Saturday, January 31, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Saturday Bonus Bloglink Edition

This week brought us some great marketing and query posts from around the web. Here are a few of my favorites:

Kristine Hansen at the fabulous Renegade Writer Blog shared Seven Tips for Standout Queries.
My favorite, besides going for the quirky, is to slow down:
"Take a deep breath (yoga breaths if that’s your thing) and let it sit for a day, maybe even overnight. What you might discover during your time away is an added source, or a fresh idea for a sidebar. Not only will this make for a stronger pitch but you’ll feel more confident about its idea too."
Jenny Cromie, whose blog, The Golden Pencil, I raved about yesterday, did a great post this week on whether it ever makes sense to work for free. I'd argue no, but she does a great job of breaking down the options strategically.

Then, Erik Sherman, whose pearls of wisdom I've shared several times, wrote on his blog this week about what to do when your marketing efforts fall short of expectations. In Erik's typically thorough and thoughtful manner, he gives very concrete suggestions for appraising your efforts.

I also love that he says that a 10 percent success rate on your marketing is "very healthy." I knew I wasn't the only one who thought so!

And finally, though this isn't directly about the world of freelance marketing, it is a concept that I strive to take into my marketing efforts: Taking a vow of stability. What Gretchen Rubin, in her Happiness Project blog, is talking about is monks who take a vow of stability to stay at whatever monastery they are directed towards.

She applies this to marriage (which is apt), but I'd also argue that it applies to marketing. After all, setting a bottom line for how much and what kind of marketing you'll do and then sticking to it whether it's boring or not, whether you're busy or not, is another form of stability.

And I would also argue that so doing creates a lot more financial stability in your life as well. Try it out and tell me what you think.

Friday, January 30, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Query rejections and the economy

I don't know about you, but all this financial news is bumming me out. And causing me to associate every query rejection with the Titanic-like demise of the publishing industry.

Last week, I was at my nadir. I received four rejections in a row, and I knew--just knew!--that it was a sign of the financial times. There's this little voice in my head that kept chanting, "Give it up kid--you've had a nice run, but this economy is too tough for you."

Now, you'd hardly be human if the current economy weren't making you at least a little on edge. For the anxious among us, myself included, that edginess can translate into constant worry--and worry to ascribing meaning to all kinds of things in a way that is both useless and damaging.

If you, like me, are having a hard time getting queries out--or bouncing back from rejections--because of the economic stress, don't shoulder it alone and let yourself get paralyzed.

Share the fear

I posted my concern--along the lines of, "Is anyone else taking rejections more personally in the current economy?"--to a freelancers' board to which I belong. There, I got all kinds of great encouragements ("If anyone will make it through this economy, it's you!" and "I see your byline everywhere; you'll be fine!") and reality checks.

Here's what I learned:

Rejection is less personal now than ever.
If a company doesn't have a budget, it really isn't personal if they don't accept your story idea. So if you are taking it to mean something about that company, it doesn't.

However, it may mean that you need to refocus your marketing efforts toward markets with money. Right now, I'm asking my clients as I query them if their budget is in tact for 2009. Most don't see to mind answering, and it's helping me query with more confidence.

Replace the negative with a positive mantra.
Jenny Cromie, who wrote a fabulous post on her blog, The Golden Pencil, about feeding fear or the faith in your career, encouraged me to create a mantra that can replace the "Give it up kid" one that pops in there naturally. The one she suggested went:
I know I got four query rejections yesterday, but I also have confidence in my abilities and know that these rejections probably have more to do with the economy and less to do with me. Eventually, someone is going to say "yes" so I think I'll send out four more queries today and maybe a couple of LOIs ...
The short version that I've created for myself of this is, "I accept that if I keep querying, I will get assignments."

And guess what? I did get an assignment and other editors are considering more of my queries as I write this. Querying is still a numbers game. Just because the market has changed doesn't mean that essential fact has.

It may mean the numbers will change. I'm considering upping my weekly minimum of three queries a week to higher-paying markets to four or five. I met that easily last week and am on track to do the same this week.

Turn off the news.
I've said it before. If the economy is freaking you out to the point where you interpret everything as a sign of a coming Depression, it's time to wean yourself off the CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, NPR, and any other news source that transmits trauma directly to your eyeballs. Unsubscribe or skip blogfeeds that focus on job losses, etc.

Keep the focus on what you can control. The economy? That's not one of them.

Keep your expectations sane.
Every writer goes through cycles in their business: Sometimes you're so busy that you have to turn away work. Other times, you have so little work that you can devote all your time to business development. That cycle is probably going to continue in 2009. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with this market.

Here's what I know from my own experience: I earned more last year than I ever have in my journalism career. Most of it came in the last half of the year during the bailout hearings and foreclosure nightmares. If I look at my business--not the economy as a whole--I see that my business is fine.

Take a look at yours and look to see if you have real cause for alarm or if you're just absorbing cultural fears.

To sum up:
  • Don't keep it to yourself. Check in with other self-employed folks.
  • Ask clients if their budgets have been affected and adjust your marketing plan to accomodate the new reality.
  • Create a mantra that reaffirms that if you keep querying, you'll get work.
  • Turn off the news.
  • Get a reality check based on your business, not the stock market.
How do you cope with rejections in the current economy?

Photo by reubenaingber.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Surviving Editor Silence

Editor silence. It's the silent scorn of the freelance world.

Or at least it can feel that way when you've spent hours on a query and it disappears into an editors inbox, never to be heard from again. Several freelancers I know do everything they can to avoid querying in order to protect themselves from the paralyzing silence they get in return.

That can be fine--it can force them to develop marketing efforts that involve long-term relationships with clients without having to query, for instance--but it can also be the death knell of a thriving freelance career.

I've said before that I don't really understand what makes a query sell--or what makes an editor respond. I tend to think that the planets have to be properly aligned, the editor must have just the right amount of caffeine in her system and the query must land in her in-box on the day after production has neded.

You can't time their system. You have to create one of your own.

So how to cope with the silence? Here are tips that work for me and other freelancers:

Send a blast.

Some freelancers swear by simultaneous submission. Send the query to five or more different editors at once and you increase your odds of selling the piece, or at least getting a response.

To do this, research the publications you think would be a good match for the idea and find the right editors' email addresses. Make sure not just to copy and paste the idea into five separate email windows and press send. Each should be tailored to just the right tone and audience for the publication at hand. One query may become a service piece. Another a feature. The point is to increase your chance of a response and to make the sale.

Have one in the hopper.

Some publications forbid simultaneous submissions--and it's never a good idea to send queries to competing publications at the same time. If that's the case, I tend to have the next publication picked out and ready to go when I send the first query. That means the query is ready to go, in the Drafts file in my email program. That way, if the answer is no, or if I hear nothing, I get it out again right away.

I feel good, because I know the idea is out there, trying to rustle up some work.

Move on to the next great idea.

Constantly refreshing your email program is the business equivalent of waiting by the phone for that dreamboat to call. So distract yourself with something else that might even be dreamier (comments about my approach to dating should be sent to private email...) Sure, we all get attached to ideas we think are great. But it's harder to pine for one editor's answer when you've got 10 or 20 queries floating out there in some stage of development.

Take action:
  • Generate an idea.
  • Research a market.
  • Contact/interview sources.
  • Draft the query.
  • Send it.
  • Follow up on it.
  • Reslant and resend it.
If you're busy enough doing that, you won't have time to wonder why That One Query doesn't call or write, and why the editor doesn't either. Get cracking on something you CAN control.

Follow up.

Querying isn't just hitting send. It's following up and up and up. If you haven't heard back for a while, send a follow up asking if they're interested or not. It's simple enough.

If all else fails, accept the silence.

Some editors just won't ever respond. They're swamped, they're disorganized, they're non communicative. And your query may be off base. But until they develop a telepathy app at the iTunes store, you'll never know.

Take the silence as a no and move on. Remember that it has nothing to do with you. You may have fallen in love with the idea and become attached to it, and that's great. It's a sign of how much you love your work.

But silence isn't a repudiation of your idea. It's nothing. Literally.

Photo by dcfdelacruz.

What do you do to cope with editor silence?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Streamlining the query interview

You've shaken off your nerves. You're ready to do an interview or two for that great query you're putting together.

Here's how I make the process quick and painless.

Ask current sources what they're working on next.

My best story ideas often come in the middle of interviews for something else entirely. If a source says something interesting that's off topic, don't treat it as a distraction. If you think there may be a story there, ask more.

There are two other great questions to ask at the end of interviews: "So what are you working on next?"

Or, "What's the one thing no one is writing about that needs to be covered?"

This may elicit a lengthy response, but it's important. That way your interviews do double duty, and you build on the expertise you're already developing.

Don't promise anything.

When I contact expert and "real person" sources for queries, I make clear that I don't have an assignment yet. I tell them where I plan to pitch it--"story proposal" is the preferred language--and how the process works. Something as simple as, "I'll be pitching it to X magazine, and if I get the assignment, I'll contact you for a more lengthy interview."

This is key because to have serenity, you can't manipulate people into working with you. You may be able to justify it away fine, but your subconscious will remind you at inopportune moments that you aren't working in integrity.

Plus, misleading sources adds extra pressure to your marketing efforts: You'll tell yourself, "This source is depending on me!" You may feel that anyway, but at least if you're honest, you can talk yourself out of that particular rabbit hole.

Do yourself and your sources a favor: Give them the dignity of making a decision with all the facts.

And let's face it: Querying doesn't need to be any harder than it already is.

Keep it short.

While I try to talk on the phone to most experts--because it's almost a guarantee that I'll need to ask follow up questions to be sure I understand the technical side of things--I work to keep that initial interview to 5-10 minutes. After all, you can't guarantee a story, and you don't want to waste your time or his.

Let the source know from the outset that you'll take 10 minutes, and explain that it's to respect both his time and yours. When 10 minutes come, don't ignore it. Alert your source and see if there's anything else he needs to say.

If he's continuing to go on and on, tell him you have another interview scheduled and make a graceful exit.

Do it by email.

Experts usually get a phone call, but for real people, I can often get what I need via email. I did this the other day: I sent a call for "real people" sources to fellow freelancers and trusted friends. When I got a few back, I emailed the people and listed 10 questions.

Usually I try to keep it shorter--closer to five questions. But in this case, I needed to approach the issue from several angles to see what would stick. I got back an email later that afternoon, and now I'm writing up the pitch.

I spent 10 minutes total on the process and I have a source with which to lede a longer query.

What time-saving techniques keep you pitching?

Photo by magnusfranklin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Fear of the query interview

The one gripe I hear from every new freelancer is that they aren't paid for the time they spend writing and sending queries.

They resist contacting people to quote in their queries, fearing three things:
  • That the source will laugh at them/hang up on them/deride them for asking for their time without a guarantee of being in print.
  • That no one will talk to them without a big name--or any name--publication attached.
  • That they should be spending time on income-generating work instead.
And then there's always that resentment: Why should I, if there's no guaranteed return on investment?

To which I say: Welcome to self-employment, my friends.

This is what's call the cost of doing business. It's a hard--or maybe not so hard, depending on your mindset--reality that up to 40 percent of any self-employed person's time is taken up by marketing and networking. For me, that number hovers between a quarter and 30 percent.

It's also true, for me at least, that only about 15 percent of my queries sell. Does that mean I'm bad at it?

No. It means I'm constantly reaching out to new markets and figuring out, through the trial and error of querying, what that magazine is looking for. I think of it as educational time.

I also don't resent it. I look at is as an opportunity to write about things that matter to me. If you're only taking assignments and not querying, you're probably writing some number of stories that aren't all that interesting to you. You do them because it's your job, not for passion's sake. That's a path, eventually, to burnout.

So I say, why would you pass up the chance to write about something you're passionate about? I don't.

And so I query.

But how to get over those top-three fears? Here's how I address them for myself and my clients.

Fear #1: The source is gonna laugh at me/hang up on me/deride me for asking for time without a guarantee of a quote.

First of all, there's never a guarantee of a quote, even when you have an assignment. If you regularly promise sources that they'll be in your stories, you're setting yourself up for a lot of chaos and drama that will steal your serenity.

But here's the hopeful part: I can't recall the last time a source refused to talk to me for a story proposal. Most people want to be listened to, especially if it's about something that matters to them. Those are the people you want to interview anyway.

Most experts are in the business of raising their profile by talking to the media, so they don't bat an eyelash at the chance that their words won't be quoted.

Trust in your sources' passion and interest in publicity, and you'll be fine.

Fear #2: No one will talk to me without a publication attached to my name.

This was particularly difficult for me as I started freelancing after nearly a decade in newspapers. After all, I had been working under the assumption that my paper's name opened doors for me. People responded quickly. I thought the paper gave me power.

It turns out, like Dorothy, that I had the power all along.

The reality I found was that I was the brand now. My years of experience as a reporter made me a credible interviewer. The publications I had under my belt gave me some credibility.
Even if you don't have that, build on what you do have: Do you have years in the corporate world? Do you have an expertise based on your previous job? Do you know a lot about the particular topic due to years of private study? It all counts.

Fear #3: I should be spending time on income generating work.

You are. The fact is, you won't have work if you don't query, unless all your work is with one or two clients who feed you assignments without having to query. But in this economy, even that isn't a great idea.

What works best for me is to have a set number of hours I seek to spend on marketing a week. For me, it's five hours. I give myself that time, and permission to use it to tool around publications' Web sites, visit bookstores, seek sources, craft the queries, follow up and reslant and repitch.

In another post, I'll share ways I make it easier to interview sources for queries.

What helps you overcome the fear of the query interview?

Photo by Mia Takahara.

Monday, January 26, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Creating a marketing plan that works

You know I'm a big fan of business plans. And I have my own methods of marketing. But I'm also completely in favor of getting more information.

In that vein, I wanted to alert you to an upcoming free marketing tele-seminar being put on by Karyn Greenstreet, a self-declared self-employment expert and blogger at one of my new favorite blogs, The Self-Employment Blog.

The details:
90-Minute Marketing Plans That Get Results
1p.m.-2 p.m. EST
Feb. 5, 2009
To register:

Maybe we'll both learn something from it and check back in here after.

Photo by James Sarmiento.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Week 2 Results

We're at the end of the week. How did you do?

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, January 24, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: The perils of self-promotion, part 2

Being creative is one thing. Promoting your creativity is quite another. Yesterday, I took a stab at confronting the fear many of us have that marketing is impolite and pushy. Today, guest blogger Kristen Fischer, author of Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs, takes a different tack to Roz Spafford's dilemma.

I understand that so many creative people feel timid or rude for promoting themselves. But let me tell you the truth: If you want to be in business and make your creative talents profitable, marketing is a must. Some creatives I know are just creating to create, so marketing isn’t necessary. But in this case—trying to sell a book—marketing is vital.

I know because I’ve done it. I’ve published two books, Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Ups and Downs and Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life. The first book was self-published, so I had to do all the PR. Luckily for me, I have a background in journalism, so I at least knew how to craft press releases. The hard part was getting out there, and getting in people’s faces about it.

While that can make you feel presumptuous, it’s important to let go of that perception.

Most of the people you’ll do business with understand that promoting yourself is essential. And if you do it in a polite, non-pressuring way, they’ll want to hear what you have to say.

For my second book, I secured a small publisher. They’ve helped me get access to more valuable connections, but the legwork is all on me. This time, I had to talk to some pretty large news outlets to promote the book. They didn’t think I was rude or arrogant—they wanted to hear what I had to say. When you do PR, especially, it’s important to remember that these people are looking for fresh content. They want an insider interview. Offering one doesn’t make you rude. But you do have to seek out interviews if you want to build a strong platform for yourself and profit from your creative abilities.

The days of being “discovered” are rare and in many cases long gone. We live in a huge world and many people are leveraging things like the Internet, newspapers and magazines to get noticed. So if you want to be in business as a creative, you’ve got to join in. For many that means creating a website and partaking in activities to boost your image and credibility in the field. Again, people don’t do this to stroke their egos in most cases—it’s just necessary to stay visible in a crowded marketplace.

My full-time job as a freelance copywriter means that in order to get projects, I have to let people know why they need me. I’ve never had anyone comment that I was annoying or arrogant; instead much of my unsolicited contact has resulted in more work and strong business relationships.

I am always amazed at how many people marvel at what I do and expect to get the same results without investing in things like a website or business cards. These people don’t take time to network and can’t fathom writing a press release about their latest project. Then they ask me why they’re not doing so well…and in some cases expect me to share my secrets of success. There’s no big secret with me: I’m in business using my creative talents and I treat what I do as a business first and foremost. Otherwise, it’s back to cubicleville for me.

So I’ll say it again: Marketing yourself is necessary if you want to stay in business doing what you love. Find your own way to do it that makes you assertive yet approachable and you’ll see your creative career take off.

Photo by Abulic Monkey

Friday, January 23, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: The perils of self-promotion, part 1

I started this week talking about why you should care about how much your work fetches. But an even more fundamental question comes from writer Roz Spafford:
The hardest thing for me as a writer is the feeling that marketing oneself is rude and presumptuous. I have a new book out (Requiem, poems) but it seems intrusive and self-aggrandizing to be announcing it--even in this post! Though I am always interested in hearing from other writers about what they are doing and publishing, for myself I keep imagining that there are more polite options (perhaps in some dream-past) in which one is "discovered" rather than "marketed!"
Tomorrow, Kristen Fischer, author of Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs, will share how to psych yourself up to market despite the feeling that it's rude to do so, but today I wanted to consider this from a more psychological perspective.

Because I've been there.

Isn't it rude to keep bugging editors about your ideas? Isn't it something that only shills and hucksters do? And don't we serious journalists hate it when flacks try to sell us some story we aren't interested in?

Look at those words: Rude. Bugging. Shills. And, most important, "stories we aren't interested in."

Now look at the work you're doing. Do those words fit? Is your work boring? If it is, I can see your resistance. But I'm willing to bet it's not. I'm willing to bet, instead that you're using marketing to beat yourself up. You--and your work--deserve far better.*

Now for the marketing tip: If you can't get over the idea that marketing is impolite, consider thinking of it as helping your client. You don't know: That editor could have been sitting there waiting for a great story. And there's yours. Thank god you showed up when you did! This gets back to my idea that all of us should be of service to our clients as our primary aim.

Robert Middleton of the More Clients Blog is of the same mindset--but he knows many business owners aren't. Recently he asked business owners what they thought of when they heard the terms "sales" and "selling." Guess what? Almost all of them thought of used cars.

"We see selling as a necessary evil," he explained, "
something to be avoided at all costs, an undertaking that's rather unsavory, maybe even unethical, and certainly beneath the dignity of a professional service business owner."

Sound familiar? If we think that way, being "discovered" sounds a lot more appealing. But there is another option. In Middleton's wonderful post from last year, he offers an alternative. He calls it Selfless Selling:

Selfless Selling includes these attributes: The focus is primarily on serving the customer; the attitude is one of generosity; the agenda is to educate and inform, and the perspective is that of "win-win."

Selfless selling, he says, requires a new mindset. Here's how he advises you get it:

To discover the spirit of Selfless Selling inside you, here are some questions to ask yourself in any selling situation:

• How can I be of service?
• What do I need to know to help this person?
• What is their current situation and what is their biggest challenge?
• What information would be most valuable to provide?
• What stories would be most useful to share?
• How can I be clearer and demonstrate the value and the benefits?
• How can I make the choice easier?

We can find out the answers to some of those questions by reading the magazine and looking for what kinds of things they like to cover and the way in which they present their information. We can present our queries in the style in which the publication is written. And we can ask editors we meet about their biggest challenges and what's most valuable to them. Heck, some editors will offer that information in a very kind rejection letter.

What do you do when you start feeling like marketing is invasive?

* A momentary aside, because it's my blog and I can: It seems to me that women are probably more likely to fall into this "it's rude to market" trap. After all, good girls don't speak up, don't talk back and don't make a pain of themselves. Even dyed in the wool feminists like myself sometimes shrink from attention and what I perceive to be pushy, obnoxious behavior. Here's a reality check: It's not rude or pushy. It's business. This is why men earn more than we do. They ask for more. Men also negotiate better contract terms and put up with less inappropriate behavior from editors than women. I say it's time to get over it and ask for what we're worth.

Photo by gbSk.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Little and often

That title is taken from a recent blog post of the same name by Janine Adams at Peace of Mind Organizing. I loved it because it fits in so well with my approach to marketing my business.

Here's what she says:

A little phrase that’s been going through my head a lot lately is “little and often,” something Mark Forster writes about in his books and something that’s really come to the forefront of my mind as I work with his Autofocus task-management system. Little and often simply means working on a project a little bit at a time, frequently (or at least regularly).

I think some of us—including me, particularly in the past—feel like we have to have a large chunk of time available to work on a large project before we can get started. Trouble is, that large chunk of time rarely becomes available. But if we apply the principle of little and often, we can chip away at the project bit by bit and get it done.

It can also be applied to routine tasks. If you wash what few dirty dishes you have every single day, you’re applying the principle of little and often. And you never have a big pile of dirty dishes to contend with. If you let them pile up until you have a whole sink (or dishwasher) full, it feels likes more work. And it’s more stressful to look at all those dirty dishes.

She's talking about organizing, but it applies to marketing, too. In fact, it applies to all of time management. One of the primary obstacles I hear from self-employed folks is that they don't have the time to market. I often wonder how much time they think they need, or how much they've found they need in practical experience.

My approach to marketing is to take it in 10 minute or 30 minute chunks. In 10-30 minutes I can do one or two of the following:
  • Start to draft a query.
  • Seek the name or email of a potential client.
  • Research one or two markets.
  • Update my standard letter of introduction and send it out.
  • Contact a source to use as an anecdotal lede in the query.
  • Follow up on a query I send two weeks ago.
  • Ask fellow freelancers via email to suggest a good market for a potential story.
  • Polish up a query and send it.
  • Reslant and resend a previous query.
  • Ask an editor to lunch.
Most days, "query" is a task on my to-do list, but since I don't feel like I have to complete a query from inception to submission at one time, I can make a tiny bit of progress on each one. That's how I make time for marketing.

In a way, it's like writing a business plan in Tim Berry's model:
You don't have to stop time and suspend life and business while you do the whole thing from start to finish. On the contrary, start anywhere, get going. Pick a module to do first, whether it's target market conceptually or specific sales forecast or whatever, and do that, start using that, and go on with your business. Then do another, then another. A good business plan is never done. It's also useful from module one on day one.
Apply this to your marketing efforts, do a little often, and it will become not just a working part of your business, but an easy part of your business.

What time management techniques help you fit marketing into your day?

Photo courtesy of fdecomite.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Contract bottom lines

Yesterday I shared my bottom line for the number of queries I send a week. Today, I'll talk about why I have bottom lines for how much I earn and contract terms.

In my first year freelancing, I regularly took assignments that paid 10 cents a word, on publication--and I was happy to get it. I was thrilled to see my name in a magazine I'd read for years, even though I often found myself in the odd position of occasionally receiving a check for $50 and wondering what it was for. It might even buy a dinner out--but it didn't pay my bills and it left me having to churn out tons of work--and tons of queries to make ends meet.

So it shouldn't be surprised that my other marketing bottom line goes like this: Those three queries go to markets paying $1/word or more on acceptance. Period.

If I'm only going to send three queries a week, I need to make them count. Spending them on a publication that isn't going to meet my financial needs is a waste of time. I'm pretty adamant about this because I remember clearly what it was like to work nights and weekends and still barely be able to afford my rent. I don't want to go back there--and I don't want you to suffer the same fate.

Does that mean I never query lower-paying markets? Of course not. But I don't count those queries toward my weekly total. The practical reality of it, then, becomes that I accept assignments that pay less than $1/word, but I don't spend my precious marketing minutes trying to get that work. And I don't accept pay on publication work. Ever.

Limiting my querying to what I consider higher-paying markets
makes my marketing life so much more serene. Suddenly, my marketing decisions aren't personal. They're professional. Just like me.

And limiting my querying to pay-on-acceptance brings me one step closer to having a guaranteed income--as guaranteed as it can be in this economy. Pay on publication is essentially an interest-free loan to your client, with no guarantee of payment. Especially in this economic climate, publications can go out of business between the time your work is accepted and the time your story is slated to run. If that happens, you're out money and a clip. I don't know about you but I'm not rich enough to provide a mini-bailout to my clients in the form of contract terms.

The payoff of this system is I don't feel like the victim of my marketing anymore. I mean, really: If you have to query, do you want to make it any harder on yourself than you have to? I don't. Bottom lines make sure it isn't.

Bottom lines eliminate from my work life the kind of unnecessary drama that comes with financial panic. I have more energy and attention to spend on my work, I'm more able to show up for my clients and have time to do the last-minute edits that are an inevitable part of this business.

I can spend my days full of gratitude for my work instead of resentment.

Just like in yesterday's post, your terms may vary. You might not get out of bed for less than $2 a word (and if that's the case, I want to buy you coffee and pick your brain). Or, you might feel that 50 cents a word is a fine fee. Whatever it is, the key is to know it and live by it.

How good are you at sticking to your marketing bottom lines? What stands in your way?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Establishing a marketing bottom line

When I did my first business plan, I thought I'd have to do maybe 10 or 20 queries a week to get the kind of work and income I needed.

Today my plan is quite different, and it's landed me a lot of high-quality and high-paying work. The key has been to have bottom lines and stick to them.

Here's the simple fact about bottom lines: Without them, you'll spread your querying around so haphazardly and so broadly that you'll feel panicked and confused about why your work isn't fulfilling your professional and financial needs. But once you establish your marketing boundaries, you're free to focus on what you want to query and where to send it.

I focus my bottom lines on three terms:
  • How many queries to send a week.
  • How much the client pays.
  • How the client pays (ie, on acceptance or on publication).

If you have a business plan, you know the answer to those questions. If you don't, it might be worthwhile to sit down and answer those questions quickly--because they will guide your bottom line marketing behavior.

Today, I'll tackle the first and tomorrow I'll elaborate on the second.

Question #1. How many I send weekly: Three queries, minimum.

There are several ways to arrive at this number. Erik Sherman has a whole matrix for helping you figure out how many queries you need to send in a week to get enough work. When I started out, I didn't have a clue how many queries I'd have to send before I made a sale, so just to be safe, I assumed I'd need to send 15 a week. That was my goal.

I quickly failed. And failed. And failed.

Now I have a better idea of the number I need to send before I make a sale. But for me, there's a difference between what I know I should do and what I'm capable of doing. To me, three queries a week seemed doable, it didn't overwhelm me and it seemed like it might be enough to make a difference.

If querying is particularly painful for you, the number may be one a month. If you're particularly prolific, you may think nothing of sending 10 or 20 queries a week. The point is to choose a number and stick with it for at least a month.

Check in with yourself: Does that number work for you or are you spending more time resisting working on your queries than sending them? Are you berating yourself for not meeting your goal instead of sending the next query?

Adjust your number according to your answers.

What's your weekly query minimum?

Monday, January 19, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Should you care about money?

You're a writer. You love words. You might walk around saying "kumquat" because you like the way it pops from your mouth. Or you might look for a way to use "shacking up" in a sentence because it's such a fun and evocative phrase.

But then you think about marketing. The words dry up. The sentences, chalky and anemic, sputter from your fingertips.

Ugh. You hate thinking about money. You hate asking for it worst of all.

Sisters and brothers, I feel your pain. For real.

I spent almost 10 years at newspapers, where I thought advertising, to put a spin on the phrase, was the enemy of the good. Sponsors pulled ads because of articles I wrote. I saw it as a badge of honor. My colleagues and I bragged about it, whispering conspiratorially between assignments.

And now I'm running a challenge to encourage you to market your work and your ideas? What gives?

It wasn't an easy transition for me, from idealistic journalist to freewheeling query queen. But it's amazing how quickly you can grow to love marketing when you have no savings, no prospects and the rent is due. And then I discovered something surprising: Marketing offered its own creative pleasures.

For instance: How to write short. How to grab a reader. How to, simply, get attention.

These are all things I've always loved about writing. I'm a big fan of the cartridge lede. And I might just cop to the fact that I am, as my j-school professor once said about the whole of the journalist race, a "shy egomaniac."

And admit it: There are some stories that get you so jazzed, so giddy, that you can't wait to tell your friends, your editors, and--dare I say it--your clients. That's all a query is.

It's bragging about your great story ideas for fun and profit.

The profit part is no small incentive. I have come to think of it this way:

There's one story idea I've had for two years now. Two years! It's brilliant. I love it. It's compelling and heart-rending and inspiring, and I can't wait to write it. I could probably write it tomorrow for a very small publication that pays 10 cents a word on publication.

I could even write it for free.

But what I want for this story, this creative baby of mine, is a wide audience. I want it to make a difference in as many people's lives as possible. It's not going to do that for 10 cents a word on publication. There's a reason that the big-name publications pay $3 and $4 a word. They have a broad reach and clout. They matter.

So does this story. I want the best for it. It deserves to shine in a bright light. It gets there through me pitching it to a place that's going to pay me well, also.

Here's another fact: The places that pay well? They also tend to have good editors. They care about your copy. They want it to be just as good as you do. You can learn something from them.

The higher-paying clients--that's where the action's at.

That's not to say there aren't some phenomenal editors at smaller publications. And that's not to say that some lower-paying publications don't have a wide reach, especially for niche markets. Aside from all the hard-headed business reasons in the world to market your work, the reason you should care about money is because it's good for your work and your craft.

Money, it turns out, isn't the enemy of the creative after all. Money in freelance writing is a barometer of how much some publications value writing and journalism, and a measure of their capacity to back it up. That's where I want my work and my career to go.

What about you? Does the thought of trying to sell your work mortify you? How do you deal with that?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Week 1 Marketing Results

It's a short week, since the challenge just started, but I want to know:

How many marketing efforts did you make this week? What did you do to market your business and increase your income?

What was your biggest hurdle and how did you clear it?

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: What yogic philosophy tells us about marketing

You'd think yoga says nothing about marketing. But look closer: Any time any philosophy talks about nongrasping, detachment, etc, it's talking about marketing. It's talking, specifically, how we can take the body-blow of rejection and keep sending out those queries. Here's a rerun of a previous post on the topic, to start this challenge.

If you're running any kind of successful business at all, you're getting rejections. Because you're trying.

Still, sometimes nothing is harder to stomach than that most recent 'not at this time,' or simple silence. The obvious question--Why didn't they like it?--can quickly spin into How will I be able to pay my bills next month? (Because despite my general financial abundance, in my mind I'm always one check away from a spot in a homeless shelter.) Or it can easily become, This client has clearly seen into my soul and knows it's tarnished. (Because all creative people harbor some fear that we are can't hack it.)

Recently I got a one-two punch of rejections: one of a query and one with constructive criticism of a recent assignment. Both came from clients I love and with whom I have a steady, friendly relationship. Still, those emails bruised.

After my night of self-pity in front of some god-awful reality show, I knew that letting myself stay in that place will debilitate me.

So how to cope?

Well, one way is to consider the yogic concept of aparigraha--that is, nongrasping. In a past issue of Yoga Journal, Sally Kempton retells Ram Das's great story about this concept:

[Das] was telling a famous anecdote about the way you catch a monkey in India. You drop a handful of nuts into a jar with a small opening, he explained. The monkey puts his hand into the jar, grabs the nuts, and then finds that he can't get his fist out through the opening. If the monkey would just let go of the nuts, he could escape. But he won't.

Attachment leads to suffering, Ram Dass concluded. It's as simple as that: Detachment leads to freedom.

The logical conclusion would be to separate the facts in those emails from those other bigger fears:

My financial serenity doesn't actually depend on that one assignment. That's what my business plan is for.

And one email from a client with constructive criticism of one story doesn't mean I can't hack this job. Those bigger fears, about financial security, talent and self-confidence are always there because they belong to me. They'll grasp onto any transient event to make themselves known to me--and to make me suffer.

My job is to pry their grubby little fingers off my worry-sick heart.

Simple clarity gets me half-way there, if I can let it in. The pry bar I use to separate fact from fear is meditation, which calms the mind, and deep breathing exercises that soothe the nervous system. My favorite goes this way:
  • Sit upright in a chair, bed, etc., and breath in deeply through your nose. Fill your chest with air.
  • At the top of the inhale, pause for three seconds.
  • Exhale deeply through your mouth. Try to make your exhale longer than your inhale.
  • At the bottom of the exhale, pause for three seconds.
  • Repeat.
Then I write about those fears. I talk to other business owners about it and remind myself that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

The next thing, always, is to take action.

I can't use this rejection, real or imagined, to opt out of my business plan, which calls for three queries a week. So I send my third for the week and let the rest go.

Now that we've detached from the crazy associations between innocuous rejections and the big monkeys of fear and self-doubt, I think it's time to tackle that first question again:

Why didn't they like it?

For my own sanity and serenity, I need to make an honest appraisal of why my marketing effort didn't fly. Has the publication done something similar recently? Is it not timely enough? Does it need to be tweaked or finessed somehow?

Mostly, the reasons queries sell are mysterious to me. I often think that the sun has to be aligned with the stars just so, and the light has to be hitting the editor at just the right time, after just the right amount of coffee, for a query to sell. So, who knows? Really, unless the editor tells you, it's best not to assume it's you.

The key here is to ask yourself a different question: What can I learn from this situation?

And then move on.

And enjoy your holiday.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Terms of Engagement

Let's just assume that marketing is about both selling the stories you'd love to cover and maximizing your income.

To those ends, we'll be covering ways to make passive income and also ways to make marketing a regular part of your workweek. Some of this, I'll be learning along with you. In other posts, I'll be sharing what's worked to increase my income by 24 percent in 2008.

And finally, an offer: Let's do a literal marketing challenge. Here's my proposal:

Every Sunday, I'll create a post asking you to comment with the number of marketing efforts you made, including:
  • Letters of Introduction
  • Queries
  • Pings or Soft Touches
  • Follow ups
  • Meetings where you pitched an editor in person.
  • Phone pitches
  • Launching a Web site
Keep track, because if you're the winner, I'll ask you to send a list of who you queried, etc., for a modicum of fact-checking. At the end of the 30 days, the person who reported the highest number of marketing efforts will win a one-hour consultation with me. You see, this year, I'm formalizing what I've been doing casually for a few years: Freelance business consulting. I'll share my organizational, marketing, business plan, serenity and other expertise, and if I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does.


So what are you marketing today?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Serenity Tool for the Recession: Breathe

If you listen to news reports, you know the gloomy--even terrifying--financial predictions for the year. Well, I'm a pragmatist, and if I want to keep my mind clear and focused on work--and motivated to market--I need tools. My tools, it just so happens, are of the yogic variety. This is an occasional series of tips and tools for maintaining calm and serenity despite the economic forecast. Have a tip of your own? Comment below.

I don't know about you, but when I read about the number of publications going under or taking all their work in house, I catch my breathe unintentionally. I don't think I'm alone on this. Indeed, the Freelance Nation may be one populated by shallow breathers. But now's the time to exhale, says writer and consultant Ally Peltier:
My uncle, who stood on his head and meditated every morning my entire childhood (he died when I was in college), often just looked at me in the midst of a rushed stream of words and said, "Breathe." It's simple, but effective. While it's important to be savvy and work hard, you reach a certain point where you've done everything you can do, and the rest (like the downturning economy) is out of your control. Worrying is futile and destructive to your health. So, when I feel anxious about what's going to happen, I just remember: "Breathe."
This is another one of those pieces of advice that can come off as trite or a platitude. But in the yogic world, it isn't code for "quit complaining" or "chill out, man." It's a direction to engage in a real practice, just like Sun Salutations or, in the business world, following your business plan.

Yogic breathe work is called pranyama, the fourth of yoga's eight limbs that also include asana (what we Westerners think of as "yoga" but is actually the physical postures). A March 2008 study confirms what yogis have known for centuries: Practicing it can increase oxygen in the blood, calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and improve cardiac response.

It's good for you, and it feels good.

The type of breathing that one yogi recommended to me for today's economic troubles is Nadi Shodhan (Alternate Nostril Breath). I like to practice this especially when I'm in a sauna or steam room, because if feel like it really clears out my sinuses while calming me. But you can do it at any time and it takes two minutes:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Organizing Redux: Clutter Class

You may recall during last year's 30-Day Organizing Challenge that life coach and author Alison Marks shared her means of corralling paper clutter. Creating a system, she said, was the way to keep your paper in check.

If that whet your appetite for clutter management, consider this: She's offering a telephone course called From Clutter to Order in Eight Weeks, which is also the name of the workbook and CD she's created on the subject. In the class, she'll offer homework assignments, clear steps to address your overwhelm and a means to freedom from all your stuff. Plus, she'll be available for individual consultation between lessons.

And for readers of Serenity for the Self-Employed, she's throwing in a bonus: Say you found out about her class through this blog, and she'll take 10 percent off the cost. That means $30 off the standard price of $295 and $50 off the premium price of $495.

Here's the PayPal link to get the discount on the Standard class:

Here's the PayPal link to get the discount on the Premium class:

Full disclosure: I receive no payment for this posting. I think it might be helpful to readers. Happy organizing!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Marketing Challenge It Is: Send me your marketing dilemmas

By an overwhelming margin, you voted for a 30-Day Marketing Challenge, and that's what we'll have, beginning next week. But first, I'd love to hear your challenges, so I can address them in the challenge:
  • What's your biggest marketing obstacle?
  • What keeps you from querying?
  • What keeps you from networking?
  • If you could talk to any expert about your marketing plan, what would you ask them?
Comment below, or email me directly at heather (at) heatherboerner (dot) com.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Serenity Tools for the Recession: Metta to the rescue

If you listen to news reports, you know the gloomy--even terrifying--financial predictions for the year: It'll get worse before it gets better; the economy won't rebound till 2010 at the earliest; blah blah blah. It's enough to make a self-employed individual hide under her low-overhead desk. But I'm a pragmatist, and if I want to keep my mind clear and focused on work--and motivated to market--I need tools. My tools, it just so happen, are of the yogic variety. This is an occasional series of tips and tools for maintaining calm and serenity despite economic forecasts. Have a tip of your own? Comment below.

Here's a sign of the economic times: You're waiting for a check. You got a particularly heinous set of edits. Or, you're trying to cram 2000 words into an 800-wordcount story. How do those feel in your body? I don't know about you, but I harden myself. I steel myself for confrontation.

That's why Metta practice is so important.

Metta is a form of guided meditation designed specifically to soften your heart.

Now, for you more practical types, this may sound too namby-pamby for you. But I challenge you: Visit Lisa Dale Miller's Web site and download her 20-minute Metta meditations for beginners.

There are lots of places you can learn loving-kindness meditation, but I found these in iTunes' podcast search, and I like them because they're free, easy to follow, and her voice is relaxing and melodic. Plus, she encourages you to pile up a bunch of pillows on your bed and relax during meditation.

There are two Metta meditations Miller offers:
  • One that opens your heart to someone you love unconditionally, as well as to yourself.
  • One that opens your heart to someone about whom you have neutral feelings, as well as someone with whom you may have conflicts.
Can you see where I'm going with this?

It's not that that publisher who hasn't paid you doesn't deserve your ire--but you deserve freedom from rage and the blocked energy that comes with it. With a soft heart, you may find yourself more flexible, more able to focus on what you can control and, by extension, more serene.

Who knows: Your marketing to increase, your ease around contacting your editor, her publisher or an attorney to get easier. That's what you have control over, and that's what serenity is all about.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reminder: Choose the next 30-Day Challenge

I'm on vacation this week, so posts will be a little more spotty than usual. But don't fear, I'll bring you a few tips on how to maintain serenity in a recession.

In the meantime, I want to remind you that the next 30-Day Challenge will start on the 15th.

What is it? That's up to you.

Comment on this post to have your say on what the next challenge will be.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Starting the New Year Off Softly

By now, you've probably made New Year's Resolutions if you were going to. But if you haven't and you're a little behind (Resolution: Better time management!), I'd like to make a modest suggestion:

Don't do it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a planner. You know that.

But a New Year's Resolution is like the worse parts of business planning: It's wanting to write for the New Yorker but not querying them. It's wanting to exercise but not putting on your running shoes. As you can tell, I disdain them.

But it's not for lack of trying them. Like my fellow freelancer Jenny Cromie, I've had the experience of making a lot of resolutions whose only purpose seems to be to give me something to feel bad about. It's like the term "me-time." Don't you just want to throw your running shoe and your New Yorker at the screen when I write that? A cloying phrase that belies the very real conflicts we all do have in our days that make me-time another bludgeon with which to pummel ourselves.

Instead of a resolution, consider adopting a guiding principle. Mine is gentleness.

Here's why: My business plan is ambitious. And I am, in general, a pretty ambitious person. But all that ambition can sometimes tip over into obsessive self-judgement--a state I like to call, simply, self-cruelty.

It doesn't help and it often hurts me by blinding me to what I've done well and keeping me so self-obsessed that I can't be of service to my clients. Nothing derails me and sucks the serenity out of the room like self-cruelty.

So for me, the guiding principle for 2009 is gentleness.

For you, it may be different: If you make plans you don't keep, it may be discipline. If you tend toward the negative side of the street, maybe it's optimism or kindness.

And then, when I start feeling uncomfortable with something I'm doing, I ask myself, "Is this gentle? If not, is there a gentler way to get the same result?"

That, I'd say, is a much better use of my prognostic abilities.

What's your guiding principle?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

2008 has been a busy and, for me, wonderful year. Part of that wonder comes from all the great opportunities afforded to me by this blog. I've gotten to know many of you through comments and emails and had the chance to share some of the solutions I've found to some pretty big business challenges.

So as the new year dawns, I want to share my gratitude with you.

Thank you for enriching 2008, giving me a forum on which to learn more about business and to keep my business obsession in check.

Thank you for the challenging comments and the congratulatory ones.

Thank you to all the guest bloggers for giving of their time and wisdom to create a small community of professionals who want sanity as well as success.

Thank you to all the experts who gave of their, well, expertise for Q&As.

And thanks for bearing with me when illness and grief took me away from the task at hand.

May 2009 be full of abundance and joy for all of us.

And one small housekeeping note: I'll be going away for a few days at the beginning of this month, and will be posting only sporatically. I'll be back with a new challenge on the 15th.