Ink-Dipped Advice: Artists Are Expected To Settle For Less — And Shouldn’t

As a published author, I’m getting a little tired of getting pitched to by marketing organizations that want me to hand over a bunch of moolah, but refuse to commit to results.

I understand the value of getting one’s name out in front of as many people as possible for name recognition and business growth. That’s part of how I earn my living.

I work with other businesses to communicate their message effectively and grow their business. They expect me to grow their name recognition. To get their name and their product in front of those who will actually open their wallets and buy it. They expect – and demand – that the work I do – the work for which they PAY me — results in more sales.

If it doesn’t, within a reasonable amount of time, that client will end our business relationship and hire someone else who gets him a better return.

Why are authors and other artists told they must expect any different?

Almost every author/artist promotional service has a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee sales. Why not? Other businesses expect a return on their investment. Why shouldn’t artists?

They should. We should. We need to stop settling for less.

When I hire someone else to promote my book, I expect it to result in sales. Otherwise, there is no point in hiring that firm. I can do it myself.

If it does NOT result in sales, then I’ve put my money in the wrong place, and it’s time to try something else.

The way any reputable business owner does.

Because, as an artist, I AM a small business.

We need to stop settling for a lower return than any other business because we’re artists. We need to stop ALLOWING others to treat us as second-class individuals. We need to start acting like smart business people, so that we will be treated as such.

Part of that is expecting a reasonable return on the investment.

So what is a reasonable return? At the very least, I want to make back what I spent on the promotion, plus 20%. Which is a low, but that’s my personal threshold for feeling like a campaign was worth the money spent. When it goes above that, I’m delighted.

Then I see how I can build on that for the next campaign.

Plenty of people will wail that one “can’t” expect a return on art/novels/etc. The demand I’m making here will anger a lot of marketing people.

Why can’t we expect a result for money spent? Movie studios do. Television content providers do. Fine artists do. Commercial theatre productions do or they have short runs. Traditional publishing houses do, too.

Because the artist is dropped from the contract if the artist’s work does not sell.

Now, more and more artists are forced to hire their own marketing for their work. If my publisher tells me I have to get X amount of sales or I won’t get future contracts, and I’m required to hire my own marketing firm, then, yes, I expect that firm to be savvy enough in the kind of marketing I need in order to deliver the results FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID. If my publisher paid them directly, or had an in-house marketing team do the work, the same expectations would hold. Lack of results means the business relationship ends.

So we need to stop thinking that we don’t “deserve” results simply because we are not a corporation. We are a small business, and we deserve the same results when we hire in a service as any other business does.

I’m done settling for less.

(Note: This has been a tough time, especially for progressive women. I joked on social media that this year’s Nano needs to have a “Women’s Rage” forum. Instead of that, I’m starting a private virtual group to develop creative work in multiple disciplines called Women Write Change. Stay tuned here, on Ink in My Coffee  and the main Devon Ellington site  for more information. It’ll take me a few days to set up, and then I’ll have an address where interested parties can request invitation).

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Networking Practices

 

It’s been a busy time for me lately, and in a good way. But I’ve had some positive results of the various networking I’ve done.

When I meet people at events and exchange cards, I try to send them a note or an email within a few days of the meeting, just to say I enjoyed meeting them and to continue whatever conversation we began at the event.

Most places I’ve lived and worked — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, Australia, Western Mass, Vermont, Washington DC, etc. — this is standard. You exchange cards, you exchange messages post-event and build from there, or have the initial post-event pleasant exchange and put the information aside in case it’s needed down the pike. And then use the information when and where appropriate.

Here, it’s quite different. Most of the time, I do the follow-up, and it’s crickets. If it’s a visiting artist/instructor/agent/editor from somewhere else, there’s response, but local? Rare.

If I mention, the next time we run into each other, “Hey, I sent an email after we met last time; did I get the address wrong? I want to make sure I have your correct contact information”  — the answer is usually, “Oh, I don’t have time to respond to emails” or “I didn’t answer, because I figured I’d run into you again.” In my book, those are not solid practices that grow one’s business.

I try to reconnect with those I’ve met about once a quarter. Just a quick “Hey, how are you, thinking of you, how’s it going?”  When I have an address, I often send a postcard rather than an email. Whereas email response to quarterly follow-up is about 3% locally and 15% beyond the bridge, response to postcards (by email, since I add my email address) is usually 25% or more.

I attended an event a few months ago, a lovely networking event, with about forty or fifty people. I exchanged twenty or so cards. Followed up within two business days (standard) with all twenty. Heard back from four (which, around here, is a huge response).  From those four, one was a person with skills that was useful to one of my clients, and I got them in touch and he was hired; the other opened the door to an arts group with whom I hadn’t had previous contact, and we’re talking. So that was pretty decent.

Wearing my playwright/novelist hat, I was a reader at the Provincetown Book Festival a few weeks ago (which was one of the best festivals I’ve attended in years). After the festival, I thanked the organizers and the sponsors (I’m still tracking down contact information for the fellow readers in my event, to say what a pleasure it was to read with them). I heard back almost immediately from festival personnel (not at all a surprise, since it was one of the best-run events I attended). 

I also heard back from several sponsors, absolutely thrilled that I contacted them and told them how wonderful the experience was.

One sponsor stated that they support so many local events and hardly ever hear back from anyone. So they were delighted that the event went well, and that I took the time to contact them. On my part, “taking the time” took probably less than five minutes.

And now that sponsor knows the event was money well spent.

I attended two events last week. Followed up on both. From the first, I heard back from two out of the two dozen or so people contacted. From the second, there were thirteen of us at the event. I followed up with all thirteen. I’ve heard back from and made plans with six of those thirteen so far, which is positive.

Will any of those above contacts end in cont-RACTs?

Who knows? But these are interesting people who love what they do. Interacting with them improves my quality of life, even if it doesn’t end in a contract. I hope they feel the same way. And even if they don’t hire me, there’s a good chance they’ll recommend me if they feel it’s the right match. As I will do, in the same situation.

What’s the moral of this little tale?

Follow up and follow through when you meet people. Don’t just collect cards and stick them in the drawer. Think beyond being hired on the spot. Think about getting to know some really interesting people who enrich your life.

Even if I don’t get hired by any of these people — there are some of them in fields relevant to upcoming books. You can be darned sure I’m going to consult them on their areas of expertise and thank them in the acknowledgements.

Connections are about people. As much of an introvert as I am, I find other people interesting. So I make myself get out of the house and interact, and I am almost always glad I do. Because their stories are interesting, and fuel my work.

Remember, as a writer: Nothing is EVER wasted.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Ballad of the Necessary Contract

I relate an anecdote so you can learn from a mistake I made about ten years ago, about too much off-the-cuff brainstorming before there was a contract in place. I will not reveal the name, the company, or the location. But learn from my mistake.

I met an extrovert at a networking event. We hit it off. This individual had a big project coming up and was unsure how to proceed; thought I might be a good fit. I explained my general fee structure, and how it would work for a project of this scope. We had a long conversation, basically outlined a project this individual needed done on a tight time frame. I sent the notes the next day, along with a quote, and the written schedule we’d discussed.

Nothing.

For months.

No response to any type of contact.

I took other gigs. At a completely different event, over a year later, I ran into this person again. We were introduced by a third party; the original individual looked puzzled. I reminded this person we’d met over a year earlier and talked about a project that had a tight deadline, that I’d sent requested materials, and never heard back. The person shrugged and said, “Oh, I didn’t feel like putting in the time. But let’s set a schedule and do it soon.”

I said words that were both true and necessary. “Sorry. I’m booked. For the next eighteen months.”

“Oh, my, one would think you were in demand.”

“I am.”

Of course, this meant the individual HAD to have the project done BY ME. AT ONCE.

I was booked. Plus the whole not trusting this person. The person kept bugging me. I gave a high quote (and, yes, if it was met, I’d have worked it into the schedule).

Response: “Oh, I wouldn’t PAY you. You’d be doing this for EXPOSURE.”

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Honey, people die of exposure. Give me the cash.

I reminded the person of the fees we’d discussed. 

“Oh, I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed to PAY you for any of that.”

My response: “I wouldn’t have brainstormed the outline for nothing.”

Huff, puff, walk away. (On the other party’s part).

Two weeks later, this person asks me to re-send the outline, because the person lost it.

I said I would be happy to, upon receiving a consulting fee. I named the price.

Never heard from this individual again.

Hope I never do.

And no, the project has never shown up. The person truly lost the notes and couldn’t remember what we’d discussed — which means the project would have likely been a nightmare anyway.

I ate the nonpayment for the brainstorming session. It happens sometimes, especially when you’re talking on the fly at a networking event. That’s why, in interviews, I’m now circumspect when the question is, “What specifics would you change/develop/grow if you worked with us?”

Until I’ve spent time in the trenches of the company, there’s no way to know.

What they’re looking for, here, is ideas they can do on their own without paying.

So I formulate marketspeak answers that are full of buzz words and don’t hold actual information. If they are serious about me, they will re-formulate questions into something that is suitable for the interview. If they are trying to get ideas for which they have no intention of paying, they keep going down the same road. The real information comes when the contract is in place, the upfront fee clears, and I’m actually in the environment.

Because if they are actually interested in you doing what you do best for them, as a marketing writer, it’s not “what would you change” it’s “how do you see what you do as enlarging our communication and getting our message out to a broader audience?” They will say things like, “We’re having trouble in the social media aspect of our business. What are your ideas on enlarging our growth there?” Not “what would you change in the company” — it’s a trap question. I’m not here to CHANGE your company. I’m here to effectively communicate your message to a broader audience. It’s YOUR company. I’m expanding your reach.

So learn from my mistakes and don’t over-brainstorm without a contract. 

Ink-Dipped Advice: How To Lose A Customer

A few months back, a start-up that claimed to be dedicated to health and wellness offered me an invitation to an invitation to be one of the first subscribers to their new monthly box.

They sounded interesting, so I said yes, I’d like an invitation to the invitation.

I got on the mailing list, I got emails.

Then, the invitation came through. The same week that I had two deaths in 24 hours close to me, and was overwhelmed on many fronts. There was a flurry of emails, every day. The products were good, but not what I wanted at the time. I had questions about the pricing structure – the way the initial invite was worded, it looked like it would fluctuate, month-to-month.

Honestly, I couldn’t deal with it at the time. I put it aside and MADE THE CHOICE not to subscribe.

As a POTENTIAL customer, that was my right.

It was an INVITATION to an INVITATION. It was not a commitment.

About two weeks ago, I got an email from the company ATTACKING me for not subscribing, with language such as “did you not understand what we’re offering?” and further phrasing berating me for not subscribing. As though I was too stupid to understand the product.

As though they were supposed to be my priority, and as though I’d let them down.

No.

I understood the product. I CHOSE not to buy it. As is my right, in any such transaction.

I sent back a strongly worded email that not everything was about THEM, I was dealing with two deaths, and I’d never committed to purchase. I said I was interested in the invitation. I had the OPTION to buy or not buy, and I chose not to.

I unsubscribed from their mailing list.

I wanted an apology, although I knew I wouldn’t get one. I also realized that it wouldn’t matter. I wasn’t looking for anything free or a discount coupon. There was NOTHING they could say or do that would make me trust them with personal and/or financial information.

I also felt, that, as a supposed heath & wellness company, they were hypocrites.

Hmm — wellness meant THEIR well-being, not that of their customers. Got it. Moving on.

I understand that starting a small business is stressful. But this is not the way to woo potential customers.

I moved on and did other things. I have a subscription box already, with the wonderful, amazing, stunning Goddess Provisions, who always seems to know what I need and time the monthly box to arrive at the right time. For instance, the day after those two deaths, the Heart Chakra box arrived. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Plus, they are kind and responsive and quick to answer questions or concerns.

I finally received a sort-of apology last week. The company stated they “didn’t mean” it to feel like an attack, and they understood it was an emotional time for me. If they didn’t mean for it to feel like an attack, then they shouldn’t have used phrasing that made it so.

I didn’t bother to respond.

While I know we all make mistakes and believe in second chances, I found the exchange revealing. Instead of actually supporting a potential customer going through a rough time, first they attacked, then they did nothing, then, weeks later, they sent a half-baked whatever it was.

Would a response within the standard 48-hour business protocol response time have changed anything? I don’t know. But a sincere response, instead of further defense, would have smoothed things over. Taking two weeks to respond, and then sending something mealy-mouthed didn’t cut it. Take responsibility. Work to fix it (which doesn’t necessarily mean offering something free )– just work on phrasing. As in maybe hire qualified writing/marketing people for your product and pay them fairly, instead of going off half-cocked and turning off your customers.

Not a way to run a business in my opinion.

Not a company I plan to spend my money with.

Does it make me more careful in my own interactions? I should hope I already am, but it also makes me remember not to send out a mass email in a moment of anger. The person who wrote/sent the email to non-subscribers felt angry and betrayed. Feelings are feelings, and valid. How you use them on other people is something to consider. Because there are consequences.

And perhaps, instead of sending something in a flash of emotion, you should have written it, taken a step back, a breath, and thought it through. Thought if, perhaps, there was a better way to entice those who had passed on the first opportunity you sent them. Where did it fall short for them? Was it only timing? Money? Content? Presentation? Ask for feedback. Don’t attack.

Frankly, that email should have remained in the “unsent letter” file that I learned when studying journals and their writers, and when I taught journal and diary writing. You write the letter to figure out your feelings. You use it as a tool to figure out positive ways to deal with the situation.

But it remains unsent, unless you are willing to burn that bridge.

As far as I’m concerned, the bridge is burned.

I wish them well, but I will not be one of their customers.

My conscious consumerism takes me elsewhere.

Thoughts? Comments? Anecdotes to share?

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: 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: 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.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Craft and Passion

Note that I did not write craft VS. passion. Because I don’t think they are at odds.

I love to write. That’s why I became a writer. I look at those who only want to “have written” and feel they miss so much. I love to actually sit down and form the words that create a world in which to transport readers. Make them see, feel, experience life in a different way than their daily routine.

In order to do that well, I need craft. I need to know how to construct a sentence. I need to know the shades of meaning in each punctuation mark. There’s a world of difference between what a comma elicits from what a semi-colon does; a huge difference between a period and a question mark.

My goal is that every piece I write is better, both technically and artistically, than the pieces before it. Growth, change, evolution, improvement.

I’m interested in almost everything, so it’s easy to be interested in my clients’ work and how to communicate it well. If I don’t have passion for what I do, I don’t do it well.

There are plenty of writers who disagree with me. They claim it’s “just a job” and professionals can make “anything” sound interesting. That they don’t have to agree with what they’re writing or agree with the values of their clients to work it.

It works for them. It does not work for me.

Writing is how I earn my living. It is my business, not my hobby. That’s why I froth at the mouth when people who need writing in order to communicate their business don’t want to pay for it, because they think “anyone” can do it. It’s even worse when wanna-be writers sigh and say, “Oh, I don’t get care if I get paid. I do it for the love of it.”

Why shouldn’t you get paid for doing what you love?

Why does enjoying one’s work negate the right to earn a living from it?

It doesn’t.

Throughout my life, I’ve found that those who denigrate artists (in all disciplines) and demand that artists not get paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work are those who hate their own jobs, and resent that artists have the courage to go after what they want, and that artists are ruthless enough to create in spite of people trying not to pay them, trying to shame them for talent, trying to sabotage their work by demanding proof that they are more important than the art.

I’ve kicked more than one guy to the curb because he demanded that I prove he was more important than the work by not doing the work. Not because he had something equally important going on that needed my support, but just in the regular course of the day, that whatever his needs and whims were, they were more important than anything I could possibly want or need.

Gone.

A healthy, balanced relationship means that partners don’t demand that from each other. Everyone needs the other to give on occasion, but when it becomes one partner doing all the giving and the other doing all the taking — get out.

That applies to both writing and life.

I’ve ended working relationships that demand the same imbalance.

What about clients with whom I disagree?

That depends on the level of disagreement. As a marketing writer, if I think someone’s product is harmful or awful, I’m not going to take them on as a client. I won’t do a good job, and they should hire someone who will. I don’t find it a “creative challenge” to convince people to buy something I think is awful.

When it goes deeper, and in this political climate, it often does, I have to weigh what the job is and how what I do promotes an agenda I feel is hateful or ignorant or harmful. If we simply disagree in our approach to how to reach issues where the end goal is the same: a better world, a cleaner environment, social justice — we can focus on the work and agree to disagree on other stuff. If a client actively participates in or promotes a platform of hate, discrimination, oppression — not going to work for that individual.

As a consumer, I believe in “conscientious consumerism.” That means I put my money to companies and products that align with my beliefs. If the owner of a company starts spouting off in a hateful manner or implements discriminatory practices, I will not buy their products/shop at their stores. That doesn’t mean I expect them to change; it means I will spend my hard-earned money elsewhere.

When someone criticizes my political activism and tells me that they won’t buy my books, that is their “conscientious consumerism.” They have the right so to do. Chances are they wouldn’t like my books anyway, because my books deal with love, loyalty, social justice, building a better world (something I think is effectively achieved in genre fiction). My political activism reflects those issues. So if someone doesn’t like what I stand for politically, they’re not going to like those aspects of my books. Life is too short to read books one doesn’t like. They should spend their money on other authors, whose work resonates better.

But I’m not going to write books based on a reader threatening not to buy my books because I stand up for that in which I believe.

When there’s a boycott of a personality or a company or an artist because of what he or she believes, I always watch the trajectory of it. Did the person just say or do something stupid? We all do or say stupid things sometimes. If there is an apology, is it genuine? (“I’m sorry IF I offended anyone” is not a genuine apology. You offended. You’re sorry or you’re not sorry). How does this incident fit the overall body of work? Is there a pattern? Has the mask finally slipped and the individual shows the real self? How does it affect my response to the art? If future art goes in a different direction, does it come from a genuine place of exploration or someone desperate to save a career? I make decisions from there. We all make mistakes. But there’s a difference between a mistake and trying to do better, and pretending you don’t stand for something when you do.

But isn’t art — and the best art is a mix of craft and passion — supposed to change the way one sees the world? Absolutely. That means I read books by people whose viewpoints I disagree with. I might still disagree with them at the end of it, but I’ll have a better insight to the thought process.

That’s why libraries are so important. They contain multiple points of view on issues, and one can find an array of opinions on a topic, research those behind opinions, and make informed decisions. That’s known as critical thinking, which falls by the wayside far too often.

How does that fit into a discussion of craft and passion, especially when it comes to business writing (and I’m mixing business writing with other forms of writing here)? Because who you are and for whom you choose to write matter.

The best writing combines great craft with great passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s selling tires or urging people to register to vote or the latest thriller. Words matter. People are shaped by the words they read and hear.

The more passion you meld with the more craft you’ve built — you can change the world in a tangible way. For better. Or for worse.

The choice is yours. So is the responsibility.

Write with craft. Write with passion. Write a better world.