Digital Tidiness Helps With Focus

Laptop, cell phone, notebook and pen on a wooden plank table
image courtesy of stokpic via pixabay.com

Apologies for the break in posting on this blog for the past few weeks. My mom (who is 99) had a small stroke at the end of February. She’s doing very well – speech and motor capacity restored. But there’s still extra elder care and monitoring that needs to happen. I had to pare back on certain obligations, and this blog was one of them.

But it’s a lovely spring now, and we are getting ready to move into summer.

It’s been time to do a big spring cleaning, both physically and digitally. My old laptop died; I had to buy a new one, although I also got the old one sort of fixed, and will probably get it refurbished later this year.

I cut way back on social media, which made me happier, more productive, and the social media on which I remain has a decent conversion rate. I will do another social media centric post in early June, for a mid-year check in.

I’m part of a regional capacity building program for artists from February through July, which has been great. Workshops are helping me focus on specific areas, and make a business plan in alignment with the direction I want for both my artistic work and my more business-oriented work, and make it more holistic.

Don’t ever forget that, as an artist, one must also function as a savvy small business. Unless you can afford to hire someone to manage the business aspects!

I was lucky enough to be part of a marketing cohort of small local businesses led by Francesca Olsen through the North Adams Chamber of Commerce. If you ever have the chance to take one of Francesca’s workshops or hire her as a consultant, JUMP ON IT. She’s smart, creative, fun, energetic, and knows how to pull different possibilities out of various boxes to create something unique to the person/business for whom she’s consulting. What I learned in a few two-hour sessions with her will carry me through this next phase.

I’d already begun going through each of my websites to clean them up, refocus where needed, update information, and keep each site’s unique voice while giving it a more overall voice that ties them all together. People can choose to spend time on one site, or they can follow trails to other sites that have other topics of interest. It’s like having a series of islands in the digital ocean and being able to go from one to another as one chooses.

The main sites remain this one for the more business-oriented freelancing. Pages on Stages focuses on the theatre and radio work. The Devon Ellington Work site is the flagship for work published under that name and some of the other pseudonyms including Ava Dunne, Christy Miller, and Christiane van de Velde. It also leads to the different series that I write, and leads to the main site for Legerdemain, which started life as a serial, and will be many things by the time I am done. I’m putting a lot of work into re-envisioning the Cerridwen’s Cottage site, for the work I’ve done for years under the Cerridwen Iris Shea name that deals with tarot, home and hearth magic, and the like. I’ve never fully tapped into the Llewellyn audience, and it’s about time to do so!

This post should have been posted last week and did not (but then I wouldn’t have much of the information for it). There will be another post next Wednesday, since it is the third Wednesday of the month. The plan is to get back to posting on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Have a lovely spring, and drop a comment to tell me what’s new in your life and work!

Reinvention Time

Balloons, dirigibles, and cogs on parchment above a book flanked by a candle on each side.
image courtesy of Dorothe via pixabay.com

The break on this blog was certainly longer than just August. The aim is to post on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, moving forward. The first Wednesday did not work, since there was some kerflamma with WordPress. So, here we are.

The WGA Strike hit me hard, at least as far as income is concerned. It’s worth it, since the studios want to destroy this particular art form both as an art form that communicates to hearts and souls, and as a viable profession. The strikes that have happened across the country this year are necessary.

But that doesn’t make the day to day and month to month demands on bills any easier.

And it doesn’t make roll my eyes any less and forward to the Guild all the predatory scabbing attempts that try to workaround the strike that regularly land in my inboxes. And delete all those crap emails about “full-time freelance” (for a single employer) or “20 hours, but you must be available to work 37.5 hours” emails that also land in my inboxes. That’s called an unbenefited employee, and nope, not doing it.

In spite of that, the bulk of my work has not been in the typical nonfiction independent contractor field over the past few months, and that’s okay.

I was fortunate to be a part of the Dramatists Guild’s End of Play program in April, in which I wrote the first draft of FALL FOREVER, a full-length play that was born in June of 2022 in a playwrights’ workshop hosted by the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I was even more fortunate to have it chosen for a virtual reading in early May with some wonderful, dedicated actors. The play has gone through a few rounds of thorough revisions in the interim, and is now out on submission. Fingers crossed.

At the end of May, I attended a local small business expo. I had a wonderful time, exchanged a lot of cards, and have had a lot of fun following up, chatting, and planning future projects with fellow entrepreneurs.

In July, once again, I was part of Word X Word Festival’s Very Large Poem, where 51 poets created a collaborative poem that flowed around the audience seated in the center. It was an amazing experience. In August, I was part of their Poets in Conversation series, creating a piece around the topic of book banning and gun violence. In October, I create another poem for that series on the topic of work.

In late July, I was able to begin a year-long project at the Clark Art Institute creating ekphrastic poetry, flash fiction, and plays inspired by various art pieces, both in traveling exhibitions (such as their PROMENDADES ON PAPER and  EDVARD MUNCH: THE TREMBLING EARTH) along with work from their permanent collection. I go about once a week and spend time with various pieces. Later this autumn, I will do some research in their library.

In August, I was finally able to go down to research in the Westchester Archives about my Playland Painters (the five women who painted the props at Playland Amusement Park from 1928-1940). I found names for the original painters, and I am in the process of tracking them through libraries, archives, and census records around the country, to see if I can prove if any of them are the women in my photo. I also learned some fascinating information that fed into a project mentioned later on.

From August through early October, I’ve been honored to be a part of Nightwood Theatre’s Creatryx 3.0 unit. Nightwood is a feminist theatre company in Toronto, and they put together an amazing group of theatre artists to create and support each other’s work. I’ve worked on a full-length stage drama with the working title of FROZEN AT THE PALACE THEATRE, again born in the 2022 Williamstown workshop. I also shared the opening of THE WOMEN ON THE BRIDGE, another full-length stage play, inspired by Munch’s 1904 painting of the same name (also sometimes referred to as THREE GIRLS ON A JETTY). The feedback on both has been enormously helpful. The plan is to finish the first drafts of each of them by the end of the year.

Through all of this, I’ve continued with the serials. Legerdemain, the fantasy/mystery, continues to drop episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s structured to be ongoing (not a book released in chapters) for as long as it’s viable. It even has its own website. Welcome to Legerdemain, a city of magic, misfits, and murder.

Angel Hunt, the urban fantasy about a witch, an angel, and an impossible task, releases new episodes on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is finite and completely written; I’m still uploading it and expect it will end in Spring 2024 after around 140 episodes. If it continues to be viable, I have several more seasons planned, and have started writing season 2, called The Lighthouse Lady.

Deadly Dramatics, the retro mystery about love, lust, theatre, rock and roll and murder, set in 1996 New York, launched this past July. It is completely written and uploaded, with new episodes going live on Wednesdays and Saturdays until October 5, 2024 (it runs 128 episodes). If it continues to be viable, there will be more seasons. I have some outlines, and I’ve started writing season 2, The Vicious Critic.

You can watch intro videos on all the serials on my serials page, and there are new episode videos on TikTok for each episode drop.

I’ve written some short stories, two of which will appear later this year. “Lavender” will be in New Zealand’s FLASH FRONTIER in October, and “The Forest Library” will be in DOES IT HAVE POCKETS? In December.

One of my ekphrastic poems was chosen to pair with a woodblock print out in Easthampton, and I was able to attend the show’s opening and read, with my fellow poets.

I’ve had conversations with several radio producers and have more radio plays out on submission.

I still release a new column of The Process Muse every Wednesday over on Substack.

I’ll be part of Llewellyn’s 2025 Spell-A-Day Almanac; since we write two years ahead, those 25 short pieces went out the door a few days ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend art openings and open studios and see some excellent theatre over the past few months. I enjoyed meeting fellow artists, got inspired by their work. One of them even taught me how to work with Gelli plates, and now I am obsessed. I’m also experimenting more with clay, textiles, and mixed media.

Where does that leave the freelance contractor work?

The demise of Twitter meant I took a hit in sales for the Topic Workbooks, the other books, and negatively affected the serials. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m experimenting with different social media channels. I posted in January and June about my experience, and will do another post in December of this year.

I need to spend more time in the Kindle Vella promotion groups on Facebook, but I can only do so when I can commit the time to read others’ work.

I’ve loved the work I’ve done these past months, and it makes me rethink the kind of work I want to do as a freelance contractor. Opportunities that I would have jumped at even a year ago no longer have an appeal. And that’s okay.

It’s about redefining how I want to work in partnership with other businesses and communities moving forward. Between weather and rising COVID numbers, it will be a pretty isolated winter of remote work again, and I need to seek out partnerships that will carry through the winter into spring and be fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.

I have some irons in the fire for next spring going into next summer, and we’ll see what does and does not pan out, and make further decisions from there.

I’m maintaining my decision not to take on social media work for clients at this point. With the fractured social media landscape, I do not believe I am the right person for that job. And my refusal to use AI in any of my work informs a lot of my decisions with whom to work.

I’m not counting on the strike to be settled before the end of the year, and am therefore looking at other work. If the strike ends earlier, and the script analysis and/or scriptwriting work picks up again, I can make decisions on a project-by-project basis.

I hold the boundaries of no unpaid labor as part of the interview process. That includes project specific samples, tests, or introductory/interview videos. All of that should be paid labor, and any “business” who expects it for free is not someone with whom I’m interested in working.

I’ve noticed a lot of businesses are trying to revert to pre-COVID policies and marketing strategies and then they act surprised when no one (neither customer nor potential employee) is interested in buying what they’re selling. I’ve had several “why aren’t you interested in working with us?” and “why won’t you do this for free?” questions over the months, and I have been straightforward in my answers.

We don’t live in the same world as we did at the end of 2019, and the same old strategies are not going to work.

That is as true for me personally and professionally.

I have no idea, at the moment, where this will all lead. I’ve reworked my resume and my LOI template. I’m preparing to go into residence in The Studios at MASSMoCA next week with the Boiler House Poets Collective; soon after that, I have jury duty.

In the meantime, I’m compiling a list of potential clients to whom I plan to send either project proposals or LOIS.

What are your plans for fall and winter? How are you changing your focus in your work?

Landing Pages

image courtesy of Regina Basaran via pixabay.com

The last post talked about the importance of having a website. Today, we’ll talk about your landing page.

Your landing page is vitally important, because it’s the first impression new visitors have when they visit.

You know the term “curb appeal”? Think of your landing page as the internet version of curb appeal.

Landing pages are as varied and unique as those using them.

The template and overall design of the website influences the landing page, and the overall look of your site. Even as the different pages serve different needs, the overall design ties the site together, so every page doesn’t feel like a separate web site.

What does the landing page need to do?

–Welcome new visitors

–Give them a succinct overview of the purpose of your website

–Guide them to other pages or sites connected to your work

–Have pleasing visuals and a good balance of visuals and text

What should a landing page avoid?

–Too much unwieldly text that’s better served on other pages

–Too much information crowded so that there’s no flow or resting space for the eyes

What about pop-ups?

There’s a lot of debate about pop-ups. Many marketing “gurus” swear by them, and far too many landing pages have them.

As a visitor/potential customer, if a pop-up appears before I have time to read the page, demanding my email EVEN IF IT’S FOR A DISCOUNT COUPON, I’m outta there. Not only am I gone, I am unlikely to return.

I hate being slapped in the face by a pop-up as soon as I get onto the site.

I want to read the landing page and DECIDE where I want to go next.

Choosing to join a mailing list is my LAST step on a site, not my first.

All of this “immediate Call-to-Action” when I don’t know anything about your site just turns me off.

Invite, Rather than Attack

To me, a successful landing page is an invitation, not an attack or a demand.

I want the look to resonate with the site’s purpose.

I want succinct information.

I want options for my next steps, not demands.

As an exercise, check out the websites of your favorite authors, restaurants, and stores. What draws you in? What, if they weren’t already a favorite, pushes you away? How can you translate this into the environment you want to create?

I call my own landing pages the “Welcome” page, because that’s the purpose – to welcome visitors to my site and invite them in. I use more text than is usually advisable, and fewer images. But then, I am a writer. I also tend to choose simple templates.

The Pages on Stages landing page is probably the simplest of my sites. That particular template scrolls through several pages on the landing site for mobile users, but the actual landing/welcome is fairly short.

The landing page on this site again, has more text than is advised. The Fearless Ink logo is the graphic at the top of the page, and the Creative Ground logo is at the bottom.

The website for the serial Legerdemain starts with a slide show of the episode-specific graphics, and then has information about the serial.

The flagship Devon Ellington Work website also starts with a slide show of book covers, and, again, text about the work. The sites for the individual series are similar.

All of these sites have more text than is generally advisable, but it works for the purpose of these sites. I like the site menu on the top, and there is information on navigating the site on the landing page.

Ellen Byron has a fun, beautiful site that has her book covers and “Learn More” links that allow the visitor to navigate her site.

Matt Stebbins has a clean, easy to navigate site with an inviting graphic on his landing page, and an invitation to contact him to work together.

Dancer Emma Garrett’s landing page is a photo of her in motion, with an invitation to enter.

Product designer Olivia Truong has a fun, easy to navigate landing page with bright colors and eye-catching graphics.

Painter Sophia Hacquart lets her paintings speak for themselves on the landing page.

Actor and artist Lizzie Markson’s landing page communicates the joy and energy she brings to her work.

(All of these landing pages are much better than mine, by the way, and I celebrate them for it).

Landing pages are introductions and invitations. Take time with yours, and don’t be afraid to change it as you and your work evolve.

How do you create your landing pages? When you visit a site, what do you want to find? What irks you?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Evolving While Growing

image courtesy of Couleur via pixabay.com

As freelancers, we need to keep growing our network of contacts, keeping in touch with those we already know, and keep an eye on working ahead, because we know things can change in a heartbeat. Our clients might go out of business or change direction in a way that doesn’t resonate with us, or just want a different approach using a different freelancer or agency.

We help so many of our clients grow their businesses to fit their vision that sometimes we forget about our own vision for our companies.

So often, in addition to the encouragement to “grow our network” we are also told to “grow our business.”

I’m all for meeting and getting to know as many people as possible (even though I’m an introvert), because most people are interesting if you give them a chance, and it’s always fun when a project comes up and I can put together a cohort of interesting, skilled people to bring the project to an even higher level than originally envisioned.

The “grow your business” is something I’ve mulled over the past few months, trying to find the right definition of that for me.

As an “anti-niche” I don’t want to get too locked into one particular field. I enjoy working for a wide variety of businesses that do all kinds of unique things. If anything, my niche is “Damn Good Writer.” But not being tied to a niche meant, in the 2008 recession, I watched far too many talented colleagues suffer because they’d locked into a niche and couldn’t get hired elsewhere. I navigated that recession (which was during the time I was transitioning out of full-time theatre through part-time theatre to full-time writing) BECAUSE I wasn’t niched.

I have plenty of “areas of specialized knowledge” and I’m always working to expand those. I’m interested in different disciplines and skills. I use MY skills as a communicator to help businesses, artists, and individuals get their message across.

So in that case, I’m growing AND I’m evolving, because I’m learning new things from and about people who are passionate about what they do. That’s one of the reasons I love being a writer: I get  to interact with people who are in love with their work.

As I keep working, my skills improve. Some writing needs succinct copy; others might need a play on puns; still others want something that’s more lyrical and flowing. My theatre training means I can easily mimic a company’s voice, and create fresh content in their voice to engage and grow their audience. The more I create, the stronger the work. I learn from every piece I write, and apply that knowledge to the next piece.

As far as “growing my business” I’ve focused differently over the past few months. Even before Twitter started its death throes, I’d stepped away from doing social media management for clients. I’ll still create copy; but I no longer choose to do the graphics, uploading, scheduling, and handle direct response/ interaction. That’s for the social media manager to handle, and not a role I want to take on anymore.

While I love having a variety of clients across a variety of fields, and the configuration of those clients changes over the months, I also don’t want to grow in the way a typical business grows. I want to manage the number and type of clients I enjoy working with; I don’t want to go through the overblown days of too many clients all needing time and attention at once, followed by long fallow periods. Even with consistent marketing, these highs and lows are fairly common. I also don’t outsource, because one of the reasons most of my clients want me to create content for them is for the unique voice that I bring to the table that supports the unique voice of their business and sharpens it even more. You hire me, it’s my work you get, not something outsourced to another writer than then comes “through” me for polishing.

In a similar vein, I’m doing much less ghostwriting, unless it’s for a lot of money. I have my starting number; depending on the work, at this point in the game, with my experience, I only negotiate upward.

At the same time, I limit how much work I take on retainer, and I prefer not to schedule specific hours for any one client, because I need a flexible schedule. I’m good at meeting deadlines, but the hours in which I work to meet those deadlines need to be flexible. I need to be able to take two weeks off to do archival research a new play or take a few days off when there’s a reading or production of my work somewhere. I don’t want to take on an ever-growing client load that would make that flexibility impossible.

Other people want and need the steadiness of a roster of retainers, so that they have a steady workflow. They keep fairly regular hours, and plan vacations and other times away much in the way they would if they were part of a traditional office environment, although they work from their home offices. Some of them are expanding their client base with an eye to either hiring other writers and being in more of a management position, or creating a partnership with other writers and graphic designers for a boutique agency-style business.

Those are their visions, and that’s great! They are fulfilling what they want.

Take the time to think about how you want your business to grow. How do you want to expand (or contract) your client load so it’s in alignment with the overall vision for your business and how it fits into your life? How do you want to evolve in your business, as far as learning new things, or stepping away from things you don’t enjoy in order to focus on the work you do?

Keep lines of communication open with your clients, and give them ample notice if and when you make dramatic changes in your business. But one of the joys of what we do is that we can build the business so it IS joyous, rather than a slog.

How has your business grown over the last few years? How have you evolved?

Direct Mail Steadily Works

image courtesy of Edoardo Tommasini vix pexels.com

I’ve always loved direct mail, both as a freelancer and as a potential customer.

According to this article on The Mail Shark, direct mail response rates run at a half a percent to 2%. And according to this piece on Amsive.com, direct mail gets a 10-30% higher response rate than digital mail, with 60% of those asked saying they remember the content of a physical piece better than an email. Now, remember, both of the above companies are trying to sell their direct mail services. The small business newsletter Chron (a Hearst newspaper affiliate) talks about a half a percent to 2% return as well.

As a consumer/potential customer, I find that rings true. If I get an email about a product or service, I put it aside to “look at later.” I usually forget about it, and when I go in, weekly, to do my bulk email deletes, it’s gone.

When I receive a direct mail piece in my physical mailbox, I look at it immediately.You can thank all those organizing gurus who’ve touted “handle the piece of mail once immediately when you get it” for that. If I’m interested in it, I put it next to my desk so I can respond within the next few days. If it’s something I know I will want down the line, I put it in the appropriate file folder, and then I have it when I need it.

As a freelancer, when I’ve done direct mail campaigns for Fearless Ink, I generally get a 25% positive response, which is much higher than the above-mentioned 2%. And imagine, if 2% is 10-30% HIGHER than a digital campaign, imagine how small the return is on most digital campaigns!

Having worked both digital and physical direct mail for various clients, it depends on what’s offered and the target audience. I find clothing, books, and jewelry tend to get high rates on digital campaigns, while larger goods and services tend to do better with physical direct mail. That’s just my personal sampling over a variety of years, and, especially in digital campaigns, doing a lot of A/B marketing tests and constantly changing course to compare and grow results.

What Kind of DM Piece?

For my freelance business, physical direct mail is one of my best tools for growing or shifting my client base. My best tool is a quarterly postcard. It’s very simple, with my business name, the tag line of the Fearless Ink Website, and a short list of information, with a link back to the website and email contact. Since I only do phone calls by appointment and charge in 15-minute increments, I do not put my phone number on the card. Sometimes I print the card on seasonal cardstock; other times I use the standard card with the logo.

I used to have a brochure as well as the postcard, and would hand out brochures with the card and my business card at networking events, pre-plague. I sometimes sent the brochure out with a physical LOI (letter of introduction/interest), or attached a digital version with a digital LOI. My last brochure was very specific to the region in which I lived, and needs a complete overhaul (which is on the schedule for this spring).

I have portfolio links on my Clients and Publications page, along with the link to my online portfolio over on Clippings.me. A new media kit for Fearless Ink is in the works.

I have not sent out a postcard since I moved to the Berkshires, but intend to correct that by February.

Although I have a quarterly newsletter for the fiction under the various names (you can subscribe to Devon’s Random Newsletter here),  and my Substack account, The Process Muse, is technically, a weekly newsletter (you can subscribe here), I do not have a newsletter for the business/marketing side of my business, Fearless Ink.

Most freelancers, especially those in business and marketing, have a weekly or monthly newsletter, and it’s an important tool. Because the focus of my business writing is changing, I do not believe that I have business content of regular value for a newsletter (I use this blog instead). No one wants to get a weekly email screaming “Hire me!” I’d rather talk about specific topics here twice a month and include interesting pieces in the quarterly newsletter.

If you have enough to say, and you don’t want to blog (or have enough to say in addition to a blog) a regular newsletter is a good tool. I find newsletters, at this point in the game, work better digitally, while business outreach works better on a physical direct mail piece. That’s just my experience. Talk to the freelancers in your circle to get a sense of what will work for you.

These direct mail pieces are separate from any holiday greetings I send. Holiday greetings are sent purely to wish someone the joy of the season. They do not mention work.

How do I put together the list?

My list is a mix-and-match, and ever-growing.

–Former clients (provided I still want to work with them). I keep in touch with former clients on a fairly regular basis. A lot of my work is one-and-done, rather than the advised weekly, monthly, or retainer work. So there are clients I might only work with once a year, or once every few years. However, when their work comes up, I want them to think of me first.

–Businesses to whom I sent LOIs, and either got a “we like your materials, but don’t have anything right now” or whose work intrigues/excites me enough that I want to keep my name in front of them. A physical postcard allows them to stick it in a folder or on their board and see it when the right assignment comes up, and by reminding them of my existence every few months, I’m more convenient than having to search for someone. Making the client’s life easier is a big part of getting and keeping work.

–Local business with whom I want to partner. It’s always good to have a solid local client base, providing they are professional, meet your rate, and respect the work relationship. In my previous location, there was a lot of talk about supporting local businesses, but they felt that local freelancers/copywriters/marketing people should be willing to work for free or a low rate “for exposure.” They only respected large firms out of town, who didn’t need to work with them. Also, even when there were decent local clients, most of them refused to make referrals or provide testimonials, because they didn’t want their freelancers to work for anyone else in the area, even though they didn’t have enough work to keep the freelancer employed. Where I am now seems to have a more reasonable and respectful view of the partnership between freelancer and client. I’m sure, this year, I will find out if that is true or an illusion.

–Regional businesses with whom I want to partner. Similar to the above, but with a wider reach. I’m in the Northwestern corner of Massachusetts now, so “regional” includes not just the Berkshires, but southern Vermont and the region from Albany/Saratoga/Troy.

–National and international businesses that interest me. Because I work asynchronously and choose which hours to work on which client project, I can work across time zones. I rarely accept an assignment that demands I work for that client within specific hours, because, to me, that’s not “freelance.” That’s a part-time employer.

I make the list by reading about companies doing interesting things, looking at Chamber of Commerce member listings, and checking which companies are hiring for what. I used to attend lots of chamber events in person. If we ever get enough of a handle on COVID, or a place institutes safety protocols (ha!), I will start going to a limited number of in-person events again. I might not want to send a resume to a job I see on a job board, but I might be intrigued enough to research the company and then send them an LOI, detailing how working together will solve a particular issue of theirs (without insulting them).

The list is constantly growing and changing. It’s a living document, not a static one, and that’s part of what makes work as a freelancer so interesting. Successful businesses grow and change. Growing and changing along with a business is always exciting, as is finding new businesses, and helping them get their passion and message out.

Do you use direct mail? Do you have a newsletter? How do you build your lists? What do you find does and does not work?

Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

image courtesy of Larisa Koshkina via pixabay.com

I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Content Calendar Tips

image courtesy of Myraims-Fotos via Pixabay.com

Welcome back! I hope you had a lovely summer. Taking regular breaks from content creation (not just creating extra content ahead of time and scheduling to post) is something I find alleviates burnout.

I’ve created and uploaded content for client content calendars for all kinds of projects in my freelance career. But creating and doing them for my own projects this past summer was a revelation.

I had two large projects (each with multiple moving parts) that went live this summer, and I learned a lot about what I, as an individual artist who is also a small business, needs from a content calendar. I’m sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it will help you.

The two big projects I had were the re-released of updated editions of The Topic Workbooks and the launch of my mystery/fantasy/comedy serial LEGERDEMAIN. Both intersected at the end of July into August, and need steady promotion for as long as I can imagine.

The Topic Workbooks consist of seven workbooks, built around writing classes I’ve taught/continue to teach, both in person and online. Six of the workbooks were updated editions, integrating new technology, information, and changes in the industry.  Those were: THE SERIES BIBLE, SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, THE COMPLEX ANTAGONIST, ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE, and CREATIVE STIMULUS. The seventh workbook was for the class I taught at the beginning of August for the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, and that was DEVELOPING THE SERIES (for novels, not screen). The workbooks initially re-released over three weeks, and then the promotion continued.

The serial, LEGERDEMAIN, started on Kindle Vella as of July 28, with episodes dropping every Tuesday and Thursday for as long as it’s viable. The initial vision contains three large story arcs. The first story arc is uploaded and scheduled, and runs 41 episodes. The next two will run between 30-40 episodes each. I know it takes several months to gain traction on Vella, unless one comes in with an already huge audience, so those ads had to be geared toward both short and long-term visions. The first three episodes are (and remain) free. The other episodes are read via the purchase of tokens.

The Topic Workbooks are non-fiction, geared toward writers and artists. They’re geared toward writers, but artists in other disciplines have also found them useful. The serial is fiction, geared to a genre audience who loves serials (most important), mystery, fantasy, and likes some odd humor sprinkled in.

Both campaigns had to launch, and then run, simultaneously.

I spent some time in the summer, while off from writing this blog, playing with online scheduling tools. I mixed, matched, and did comparisons of several. None of them fulfilled my needs, integrated the way I need them to, or could handle the fact that, as a freelance juggling multiple projects, things change ALL THE TIME.

So I went back to trusty old paper.

Content Vision

The first thing I had to do was to have a vision for the way I wanted to promote each project. The Topic Workbooks are pretty straightforward. They are consistent. These editions are updated and published, with fresh covers. I keep them priced low, so that they’re budget-friendly, and they’ve always made up in volume what they lack in high prices for individual workbooks. Distinctive ads in a similar style with blurbs and buy links would do the trick. Consistent promotion, albeit changing up the type of promotion, makes the most sense. The Topic Workbooks have their own page on the flagship DevonEllingtonWork site, so links can take interested viewers back to that page on the site, and then the individual buy links for the buyer’s device is readily available, including library sites.

The serial is a little more complicated. Two episodes drop per week. That means each episode needs an individual ad that’s a hook for that specific episode. It also needs more general ads as a draw to the series in general. Also, the hooks can’t give too much away, or someone could just follow the episode ads and feel like they don’t need to read the series. While there’s mention of the serial on the main DevonEllingtonWork site, there’s enough material, and enough tertiary material to build its own subdomain site for Legerdemain. (Note: this site has some content up, but is still under construction at the time of this posting, and has not been widely promoted).

Because of Amazon’s strict rule that content can’t be anywhere other than on their site (and they won’t even let me link the website to the serial), I had to figure out a  workaround of additional fun content that didn’t break the Kindle Vella laws, gave readers who follow the serial some fun additional content, and gave potential readers a taste of tone to drive them to start reading.

The Topic Workbook content is fairly static, and will be changed as individual workbooks are updated every few years, and as new workbooks are added (because you didn’t think I was done, did you? I mean, this is me we’re talking about). There’s also a Media Kit in progress, which will go up on both the Workbook page, and in the site’s Media Room.

LEGERDEMAIN’s content will grow as long as the serial grows.

Someday, LEGERDEMAIN will stop being a serial, have to take a breath when it comes off Kindle Vella (I’m thinking at least 3-5 years down the road), and then become something else. The website will be able to support whatever it turns into. Again, that content is created with a vision toward both short and long term.

Frequency

How often to post?

At the launch of each Topic Workbook, I decided to do an intense 13-day campaign of one to two ads per day across social media. After the initial 13-days, I would run one ad per workbook per week. That took me through the end of September. Now that it is September, I am looking at the workbooks and deciding what the vision is for promotion October – December.

Series Bible Ad
Setting Up Your Submissions System Ad

With LEGERDEMAIN, each pair of episodes gets an intense campaign during their week, until the next week’s episodes drop. For August and September, I then run day-long weekend campaigns with all episodes to date. On top of that, I pop some general ads in there. Again, in October, I’m changing it up a little, for the overall series, while keeping the intense focus on the ads for episodes as they go live.

Example of an episode-specific ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Ecample of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Example of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN

I vary the hours for both the workbooks and the serial ads, because I want to take a look at the metrics and then see what works well where.

When I created content for a clothing designer, I scheduled the daily content to post at noon each day, because people were looking at social media during their lunch hour or just before/after, and that got the highest response.

The Content Itself

I create batches of content. I created each workbook ad as soon as the workbook was ready to publish. As soon as the buy links went live, I added them to the ads and to the various websites on which they can be found.

Same with LEGERDEMAIN. I uploaded/scheduled the polished episodes in batches of 10 (although I had most of the first arc written and revised before I uploaded anything, in case I needed to plan something early on for the end). As soon as I uploaded the episode and noted the release date, I create the episode log lines, and then I can create the individual episode ads. Then, I go back through that batch of episodes to see what general ads I can create from the content about other businesses, themes, or jokes that are in those episodes, and where I can expand on information for the website that would drag down the pace and the narrative drive of the serial itself.

Uploading the Content

I block off several hours, and I upload and schedule at least a month of content, preferably two or three, in that time period. If you use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can schedule across multiple platforms (provided your subscription allows it). It’s worth it, because then you don’t have to think about it for two or three months.

For the Topic Workbooks, as soon as I got the buy link, I started uploading and scheduling the content I planned through the end of September. When I decide on October – December’s content and frequency, I will block off a few hours and upload/schedule all of that in one go, too.

Because I have the content ready to go (it’s created before I upload), the upload/scheduling time goes relatively quickly. It takes about 2 hours to upload 2-3 months’ worth of daily content.

I also use the weekly calendar sheets broken down into hours by General Blue and write in what ads run where. I can see how the content flows, and where I have room to plug in other projects (because releasing ads for different projects at the same time is often counterproductive). They can run close together, even just a few minutes apart, but not releasing at the same moment.

For the serial, as soon as the episodes are scheduled and I’ve created the episode loglines and episode-specific ads, I block off time and upload that next block of episodes. This is where having the hourly paper calendar comes in handy, because I can see what episodes have promotions scheduled when, and build on themes and images. When the general ads are created, I slot those in around the episode ads. Again, it usually takes a couple of hours to schedule a month or more of content. It’s worth it, because then I don’t have to think about it; I just have to look at metrics later on.

The social media promotions I do are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ello, Counter Social, and Tumblr. Then, there are other ads or direct mail pieces, depending on the project and budget. Don’t forget the budget! The content calendar integrates all of it.

Metrics

I look at the traffic that’s driven to the various sites by the ads, and then, of course, the sales that result. It’s harder to do with the serial, because Amazon holds their information close to the vest, and doesn’t allow links to individual episodes, or metrics on individual episodes, just to the general page. And I couldn’t build momentum ahead of the launch, because the page on the Vella site for the serial didn’t go live until the serial went live. On top of that, one cannot gift tokens or use Amazon gift cards for tokens for the serial, which affects things like promotional giveaways.

I expect it will be 4-6 months before I get a real sense of how the ads are doing in the bigger picture.

In the smaller picture, I see regular sales reports, and I can also see who and how often colleagues on social media are liking or boosting my work. That figures into my personal metrics. I boost the heck out of the work of friends and colleagues. If I don’t get that in return, or if I suspect they’ve muted the ads or the project, it’s not become a non-reciprocal relationship.

 Yes, I know, all that “you have the right to curate your timeline” and “you do you” and all the other palliatives. You DO have the right to curate your timeline for your own purposes and pleasures.

So do I.

Writing is my business, not my hobby. It is how I keep a roof over my head, and the bills paid. I mix and match a wide variety of writing in my profession. But it is my profession, and that means I have to promote my work.

That doesn’t mean I DM people asking them to buy. That’s tacky and unprofessional.  And someone who DMs me immediately after a mutual follow to sell me something, anything, is guaranteed to be blocked, and put on the list of “never buy anything from this person ever.”

If I’m promoting the heck of someone’s work and they never promote mine, then they’ve become a drain on my resources and my energy, and I want them off my timeline. I clear out my timeline once or twice a year. It gets out the deadweight, and then I can go back to having actual conversations and interactions. How someone supports or does not support my work affects the place they have (or don’t have) in my life. While I may mute some threads that get overly tangled, I tend not to mute people. I’m either in or out. Either I accept all of someone’s facets, or I’d rather steer clear. And if someone is “muting” me because I promote that which keeps a roof over my head or for any other reason, that means they aren’t accepting all of my different facets, and the further I get away right quick, the better for my life and work.

But hey, “you do you.”

Conclusion

Planning content ahead of time makes a huge difference. A content calendar helps you track what happens where, where there are holes you can turn into opportunities, where content gets crowded and needs a little breathing room.

By making the time to plot out your content, by making the time to create the content, and then batch uploading/scheduling, you take the immediate pressure off the day to day, and that allows you to create more (which you will then have to promote).

The content calendar supports both the plan and the execution. It will help you when you analyze your metrics, and find the best times/days to schedule your content. It will help you see where you need more, and where you can cut back.

It has also taught me how to adjust my rates, should I go back to offering this type of service for clients again in the future. As a solopreneur, I am the creator and the content manager. However, when I take on clients, I am the content WRITER, NOT the graphic designer OR the social media manager. Too often companies are hiring one person to do all three jobs when they are three separate jobs and require different skills, time frames, and headspaces. Not only that, most companies want to pay a single person to do three jobs only a portion of what one job is worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If you CHOOSE to accept a position where you are creating, doing graphics, and managing the content calendar/uploading/metrics, make sure you charge enough to encompass all three sets of skills.

But the calendar is THE tool that eases pressure AND promotes positive engagement, which is good all around! And batch creating and batch uploading/scheduling makes the next few months much calmer.

Concepts of Time

image courtesy of Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

At this point in the game, I shouldn’t be surprised when, during an initial conversation with a prospective client, said individual tells me how long something “should” take to write, and that’s why they want to pay per hour instead of per project. “Oh, if you’re a fast writer, you can do X amount of words in X amount of time and can earn a lot of money.”

This is often said by non-writers who think that writing isn’t ‘real’ work. “I’d to it if I had the time.” No, sweetie, you wouldn’t, because you couldn’t come up with something that would hit and reel in your target market. That’s why you have to hire someone to do it. What you’re telling your freelancer “only” takes X amount of time is something you’ve been trying to get done for ten or fifteen times longer than that, and that’s why you’re hiring someone to actually get it done. These clients are the same clients who don’t pay for research time or percolation time. And don’t like to pay per word.

So many factors play into how much “time” a piece takes to write. Those include the tangibles, such as:

–how much research is provided

–how much research I need to do

–interview time

–fact checking time

–any meetings required in the process

–the actual writing time

Add into that:

–computer/internet issues

–unexpected interruptions

–natural energy fluctuations in the day

Layer on top of that:

–percolation time needed for the piece to take shape

–outlining (if necessary/appropriate)

–the several revisions necessary before sharing a draft with a client

–proofreading

Each of these elements takes a different amount of time, depending on the project. That’s true even with systems in place and tools to streamline. The same basic tasks can take different amounts of time on different days.

Clients who understand that they can’t discern how long it “takes” to write something (other than setting project deadlines) also understand that the service for which they pay isn’t JUST the final words on paper or screen; it’s the creativity that goes into those words. It’s the created worlds that engage and expand the audience.

To find the right words to create that enchantment takes a different amount of time for each project.

Setting reasonable project deadlines for drafts and deliverables makes sense, and is necessary for both freelancer and client. A client stating that it takes X amount of time to write X words is not.

Enter into partnerships with clients who understand that creativity is what makes the deliverables actually. . .deliver.

(Note: this should have posted yesterday, May 18, and failed to post. Apologies).

LOIs and Pitches

image courtesy of geralt via pixabay.com

Hello from sunny/windy/stormy Berkshires! We’re finally getting winter weather, and I’m grateful to be a remote worker.

If you read my daily personal blog, Ink in My Coffee, which talks about the intersection of work and life, you will see that I talk about pitches and LOIs frequently (although I never have as many out as I wish I had).

Several people have asked me the difference. Isn’t an LOI a kind of a pitch?

They are different tools with different uses. Below, I share my definitions, and how I create and use each.

LOI: Letter of Introduction

My LOIs are similar to cover letters sent with resumes because they are a way to introduce me to a company with whom I haven’t yet worked. Sometimes, I see a company that interests me on a job listing site. I might not want the job described, but if I do more research, like the company, and think we might work well together, I will create an LOI, and send it to the appropriate person in the company, along with the most relevant of my resumes and appropriate portfolio materials.

If I’m only sending portfolio links, the links are in the letter, not as an attachment.

I use similar principles for an LOI as I do to send a query letter to an agent or editor. I start with the hook to engage them and keep them reading the letter.

I have a paragraph stating what I have to offer, why it’s unique, how it fits their vision/needs, and why I am the best person to create it. I’m letting them know I see the need they’ve voiced, or something about the company excites me, and I believe I bring something worthwhile to the table.

I add in links to portfolio and/or other samples.

I have a paragraph stating that I do not provide free labor as part of an interview process. Any tests/samples, etc. that are project or company specific have a separate contract and payment.

Many marketing people will be horrified that I have this in the initial letter. They will advise that it’s a turnoff to the company.

That’s the point.

A company that demands or expects unpaid labor as part of the interview process is not a company with whom I want to work. It’s not about charming them or talking them around: either they act with integrity from the beginning, or we both move on. I’d rather save us the time and mutual frustration up front.

I re-iterate in the final paragraph that I work remotely and work asynchronously. While I’m open to overlapping hours and a small percentage of meetings, a company who demands availability for all of their business hours is not a true remote-positive company. Again, we are unlikely to be a good match.

I thank them for their time and consideration, and sign off, with the appropriate website under my signature line.

I follow up two to three weeks later by email. If it’s a company with whom I want to pursue a relationship, I add them to my quarterly marketing post card list that goes out by snail mail.

Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way is fine. At least I made the effort and I learned about the company. Depending on the tone of the response, I keep in touch sporadically, by email and/or postcard. Sometimes it takes months, or even a year or more to land an assignment. It’s often worth it.

Company needs change. A lot about the LOI is reminding them you exist at a time they need your skills.

An LOI says, “This is who I am, these are my skills, this is how I can make things better/easier for your company.”

Pitches

For me, a pitch is much more specific, and geared to a particular project. I’ll pitch an editor at a publication for whom I want to work, with two or three article ideas, rather than send an LOI.

I’ll pitch conferences with workshop or panel ideas.

I’ll pitch corporations with workshop or seminar ideas. Pre-pandemic, I offered a series of onsite workshops for companies to train their in-house staffs on writing and marketing techniques, especially in how to use techniques that aren’t usually used in business to communicate the message more clearly and with more integrity. They were either half day or full day sessions.

I’m adapting them so they can be offered online or in-person or as a hybrid, and learning how I can make them more inclusively accessible. The more accessibility there is to the workshops, the better it serves the employees, which means they can use what they learn, and integrate it into their own work.

And, of course, I am The Queen of Handouts. Take a workshop or seminar with me, and you walk away with a stack of material to which you can refer to whenever you want.

Pitches are more project-focused, where LOIs are more long-term focused.

How do you craft LOIs and pitches? What elements do you find work best?

The Idea Fountain

image courtesy of Binja69 via pixabay.com

First, The Personal

Yes, I’m back. The last post on this site was in March, when I was just starting to get into the Move From Hell. I thank you for your patience, and hope you will join me on this new journey.

The Move From Hell is mostly complete. I moved from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, to an environment that values artists and actually believes in paying them. When asked what I do and I answer, “Writer” the response isn’t, “No one does that. What’s your REAL job?” with which I was constantly met on Cape. The response here is filled with resources and events I might enjoy, and requests to take a socially distanced walk around the lake or at the Spruces to talk about some aspect of writing. Or art. Or theatre. It is a much healthier environment for me, on multiple levels.

Most people here are vaccinated. Most indoor spaces require masking. Most people don’t fuss.

As I said, a much healthier environment, all the way around.

I’ve gone fully remote, instead of a mix of remote and on-site clients. It is unlikely I would go back to onsite work, unless it was a part-time position with an arts organization. But I doubt I would even do that until at least next summer.

Now, The Professional

I’m happy to say that The Idea Fountain has come back on. During the actual move, when I was mired in trying to find a place to live, then trying to find mover who would actually show up and do the work, and getting some things into storage, etc., etc., during a pandemic, my creativity fled. I was able to do the minimum work required to keep us afloat during the move, but I was not working, creatively, at my best.

When I first moved here, I was so exhausted, on every level, that I was lucky to make it through the day for the first few weeks.

But lately, the Idea Fountain has turned back on, and I’m actually happy and able to create again.

What is the Idea Fountain?

It’s useful for both fiction and nonfiction work. My definition of the Idea Fountain is that something you come across in the course of your day sparks a flow of ideas. Those ideas often go on to have more ideas, and so forth and so on.

Sometimes, a call for submission turns on the Idea Fountain. Often, in my work with businesses, it’s their creative brief, or our consult conversation.

As I writer, I find looking at paintings and sculpture restorative. When I am stuck in my words, looking at art unsticks me. My uncle was a reasonably well-known artist in Europe, working in stained glass, woodcuts, and casting large bronze figures. I have several of his sketches that inspire me. Most of my art books are in storage right now, but I’m across the street from a college library with a huge art book section, and I can use my Community Card to check them out.

So, there’s usually a stack of art books nearby.

This weekend, I spent time sitting on my front porch, paging through a book about American ex-patriate artists in Florence, during the Impressionist period. I got an idea for one of next year’s plays for an organization for whom I regularly write in New York (the other idea for them came from a line in a biography I read a few weeks ago – when the Idea Fountain was a mere trickle). I also got an idea for what is turning out to be a series, rooted in a group of painting students doing a Grand Tour. While I was writing up those notes, so as not to lose the ideas, an idea with which I’ve been playing for years, starting directly after WWII started poking at me again, and I made notes on that, too. It started poking its head up again because of a reference to generations of artists who were also artists during world events (such as WWII).  A throwaway line I read in a novel sparked an idea for a short story.

All over the course of a few days.

The Idea Fountain has turned back on.

At the beginning of August, I’d resumed my regular first 1K/day of fiction very early in the morning, in longhand, which had gotten erratic during the move. I wrote on the front porch. It’s getting too cold and dark to do that, so I’m writing in the living room; eventually, I may start writing again at the rolltop desk. But that primed the pump to get the Idea Fountain flowing again.

How does that work in freelance/business writing?

On some projects, the writer is paired with a graphic designer (or brings one in), and the two feed off each other. I love discussing ideas with a graphic designer; they toss out image ideas, I toss out words, and we get there together. If I’m writing something without graphic needs, I dig into my knowledge of those for whom I’m writing (or I gain the knowledge). Is there an image within the company already that will spur the piece (for a marine life press release, it would be an endearing photo of a seal or sea turtle; for a holiday fundraiser, a photo of one of the decorated trees, etc.). Or I image characters and situations around which I can build a story for the organization (see my page on Mission-Specific Entertainment).

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: ideas are like cookies. They tend to come in batches. So prime your pump however works for you, turn on that Idea Fountain, and let it flow.  Ooh, a fountain spewing cookies. I like that image.  If you show up and do the work daily, on the schedule you set for the work, it gets easier and flows more smoothly. Show up consistently, even on the days that are difficult, and the flow resumes. Some days it might feel like a trickle, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get the flow steady again.

Take notes on ideas, even if they seem like tangents. Perhaps they’re not right for this particular project, but they will be right for a different one. Creative time is never a waste, and not every result is immediately tangible.

The more joy you take in the process, the more the ideas will flow.

How do you get your ideas flowing?