Writing to Goal

I’ve written before about the writer as entrepreneur, and recently reviewed Penn’s Author 2.0, which also describes the entrepreneurial opportunities for folks in our profession. As publication changes, more and more of us will be writing our books as individual ventures, rather than as bait for large houses who will share only a small percentage of the profits.

This weekend, I had a chance to sit with an old friend and his wife, who had just been struck by an entrepreneurial brainstorm with real merit. We’ve spent four long conversations playing with the idea, and oddly enough they seemed to value my counsel.

On second thought, this makes sense. As a writer-entrepreneur I’ve conceived and launched more than a hundred ventures. Some have even been successful. I’ll be posting regularly on this topic, since it seems important to new authors — and seems there’s much less out there than on other writing concepts.

Today, let’s talk about the end game. Every idea you have — and here I’m talking about writing as a business, not only for pleasure — should be paired with an end. You can write to sell to publishers — they offer some strong value for the cut they take. You can write to bring in web traffic. You can write to woo your One True Love. Whatever it is, start every writing project with a clear idea of what you want it to do and be once you’re finished.

Take this blog, for example. I started it with no clear idea of its purpose, other than learning about blogging and creating an online portfolio. The early posts are all over the place in terms of tone and subject. As things progressed, it’s narrowed in focus.

What I want, primarily, from this blog is to impress potential customers. I hope these posts amuse and educate my fellow writers, but you’ll also notice that most of these posts are about…

  • How to behave professionally as a self-employed person.
  • How to turn out quality writing.
  • Dropping knowledge about the industry and about writing.
  • How important it is to treat clients well.
  • How much I care about what editors and other customers want.

I step out from time to time — for example, the Friday Fun posts — but my real goal is part of how I choose what to write. It’s also a part of how I write. You’ll notice I don’t swear as much in these later entries.

It’s easy to get caught up in the task of writing and lose track of where you want it to take you. Business guru Michael Gerber puts it beautifully by reminding clients to work on the business, not in the business. Write well. Write often. But keep your eye on the ball.

Thanks for listening.

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April Moore on Work Habits (Part 1)

I’m pleased to announce that April Moore, author of Folsom’s 93  and all-around great writer, has agreed to do a few guest posts about writing from her perspective. Without further foolish foofoorah, heeeeeere’s April…

I think many writers revel in the idea of a secluded place to work; a long retreat, free from interruptions and time to master our craft. However, this concept never seems to end well for Stephen King’s writer characters. So before you head to a vacant mountain hotel, or a remote cabin in upstate New York, consider these work-from-home tips that won’t involve axes, poltergeists, or dead bodies.

Take Care of Distractions

I’m easily distracted, whether it’s something shiny or a pile of laundry. Sometimes, no matter how determined I am to get several pages written, even small things can veer me off the creative path. Working from home poses a plethora of distractions that can keep you from settling into work mode. Combat them by dealing with those things before you flip on the laptop. Wake up early and take care of that load of laundry, pile of bills, or a sink full of dishes. Schedule your chores and writing time. Perhaps designating one day to household tasks can enable you to work the rest of the week. Another distraction is the internet. Aren’t you curious about your blog stats, Twitter updates, or Lindsay Lohan’s latest court appearance? If you don’t need internet access to write, then turn it off. What about noises? One word: Earplugs.

 Get Organized

Treat yourself to a shopping spree at an office supply store. They say if you buy great workout gear, you’re more likely to get your butt to the gym. Same goes for writing. If you want that fancy pencil holder, get it. Do what you need to do to create a productive work environment. Organization is critical for me since I have 93 dead guys to keep track of. I bought a few file boxes with hanging folders and together, my label maker and I went to town. Each inmate has his own folder containing absolutely everything pertaining to him: transcripts, newspaper articles, and even critiques from my writers group when I’ve submitted his story to them. If your work is disorganized, you may not feel motivated and driven. Get the right tools to help you.

Tune in soon to hear April tell you about rewarding yourself, breaking work down and going to your room. 

Thanks for listening.

 

4 Ways to Get Paid For Your Work

You can write all you want, but you’re an amateur until somebody gives you money for what you’ve written. There’s nothing wrong with that for all the folks who write for the simple joy of the craft. If you want to make it as a full-time writer, though, you need to get paid for your work. Either that, or marry somebody rich.

Not too long ago, there was just one model of getting paid for your work. You sent your work to magazines or book publishers and hoped they liked it. If they did, you got some money and then started up on your next project.

That situation has changed. Traditional publishers are starting to hemorrhage. The market isn’t as strong, and the pay isn’t as good. That’s the bad news — and it’s not comforting. The good news is that as that market fails, others have sprung up.

1. Advertising Revenue

If you blog, or have another kind of website that brings in traffic, you can set up advertising accounts that get you paid for every visitor who clicks through to the ad. Google Ads will work with your page even before you have any traffic, paying you a small fee for each visitor. As you get increasingly more visitors, you can find higher-paying and more focused sponsors.

2. Content Writing

Print magazines that sell advertising and subscriptions close every day, but they are being replaced by websites hungry for a constant stream of fresh, well-written content. Many of them work on the ad revenue model from above, only on a massive scale. The best sites pay up to $25 for a 500-word article on basic topics, up to several hundred for longer feature pieces.

3. Company Blogs

Company websites need blogs — they’re one of the surest and simplest ways to keep a page high in the search engine rankings. They also provide useful information that attracts and interests potential customers. Although large companies have their own people for this, small businesses can’t afford a full-time guy, and the owner rarely has the time and talent to do it right. You can reach out to local businesses and offer to do their blog, or search writing job sites for potential clients.

4. E-Books

Instead of submitting your book to a traditional publisher, you can make your own e-book and distribute it on your website, via eBay and on Amazon. Print publication through on-demand printers is also an option, but e-book printing is free. There’s no risk other than the time you spent to write the book…and your share of the profits is much higher than if you’d published through a traditional house.

Later, I’ll go into some of the best practices for success in each of these models. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I’ll share what I do know.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Six Ways to Generate Buzz

The truth is that print publishing has been taken a beating. In 2010, eBook sales at Barnes & Noble and Amazon exceeded sales of any other kind of book (though admittedly not sales of all other kinds put together). It may not be long before the model of being a published author promoted by your book company is a thing of the past.

In the mean while, the best way to attract the attention of a publisher or an agent — aside from excellent writing — is to come to the negotiation table with an aura of buzz already surrounding your book. Celebrities and the new wave of “ce-web-rities” can still ink good deals because they bring fans with them when they sign a contract.

The rest of us have to generate buzz the hard way. Fortunately, the same factors that are killing the traditional book deal also make it easy for us to generate that buzz with inexpensive and convenient tools.

1. Set up and maintain a social media account such as Facebook or Twitter. Post frequently with the juiciest morsels from your book. “&%$# My Dad Says” started as a Twitter game and now it’s a book with a TV show.

2. Blog about it. For fiction, trickle out a few early chapters or especially beautiful scenes. For nonfiction, write a set of actionable advice posts that establish you as an expert and keep people coming back. Track the statistics to use as evidence when you go to sell your book.

3. Start a Webcast. Video and audio podcasts are growing in popularity every day. If you make it interesting or funny, it may go viral at any moment. Although you can cast about anything you want, you should always end the show by telling your fans about the book that’s coming up.

4. Employ your loyal army of ninja warriors. Okay. Since I came to this from a career as a martial arts teacher, I may be the only one with a loyal army of actual  ninja warriors. But you have your own loyal army of friends, family and acquaintances. If half of them get three friends to check you out, and half of them get three more friends…well, you can see where that leads.

5. Publish excerpts. This is sort of like the blog idea, but with more generally respected sources. Maybe you can take a chapter of your novel and sell it to Escape Pod as a short story. Or you can write about essential aspects of your nonfiction book in an article for a trade magazine. Not only will this increase your audience, you might even get paid.

6. Self-publish an ebook or limited print run. Nothing succeeds like success. If you can sell 2,000 to 5,000 copies of a first printing of your book all by yourself, you will get the attention of publishers as you look for a second run. Even if you don’t want to print more of that particular book, having a successful personal run will give you more credibility with agents and publishers.

There are dozens, hundreds, an infinitude of other possibilities out there. The main point is to use your imagination and beat the “new media” at its own game.

Thanks for listening.

Doing it Right Redux: Freelancing

I’m a professional freelance writer, and have friends who freelance as artists, web designers, coders, financial consultants and bodyguards. Freelancing can seem like a dream: set your own hours, charge more than the daily “wage slaves,” live with your work ethic as the only limiter to your earnings. On the other hand, nobody guarantees you a paycheck. If you do it wrong, you wind up not just broke. You’re broke with an embarrassing gap in your employment history.

Freelancing successfully requires a different formula for different people, but one rule remains true. This rule serves as a warning to many – but for those who do it right, it defines the fastest route for setting yourself apart from the pack. The rule is simple:

People who want to go into business for themselves are often the least suitable people to do so.

Traits that support success for freelancers include attention to detail, sweating the small stuff, working well with multiple bosses, being consistent in communication, and making decisions that help your team over decisions that support you the most. Most people who want to freelance have trouble with one or more of these categories – otherwise, they wouldn’t mind working a 9 to 5 job.

Because this is true, the degree to which you treat your freelance career like a regular job is the degree to which you will rise above the freelance herd. From talking with my freelance friends – both the successful and the struggling, I’ve identified eight habits for remaining professional while working from home in your underwear.

  • Observe a maximum one-day turnaround on emails and phone messages unless you’ve notified a client you’re unavailable.
  • Keep all your deadlines, from turn-in dates to promised communication.
  • Take your lumps with a smile. Some clients will behave in ways you find unreasonable. Working “for the man” means playing nice. Working for yourself means playing nice with more people, more often.
  • Set working hours: time when you’re “at work,” and times when you are not.
  • Remember marketing. In a regular job, you have to work to their specs. While freelancing, you need to spend some time every day finding your next assignment.
  • Observe business communications etiquette. Just because you don’t have an HR inquisitor looking over your shoulder doesn’t mean you don’t need to be polite.
  • Have a professional website, professional business cards and professional letterhead.

The majority of freelancers hit the market with a strong skill set and a bad attitude. Don’t be that guy. It might cost your ego a little from time to time, but it’s the price of admission for success. This isn’t the only key to making it as a freelancer – there are many, many (Many! MANY!) other requirements. But if you can’t see yourself observing these rules, you’re probably better off sticking with your day job.

 

Writing Professionally: Podcasts Addendum

As it turns out, I was only partially right when I posted that writing about podcasts helps to increase traffic. Last week, I saw another massive spike in response to my review of the “Veggies Go Crunch!” blog.

I guess this means that reviews in general will generate traffic. Put another way, we can apply a basic rule of marketing to success with a blog:

If you want results, don’t talk about yourself. Talk about other people.

In marketing, this usually gets expressed by emphasizing how a product will affect a customer, rather than the features of the product on their own. In a blog, this means literally talking about other people. This helps generate traffic in several ways.

  • People with internet alert trackers will become aware that you mentioned them, then come read out of curiosity.
  • Those interested in the subject covered by what you’re reviewing may find your blog while searching for the primary subject.
  • Folks you review may point out your review to friends, or mention it on their own blogs.
  • Reviewees and their fans may place a link to your blog from their own web pages.  This not only creates a direct route for their readers, but also elevates your page in most search engines.
  • People you review are more likely to comment on your post than many other folks. These comments can generate discussion and attention, leading to still more visits.

As I’ve said before, I’m still learning about this blog thing – but math can be a good teacher. The highest scoring days so far appear to be my podcast review post and the day “Veggies'” author found out I was talking about her.  And both of those posts continue to be the most viewed overall.

So that’s what I learned today. Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: The New Pulp Era

Four score years ago, give or take a few, our country enjoyed one of the greatest gluts of fun fiction the world has ever seen. A combination of cheap printing, low entertainment budgets due to the depression and an escapist zeitgeist for the country as a whole created an enormous market for – and supply of – stories about adventure, crime, spaceships and simple human optimism. Even the dark detective stories were optimistic in that the protagonists remained themselves while immersed in the darkness surrounding them.

I believe we’re in the middle of a second pulp era. Economic downturn? Check. World problems creating a need to escape? Check. Ultra cheap means of distribution? Check and mate. There is enormous opportunity to make it as a writer these days, with low costs of entry and a potential audience in the hundreds of millions. Opportunities to write professionally abound: SEO writing, content mills, professional blogging, web content, podcasting and ad copy are just a few of the ways you can keep body and soul together while honing your ability to write quickly and clearly.

Not everything that gets put out is good, but neither was everything during the fist Pulp Era. There are also fewer ways to pull ahead of the pack – owing to the same factors that have opened up the market in the first place. Writers simply need to hope that our ability, imagination and branding efforts will carve out enough of a niche to support our needs. I am just beginning to explore this aspect, but I will share what I learn as I learn it. You all are welcome to do the same.

Thanks for listening.