Friday Fun: She Don’t Like Firefly

I’ve mentioned Firefly in the past. With just 16 episodes and a movie, it deserved to live far longer than it did. Geek comic Mikey Mason has this to say about it:

The story of Firefly is a cautionary tale for writers. Despite its cult popularity, extreme quality and potential for crossover sales, it ended up cancelled in the middle of its first season. A lot of factors went into this, but a lot of it has to do with moving time slots, poor promotion and minimal support from its network.

If you have a brilliant project, it will not succeed without promotional support from the distributor. More than one author has been disappointed after signing a deal with starts in his eyes, only to watch the project “wither on the vine.”

It’s hard, but you can leave an offer on the table if a publisher isn’t willing to work to sell your book. You’ll have to do a lot of promotion on your own, but they must meet you halfway. This may mean waiting a year or more for another offer — but your writing deserves the best offer, not the first.

Thanks for listening.

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SEO Writing

If  you’ve been writing, or trying to write, as a freelancer in the past two years, you’ve seen the term “SEO.” You probably saw it most often as something a potential client wants you to understand in order to apply for a job. From your client’s perspective, SEO — Search Engine Optimization — is writing web content in a way that drives search engines such as Google and Bing toward the site that contains the content. It’s fairly obvious why a business would want a web page that’s search engine optimized, and why they would be willing to pay somebody to do it.

From a writer’s perspective, SEO is gold mine. Writing advertising copy has long been a source or nearly limitless and lucrative assignments, and SEO is the new advertising copy. Old ad copy just had to get the attention of the reader. New ad copy needs to inform and inspire the reader, but before it can do that it also has to get the attention of the browsers potential readers use.

How Does SEO Work?

Search engine optimization works by taking advantage of the algorithms that drive a web search. Although some of these factors — such as page titles and linkbacks — are out of the control of a content writer, the appearance of keyphrases within the body of the page will drive traffic to your sight. Including three to five keyphrases, each appearing naturally in the text two to four times, helps search engines match a page with the search strings common to people who want to know about a product. This is a simplification of a complex topic, but it should give you a general idea.

As a writer, your job is to include keywords in the SEO content as naturally as possible. Random, arbitrary inclusion of keywords or key phrases feels unnatural, and can reduce the page’s performance in search engines. Some clients will also ask you to choose the best keywords for a piece of content, while others will hire you having already chosen the SEO content they want.

White Hat SEO

In SEO, “white hat” practices mean playing by the spirit as well as the letter of the search rules. White hat SEO includes practices like natural and organic use of keywords, including appropriate backlinks and receiving links to your page from service-oriented and related websites. The good news is that white hat SEO is easy to follow. If you write the best, most natural copy you can, it’s hard to accidentally stray from white hat practices.

Black Hat SEO

Every system is vulnerable to manipulation. “Black hat” SEO practices take advantage of those vulnerabilities with practices like link redirection, keyword stuffing and hiding text by marking it the same color as a page’s background. Although these tactics are sometimes effective, ongoing algorithm development makes them less and less viable. Worse, some of the major search engines will ban pages that use these practices. Freelance writers should avoid assignments that ask for black hat SEO. It undermines the system that provides us with work, and isn’t much fun to write anyway.

Finding SEO Work

You won’t find clients who need SEO work among the usual markets for nonfiction articles and works of fiction. Instead, look at job boards for writers including Craigslist, Online Writing Jobs, ELance, Journalism Jobs and Freelance Daily. You can also work with your local Chamber of Commerce to get started by helping a nearby business optimize their websites. Once you get some traction, you’ll be amazed at how much work is available. Consistent readers aware of my $20,000 in 9 week goal should know that it’s only possible because of how rich this writing market is.

Thanks for listening.


Getting Paid

Captain Mal of the oft-lamented, early-cancelled, just about perfect Firefly said “I do the job, and then I get paid.”

Freelancers need to take this attitude, although we should think a little longer than the Captain when it comes to the subject of shooting people who are slow to make good. I mention this today because I’ve come across a small hitch that’s all too common in the freelancing world: the gap between acceptance of work and payment for that work.

My accountability post on Sunday noted that I’m $130 behind — don’t worry, I’ve already caught up. But further troubles have reared their heads.

  • One client asked for revisions on $120 worth of articles, which I’ll need to do without further payment. Revisions are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • One client received $180 worth of work last week and still hasn’t gotten around to reading for approval. Lags like this are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • Another client has amassed a $470 bill for my work, but won’t be able to pay until May. This kind of payment cycle is part of the job for a freelance writer.
As another example, two weeks ago I got a check for an article that was originally accepted in 2007. You read that right. Accepted in 2007, paid in 2011.
I don’t post this to complain. The operative phrase from the above list is part of the job for a freelance writer. I post this to share a facet of your worklife if you think you want to take on this as a career. For the most part, money you earn this month should be earmarked for spending next quarter. If it comes in early, great — let it earn some interest until you need it. Budgeting, planning and strict personal discipline are absolute necessities if you’re going to go full time in this field.
That’s not to say I’m an expert at any of those three things, just that they’re important.
This payment lag presents a special problem for people who want to break in as freelance writers. You’re looking at a four to six month gap between the first month that you make your living expenses and the first month you can pay for them — and we’re not even talking yet about how long it will take you to land that much work. There are several different ways to make this work.
The way I did it was I worked a job I disliked, writing for extra money when I could. When I landed a long-term gig with a client who paid promptly and reliably, I pulled the trigger. That client won’t last forever — although they’re still going strong two years later — so I make it a priority to pursue other gigs as aggressively as possible.
Bottom line: expect to get paid late. Expect to get stiffed on occasion. Plan your finances so you’re always living off money already in the bank, not waiting for a payment to come in just so you can cover your mortgage.  Understand that this isn’t a special hardship — businesses face this payment cycle problem every day. It’s part of the price you pay for the privilege of owning your time.
Thanks for listening.

Accountability, Week Four

I fell $130 short of goal this week. I could slam it out tonight, but instead I’m going to spend time with family who’s home for Easter. Part of this is because of the holiday weekend, part of it is due to the nice weather. A large part can be blamed on having discovered the program Sons of Anarchy.

The nice thing is that I beat my benchmarks during some earlier weeks. Meaning that, although I’m slightly behind for this week, I’m still ahead slightly towards my overall goals. This, I think, is the big lesson here. Tom Callos drummed into me about the power of slow, steady progress toward a goal. I slacked off this week, but I’m good to go because I’ve been on the path thus far. If I’d been slacking off for all the weeks, I’d be in a world of hurt.

Stats for this week:

  • Total Earnings Goal: $2,250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,110
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 94%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $9,000
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 45%
Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: Fukuda Keiko Sensei

  • Fukuda Sensei is 98 years old, and teaches Judo three times a week at a San Francisco dojo she’s run for more than half a century.
  • Fukuda Sensei is the highest-ranked female Judoka in the world.
  • Fukuda Sensei is the last living student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.
  • Fukuda Sensei traveled daily through Tokyo during the WWII fire bombings. To teach lessons.
  • They told Fukuda Sensei women couldn’t promote above 5th degree black belt. She made them change their minds. They tried again when she wanted 9th degree, with similar futility.
  • Fukuda Sensei refused an arranged marriage because her future husband wanted her to quit Judo. She did this in Japan. During the 1930s.
  • If Chuck Norris gets squirrelly, Fukuda Sensei tells him to cut a switch off the backyard tree. And Chuck Norris says “yes, ma’am.”
Last year, filming commenced on a documentary of her life story.
 

If you’re as inspired as I am by this project, I challenge you to donate a little to the cause of getting the film through post-production and out into the world. Find out how at www.flyingcarp.net.

So does this man

Even if you can’t contribute directly, keep an eye out for this film once it hits the world. Fukuda Sensei’s story is touching and inspiring. I can’t wait to see it told.

Thanks for listening

Black Belt Redux

Just an announcement that you can find more of what I think of self defense in this month’s Black Belt Magazine.

It’s the first of a series of regular installments I’m doing for them about the benefits of martial arts training. This time, we talk about anger management — a subtle, but important, aspect of getting a good workout in an environment that teaches patience and self-control.

Two added bonuses. This first installment was in the 50th anniversary issue of the magazine. Just by coincidence, but it will mean more exposure. Second, the anger management bit mentions my mentor Tom Callos by name and appears next to a picture of the man hisownself. So not only is my byline in the 50th anniversary edition of Black Belt, but it’s there next to a picture of my friend.

Life is good.  Thanks for listening.

PS: Stay tuned for more exciting news about the trouble Tom and I are getting into….

Notes From the Front: Proposals

I got a new gig recently — a one-off blog content deal. It was about average in terms of money, a bit light in terms of size. Interesting content, fun to research. It’s nice getting new clients from time to time, even for the short-term. What’s nicer is when the client in question tells you that you beat out 150 other applicants for the gig.

I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this because I was able to ask my client what it was that floated me to the top of his particular heap. What he had to say wasn’t all that surprising, but what was surprising what how many people — he said 98 percent — don’t follow these basic rules of successful proposals.

1. Read the entire job description/submission guideline/call for work. Follow any specialized instructions. Many editors and clients will insert a small detail, such as a specific email title, to make sure you did this.

2. Do some basic research. If you’re trying to land a company, cruise their website. If you want to write for a magazine, read a few articles. Don’t ask somebody to spend money on you if you can’t take a few minutes to learn about them.

3. Indicate in your cover letter than you’ve done 1 and 2, preferably with an insightful or praising comment about the work your client does.

4. Submit quality and relevant work samples. If you don’t have any, take half an hour and make one. If you had to make one, say so — it demonstrates how dedicated you are.

5. Provide a direct link to your writing samples. Editors and other potential clients aren’t interested in downloading a file that could be a virus. This means maintaining an online portfolio (like this one) and using the link features in your email. Don’t expect the person on the other end to spend the time to Google you.

6. Put your best foot forward, always. Be professional with your communication and intelligent in your approach. Never make excuses, or express doubts in your proposal. Your proposal is your brochure for the client — and you don’t see professional brochures giving you the bad news.

That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, people. The words of a man frustrated by how much rough he has to dig through to find himself a diamond. Everybody’s far more capable of being a diamond than I am — the trick is making sure the clients can see it.

Thanks for listening.