your pitch will be so wonderful that the editor will make an exception for you. Carol Tice and I had one student in our recent Pitch Clinic class who sent a Letter of Introduction to a business she wanted to blog for. Here’s part of the response she got.
Ordinarily we do not accept guest posts, as they are almost always short and shallow. We receive numerous requests daily, but only post two or three per year. However, your email is better than most and touches on a few points that interest me.
We pay our writers and they work on assignment. Our top writer is off on baby leave so I’m looking for a backup. A few candidates are in the wings, but I’d like to try an article from you, if our terms are suitable to you.
This can only happen to you if you go ahead and pitch.
You don’t necessarily want to sell your idea.
Guess what? The goal of a pitch is not necessarily to get an assignment.
Well, of COURSE you would like to get an assignment. But what often happens is that your query or LOI doesn’t quite make the cut — say, the publication already has a similar article in the works — but the editor is so impressed by your pitch that she invites you to pitch again, or even assigns you a different article.
The goal of a pitch is to start building a relationship with a client.
If you hold off on pitching because you’re not fully, absolutely, 100% sure your ideas are a good match, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to start a conversation with an editor who may want to hire you down the road.
Your pitch shows what you can do. It shows you have great ideas, can write well, and are professional. Even if it’s not a perfect match, it can lead to assignments.
So the next time you find yourself spending hours researching magazines looking for excuses cut yourself out of the running, stop.
Just send that pitch.
P.S. Are you looking to leave your day job to become a full-time freelance writer? Then you’ll love my e-book Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, which has 36 five-star (and 9 four-star) reviews on Amazon! It’s available in Kindle and PDF.
By Jennifer Lawler
I can always tell when a writer isn’t going to make it as a freelancer.
The secret is easy. I just listen for the phrase “churning it out” — as in “I’m churning out a lot of work today” or “I churned out two articles over the weekend.” I hear that phrase, and I know they’re going down. Maybe not today, but eventually, and probably sooner than they think.
Related phrases include “cranking it out” and “grinding it out.”
Why is this such a foolproof method for gauging a writer’s likely success? Not because I think slow equals better. Sometimes slow is just slow. But because the phrase itself indicates a mindset that is the exact opposite of the one you need to succeed.
Churning work out means you don’t care about the work, you’re just doing it for the reward. It means you’re perceiving your efforts as being not much different from a machine at a factory. You’re a robot on an assembly line, producing widgets.
The problem with being a robot on an assembly line is it’s boring and dreary and it doesn’t pay very well. Also, you’re interchangeable with every other robot that can be programmed to insert tab A into slot B. Which means your competition is basically everyone in the universe.
I’ve been a freelancer for more years than I want to admit to in public, and I’ve survived — thrived! — this long because I love what I do, even on the days when it drives me nuts. When you love what you do, you don’t perceive it as “churning” things out. You think of it as a craft, one you care about getting right. You want to find the best example, the right turn of phrase, the most credible source to interview.
Your Editor Wants a Revise? This Is a GOOD Thing.
People who churn things out bitch about edits (for example) not because the edits are wrong or misguided but because the edits affect their bottom line. They seem to think that any time spent on making a piece of writing better is time that could be spent writing something else and (by their misguided calculations) making more money.
I like edits because I like becoming a better writer. Have I occasionally had questionable edits? Sure. Still, I think of edits as a fact of freelance writing and as an opportunity to grow as a writer. But to hear the churn-it-out writers talk, all edits are questionable and every aspect of freelancing that doesn’t involving depositing a check is of little value and should be ignored or completed as quickly as possible.
Instead of looking for ways to deliver value to their clients they complain about every small thing they’re asked to do. The editor says, “Can you ask the source if she has photos?” and you’d think Rumpelstiltskin had demanded their newborn child.
This wrongheaded approach will burn you out faster than just about anything else you could do to yourself.
Your Writing Is Not a Commodity
Now, I’m not saying you should work 80 hours on a 300-word piece for which you’ll earn $50. I am saying that you need to recognize that you are a craftsperson, not an assembly line. I’m saying turn down the 300-word pieces for $50 that require 80 hours of work.
I’m a prolific writer, and being able to write fast has certainly helped me make a decent income over my years as a freelancer. But “being prolific” and “churning things out” are two different things.
I’m prolific because I love to write and because I’ve set my life up so that writing is easy to do. I have dedicated time, space, and materials for it. I have spent a long time learning the craft — and practicing it. I know how to focus to get the job done instead of endlessly procrastinating and then having to rush to finish by deadline. I don’t over-research. I plan interviews ahead of time to keep them on target (and limited in duration). I have areas of specialization so that writing a new article isn’t like learning a new language. I have learned how to vet clients so I’m not wasting my time on “opportunities” that aren’t opportunities.
All of this takes time and effort, and it can’t be accomplished if all you ever focus on is the bottom line. If the choice is between researching potential clients to identify a few new possibilities that might pay well and writing two badly paying blog posts in an hour, the churn-it-out writer will pick the latter when the former is in her best interests over the long term.
A Bad Rate Will Never Be a Good Rate
People who churn it out often think they can turn a bad rate into a good one by doing the project as quickly as possible. But a bad rate is a bad rate — and you won’t improve your situation by having your name attached to crap work. However, even people who are earning decent rates for their work get suck into the churn-it-out mindset. They could get more if they went faster, right?
Either way, churning it out can lead to boredom, dissatisfaction, and burnout. The kinds of work that you can churn out are never the interesting projects. If you’re constantly working at warp speed just to tread water, you’ll end up giving up before too long. But mostly the work will dissatisfy you because you’re focusing too much on the reward instead of the process.
I get that we’re all doing this out of the profit motive, but if that were our only consideration, we’d be painting houses or fixing plumbing. The truth is, the more you focus on money-money-money, the less you focus on Am I doing work that’s worth doing? And yet it’s work that’s worth doing that inspires us, helps us enjoy our jobs, and makes our lives better. And interestingly enough, the work that’s worth doing is usually the better-paying kind.
The next time you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, I could churn that out in an hour,” stop and ask yourself why you’d ever want to evaluate the work of your life that way.
Jennifer Lawler is sponsoring a one-day-only fundraiser (May 15, 2015) for the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. Buy any of her romances at the special fundraiser price of just 99 cents (Kindle edition) and she’ll donate her royalties to the TSA. Here’s where to go for more information.
Jennifer is a writer and editor whose articles and essays have appeared in print and online publications such as Family Circle, Cooking Light, Writer’s Digest, and Bankrate.com. She is the author or coauthor of more than fifty books.
Here’s a phrase I hear from a lot of Internet/business/marketing guru-types:
“To be more productive, choose one hour per day where you’ll process your inbox.”
Or: “To process your inbox quickly, respond to every email in five sentences or less.”
These are very smart businesspeople, and many of them take pride in how accessible they are and how quickly they respond to emails — but the phrase “process your inbox” belies the truth of the situation: Many entrepreneurs think of emails as random widgets that pile up in their inbox that need to be removed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Emails are a distraction from their “real” work.
But here’s the thing: Emails are not widgets. Emails are PEOPLE. Each email represents a real, live, breathing human who is trying to reach out to you.
If your business involves selling something to the public, then emails are not a distraction from your work — they are your work. Well, part of it, at least.
Sure, sometimes these people want something you don’t want to give, like a book’s worth of advice or to let them write a “totally original” post for your blog in exchange for a bio that mentions their Dubai dating service. At times, you get people who write you scathing emails because you dared to try to sell something. And sometimes you’re super busy and looking at the 500 emails in your inbox makes you want to cry. But you can’t deny that each email is in fact an actual person who needs you for something.
The New Rules of Email
I developed these rules to help writers and entrepreneurs remember the importance of their audience, while keeping them from becoming overwhelmed with all the people clamoring for their attention.
1. Emails Are People
Okay, we just talked about this: A full inbox is not a pile of detritus that needs to be shoveled out as quickly as possible. It’s a crowd of people who want to get in touch.
2. People Can Wait
Just because people can email you quickly doesn’t mean you have to respond quickly. You set your priorities for the day, and sometimes that means the people emailing you will have to wait.
A lot of emailers don’t consider that everyone has stuff in their life — but just like them, the people they’re emailing have a lot going on. For example, last week my husband was in Tokyo all week and my 6-year-old son had 3-hour ballet rehearsals almost every evening — and at the end of the week, we had a guest and then spent an entire Saturday at the theater for the two dance shows. And on top of that, Carol Tice and I are launching a new class, and we spent hours and hours last week working with our team on making the class a reality.
While I fully recognize that the emails in my inbox are people, do you think I responded to each person within minutes, or even hours last week? No — it was more like days, and is turning into weeks.
Hey, stuff happens. Your people understand that. If you’re feeling bad about delayed responses, you can always set an autoresponder letting your peeps know you’re underwater and will be slow in getting back to them. Or mention on your website’s Contact page that you can’t respond to every email, but here are some great resources that can answer your questions! (I’ve done both.)
3. Not Every Person Needs (or Deserves) a Response
You do need to recognize the fact that emails are people, but that doesn’t mean every person deserves a response. If you’re walking down the street and a gang of construction workers catcalls you — do you feel bad for giving them the side-eye as you walk on by?
If it’s clear that person is wasting your time — by, say, asking you to share their infographic that has nothing to do with your niche — or is just baiting you for a fight, then no response is needed.
For example, a member of my mailing list responded to my Monday Motivation for Writers email today with nothing but a single link. When I clicked on it, it took me to an Amazon page with all of his novels. Do ya think I responded to that?
Marketing emails and newsletters obviously don’t require a response, unless you really feel moved to say something.
And sometimes, a situation will resolve itself if you just wait. If it’s clear this is the case, then why respond?
4. If It’s Important, They’ll Come Back
As the News Editor at BoardGameGeek, my husband gets a ton of email. He’s had upwards of 1,300 emails in his inbox at one time. I keep trying to get him to simply delete all the emails that he is obviously never going to be able to get to.
Here’s why: If it’s important and absolutely requires a response or an action on his part, the people will follow up.
No one wants to declare email bankruptcy, but sometimes that’s the kindest thing you can do. Yes, emails represent people, but if it becomes clear you’ll never have the time to respond to everyone, you’re only stressing yourself out and creating a guilt complex every time you open your inbox.
When it gets to this point, delete them all, and you’ll discover that many of these people didn’t need you after all.
An Attitude Adjustment
This may seem like just semantics — what does it matter if you look at your emails as annoyances that need to be dealt with, or as people who are looking to connect with you?
I think the way you think about your emails says a lot about the kind of businessperson you are. Do you care about your audience, or are you just looking to make a quick sale?
Or maybe you’re just misguided and feel like everyone needs and deserves a quick response, and the only way to do that is to “process” your inbox. That says a lot about a businessperson, too.
And your people can tell. When you respond to every single email within two minutes with a super-short sentence or nothing but an emoticon, people sense you’re thinking, “I need to process this email as quickly as possible and get it off my plate.” No one wants to be “processed.”
You’ve probably heard some gurus say that to process your email as quickly as possible, you should respond to every email in five sentences or less. Personally, I’d rather have someone wait and get the response they deserve. Sometimes that’s a longer, more thought-out email, and yes, sometimes that’s a simple “Thanks!”
Emails are people. And people are your business.
P.S. Hey, are you a content mill writer, or a writer who is earning way less than you’re worth? You’ll want to come to Carol Tice’s and my FREE webinar on Tuesday, May 19 at 11 am PDT/2 pm EDT: 8 Ways Content Mill Writers Can Earn More — Fast. When you go to this page you’ll also get a copy of our 37-page case study report: Escape the Content Mills: 6 Writers’ True Stories of Breaking Out and Earning More. Here’s where you can go for those goodies!
(This post is based on yesterday’s Monday Motivations for Writers email. If you’d like more goodies like this in your inbox, plus two free e-books, please join the Renegade Writer mailing list!)
Carol Tice and I surveyed more than 500 content mill writers and presented the findings in a webinar last week. One of the most stunning stats was that 40% of content mill writers earn from $1-$5 per hour.
Maybe another 40% earned somewhere between $6 and $20 per hour, and I could almost hear some writers on the call thinking, “Hey, $15 per hour writing isn’t so bad! That’s how much I make at my day job.”
But here’s the thing: At your day job, you get paid for ALL the hours you work — even those hours where you’re reading Gawker and checking Facebook. As a freelance writer, you get paid only those hours you can bill for — and believe me, far from all hours are billable.
As a freelancer, you’re also paying for your own expenses and health insurance, and your taxes are higher. (Normally your employer pays a 7.5% employment tax rate and you pay 7.5% — but as a business owner, YOU pay the entire 15%. Bummer, I know.)
Renegade Reader Ivonne Cueva let me know about an hourly rate calculator that will help you determine what you SHOULD be charging to reach your target income (Thanks, Ivonne!):
You just enter your current income and how much you’d like to increase that by, your expenses, and an estimate of how many work days and billable hours you’ll have in a year. Then click “Calculate My Hourly Rate” and voila! — that’s how much you need to be earning/charging per hour.
For example, I entered in $10,000 as the current annual earnings (which is probably actually TOO high for content mill writing) and then keyed in that I want to increase my income to $50,000 per year. I very roughly estimated some expenses and figured the writer would be working 4 days per week, 8 hours per day, with 50% of those hours being billable.
(Keep in mind this is an educated guess for an average writer…you may have more billable hours, or less…you may have more hours to work during the week, or less.)
Annnnnnd: To make this work, a writer would need to earn $133.53 per billable hour.
Now, that’s not impossible — it’s the amount a good copywriter can make. And when I write, I typically earn $250 per hour because I’ve been writing so long that I can create a great article, web page, etc. pretty quickly. So, definitely doable.
And this shows that even earning $20 per hour at a content mill — about 7% of content mill writers earn $16-$20 per hour — well, it sounds good but it really isn’t.
Check out this online calculator (it’s free) and see the hourly rate you would need to bill to earn your target income as a writer. It’s eye-opening, AND it will motivate you to seek out better-paying work.
The Renegade Writer
P.S. Join us for the beta session of our new e-course Escape the Content Mills, which starts on Wednesday! We’re charging only $29 because we’re looking for YOUR feedback to make the course amazing. (And once we get your input, we’ll redo the course incorporating your questions and comments, and send you a copy of the completed materials.) Next session, the price will go up to $49, so you get a hefty 40% discount if you sign up now. http://usefulwritingcourses.com/courses/escape-the-content-mills/
P.P.S. Even if you don’t want to join us for Escape the Content Mills, visit that class page to get a free copy of our case study report “Escape the Content Mills: 6 Writers’ True Stories of Breaking Out and Earning More.”
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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Carol Tice and I are running the beta session of our Escape the Content Mills class, and the first lesson is all about finding your most lucrative niche.
One question we keep getting from students is, “What if the subjects I enjoy don’t fit into any good niches?”
Well, then it’s time for some tough love: We don’t care.
Do You Want a Business…or a Hobby?
Now, if you want to keep writing as a fun hobby that you do for pin money…sure, focus on writing about beading or breeding potbellied pigs, where paying markets are few and far between. Or keep pitching only those markets that are super competitive and tough to crack as a newbie, like travel, food, or entertainment.
But if you want to make a business out of writing, here’s the hard news: Sometimes you have to write about topics that don’t particularly light your fire, just to put food on the table.
I love writing about health and nutrition, and I have indeed done a lot of that — but not enough for it to make up a good full-time income on its own. Frankly, those assignments from big-name pubs like Fitness and Health are hard to come by…so I’ve supplemented that writing with assignments on topics like:
- Shrink wrap for the boating industry
- Call center management
- Ear tubes
- A credit union employee who averted a robbery
- How Dunkin Donuts franchise owners were affected by Hurricane Sandy
- The UN High-Level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases
- New trends in vacuum cleaners
- Digital networking for print shops
- How mini-storage business owners can sleuth out the competition
- Metrics for multi-channel merchants
- Die-cutters for party and paper stores
- Parking lot lighting for fast food chains
- Cold-water extraction
- Signage trends
- Roofing products
And here are some of the magazines I’ve written for. Note what a far cry these are (or seem to be, I should say) from “fun” pubs I’ve written for like Health, WebMD, or Family Circle:
- In-Plant Graphics
- Sign Business Illustrated
- Public Utilities Fortnightly
- Rental Management
- Mini-Storage Messenger
- Housekeeping Solutions
- Sanitary Maintenance
- Modern Reprographics
- The Federal Credit Union
You know what these all had in common? They paid my bills.
Why Do We Expect Love?
Think about it: If you have, or have ever had, a full-time non-freelance job, I’ll bet there were parts of it you didn’t love, but you kept showing up at 9 am every day anyway, because the job paid the bills — and you know you can’t be head-over-heels about every single aspect of your job.
Even though you didn’t like writing reports, or going to meetings, or dealing with angry customers — you did these things and understood they were a part of your job.
Somehow, though, when it comes to writing, people feel that they can make a living writing only about the topics they’re truly passionate about. I call B.S.!
(Of course, if your passion happens to be, say, technology, you’re pretty set. But most of us have passions that don’t fit into any lucrative niche.)
Learn to Love It
Good writers have a sense of curiosity. Even if you’re not passionate about, say, vacuum cleaners, wouldn’t you be curious to see what you would turn up in an assignment about them?
I’ve learned that interviewing people who enjoy what they do is extremely fun. And people who own cleaning businesses love talking about cold-water extraction in a way that makes their enthusiasm infectious. Those “boring” topics I listed above…they were actually a hoot to research and write.
As a freelance writer, you should be wanting to talk with everyone you can, about topics of all sorts. Your natural sense of curiosity and wonder should lead you to be interested in what you’ll learn from an interview or an assignment, no matter what it’s about.
“Write what you love, and the money will follow” — what terrible advice. I say go where the money is, and learn to love it. Then you can build a thriving career as a freelance writer.
Should I write this article even though I don’t know what the payment is?
The editor said she was going to assign this idea, and two weeks later I still haven’t heard back about an assignment. Should I ding her?
Will I be a pest if I nag the editor about a payment that’s 30 days past due?
The magazine wants me to write a 1,500-word feature that will require six interviews, tons of research, and photos — but they can only pay $75. I’m afraid if I say no I won’t get any work at all. What should I do?
Should I ask for a First North American Serial Rights contract instead of All Rights? I’m scared!
Freelance writers are always posting to forums and email lists with questions like these. And I find a good way to answer many of them is with this acronym: WWYED?
What Would Your Editor Do?
(You know, kind of like WWJD, except Jesus probably never negotiated terms with a magazine editor.)
- For example, if you’re asking “Should I go ahead and write this article because the deadline is looming near, even though I don’t know yet what the payment is?” — would your editor work even a single day at her job without knowing what she would be getting paid?
- If you want to know, “Will I be a pest if I nag the editor about a payment that’s 30 days past due?” — what do you think your editor would do if his paycheck were even one day late, much less a whole month?
- You’re worried about asking for a FNASR contract? Well, your editor wasn’t afraid to ask YOU to give up all your rights, in all media, in perpetuity, for 25 cents a word.
- You’re offered an assignment for a heavily-researched and interviewed feature, including photos — a week’s worth of work — for $75. Would your editor work for $75 per week?
- You don’t want to be a nag, but the editor told you two weeks ago she was going to assign you this idea, and it’s been radio silence since then. What would the editor do if her boss were interested in an idea of hers and then forgot all about it?
You Are Not a Supplicant
It’s appalling the way writers are treated sometimes, but even more appalling is the way writers often let themselves be treated.
You are not a supplicant. You are providing a valuable service — the very writing people pick up a publication to read! The ideas that give magazines their enticing coverlines! The research that brings credibility to a publication!
Writers assume that because they’re doing work that many perceive as fun, or passion work, they don’t deserve good pay or good treatment. So they’re afraid to ask to be treated with respect.
But as much fun as you may be having as a writer, the publication is profiting from your work. The fact that writing an article is fun doesn’t discount the fact that it brings in clicks (for which the publication is being paid) or readers (who advertisers pay to reach).
Writing is a business. No matter how fun it is, no matter how passionate you are about writing, it is a business. You are an entrepreneur. A business owner.
You’re in a business just like your editor is. So if you’re ever wondering whether you should stand up to shoddy treatment or push for what you need, just as yourself:
P.S. The next Write for Magazines e-course starts on Monday, June 8! Want to join the class that’s helped writers break into magazines like Woman’s Day, Writer’s Digest, and E: The Environmental Magazine? Here’s where you can check it out.
I’m a big fan of Laura Vanderkam’s books, so I was excited to get an advance copy of I Know How She Does It : How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (which is now available!), and especially to get a chance to interview Laura for The Renegade Writer.
In I Know How She Does It, Laura interviewed and analyzed the time logs of over 140 women who have kids and earn at least 6 figures — women many consider as “having it all” — to offer advice on how we can fit a full, fun, busy life with work and kids into 168 hours per week. This is especially relevant to aspiring freelance writers who may have kids and a day job, and who are having trouble fitting writing and business-building in among all their other obligations.
By the way, if you’d like to keep your own time log, you can sign up for one free here.
Can you talk a bit about how you view the hours in our lives as a mosaic?
Laura: Many people look at their time log and just see these cells on a grid. I said, well, let’s change that. Let’s view it as a mosaic — and you are the artist, you are the mosaic maker, designing what your hours are going to look like and moving things around to
I think this mosaic image is also profound because we have a tendency to tell our lives in stories and to construct memories as stories — and probably your Renegade Writer readers do that, especially because we are storytellers. And the format of a story tends to be: Here are three points of evidence that lead us to an epiphany that we must make some change.
With life it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking: These stressful things happened — I had this horrible day at work, this bad night of sleep, this issue with my kid. Therefore, life is crazy and unsustainable and I must change.
But what if you view life more as a mosaic and say, well, we had those three stressful moments, but we had all these other moments too? Those moments count as well. We can choose to see those three stressful moments as this evidence leading toward our epiphany or we can say, well, life is stressful AND life is wonderful. There really is no contradiction here. We don’t have to construct a story out of it. We can simply view of the whole mosaic for what it is. So that’s why I like that image.
Can we talk about the 24-hour trap and how writers can avoid it?
Laura: The 24-hour trap is that we have a tendency to think that things need to happen daily in order to count in our lives.
Obviously, it is good to have daily habits — and when we want to add something into our lives, we first ask ourselves, where can I put this into my life every day? The problem is that if you have a busy life, often you can’t put something in at the same time every day — but that does not mean it can’t happen.
I see this especially with things like exercise. Many people will say, “Laura, I’d love to exercise, but I am just not the kind of person who can leave for an hour at lunch every day” or “I want to get home and see my kids so I can’t go to the gym after work every day” or “I recognize mornings might be a great time to exercise, but I just can’t stomach the thought of setting my alarm for 5:30 every day.”
And it’s like, “Okay, well, don’t set your alarm for 5:30 every day.” Here’s an idea: Maybe one day a week you could get up half an hour early and do something; maybe one night a week you and your partner trade off who has the kids and you can go exercise during that time; maybe you do something on weekend mornings before the family has gotten up; and maybe you run around the track by your kid’s soccer game on Sunday. Then you’ve already fit in four exercise stints per week.
That was not daily, but four times a week is pretty good.
I think the 24 hour trap keeps us from seeing the whole picture. If you look at the whole 168 hours of the week, often things will fit. You can’t hold to everything fitting into 24 hours.
And I think writers especially fall into that trap because they think, “I need a special writing time every single day.” But even if you got it in three times a week, that’s better than nothing.
Laura: Yeah, and the problem especially is when people don’t do it because they can’t do it daily. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Sometimes it’s really easy to hold onto these stories we tell ourselves, like “I have a full-time job and a family, and therefore I can’t write.” Instead you could say, “Okay, I can’t write for three hours daily, but I could wake up early twice during the week and do it then, or I could stop watching one television show and just get something down on paper, and maybe I’ll be so inspired by what I’m doing that I’ll keep going.”
We have a tendency not to try those things because then we have to actually confront what we are doing and what we are not, and we have to look at our output and judge it — and often it is just easier not to do it and tell ourselves the story that it is impossible.
I notice that you often recommend outsourcing so that you have more time to do the things that are more important to you — but how can writers do this, especially if they are new and aren’t making a lot of money, and they can’t afford to hire much help? Do you have any tips for them? Maybe they need to just relax their standards?
Laura: Yes. When you don’t think something is the best use of your time, you have three options: You can ignore it, you can minimize it, or you can outsource it.
And obviously the outsourcing part costs money, but it does not cost anything to lower your standards — so that is a first line of offense if you are trying to make more time in your life.
I was just reading a comment on somebody else’s blog from this woman who was all excited about how she would get the kids into bed at night, and then do three hours of housework. I think she wanted everyone to think about how diligent she was or some such. I don’t know what point she was trying to make, but my first thought was “Why on earth are you doing that? Why does it require three hours at night to do all this? If you really feel the need to clean, set a timer for half an hour and then be done with it — and if it did not happen, it did not happen.”
So that’s certainly an option for people: Just let it go. Borrow that theme song from Frozen and let it go. It really does not matter. You will never get that time back, so use it first for the things that are important to you and let other things fill in around the edges.
There are a lot of writers who think, “I have kids at home, so I can do freelance writing from home and it will all work out.” And then they realize it does not work out because the kid isn’t napping on their schedule, or they need things while you’re on an interview. So I was wondering what are some of the creative ways that women you interviewed handle childcare.
Laura: Well, this is the thing: There are very few good ways to meet the needs of a client and a baby simultaneously. And, yes, there is inevitably the day you have a phone call with your biggest client at 1:30 p.m. that your child who naps religiously at 1:00 p.m. elects not to.
The only real way around this is to have childcare when you need it. When you’re doing something that you cannot do with kids’ noise or kids’ distractions, then you need somebody else to be responsible so you can focus on your work.
And there are many ways you can pull that off that might not be as expensive as hiring full-time childcare. For example, you can be efficient about pushing phone calls into a certain set of hours per day and have childcare for those hours, and then maybe do some more of the writing work after the kids go to bed. Or you could do the writing work when your partner can be with the kids, for instance, if you have a partner.
That’s a way you could pull it off without needing to pay for 40 hours of childcare. But it is very difficult to work without childcare. I had one woman in my study who was managing to run a small business without much childcare. But the way she was trading that off was by sleeping less, and it seemed to work for her because she did not need much sleep. But if you are not the kind of person who can function on six hours of sleep, and most of us aren’t, then you’re going to have to come up with something else.
A lot of writers think they are at the mercy of the client’s schedule. But what I realized is that if you actually tell people when you are available and suggest times, you can get them all into the one block of time where you have childcare.
Laura: Yes. Be very strategic about that and plan to have a few hours where you really attempt to push calls. I try to save mornings for writing and then do phone calls in either the late morning or the afternoon when I’m ready to interact with the world. You can express preferences. Sometimes you’re interviewing an A-list celebrity, and you’re going to have to do it when she needs to do it. But in other cases, people may have a bit more flexibility.
And people are actually happy for you to suggest a time. “Are you available at 10:00 or 10:30? If not, let me know.” They like not having to think about all the options.
Laura: Yes, it is actually not that helpful to send an e-mail to someone saying, “Can we do an interview in the next week?” Because then they’re looking at their whole schedule, and inevitably the first thing they suggest is not going to work for you. So it helps to just throw a few free times out there. If none of those work, then you can go from there, but the odds of at least one of those three working are decent.
You’re a successful writer — what are some of the things you think new freelance writers can drop to make time for what’s important? What are they doing that makes them feel productive that they don’t really need to be doing?
Laura: Well, the way I approach this question is that it’s not so much about dropping things. It’s about making sure that you first put in time in your life for the things that you need to be doing.
If you’re building a business there are certain things that are important for you to do. You need to have some of your work out there, so building your web site with examples of your work is a top priority. You need to be reaching out to potential clients. That is a top priority. You have actual assignments you need to get done. Those are top priorities.
Do those things first and then this magical thing happens where the other stuff that you don’t actually need to be doing starts taking less time. For example, generally people spend more time in their inboxes than they need to because they’re checking it too frequently, and they’re just working from the top down. Whatever happens to be on the top of your inbox is not necessarily your top work priority, so probably it does not need to be the first thing you tackle when you start approaching work.
But the beautiful thing about filling your time first with the things that you need to be doing is that then you figure out for yourself the other things that can give, and they will naturally give because there are only 24 hours in a day — so try that first.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about balancing work, family, and everything else when you were analyzing these women’s time logs?
Laura: I think one of the best approaches — and I’m not saying this is done consciously, I think it was more just because these people had fuller lives — is that they did not watch as much TV as the average American.
It’s not that people didn’t watch any TV. There was certainly a reasonable amount of TV on logs, but the average per week was about 4.4 hours — if you think about it that’s like watching a handful of sitcoms and two or three longer shows, so it’s really not nothing. Four and a half hours a week is more than a half hour a day, so TV can be in your life — but it’s not 20 hours a week, it’s not 30 hours a week, which are some numbers that have come out of surveys of American life.
So I think that is an instructive difference because the women in my study were working longer hours than the average American works. They were spending time with their families, they were exercising for the most part, they were getting enough sleep. What had to give? Well, it was not really anything of that much importance. That, in and of itself, is a great way to balance your life in the sense of actually making time for things that matter.
You don’t have to cut TV out of your life, but make sure that you’re watching the shows that matter the most to you, the ones that really get you excited, that you’re taping, that you want to talk about with your friends. That’s great, it’s a fun thing to do, it’s a great way to blow off steam — but don’t just turn it on and leave it on. Don’t automatically turn the TV on after the kids go to bed and see what’s on. If you and your partner want to hang out, there are other things you can do than sit on the couch watching TV. There are other things that are much more exciting, for instance, than sitting on the couch watching TV that you can do together, so don’t automatically think TV first.
What’s the one piece of advice you picked up from your research that you think would resonate most with freelance writers who have kids and possibly a day job?
Laura: Daily rituals are great. There has been a lot written lately about the daily rituals of artists and how they make time to write or do whatever they do.
And again, that’s great if it works, but it doesn’t always work — and so what you need to do is look at your whole calendar and say, “Here are some blocks I have for writing. I am going to make sure those work one way or the other. If it’s asking my partner to take the kids for a certain amount of time. If it’s choosing to come into work half an hour late because I have that flexibility. If it’s that I just go sit in your car with my laptop during lunch once a week and write during that time.”
Do whatever it takes, but make sure that those blocks are in there — look at the whole of the week because probably you will be able to find the time.
The numbers I use for people is if you are working 40 hours a week and you’re sleeping eight hours a night for 56 hours a week, that leaves 72 hours for other things. 72 hours is a lot of time. You definitely have time to hang out with your family, to exercise, and to maybe spend 15 hours a week launching your business.
Laura’s book I Know How She Does It : How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time was just released…here’s where you can check it out!
P.S. The Freelance Writers Den is opening its doors to members of the waitlist tomorrow (Thursday, June 11, 2015) ONLY. Carol Tice opens the Den only a few times per year, so if you want to take advantage of the goodies, now’s the time! Interested? Here’s where you can join the waitlist.
By: Linda Formichelli,
Blog: The Renegade Writer
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A couple weeks ago I sent an email to my Renegade Writer subscribers letting them know I’m thinking about offering a four-week Pitch Challenge where writers would need to send out eight unique queries in four weeks to be eligible for prizes. And I mentioned I was thinking of a price of $150.
A very nice writer emailed me a very valid question:
“If you’re only entering names into a database, why are you charging $150?”
This question is important because it reflects why so many writers are getting paid less than they’re worth.
More Than Components
My husband works in the boardgame industry, and you’ll sometimes see avid boardgamers on forums posting things like, “Why does this game cost $50? I went to the Chinese component manufacturer’s website and priced out all the pieces, and the components are worth only $11.”
I always want to offer to send them a game for $11, and then mail them a blank box filled with blank components.
What are you really buying when you buy a game? Beyond the bare components, you’re purchasing enjoyment. Fun. Excitement. The ability to impress your buddies on game night. Not to mention everything that goes into creating and delivering a game you would want to play, from the idea to the artwork to the distribution.
When you buy a book, are you just paying for the paper and the ink that goes into printing it? Judging by the people who complain about the prices of e-books because “They’re cheaper to produce than print books,” you may think that. But if that were the case, you could just get book with a blank cover and the word “and” printed in it a few thousand times.
But in fact, you’re buying the author’s ideas and skills and hard work. The cover art that enticed you to pick up the book. The agent that brought the book to the attention of the publisher. The marketing that let you know about the book in the first place. The infrastructure that hosts and delivers the book, such as the bookstore or website. And most important, the main value you’re paying for is adventure, excitement, action, inspiration, knowledge, romance.
In the same way, what are you really buying when you buy a class like the Pitch Challenge I’m considering doing? Are you buying the minutes the instructor spends entering pitches into a database? No…you’re buying the entire infrastructure that makes this class exist. But more importantly, you’re buying confidence. New skills. The ability to earn more.
Carol Tice and I recently ran a pitch challenge as part of our Pitch Clinic class. Of the 36 people who completed the challenge, around 20 received assignments from publications and businesses within those four weeks. A couple of these assignments paid over $1,000. A few writers landed multiple assignments. Two were offered full-time writing jobs (which they turned down). And one writer started with nothing, and 6 weeks later is earning $2,000 per week.
What do you think that was worth to them, to get the skills and confidence, the motivation, the accountability, to pitch like crazy and get work? To start new careers as writers?
Behind the Curtain
I think entrepreneurs (yes, that’s what you are!) who are new to running a business have a skewed idea of what it takes to create something people want. That’s why they underprice themselves — they think, “What does it cost me to write 500 words? Just a few keystrokes and an hour of my time.”
But there’s so much more that goes into creating something other people want to buy — and that will help, entertain, or inform them.
The last e-book I wrote cost hundreds in cover design, layout, professional editing, business coaching (to get advice on marketing the book) and more.
The last class I built with Carol Tice over at UsefulWritingCourses.com cost us $24,000 to create, market, and put on. No, there is not an extra zero there. (And that does not even count the cost of our time and skills in creating the actual course materials — webinars, handouts, recordings, and so on!)
We have a team of four freelancers who create our logos, banners, and web design; do our coding; handle IT; and man the helpdesk to field students’ technical problems. We had to build and design a sales page, course modules, forums. We hired editors to critique students’ assignments in the forums (and paid them a rate that would entice them to work with us!). Class recordings needed to be transcribed. We gave free webinars, which required building special sales pages to capture email addresses where we could send the webinar details.
It took months for a team of six people (including Carol and me) to build that class. And it was freaking expensive.
Do you wonder why we charged $500 for that class?
The same thing happens when you write something for a client. You may not have need employees or web design to write an article or a blog post, but there are indeed costs that need to be accounted for in your pricing. More on that below…
What is a Word Worth?
If you’re writing for a magazine that pays $1 per word, does that mean the word “the” is worth one dollar?
No. Clients aren’t paying for words, otherwise you could just write the word “the” one thousand times and collect a thousand bucks.
First, your payment compensates you for the things that cost you money that are required to run your business:
- Your education (J school, writing classes, writing books, writing magazines, an English degree — or even the School of Life, if that’s where you got your education)
- Your overhead (The fixed costs of doing business: Your rent, heat, health insurance, self employment taxes, etc.)
- Your expenses (Laptop, Internet, paperclips, printer ink, scanner, advertising, coaches, etc.)
And even more important, your client is paying you for these intangibles:
- Your skills and creativity
- The value your words bring to their publication in terms of attracting readers and advertisers
- The actual profit you help bring into the company
- The loyalty your words help create in the company’s customers/readers
- Your ability to generate great ideas that help them profit
So: If you write a 500-word sales page for a client’s website and it brings them $500,000 in sales, what are those words worth? Would it be fair for you to charge $5,000 — just one percent of the value you create? I think so. What if your sales page brings them 100 new loyal customers who in turn each bring your client a handful of new customers through word of mouth? Or what if your writing helps the client win an award that garners them great PR?
(And for myself, I can say: If you put on a class the helps people get new careers they love, gain confidence and ability, and earn lots of money, should you feel bad charging a premium?)
When you feel guilty charging a high rate because it’s “only words” or “only minutes,” you’re shortchanging yourself.
Pricing your services can feel very fuzzy, because you can’t put a price on a lot of these things you bring your clients: New customers. Confidence. Skills. New careers. Good PR. Awards. Happy-fuzzy feelings.
So all you can do is go with your heart. I read an excerpt of the book Unveiling the Heart of Your Business by Mark Silver — the excerpt was on heart-centered pricing and you can find it free here — and it really resonated with me, because it’s how I’ve always set my prices. I know the range of what’s being changed out there, and I choose my place in that range based on what feels right in my gut.
You know, in your heart, the value you offer your clients. You know, in your brain, how much it costs you, financially, to offer that value. Let those insights direct how much you charge, or your minimum rate for taking on an assignment — and don’t feel bad about it for even a second.