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: Holiday Business Etiquette, Blaming Women, and The War on Theocracy

The original intent was to be a simple post on suggestions for business etiquette during the holiday season, but there’s so much crap being thrown around, that it’s not going to be simple or mild.

First, the basic common sense:

What is the culture of your workplace?
For most freelancers, the bulk of our “workplace” is the home office or the creative space we rent to work in. Sometimes, we are on site, for meetings or for short term work. Sometimes, one or more of our gigs requires us to spend X amount of hours on site (I have one long-term client where I’m in their office for a handful of hours on three regular days at the moment).

What holidays do staff members celebrate? Are there company traditions?

When I worked backstage, each show had their own holiday traditions — usually including everyone’s different holidays, a mixture of decorations and Secret Santa joy and potlucks with favorite foods of the season. It was truly a joyful time. Since we worked while others played, we built family. We shared. We made sure that those who struggled during the holidays had love and support and family.

It was similar when I worked for a publishing company and a library. We had traditions, we included, we celebrated, we supported those struggling.

As far as physical contact, it’s important to gauge someone’s comfort level. Some people don’t like to be touched, unless it’s by an intimate partner or family member. I spent most of my life in theatre. We are a huggy-kissy, physical contact bunch. We find strength and comfort in touch. But most of us (except for some slimy producers and directors and executives) can also read when someone DOESN’T feel comfortable with that kind of contact, and then we refrain.

What are appropriate gifts?
As freelancers, it’s rare for us to get a bonus the way one does in a regular company situation. I was shocked this year that one of my clients gave me a bonus. I’d grown the profile of the company in a way that was appreciated.

I’m big on cards. I send physical cards to anyone with whom I’ve dealt in the last three years for whom I have an address. I send e-cards only when I don’t have a physical address.

Depending on the relationship, I’ve sent small gifts as well as cards to my agent, my lawyer, my editor, my book designer, my copy editor, etc. Those are small gifts that show I know a little about them, and it’s something specific to their interests. Cards, too, but often small gifts. If I don’t have a close relationship, or rarely talk to the editor or whomever, then it’s just a card. But when it’s a relationship where we are in contact several times a week, it’s a gift. Nothing elaborate, but something individual and sincere.

For neighbors, local clients, and people I deal with regularly — the firemen, the library, the transfer station, my mom’s doctor, non-profits with whom I work, etc. — I prepare and deliver one of my infamous cookie platters. I talk about the cookie platters on Ink in My Coffee in this week’s Upbeat Authors post here.

The 80’s and 90’s were full of more elaborate gifts. And, in theatre, the actors I dressed and I exchanged personal gifts (in addition to Secret Santa, et al) and anyone else on the show with whom I was particularly close did, too.

My gift to my newsletter subscribers is usually a new holiday story. In following years, it may be reworked and then released, but I try to come up with something fresh and fun for them each holiday season.

If I know someone is passionate about a particular cause or charity, I’ll donate to that, in the person’s name.

Books
As a writer, I’m also a reader. I love to give books as gifts.

I’m uncomfortable giving my own books as gifts. I try to introduce friends and family to new authors I like in the genre they like to read.

Where appropriate, I also give books to work colleagues.

If you have writers in your life, I have a post up on A Biblio Paradise with suggestions for gifts for writers; an upcoming post will also be a list of books I love to give.

Greetings and the Faux “War on Christmas”
If I know which holiday or holidays someone celebrates, I greet them with their holiday. If I don’t know, I with them “Happy Holidays.”

“Happy Holidays” is not an insult. It is an inclusion.

I had a client, a few weeks back, start screaming, “it’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!”

I looked at her and responded, in that calm, reasonable tone guaranteed to annoy, “I start my celebrations on October 31 and go straight through until January 6. There are a lot of holidays in there. I celebrate holidays.”

She shut up.

There is no “war on Christmas.” That’s a marketing term by those who want this to be a theocracy. What they are doing instead is to wage war on inclusion.

Not going to let your narrow definition of the holiday destroy my joy in celebrating the holi-DAYS.

When I lived in NYC, just off Times Square (I could see the ball come down from my window), our entire floor used to put up a display that included Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. We had potlucks and cocktails and enjoyed each other’s joy all season.

The Corporate Holiday Party/Blaming Women
There’s a lot of huffing and puffing this year that companies have cancelled their holiday parties because of the #MeToo movement. They claim they’re worried about lawsuits.

I call bullshit.

First of all, this is an excuse for them to save money. Instead of spending money putting on a nice event for the people who actually do the work, they can hand a check to executives who sit on their asses all day while their assistants to the work.

It’s about money.

Second, it’s a way to reinforce the “blame the woman” cliché. Women are blamed when men prey upon them, harass them, or attack them. They wore the wrong clothes, they said the wrong thing. They smiled or didn’t smile. They were breathing.

It’s a way to blame women for “ruining the fun.” It’s a way to say, “We can’t have fun because you’re too sensitive and can’t take a joke.” Because, hey, there can’t possibly be a party with laughter and alcohol and witty conversation if there’s no groping or hasty sex in a closet involved.

What an insult. Not just to women, but to men.

Hey, corporations, how about not hiring sexual predators and harassers? How about working on changing your culture, instead of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink and then telling women they have to “deal with it”?

When I was in college, I worked as a temp for a lot of companies. One of them was a large company, now defunct. The male executives would go out to lunch every day and come back drunk, and start groping the women who worked there. I wasn’t having it.

I complained to their HR department, and was told, “they’re just being boys.”

Most of them were middle-aged men, married, and should know better.

I complained to the temp agency and was told I had to “deal with it, because it’s important to keep the client happy.”

The next day, I slugged the man harassing me, walked out, and quit that temp agency.

I have no regrets.

By the way, that temp agency no longer exists, either.

We’ve forgotten how to flirt. We need to take lessons from some of the Europeans, especially the French. Flirting isn’t about scoring later that night (necessarily). It’s about acknowledging and appreciating the attractive qualities in the person with whom you’re interacting, without pressure.

We can be witty and gracious and friendly and charming without being aggressive. We can enjoy each other’s company — even over drinks — without demanding the Big Finish.

We can appreciate each other as people.

The best holiday parties support that. You get to talk to people you don’t normally see often, and can have actual conversations. It’s not venting about work. It’s about appreciating your co-workers as unique and interesting people.

That is how we take back the holiday party.

Your company’s not throwing one this year? Host a potluck, invite your co-workers, and to hell with the corporate crap.

When In Doubt, Create What You Crave
Holidays can be stressful because they come with expectations.

Instead of letting others dictate how you feel during this time, decide how you WANT to feel.

Integrate your favorite traditions of past years with new traditions that evolve, and that make you and those around you happy.

If someone derides what you’re doing, listen. Are they in pain? Do they need or want to be included? Or do they just not want to participate? Do they want to force you into bending to what they want? Don’t force participation, don’t be forced into doing something you don’t want to do, but leave room for those around you to be included, as they want or need to be.

This ties in to another post I wrote for Upbeat Authors a few months ago, about conferences. About being the one who notices the wallflower, the shy one, the scared one, and offers a smile, and says, “Pull up a chair.”

Especially at this time of year, it matters.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Should Business Writers Do National Novel Writing Month?

 

It’s mid-October, which means thousands of writers and aspiring writers are getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

Is it worth it for a business writer?

I write many things: business writing, novels, short stories, plays, radio drama, etc. Maybe my experiences will help you decide.

I have had some great times with National Novel Writing Month. And some frustrating ones. I’ve been a mentor to new members, sending them a daily morning encouragement. I’ve hit the 50K goal and more every time (although the year my grandmother was dying during November was more challenging than some of the other years.

I’ve gone to write-ins and meet-ups and participated in forums. Met a lot of great people. Connected in new ways with writers I already knew.

I’ve participated in Nano five times (four successive years, then a break, than a few years ago). I’ve completed four novels, and have two novels partially done (last time I did Nano, I did a “tandem Nano” where I worked on one project I’d already started, and one I started on Nov. 1). One of those partials has been retired; it will never amount to anything. One novel was torn apart and reworked over a period of years. It was published under a title that sunk it; I got the rights back, switched publishers, and it became PLAYING THE ANGLES, which launched the Coventina Circle series. One novel was put aside for several years, and has been torn apart and revised over the last couple of years; it will go out on submission to agents in spring. One novel needs another revision and then, it, too, will go out on submission. One has been put aside until I can get it into the revision queue; it has a decent premise, but needs more craft. One novel needs to find its way back into the writing queue to be finished, then revised, then go out on submission.

When I was making the transition from working on Broadway to writing full-time, Nano helped me get into the habit of writing, first thing in the morning, around 2K/day (and then I’d settle back into at least 1K).

I have discovered the work written during Nano needs more revision than other work.

50K in a month is not a stretch for me anymore. 1667 words a day is pretty normal for my first writing session on my primary project – many more words have to be written each day in order to keep a roof over my head. This is my business, not my hobby.

So, for those of us, especially in business, does it make sense to write on our own time at that pace during Nano?

Do you want to try something new? I find Nano useful as a playground, to stretch into directions I don’t normally write. In that regard, I find it useful no matter what other kind of writing I do.

Are you willing to make the commitment to do 50K on a particular project on that month? Because just writing along with Nano at your own pace, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of Nano, which is “lots of words on paper really fast without editing.”

Because of my contract schedule, Traditional Nano does not work right now. I have a book coming out in late October; another one coming out in December; another in January; I’m working on the next books in those series for next year. I’m also prepping another series for re-release and am in talks about other releases.

The last time I participated, I was disappointed in the forums, which had always been fun before. I found too much whining; not enough writing. And moderators accusing professionals of “self-promotion” every time they answered a question by an unpublished writer. It felt like professionalism was discouraged.

But I like riding the wave. And I’m tired of feeling exhausted and furious about the current state of the nation (and the world).

So this year, instead of “Traditional Nano” I started a closed forum called Women Write Change. It started as not-quite-a-joke during the Kavanaugh hearings that we need a women’s rage forum during Nano. I re-read a manuscript I’d put aside a few years ago. The writing was universally praised, but I was told to “tone down the rage, because women’s rage makes readers uncomfortable.”

This book’s time has come.

This forum is for progressive artists in all disciplines who identify as women. It’s something different than Nano, although hooking into that enormous wave of energy that happens when tens of thousands of people write during the same time. It’s a place to develop work inspired by current situations.

It’s what I need, artistically and personally, right now.

But is it worth it for a business writer, tired from writing for others all day, to do Nano?

I’d say try it once, if you want to try something different and are willing to make a commitment. You’ll learn valuable information about how you work, and where inspiration comes from.

The most important thing it teaches, if you stick with it, is to put your own work FIRST.

I have found that techniques with which I experimented during Nano have helped me in other writing. I’ve found it exhilarating and frustrating. I think it’s worth doing at least once in your life – and then deciding what you can take from the experience and apply to other types of writing.

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: Social Media Expansion

Social media is a great tool as long as you use it rather than it using you. But that’s a different conversation!

We’re so used to Facebook and Twitter that we forget there are other types of social media out there, and perhaps some of them might be a better platform for your work.

I have grown increasingly frustrated with Facebook lately. I don’t know which will happen first — that they decide I did something against their ever-changing policy, which is set up to hurt small businesses and individual authors in favor of mega corporations — or that I get so frustrated I delete my account and all my pages.

I spend too much time on Twitter, but I use Twitter for different things. Most of my political activism is via Twitter — when I’m not writing or in the offices working with my duly elected officials on many levels. Some of them appreciate it. Some of them are sick of me. Too bad for them.

But I also use Twitter to hang out and explore other interests and connect with people in arts of all disciplines, and all over the world. Many more conversations and inspirations begun on Twitter have translated well to actual life than on Facebook.

I’ve also landed some of my highest paid gigs on Twitter — and many of them have been BECAUSE I’m socially and politically active. So when someone tells you that standing up for what you believe in on Twitter will kill your chances for a job, tell them where to stuff it. If a job doesn’t want you  because you take your responsibilities as a citizen, as part of the social contract, seriously — it’s not a place you want to work.

In any case, I’ve been exploring other social media platforms, and I’m sharing what I’m learning. I use “learning” because it is and will be an on-going process.

In addition to my own social media needs, I often handle social media platforms for my freelance clients (I’m about to expand my social media package). I often try out the platform myself and then can recommend or not to a client.

This is by no means a complete list, and, as I explore new/other social media platforms, I will add them in future posts.

Linked In — I hate it. I’ve used it to track down a few people, but for my own use, it doesn’t work.

Alignable — I work on it for one of my freelance clients. I don’t think we utilize its full value. I like the idea of connecting with local businesses and recommending each other — I don’t know how effectively we’re putting it into practice. I do not have my own account on them yet, and may not.

Instagram — some of my more visually-based clients use it and like it. I don’t personally use it, because I don’t yet have a plan where it’s worth it for me. Also, it’s too tied in to Facebook for my taste. It’s only done via a phone app, and I resent being forced to interact that way, without the option for computer use.

Tumblr — I’m still getting the hang of it. I use it personally, and am starting to like it more. I use it for several clients. They feel they “should” be on it; none of them are in love with it.

Ello — I love it, for me personally. I love being around creatives who are working on their crafts. I don’t see it as a marketing platform; I see it more as we’re inspiring each other and learning from each other. It’s a relief after all the ad-centric stuff that’s going on.

Vero — I’ve had so much trouble with this platform, I’m ready to give up on it. I’d heard good things about it. But if I have trouble, my clients who are less tech-savvy than I am won’t be able to do it. I also resent I can only do it from my phone. I don’t want to live my whole life via apps. Their support people have been as nice as can be, but it’s going on a week and the problem isn’t solved yet. And the problem is basic sign-up.  Not impressed.

Triberr — just signed up. It looks interesting. I have discovered some blogs I like a lot that I might not have otherwise found. I hope I will be able to make actual connections, and it’s not just about clicking and moving a post on.

I’m about to experiment with Mix (which used to be StumbleUpon), About. me and Fuel My Blog. I had several questions for the last on that list, and have not yet heard back, so we’ll see.

As far as online portfolios, I like Contently, but that’s different than social media. I will probably do a separate post about that down the road.

I will report back when I have something worthwhile to say.

I hope you’re all taking the Labor Holiday — you’re earning it!

 

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 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.