Writing for Money: Being Reliable

Neil Gaiman once said:

You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world… because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.

If you’re getting into ghost writing or working on spec, I’d argue that you need all three out of three, especially to begin with. The world is full of freelancers, and from my own personal experience, I’m more expensive than many of the freelancers out there and thus I need to justify my expense. So today I’m expanding on these three points, and how they lead to reliable work as a freelancer – both in that you will be considered reliable, and that you will make reliable money.

Impressing the Boss

I write for a couple of freelance portals. Sometimes there are 50-70 other bids for a job I want. This means that if I want to grab that amazing job, I need to prove that I can give my client the kind of writing he wants.

Once you get to a certain point, it’s going to come down to the matter of individual taste. Make sure you keep that in the back of your mind, otherwise you spend too much time dwelling on how awful you are when you lose a contract. Pick yourself up, tell yourself that you’re awesome, and get ready for the next job. And of course, keep practicing. Good writing will get you a long way, especially if you’re a fairly untested freelancer.

Keeping it Friendly

I have been on the other side of the table every so often, working as a client rather than contractor. Mostly this is in regards to the magazine for which I am a second reader. So I’ll say flat out: I don’t like working with unpleasant people. I don’t like reading the work of unpleasant people. There are a lot of great writers out there, and there are a lot of publishable stories that we don’t take at my magazine because it comes down to one or the other, and we like the other just a little bit better. So if you give me a good reason to say no to you, I’ll take it. And the same is true on the freelancer side of things.

Freelance portals have review options, which means that your client can complain publicly about how rude you are. People might take a chance on someone with less experience but more politeness as well. Not to mention that working with someone repugnant drains your emotional energy and nobody needs that right now. The easier you are to work with, the more likely clients will come back. And that means that you’ll start to have constant income streams.

Delivering by Deadline

Authors are famous for not doing this. George R.R. Martin is a classic example at the moment. What is he, two years behind on Winds of Winter? Other Fantasy authors in particular have caught flak for falling behind on deadlines, and you might think that it’s just the way things go.

If you are a new freelancer, it had better not be the way things go for you.

Here’s the thing: a lot of deadlines are kind of tight. Especially if you’re doing work on spec through a portal. If you say you can complete a piece by a deadline, people expect you to deliver. And life happens, we all understand that. But you need to do what you can to make sure life doesn’t happen to you before you’ve built up a reputation. This isn’t a bad idea for publishing under your own name, either. People will give you a break if they can see your missed deadline is out of the ordinary.

So, how do you make sure you don’t miss your deadline? First of all, consider your expectations of the piece. How long will it take you to create a piece you’re happy sending out as a representation of your abilities? You won’t just be drafting, you’ll be revising, so keep that in mind. Build in some extra time in case an emergency disrupts your schedule. That way, you can keep on track without pulling an all-nighter or turning in work you’re not happy with. Also, if you don’t have an emergency, you can get the work done early and get a reputation for writing ahead of the deadline!

Being a freelancer is hard work, but super rewarding. Hopefully you can use these tips to build your reputation and get repeat customers.

Writing for Money – Landing Gigs

Writing for money is hard for two reasons. First, paying gigs are scarce. And second, you get paid for what you write after you write it. Sometimes years after you write it. So how can you make money reliably? This part of my blog series is about getting work. If you are interested in writing for money or editing for money, I think it can help you out.

You can find my other Writing for Money posts here.

Okay. Let’s make buckets of money. How do we do it?

First step: dust off and update your CV. If you want to catch some clients, you need a CV with relevant work – hopefully relevant work done recently. Make sure you’re not violating any agreements with what you put on your CV, such as a non-disclosure agreement, and make your CV detailed and varied. I have an entire CV devoted to my writing so that I can note every single thing I’ve done in the past few years.

Bah! CV’s are boring. What’s next?

Next, you need to be able to provide samples of your work. If you edit, you need to provide samples of your editing. If you write, you need to provide samples of whatever you’re trying to write for someone. Maybe your travel articles will land you a novel-writing gig, or vice-versa, I dunno. But the closer you can hit to a potential client’s mark, the more they can see you writing for them. If I’m applying to ghost write someone’s novel, I usually try to find an excerpt that matches their genre (as close as I can get to it), and a short story to show that I can write completed stories with a plot and character arc.

If you edit, or if you write stories for other people – get permission before distribution. Editors, don’t put someone else’s work out there without their knowledge or permission. That’s scummy. If you can’t provide samples, you can offer to do the first five pages on a trial basis, or you can get testimonials from previous clients. Or you can do free edits for your friends, in exchange for using samples in your applications. Writers, likewise – get permission before sharing samples of work that is not entirely your own. This is especially relevant because, if you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement, you could get into legal trouble.

That’s all good, you super special unicorn you, but I haven’t written/edited anything recently/ever.

Okay, then we need to take a step back. People will hire you if they think you can get the job done – but how will they know you can get the job done if they can’t see anything you’ve worked on? If you’re rusty, out of practice, or inexperienced, then forget the business of writing for money. Write for the sake of writing first. Write to finish something. Write to explore your world. Write to learn how to write. And write to see if you enjoy it. Writing for money is a challenge, and like so many other jobs, you won’t be very successful if you don’t actually like doing the work.

Once you can write a story, a poem, an article, whatever it is you want to write for other people – then come back here, and get going with that CV and those samples!

Okay, okay. I’m ready. Show me the people with the money.

So, here’s where things start to work a little differently depending on what you want to do with yourself. If you’re looking to write articles, there are plenty of sites who will take your submissions – just beware of getting offered exposure instead of money (I mean, people literally die of exposure. A different kind, but still).

I’m not much of an expert on selling short stories or poems on short order, and while selling them to a magazine is extremely gratifying, it is NOT going to pay your household bills any time soon. If you want to translate, edit, write copy or articles, then you can check out freelance portal sites such as Upwork and Odesk. These sites link clients and freelancers, and provide you with some measure of safety net for your work – in exchange for a cut of your earnings, of course. Just be aware of the fee you’ll pay when you bid on projects.

Novelists have more options than ever. Plenty of people on freelance sites want you to write their bestseller for them, and recently I’ve noticed the rise of the literary book packager – companies that work with a writer to develop a concept and make it a novel. Some places, like Glasstown Entertainment, vary on whether they want a writer to use a special pen name, and writers get paid upon a publishing deal. Others, like Relay Publishing, pay by the word. (Quick note – I was unable to verify the legitimacy of Relay publishing, as their site is down, but a previous check revealed no shenanigans)

Ohmygod. About 3000 people want to work for the client I want. How do I make them pick me?

First, make sure they have your CV and samples of your work, and know where to find more – on your web site, or on your profile if you use a freelance portal. Second, write a killer cover letter:

Paragraph 1: I usually thank the client for posting the job, say I’m excited to apply and broadly state who I am and why I think I’m a good fit.

Paragraph 2: I get into the meat of my previous experience and interests. What I’ve published previously, how my writing experience interacts with the project in question, and so on. I often discuss how I think I can bring something particular to a project. Like writing a query, it’s great to be specific, but bad to be long-winded!

Paragraph 3: I discuss the samples of my work attached for perusal. ‘Discuss’ in this case, means, what I’m trying to showcase for the client, whether the pieces have been published, and where to find further samples of my work.

I’ve had above average success for the jobs I’ve applied for, using these tips. And the secret, of course, is to apply to a lot of jobs. When starting out it might be difficult to net the highest paying jobs, and you may need to do some work for less than you’re worth (or *gasp* for exposure). NEVER agree to work for a price you’ll later resent, but remember that no one’s going to treat you like Stephen King until you prove that you can write like him.

If you have any questions you can always use the contact form – or just comment on the blog! What are your dreams about writing for money?

Writing for Money: Getting Started

Every author and their dog has writing advice, whether we’re published, soon to be published, or just messing around. I’m not a big fan of giving theoretical advice or espousing the show-don’t-tell mantra (what does that even mean?). But there’s one thing I can talk about – getting writing gigs.

The landscape around freelance writing has changed a lot since I started 7 years ago, which has significantly affected writers’ opportunities to make money. And that’s not entirely a bad thing!

So, let’s say you want to start getting paid for your writing. How do you do that? I have a few general tips.

Let’s tackle the big issue: writing your own stuff. By this I mean short stories and novels that you submit to magazines, agents and publishers. It’s so rewarding to see your name (or pen name) in print, to see yourself credited for a piece of work that not only you love, but that someone else loved and felt was valuable. There are many people who make a living just by writing their own stuff. If you’re starting out, though, that’s not going to be you. Not yet. If your goal is to make a living off of writing, make sure that you have the time you need to focus on your work, but ensure other income streams as well.

Writing for other people can pay, and it can pay well. Start with analyzing what you want to write. There are opportunities in fiction, nonfiction, articles and stories aimed at kids and at adults, web or magazine copy, and more. There are also editing opportunities. Examine what interests you and keep those interests as broad as possible – the more you can do, the more you’ll be hired to do.

Personal contacts are great to have, and if you can get a gig through a writing program, site or friend that’s great. If you don’t have the contacts you need, head to a freelance portal. Odesk, Upwork and other sites will connect you with clients and make it easy for you to get paid for your work. The downsides of these sites are that they take a cut of your earnings, and they’re often flooded by clients who want high quality work for low-quality pay. You may have to take a couple of low-paying gigs to start in order to establish yourself, but always make sure that you’re okay with the work and the price. There’s no shame in saying no, and resentment at the work versus the pay can make a difficult job even worse.

It’s best to have work you can showcase in a portfolio for prospective clients. Make sure that whoever has commissioned this work from you is okay with having it posted.

My best paying gigs have usually been ghostwriting. Ghostwriting has changed a lot since I first heard about it in high school – back then it was writing autobiographies for B-list celebrities and downwards. With the advent of self-publishing and the rise of small publishers, the Book Packager has begun popping up. Book packagers put together a concept and hire a writer to turn it into a novel. Some allow you to write under your own name, some require you to ghost write. Some work together with traditional publishers, granting the writer an advance and royalties, and some pay the writer up front. I ghost write fantasy and science fiction, and it has been one of my greatest writing experiences.

Writing is a build-up career, and it takes a lot of work up front for little or no pay. You probably won’t be able to jump headfirst into a freelance writing career. But with focus and persistence you can build a client list and reputation, see what jobs work for you, and get started on that elusive goal – getting paid just to write.

Good luck!

It’s not bad writing advice, just mediocre.

I love Nanowrimo. I used to participate every year and while I don’t feel like it’s a necessary part of my process anymore, I value what Nanowrimo has taught me. How far I’ve been able to come is, in part, because of this crazy yes-you-can program.

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The 2016 Nanowrimo icon

I also love Nanowrimo’s support group. We have Nanoedmo (National Novel Editing Month), and the Office of Letters and Light blog often features authors who have gone through the publishing process and have tips for those of us who may be mired in the “Now What?” months of post draft revisions.

However, the past couple of posts have made me gnash my teeth. Yes, a lot of writing advice is subjective (is show don’t tell the worst advice or a necessary part of developing style?) – but there is some practical matter, and it is that matter I take issue with here.

Yes, a lot of this is nitpicky. But yes, the little things can make a big difference.

Beth Revis wrote a great post on having goals in writing, and being able to fail in writing. I liked 99% of the post. But one thing about querying agents caught my eye:

I learned other things. Tricks of the trade that you pick up as you go: 

  1. Copy and paste the first five pages into the bottom of your query in order to give the agent a sample of your writing.

There are a couple of NOPES here. First of all, this isn’t something you should be picking up as you go. Read in advance and you will learn all about what agents want. In fact, research will reveal that a blanket copy-paste for every query is quite possibly a terrible idea. Why? Because agents have guidelines for submissions. Agencies have guidelines. And not all of them include the first five pages in the body of the email.

I have queried agents who don’t want pages. I’ve queried agents who want the first five, the first ten, the first chapter, even the first 20 pages. I’ve queried a (very) few agents who wanted pages attached, not pasted. Some want a synopsis, too. If you don’t follow the rules, the agents think that 1) you can’t read, 2) you can’t pay attention or 3) you think you know better than them. None of these scream BUSINESS PARTNER FOR LIFE. And a lot of agents auto-reject queries that don’t follow the guidelines.

Now, agents understand that it’s easy to get mixed up or make a mistake in the querying process. If you send out a query with the wrong guidelines, an agent might like your material anyway. They might see what you have to offer. In my experience, agents have been quite helpful towards authors who are starting to navigate the publishing world, a world that is far more complicated than we first imagined. But don’t give your dream agent, who has 25000 queries in her inbox and only 2 hours to answer them, an easy excuse to reject you.

Agent Acquired!

Hello everybody. Long time no see. I doubt anyone’s been languishing at my sorry lack of posts, considering the world bursting into flames and all, but I need to get away from Twitter-space and I’m still not done processing the whole procedure, so what the hell – I’ve got an agent! A real literary agent with an agency and a track record and great ideas for my book and stuff!

Image result for level up gif

I’ve blabbered a little bit about my novel before, so I thought I’d skip that blabber and go straight to the blabber about my querying experience. There were things I did that, in hindsight, were an excellent idea and I would recommend to queriers. And things I did that were definitely not so excellent.

I actually started my querying process by entering contests. The first five pages contest and the first line contest, held by Adventures in YA Publishing, helped me hone my work on a detailed basis and got me in the door with a couple of agents. PitchWars got me fantastic feedback from amazing people, and PitchSlam did the same – and put me into contact with the inestimable Kurestin Armada, who now represents me. Contests are ways to connect with other writers and get honest, helpful feedback about your work. Every contest I entered, I got some kind of feedback from at least one of the judges, even if I didn’t ‘win’ or ‘place’ or even make it past the first round. I would heartily recommend that  queriers start with contests to help make their submission material shine. Other authors have also found critique partners through contests – so you never know what you’ll get out of it!

After PitchSlam finished at the end of September, I started querying in earnest. I’m not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but I sent out a query a day. No, I don’t recommend this. It’s kind of a dumb idea. I never got a breather or the chance to analyse what worked or didn’t work about my submission materials. I researched all prospective agents in advance, and again before sending off their query, but it proved to be a big time sink and I was kind of burned out by December. I also made some dumb mistakes – I put in the wrong agent’s name at one point! – and that’s something to keep in mind, too. Maybe if I’d slowed down, I’d have caught the error. It’s important to send out queries on our schedules and not any one agent’s, but maybe not like this.

I never knew how I’d feel about an agent’s reply until I got it. Requests for more material always made me ecstatic, of course, and usually I could take rejections on requested material with optimism and a healthy dose of perspective. Form rejections sometimes stung me, especially when I queried agents who had a manuscript wish list that included my exact novel concept. Many agents say that a rejection has less to do with the author than the agent. Maybe they just don’t connect with the writing, or can’t bear to ask for more work when they’ve got a lot piling up already. That was what I tried to focus on as I prepared the next query, and the next, and the next.

Some people will say that the opposite of love is indifference; I think that’s why some form rejections (or no responses) hit writers so hard.

I thought the hard part of my journey would be over once I got an offer of representation. Other stories of querying and representation that I read made everything seem so simple, like I’d get some lightning bolt when the right agent called. That so not happened. I got multiple offers of representation, all from agents that I would have been ecstatic to say represented me.

To any agents that might read this, y’all are a classy bunch. I never had an unpleasant interaction with any agent at any point in the process, and trying to choose a first among equals left my head spinning more than once. But when I got a chance to settle down and think things through, point by point, Kurestin shared my vision for the book and suggested revisions that filled me with energy and enthusiasm. I’m stoked to have signed with her and I can’t wait to share the rest of the journey – just as soon as it happens!

 

 

 

Why I’m not doing Nanowrimo

No, this is not a screed against Nanowrimo. It’s not about how literature is dying, or how Nanowrimo is the devil, or how agents hate us writers who dare to try writing 50,000 words in a month (pro tip: no they don’t).

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The Nanowrimo logo for 2016

I’ve been watching writers around me prepare for Nanowrimo this year, and I made the conscious decision not to participate fully. I’ll be doing write-ins with my husband (who’s participating in his own way) but I won’t be in it to reach 50k. Why?

Nanowrimo is a tool. I first discovered it in 2004, when I was just 17, and won that very first year. I haven’t won every year since, but winning and losing Nanowrimo has taught me a lot of things:

  1. It taught me that I can try for goals that I thought were impossible – and make them.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just keep pushing, even if you hate your project
  3. It taught me that monthly goals are better for me than daily goals
  4. It taught me that writing is a community rather than solitary experience
  5. It taught me that completely pantsing it sucks*
*okay, okay, just for me. Sheesh.

I learned a lot about my strengths in terms of storytelling while trying Nanowrimo – largely due to getting stuck on my novel thanks to the aforementioned pantsing. I owe a lot of my writing journey to Nanowrimo. In fact, the thing I learned the most while doing Nanowrimo is what made me determine not to do Nanowrimo anymore.

Put your hand up if you’re sick of hearing ‘Don’t edit! Just write!’ Sorry, but I am.

I understand the philosophy behind it. If it works for you as a writer, then I love that it works for you. But it doesn’t work for me. Writing an entirely sucky first draft, that I know is sucky, makes the suck pile up until I can’t face it anymore. This is one thing I discovered in my Nanowrimo journey. The suck became so much that I couldn’t remember the good anymore, and I felt no desire to excavate my project once the month was over.

Conversely, once I started editing as I went, I found that even though it took longer to write my book, I felt more of an attachment to it once it was finished. I could face the suck because I also knew that some parts were less sucky, and some parts were actually all right, and some parts still made me cry.

Editing as you go is anathema to the Nanowrimo way. And, of course, some people get stuck editing the same scene so many times that they can’t move on to creating a new one. If that’s your problem, Nanowrimo is good for that. But if you have the opposite problem, you’re not alone. Nanowrimo’s not for me either.

I wish everyone who’s doing Nanowrimo this year a great month full of incredible ideas and an ever-increasing word count. I’ll be participating in word sprints and haunting the forums.

Just don’t get mad if I go back and rewrite those words right after.

Happy November!