Ink-Dipped Advice: The Right to Love Your Job

 

I say this often, and figured it was about time an entire post was devoted to it:

Loving your job does not mean you forfeit the right to make a living at it.

Let’s break this down. For most of us who work in creative arenas, unless we are famous, we spend a great deal of time being asked when we’ll get a “real job.”

Being creative IS a real job. It’s a demanding one. Most of us work nights, weekends, holidays, because we CREATE others’ leisure activities.

I used to try to “educate” those who try to demean what I do for a living. Then, I realized that it’s not that they’re ignorant; it’s that they resent that I love what I do. So now, when someone asks that, I usually respond with something flippant or snarky. My subtext is always, “when you get a brain” but I don’t always say that.

How many people do you know, outside of the creative realms, who love what they do?

I’m always delighted when I meet a lawyer who loves lawyering or an accountant who loves taking care of the books, or a mechanic who loves fixing cars. Because that means I don’t have to learn more than the basics, and I can trust that individual, who loves the job, to do a good one. I can hire that individual, for a fair day’s pay to do a fair day’s work, and I don’t have to worry about it.

But most people I know don’t love their jobs. It’s something to pay the bills. Not only do they dislike their jobs and resent them, they are angry at anyone else who loves their job.

Being a creative person and committing to make a living doing what I love is a risk. It requires commitment. It doesn’t mean that I “don’t have responsibilities.” I have PLENTY of responsibilities to my family, etc. I am the breadwinner. It’s up to me to keep everything going. To point at me and claim I don’t have responsibilities because my family structure is different than someone else’s is not a valid argument.

For someone to say they “would” do something else if they “had time” or “didn’t have responsibilities” is simply a cop-out on their part. We all HAVE the same amount of hours in the day. How we choose to use them defines us. We prioritize. We make time for what matters. If we allow others to shape all of our time, that’s not on them, that’s on us.

If we are trapped in jobs we don’t like, then it is up to us to sock away as much as possible while we look for a job we like better that pays better. So many of us have to live paycheck to paycheck that it’s a challenge. We all know people who are working two or three jobs just to get by. Sometimes it’s us. We do what we need to do. But ANY job that is out of our creative work is only to support the work itself. As soon as you land something better and in your creative line, you take that opportunity and leave the lesser one. Too often, we remain trapped in a bad situation because it’s the devil we know.

Life will always change. Make sure YOU make the decisions, and they’re not made for you.

On top of that, REFUSE to do the work you love for those who don’t respect the WORK it takes to do what you do and won’t pay a fair wage. Especially in the arts.

I don’t have the patience for people who try to punish me because I love my job and they hate theirs. That is on THEM – the refusal to get out of being stuck.

When someone tells you they are giving you a “great opportunity” – chances are it’s great for them and not so great for you.

Do some research. If it’s a job with a company, check with salary.com to find the median range for the position. If it’s a freelance gig, do some research with other freelancers, the Freelance Union, and places like Writers Market, who, in their print edition, have a list of standard rate ranges.

Put together your quote from that. Give yourself some wiggle room. Decide what your bottom number is AND DON’T GO BELOW IT.

It is often better to not take the gig than to take it for content mill rates.

If you keep getting lowballed and accepting that, then you’ll get the reputation for being the “cheap choice” rather than the “most creative” choice.

Another trap freelancers and creatives often fall into – the self-deprecating comments. Undervaluing ourselves in our words. Often, we’re trying not to come across as boastful or arrogant. But, in reality, we are telling those to whom we speak that we don’t value what we do, so they shouldn’t, either.

When you’re in a meeting or a networking event, frame what you do and how you describe yourself in positive, active terms. No negatives. No passive or qualifiers. Positive verbs. Don’t make claims on which you can’t deliver, but keep your phrasing positives.

If you don’t expect and demand respect for your work, no one else will, either.

When we do work we love, our lives are better. When we do work we love, the work itself is better. When I’m excited about a project — whether it’s writing a play or researching my next novel or planning a marketing campaign for one of my clients — the excitement reflects in the work.

The work is stronger and better. The excitement I feel as I work on it, that energy, is absorbed by the words themselves. Good marketing people can communicate the energy of their projects to engage, enchant, and enlarge their audience.

Great marketing people are also excited by the work itself.

It’s a very specific talent to form words and images into engaging, sensory content, to be able to ignite energy and excitement, turning the two-dimensional form of a page or a screen into the three dimensions and beyond of imaginations.

We deserve to be paid — and paid well — for doing so.

Loving our jobs makes us BETTER at them. Which means we are worth MORE than, not less than, someone who does not.

Don’t settle.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Bill For Phone Time — Why Everyone Wins

 

I loathe the phone. I have a rare condition called hyperacussis, which means I am hyper-sensitive to certain sounds. Some sounds (like leaf blowers) can trigger a heart arrhythmia, and, in the right circumstances, a heart attack. Other sounds make bruises appear. No matter how upscale, there are certain sounds involved with phone technology that feel like someone jabs knitting needles through my ears. It can take a couple of hours to recover from a five minute call.

There are more reasons I loathe the phone. People deny what they said in a phone conversation. “That’s not what I said” or, even more irritating, “That’s not what I meant.” Words matter. Use the right ones. Understand what you’re saying and say what you mean.

Which is why I write a memo after any forced phone conversation going over what was discussed. And stating that if I do not hear to the contrary within two business days, I will move forward on what we discussed, as written in the follow-up memo AND contract.

Most of all, I resent the time phone calls take. There is no “good time” for me to be on the phone. Any phone time interferes with my writing time and creative process. By “my” writing time, I don’t just mean working on novels or plays. I mean the uninterrupted creative writing time I need in order to deliver my best work for the client. That best work that the client DESERVES.

A “quick” phone call (and they never are) can derail creativity for the rest of the day. I only accept phone calls by appointment. So, when I am forced to schedule phone time, I do it during my least creative times of the day. And I have to build the recovery time into the day (that is not billed). Also, I’ve yet to have a business-related call of more than 90 seconds that wasn’t a waste of MY time, or that couldn’t be handled more efficiently in an email. It’s the caller liking the sound of his own voice and wanting someone to applaud as he works out whatever he wants to work out.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for brainstorming. But I’d rather do it in person. Or via email. Body language, tone, and environment are important to a successful brainstorming session. It’s not an effective use of time to brainstorm on the phone while typing a letter on the computer and interrupting as people wander in and out of the office. It’s wasteful of time and energy for everyone involved.

Both in-person and on-the-phone brainstorming sessions are billable hours, as far as I am concerned. It is time out of my workday that is devoted to the client and the client’s needs. Which is fine. That’s why I work with clients. To meet their needs. But that time needs to be scheduled, respected, AND PAID.

When it is, and when the uninterrupted time I need to create excellent material for my clients is respected, the client is the one who wins.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from my fellow freelancers about how frustrated they are by constant phone interruptions. How it makes it impossible for them to get the work done on time, how it negatively affects the quality of the work, and how much time they lose from their workday.

I tell them to bill for the time. Or to schedule specific times for phone consultations.

“Oh, I can’t do that! My clients expect to reach me by phone!”

Why?

Because you’ve allowed that expectation.

A lot of freelancers offer an initial free half hour phone consultation to generate new business. I’ve never found that resulted in booking more paid business. In fact, I’ve attended conferences where participants boast on how many free phone consults they do, and all the free information they gather, never having to pay anyone for their time. I also no longer do coaching sessions via phone. I do them either in person or via email. Occasionally, I’ll use Skype, but under specific conditions. Too often, the person on the other end of the phone is invested in the Myth of Multi-Tasking and is doing six other things while on the phone. None of them are being done well, and the consultation is a waste of everyone’s time.

Set it out in the contract. If you want to give them X amount of free phone time, go ahead. But otherwise, state in the contract that you charge X dollars for X minutes of phone time.

I charge in 15-minute increments, like a lawyer, and state that appointments for calls must be made in advance. I send an invoice immediately after the conversation, and expect payment by the end of that business day via PayPal. Anything else, send an email. During business hours, I’m quick to respond.

Clients don’t believe I will actually adhere to the policy and hold the boundary. But I do.

That is why a thorough contract is so important.

It has cut down on unnecessary phone time, because they don’t want to pay for it, and they learn pretty fast that yammering on about nothing costs them money. The result is more focused time when we are on the phone, and my clients get a faster turnaround time with higher quality work. So it benefits THEM in the long run, even though it’s a different process than the way they’re used to working.

Some people adore doing the bulk of their business dealings on the phone. If so, good for you. Unless that time is built into your project or hourly rate, though, I suggest billing separately for phone time.

I found it makes a huge positive difference in both productivity and quality.

Which means my clients are happy.

And we all win.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Research To Prepare Your Perfect Pitch

 

The best freelance gigs I land generally come about when I get interested and excited about a company and decide I want to be a part of their team. Which means convincing them that their lives are better/easier/more profitable if I’m part of it.

When I was younger, I used to emphasize my flexibility – my chameleon-like ability to adapt to most situations (unless I find them unethical or feel my integrity is being compromised).

As I’ve aged and gotten more experienced and more confident, my angle has changed to be more about being very much myself instead of what I think they want. At this point in the game, I bring a lot to the table. Either it will be a good fit to move their vision forward, or it won’t. I’d rather know by the end of the first interview than find out six months in. The best way to do that is to be unabashedly MYSELF from Moment One.

But Moment One won’t happen if I don’t do my homework.

When I find a company that interests me, with whom I think I’d like to work, I go through the website. I go through press clippings. I read about the members of their staff, about what’s important to them as human beings as well as well as the overall company vision. I go through social media, articles, interviews, newspaper articles.

Then I figure out how and where I’d be an asset. Where do my skills, and, even more important, my energy and enthusiasm for what they do, support and fit their platform? How can I expand and engage their audience? Spread the message in a way that is positive, productive, and truthful?

From there, I craft the pitch/cover letter. I mention what I like about their company and how I think my unique skill set would add to what they do and what they WANT to do. I don’t tell them they’re doing something “bad” or “wrong.” I might not agree with the current approach in their marketing/web content/etc. materials, but I don’t know the story behind it. As someone who claims to be excited by their vision and want to work with them, why would I shame them? If there are things I think could use a different approach, I can talk about it in the interview, but within a positive construct.

As someone who regularly gets spammy emails from content mill marketers and faux writers stating my content is “bad” and theirs is better, I know how off-putting it is. Also, most of these generic emailers stating they want to “help” me reach a wider audience are full of errors AND have obviously not spent any time reading ANY of my sites – or they’d know my specific needs and vision.

If I wouldn’t hire someone like that, why would I want to BE someone like that?

I don’t.

I do try to find an individual to whom to send the pitch, not just a general, vague email. I have a cover letter template, but I slant each letter to highlight the parts of my experience I feel are best suited to their unique situation. I read carefully to decide which of my several resumes are most suited, what kind of samples to send. Of course, if they demand unpaid, project-specific samples written just for them, I stop the process and look elsewhere (see last week’s post).

Of course, there are always companies that, once you do the research, don’t look so inviting. I’ve ditched more than one pitch when they demanded that contact be to a specific individual at a specific email, but then didn’t have a staff list and stated “no phone calls.” If it means digging all the way back into the articles of incorporation filed with the state, it’s probably not a place that’s a good match. Or, if, as I do my research, I get that feeling that maybe they aren’t working along lines I can agree with. Of course, when I read negative or positive pieces, I then research THE WRITERS of those pieces, to see what the context of the article/interview/critique is.

I also keep detailed notes, much like my fact check sheets when I do an article, to follow the path in case I need to double back and reconfirm a piece of information.

I also see if any of my colleagues know anything about the place, and what their experiences were.

Yes, it takes time. But, if I really want a gig, it’s worth it.

In the course of my research, of course, I come up with some of the staff. Still, I prefer to check a current staff list just before I send something, to make sure I’m not sending a pitch to someone who just left. Or was promoted.

Or, if there’s an “online application” through a third party head hunter, and I have to re-enter, manually, everything that’s on my resume – pass. Waste of everybody’s time.

My rule of thumb now is, if I find the process of contact irritating, that’s probably a good indication of what it’s like to work with them. Best if we don’t put ourselves through the pain.

Because there are an awful lot of exciting, passionate, ethical entrepreneurs out there.

It just takes a bit of work to find them!

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Myth of the Worthwhile Unpaid Sample

 

If you cruise the job boards and read listings, one way you can cull the worthwhile jobs from the non-worthwhile jobs is their approach to samples.

Professionals ask for samples from your previous work. They might ask that it’s on topic; or they might just want a general sample for voice and style. But they are smart enough, respectful of skill, and capable of reading a sample and seeing if the writer’s style, tone, and craft are compatible.

Companies lower down the scale, who tend to put quantity over quality, will often demand an unpaid sample on a topic they assign. I’ve seen this in web content jobs, and, disturbingly, in some of the corporate script-writing jobs.

Sometimes, they are clear in the ad, and you can just move on without bothering to pitch. But some companies wait until you pitch and then demand you write a “sample” per their specifications as a “test” without pay.

This is different than a company that requests a standard editing or writing test that it wants for all applicants – although the top companies who do that also pay you for your time.

Freshly minted freelancers (and many fresh authors, scriptwriters, etc.) worry that if they submit material, it will be stolen. The only place that’s likely is in the land of the Unpaid Sample.

Note that this is different than an agent or an editor requesting sample chapters of your completed novel. That IS legitimate. Legitimate agents and editors don’t need or want to steal anything from eager authors.

The Scam Samplers give you parameters and demand that you write a complete article (or script) with sources, embedded links, et al – for nothing. In other words, they have a pool of unpaid writers. They then tell those who submitted that they’re “going in a different direction” or “the position has been filled.” The company vanished. The unpaid work then turns up, under a different company name, and a different byline.

I remember, several years ago, someone in a freelance group in which I participated, brought up such an ad. This guy was angry because he’d answered the ad, submitted the sample, and was told he didn’t get the job. A week later, the company’s website was gone. Three weeks later, he came across a new website for a similar company – and his work was up there, verbatim, under a different byline for a different company. He posted on the loop. Nearly two dozen other freelancers had submitted to the same company. All of them were told that they hadn’t gotten the job. ALL of their work was up on this website. Unattributed. Unpaid.

I’d seen the job. I’d pitched. But as soon as they asked for an article written specifically to them for their specs – I sent them a response with how much it would cost.

I charge for such samples. I charge a lower rate, but I charge. And I expect 50% in advance, and 50% paid on receipt of the sample.

When I got a nasty email in response, I told them no.

Something similar happened a few months ago, when I pitched to a company to write 3 minute corporate videos for their product. I hadn’t written for that type of product, but I’d written enough corporate videos that reflected the various company’s visions and products with a sense of humor that I felt good about the submission. I’d used several as samples for other jobs – and landed those jobs. I knew the samples stood up.

The “producer” got back to me and said they loved my scripts. Now, they wanted me to participate in a TWO HOUR Skype session with the client, and then write a spec script for the product itself to see if I could “get” their tone. Then we would start talking contract. Because, of course, in spite of the rate listed in the ad (which was near the top of my range), that might change (go lower) during contract negotiations.

I spent two and a half decades working production in theatre, film, and television. Any professional director or producer can read a similar script excerpt or sample and know if the writer “gets” the tone. There are also specific Guild rates for all of this type of work, including working on a script that is later rejected.

I sent them a rate for that amount of work.

I got an immediate email stating no, no, no, they weren’t PAYING for this work. There were many strong candidates and this was part of the competition to see who would get the job.

I wished them well and withdrew from consideration.

This led to a barrage of nasty emails over 36 hours berating me for my unprofessionalism and that I should be grateful for the opportunity. To waste two hours of my time on SKYPE and write a complete script for free. Not grateful when someone tries to scam me.

I forwarded them all to my lawyer and had him deal with it.

These are the jobs that aren’t worth a freelancer’s time and effort. You won’t be paid; you won’t have anything worthwhile to add to your portfolio.

A legitimate, professional company has personnel who can read, comprehend, and project whether or not a particular writer’s style is right for their vision. I do script coverage for several small production companies and individual directors. That’s the job – discernment of art, craft, and style. If they want a project-specific sample, they are willing to negotiate a sample rate.

If either side decides it’s not the right fit, you part with cordiality.

Everyone’s time and skills are respected, and properly compensated.

Anything else is not worth the time, energy or frustration. Let the scammers eat themselves.

Ink-Dipped Advice: My Rolodex Isn’t Free

Note I didn’t say “My Rolex.” I don’t have or need or want a Rolex. I stopped wearing a watch years ago.

The job listings for one of my areas of marketing work, especially when it comes to working for non-profits, have a disturbing trend, especially in my region of the Northeast. One of the job “requirements” is that one have high-end, recognizable contacts in the field. And share those contacts in the interview process.

The jobs themselves, with this demand:
–are part-time;
–have no benefits;
–barely pay above minimum wage.

Yet they expect me to bring my Rolodex, which has been built and curated over decades of hard work at market rate (with benefits) for . . .what? Why? Why would a professional at the top of the field give away a carefully built and curated contact list?

That’s not how it works.

A full-time, benefitted head-of-department job requires a proven track record in the field and solid examples of accomplishments. Contacts are part of that package. But contacts are used as part of a process, not as a product delivered in an interview.  A part-time, un-benefitted, underpaid job is not going to attract the level of worker you demand. Because those individuals are being paid what they are worth, by people who understand the market, the value of these workers’ skills, and how relationships are built over time, from job to job.

I’ve actually been asked for my contact list as a requirement for landing an interview. I refused and was told I wouldn’t even be considered. Which is just fine.

That’s like those content mill/fake article markets that say you have to write a “test” article for free. Then, they tell the applicants they hired someone else, gather up the free articles, change the company name, and use them without payment or permission. Which is why I don’t do unpaid “tests.” Pay me or look at my portfolio and see if my style fits your needs. Don’t expect me to work for free.

I also get angry when an organization who knows I worked on Broadway with recognizable names demands, “Tell (recognizable individual) to give us X.” Or “You know lots of famous people. Add them to our contact list.”

Um, no.

First of all, I don’t make demands of the people with whom I worked. If something comes up that I think is appropriate (a donation for a cause or lending a name or a signed whatever), then I will make THE REQUEST. When I feel the request is not appropriate, I won’t. And I won’t randomly hand out their contact information, either. It’s a breach of trust. It’s also against the anti-spamming law.

Why hasn’t the organization itself built and curated a contact list over the years?

Obviously, I have contacts in the field (in many fields) that I would use in whatever job where appropriate. With their permission, I might even add them to the organization’s contact list. But I’m not going to hand over my contacts in an interview, or even as a condition of a job. Especially not one that’s underpaid and without benefits.

These relationships were built over time and based on trust. The contacts know I won’t hand out their information without permission and allow a barrage of inappropriate demands. To break that trust hurts my contact, and hurts me, beyond my work for the one, demanding organization. The organization will receive a “no” and I will use a valued contact. Not worth it for any of us.

You want to hire me because of my CONTACTS rather than my skill in communicating your business while expanding YOUR contacts? Unappetizing on every level.

The arrogance and the sense of entitlement in these demands astonishes me. It’s also a good indication of an organization with whom I do not wish to work.

Ink-Dipped Advice: My Deal With the Muse

There’s been all sorts of fa-la-la going on lately, especially on Twitter, about how often writers do and should write. And I don’t mean in a deck-the-halls way. I mean in an I’m-refraining-from-swearing way.

It’s interesting where the harshest criticism against those of us who write every day comes from. There are two factions: One faction is those with the luxury of a day job in a different field or a partner who pays the bills, who only write “when they have time” or “when the muse strikes.” Unpublished and under-published writers often fall into this category. Writing is what they do on the side, not how they keep a roof over their heads. Because their day job gives them financial security, they feel it also gives them the right to deride, bully, and even shame those of us who earn our living at it.

Honey, I have no shame. Not when it comes to my writing. I do this because I love AND because I value my craft and my art enough to be paid for my work.

The other faction surprises me: Writers with traditional publishers who have agents and advances that allow them to take two or three or five years to write a book. Sometimes, they have other sources of income or a partner shouldering the bills. But often, they started out by writing a lot to keep a roof over their heads, but now they don’t have to. Hey, good for them, they’re living the dream, but have they forgotten what it’s like?

I distill it down to this:
Is writing your business or your hobby? Is it the way you keep a roof over your head?

If it’s your business and how you keep a roof over your head, you show up every day like you would at any other job and you put in the work.

There’s nothing wrong or bad or anything about writing on the side or writing as a hobby. It’s just a different career trajectory.

Getting paid for my work isn’t shameful. It doesn’t make me “less of” a writer or a hack.

It makes me a professional.

I remember, even when I worked on Broadway, how people told me I should “get a real job.” It’s also around the same time I kicked musician and poet boyfriends to the curb who spent all their time in bars with floors full of peanut shells, downing watered-down drinks, and moaning that landing a publishing contract or getting paid to work was “selling out.”

I call it “going pro.”

Because I simply do not have the time or the patience for creative vampires.

Also, there’s a misconception that “writing every day” means you never get a day off. What “writing every day” means you show up the way you would any job and do the work. You CHOOSE days off. You take vacations. Sometimes you’re sick. Sometimes you have to deal with a crisis. But you still show up regularly and do the work. Sometimes you’re tired; sometimes it’s a hard day. But you show up and do the work.

I’ve written about “The Muse” before on Ink in My Coffee, especially during the years I made the transition from working on Broadway full time (which means many more than 40 hours a week) while writing an additional 40-60 hours a week to writing full time. I’ve personified the muse, joked about it, etc.

But the bottom line is that I made a deal with the muse: I will show up and do the work regularly. When the muse smacks me upside the head with the Frying Pan of Fresh Ideas, I will make notes AT THAT MOMENT – even if it’s on a napkin or a sticky note – and I will be grateful, every day of my life, that the muse is my partner on the journey. I will honor, respect, and work with the muse. And the muse will not abandon me. Even if sometimes I get a kick in the butt or silence for a few days.

When you put off or  ignore the muse, when you tell the muse you “dont’t have time” or you’ll “get around to it”–the muse will pack up and leave.

Creative energy is a sustainable source. It feeds on itself. The more you create, the more energy you have to create, and the more you can create.

So meet your muse. Evolve with your muse. Make a deal with your muse.

Then fulfill it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Art of Being A Good Guest

 

Guest posting is terrific. I love to be a guest. I love to be a host. But anyone who runs sites knows how frustrating guests can be when they don’t behave well.

I’d planned to open one of my sites, A Biblio Paradise, to pitches for posts; however, the invited guests over the years have sometimes been such trouble, for the moment, I’m sticking with invitation-only. I’d opened it to fellow authors with several publishers – publishers that we shared, to give my colleagues more opportunities.

There will always be problems here and there, but this is what my fellow authors did after demanding a slot:

–book a slot and never send the material;

–when I asked where the material was, told me they were really busy and forgot and why hadn’t I reminded them (hello, are you a grown-up? Your schedule and commitments are YOUR responsibility);

–when I said I needed a media kit (especially to form interview questions), the response was, “Oh, I don’t know what that is. I don’t use one. Just look at my website.” First of all, you call yourself a published author and don’t have the most basic marketing tool of a media kit? Second, when someone tells you they need a specific type of marketing material, if you don’t have it or know about it, you do your research ELSEWHERE and the come up with it instead of showing your lack of professionalism; third, it’s YOUR responsibility to provide requested material. Hosts usually run multiple websites and need a streamlined process. They’re not a way to get extra hits on your site. Don’t make them do your work;

–sent me material so poorly written and badly copy-edited it was unusable;

–sent it in a format I couldn’t use and told me they “don’t do conversions; you’ll have to do it.”

In all of the above, the response is good-bye. I am not doing YOUR work.

As a guest, if you’re looking for blogs on which to appear, keep in mind the following:

–research the market to which you pitch and keep it appropriate. I currently run seven websites and six blogs. Yesterday, I got 13 of the exact same pitches from an individual with only a first name pretending to want a guest spot to sell a product for which he’s probably being paid $1 post from a content mill. The product had nothing to do with ANY of the sites.

–don’t insult the host. “Your content really sucks and you need my content to make it better” will not get you hired.

–don’t cold-pitch and demand payment that has nothing to do with guidelines. Read the guidelines. They will say IF the host pays and, usually, HOW MUCH. If the host is paying $50/post and you say you won’t work for less than $200, guess what? You won’t get the slot.

–the pitch should be short, relevant to the site, and focused.

–don’t argue if the host is interested and wants more information. If you feel the information is inappropriate to the pitch/slot, then simply say you’ve changed your mind and decline. Don’t wait until the last minute and not send anything.

–don’t commit to a date and then ask for a different one at the last minute. Most hosts book in advance. You don’t have the right to demand someone else is bumped. If there’s an emergency and you have to miss a deadline, suggest another writer you know would step in and step up.

–send clean copy!!!!!!! Proofread. The host may need to make certain edits, but send the best copy you can.

–on the day your post appears, visit the site. Respond to comments. Say thank you.

I’d like to bring up something else: If you run a blog of your own, especially if you’re a fiction author appearing on a blog run by another author, it’s nice to reciprocate by inviting your host to guest on your site. It amazes me how rarely this occurs to the same authors who shoot off poorly-worded pitches, asking to guest.

But don’t just listen to me: here are some tips from some of the best in the business: Tara Lynne Groth, Jennifer Mattern, and Lori Widmer.

Says Tara Lynne, “One of the best things a guest contributor can do is follow through. I host about one guest blogger per month and the schedule for the year fills fast. Last year, a handful of confirmed contributors never sent their submissions. They never contacted me to ask for an extension, apologize, or send their piece late. They simply never contacted me and left me with a gap on the blog, plus they took away an opportunity that someone else could have taken. Good guest bloggers are professional, meet deadlines, and extend the professional courtesy of an update should the deadline become an issue for them.”

Lori Widmer agrees: “When writers commit to a deadline, it’s a good faith promise to the person they’re working with that the content will be there on time. Every year I put together a month of guest posts for Writers Worth Month. It’s planned in advance, and if someone drops out, there’s a scramble on my side to fill it with content. Because the writers I know who post are professionals, I’ve never had to fill a space during Writers Worth Month that was left by someone who was unreliable. These writers build trust, and that goes hundreds of miles with clients. Yet I do occasionally have people promise things they never deliver.

“I had one writer disappear on me. He sent me what was clearly a cut-and-paste ‘personal’ note asking to guest post. He introduced himself and went into detail about his idea. Only problem – he already knew me because he’d posted a few other times on my site. Turn-off #1. And his idea? If he read my blog at all (Turn-off #2 because he clearly didn’t), he’d know I will never promote what he was suggesting was a great idea for finding work – content mills. Deal-breaking Turn-off #3. That is the antithesis of what I believe in. In fact, my entire blog was started based on a rant about content mills that I had to write down somewhere. But, since I knew this guy, I talked with him and we came to an agreement on what he could present. That was three months ago. Where he went is anyone’s guess.”

“Being a PR professional on top of a freelance writer and blogger, I get particularly peeved about bad guest posts,” Jennifer Mattern states. “Basically, guest posts are one of many ‘old school’ PR tactics marketers hijacked and abused. They started out, and still exist, in the realm of professionals seeking to reach the audiences of trade publications. Guest posts are just the expansion of that traditional strategy to an online medium.

“That focus hasn’t changed though. The most important aspect of good guest content is the audience or readership, even if it’s sometimes overlooked by the SEO crowd trying to exploit them in their link schemes. If you want to get the most out of guest posts, put your host’s community first. Who are a blog’s readers? And what value can you offer them?

That is the goal of a guest post done well — providing value to a reader base you can’t already reach with your own properties. That value is what helps you build legitimate links, followers, shares, and conversions if you’re hoping to make connections to reach future clients or customers. So don’t focus your guest posting on links. Focus on being of service to others.”

Lori expands on this: “My must-haves for guest posts: Commitment, a guarantee that the content will be delivered, and content that is free of any advertising. I don’t stump for other companies, and I won’t accept it for guest posts. Links to your website in your bio, great! A link or two in the post if it’s relevant to what you’re writing about, terrific! But if every other sentence has an affiliate link you’re not telling me about, you’re not getting published on my blog. I’ve spent a ton of time building up my reputation and credibility with my readers. I won’t insult them by constantly selling them something. That’s not my business model.

“My post guidelines clearly state I won’t accept content from companies. Yet last week alone, I received three pitches from companies. The worst was one that offered a post loaded with links back to their site and promised me ‘profit’ through monetizing. Really? Dangle a few pennies and that’s going to make me forget my guidelines? Not happening.

“Even worse are the writers who are now asking in droves for guest posts, saying they love my blog and want to write for it. Only…. They say ‘Hi’ and never use my name; they all send nearly identically worded pitches, and; they never suggest a topic but wait for me to say yes. Oh, and I don’t know them from anyone. While that last one isn’t a deal-breaker, it shows good faith if you actually comment on something before you pitch a guest post idea.”

All of these speak to issues I raised earlier.

Lori continues, “Etiquette should reach beyond guest posts, in fact. Once I’d arranged a webinar with a writer that had to be canceled last minute. The writer, who’d never done a webinar, got a serious case of jitters, and backed out. Unfortunately, he did so about three days from the actual event. I couldn’t line up another writer, nor could I wing it. I had to cancel, which left me looking like I was unreliable. That is not the recipe for trust among other writers. I get nervous, too. I get anxious, in fact. But if I commit, I follow through. I remember being in a hotel in Manhattan with a serious case of stomach upset the night before a big client meeting. But I went through with it. I medicated, didn’t eat before the meeting, and meditated to reestablish my balance. You don’t cancel on a client who’s got their own deadlines, and you push through no matter what. I think I’d have to be hooked to an IV before I’d cancel on a client. Then again, if the IV is on wheels, we’re good to go.”

That reflects what I tell my writing students: The only excuse for missing a deadline is death. Yours.

Deal with potential hosts with courtesy and reliability. Do your research; offer something relevant. Then fulfill your commitment.

Tara Lynne sums it up well: “Guest blogging is a great way to connect with platforms other than your own, but make sure you use that opportunity to impress and not disappoint.”

Being a courteous cyber-guest is similar to being a good houseguest, but with a wider reach.

Tara Lynne Groth:
Tara Lynne Groth writes SEO content, develops blogs and provides content marketing for site owners. Before running her writing business she was a marketing manager and public relations director. She speaks at conferences and teaches classes on best blogging practices and search engine optimization. She’s also a journalist, a poet, and writes short fiction.
www.writenaked.net
www.taralynnegroth.com

Jennifer Mattern
Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer and PR consultant. She also runs All Freelance Writing, where she has helped freelance writers establish and grow their own businesses since 2006.

Lori Widmer
Lori has a BA in Business Communications from Rosemont College and additional education and course work in Journalism from various colleges and universities. Add to that more than 20 years of writing experience, including writing for publications, corporations, small to mid-sized businesses, and individuals, covering topics including finance, health care, workers compensation, and sales/marketing. With over 2oo articles in various business and trade publications, she delivers compelling, relevant content that improves your message and can help boost profitability.
http://loriwidmer.com/
http://wordsonpageblog.com/

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Social Media Conversation

Social Media. We love it. We hate it. We’re addicted to it. There are dozens of “experts” telling us how we “should” do it.

Social Media is pretty basic. It’s shared information, shared interaction, conversation.

That’s not how it’s used, especially not with all the trolls out there. Not worth engaging with them. Block them and move on. Use your energy for your work and for positive interaction. As a friend of mine often says, “You can’t fix stupid” and there’s a lot of stupid out there.

Social Media is also an excellent marketing tool. Freelancers can use it for all kinds of things. I’ve found some of my highest-paying gigs via Twitter. Sometimes it was an ad; more often, someone read some of my Tweets on a topic, liked what I said and how I said it, and hired me.

As a writer, I’m hired by small businesses to run their social media accounts, expand their profiles and reach, which, when done properly, increases both sales and visibility. When it’s done well. Also as a writer, I use social media to get out information about my own books, and I support and encourage fellow authors and other artists as much as possible.

If someone follows me, I try to follow back. The obvious bots and Evangelical trolls are ignored or blocked. But I don’t follow back someone who only has advertisements on the account. I don’t follow back someone who never engages with anyone else, and only posts “Buy This!” all the time. It also annoys me when someone follows me, I follow back, and I get an immediate DM trying to sell me something. That’s an immediate unfollow, and often a block. No conversation, just an aggressive demand that I buy something.

No.

I believe in buying books by living authors, and I buy as many, every week, as my budget allows. I share and comment on other author’s posts. When I read something I particularly like, I post about it. If I don’t like a book, I might post about elements I don’t like, but I don’t trash the author. Writers need to write what they write. Readers need to read what they like to read — but not demand that writers write something else.

We all have elements that work or don’t work for us. I loathe novels written in present tense. Whenever I try to read one, it feels like the author stands between me and the story, screaming in my face, “Look at ME! I’m such a great stylist!” instead of letting me live the story. I don’t care how famous the author is or how many copies the book has sold. I can’t get past page three before I’m ready to throw the book across the room.

I was deeply disappointed when an author whose work I’ve loved over the years wrote her latest book in present tense. In that case, I didn’t even make it to the end of page one.

But I didn’t complain to her about it, either publicly or privately. She has the right to write what and how she wants. I have the right not to read it. I don’t have the right to attack her on social media or to email her to bitch and moan. And no, I’m not telling you who she is. Read the above.

I engage politically on social media. Not on behalf of clients — if I run a client’s social media presence, we have a discussion about the topics and opinions that best reflect the business. Unless, of course, they are politically-oriented and they’re paying me for it — and I agree with their views. Most businesses for whom I handle social media keep the politics out of the business account and, if they engage, only do so on their personal accounts, which I do not run.

I’ve been politically active since I was 15. If you don’t want to be political, that’s up to you. But you’re not going to tell me that I can’t. Let’s face it — those who don’t like my politics won’t like my books, because my books explore many of the issues we face, even when they are set in alternate worlds or in a different time period. I have met many interesting people through political activism with whom I might never have crossed paths in real life. I value their opinions and their commitment.

An unfortunate trend is that the only way to get customer service from far too many companies is to complain about them on social media. Then their “care” division will respond. Sometimes, it’s bogus. Publicly, they will pretend to fix the problem while privately not doing anything. But sometimes, you get results.

Your profile
Think of it as the hook not just for your book, but your career. Short, interesting, but you.

How often you engage
That’s going to depend on your schedule. I try to get on social media for short periods of time a couple of times a day. A basic client package is two tweets each business day and one Facebook post. The next tier up includes a (short) blog post once a week, that is then promoted on social media (separate from the two tweets per day). I aim for at least one day a week where I’m disconnected from internet/phone/social media, etc. I need that. Otherwise, it interferes with both my creativity and productivity.

Have something to say
It’s more than just about what you’re trying to sell. It’s about why people should be interested in you rather than someone else, or in addition to someone else. Share what interests you, what excites you, what makes your world better. Balance business and sales tweets with engaging content.

Respond to other posts
Liking and sharing/retweeting is great and appreciated. But also take time to make a comment when appropriate. You don’t have to re-iterate what was said, but if you have something to add, do so. If you see someone who could use a few words of encouragement, say them. Help your contacts celebrate their successes, and give them kind words when they need it.

Proofread your posts
Many of us use our phones for social media. I know Auto-correct is my Nemesis. Or, as I call it, Auto-Incorrect. Even when I’ve proofed and fixed, it will change it back to what IT wants as I’m hitting send. But do the best you can.

Build relationships
I’ve met quite a few people in person after first getting to know them through social media. Mostly at conferences or events (safety first, always have the first meeting in public, where you feel safe). I’ve also met people at events and conferences and continued building the relationships on social media.

Don’t lash out in anger
It’s tough. Remember that someone’s page is theirs; they have the right to express their opinion. You have the right to disagree. But is it worth an argument? If you don’t agree with something, you can scroll past. You can block, you can mute, you can unfollow or unfriend. Are they threatening harm? That’s different. You have to make a decision whether to talk them down or report them to the appropriate authorities. There are times when you MUST disagree, but try to do so with as much dignity as possible. No, I don’t always achieve that either. But I’m trying to be better about it. Sometimes, an angry response is both necessary and useful. But take the time to think it through and phrase it so it says what you mean, and comes from both the heart and the brain instead of just a reaction.

Sometimes, you grow apart
On or offline, you will grow away from people. Life takes you in different directions. While social media can help keep you connected over miles, sometimes you can’t maintain a relationship. Whether someone’s path takes them somewhere you disagree with so much that you have to break contact, or you grow in a way that means you need to cut toxic people out of your life on and off line, it will happen. Try to part in peace rather than anger, and let go. Sometimes, you will find your way back into contact; sometimes not. People come into your life at different times for different reasons. Sometimes, they have to leave.

Use social media; don’t let it use you
It should enhance your life and add interest, engagement, and opportunity to it. It should not consume you, depress you, or put you in unsafe situations. Use common sense and trust your gut.

Social media can be a great, positive way to grow your network both personally and professionally. You can meet interesting, intelligent people and learn a lot. Know when to engage, when to move on, when to block. Don’t hard sell. Engage. Converse. Grow. Support each other.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Refusal to Network Hurts Your Business

 

This post is relevant to clients and to freelancers.

One of the things I do when I sit down with clients who want me to create marketing materials is to discuss how they network. It’s something that also comes up at meet-ups with freelancers, conferences, and other events. This helps me create the best possible marketing materials for the company. As a freelancer, networking helps me meet potential clients who need my skills; or, if I’m not the right person for their needs, I can usually refer another freelancer I know.

I’m always astonished when I get this answer from BOTH clients and other freelancers: “I don’t have time to network.”

Say what?

How do you expect anyone to find you/hire you/buy your product?

Putting up a website is NOT enough.

One of the best ways to network, whether you’re a business trying to expand your profile or a freelancer looking for new clients, is your local Chamber of Commerce.

The point of local chambers is to connect businesses with each other, so they can work together and grow the community’s economy.

Businesses, you’ll find potential markets and people with skills you need to grow your business.

Freelancers, there’s a pool of people who need your skills. And remember – as a freelancer, you ARE a small business.

Most chambers have one or more open houses during the course of a year. They’re worth checking out. Many chambers will also allow newcomers to attend one or two meetings in the course of a season before paying the fee.

Other networking opportunities include Meet-Ups, associations, non-profit events, and conferences in your town. Any community-based event can be the chance to network.

Having said that, it’s important to be appropriate in the situation. If you attend the Community Holiday Carol singalong, don’t just run up to people and hand out your card. Share the music, share the song sheets, chat with people over cider and cookies. Match your approach to the event or you’ll drive people away instead of engage them.

When I’m discussing marketing strategies with potential clients, I often hear, “Oh, I joined the Chamber for a year and it wasn’t worth the money.”

My response is, “I’m sorry to hear that. Which events did you attend?”

The response, 99.9% of the time is, “Oh, I didn’t GO to any events.”

Do you see the disconnect?

In order to engage a larger audience, you must ENGAGE. Sitting at home, paying a fee to the Chamber (or any other organization) and expecting them to chase after you is unrealistic.

Join an organization. ATTEND EVENTS. Get to know your fellow attendees. LISTEN more than you TALK.

That will give you an idea who to approach for an appointment – or even for a coffee to get to know each other better.

Walking up to a stranger, handing out a card, and demanding someone hire you will NOT get you hired. However, having a conversation, getting to know the background, the business, and asking questions to find out more and to find out their goals and dreams for the coming year – that gives you something upon which to build.

Sitting home in your pajamas won’t grow your business. Sitting in on an event, listening, learning, and then responding appropriately sets a good foundation.