Friday, February 27, 2009

Freelance Serenity: Acceptance

At a recent writer's group, a colleague and I were chatting about the kind of work we dream of doing: The kind of long-form, narrative journalism that takes 30,000 words to unfold. The kind that allows you to develop mysteries, characters and ideas before revealing the nugget of fact.

And then I came back to my office and dug into the two edits I was working on. One had been going on since December. The other, for a month. They were unusually long and arduous edits, from editors I knew and trusted and therefore didn't mind.

But it taught me a lesson that I will bring to future stories--or reminded me of it:

Our job as freelancers isn't to do the kind of story we want to do. It's to do the story our clients want.

It seems obvious, but how many times have you tried to structure a story as a medical mystery when your client wanted a by-the-book overview of a subject? How many times have you tried to shoehorn in a delicate turn of phrase when your client wanted pithy, pithy, pithy?

Admit it: We've all done it.

It's not that developing your craft and giving your editor a more complex or interesting story than they asked for is a bad impulse--sometimes it turns out wonderfully. And it's a credit to those of us who love journalism that we're willing to take risks.

But there's a difference between taking risks and letting our ego get in the way of our jobs. It's ego vs. service. And guess what? To get paid--and to maintain serenity--service has to win.

Next time you're sitting in front of your computer, ruing the most recent bulleted service piece you're writing, or irritated at an editor for asking for a different type of story, reflect:
  • What type of story does this client usually want from me? If it's always a service feature, don't give them a feature without any helpful hints.
  • Why am I resisting doing it their way? Is it because your approach will better elucidate the story's point, or is it because you haven't been able to find an appropriate outlet for your more creative writing style?
  • Who am I serving? The first answer to come to your mind will probably be an indignant, "Well, my client, of course!" But look again. If you're trying to make up for feeling stuck in an outworn niche or for the fact that you haven't gone after your dream markets--or haven't had success with them--you're serving your own professional ambitions and ego, not your client.
The key here is to get to get to know yourself. If it really is to give your editor the story better than she asked for it, you can go to bat with your editor.

But you may find that you really want to write medical-mystery stories, or that you want to take a class in literary journalism. Once you have that self-knowledge, you can put it into action, instead of fobbing of your ambitions on your hapless client.

Then you can go about showing up for the work you have as it is, instead of trying to force it to be something it's not--and getting frustrated with clients.

Doing so doesn't have to limit your career either: In fact, realizing where you want to spend your energy and the types of stories you want to do can lead to avenues you might not have pursued otherwise. For instance, now I know: I need to pitch a reslant of a story to a totally different market, with a totally different approach--a completely new story, really--and see what happens.

Energy: Unblocked
Serenity: Maintained
Client: Served
What do you do to make sure you're serving your client's needs instead of your own?
Photo by striatic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Next Challenge: Financial Stability

It looks like it's unanimous: We'll have a financial stability challenge, starting March 1.

Before we start, I want your quandries:

What stymies you most about finances? What stresses you out the most about the financial side of the freelance life? If you could have a personal sit-down with a financial planner, what three questions would you ask? What bigger topics do you want to see covered? Cash, credit, taxes, cashflow, savings, etc? What are your top areas?

Please respond here, or if you'd rather not have your questions logged publicly, please email me at heather at heatherboerner dot com.

Looking forward to getting it started!
Photo by luismi1985.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bonus Marketing Post: Words of wisdom from a freelance veteran

If you haven't seen it yet, pop over to The Golden Pencil for Jenny Cromie's interview with prolific and veteran freelance writer Robert McGarvey. Not only is McGarvey the author of several books, including Start Your Own E-Business, he's weathered several economic downturns in his 30 years freelancing. (And he has a great list of freelance tips for newcomers on his Web page. Scroll down to find them.)

His suggestions in the interview are interesting. He says he's "digging in for the long struggle." Pointedly, this one:
I am not sending out 100 LOIs because 10 got no result. I am not sending out 1,000 queries because 100 got no result. Doing more, harder, of what isn’t working is not a prescription for success.
This goes a bit against my suggestion on Sunday to send queries to dream markets even if you don't know if it'll work. But he follows up explaining how such queries may yet work:

Editors I know tell me they are overwhelmed with unsolicited queries (which is why more magazines are asking not to get any at all). My advice is: if you must query, “warm” it up. Use LinkedIn and writers groups to find degrees of separation and query saying, Joe Schmo thought you’d like to see my query on XYZ. Warming up an initial contact works in writing, just as it works in all selling. Doing more of what is not working, however, is just plain unintelligent.

The only thing I'll add is be sure to get permission from Joe Schmo before using his name with an editor. Writers don't like their names thrown around without their knowledge, especially if it's by someone they don't know well, or a new freelancer.

What this reminds me is that all business is basically networking. The stronger your network, the more likely you'll be able to ask an editor to refer you to another client, and will give you permission to use his or her name.

Which editor are you going to talk to today about other editors who need a can-do writer in this economy?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Choose the Next 30-Day Challenge

I hated to end the marketing challenge--and even considered extending it--but decided to stick to the plan. After this challenge, I may do another marketing challenge. So I ask you, readers, what you'd most like to see the next challenge cover:

ECONOMIC STABILITY: Taxes, cashflow, managing fears and strategies for a tough economy, making money quick, etc.

PASSION: Reigniting your passion for the business, tips for improving your writing and reporting, and tips for expressing yourself a little better.

LETTING GO: We focus a lot on what we can control here, but what's harder is letting go of the economy, the kids, our clients and the future, none of which we can control.

What say you? Vote in the comments. Have another idea? Share it in the comments, too!

Photo by CoreForce.

Monday, February 16, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Wrap Up

It's that time, you guys. This challenge has been great for my business, and my serenity. I hope it has been for you, too. Tomorrow I'll ask you to choose the next 30-day challenge, so start thinking.

In the meantime, here's what we accomplished and covered this month:

Terms of Engagement: A new challenge, a new approach

What Yogic Philosophy Tells Us About Marketing: Approaching marketing with an eye on nongrasping and serenity

Should You Care About Money?
New freelancers often feel they should work for passion, not money. Here's earning money can help your craft

Establishing a Marketing Bottom Line: How often do you query? Have a plan

Contract Bottom Lines: What types of terms are you willing to agree to. Know before you sign

Little and often: A way to fit querying into a busy schedule

The Perils of Self-Promotion, Part 1
: Why it's not rude to promote yourself

The Perils of Self-Promotion, Part 2: Guest blogger Kristen Fischer tackles the question of promotion vs. being discovered

Creating a Marketing Plan that Works
: A teleseminar on marketing plans

Fear of the Query Interview: Debunking the top three fears of interviewing sources for queries

Streamlining the Query Interview: Three ways to make query interviews efficient, effective and respectful of all involved

Surviving Editor Silence: Five ways to cope with editor silence

Query Rejections and the Economy
: Rejection always suck, but right now they can be scarier. Here's how to recover and keep marketing

Saturday Bonus Bloglink Edition
: Tips for great queries; working for free; rejiggering your marketing when you get unsatisfactory results; take a vow of marketing stability

The Power of Persistence
: Guest blogger Damon Brown shares how he kept querying for four years to break into his target market

Juggling Marketing and Motherhood: Guest blogger Sara Aase shares how she fits marketing into half-time business and full-time motherhood

Fear Not the Cold Pitch: Guest blogger Jeanine Barone explains why she loves querying

Crafting Bull's Eye Queries
: Guest blogger Bridget Mintz Testa explains the process of drafting queries that get a 40 percent success rate

Jumping into Social Media Marketing
: Q&A with Jenny Cromie on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

Saturday Bloglink Edition, Now with Extra Twittering: Follow me on Twitter; some rules for tweeting; rating your Web site for effective marketing; tackling procrastination; treating marketing like throwing a ball

Write Once, Sell Twice (or More): Guest blogger Kelly James-Enger shares the fundamentals of reprints

Organizing Story Ideas: Four ways to keep story ideas organized and off your desk

Get Yourself Connected
: Building a strong network

Web Site Essentials: Q&A with web designer Tracey Kazimir-Cree on what writers should include and avoid in creating their Web sites

Breaking into Corporate Writing: Fundamentals of landing corporate clients, with Susan Weiner

What's Stopping You? If the economy is warping your querying toward sure bets, read this.

Photo by sarahgoldsmith.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: What's stopping you?

I read this week about a writer I really respect who's stopped querying story ideas because the market is so unreliable right now. She has a point. You don't know who's taking queries and who's not these days. Ducking and weaving and putting that much effort into a query when you see markets drying up can get... exhausting. Really exhausting.

As a result, I've noticed a little slide in my querying: I'm sticking to markets that I know still have money--but they don't pay very well.

Then I look at my income goals and my projections and my throat tightens up a little bit. Serenity it's not.

So before we end this marketing challenge, I want to issue a specific challenge: Send the big queries to the higher paying markets anyway. No matter what. Let them tell you that they aren't taking queries, or that they're sticking to their regular stable of writers. Don't make the decision for them by not sending the query.

I want to share both my self-limiting underlying belief and a means to cope with it today.

The belief: Take my toys and go.
When I was in high school, I was always in classes with teachers that had my straight-A sister the year before. My mother was a teacher in the school district, and my father used to work in the district office, and ocassionally took us to the giant room where wall-size computers calculated our standardized tests. You could say I felt a lot of pressure to perform.

How did I cope? I didn't try. I got Cs and Bs, and convinced myself that I was too cool for this class, or that I didn't care about the subject matter. I was sure that when I loved it, I would try.

The truth was that I was so hyper-competitive that if I didn't think I would be the best--beat my sister, get the best score in the class--I wouldn't try. I'd take my toys and go home.

Now it's 20 years later and I find myself struggling with marketing. It's not that I think my ideas are poor. But are they good enough? It's not that I question my ability to find markets. It's that I can't be guaranteed of a sale. My impulse is not to try.

A version of this is always one of the first complaints I hear from new freelancers. They can't stomach the idea of spending all this time on a query without a guarantee of a sale. So they don't try. I'm trying, but I'm sticking to what seems like a sure bet.

In this economy the pool of sure bets are getting smaller and smaller. And that approach no longer works.

A tool for coping: A daily decision.
This week, it's really been working for me to set aside that fear by asking myself every day:

Do I want to be in this business today?

If I do, then I need to act like I want to be in this business. And acting like I want to be in this business means acting like I want to stay in this business.

That means querying the scary markets, the unsure things: Sending the feature query instead of the front-of-the-book piece. Sending a cold pitch and calling new-to-me markets. It means taking risks with no promise of rewards.

It means not giving up without a fight.

So I urge you to fight: Whatever your resistance, whatever your fear, don't let it hold you back. Decide to be in the fight today.

Photo by lanulop.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Breaking into Corporate Writing

There are lots of places to market your work: Glossy newstand magazines and newspapers are the most obvious, but there are also custom publications, newsletters, advertorial and corporate writing.

Wait, corporate what? What the heck is corporate writing and how do you break in? To tell you the truth, my corporate writing experience is limited to three or four stories. But this year, part of my business plan is to diversify my client list with more corporate writing.

Luckily Susan Weiner does know about corporate writing. Weiner, CFA, helps financial professionals increase the impact of their writing on clients and prospects. She writes and edits articles, white papers, and other communications for leading investment and wealth management firms. Susan blogs at Investment Writing.

Here's what I learned from her fabulous "Prospecting for Corporate Clients" article:

Step One: Get talking
If you're brand new to corporate writing, try a variation on what I did. Set up informational interviews about corporate writing with people who hire writers. When managers know you're not going to sell to them, they're more willing to meet with you. You'll learn the language of corporate writing and you'll make connections that may eventually turn into work. For example, I didn't know what a white paper was when I started networking... Now they're my favorite kind of project.
Step Two: The other n word
"Tell everyone you know that you're looking for corporate work," advises Weiner.

That is, network. Talk to fellow freelancers about what you'd like to do, refer work to them, and you'll likely see referrals in return. Attend professional association mixers, alumni get-togethers, find people on Facebook or LinkedIn. Tell them the area in which you specialize. And have your elevator pitch ready. Says Weiner: "I tell people, 'I help busy financial professionals who have interesting things to say, but lack the time or skill to write them persuasively.'" Simple.

Another part of networking, writes Weiner, is to develop your relationship before you ask for work. Weiner lists several means to this end:
  • E-newsletters. "If prospects like your unedtied newsletter writing, they'll probably be hapy clients," she writes. Constant Contact is one of the many e-newsletter software programs designed to make sending one of these easy. Have others? List them in the comments.
  • Volunteering. Sign up to write for an association's newsletter, or volunteer on their board. This is probably easier if, like Weiner, you're credentialed in the field in which you'd like to write. But it can still be done.
  • Speaking. Becoming a public speaker on your coverage area will burnish your reputation as an expert, says Weiner.
Step Three: Carefully target your mailings
Careful crafting and targeting applies as much to corporate marketing as to consumer magazines. Follow HR changes in your target companies and send them letters of introduction. Says Weiner:
Corporate directories, industry association directories or even the Fortune 500 list also offer targets. Identify companies in your specialty or in your region, if you prefer to work locally. Then call for the names and relevant managers.
Step Four: Get slick.
You can get creative with glossy postcards touting how you can help your prospect, or send a special report with information useful to your prospect, she advises.
Whatever tack you take, be sure your letter focuses not on you but on how you can serve your client. Prospects don't care about you and your credentials. They want to know "what's in it for me?" So identify an area where they feel pain, then tell them how yu can relieve that pain. For instance, [Steve] Slaunwhite knows an inestor relations writer who began his pitch letters with "Is your Annual Report an annual headache?"
Any other ways you've broken into corporate writing?

Friday, February 13, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Web Site Essentials

The one thing I tell everyone is that having a Web site is mandatory these days. But how do you go about getting one that presents you professionally but doesn't break the bank? To find out, I asked a few questions of my very own Web diva, Tracey Kazimir-Cree, owner of eeep! productions. While she has done sites for industry associations, retailers, ad agencies, artists and manufacturers, Tracey specializes in web design and Internet consulting for small to medium sized businesses. Have questions for Tracey? Follow her on Twitter at @TrayPup or email her at websmith @ (And don't forget to read to the end. There's a special offer there just for Serenity readers.)

Why is a web site so crucial for small business owners?

Imagine place where a prospective customer can get to know you and can be encouraged to do business with you while you're sleeping, or playing with your kids, or tending to the business of running your business.

More consumers are researching products and vendors online now that the web is so accessible. With the proliferation of iPhones and other Smartphones, the web is also becoming portable. A prospective customer can find out what she needs from the comfort of her own home, without you having to stop to answer the phone to repeat driving directions or store hours. Coming from a retail background, I know that alone is worth its weight in gold.

A website levels the playing field between the big guys and the little guys. It allows you to reach a larger audience than your local newspaper/tv/radio ads can. You can go global, if you so choose. A website is becoming a sign that your business has its act together and helps to establish trust.

It's a market full of opportunity! This is a great time to make an investment in your business that can pay off in big ways. If they can't find you on the web, it's very possible that they're never going to know you exist.

What are your biggest pet peeves about owner-designed sites? What bells and whistles should people avoid?

My biggest pet peeve involves poorly written copy that doesn't flow well, with lots of misspellings and typos. [Ed. note: Hopefully not a problem for writers' Web sites!] A website that's an eyesore or that doesn't do justice to the business is a close second. Let's put it this way: I don't do my own tax returns because my accountant stays on top of the tax law for me. That's what I pay him for. Same with my auto mechanic, my handyman, my house painter, my dentist. These people have their specialties and I know that they know their jobs inside and out and they save me time and trouble by performing services for me.

As a business owner you have a lot of things you need to pay attention to. Learning how to design a powerful, effective and helpful website is not one of them. Work with a trusted professional so you can focus on what you do best.

Other things that drive me crazy:
  • Blinking text, music that starts playing as soon as the user lands on your site (give the user the option to turn it on and off), black backgrounds and cryptic, cutesy navigation. "Contact us" is far more clear and user friendly than "Here there be dragons".
  • "It's my blog/website, I should be able to write/do whatever I want" is something I hear a lot. Yes, you can do what you want, but if you want people to stay, read and, most of all, come back to your site, you need to be smart about your content and design.
  • The "if you build it, they will come" mentality. You must establish a plan that involves a combination of traditional and new media marketing to help grow your business. And don't be afraid to be creative and/or to employ really basic, grass roots ideas in your marketing plan.
  • A website that's thrown together on the fly and isn't fully thought out and researched. I have a questionnaire I give to every prospective client that covers everything I need to know in order to create a plan and a good solid proposal/estimate. A lot of people don't want to take the time to think about these things. Some do, and their businesses are flourishing.
What are the three most important elements any professional's web site should include?

That's easy:
  • A very clear call to action. What do you want your site visitor to do as a result of visiting your website? Make an easy path for them to do it and encourage them to follow it!
  • Easy-to-find contact information. No matter how easy your site is, some people just want to talk to you. Make it easy for them. Don't hide behind your website. Give them the options of using a phone number, email address, contact form, live chat, etc.
  • Strong, clean design and simple navigation. If a visitor is waiting for big graphics to load or sees broken images or the design isn't appealing, they are out of there faster than you can say "Google"--and most likely on to another writer's site.
I talk about this in more detail in my article Seven Basics of Good Web Design.

What should people look for when seeking a web designer? Any questions they should ask?

Talk to the designer and think about these questions:
Can she speak to you on your level? Do she communicate well? Is her site appealing to you? How about her portfolio? Do you feel a connection with her?

There's a great article on my site called Ten Key Things to Look for in a Good Web Designer and it may be useful for you as you get started.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just one final note: Social Marketing. Start using it.
For Serenity readers: Tracey is offering readers of this blog a free evaluation of your Web site--normally a $150 service. You must contact her by March 1, 2009. Contact her on her site and fill out the contact form with the word SERENITY in the comments box. She’ll send you an evaluation within 10 days.

What are your favorite writer Web sites?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Get Yourself Connected

How's your networking?

That's the question posed by UpMo, a marketing coaching program that helps you set and track marketing goals, including marketing. They have a great free networking self-test to get you thinking about all the forms of marketing and how involved you are in your network. (If you must procrastinate, this is a great way to do it.)

A few tips I learned from taking the test myself:

Don't just meet people. Help them.
There's a difference between knowing a lot of people and having colleagues who respect your work so much they'll recommend you to editors. A great way to gain their respect--ethically--is to be of service to them. Send along stories that may interest them, mention markets and editors that might be right for their idea and generally offer to help.

This is common courtesy and something I notice many freelancers do intuitively. But this remains a good opportunity. Are you doing all you can to help your fellow freelancer?

Staying abreast of the industry counts as networking.
To stay nimble in today's scary market, you've got to be able to bob and weave around ailing markets and towards ones that are thriving. To do this, read up on changes in your coverage area. How's health doing? What about business? Or shelter pubs? And how do you get most of this info? Chances are, you'll find it by sharing experiences with other writers.

Join writers groups, participate in email boards and as your favorite writers to lunch or coffee.

Diversify, diversify, diversify.
Just as you should strive to have lots of different clients in order to weather market changes more easily, you should have lots of different types of people in your network:
  • People who are at the same level as yourself for commiseration;
  • People who are where you want to be in 5, 10, or 15 years;
  • Editors;
  • Publishers, etc.
The list goes on. The point is to stretch outside your comfort zone. Take a look at the industry folks you talk to regularly. If none of them intimidate you, you've got some work to do on your network.

The bottom line

Just like with any marketing effort, you should have a plan.

How many times a month will you strive to meet with editors? How many times a month do you meet with other writers? How often do you talk to former colleagues or editors for whom you haven't yet worked?

Strive to do some networking every month.

As I've written before, I rely heavily on my freelance network. I started a freelancers' group on LinkedIn. I belong to two writing groups. I have an action buddy to encourage me to take scary steps in my business.

Stumped on how to find fellow freelancers? Our friend Jenny Cromie has a great post on The Golden Pencil laying out just that.

When I looked at where my income came from last year, I found that nearly all of my new clients came from referrals from those in my networks. It's a great feeling to be attached to so many people, especially when you work most of the day in solitude. And for those connections to be profitable is even more wonderful.

How do you network? Where do you want to expand your network?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Organizing your story ideas

Today, I talked to a coaching client who's brimming with ideas, but not with the time to pursue all of them. "I get these great ideas," she said, "but if I don't write them down right away, they're gone."

Such a common problem, and there are lots of solutions:

Start a file.
Freelancer Trish Lawrence had a great blog post last week on keeping track of all those brilliant ideas. Mostly, she suggests starting an individual file for an individual idea. This can trump the one big file labeled IDEAS easily. After all, such files can become crammed and disorganized fast--and who wants to root through that file when you have just 10 minutes to get some marketing done? Not me.

I have files for specific story ideas ("addiction and yoga"), as well as files for general topics ("mindfulness studies"). When I find a particularly great article or study, I can place it in the file for future reference.

Carry a notebook.
This is an old technique for fiction writers, but it's easily applicable for inventive journalists. Keeping a small notebook in your purse or back pocket can allow you to jot down ideas for stories on the fly and then go on with your day. Give it a shot: You can get a notebook from the local drugstore for $1.50. I even got a mini pen when I bought a full-size one. Hook the two together and you're ready to write right away.

Move it to your hard drive.
One of my big tasks in business is to declutter my desk. When I went through my stack of papers last year, I found that more than two-thirds of the loose paper on my desk were reports and studies that piqued my interest and about which I thought I might want to write.

The problem? They were laying around and hadn't made it to a file yet--mostly because I hadn't had time to create a file. My solution was to scan those docs and store them in subject-area files on my external hard drive. Now, if I want to look up what I have on PTSD, all I have to do is click on the search function for my hard drive. No more rooting around files that clutter up my desk.

Let the Internet file it for you.
Now that I've gone paperless, I don't need a file on my desk, and I don't need to store PDFs on my external drive. So how do I organize story ideas? My web browser became quickly overwhelmed when I tried to bookmark every interesting article on my home computer.

The solution? de.lic.ious.

This social bookmarking site is brilliant. You can add de.lic.ious buttons for your browser's menu bar: one that allows you to save a page and tag it, and one that takes you directly to your bookmarks. When I find a story, a source's online bio or other page that stimulates my querying brain, I can just click a button and tag it.

I organize my tags in two ways:
  • By topic: I have tags, for instance, for "healthcare," "mentalhealth," and "pregnancy" (tags must be one word, so you have to lump them together)
  • By market: If I know I want to pitch the story to a particular publication, I add the pubs' abbreviation as a tag (for instance, "chron" for the San Francisco Chronicle).
One thing to keep in mind is that these tags are public, so don't save anything there for your Super Secret Perfect Pitch. But for run-of-the-mill story generation, it's a great tool.

How do you keep your story ideas straight?

Photo by shadytrees.

Monday, February 9, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Write Once, Sell Twice (or More)

Here's one more guest blog on a topic that's a big part of my marketing plan this year, Reprints. Speaker, consultant, and freelancer Kelly James-Enger is the author of books including Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money and Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money. Visit Become Bodywise for more about her work.

My favorite way to make money as a freelancer has less to do with writing than selling. Instead of writing a new piece, I prefer to sell reprint rights to a story that’s already done. Reprint income typically makes up 10 percent (or more) of my annual gross, yet many freelancers overlook this relatively easy way to boost their bottom line.

Here’s how you can transform completed articles into new paychecks:

Step 1: Read your Contracts
Obviously you can only resell work that you own the rights to. Check your contracts to make sure you’ve retained rights to your work, and that you’re not running afoul of any exclusivity provisions (e.g., you can’t reprint the story during the six-month period after it is first published).

Step 2: Analyze your Inventory
The more stories you have available, the more opportunities you have for additional sales. Popular reprint topics include articles on lifestyle, business, health and fitness, diet, parenting, and travel. “Evergreen” stories—those pieces that never go out of date—are always good bets. My bestsellers have been fitness, nutrition, and relationship pieces. One bridal piece on getting along with your in-laws has been resold seven times to different markets over the last decade.

Step 3: Locate Reprint Markets
So, you know what you have to offer. Now comes finding the markets that want to buy what you have. I’ve found my best reprint markets simply by looking around. Smaller, regional, and special-interest magazines are all possibilities; check out publication directories like The Standard Periodical Directory (your local library should have it on reserve) to look for potential markets.

Step 4: Sell as Many Stories as Possible
I don't try to sell one story at a time; that wouldn’t be worth my while. Instead, when I find a potential market, I send a cover letter and list of story titles and topics to the editor there. I briefly tell her about my background, and offer to send a couple of sample stories for her review so she can see the quality of my work. And make it clear in your letter that you’re interested in selling reprint rights (I use language like “interested in purchasing one-time reprint rights to my work?”), not giving work away for free.

Step 5: Stay in Touch
You also make more from reprints when you develop a client base that will buy stories from you more than once. I maintain a "master list" of stories, divided into categories like "nutrition," "fitness," "wellness," and "relationships." I update the list every few months, and send it with a short email to editors who have purchased from me in the past. The hour or so I spend doing so always results in a few more sales.

As long as your story topic is still relevant and the information it contains still accurate (I do confirm the latter before I send a story out), you can resell the same piece as many times as you like—and multiply your checks in the process.

Have you had reprint success? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Week 4 Results

We're at the end of the week and only have one week left. How are you doing? Did you add new marketing techniques or make changes? How are they going?

How many marketing efforts did you make this week? What did you do to get your ideas out there, build relationships and increase your income?

Better yet, what were your results?

Leave a comment with your marketing efforts and enter to win a consultation with me!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Saturday Bloglink Edition, Now With Extra Twittering

To follow up on yesterday's Q&A with Jenny Cromie, I decided to take the plung. I'm Twittering (or is it tweeting? I don't know the lingo yet) at HeatherBoerner. Follow me!

Now for some helpful links.

Speaking of Twitter, I'm loving Robert Middleton's more frequent blogging efforts, and his most recent post breaking down some rules for tweeting. The gist: Focus your tweets on a narrow specialty area, make sure they're of value and link, link, link. He says more, though and you should check it out.

And one more great post from Robert: Time to reevaluate your professional Web site or create one? (Remember, Jenny mentioned yesterday that having a professional Web site is one part of a marketing plan.) Robert gives you some clues about how to rate your Web site and ways to make it more marketable. It's given me some great ideas for improving my site as well.

If you're guilty of avoiding marketing--and who isn't?--consider reading Janine Adams' great post on what to do instead when you want to check your email, Twitter, Facebook or organize your sock drawer instead of marketing.

Finally, I'll end this bloglink edition with Elizabeth Stark's literate and inspiring post about why we market in the first place. Using the analogy of throwing the ball around (an activity she says is more fun when you "push the ball away" instead of holding it close), she says the joy of marketing is sharing your creativity with the world:
You throw the ball when you take an idea and toss it onto the page. You throw the ball when you edit this work and renew it, and again when you show it to someone else, and again when it bounces out and back to various publications, agents, editors. You throw the ball when you blog, too, or comment on a blog. It’s a handy little game of catch, not the World Series, but a friendly back and forth while you chat about what is going on in your life.
Finally, let's be honest: Being a freelancer right now is scary. But you can't let the fear stop you from marketing. Consider Linda Formichelli's great post on the Renegade Writer blog that details six ways to eliminate the fear, or at least manage it. Some may look familiar to readers of this blog.

Now take a few minutes to relax, and let the marketing ideas come to you. Happy Saturday!

Friday, February 6, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Jumping into Social Media Marketing

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions. Today, Jenny Cromie, who blogs about freelance writing at The Golden Pencil, answers some of my questions about how she uses the LinkedIns, Facebooks and Twitters of the world to build editor relationships. Her involvement in social media has yielded interest from potential clients and other real-world successes. You can follow her Tweets at @JennyCromie.

For the luddites in the audience, can you briefly explain what social media marketing is? What technology does it include and do you need to be a tech geek to get it?

Social media marketing is virtual networking. I know this is going to sound odd, but when I participate in social media now, I'm not necessarily thinking of it as marketing. Granted, I started out on Twitter because I wanted to find more people who might find my blog useful. And while I do still use Twitter to announce my blog posts, it's not the primary reason I'm spending time on Twitter anymore. I'm having conversations, meeting new people, and networking.

Having said all that, I think social media marketing means different things to different people, and there are many different ways to go about doing it.

When it comes to social media sites, I personally spend most of my time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a small handful of online writing communities. But there are certainly other social media sites out there. And no, you don't have to be a tech geek to get any of it.

I think the best way to figure it all out is just to jump in and experiment. Then after you've had a chance to play around a bit, you can step back and decide how you want to use social media as part of your overall business/ marketing plan.

I hear a lot of people talking about how confusing some social media sites can be at first. I can relate—I initially found Twitter confusing too. At first glance, it just seemed like I had walked into the middle of a bunch of conversations and mini marketing campaigns that didn't make sense or have much relevance for me.I remember setting up my account after a friend invited me and thinking to myself: Boy, this looks like a complete waste of time. Who has time for all this? Not me!

My account sat idle for a long time before I really started using it. Now I am a Twitter convert. Maybe even a Twitter evangelist. I have no idea what I ever did without Twitter. I recently wrote about my Twitter conversion on TwiTip in an article called 8 Ways that Twitter Can Grow Your Freelance Business.

I guess the bottom line is this: there is no right or wrong way to approach social media. So just jump in!

In a former career life, I used to be a technical training specialist. One thing I always emphasized with people is that exploring new technology can actually be a lot of fun. There's no way to break anything, and there is no "right" or "wrong" way to use any of it.

You learn as you go, and the journey—exploring and learning how social media can help you and your business—can actually be a lot of fun. Maybe a little too much fun for some of us. ;-)

I know you've successfully used social media to market yourself. Can you give us some examples of the successes you've had?

I think there are different ways to measure success in social media. Some people mistakenly measure success by the number of followers they have—like it's some kind of popularity contest.

For me, social media is all about connecting, building relationships, finding people with common interests, networking, expanding horizons, and learning new things. In my book, it's not about numbers. Does that mean that I have relationships with the 1,500-plus people who follow me on Twitter? Of course not. But there are some among that group that I have established relationships with or have identified as people who have shared interests that I might establish relationships with in the future.

Successes? Through Twitter, I have met a lot of very interesting writers, authors, freelancers, media professionals, publishing industry professionals, bloggers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and HR professionals whom I would not have met otherwise. On Facebook, I have connected with current and former colleagues, high school and college friends, clients, and others. Same thing with LinkedIn—I've increased my online networking activity there too.

So my biggest social media success this past year was simply connecting and reconnecting with like-minded people, and at the same time, building a nice online community of people who I now enjoy talking to online and off line.

Of course, this activity also has increased traffic to my blog at The Golden Pencil. But again, driving traffic to my blog is not the primary reason for my involvement in social media now. From a purely business standpoint, social media for me is a way to network online—like a 24/7 virtual chamber of commerce event. From a personal standpoint, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook give me the opportunity to build and nurture relationships that may or may not have anything to do with business.

How much time do you spend on social marketing a week on average?

I don't mean to hedge, but this is a tough question for me to answer. Most times, I'm not wearing my marketing cap when I'm on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or participating in one of my online writing communities. So I'm not really tracking my time on these sites and thinking: "I spent XXX amount of time on social media marketing today!"

That said, every morning after posting on my blog, I let people in my network know via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn that I've written a new post. When I broadcast these updates, I'm not thinking about marketing per se.

I'm thinking: Someone may need to know about this.

I write the posts on The Golden Pencil to help other freelancers, writers, and people who are thinking about taking that plunge. Of course, more people do visit my blog as a result of my Tweets and my status updates on Facebook, but that's not the driver behind why I write the blog or tell people about it on other social media sites. I'd be writing about freelance writing whether I was getting paid or not. I was writing about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance business before I started writing for and The Golden Pencil on my now-idle blog, The Productive Muse.

Here's what I've learned about social marketing:

The passion for the subject has to come before the marketing. Without a clear objective in mind when you log in, you can really spend a lot of time—too much time, in fact—on social media sites. The last I checked, there's no way to get paid to write clever Facebook status lines (if there is, please let me know!).

It's not about the time you're spending each day or week on social media sites--it's about the quality. What are the quality of the relationships that you're building by using social media tools? Stronger relationships eventually build more loyalty. As a byproduct of those relationships, you sometimes reap some business rewards.

Focus on adding value. People can tell if you're just hanging out on social networking sites to peddle your wares and services. That's not what it's all about. If you're thinking about jumping into the social media world as a way to promote yourself and your business, ask yourself:
  • How can you help people within your network and the online communities that you belong to?
  • What kind of value can you add to the conversation?What do you have to offer?
You have to set boundaries around the time you're spending on Facebook and some of the other sites. I recently talked about this in my post, How To Rein In Your Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Habits.

How big a part of your marketing efforts is social marketing? Where does it fit into your marketing plan?

Again, this is hard for me to quantify. Social media is part of my marketing strategy--but only a part. The social media sites I belong to merely provide some more tools that I can use to reach a larger audience and a bigger network of people than I could if I were to simply rely on more traditional marketing methods (e.g. LOIs, cold calls, handing out business cards).

The tools I use to market my business, build a brand for myself, and keep my name out there in people's minds include:
  • A Web site. Like most freelancers and small business owners, I have a Web site that I regularly update.
  • Email signature. I have an e-mail tag line that I update with mentions of my latest blog post.
  • Updated social network profiles. I continue to update my LinkedIn and other online profiles with new information after completing assignments.
  • Networking with other bloggers: I write the occasional guest post for other blogs—something that also helps me reach a potentially wider and different audience. And when I write other online stories or am interviewed by another writer, I mention the fact that I'm the editor of The Golden Pencil.
  • Traditional marketing: I send out LOIs (or letters of introduction) to new clients, and updated LOIs to existing ones. I send out query letters. On occasion, I make cold calls to business that I think might be able to use my services.
But my overall marketing strategy is focused on reaching three primary audiences:
  • freelancers;
  • business owners, self-employed professionals, entrepreneurs; and
  • HR professionals.
Those are the audiences that I write for the most, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to reach out to those people.

If someone is looking to get started, what would you recommend they start with? Do you need to be on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter and others in order to have enough saturation to make a difference, or can you start small?

As I mentioned above, there's no right or wrong way to approach social media. I say jump in, go from there, and see what feels right for you and your business. Each social media site has a different purpose. And how I use a social media site might be different than the way someone else chooses to use it.

The important thing is:
  • Jump in and experiment to see what the different sites offer;
  • Think about what you hope to accomplish by using any social media site;
  • Use that objective as a guide when thinking about your overall marketing plan.
Social media provide the tools. But you have to develop an overall marketing plan or strategy before those social media tools can really make a difference for you and your business.

Speaking for myself, though, here's how I use three of the big ones:

LinkedIn is the equivalent of an online résumé with all your business contacts in one place. On my profile, I also have recommendations from current and former colleagues and employers. So if a prospective client wants to know more about me, I can direct her to my LinkedIn profile where she can read all about my work experience, see who's in my network, read over what others have to say about my work, and so on. I also have used my LinkedIn network as a way to source stories, get answers to questions, and inquire about freelance opportunities and assignments.

Facebook is a little more casual than LinkedIn, and there's more of a focus on sharing personal information. Someone in my LinkedIn contact list isn't necessarily going to know that I'm getting ready to take a walk. But chances are, my Facebook friends will know about my life on a more granular level. So it's a place where people tend to share information that's a little more personal than what you might find on LinkedIn.

Not everyone uses Facebook the same way that I do, either. Some people don't transfer their professional contacts into the Facebook fold. But I have chosen to do that. In my Facebook friends list, you'll find current and former bosses and colleagues, friends from all phases of my academic career (e.g. elementary school, college), and other people who I know professionally. What does any of this have to do with social media marketing? Sometimes, not a whole lot. But it does mean that I get to know people in my network a little better and vice versa. There is more of a comfort level there with people who may or may not be connected with me from a business standpoint now or in the future.

Twitter allows me to connect with some of the same people that I'm connected to in my other social media networks, but allows me to cast that net a little wider. On Twitter, I'm connected to freelance writers, publishers, HR professionals, marketing and communications specialists, IT professionals, literary agents, small business owners, and others. I use Twitter for a variety of reasons—some of those have to do with marketing, but many do not.

While there is some overlap, I'm not connected with the same people on every social media site I belong to.

What's the number one trap writers should avoid in social marketing?

It's very easy to get lost in a sea of social media sites and waste a lot of time if you don't have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish by joining up.

That said, I don't think you have to have it all figured out before you jump into the social media pool. Again, I encourage people to not have a plan at first, but simply to experiment and see what it's all about before making any snap judgments about whether it'll be useful to you and your business or not. Give various social media sites a whirl and see what works best for you and your business. Once you've taken the grand tour, be sure to step back, decide what your objectives are, and determine how social media sites need to fit into your overall marketing plan.

Anything else I didn't ask you that you'd like to add?

Related to all this, I think it's important to constantly reevaluate your marketing strategy and business plan—especially in this market. This may sound obvious, but it's not. We've seen the media and publishing industries shift dramatically even in the last six months.

The strategy that I was using last summer to reach potential clients is not necessarily the strategy that I need to be using today. And that impacts the tools that I choose to use on a daily basis. Six months ago, I was spending a larger portion of my time writing queries to magazine editors. Today? Not at all. My focus has shifted toward other areas that I think will make more sense for myself and my business right now. As a result, I'm focusing more on using Twitter than I am only e-mailing potential clients.

Also, I hear a fair number of freelancers and small business owners talk about how they don't have time in their already busy schedules for social media. My question is, how can they not have time? In the current economic environment, why wouldn't you want to expand your reach and try to connect with more people?

When people say they don't have time for social media, they're basically saying they don't have time to market their businesses and build their brands.

Old-school marketing techniques just aren't enough anymore. People are changing the way they market their businesses. If you're insisting on using a manual typewriter but everyone else is using a PC, you'll eventually get left out of the conversation because everyone is sending e-mail (except to you, because typewriters can't receive e-mail).

So if you subscribe to the manual typewriter way of doing business, and you keep doing what you've always done to market yourself and your business, you eventually will be without a business to market. But if you want to stay in business and remain part of the conversation, you have to keep speaking the same language and using the same tools as everyone else.

To stay in business, you have to maintain a willingness to to adapt, change, try new things, and challenge old ways of thinking and doing things. People who tell me they don't have time for social media marketing are basically saying that they're holding onto the manual typewriter business model and working diligently on going out of business.

Social media is not a fad. It's here to stay.

The tools may change and evolve, but the way we're communicating is in flux. And if you're in business (and want to continue to stay that way), you have two choices: change or die. Does that sound extreme? Well, maybe it is. I guess it's my way of taking some social media naysayers and trying to shake some sense into them. People who ignore this shift will be left behind and so will their businesses. And I don't want to see that happen to anyone.

Of course, anything new creates anxiety. But if you just jump in and see what all the fuss is about, you just might find it makes your job a lot easier than how you're marketing and running your business right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Crafting Bull's Eye Queries

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions. Today's guest blogger is Bridget Mintz Testa, a freelance writer in the Houston area who writes about human capital, business strategy and technology. Today she talks about her querying style: She sends few queries but gets an amazing return on her marketing investment.

Have questions for her? Email her at
bmtesta at

Some writers like to send off lots of queries at a time, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. It can be quite productive. I prefer, however, to target specific publications that interest me, study them extensively and then send a detailed, customized query. So I’m slow. I might generate one query a week, maybe three if I’m pushing it, but I also get a fairly high rate of acceptance.

For example, I sent 11 queries to new-to-me editors in 2008 (most of my work came from markets I’d worked with for a while). Of those, four generated assignments. That’s almost a 40 percent success rate. Most people consider 10 percent a big “woohoo!” for marketing efforts. Three of these pubs generated work throughout 2008, and two still do even in this annus horribilis, 2009. In fact, one of them just assigned me seven articles for 2009, taking me all the way through the year’s editorial calendar.

So if sending off a bunch of queries as fast as you can isn’t your cup of tea, rest easy. You can try my approach. Here's how:

Learn the topic
Most of the time, I have only a vague idea of the subject area of a new-to-me publication. You need more than that, especially for trade pubs, from which most of my work comes. So I’ll spend some time, often several hours over a period of days, to learn something about the subject matter and what the key issues are.

These are the issues the industry is grappling with. It’s what you want to write about, because the readers are also grappling with them. But you need to know more than the issues; you need to know how they’re working out in reader’s lives. For that, you need industry research. You don’t have to become an industry expert; you just have to know what the field is about and what its current challenges are.

For example, a couple of years ago, I wanted to break into an engineering association publication that I knew paid a good, standard rate. Because engineers in this association work in many fields, I had my pick about what to write. I wanted to write an article about nuclear power’s resurgence. So I went looking for the challenges facing an industry that was dealing with sudden growth after years of decline.

Over a week, I spent several hours—maybe 10 or 12—scanning and reading nuclear industry publications and industry association press releases and position papers. A couple of issues emerged that seemed like they’d be of interest to engineers: new reactor technology and a new regulatory regime for licensing nuclear power plants. I had my topics; now I needed to see if they’d been covered by the pub.

Learn the pub
Over the course of another few days, I spent maybe six or seven hours reviewing past issues of the pub, which were fortunately online. If they hadn’t been, I’d have probably gone to a university library to find this particular engineering association magazine. It wouldn’t be on newsstands. Few association pubs are.

Turns out they had published some articles on reactor technologies, but not on all of the technologies. The pub also hadn’t looked at efforts to standardize the reactor technologies for easier operations and maintenance. So I decided to query about the different reactor technologies and how the industry was going to standardize them.

Writing the query
I wrote the query in an hour or two, but didn’t send it right away. I let it sit overnight, revised it, then sent it. I detailed how I’d cover the main technologies and why they were worthy of interest, how they’d be different from the previous generation of reactors, and what standardization in design meant. I suggested possible people to interview (which I’d gotten from my subject area research) and gave my bio at the end.

The next day—an amazing turnaround time for most queries—I got a very nice rejection from an editor. He said my query was well-targeted, and how nice that was, but that the editors felt most of their readers were probably well-acquainted with the different technologies. It was a very personal and complimentary rejection, and he warmly encouraged me to query again.

So I did. I went back to my research and reviewed the material on the new licensing regime, nailing down more details. Then I wrote a new query, explaining that I’d look at two or three of the first new licensing applications and how they were also serving as tests of the new regulations. I’d explain a couple of the regulatory/technical challenges the applicants were encountering and how those challenges were being addressed.

From my pub research, I knew none of this had been covered in its pages. It was new, and that was important. Another important aspect of the query was my focus on industry problems and how they were being solved. Nothing excites an engineer, or an editor, for that matter, than real problems that readers can identify with—as long as you show how someone like the reader is solving those problems.

This time, I got the assignment, and I’ve now written four feature articles for this publication over about 18 months. The editors like me, I love working with them, and I’d be doing more work for them if their freelance budget were bigger. As it is, I’m doing about two or three pieces a year for them, which is several thousand dollars worth of work. They give me a chance to write about topics I probably wouldn’t get to otherwise, and the beautiful clips serve as wonderful samples for other new-to-me publications.

If you want to send out a bunch of queries in a hurry, go right ahead. The targeted, carefully researched query works for me, and it can be part of your marketing arsenal as well.

©Bridget Mintz Testa
Photo by Viewoftheworld.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challege: Fear not the cold pitch

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions.

Today's guest blogger is Jeanine Barone, an independent travel, food, wine, design and architecture writer and blogger at J The Travel Authority. During her 20-year freelance career, her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Town & Country, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, among others. Today, she talks about what she loves about querying.

In the beginning, I thought of querying as a chore, something I dreaded and did infrequently. As a result, I would churn out what I now realize were anemic queries: short with few details. However, I soon realized that if I spent a lot of time developing well-targeted, detailed, dazzling pitches and allotted a good amount of time each week to marketing myself, it paid off.

I get most of my assignments from querying, not just the editors I regularly work with but also cold pitching. And, I'm probably one of the few freelancers who enjoys crafting a query. I think that I became more enamored with the process when I did it, if not every day, then at least several times a week, every week. It became an intimate part of my writing life. And, for each and every query I produce, I put as much care into it as if I were writing the full-blown article for that editor. My pitches are so detailed that editors have complimented me as one of the few writers they've worked with who clearly spends time devising a quality pitch.

I always make sure that I continue pitching, following up on pitches (via email or phone), researching new outlets for my queries and doing other marketing, even when I have tight deadlines. Obviously the amount of time I spend on marketing varies depending on the number of deadlines I have. If it's a week where I have a terrible time crunch, then I might spend several hours on the weekend as marketing time: devising new pitches, finding new markets, preparing emails to follow-up on queries that were already sent, and so forth.

If it's a week where I have a lighter load, I'll spend at least a full day or more just on marketing. (I should say, by the way, that when I'm not traveling, I work seven days a week -- something I have always done and can do because I'm not married and I don't have kids and I'm naturally a workaholic.)

I'm also meticulous about following up on queries. If I haven't heard back after four weeks max, then I immediately send an email wondering if the editor had time to review my pitch and, in case it never made it to her inbox, I re-paste it in the body of the email. I actually never give up and have a whole different variety of follow-up emails depending on how long it's been since I still haven't heard.

But I also do phone follow-ups.

And I've found that professional and polite persistence pays off. I know I've heard other writers say that if you haven't heard, it means editors aren't interested. But I've not found that to be the case. There are all kinds of reasons, and not being interested is only one. In fact, I have gotten many, many assignments after repeatedly following up on a query for many months.

In order to maximize my marketing time, at the beginning of the week, I set out my marketing schedule in terms of what I want to accomplish:
  • Finding several new outlets for my work,
  • Determining how many queries I want to send out, and
  • Determining how many I need to follow-up on.
I really stick to this schedule, unless a crazy deadline unexpectedly comes up. And, if that happens, then I make up the time the following week. As a writer, I also always wear a marketing hat. When I'm reading the newspaper or magazine, or browsing through postings on blogs or tweets on Twitter, I'm always thinking of new outlets to cold pitch, new story ideas, and so forth. For me, marketing is challenging and strategic and it's something that suits my personality.

What do you like about querying?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Juggling Marketing and Motherhood

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions. Today's guest blogger is Sara Aase, a freelance writer who blogs about personal finance at Cash on the Barrelhead.

As a freelance writing mom, she knows more than a little about squeezing as much quality time out of her work hours as possible. If you're in a similar situation, I hope this will help you feel a little less alone. If you don't have kids, read on--there's plenty we can all learn from her shrewd approach to marketing.

"How many hours are you working a week?" is the first question that freelance writing moms ask each other. (Dads, I don't mean to exclude you--but if you exist, I haven't met you.) Freelancing as a business is properly a full-time-plus endeavor. You need eight to ten hours a day to market, do research, schedule interviews, write, blog, maintain your social networking sites, answer email, invoice, follow-up, etc.

Marketing, in particular, is often the first activity to fall off after you have kids. If, like me, your business has taken big body blows after each birth, you know what I'm talking about. It's hard to advertise your services if you can't count on a reliable way to be reliable. I don't know where you are in that precarious work-kid balance right now--and I'm not going to tell you it's easy to do this with limited hours, because it absolutely is not. But here's what I've learned, and I hope it helps:

The Personal Connection is Fastest

There's so much emphasis on querying for freelance writers that it's easy to forget to tap who you already know. The fastest and best way to get your name back out there and drum up work for yourself is to reconnect with old clients, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. These people already know you or know of you. Tell them what you've written before, what you're writing now, and what you want to write.

You can do this:
  • in big email blasts;
  • through Facebook;
  • through LinkedIn;
  • on Twitter;
  • by phone; or
  • in person, as your schedule allows.
Take a half hour and write down the name of everyone you can think of, and then put them on your to-do list as you have time. Have coffee, lunch, or a drink with someone. A former colleague of mine (and freelancer mom) hit me out of the blue on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, wanting to take me out for lunch. It was fantastic. We both got a ton of different names and marketing ideas from each other. And I can't emphasize how important it is to get out of the house and feel professional again.

It's Okay to Say No to Some Goals, For Now

One of the hardest things to accept as a part-time freelancer is that I can't do everything or be everywhere all at once. I've had "join ASJA" on my list of professional goals for at least three years. But I'm going to defer that goal yet again for at least another year, and possibly even until 2012 when both kids are in school full-time. (I just shuddered as I typed "2012.")

Hopefully it won't have to wait that long. But this year, I can't afford the cost of joining, plus the cost of attending the conference in New York, which I'd like to do as a new member to take advantage of the extra bump for personal pitch. Plus, it's all I can do right now to keep up on the market guides and connections I have elsewhere. I felt so relieved that I know it's the right decision.

Outsource Tasks

I've realized, working only about four hours a day, that it's most critical for me to market or write during that time. In order to boost the number of queries I can get out the door each week, I've hired a part-time assistant (a journalism-school graduate) to help me do research.

I also have her write up notes for me on webcasts (on using Twitter and LinkedIn effectively, for example) or other tasks I don't have time for. This is brand new for me, and only possible now because I'm working a steady 20 hours a week. If you ask yourself, "Who could I get to help me?" maybe you can think of other resources.

For example, maybe your sitter could scan clips for you if she has some downtime. Maybe you can hire your own (now older) son or daughter, or the neighbor kid. Maybe you've got a husband who is a crack transcriber.

And if you're falling apart reading this because it all just seems impossible, that's okay, too. Let yourself feel it, then pull yourself back together. Take a look back at what you've accomplished while you thought you were getting nowhere, because I bet it's a lot more than you think. Remember, the world needs your skills and your expertise, so give it to them, even if, for now, it's only a bit at a time.

Have other tips for maximizing marketing if you're short on time? Share them in the comments.

Monday, February 2, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: The Power of Persistence

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions. Today, I'm kicking the week off with the best story of querying persistence I've ever heard, from a writer I greatly respect.

This is the story of how Damon Brown broke in to SPIN Magazine after four years of pitching every month. You read right--four years! Here's his story, and then some follow-up questions:

I pitched SPIN magazine, which was technically the first professional pitch I ever sent, in September 2000. I pitched them roughly once a month and received no response until about two years later -- a short, "Thanks, but it's not right for us" email. Of course, that was motivation to keep going!

I kept getting rejected, but the rejections became longer, more elaborate, until fall 2003, when I got a two-paragraph email rejection that was as detailed as an assignment letter! The editor explained why the story wouldn't quite work and expressed detailed regrets on not giving the green light. I was flabbergasted, as I never experienced anything like that before. And, sure enough, the following Spring I got my first assignment! I would go on to freelance for SPIN nearly every month for three years - and even through a major editor shift. The experience taught me that literary brilliance is great - which I'm still working on! - but persistence is king.

You said your experience taught you that "literary brilliance is great--which I'm still working on--but persistence is king." What do you mean by that?

For me, any success that I have all comes down to focus. Early in my career I would subscribe to 30-plus magazines, publications that I thought would appreciate my voice and would be a good fit for me as a freelance writer, and reading them week after week or month after month helped me craft queries and ideas best suited for the audiences. Every single publication has a clear audience and editorial voice - even the most general interest one. The key is to study it long enough to know them, and then pitch enough times so that it is very clear to the *editors* that you know them, too.

How did you choose which stories to pitch to SPIN? Did you reslant and resend them after you got radio silence or a rejection from SPIN?

I did a lot of reslanting and resending. The biggest challenge for me early on was remembering that it is about the publication, *not* the story I want to tell. It was important to find the angle that would best fit the publication. For instance, a new music focused magazine like SPIN would probably not be interested in a historical piece on a legendary rocker, just as much as the acid-tongued New York Post, for which I also write, would probably pass on a touching story about lost puppies. I had to be merciless -- if a story idea didn't fit the publication, I didn't pitch it. Now, I've occasionally been able to talk up a story and make it work when I've already built a relationship with an editor, but it is wasteful, and perhaps a little arrogant, to assume that an editor will take on your risky story right out the gate.

What kept you pitching those first two years when you got no response? How did you motivate yourself?

It helped me to come up with a mission statement. When I first started, my goal was to examine subcultures respectfully and honestly, and to write about them for the masses so that the mainstream may find another level of respect for a discounted or seemingly second-rate culture. Video games are a $20 billion industry, but, especially when I first started a decade ago, were still considered a kid's medium. Sex, and specifically porn, was another multi-billion industry with real issues, real people and real business that was not being covered seriously. Finally, specific music genres, such as hip-hop, were lumped in with "ignorant" cultures, again despite being a multi-billion industry.

My motivation was and is when I see a subculture written about in an incomplete manner or, worse, in an ignorant or stereotypical light. I realize that I could have pitched that article and helped represent the subculture in a more complete light. Drives me nuts!

A more distant, but important motivation is setting and reaching firm financial goals. There is no formula that X number of queries equals Y number of assignments and totals Z amount of dollars, but there is a solid relationship between "sweat equity" and results. I like the freelancing lifestyle, and I know that I'd have to leave it if the bills weren't getting paid!

Did you have resistance to continuing to pitch them? If so, what kind of resistance and how did you deal with it?

Not really. I mean, this is really our job - pitch publications that we feel would welcome our voice and would be improved with our contributions. I knew I belonged in SPIN, and if anything the years of pitching proved to me that my feeling wasn't just about ego (otherwise, I would have quit much earlier!). For instance, I'd love to see my writing in The New Yorker, and have actually gotten some pleasant rejections from them, but I don't feel like I belong in The New Yorker. It is a bit of a stretch, and that's OK. On the other hand, for Playboy, SPIN and the other publications for which I currently write, I started pitching them aggressively when I knew my voice and my stories matched their need. There is a difference between ego and actual qualifications.

How much querying/marketing do you do today?

It actually varies quite a bit. If I'm in the middle of a book project, I can query as little as once or twice a week. I just finished off two big deadlines, so right now is a queryfest! I go in spurts, and can send as many as 5 queries in a day. Regardless of cycles, I always make it to major journalism conferences, such as the ASJA in April, and network with my colleagues over coffee or online through Twitter, Facebook or journalism websites. It is important to be open to new work before you need it.

What are the top marketing mistakes you've made--or seen other freelancers suffer from--and how do you overcome them?

Wishing for downtime during insanely busy periods - and getting downtime in spades as soon as the projects are wrapped up! I write primarily for magazines, so financially the work I do in February affects my budget in April or May. This creates the need to plan well in advance and to plant seeds early. It's OK to slow down the marketing, querying and networking while working on a big project, but it should never, ever grind to a halt. We should always be open to new work.

The second lesson I've learned is to be ahead of the curve -- particularly important in my focus areas of sex, tech and music. For instance, in summer 2007 Penguin released my Pocket Idiot's Guide to the iPhone, which was the first book on the popular device. The iPhone was announced six months earlier, and I knew the device was going to be insanely popular. I also suspected that people, and the media, would get burnt out on the iPhone very quickly.

In January 2007 my agent and I talked to Penguin and got the book deal in place, and I started pitching lots of iPhone stories. By June, when the iPhone was actually hitting stores, I actually started moving on to other technology topics. By the time my book came in August, I pitched one or two iPhone-related stories, but I knew my focus had to be on other, more cutting-edge topics. I was fortunate enough to be talking about new, refreshing tech topics while others were just pitching more iPhone stories. You have to know what's going to be big six months from now - particularly if you want to make it into long-leadtime magazines.

How do you keep yourself focused on marketing even when you're busy with assignments?

I get excited! My focus over the past six months has been my new book, Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture, but focusing on this one topic has made me restless about other ideas. I simply write them down as I get them and, when I get a spare moment, shoot off a query. Promoting the book has also served as an excellent excuse to revisit or touch base with old editors, letting them know about the book and perhaps pitching stories.

Damon Brown covers sex, music and technology with much aplomb, but he is first and foremost a pop culturist. A Northwestern grad, he is a feature writer for Playboy, SPIN, the New York Post, Inc., AARP The Magazine and Family Circle. Damon also writes several columns, including the weekly Inspector Gadget series for PlanetOut, the largest gay and lesbian website. His most recent book, Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture, was published in the fall.