Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Considerations

We all like to get as much work as possible off our own desks and onto someone else’s before the holidays and/or the end of the year.

But sometimes, you risk getting lost in the shuffle.

Everyone needs a break, so consider the why and the who before you hit “send.”

Contracted Deadlines
Obviously, if you have any deadlines around the holidays, meet them. In fact, put in time earlier in the season (like October and November), so that you can get them in to your agent or editor a little early.

Submission Deadlines
Some contests and publications have year-end deadlines for a particular issue or event. Again, try to get it in a week or two early. Don’t wait until the last minute, when something is bound to go wrong.

Pitches, Proposals, Queries, Manuscripts
Unless I’ve been asked for something by a specific date that falls within the winter holidays, I stop submitting/pitching on December 12 and start up again January 6. Unless it’s a short piece with a quick turnaround, there’s really no point.

That means, of course, that I have to plan earlier in the year to cover what’s basically three weeks without those going out – that means I’ve pitched early, and already scheduled work that is due/pays soon after the holidays, so I don’t have a fallow period.

In theatre, we always struggled in January and February; I try to make sure I plan ahead well enough so that I’m covered in my freelance life then, too.

Of course, if you hit fallow points, then you dig in, do your research, and pitch soon after the first of the year.

But I don’t do cold pitches/proposals/queries/submissions to agents, publishers, or editors during those three weeks. It’s not fair to any of us.

I do use the time for work that has a longer lead time, or for researching new-to-me markets and preparing pitches and queries to send in the new year.

Holiday Cards
As I’ve stated before, I’m big on holiday cards. However, when I send a holiday card, it’s just about sending a good wish for the holiday. It’s not pitching myself or asking if the former client needs anything – that happens again, after January 6.

Those former clients and prospects who got cards? They get a follow up note or email, along the lines of “now that the holidays are over, what are your needs for the coming months? Is there a project where you’d like my help?”

This way, you haven’t put pressure on them during the holidays, but you’ve reminded them of your existence, and now you’re following up for business.

Planning
This is a great time to plan what you want, need, and the changes you plan to implement to your working life in the next year.

I usually start thinking about this in autumn. I have a site called Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, where we work on questions for the upcoming year, and then track our progress.

The planning involves what I want for the next cycle, the research, and a list of new prospects. I prepare proposals or LOIs as pertinent. I have everything written and ready to go by early January.

It’s also a good time for me to look at submission deadlines for theatres for their reading cycle for an upcoming season. Then, I pitch, query, or propose as is relevant to each organization that I think is a good prospect.

It’s also a good time to assess what didn’t work for you in the past year, and what you want to change. When you know what to release, when you make room for what’s better, you can start planning active steps to make it happen.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Spend time with the people you enjoy.

Also make sure you pay attention to those around you who are struggling. A kind word or a helping hand can make all the difference.

Go to at least one new-to-you event locally, whether it’s a networking event or a concert or an art opening. Do something different to prepare for positive change in the new year!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Navigating the Holidays

 

We’re into the holiday madness now. Of course, I consider the “Holiday Season” to be October 31-January 6, but there you have it.

How can you balance all the extra demands on your time with the extra demands on your freelance time?

Planning.

This is the time of year when your family and friends need –and deserve — more attention.

This is the time of year when your clients are worried about year-end campaigns and planning for next year.

This is the time of year when you need to start planning where you want to expand and enlarge your own reach next year.

As far as pitching to agents, editors, etc. in fiction markets, unless I have a set deadline, I do not pitch projects between December 12 and January 6. It’s just not fair. As tempted as I am to get things off my desk and onto someone else’s, it gets buried with everyone else doing the same thing.

I do research markets and prep proposals during that time (when I can), but I don’t start submitting again until January 6.

Here are some other tips that work for me:

Calendars
Your calendar is always your best tool, but especially during the holidays. I like to use the large desk blotter calendars. I have yet to have an electronic calendar that hasn’t failed me.

I put different elements in different colors. I work backwards from deadlines, break down projects, card writing, baking, etc., into workable chunks, and put them on the calendar.

This way, I can look up from my desk and keep track of what’s going on, and where I am at any particular point. I can also adjust, if necessary. I can get ahead if and when I ever find a pocket of time; I know if I’ve fallen behind, and can add in additional work sessions as needed.

Cards
I am a huge believer in old-school cards, especially around the holidays. It’s a way to stay connected to current contacts, and reconnect with those with whom you’ve lost touch.

If I use a holiday card to reconnect, that’s what it is — a reconnection. Not a request or demand for anything. But a simple well-wish.

For those with whom I reconnect, I usually send off an email or a postcard after January 6, asking where they are and what’s going on, if they need anything, if they’d like to set up an appointment. I do NOT add that in to the holiday greeting. I keep it separate.

By the way, post card contact usually gets me a 25% response rate, whereas email only gets 12%.

Assessments
I keep track of my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions on a monthly basis (daily To Do lists make me feel trapped). I spend a couple of months at the end of each year assessing and making plans for the following year.

How much do you NEED to earn to pay your bills, keep a roof over your head, keep a quality of life?

How much do you WANT to earn for the extras?

How do you plan to get to both of those numbers?

I write, daydream, plan, strategize, and come up with what I think and hope will work for the coming year. I post it at the beginning of the year, and track it.

I also remain flexible enough for new opportunities to come in, and to drop what doesn’t work.

I assess and reassess every month. My GDRs are a roadmap, not a prison.

Market Lists
Once I assess where I am, where I want to be, and how to get there, I research markets and/or clients. I start putting together pitches, packets and LOIs. My goal is always to send out at least three LOIs a week; I don’t always meet it. When I’m deep in client work, I often let it go, which is the wrong thing to do.

When you’re deep in work is the best time to seek other work. The energy of your current work will spill into your LOI and make you more attractive to future customers.

This past year, I pitched fewer articles. I miss article writing. So in the coming weeks, I will research article markets, prepare pitch packets per their guidelines and editorial calendars, and have them ready to go at the turn of the year. If I see a call that’s got a deadline during the season, yes, I send it. But, for the most part, I wait until January, when everyone’s ready to get back to work, and to build a new slate of projects.

I hunt down reputable listings (in other words, people who vet them as paying a fair wage, such as Jenn Mattern’s All Freelance Writing). I always read the online guidelines before submitting, because guidelines change as editorial needs change.

Most important — I FOLLOW the guidelines. An acquisitions editor I know says 85% of the pitches she receives are tossed because the writer didn’t follow guidelines. Guidelines are the first test to see if you are someone with whom the publication wants to work. Are you worth their time and energy? Because if you can’t be bothered to pitch within guidelines, there are 10,000 other writers lined up behind you who are just as talented as you are who can. One of them will get the job.

My favorite way to create pitch lists is to sit down with the most recent print edition of WRITER’S MARKET, a pad of paper and a pen, and take notes. I read through the listings of any publication for which I think I could write. I make notes. I then check the guidelines ONLINE before I send the pitch.

Working only online, within search criteria, limits me. Reading through the entire book, with all the different publications, opens me to new-to-me publications that wouldn’t turn up in narrow search criteria.

The Personal Strategic Plan
Organizations create strategic plans to forward their growth and agenda. There’s no reason an individual can’t do the same.

It’s a little different than the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, while enveloping them.

In the GDRs, I list three practical steps to turn each goal, dream, and resolution into a reality.

The Personal Strategic Plan can go into even more detail.

The trap in going into too much detail is that you build yourself a prison. Workable steps are necessary. Too many details can keep you from noticing and seizing opportunities that could take you farther than your original ideas.

At the same time, you don’t want to pursue every new, shiny idea and abandon your plan completely.

You need balance and common sense.

Build in Fun
Between shopping, working, cooking, assessing, planning, wrapping things up, starting down new roads — you need to have fun. That’s what holidays are about — joy.

What gives you joy?

Think of the time from now through the holidays as “Days of Joy.”

Every day, do one thing that gives you joy, no matter how small.

Watch the positive ripple effect in the rest of your life.

Then, remember to build in the fun into your Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, and into your Personal Strategic Plan.

We are freelancers in order to create our best lives, not live it for someone else’s convenience.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Translating Nano Advice into Work Practicalities

 

Yes, this is another National Novel Writing Month Prep Post.

Because techniques I learned and advice I heeded in my Nano years translated well into my freelance work life.

Yes, Nano is fun and a great playground to stretch into types of writing you don’t usually try.

But can build skills.

Here are the best techniques that transfer well from Nano into professional work.

Write (Almost) Every Day
Nano’s goal is 50K in 30 days, which breaks down to 1667 words/day.

Generally, I wrote a full chapter a day, of about 10 pages or 2500 words. Unlike many people, who find it useful to end in the middle of a thought, I like to work in completed chapters.

But Nano got me into the habit of working on what I now call my “primary project” (whatever I’m drafting), first thing in the morning, when I am at my most creative.

“Morning pages” don’t work for me. But working on the creative project in draft first thing does.

This has translated well into the rest of my writing life. As Carolyn See advised in her book, MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: “1000 words a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life.”

As a professional writer, I now have to write a great deal more than that on most days, but the 1K/day on my primary project works well.

Choose the Days You’re Not Going To Write
People huff and puff that “write every day” is not realistic.

It is if you’re a pro.

But that doesn’t mean you never take a break, a day off, a vacation, a sabbatical.

The difference is that you plan them. You choose to take however many days off per week or per month.

Then you do it.

I created a handout/download called “30 Tips for 30 Days” from the motivational emails I used to send out to the writers I mentored every morning. I’ll probably post it again this November. Within that, I built days off.

The second part of that means you adjust your daily word count to cover the days off. If it’s 1K/day for 5 days a week, but then you take a week’s vacation, you up your word count for THE MONTH before your vacation to absorb the words you won’t write (or will write on something else) on your time off.

Do it BEFORE you leave, because you won’t catch up if you just let it slide.

If you choose time off and then enjoy it, rather than just letting the writing slide and “not getting around to it” you will be more productive at the desk AND more productive the rest of your day, because you don’t have the “I should be writing” guilt hanging over you.

What if life gets in the way? Unexpected illness or an accident or whatever?

Deal with your life. Adjust the writing.

I find that sticking to the writing during a crisis helps me survive and cope with it better. It gives me a break from the stress and allows me to drop into my fictional world, even if only for a couple of hours here and there.

When, for whatever reason, I can’t do that, I decide how many days I can afford (on both financial and emotional levels) to be away from the writing, and I adjust the word counts around it.

I live on deadline. If I expect to keep and grow my career, I have to meet those deadlines, even while life is happening.

Bank Ahead
Instead of procrastinating, work ahead of your daily goal, especially at the top of the month.

That translates well to so doing at the top of any project.

The first flush of enthusiasm on a new project is great. Get as much down as fast as you can early on. That way, if and when obstacles come up, you’re both ahead of the game, and you don’t forget what you meant to say but didn’t write down anywhere.

Translate that to getting ahead on any project you do, and you’ll find less scrambling near deadline, unless your client is the one dragging his feet and creating obstacles (and you’ve planned contingencies in your contract. Right? RIGHT????).

Finish What You Start
This is one of the most important things I learned during Nano, although so many people lose heart and motivation during Nano and give up.

Unfinished projects drain creative energy.

The more unfinished projects you have hanging around, the harder it is to creatively breathe. The harder it is to see ANY project through.

When you rely on creative work to keep a roof over your head, you have to be ruthless about cutting out obstacles to that creative work.

Finish what you start. Then put it away for a few days, a few weeks, a few months (if it’s on someone else’s deadline, that timeline may need adjustment).

Once you can look at it objectively, decide if you want to retire it, put it in stasis, or continue work on it. Then set a schedule and deadlines and get to work.

I teach an entire course on this, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, and the workbook is available here.

I developed these techniques by finding out what worked for me within the Nano structure, then applying it to my other creative work, and making the necessary adjustments to streamline and strengthen the process.

This year, the traditional Nano structure and schedule does not work for me, which is why I created the Women Write Change forum. I may go back to Nano at some point in the future. But even if I don’t, I am grateful for what I learned there, for the camaraderie, and for the chance to focus intensely on a project for a month.

What are your experiences? If you’ve participated in Nano, what has or has not worked for you? Have you been able to translate any of it to the rest of your writing life? If you’ve never done it, have you been tempted? Why did you choose not to?

I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

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: Tired Brain

image by super-mapio via pixabay.com

We all suffer from “tired brain” at times. When it’s possible, take a few hours or even a few days off to refresh the creative well.

But sometimes, we suffer “tired brain” with an immovable deadline. Your choices are to suck it up and deal or default and lose the gig. The third choice is to push yourself in the wrong way and still screw it up.

I prefer Option 1.

I’m sick and tired (of being sick and tired, but that’s a different conversation) of being told how much I should sleep, and having people flake out on something because they’re sleeping.

Hon, the first time I slept regularly for more than four hours a night was well after I moved out of NYC. I would not have had a career in production if I demanded or expected eight hours’ of sleep regularly every night. It simply doesn’t happen in most professions that require hard work.

Jobs have regular hours and clock on and off times. Careers demand more.

For years before I left New York, I lived in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I got a lot done. I had a great time.

I’m older now, and my body requires different things. I hear a rumor that if I live to be REALLY old, I’ll sleep even less. We’ll see.

But for now, when I have “tired brain” there are a few things that get me back on track and help me get it done:

–eat properly. Often, if I’m fading, it’s because I didn’t stop for a meal, or stop for the RIGHT meal. When I was doing eight shows a week on Broadway, flipping people in and out of clothes, I ate constantly, and I ate a lot of carbs. Now that I sit for many more hours a day, I lower the carbs and up the vegetables. If I really need to focus, I eat protein.

–switch tasks. If there’s something else I can knock off quickly without too much brain power or research, I’ll stop the task on which I’m fading and switch to the other one. Finishing the shorter tasks gives me the energy and motivation to tackle the bigger one.

–do the thing you like least first. Once it’s out of the way, there’s less tension and dread over everything else.

–take a shower. I get many of my best ideas in the shower. When I’m having major plot or wording problems, I’m so clean I squeak.

–Do something physical. I prefer yoga, or taking a walk, but do whatever activity invigorates you. Friends of mine use swimming as their go-to energizer.

–Meditate. When you “just sit” and focus on your breath, the murk in your brain clears up and problems solved.

–when you’re actually sick, take time off and get well. There’s a difference between “I’m sick” meaning “I don’t want to do this” and “I’m sick” meaning there’s actually something wrong. When it’s the latter, stop sooner rather than later, focus on getting well, and then you won’t drag out your illness with relapses.

–Schedule regular “well days.” No matter how busy your schedule, book in regular time to do something you think is fun, that is only a “want to” instead of a “have to.” When you take the time to refresh the creative well, you’ll be surprised how much more productive you are.

When I worked in theatre, we had the phrase, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

And when I spent months with a minor league hockey team to research a book, I learned the valuable lesson of “Dig deeper and get it done.”

Namaste.

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 Morning After Networking

There’s a lot of advice out there about “how” to network and how to present yourself, push yourself, etc., as you try to grow and build your business. Read everything, try new things, find out what works for you. It’s important to create your own style of business.

As creative people, we are harmed on multiple levels if we try to fit into other people’s boxes, even if those people dangle possible payment in front of us. We will do better for ourselves and our clients if we ARE ourselves from the first moment, instead of trying to be what they think they want. Often, they don’t really know what they want, they just want fast and cheap.

As you read the advice, role-play. How would you feel if someone approached you in that tone? Would you respond positively or slap them away? There are aggressive techniques out there, especially on line, that drive me away from businesses.

That includes an interview with a potential client that I cancelled a few months ago. It was for a company, it paid decently, it claimed to offer a variety of marketing tasks. The commute would have kind of sucked in some ways, but the money and the content sounded interesting enough for the interview. Until the perky little twenty-something sent me a document detailing how to dress and how to speak.

Excuse me? I am not in my twenties and just starting out. I am in my fifties with a long and varied career behind me, which includes working in wardrobe on Broadway. I know how to dress. I know how to behave in an interview. This document was demeaning to any potential employee, and showed that this was not a good match.

Next!

Networking can be done at almost any event, whether it’s a primarily social gathering, or a conference, or a chamber gathering. What I’ve found the most effective (since I am an introvert), is going there with the attitude of wanting to meet interesting people.

That’s my agenda for any event that includes strangers: I want to meet interesting people who do interesting things.

Since I am interested in almost everything, that leaves me with many possibilities.

Preparation
What type of event is it? Casual? Formal? Do you have any idea of the type of attendees? Corporate? In one particular arena? I’ve attended environmental conferences because I was interested in the slate of topics and met people who remained a part of my life, personally and professionally.

Is it an all-day event? A cocktail hour mixer? A more formal dinner? Do you know anyone else attending? Be careful not to just stick exclusively with one or two people, especially if you arrive together. Make sure you invite people to join your group, especially fellow introverts who have the “why did I ever sign up for this?” look.

If it’s a conference, I make sure I have a conference or pad of paper for notes. I take a lot of notes at these events, type them up, put them in a binder for reference. If it’s a more casual, social event, I have a reporter’s notebook and a handful of pens in my purse.

I wear comfortable shoes. They can still be gorgeous, but I make sure I can stand and walk in them for long periods of time. I’m always amazed at how much I stand at networking events, and I have paid the price by wearing the wrong shoes

Plenty of business cards. I’m big on exchanging business cards. I have different cards for different things I do. Believe it or not, the card I end up giving away most often is for the blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, which then leads people to the other things I do.

I sometimes carry a few of my brochures, or, if appropriate, a stack of postcards or bookmarks for my most recent release or my upcoming release (recent release gets more traction — people pick up the card and want it now). But I do not hand them out unless it comes out organically in conversation, or set them on tables without the host’s permission. I don’t like to feel cornered or pressured by other attendees, and I extend them the same courtesy.


At The Event

Smile and talk to people. Ask them about themselves, and what interests them. Most importantly, listen to the answers. Don’t just think about the next thing you want to say.

I land gigs because I’ve listened to something in conversation and either remembered it in follow-up or scribbled it down in my notebook in the ladies’ room to make sure I remembered it later. I do NOT take notes during the conversation; that makes it feel like an interview or an interrogation.

Include people in your group who look lost or confused. You won’t like all of them. You won’t like or get along with everyone you meet at an event. But start by inclusion, and make your decisions after the event.

The Morning After
That’s what this post is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

The day after a networking event or a conference, I go back through my notes and the business cards.

I send a written thank you note to the host of the event. If, for some reason, I don’t have a postal address, I send an email. But a handwritten thank you is better.

I send a quick email to everyone I met with whom I want to keep in touch. Most of them are just a “great to meet you, hope to talk to you again.” Where appropriate, if we talked about something specific, I might go more in-depth. If we talked about working together and I either asked for more information or promised to send some, I put in a reminder of it, and, again, where appropriate, I send additional materials. If it’s someone with whom I want to see again one-on-one, I suggest a date to get together. I do this the day after the event, if it’s on a week day, or on the next business day. I do not wait more than three business days to do this. Quick follow-up is vital.

I file the business cards. I note on the card where/when I met the person, and I file it in those clear plastic business-card pages from Staples. They’re three-hole punched, and I have a binder. If and when the connection becomes more permanent, I copy the information into my Rolodex. Yes, I use a Rolodex. Every single time I’ve counted on an electronic address book, it’s been corrupted.

I follow up on the follow-up, when appropriate. If I’ve sent requested information, I follow up about two weeks later, unless we discussed a longer lead time. If I come across something relevant to a discussion, I’ll shoot off an email to that person with the information. Sometimes, I send out quarterly reminder post-cards by mail about my services. I find that gets far more response than email blasts. I send a holiday greeting, at least that first year. Again, by mail, whenever possible. I get a far more positive response from mailed materials than from electronic, even though the bulk of my actual client work is done via email. The tangible connection tends to bring tangible results.

I am not a phone person. I loathe the telephone. I find most phone calls a waste of my time (it’s usually the other person liking the sound of his/her own voice, not sharing relevant information). I find it disruptive to my creative process, and a phone call will kill my productivity for the rest of the day. I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments like a lawyer, without exception. So I don’t do follow-up via phone. If someone says “I’ll call you,” or “call me,” my response is “email is always the best way to reach me.” I do not put my phone number on my business cards, and I have my phone set NOT to accept voicemail. That is unusual, that is somewhat controversial, but it works for me and I do it.

If the phone works for you and your contact, by all means, use it. I know I am an anomaly in my phone-loathing.

Now, over to you: what follow-up have you found most effective after a networking event? What’s your timeline to follow up?