Serenity comes from focusing on what you can control and letting go that which you can't. Here's how to apply that to business.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Inspiration: Getting Your (Authors @)Google On
Bill Hayes, author of Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood, The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy, and others. The following is a 47-minute reading and discussion by the narrative nonfiction and science writer Hayes. Happy Sunday!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Where Professionalism, Frustration and Serenity Intersect
This week, freelancer LJ Williamson admitted to both fabricating outrageous stories for her client, Examiner.com, and to feeling self-righteous about it.
She emailed FishbowlLA:
[A]ll they care about is how many hits your page gets, and they don't care about the writing. Fine — I decided to try to do things their way.Examiner.com is an online content aggregator. I almost wrote "aggravator," and that would have been approriate, too. Sites like Examiner.com, Suite101.com and more hire freelancers, but only pay them according to the number of clicks their articles receive. I've written before about the danger these sites hold for freelancers, both in terms of their bottom lines and in terms of the quality of their work. And I'm not alone. Recently, freelancer Michelle Rafter, author of the WordCount blog, explained I don't work for aggregators, but I am a Web writer.
Unexpectedly, one post I wrote about the vaccine/autism debate really brought the crazies out of the woodwork, and brought my page views to a new record high. So I went with it, decided to start baiting the vaccine deniers more and more, with exaggerations and half-truths.
I also wrote a series of preposterous articles on topics like why peanuts should be banned, why panic was a totally appropriate response to the swine flu outbreak, and why schoolchildren were likely to die if they were allowed to play dangerous games such as tag.
And no one at Examiner noticed or cared what I said or did for quite some time.
But Williamson's example shows another danger of these sites: If you let your clients, some will encourage you to discard your ethics.
Well, let me back up: I get what Williamson is doing. She's calling content aggregators' bluffs. They say they give writers free reign to explore and that their business model rewards the best and most interesting writing. But as she showed, they don't. They reward--duh--sensationalism and bombast. She exposed such sites' lack of quality control, which is just as important as profitability if the client is really a site for journalism and not just a cynical ploy to exploit would-be writers and make a buck.
And I suppose someone had to do it. I fully expect her to come out with a first-person article crowing about how she pulled one over on Big Business.
But I care less about teaching clients lessons than professionalism. It mortifies me that anyone would flout her responsibility as a journalist just to make a point. That's gotcha journalism at its worst, and it's just as cynical as Examiner.com's business model.
Still, this is an important lesson for writers. When I was still at newspapers, a rising-star reporter was fired after a big expose revealed some reporting holes. But all of us reporters knew what was going on: The editor had been seething to get this story in the paper for years, encouraging most reporters to pursue it. We all passed because we knew it was a boondoggle--impossible to prove and seemingly a vindetta. But he found in this writer, who was young and ambitious, the one person willing to pursue it his way. When you're getting that kind of validation and encouragement from an editor who ought to know better, it can be hard to remember your ethics.
When the truth came out and the crap hit the fan, the editor predictably abandoned her. Then he fired her. The lesson here is that you can't rely on your editors to check your ethics. If you love your job and you value journalism, you have to learn to adhere to your values no matter what. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard than perhaps even your editors do. Or, and perhaps more pointedly, you have to seek out editor relationships where your editor cares as much about good work as you do. As I've said before, the editors who care about good work are also more likely to pay you well for it. Not always, but it's a not-so-surprising correlation.
And while Williamson seems to have many great publications under her belt, I'd think twice if I were an editor about hiring a reporter willing to burn her clients and make stuff up for some snarky, well, vindetta.
So was the point worth making? I'm sure it depends on who you ask. I wouldn't make that point, but I already don't like aggregators or pay-per-click arrangements, and I advice coaching clients to avoid them. Perhaps it will serve as a lesson to new or aspiring freelancers and writers--both to avoid such aggregators and to avoid such irresponsible behavior.
Photo by vsqz.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Serenity Tool: Embrace, Don't Idolize Big-Name Writers
Yesterday, I wrote about Dan Baum's impressive archive of queries, available for any of us mere mortals to review and dissect. But I wanted to add something:
Baum makes a number of comments I disagree with. (And I'm not the only one to have that response.)
For instance, he states that when he calls people for queries, he tells them he's writing the story for X Magazine (Wired, The New Yorker, etc.).
"I say I’m working on a story for Wired magazine and I am," he told Linda Formichelli at The Renegade Writer. "My relationship with Wired magazine at that point is none of their business."
He also says he doesn't reslant and repitch stories:
Well, you have to write a proposal for the sensibilities of a particular magazine, so when people tell me “I have an idea for a story,” my first question is “You have an idea for a story for what magazine?” Because you can’t say, “I have an idea for a story, and if I can’t sell it Playboy I’m going to sell it to Rolling Stone, and if I can’t sell it to Rolling Stone I’m going to sell it to Harper’s,” because it just doesn’t work that way.When Formichelli asked if that was specific to his particular realm of the freelance world, Baum conceded it might be.
"I want to keep saying this that this is just my experience," he added. "Family Circle and Woman’s Day might be similar enough. In the small number of magazines that I wrote for, you just couldn’t do it. I mean, if you were writing a proposal for Wired, there’s just nobody else you could sell it to. I tried, I’ve tried, I really have. I really have tried and it just never worked for me."
That's exactly it. I want to encourage all freelancers out there to embrace Baum but not idolize him. He's just one writer, and he and his wife live entirely off his earnings as a freelancer. (Best I can tell, Baum and his wife essentially co-write or at least co-report or co-research his work, but it's published under his name.) He, like you, is just trying to make a living.
This is one of the things I love about the freelance world. We're all just learning. We're all just finding what works for us and doing that over and over again to good effect. If we're in serenity, we're letting go of the stuff that doesn't work, which can be very hard. What Baum says is interesting, but it's not gospel.
For instance, I would never tell sources that I'm writing a story for a publication for which I didn't have an assignment. I tell them, instead, that I'm writing up a proposal for my editor at so-and-so magazine. It's important to me to be upfront with my sources in a way that makes me comfortable. Baum, obviously, is comfortable with how he does it. It's not my style.
Likewise, I try to reslant and repitch my work all the time. That's how most of us make a living as freelancers. Baum is right: A New Yorker story is nothing like a Wired story. But there's a difference between an idea and a story:
The story I pitch to Yoga Journal is nothing like a story I'd pitch to Reader's Digest. But the root idea might share a kernel. They're different pieces, though. And that has worked for me.
So my encouragement for the day: Find what works for you: Don't just emulate what works for someone else.
Photo by skye.gazer.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Writing the Dream Query for the Dream Job
Recently, the fabulous Renegade Writer Blog posted a q&a with former New Yorker writer Dan Baum, and he shares both an interesting approach to freelancing and a whole treasure-trove of detailed queries. Some of those landed assignments at The New Yorker.
I point this out because it's interesting to see the amount of detail and the work he's put into his queries. One query I read, which landed him an assignment writing about the "jake leg" for The New Yorker, was so compelling I couldn't stop reading. No surprise it landed the assignment. It taught me a couple things about long-form narrative non-fiction pitches:
- Write like you've got the assignment. Duh, right? But I know I've queried the New Yorker with far less narrative pitches, and I can see why his pitch sold and mine didn't. It's a case of show-don't-tell.
- Details, details. The pitch is like a short article--fully researched, sourced and well-crafted.
- Open access. All good queries should do tell the editor about access, but his do a good job of showing the editor that he's thought out how much background he'll need and where he'll need to go to get it. It makes the job easier on the editor and builds trust.
If you're a freelancer interested in long-form narrative, check out his archive and try an exercise:
[To make it,] I think it takes relentlessness. When I’m starting to work on a story, I’ll start reading about something, and I’ll just follow every link, and as I’m doing it I’ll make a list in a Word document of the people that I need to find.
I start calling them immediately, and talking to them and taking notes on my computer. The expression I use with Margaret is “I had a red dog day today,” which means I had my nose down on the ground and I was going after everything today. Just hoovering in enormous amounts of information. And when I start a proposal, I try to have a series of red dog days where I am just relentless, going after everybody, and as soon as I encounter somebody’s name I pick up the phone and I call. When I finish the interview I say, Who else should I talk to? Then I call those people.
I don’t put it off — I don’t say these are people I’m going to call later — I do it right then. Man, there are times when in one day I can get enough information to write a proposal that will get me a $12,000 magazine assignment.
- Take one of the queries
- Take a story you've written that you thought had narrative potential
- Start playing with your notes and research and practice making a narrative query from those notes and that research.
See how it works. Is there more research you need to do? What's missing? Do you know how to find the missing piece, or do you need to talk to someone about it?
It's fun. Try it and tell me how it works, and I'll do the same.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
"Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other, a matter of time." Marabel Morgan
Photo by bobster855.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Happy Memorial Day: Thinking about Genius
If you haven't seen this great talk by writer Elizabeth Gilbert on genius and the challenge of showing up and doing your work every day--with or without your muse--you should.
Enjoy, and happy Memorial Day!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Pitching Pebbles and Choosing Persistence
Take a few minutes today to listen to this short podcast:
Choosing Persistence by Essential Communications.
If you feel anxious about rejection of your marketing efforts and if you ever find yourself psyching yourself out by how anxious you are about querying, this is for you. I especially love the following visualization, which is great for all of us and our, well, pitching:
I imagined standing at the edge of a big pond. At my feet was a pile of pebbles. My task was to pick up one pebble at a time at pitch it into the center of the pond. The goal was to throw enough pebbles to the exact same spot so they would pile up under water until one would finally break the surface. I never knew how deep the pond was or how big the pile was under the water. My job was just to keep pitching. Any pebble that broke the surface of the water was a job I landed.Photo by petervanallen.
In my imagination, every pebble had possibility of being the one. I never knew beforehand which would break surface, so I had to clear mind and bring all my technique to bear on whatever stone was at hand. I couldn't be distracted by the previous stones already throne or the ones still to come. And I couldn't worry about what would happen if it didn't break the surface of the water, and I couldn't get seduced into thinking about the rewards I'd get if it did break the surface. Every stone was its own event and I had to attend to each one with care.
I also had to believe that every stone made a difference. I had to believe that every stone really was piling up under water even though I couldn't see them. I had to trust that I was doing the right thing in the right way, even when I had no feedback to prove that was true. It was so easy to fall into doubt: doubt that the task was too difficult, that it was too tiresome, too hopeless, too unfair, too whatever. But my belief was a choice, and I had to keep choosing my positive belief over and over.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." - Pablo Picasso
Photo by Stephen Poff.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Persistence at the Wrong Thing
Recently there's been a lot of discussion on a freelancers' board I frequent about bidding sites such as elance and Suite101. A new freelancer asks whether they were worthwhile.
This got me thinking about persistence. As in: What if you apply all the tools in your toolkit, and follow all the suggestions on this blog--but to the wrong thing?
What if you persist and persist and persist at work you hate, or in job markets, like elance, that will never pay you enough to live on?
They always say, "Keep your eyes on the prize" when they (whoever they are) want us to keep focused and keep going despite obstacles.
The problem, it seems to me, comes when you identify your goals too narrowly. Sure, elance might keep you busy. But will it keep you solvent? Will it keep you contented in your work? If your goal is to be busy, then mazel tov--you've done it. But I'd like to suggest that your goal deserves to be bigger than that--and that you can learn how to be capable of such goals.
Any market or editor or freelance bidding site is the object onto which you unleash your persistence: You query them monthly for years, ever refining your queries until you find one that works. You show up every day and do the work, with faith that inevitably, if you keep querying you'll get more work.
But that's not the goal. That's a step in the process to reaching your goal. At least for me.
The goal, it seems to me, is to support yourself doing the kind of journalism you love. Or maybe it's to reach a specific level in your career. Whoever you're querying has to fit into that goal. The step is not the goal.
Changing the Prize
That's the problem, it seems to me, with places like elance and Suite101: They encourage you to confuse busy-work with accomplishing goals and working like a dog with supporting yourself as a freelancer. As I've said before, in order to achieve any level of serenity in your work life, your job has to be sustainable.
Hoping to be the lowest bidder on a job is insane if your goal is to support yourself as a freelancer. Spending time writing SEO articles is crazy if you really want to write for The New Yorker or The Atlantic.
So we can spend good persistence technique after bad goals if we confuse the method (I'll query this market or that) with the motive (I want to be a high-paid freelance writer who writes narrative nonfiction).
Keep Going, but Change the Road
The good news is that persistence is such a valuable skill that once you turn it in the right direction, you'll get much further, much faster. It helps in this case to have a business plan. That way you know what you want to earn, and how you'll get there.
The fact is that places like elance are sites for people who want to be a freelance writer but don't want to step outside their comfort level enough to start querying individual magazines with individual stories. There's something to be said for steady work, but not when it goes against your financial and professional goals.
It may sound like I'm coming from a place of privilege, but I'm not. What I'm doing is acting on faith:
I believe there's enough work out there for me to have steady client that pay well. I believe in my story ideas enough to keep working on them and sending them out. I believe that my goals are attainable.
And I believe that anything that's set up to have us bid against each other automatically puts us at a disadvantage. With the time you spend creating proposals and hoping (!) to be the lowest bidder, you could build a Web site, create a LinkedIn account, start sending letters of introduction and meeting editors face-to-face.
All of those will yield more work, longer term, than elance or Suite101. Those sites feed off insecurities, sure, but they also feed off that mistaken belief that marketing is a shameful activity that should be done with as quickly as possible. I hate that. Have more faith in your skills and your unique approach to your work. Get excited about what you do and share it with editors who might need a writer like you.
Photo by borman818.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Developing and Maintaining Marketing Momentum: Q&A with Rachel Weingarten
Today is Guest Post Day in the 2nd annual WordCount Blogathon, so give a big Serenity for the Self-Employed welcome to Rachel C. Weingarten, a New York City freelancer, president of Octagon Strategy Group and author of the fabulous Career and Corporate Cool (which is sitting on my bookshelf as I type).You can read her blog at RachelcW.com or follow her on Twitter @rachelcw. Rachel mentioned on Twitter that she was trudging through some long client proposals, and I asked her a few questions about how she created the persistence to keep at it. Here are her answers.
First, tell me your approach to querying: How often do you do it, and how do you schedule it/ensure that you get to it?
I wish that I could say that I was incredibly organized with my queries and pitches. I'm not- initially. To give you a really corny metaphor, I tend to see it as planting seeds (bearing in mind that as a NYC resident I'm more of an avid window sill gardener so my metaphor probably won't work for agricultural professionals): I sprinkle some carefully chosen seeds in my little patch of land, as they start to sprout and grow, I pay more attention to the fastest growers while continuing to nurture the other seedlings.
I then lavish my attention on the plants that seem to have the most promise and generally will ignore if not repurpose the ones with no growth at all. In other words, I care for my prospects consistently, but don't really worry or waste my time on the ones that seem to offer no promise. Instead, I will tweak or work much harder on the elements that can provide the greatest long term payoff. That said, and to take the gardening metaphor one step further (what can I say? it's spring) much like perennials, there are some prospects that seem to have withered on the vine but magically come back to life after an extended period of time.
I'd advise people to be open to renewing relationships that once held promise. Too many people become annoyed when a prospect doesn't immediately pan out and can risk building a renewed relationship because of residual impatience. For me at least, it's crucial to keep a long term approach to all prospecting. I recently snagged a new client when he wrote to me in response to an announcement e-mail I'd sent in 2004. I kid you not.
You mentioned on Twitter that you do long proposals. What do they usually consist of?
You know, I've been told by my business mentors, advisers and colleagues that I should consider charging for my proposals since in the past I offered way too much information and long term brand building approach. Before I work with a company I like to do as much research as possible to ensure that I'm the right person for the job and that my skill set matches their needs.
I'll then usually offer them a breakdown of the problems that they face as I see them and the ways in which my company and I can help them. Unfortunately, sometimes I'm too good at offering potential solutions because there are companies who think that they can tackle these issues on their own. Most of the time though, their approach to doing it on their own doesn't quite work, either because they don't have the necessary skills, contacts, intellectual prowess or connections or because they lack the imagination to actually bring these elements to life in a viable and engaging way. For those reasons, I've streamlined my proposal process to offer carefully tailored suggestions on marketing, branding, promotion, corporate communications or reputation management among other things and also have started charging for consultations since even my most casual suggestions or recommendations add so much value to a company.
You say that momentum is important for your persistence with querying. What do you mean by that, and what does that look like in your work life?
I like to use Newton's Law of Inertia to inspire me: An object in motion stays in motion/an object at rest stays at rest. When I'm tired or worn out it can feel like nothing is happening or changing. Conversely, when I'm energized and in the midst of a great project or am close to landing a new gig, I find that I will have more energy and excitement about pushing forward and getting that deal. The hardest part is getting started.
If you're a creative person or an analytical one you can use every query as a building block to get you to the next point. I never consider a proposal that's been rejected as a failure, even if I'm crushed at the time because I always learn from my mistakes, which is a form of persistence in and of itself. I can also use the elements in future projects or simply open myself up the the possibility of continued pitching which becomes less painful when done in volume. Too many people become dejected or give up when facing a wall; I simply find another way to scale it, walk around it or knock it down--if and when it's appropriate of course!
How long did it take you to figure out the momentum thing with querying? Do you remember how you learned it? Was there a moment, or a series of events that drove it home?
You know, initially I would have answered that I'm still learning it, because the economy is so depressing that it can be easy to give up. I did have an a-ha moment, though:
I was asked to pitch for a project that I was incredibly excited about at the time. To be honest, I don't even remember what that project was, but it was for an industry I'd never worked with, but the timing and elements made me believe it would be a great fit. It was a nightmare to work through the proposal elements, as I customize each and every one. I finally finished it, submitted it and was promptly rejected with no explanations or apology. I was crushed. Literally within days a colleague sent a prospect my way. It was for the exact same industry I was now so well versed in. I was able to go to an in-person meeting and really own the subject and present them with options that weren't nebulous, but perfectly matched for their demographic and needs. Had I not been willing to really work to understand the topic on the first go round, I'd never have been able to take that knowledge forward to the next prospect. And yes, I did get a long term engagement from that one!
For readers trying to develop the momentum you have, how would you advise them to cultivate it?
Ignore the naysayers.
Learn from your mistakes and successes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
And repeat, and repeat--and then some.
You will not achieve success on every go round. You will not even achieve acknowledgment half the time. What you will do, though, is toughen yourself to rejection and also work to develop a rhythm of trying, refining and defining the personal or professional brand elements that will help you to get more business moving forward. The only time you truly fail is when you just stop trying.
Thanks, Rachel. This is just what I needed to read today!--Heather
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Wrap up--and wait, there's more!
Well, it's been 30 days of the challenge, and so now is the time to draw this to a close. But I'm having so much fun with it, that I'm stopping it in name only. The posts will continue, for the time being, to cover persistence and all related topics. But I reserve the right to change topics later. And do suggest something new you'd like to read about related to writing, business and serenity.
And now, to sum up the challenge:
Starting Now! What we'll cover. Did we get to all of them? Nope. But we will.
Querying new markets: Is the economy and the doom and gloom about publications shuttering hampering your querying persistence? Four steps to getting your querying mojo back.
Happy Tax Day: I didn't think I'd be able to pay my taxes in full, but I did. Here's how persistence and luck married to help me avoid debt.
Motivating yourself to move forward: The first key to finding the motivation to move forward.
Help with the hardest tasks: The second key to finding motivation and getting your persistence going again.
Automating the hard stuff: The third way to make persistence routine.
Motivating yourself into persistence: The three feelings to cultivate to get persistent.
Faith for the job hunt: The role faith plays in persistence, even when you don't believe in the guy in the clowds.
Cultivating great writing: Tom Hallman Jr. and how to become a great writer.
Going from good to great: Ira Glass on the taste-talent gap, and how to bridge it.
Getting support: And a drink. Meetup for San Francisco freelancers, including me.
Passion + persistence = success: People seem to use the terms interchangeably, but they're different. Here's how they boost one another.
Finding the fun in querying: You don't have to hate querying. What you have to do is change the way you think of sales.
Persevering with this blog, even: To keep it going, I'm doing a 30-day blogathon. Check out who's in it with me.
Calvin Coolidge on persistence: One of the best quotes I've read on the subject.
Dogged organization: Guest blogger and friend of the blog professional organizer June Bell shares the important role persistence plays in keeping yourself organized.
Yogananda's take: Make the effort. That's all anyone is asking of you today.
Speaking of organization (taxes, part 2): How to organize your receipts and stick to your system so tax prep isn't (as) painful.
How persistence created MySpace: Lessons from some of the world's big hitters on persistence.
Persistence in book publishing, part 1: Guest blogger and author Cheryl Alkon shares how she kept at her book idea despite discouragement, infertility and doubt.
Persistence in book publishing, part 2: Cheryl shares how she sold her book, despite repeated rejections (hint: The blog's old favorite, support, came into play).
Run Fatboy Run: What a quirky British comedy tells us about breaking through the wall of resistance.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Run Fatboy Run
This clip may not look like it has anything to do with persistence, but trust me, the film does. Not only does it use the analogy of running to discuss how one copes with those moments--in running, in love and, I'd add, in writing--when one hits the wall, but there's a great scene in which the main character, Dennis, tells his son the following:
Dennis: As you get older, you're going to realize there are a lot of things that you don't like, OK? Things much worse than this. And when those things happen you can't just run away.If that doesn't sum up writer's block, I don't know what does. It also sums up the problem of not having enough work, or not enough higher paying work or not enough of the work you really love. Persistence isn't just about solving the problem in front of you now, it's about developing a means to solve every problem you face. It's about creating a system that makes problems solvable, even if the system is just to take a break and keep coming back to it enough times that the problem cracks.
Son: Why not?
Dennis: Because it doesn't solve the problem. When you stop running, the problem's still there. You've got to stick at it and then figure out some way to solve the problem. Even if it's really, really hard.
And rent the movie, because it's hilarious.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Money grows on the tree of persistence.
Photo by Guwashi999.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Persistence in book proposals, part 2
Today, part two of Cheryl Alkon's persistence profile on how her dogged persistence eventually yielded a book contract. Yesterday, Cheryl shared how she continued to pursue her book idea and pregnancy despite lots of road blocks. Today, she'll share how she kept sending her book proposal out despite rejections. Cheryl is the author of the forthcoming Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby and the author of Managing the Sweetness Within, her blog on type 1 diabetes, pregnancy, and infertility. Other writing, research and editing work is online at CherylAlkon.com
I’d heard two opinions about what to do with my book proposal now that it was complete:
* Send it directly to potential publishers, or
* Send it to literary agents who would consider taking it on and would send it to publishers on my behalf.
Since the book was such a niche topic, the idea of sending it directly to a publisher who focused on diabetes made some sense. Typically, publishers don’t even bother to consider manuscripts that aren't attached to an agent, but since this would be a small project with a small advance, it was worth a try. Through Publisher’s Marketplace, a subscription newsletter that tracked book deals and industry news, I found an email address for someone at a house that published diabetes titles sold as patient guides through mainstream bookstores and sent a query to the editorial director.
He wrote back right away, telling me he might be interested in my project, but that he suspected the audience might be too small for his company to take it on. In February 2008, I emailed him the proposal, and included the numbers I had for the book's potential readership.
An assistant wrote to say it could take up to two months to hear back. After two months and four days, I followed up, politely, and was told to keep waiting.
When I mentioned this to a friend who’s written several nonfiction books, she told me it was time to start finding an agent. “You’ve given this guy a two-month exclusive, and that’s plenty of time. Move on.”
A fellow blogger was writing her own book about infertility and generously emailed me the list of potential agents she’d compiled: Sixty of them, all interested in women’s health. It was invaluable. Since the list was more than a year old, I began to confirm, person by person, which agents handled women’s health books like mine. I found AgentQuery and AbsoluteWrite to be particularly helpful in learning:
- What agents are looking for;
- Their track records;
- If they were open to new clients;
- Specifics, like whether they preferred emailed or snail mailed queries first; or
- Whether they wanted to see the entire book proposal first.
In April, I began to send out the proposal. I kept a detailed spreadsheet of exactly when, to whom, and why I sent the proposal and how each responded. Some replies were instant—most said my proposal was well written, and had passion, but the market was just too small. Or else the topic just didn’t appeal.
I’d sent out more than 20 queries or proposals to different agents when one responded—11 hours later. She loved my query and wanted to see the full proposal. Agent A was the head of a boutique firm who had worked in publishing for years and seemed cool. A few days later, she called me and told me how excited she was about the project.
“So you’re interested in representing me?”
She was. I was thrilled. However, I’d also been waiting to hear back from a bunch of other agents, including one, Agent B, who had specifically requested my proposal and wanted me to let her know if I got another offer first.
I told agent A I had to follow up with Agent B and could I have a day or two to see what happened. She said fine.
Contacting Agent B, along with any agent I hadn’t heard from yet, was one of the highlights of the whole experience. I emailed about 10 others and explained I’d gotten an offer, but wanted to hear back if they were also interested.
Immediately, I heard back from most agents, several of whom asked for extra time to look at the proposal again, or else declined but congratulated me.
I emailed more questions to Agent A, asking specifically about a fiction project I wanted to pursue after the pregnancy book. She wrote back quickly, assuring me she had handled clients with both fiction and non-fiction projects, though she was clear that not every non fiction writer found success as a fiction writer.
However, the next day, Agent A emailed with disappointing news: She thought with my “diverse writing aspirations… you would probably do better with a ‘newer’ agent, one with the space in his or her list and time to explore the author-in-full you wish to become. I’m not in the habit of offering and then withdrawing the offer of representation, but I really feel that in this instance, it’s better to get that ‘right relationship’ from the start than be uncomfortable or disappointed soon thereafter.”
Without a solid offer from anyone else yet, I wondered if I’d been too pushy to ask about other book ideas I’d had. But since all the advice I’d heard about selecting an agent said to let an agent know that you have ideas about future projects, I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. Agent A signed off saying that “I think you are a terrific writer and I am sure the perfect agent awaits” and wished me the best of luck.
I held out hope for the rest of the agents, and in time, five others were interested in representing the project. This was exciting, but after talking to all, I knew I wanted someone who wanted to keep the voice as is. One agent told me the writing needed work—a minority opinion among the rest of the agents I’d heard from. Others wanted me to redo the entire proposal and include large new sections for type 2 and gestational women, which didn’t appeal to me at all. I also talked to an editor friend of a friend who had worked with all these agents and gave me her opinions on each.
After much consideration, I signed with my agent in July. She recognized the book for what it was: A niche topic, written in a distinctive, insider, non-medical voice, with lots of quotes from other women. She was also young, hungry, and eager to work with me throughout my career on both nonfiction and fiction work. I took the rest of the summer and a month or so to polish a few parts of the proposal, to build a website for my writing, and to give my blog a facelift.
And then the economy collapsed.
Publishing houses were dropping staff, the stock market was plummeting, and people were scared. Ironically, I was raring to go. I’d spent so much time working on this project, landed an agent, and I couldn’t believe that the damn economy was holding me back. My agent told me she wanted to hold off sending the proposal until things calmed down in the new year.
Once again, as I did while I tried to get pregnant, I found myself waiting for things to happen.
December passed into January. In early February, my agent told me she was ready to send out the proposal to a list of 19 publishers. I’d heard of most of them, but at this point, I felt like all I could do was sit back and let my agent do her job and wait to see how things shook out.
Of the 19 publishers, most said no. One was interested, but thought the voice was too casual. Others liked it only if I’d rewrite it to include type 2s and gestationals. One publishing house made an offer by email only only to never respond to my agent’s phone calls. And one, Demos Health, a division of Demos Medical Publishing, was very excited about both the voice and scope and thought the title would be a good fit with their existing list. On my editor’s request, I agreed to include some type 2 women, but the original outline remains mostly the same.
I signed the contract in March. I’m now in the midst of writing Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby and the manuscript is due in August. Demos will publish the book in January 2010.
It took me two years to have a healthy pregnancy with diabetes and a healthy baby, another year to finish the proposal, and another year to land an agent and sell the project. All told, it will be nearly five years from concept to publication. Persistence has kept this project moving forward and thus far, it has paid off.
Friday, May 15, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Persistence in book proposals, part 1
That's how long it took to go from story idea to book sale for freelance writer Cheryl Alkon. Cheryl is the author of the forthcoming Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby and the author of Managing the Sweetness Within, her blog on type 1 diabetes, pregnancy, and infertility. Other writing, research and editing work is online at CherylAlkon.com.
In those four years, she researched the market, starting blogging on the subject, and very slowly wrote the book proposal, all while trying to get pregnant and, later, giving birth to her son. She sent the proposal to about 40 agents, most of whom said the writing and idea--on pregnancy for women with diabetes--were great, but the market was too small.
But her persistence paid off: Ultimately, Cheryl had her pick of agents and two publishing houses were interested in publishing it. So how did she find the time and energy to keep pursuing it? She shares her story below. In a follow-up post, she'll explain how she kept at it despite agent rejections.
I have always wanted to write books. At 17, my last words to my first boyfriend--who had the nerve to break up with me--were simply, “Buy my books when you see them in the bookstore, and goodbye.”
But I had no idea that my first book concept would take three years of research and work--and considerable personal struggle--before I would even submit the idea to a publisher. Here's how it happened.
The Dawning of an Idea
I am a longtime type 1 diabetic, which means my pancreas has stopped producing insulin. Since childhood, I have taken insulin through daily injections, and currently wear an insulin pump, which I program to give myself the insulin I need each day. I also test my blood sugar levels multiple times a day, and carefully watch what I eat to ensure that my insulin doses match my food intake and keep my blood sugars within healthy ranges.
At 34 and recently married, I knew I couldn't ignore the potential realities of infertility. Also, pregnancy for women with type 1 diabetes isn't easy: Combine pregnancy planning with type 1 diabetes, throw in advanced maternal age, which begins at 35, and you have a recipe for a high-risk pregnancy. Because of these concerns, my husband and I had a preconception consult with an obstetrician who specialized in patients like me. He was blunt and clinical about what could go wrong.
Among other things, a diabetic pregnancy isn’t as simple as just going off birth control and going wild. With uncontrolled blood sugars, the chances of a woman having a baby with birth defects, or having a problem-filled pregnancy, increase significantly. But keeping blood sugars within a tight range, comparable to women without diabetes, requires extremevigilance and knowledge about all aspects of life with diabetes. It wouldn’t be easy, and the doctor made it sound like it was nearly impossible for anyone to ever have a healthy baby. And, oh yeah, I was “old,” and that came with its own set of genetic issues and possibilities.
I had a few diabetic friends my age who’d had healthy pregnancies and children, so I knew it was possible. But I wanted to know more about how people did it. I looked everywhere to find books about what it was like being pregnant with diabetes, and I was disappointed with what I found.
The few books devoted to the subject (as opposed to the paragraph or two about diabetes in mainstream pregnancy guides) were written by health care professionals. They often talked about gestational diabetes (which develops during pregnancy and is more common than preexisting diabetes in pregnancy) and were dry, simplistic, and straightforward. Later on, I found a book about parenting with diabetes, written by a fellow type 1 woman, which helped somewhat. But I wanted more details about getting and staying pregnant. Where was the insider’s guide to pregnancy with preexisting diabetes, particularly one written by a savvy longtime diabetic like me?
It didn’t exist. And that’s when I decided I’d have to write the book myself.
Crafting the Proposal
Writing nonfiction means you need a book proposal--essentially a business plan for a book. It includes an introduction, a bio, an analysis of competing titles, a marketing/promotion plan, a table of contents, and a sample chapter. A few friends had already written books, and I reached out to them for advice. One sent me her book proposal, and I used it as a model for what my proposal should include.
Another told me to find out why my kind of book didn’t exist already. The answer soon became clear: The number of pregnant women with type 1 diabetes in America wasn't readily available. I called U.S. diabetes associations and got nowhere. I reached out to similar associations in English speaking countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and still found no solid numbers. I emailed researchers who did statistical studies about diabetic populations and consulting firms who marketed to diabetics, and got estimates on how many potential readers I might be able to sell a book to. The numbers were pretty low.
But I still pushed on.
Building My Platform
The next step, it seemed, was to create a platform--essentially anything to show you have an audience of willing book buyers. What I settled on was blogging, even though at the time--2005--blogging was a relatively new concept. When I first heard about it, I thought, “Why write for free?” It turned out to be the smartest way to find people interested in my niche topic of type 1 diabetes and pregnancy but it wasn't business savvy that got me blogging. It was envy.
I found an online community of bloggers with diabetes and one woman in particular who was blogging about being newly diagnosed with type 1 and newly pregnant. I panicked a little. “What if this woman ends up writing a fascinating blog and gets a book deal out of it?” I worried.
I set up Managing the Sweetness Within the next day--a blog about living with type 1 diabetes, trying to have a baby and what it was like to do both of them right. It was all about navigating tight blood sugar control, and how to successfully gestate a healthy and happy baby.
I wrote under a pen name so I could be honest and not worry about hurt feelings when I bitched about friends who got pregnant effortlessly or who didn’t understand the intricacies I went through just to, say, eat an apple. I still had a staff job then, and, as another blogger told me, “It’s not like your boss needs to know about your vagina.”
I blogged about once a week, and occasionally more when something interesting happened. It was easy to blog about frustrations about high blood sugars and the wait to find out if I was pregnant.
A Bump in the Road
As months went on, it was clear that we’d need to talk to infertility doctors. As I learned more about what that entailed, I became a part of a whole new community of infertility bloggers, equally as active as the diabetic community, and the number of page views and people who subscribed to my blog grew, bolstering my platform.
When you need assistance to get pregnant, you end up waiting a lot. This gave me plenty of time to blog and work on the book proposal. However, progress was slow. I worried that I'd have a tougher time selling a book about diabetes and pregnancy if I didn't get pregnant myself. I'll admit it--I wasn’t driven to finish the proposal. Plus, I worried about doing all the work of a proposal, setting up and maintaining a blog--and what if the book idea didn’t go anywhere?
Finding Persistence Anyway
At one point, I just decided to push forward and see what happened. If the book didn’t sell, I’d at least developed a well-read blog, and I’d know how to write a book proposal for my next book idea.
There were many times, particularly in the beginning, when people told me again and again that the audience for this book would be too small to interest a publisher. But whenever I mentioned the idea on my blog, or found other online communities of people with diabetes who happened to discuss pregnancy, it was clear that a resource like this was needed and would be gratefully purchased. This is what kept me going as I wrote the proposal and blogged and tried my damnedest to get pregnant: If this book ever saw the light of day, it might not make millions, but it would serve an audience hungry for the information and willing to pay retail prices to get it.
I finally got pregnant through IVF; our happy and healthy son arrived in April 2007. By this time, I’d written a sample chapter (about trying to conceive while maintaining tight blood sugar control) and had rounded out the marketing plan. The demands of caring for an infant eased up after about six months, and I promised myself I would finish up the book proposal by the end of 2007, which I did by completing the table of contents. Having lived through a pregnancy with diabetes was key in knowing exactly what to focus on in my table of contents and what details to keep and what to omit.
After I finished the proposal, I asked for feedback from three friends who had written books. They had simple tweaks, and I had the manuscript professionally copy edited. This was nearly three years after I first came up with the book idea. At this point, it was 45 pages long and I thought it was awesome—some of the best writing I’d ever done.
Would anyone else agree? It was time to send the thing out and see what happened.
Photo by mujitra (´･ω･)
Thursday, May 14, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: How persistence created MySpace.com
Now, I'll admit that MySpace completely missed me. I went from LiveJournal to Facebook and Twitter. But any startup (read: us) takes lots of different attempts to get it right before you hit on the magic combination of great idea, right time, right business approach and good marketing. During all that practice, you learn the best way to present yourself, you hone your business sense. For us, the way we do that is by experiencing the ups and downs of querying and writing. We learn that this approach works with this kind of editor, that that structure works with this particular kind of query. We learn how to follow up and to meet editors and generally how to be in business. The fact that some stories fail to catch on with the markets we imagine doesn't mean we're failing. It means we're learning.
Sure, I like to think that our businesses are more respectable than spam or Asian porn, but they're still businesses. Tell me what you think.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Speaking of organizing--taxes
Monday, June shared how important persistence is in maintaining an organizational system. I thought now would be a good time to piggy-back off that and talk about taxes.
I'm not talking today about how to pay them or how to save for them. Today, I want to talk about how to organize for them. This is a questions coaching clients often ask and something all freelancers have to deal with. The good news is, if we create a system and persist in using it, tax time will take less time, and, while you may still feel panicky and a little queasy, you'll feel some calm and sanity underneath that.
Creating a System
So, start with this:
- 23 manilla folders
- A marker
- Some kind of storage device: A filing cabinet is my preferred solution (you don't have to look at the files every day and I already had one), but you can also use an accordian file, a hard-side lock box or a simple pair of book ends on a shelf.
- Your receipts for so far this year.
- Paid Invoices (you'll put your stubs in here)
- Bank charges
- Car/truck rental
- Continuing education
- Dues/organization memberships
- Health insurance
- Internet costs
- Office expenses
- Other insurance
- Other interest
- Total meals/entertainment (business related, natch)
- Web design/hosting
Next, go through your receipts so far this year and start sorting. Believe me, future you will thank you for having done this now. Add a note onto gas receipts and toll receipts for where you were going. On meal receipts, write who you met with and what you talked about. Then stick them in the folder and forget them.
The Persistence Part
So how do you keep up with it? Here are a few ideas.
Create a way station.
I don't file receipts every day. But having the files at the ready makes dealing with them easier. I keep them--and a bunch of other stuff I don't want to look at every day--in the bottom tray of a trio of clear plastic stackable trays. As I write this, It's bulging with articles to scan, receipts, old article files, etc.
When I have a spare minute, I can grab a handful of papers and file them away. I don't do it all at once. I don't spend 50 minutes or three hours on it. Little and often is my motto.
Place the piles where you can see them.
I hate looking at those ugly bulging piles. If I put the trays elsewhere, chances are, those piles would lay around much, much longer than they do now.
File while you talk.
Sometimes, I'll be on the phone with a friend or with a family member who calls during work hours--I know, poor discipline--and I'll take that time to put a few things away. Or I'll shred docs that need shredding.
Come the beginning of the year, I do something very simple. I sit down with the files and a calculator and I write the amount and date of each receipt on the outside of the file folder. Then, I tally it all up. Takes a few minutes while watching TV at night and I have my total spending. Score.
How about you? How do you do it?
Photo by D'Arcy Norman.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Yogananda's take
"As often as you fail, get up and try again. God will never let you down so long as you don't let Him down, so long as you make the effort."
Monday, May 11, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Dogged organization
Persistence isn't just about querying. It also applies to those piles surrounding your desk. I've got 'em. You've got 'em. Today, guest blogger June Bell shares how to tackle them a little at a time. Bell is a professional organizer who helps people make the best use of their time, spaces and places. A member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), she’s at junebell (at) junebell.com.
When clients call me for organizing help, they initially assume that I’ll work some fairy godmother-like magic:
A den that’s a jumble of toddler toys, tufts of dog hair and electronics cables will be transformed into a sleek space worthy of a Better Homes & Gardens photo spread. The knee-deep piles of papers ringing their office will assemble themselves in tidy files. The closet door will finally be able to close.
And often, with the client’s help, patience and dedication, I can work that magic. Clients are ecstatic. Me too. One of my favorite aspects of being an organizer is helping usher order and functionality into a family’s life.
My work is done, the client’s problem is solved and we both can move on.
Well, at least I can. The client ‘s task, however, really is only just beginning. If I’ve done my job well, I’ve designed a system tailored to a client’s needs, space and quirks, and I’ve helped her use it and refine it. All she needs to do is follow it.
Easier said than done, of course.
That’s where persistence comes into play. Staying organizing – like marketing a business, keeping weight off or mastering the merengue – demands a steady commitment to staying the course. Just as self-employed people must constantly prospect for new customers and gigs, anyone who wants to remain clutter-free has to be willing to devote time to furthering that aim.
If you can bring to your organizing efforts the same persistence you devote to growing and maintaining your business, you’ll have conquered one of your biggest obstacles.
I’ve found some valuable advice in earlier blog posts here on doing one small thing each day to move you toward your business goals. The same advice applies to remaining organized. What’s one little step you could take to reduce the chaos in your home or keep a clutter-free area that way?
Here are a few ideas you might want to try:
- Don’t even let it in. Instead of leafing through your mail, plucking out the interesting stuff and stacking up the rest (bills, anyone?) to read “later,” try opening your mail near your recycling bin. I’ve found that as much as 90 percent of what fills my mailbox is paper I don’t want or need. Toss it immediately.
- Keep your e-mail in-box manageable. What feels right for you? Some people like to limit pending e-mails to 10 or 20 or no more than they can see on a screen. Schedule time to purge old e-mails, and each day, answer, delegate, delete or forward correspondence. Seeing an in-box that isn’t overflowing can give you a mental boost, helping you feel that you’re in control of your time.
- Stop amassing stuff. More isn’t better. It’s just, well, more. These grim economic times are prodding relentless consumers into realizing that there’s nothing life-enhancing about having a lot of anything (unless it’s love or health, of course).
- Hold the line. If you buy a new pair of shoes, select a pair in your closet to donate or discard. If you need to be more aggressive, make it two out for every one in.
Maintaining an organizational system, even a small one, becomes part of your priorities, which reflect your values. You’re showing that you value a tranquil, clutter-free space – and you’re willing to dedicate the time, consistently, to keep it that way.
Without this commitment on my clients’ part, even my most innovative ideas and support are useless. Fortunately, those who devote themselves to maintaining the progress we’ve made see terrific results. And those who build on it find themselves fantastically empowered.
Paring the contents of a closet ultimately leads to a functional wardrobe – which means it’s less stressful to get dressed each day. And giving away excess not only felt wildly liberating, one client confided, but it helped some grateful recipients too.
If you’re struggling to stay on top of clutter, don’t fret. Entropy in the universe is apparently always increasing, so why should you expect that your possessions should fall into line? But if you persist, you’ll find that being more organized pays off in all sorts of ways, bringing you the serenity you deserve.
Photo by PburghStever.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Calvin Coolidge on persistence
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Persevering with this blog, even
Still, it will be fun! Lots of small snippets, lots of guest posts. I hope you enjoy it.
As blogathon organizer Michelle Rafter wrote on her site WordCount:
For the next 31 days, a merry band of freelance writer are teaming up to take part in the second annual WordCount blogathon. We’ll be testing the limits of our blogging endurance to find out if we can successfully post every day in May.
How hard can it be, right? Well, pretty darn hard. Those of us who make our living writing have those pesky paid assignments to attend to in addition to hanging out on our much more fun blogs. And while some days ideas for blog posts are as bountiful as cherry blossoms in spring, other days the idea well is as barren as those same cherry boughs in winter. Then there are the weekends, when nobody in their right mind wants to be at a keyboard.
But we’re determined to persevere. As professional blogger have noted, the more you post, the better you get at it – and if you’re doing it right – the more traffic you’ll attract to your blog.
So here’s to blogging, here’s to May and here’s to us.
Hey! There's that persistence again! And here are the brave souls who are taking the challenge with me:
- Vera Marie Badertscher – A Travelers Library – Books and movies that influence travel.
- Tim Beyers – The Social Writer – Motley Fool tech contributor and co-host of Twitter’s #editorchat.
- Heather Boerner – Serenity for the Self Employed – Advice for the self-employed among us.
- Jane Boursaw – Film Gecko – May Movie Madness and other film-related stuff.
- Melanie Bonsall – Expert Editing – The online home of this editor, proofreader and writer.
- Danielle Buffardi – Horrible Sanity – Random thoughts of a mother and freelance writer.
- Sona Charaipotra – Sona Charaipotra – for entertainmnet topics, and Ishq in a Backpack on travel and food.
- Rosie Colombraro – Trust the Universe – There is always a Plan B.
- Sue Dickman – A Life Divided – Food, gardening, travel, books and more.
- Jackie Dishner – BIKE with Jackie – Improving your life with the B.I.K.E. spiritual navigation tool.
- Ron S. Doyle – Ron S. Doyle – The literary equivalent of fruit salad and Cyclorati – Exercising my cyclophilia.
- Kelly Estes – Big Government in Your Wallet – A political blog.
- Jennifer L.W. Fink – Blogging ‘Bout Boys – With 4 boys between 11 & 3, this writer knows her subject.
- Sydne George - I’ll Have What She’s Cooking – Good eats.
- Debra Gordon – Wine on Tuesdays
- Nancy Hall – Floating Ink – How to fit making art into your every day life.
- KT Hinderer – Write Beyond the Cubicle – Musings of a full-time freelance writer and editor.
- Heather Holliday – Zazou Marketing – Putting your best words forward.
- Elizabeth Humphrey – TheWriteElizabeth – Introducing creativity into daily life.
- Leah Ingram – Suddenly Frugal – Tips for frugal living.
- JoAnn Jagroop – This Dame Cooks – Recipes from Alaska to the South Pacific.
- Sara Lancaster – No. 2 Pen Blog – Blog of this Denver, freelance Web & marketing writer.
- Doug Lance – Freelance Fiction – “I get paid to tell sweet, sweet lies.”
- Jared Lopatin – Sign in Ink – Everyday life as motivated by astrological happenings.
- Jenn Maciejewski – Cities on the Cheap – Freebies and deals in multiple cities across the U.S.
- Eric Mack – Wrecking Ball Report, MountainDaddy and SaveThatReceipt.
- Lisa Mann – Sonoma on the Cheap – One of the Cities on the Cheap blogs, this one for Sonoma, Calif.
- Joy Manning – What I Weigh Today – A food writer reflects on weight and body image issues.
- Teresa Mears – Miami on the Cheap – A Cities on the Cheap blog for Miami.
- Amy Rauch Neilson – It’s in the Genes – Thoughts of a breast cancer survivor.
- Jennifer Netherby – Jennifer Netherby – Musings of a freelance writer.
- Sarah E. Ludwig – Parenting by Trial and Error – Learning, growing, staying flexible.
- Michelle V. Rafter – WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age – Plugging into the online news biz.
- Kate Reilly – Polka Dot Suitcase – Finding fun in everyday life.
- Meredith Resnick – Inner Writing Journey – Authors & professional creatives in quirky dialogue on how they write and why it works.
- Melissa Sais – Digital Mom – Raising kids in a digital world.
- Brette Sember – Martha and Me – One Martha Stewart makeover a day.
- Kathy Summers – EcoPregnancy & Baby and Health Writing Hints.
- Jodi Torpey – Western Gardeners – Your online guide to gardening in the West.
- Sarah Webb – Webb of Science – Where science meets life.
- Jennifer Willis – The Green Soul Guide – Where sustainability and spirituality meet.
Friday, May 8, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Finding the fun in querying
As I mentioned last week, you'll only be able to access your persistence if you find your motivation. One of those forms of motivation, and my favorite, is joy. Fun! Play!
I know: What does this have to do with querying, that cringe-worthy and long trudge toward more work?
Here's how I explained it to a prospective coaching client this week:
Every story idea is a puzzle piece. Your job as a freelancer and marketer is to find the puzzle into which it fits. The puzzle? That's the right publication and the right editor.
The point is to find the right fit--not to shove something someone hates down their throats.
So often, as freelancers, we assume that, since we hate PR people calling and emailing with unwanted press releases, that editors do the same. But it's my considered belief that it's not the same. We aren't used car salesmen trying to foist a lemon on an unsuspecting public. Do you think your story ideas are lemons? I don't.
Think of it another way: What if you were trying to sell a car that didn't work too well but weren't lying and telling an young working class guy for whom a car was essential to make money that the car works just fine. What if, instead, you market it to amateur mechanics as a fixer with great potential return on investment.
It's the same car, but a different approach.
Once you find the right approach, you can have fun trying to find just the right amateur mechanic for your well-loved and well-used car. You can have confidence in what you're selling. You can enjoy the process of getting involved in amateur mechanics communities, and enjoying the personalities of people who love taking a junker and making it mint again.
That's what we do with our queries. We don't try to sell a story on, say, the dangers of health savings accounts to a publication that writes about petcare. That's crazy. And we don't even try to sell it to a publication that writes often about market solutions to the healthcare crisis. We send it to a consumer publication that may not have covered it. Or a publication that has written enthusiastically in the past about universal coverage. That's the right puzzle for your puzzle piece.
Now you're closer to a sale, you're sharing your skills and great ideas with a receptive audience, and, not for nothing, you're helping an editor create great content for his readers.
So take those puzzle pieces and look at them another way: They aren't lemons, to mix my metaphors. Any act of offering a story isn't an act of bamboozling. It's a gift. And it can be fun.
What, if anything, do you do to find joy in your pitching?
Photo by Liza31337.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
30-Day Persistence Challenge: Passion + persistence = success
"Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse-sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success." - Dale Carnegie
Last week, I came across a great blog post that talked about the power of persistence in bringing your dream to life. The key, it seemed to say, was that you needed both components: Passion and also persistence.
The implication, the so-called Mrs. Micah seems to be saying, is that one without the other is like wood without flint: No fire.
"In an ordinary job, you can survive on inertia," she says wisely. "As a freelancer, you can’t."
The passion part seems to be getting back to the idea of what motivates you. She writes:
Passion is what keeps you going when you’ve just come off a project that made you feel like a sellout. Passion is what keeps you going when a client stalls on paying or turns out to be difficult to work with. Passion is what keeps you going when a project takes longer than expected and you have to stay up late or give up something fun.If you can’t find a passion somewhere in your work, then you won’t be able to keep going when you hit the wall. And you will hit the wall. No matter how good you are at what you do, no matter how easy it is, you will always run into things that make you think, if just for a minute, that you don’t want to keep going with your work.
The persistence, she says, is how you put your passion into action. It's the marriage of the motivation and the to-do list. It makes sense: Most of us know a freelancer who's brimming with ideas but seems oddly averse to putting those ideas out in the world. Heck: Look in the mirror. Sometimes, that's me. We all go in and out of being able to act on our passions.
Mrs. Micah says:
Persistence is what makes you go out there and find the next project. Persistence is what you need when you keep losing jobs to other bidders. Persistence is the tool that unlocks your freelancing future.
Persistence is what keeps you checking job postings, it’s what helps you network with others in the field when you’d rather just wait for the next person to approach you. I think my biggest failing…or learning opportunity…as a freelancer was not being persistent enough between jobs. I probably could have done more, had less downtime, earned more, and even developed better skills.
I was persistent enough to find new clients and I always made ends meet on the financial side. But if there’s one thing I’d advise freelancers to learn from my experience, it’s to be more persistent.
How do you put your passion into action? The way I do it is with a little prompt a creative coaching friend is always reminding me:
- Ask yourself: What's the smallest step I can take today to move toward that goal?
- Put it on your to-do list.
- Bookend the action by calling a support pal.
How about you? Where does your passion meet your persistence?
Photo by Kecko.