Monday, December 31, 2007

Are You a Writer or a Writer With a Business?

I don't know about you, but I have had a pretty busy New Year's Eve so far -- all work related. I turned in two newspaper columns, finished up a parenting article and conducted a phone interview for another newspaper article I have due Wednesday. And the week's not over yet. I will be doing a little more work tomorrow, but I don't mind. My husband will be at work as well, but I will take it easy and enjoy most of the day with the kids hopefully. 

I just received Marcia Layton Turner's December "Become a Six Figure Writer" newsletter in my inbox, and it made me feel pretty darn good about myself. She posed the question, "Are You a Writer Or Do You Have a Writing Business?" Hmm . . . it appears I have a writing business, and that's good news as I'm setting goals for 2008. So, where do you fit in? According to Layton Turner, there are five steps you should take to becoming a business owner:

1. Get a separate business phone line. Err, I haven't done that one yet. I need to, but I've been trying to figure out if I should just use one of the separate voice mailboxes available with my phone service. I use my cell phone for business too, so I've got that to consider. It's just another expense and headache I've been putting off.

2. Set up a website. I did that, at the end of 2006, and let me tell you, it's the best decision I ever made. It is cost-efficient, easy to maintain, and gave me a place to showcase clips to prospective clients and editors. I have no doubt my website has helped me land many an assignment. Which leads to number three on Layton Turner's list . . .

3. Create a professional e-mail address. I was able to do this through my website, and I love having a business website all to myself. I think it sounds more professional than my RoadRunner address I had before, and it's easy to remember. 

4. Have business cards professionally designed. I sort of did this, and again, have been pleased with the results. My husband designed them, and we had them printed at a professional print shop. They have come in handy and they feature the same color scheme and design as my website, which has helped me create a "brand," as my husband the marketing guy says. I love being able to hand them out. Presto! Now prospective clients can have my website, e-mail, and contact information all packaged on a neat little business card.

5. Set up a separate business account. I've sort of done this. I have a separate account set up where I put money aside for tax purposes. I need to get serious and completely separate my work account this year so I can deduct business and childcare expenses directly from it. I'm happy to say I may actually be making enough to do that now!

So there's only one step I really haven't taken, and that's setting up a separate phone line. How are you doing? 

My fellow writing friends, I wish you all an upcoming prosperous and healthy New Year, in both your personal lives, and writing careers!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Writer's New Year's Resolutions

Okay, so I'm one of those people who comes up with general New Year's resolutions each year. Do I actually follow through with them? Heck, no. But right now I'm doing what many writers love to do (procrastinate) so I'm going to make my goals public. And you guys are responsible for helping me stay on track, and I'll do the same for you if you like. Several months ago I was telling my therapist (yes, I see one, and no, there's nothing wrong with it!) that I had a specific monthly income I wanted to start making. It was modest, but doable I thought, and now, I'm just a few hundred bucks shy of that goal. And I'm about to go insane. Probably because I can't afford full-time childcare yet, so I have to work around my children's schedules, which isn't always easy. And I'll be honest, my time management skills suck. Really bad. So that leads me to my number one writing goal:

1. Get more organized. As I write this, I am staring at my 2007 Day Planner. I have not yet purchased one for 2008. Do I have assignments lined up for 2008 yet? Yes. But I do not have them written down. I must work on this. It is a necessity because I need to find better ways to balance my work and family life.

2. I want to triple last year's income. This may seem grandiose, but I only really got serious about freelancing a few months ago. Before then, I had a few clients that I wrote for on a small scale every month. Now I've started applying for more assignments, and sometimes, get them. Ideally, I'd like to get three or four regular clients, or gigs, and focus all my time and energy on them instead of hunting for new leads every day. It would be nice if I got a magazine assignment every now and then to pad my expenses. Which leads me to number three on my list.

3. I hope to finally break into a national magazine this year. I feel I've come so close, and have even gotten positive feedback from editors via e-mail. I just need to put my head down and keep charging. It will happen.

4. I will start my novel. I've written about this before, but the time has come for me to get serious on a work in progress. My mind won't rest until the story is laid out on paper.

So what are your writing goals? I've put mine out here for all the world to see, so maybe that will light a fire under me. Please share! We all need to work together to become more productive (and happier) writers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Issue of Writer's Digest Focuses on Writing Novels

This couldn't have come at a better time. Remember when I discussed my "heart" project awhile back? You know, the novel that has been completely written in my head but not yet on paper? The editors at Writer's Digest couldn't have put this issue out at a better time, as I'm currently working on my 2008 writing goals. I was so excited to find it in my mailbox this afternoon. The February 2008 issue has four different articles about novel writing, including:
  • The Baby Steps Method
  • Architecture of a Novel
  • Create a Novel Group
  • Smart Revision Strategies
So if you've got a novel that's been simmering in your head for awhile, go pick up an issue as soon as you can! I can't wait to dive into mine. More on goal setting later.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Selling Personal Essays and Memoirs

Have you ever dreamed of writing a personal essay or memoir and have it appear in a national magazine, such as Family Circle or Reader's Digest? I'm sure at some point, most of us have, and there are writers out there who have developed a specialty writing these types of essays.

But what is the best way to go about being published? I was flipping through a copy of Ready, Aim, Specialize: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money by Kelly James-Enger recently and came across a chapter on this topic. She interviewed a few writers who now make a living writing essays. Since I'm always looking for ways to make more money, I paid special attention to the chapter.

Before I share some of the tips I learned, I want to point something out. First, writing personal essays is one thing. Writing personal essays that other people connect to and want to read is another. If you've already been paid for this type of work, then obviously you're on the right track. If not, here are some ways to improve your work so you can sell it quicker:

1. Write about a universal topic. Sure, tales of how your son spilled juice on your computer and made you miss a deadline are one thing, but make sure you write about it for an audience that will appreciate it, such as a publication geared towards work-at-home parents. Start with a simple anecdote and work outward. My first personal essay was titled "How I Became a Domestic Goddess" and was published in Charlotte Parent. (No, I actually didn't get paid for it. It was one of those "Submit your article, and you may be published!" deals. Oh well, it was a good clip, even if it netted me zero dollars). So because it was published in a parenting publication, many parents related to the fact that I became a better cook and housekeeper after I had kids. It also sparked some strong feelings in a working mom, who wrote the magazine to say that I was criticizing women who had to work outside of the home. That wasn't my intent, even though I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, but whatever. At least people were reading it and forming opinions based on something I wrote.

2. When starting out, consider essays to be extra money, not your bread and butter. Sure, one day you may make a living out of writing essays or memoirs. But when you're first starting out, you might notice that most magazines have one essay per issue and a trillion articles. I wouldn't be interviewing people about baby monitors right now if I were an established essayist. Essays do not make up a major (or even minimal) portion of my income yet, but maybe they will someday.

3. Keep an idea journal with you at all times. As a writer, you should do that anyway, but this will help you keep track of essay ideas. Write down interesting people you meet, what they have to say, and life experiences that have impacted you. When it's time to write, you'll have plenty of material already there.

4. Write a book. This is sort of meant to be funny, but not entirely. I've noticed a lot of essays printed in national magazines are written by people who have just published a non-fiction or fiction book. Essays on topics related to the book are a good promotional pieces. Keep that in mind for when you publish your own completed manuscript one day!

5. Research your markets. A good place to start:
  • Women's magazines
  • Men's magazines
  • Parenting publications
  • General interest magazines
  • Regional and local publications
  • Inflight and travel magazines
  • Regional and local publications
  • Religious publications
  • Newspapers
  • Anthologies
  • Web sites
I have a few submissions I'm working on for the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort anthologies. Go check them out and see if there are any topics that interest you. Then start writing and polishing those essays! Hopefully we'll all get published soon!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Query Questions: Ask and You Shall Receive

It gets a little intimidating when you're first starting out in this business and trying to draft that first query letter. How much research should you do up front? What if you're clips aren't that great yet? What if your best clip is from ten years ago? I'm always on the hunt for good query letters, so I was thrilled when I came across the From Ink to Ether blog and found that the writers of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock are sending out query letter examples to anyone who sends them an e-mail. Completely free! Of course, Diana Burrell and Linda Formichelli would love for you to purchase their book, but you don't have to to get these free queries. They also have query letter examples on their Renegade Writer blog. Simply send a blank e-mail to queries(AT)renegadewriter(DOT)com and you'll receive twelve sample query letters within minutes. Start studying!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What Should You Write About?

I read an interesting article over at Write-From-Home by C. Hope Clark. She points out that a lot of writers have "day jobs" that they work in addition to building a freelance writing career. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these full-time jobs provide fodder for article ideas, so if you're currently in this type of situation, embrace the fact and use it to create a list of topic ideas you could research and write in the future. Hopefully, if you want to branch out into full-time writing, you'll be able to one day, but in the meantime take the opportunity to build up your portfolio. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about.

I've worked as a waitress, newspaper reporter, public relations consultant and assistant media planner. If I thought long and hard, I'm sure I could come up with a topic idea for each occupation. Such as:

Waitress - How wait staff and kitchen staff can peacefully co-exist.
Newspaper Reporter - How to conduct an insightful interview.
Public Relations Consultant - How to effectively pitch a great news story.
Assistant Media Planner (in an agency setting) - How to build good relationships with media reps.

And of course, being a mom. One of my first ideas that sold was an article about how to prepare your meals before bringing home a new baby. People may bring you loads of baby gifts and clothes after the birth, but they don't always remember that a home-cooked meal is always appreciated by the new parents. They are usually too tired and frazzled to properly shop for ingredients and cook dinner every night. This idea sold at least three times.

See? There's plenty of material out there, you just have to brainstorm it and put it together. Can you come up with your own list of topics based on the jobs you've worked before?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Call For Sources

I need some parents to interview for the following stories:

  • How was your first postpartum doctor's visit? Did you have different types of deliveries with your children, and therefore have different follow-ups? Did you have any complications that sent you back to the OB/GYN sooner than the standard six weeks? This article is targeted at new moms' so they'll know what to expect after the delivery.

  • Shopping for Baby Monitors: What types of baby monitors do you recommend for new parents? How much should they expect to spend? Do you think the standard monitor is best, or should parents splurge on one of those fancy video monitors? No brand names necessary, just trying to provide readers with general guidelines. Any funny stories stemming from baby monitor use? (For example, I once heard all about the sexual exploits of a male, teenaged neighbor on mine. Hey, it was a Saturday night and I was bored! That's my excuse, anyway).
  • Indoor Fun for Toddlers: The winter doldrums are almost here. How do you keep your toddler entertained when it's too cold outside? Do you take them to a music or play class, form playgroups, or do arts and crafts at home? Tell me all about it!

E-mail me at Renee(AT) with your anecdotes. These articles are for iParenting Media.

Should You Write on Spec?

For writers not familiar with this term, it basically means writing a piece for a publication without any guarantee of payment. Amy wrote an interesting post about this over at Write-From-Home, and I encourage you to take a look at it, particularly if you have ever been asked to write something in this manner.

I feel writers should ultimately be in control of the decision to write something on spec. I once queried a regional parenting publication about an article, and they responded that they liked the idea but weren't in position to pay freelancers yet. Most of the editorial was written by the editor and advertisers. She offered me the assignment if I wanted it but let me know up front that I wouldn't be paid for it. I was still trying to break into the business, so I offered to write it with the caveat that I would keep all rights to the piece, of course. She agreed.

I feel it was a wise move. I got a high-quality print clip, and sold the article at least two other times after that. Plus I felt I made a new contact in the industry. But to Amy's point, answering a blind ad that asks you to write articles that you'll be paid for, possibly, most likely won't help your career.

Use your judgment and instinct when writing something on spec. It's more important to maintain your integrity than spend a lot of time writing a piece that may or not get you a paycheck or even a usable clip.

Where To Start?

I told myself this weekend that I was going to start posting here at least once a day, but well, life and work kind of got in the way. It's Friday morning, and I should be diving into the stack of assignments on my desk, but I decided to add in a little more procrastination with my morning coffee.

I recently read a post over at Deb Ng's blog about how to break into freelancing. Wouldn't we all like to know? It's amazing how much the freelance writing industry has changed since I first jumped into it a little over two years ago. Or maybe I was just clueless and it's taken me this long to start putting the pieces together. Regardless, here are the first steps I think one needs to take before taking the plunge, so to speak:

1. Find your niche or specialty. Is there a particular topic or subject you want to write about? Does your educational or work background give you experience to help you land jobs? For me, I started out writing about parenting topics because my daughter was a toddler at the time. But I also had a background in newspaper journalism and that helped me land a position where I write about dining, traffic, profiles, and other news related events for the local newspaper. But it didn't all just fall into my lap. I had to turn in solid work, purchase a revised copy of The Associated Press Stylebook, and find good stories on my own at times. It helped me build up a reputation and it's required a consistent amount of dedication. Now I have have plenty of clips to back up my specialties whenever I apply for jobs.

2. A lot of writers are interested in blogging these days, including me. It's fun, for the most part, and it doesn't require a whole lot of time unless you're contributing to several different blogs. But before the jump into the arena, do your research. What kinds of blogs are out there? Are there any blogging jobs with that deal with your writing specialties? What are the pay ranges? But most of all, remember that the competition out there is tough and you can't expect to land the first blog gig you apply for. It might be worth a shot to create your own blog to help you build writing samples and help show you have expertise in that topic, so that you can include it in your resume and cover letters.

3.Don't get discouraged if you apply to three or four jobs or submit a few queries and don't get any bites. Like I said before, competition is fierce. I recently heard back from a few well-paying blogging jobs I applied for and found out I was number two or three on the final list. It was disheartening at first to realize I had come so close to being hired, but it's only given me more motivation to work harder. I only really started going after jobs about six months ago, and since then my workload has exploded. But I've put in the time, and other writers should expect to go through the same thing. Most of the time, writing success doesn't happen overnight.

That's all I have to say for now, but I have several new ideas for posts so I'll be back this weekend. If you have any recent success stories, I'd love to hear about them! I think it's so important to have a supportive community of writers to share successes, because there are too many snarky ones out there who can bring you down. Whatever you do, do not let one of these other writers discourage you. You could be talking virtually to a fifteen-year old teenager who knows nothing about writing and not even know it in this day and age of e-mail and instant messaging. So keep on, and persevere!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Schizophrenic Writer

I'm wondering if this happens to other writers. Right now I've got several different assignments due and they are all on different subject matters and will run in completely different publications. I find myself having a hard time switching from one project to the next without getting a little confused.

For example, tonight I had to work on an article for Little Blue World, the Tori Amos fan magazine. They have their own style guidelines so I had to make sure the document was formatted correctly before I sent it off. Then I had to switch gears from writing about fans meeting Tori to a woman who gave birth to a baby at 21 weeks of gestation. That one's for a parenting website that has a different set of guidelines. After that, on to potty training success stories.

As I bounce between articles, sometimes I'm supposed to say ," says Smith and other times I'm supposed to write ," said Smith and I'm getting very, very tired and confused about what goes where.

The difference in word length and style guidelines for different publications really came back and bit me in the you-know-where this past month. I got an assignment for a local business publication and they require their profiles to be about 2,000 words long. I'm used to writing 1,200 words maximum for online publications and between 500 to 900 words for the Charlotte Observer. Needless to say, I fell a little short on the business profile and was scrambling around trying to come up with more words on the day it was due. Lesson learned there.

Anyone else ever have this problem? Blogging is a completely different animal too because typically posts don't have to be more than 300 words or so for a paid gig -- but, you do have to add in images most of the time. I don't know how people keep everything straight, because I know I'm struggling. And now, off to bed so I can get up and start the whole process over again tomorrow. 'Night!

What's Your "Heart" Project?

Recently, Jenna Glatzer wrote a post about what she would do with an extra hour a day to write on whatever she wanted to. She coined the term "heart project" and I thought that was very fitting.

I too have a "heart project," a fictional novel I would be typing away on if I didn't have paying assignments to complete first, a household to run and two children to care for. It's a story inspired by a tragedy that happened in my hometown when I was in high school. I have the main characters developed in my head, as well as the beginning, middle and end of the novel. I have Hollywood actors picked out to star in the movie adaptation of it. I even have a playlist on my iPod called "Renee's Novel," and I listen to it when I'm at the gym and envision scenes from the book played back in my head.

It's sad really, that it consumes so much of my life and yet I can't seem to make the time to write it. I guess I'm afraid once I get started it will completely take over my time and I won't be able to get anything else done. I'll get to it one day, I promise! It's a story that begs to be told, really.

So what's your "heart project?" What would you write if you had extra hours in the day to work on it and you didn't have deadlines to meet? I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Have You Ever Used a Virtual Assistant?

So recently I blogged about virtual assistants over at Charlotte Parent. I first came across the concept while reading The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. A lot of writers don't realize how time-consuming working for yourself can be, especially once your writing career takes off. I have a pile of expense receipts and pay stubs on my desk that I haven't filed. There are tons of markets I'd like to research for future queries and I just haven't had the time. I desperately need to build a good old Excel spreadsheet with a list of my sources and contact information, but I can't get to that either! Apparently there are legitimate people who will do this for you virtually for an hourly fee!

I'll admit I'm too scared to venture into this realm yet. Between my childcare expenses and coffee addiction, I'm trying my best to hold on to my earnings! I'm also afraid my stuff is so disorganized that it would take me days to sort it out enough to explain it all to an assistant! I'm interested to hear from other writers who have hired VA's. What was your experience? Would you recommend it? Was it worth the money?