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: Research To Prepare Your Perfect Pitch

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just takes a bit of work to find them!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fake Pitches That Alienate

The new websites are working. So are the contact forms, which makes my life easier, although I’m still getting too much spam. I’m getting positive feedback and informational requests from possible clients.

I’m also getting lots of demands to host paid guest bloggers and for re-design.

That’s right, not a pitch or a request. Demands.

Not only do most of these idiots make it clear they can’t write a coherent sentence, they haven’t bothered to look at the site, comprehend the content, or craft a reasonable pitch.

What they guarantee is that I won’t have anything to do with them, and if anyone else asks me about them, I won’t have anything positive to say.

“what content to do you post and how much do you pay?” is not a pitch that gets you the work.

First of all, look at that sentence. All in lower case. No salutation. At the bottom, was the individual’s first name only, again in lower case letters, and no website. No credentials, no pitch.

If this person took a look at this particular website, he would see that Fearless Ink focuses on the business and marketing aspects of my writing. Reading the Welcome page and the Navigation Menu give an idea of what the site is about and what I do.

This blog, Ink-Dipped Advice, is clearly about how I approach business writing. There are no posted guidelines stating I am looking or accepting guest posts. If I want a guest, I’m going to go and invite one. There are no posted guidelines about payment.

At this point, this blog is not a paying market. I’m not trying to lure fellow writers to work without pay. I may do trade invites with fellow freelancers, provided we are all comfortable with the situation.

If this blog becomes a paying market, I will post guidelines and state payment. And any pitches that don’t meet said guidelines will not be accepted and paid.

That’s the way it works.

The above pitch isn’t a pitch — no research, no ideas, no background, nothing. Not someone I would invite to guest or with whom I would contract to guest.

The same individual sent the same one-line post on ALL the contact forms on ALL my sites. If you look around at the sites connected with the books I write, you know that those are sites about the books, not sites that support or invite guests. They are about MY WORK. That is their purpose and their focus — to give readers and potential readers of my books interesting content beyond and around the books themselves.

The sites also have a contact form for the press, which means if someone wants to do a story on something I write, that’s the address through which to funnel it. There’s nothing about hosting anyone.

I host fellow authors on A Biblio Paradise, but that is by invitation-only, and there is, specifically, no contact form on that blog.

No hook, no research, no understanding of what I do, no information. That equals no invitation.

It’s not even the virtual equivalent of a cold call, because professionals who cold call actually dig up information about the business before they call.

It’s insulting.

Other emails, which go directly into the Trash or Spam folders, are from people who call themselves “designers” or say they edit photos. They send short emails berating the look and content of my sites and DEMANDING that I hire them.

No specifics, mind you. Nothing about the specific site. Just a vague email full of insults and demands.

Do I believe my sites are perfect? Of course not. They are a work in progress, organisms that grow and change with my work.

But why would I pay someone who insults me?

Especially, again, when it’s obvious they haven’t done the least bit of research on what I do or what I need.

When you pitch to guest on a blog:

Read the blog. Or, if you’ve come across a website and you want to write content for them, read the site. What is the tone and the slant of the content? What are the topics? What’s the length of a post? How many links or other resources, on average, in a post?

Read the guidelines. Does the blog accept pitches for guest posts? What should the pitch include? What should the post include?

Follow the guidelines. Submission guidelines are there for a reason. They streamline the process. They are a good indicator if the person pitching/querying is a good fit. They are a good way to weed out the unprofessional, who tend to be the ones who think they’re too talented to bother with pesky guidelines. They’re not.

Craft a great pitch SPECIFIC to that market. Include a salutation, hook, one-paragraph ACTIVELY WORDED pitch. Add a few sentences with your credentials, and why you wanted to pitch to that particular site. Sign off with your name and your website.

Be positive and polite. Even if you believe you can write better than those currently writing for a site, don’t insult them. Pitch yourself as an addition to the team, not that you’re so great they should fire everyone they already have. You don’t yet know their story or their dynamics.

Proofread. When I worked for a publisher in NYC, part of my job was to screen unsolicited submissions, aka The Slush Pile. If I found something good, I wrote up a report and sent it up the editorial/acquisitions chain. However, in addition to content guidelines, the rule was that if there were more than THREE errors in the entire submission package (query letter, synopsis, sample chapters), it was rejected. That was especially true of the author obviously didn’t know the difference between a possessive, a plural, and a contraction. I still use those rules.

I know I’ve lost gigs because I sent off the pitch/query package too quickly and, only later when I filed or logged the submission, did I catch the errors. And the editors were right not to hire me. I did not demonstrate the proper care in my pitch.

Track your pitches and submissions. I have an entire Topic Workbook called Setting Up Your Submission System that tells you how. This is important. You need to know when and where you sent material.

Know when to follow-up, how to follow-up, and when to let go. Again, read the guidelines. They often give response time. Do not nag during that time. If you’re doing simultaneous submission and get a bite elsewhere, then, yes, definitely let the other markets know. But if the guidelines say four months, don’t start demanding a response in a week. In fact, because most sites are overworked and underpaid, I usually give an additional two to three weeks outside of the stated response time before follow up.

Be polite when you follow up. That should go without saying, but there you go.

Don’t argue if the answer is no. Arguing, threatening, insulting is only going to get you a reputation as unprofessional and not worth the work.

Precise, polite, professional. That’s how you craft a positive pitch and land the work. It TAKES work to LAND work.