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!

LOIs That Get Attention

Blue Fox manual typewriter with white page in its carriage
image courtesy of Dean Moriarty via pixabay.com

One of my favorite ways to expand my client base is through the LOI (Letter of Introduction). An LOI is different than the cover letter used with a resume; it covers some of the same points, but has more breadth and depth, and is far more individualized.

When do I send LOIs?

When I see a company that I suspect I’d enjoy working with, and adding something of value to their business. Even if I have a fairly busy client roster, I send out LOIs regularly, because freelance is ebb and flow. If I’m at an ebb, maybe they’ll be at overflow and need someone extra on a project. Keeping a steady stream of LOIs going out is a good idea. I admit, I’ve been lax about it the past few months, but I’m ramping up again.

Once the company catches my interest, I research them. My research on companies has gotten more thorough over the years. I dig into their website, looking for tone, content, values. I read as much as I can ABOUT them – do they take the values they claim to hold out into the world? If they don’t, or if they fund politicians who work to strip away rights and overturn democracy, I move on. People who say working for a company “has nothing to do with politics” have the privilege of ignoring a company’s stance on something. I do not.

Once I’ve decided that yes, I really do like this company, I sit down and write the LOI.

One of the best tools I’ve integrated into the LOI is the hook. When I write a cover letter for a submission for fiction or drama, I open with a hook, which is a statement tied to the theme of the piece to get their attention and keep reading.

Using that same technique in the LOI has served me well, but rather than it being about my piece, it has to do with their company, and is usually tied to what caught my attention about them in the first place (without using that phrasing). It’s tied to what caught my attention and what I offer that supports it. Which means it’s individual to each letter and company.

I then highlight skills of mine and previous work that is relevant; or, if something isn’t relevant but supports the company’s mission, how that feeds into it. I add links to my portfolios, or attach a relevant PDF. I have recently added a clause stating that I do not use AI in my work. A few years ago, I added a clause about having a separate contract for tests or project-specific content created as part of the interview process. Refusing to do free labor as part of the interview process is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That includes one-way video interviews. A good video interview, even one minute, is about $3K of unpaid labor on the job seeker’s part, not to mention that interviews need to be CONVERSATIONS, not PERFOMANCES. You are interviewing the potential client as much as they are interviewing you.

The one-way interview is akin to an actor sending in an audition reel. Not the way I, as a writer, do business.

After all the business clauses and boundaries, I thank them for their time, sign off, and put the appropriate website of mine under the signature line.

Attachments are usually a resume and/or a PDF portfolio where appropriate, if I haven’t sent them a link within the letter.

Some LOIs get quick responses. Others get a response of, “We don’t have anything right now, but please keep in touch.” When the latter is the case, I let them know that I will, and then add them to the quarterly post card mailing (if there’s an office address) or do a quarterly check-in email. It can take a year or more to get an assignment, but it happens, and they’ve been some of the most satisfying for both of us.

How do you craft a Letter of Introduction? How has it boosted your business?

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?

Social Media Experiments, Part II

image from Pixabay.com

My first post of the year was about exploring some of the multitude of social media platforms to see what works best for my work and my interests.

I’ve kept expanding on those experiments, and here are results from January to the end of May. In general, I’m irritated by the way platforms attack anything that is not their platform, yet continue to share/copy posts from the disparaged sites. I don’t want to hear about what’s wrong with Twitter when I’m on a different platform; that’s why I’m not on Twitter in that moment. I don’t want to see Twitter posts screenshot on another platform. If I want to see a Twitter post, I will go on Twitter. Cultivate your own garden and stop gossiping about the neighbors.

Again, this has to do with MY work and interests, not those of clients. I’m not doing social media work for clients at this time. There are also platforms I choose not to be on or haven’t heard about.

Here’s the update:

Bluesky:  is now live. Even though I signed up as a beta the first week it was announced, I have not received an invite, which is not surprising. I’m not a big enough name to garner early usage. That, however, is a red flag for me. If they’re curating invitations by name recognition, it is probably not the right place for me, on any level. I want something with a more level and more interesting playing field. Unfortunately, if that’s where my audience migrates, I will have to, eventually, get on there. So far, most of what I hear about it is negative. Yet many migrate there anyway. Then, there’s the report that Dorsey’s endorsed RFK Jr. for President. (head desk).

Bookbub: I have not put in the time I need to put in on this platform yet. I hope to do better this summer. I’m missing opportunities.

Cohost: In January, I took one day per week to spend more time on the platform. It confirmed that the members have different interests than I do, or that I explore in my work. The lack of interaction got more and more frustrating. Posting just to post doesn’t do it for me. The ratio of time:payoff wasn’t there to create unique content for the platform, and I don’t post WIPs (why post subpar work AND blow first rights)? By mid-January, I stopped posting regularly for the last two weeks for the month. In February, I only posted the #28Prompts on the site, just to see if a single type of content performed better. There was zero interaction. I haven’t deleted my account, but I haven’t been on the platform since early March.

CounterSocial: It continues to be a good place for in-depth conversation, although there are ebbs and flows of screamers and trolls. As I said in January’s post, they usually weed themselves out when they are attention-starved, or do something to get bounced. There’s a lot of focus on music, and sometimes conversations feel a little cliquish, but there are also some good conversations I don’t have elsewhere. It tends to drive traffic more to the blogs than the serials. I get the highest response to pieces on the garden and on food. The last month or so, interaction has tapered off, and I’m wondering if people are migrating elsewhere.

Creative Ground: I updated my profile, but I’m not utilizing it to its full potential.

Ello: This was a favorite platform, with the highest rates of views and click throughs. The other creators I found on it are pretty wonderful, too. However, I started having log-in issues back in March, and have not been able to get into the platform.

Facebook: This site is a necessity I don’t particularly enjoy. I originally went on it because it’s the only social media certain people with whom I want to stay in touch use. As I expanded into Kindle Vella serials, FB is vital, with their various reader and author groups, to getting eyes on the serials and expanding their reach. Also ads that run on Facebook and Instagram result in sales. Therefore, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Hive: I’m really frustrated by Hive’s limitations. It demands high visual content, which I can’t do unless I can work on the laptop. But the app only works on a phone (which I don’t want) or sort of works on the tablet, where I don’t have access to my graphics. It’s working for those who bring with them a large following from another platform, and who have high tech phones that can do the graphics work, from what I see. I’d like to be more involved there, but forcing me to place it on devices I don’t want to work on means I can’t. It’s like being stuck in traffic, and you can see the really fun party down the road, but you can’t actually join it. I tried to post #28Prompts on there, but couldn’t get into it half the time, and gave up.

Instagram: I’m having more fun with this platform, although I’m annoyed I can no longer cross post with Twitter, only FB. It makes me think in terms of visual shares, rather than just verbal. It’s still what I consider my “fun” account, mostly cats, garden, cooking, books. But I do post ads for the serials and for The Process Muse on it, and drives traffic to both.

Ko-fi: I cut back on this, because the time:money ratio wasn’t working for me. I am going back to put some content behind a paywall (so it won’t be scraped for AI) and will consider how I want to use the platform moving forward.

LinkedIn: Continues to be useless for what I do.

Mastodon: At first, there was a huge influx from Twitter. But people got frustrated with the learning curve and different codes of conduct on different instances, and a bunch of them left. The ones who stayed are interesting, though, and I’m having fun with conversations. I’ve had a lot of fun playing #WritingWonders, and I’ve had good conversation with writers, screenwriters, various industry professionals, fiber artists, photographers, visual artists, etc. It’s harder to find people, but once you do, there’s the capacity for conversation. Again, some of the interaction has tapered off, and it doesn’t drive traffic to the serials (many people are highly anti-Amazon on the platform).

Pinterest: I’m in the process of putting up Legerdemain’s episode graphics up. They changed the way the boards are accessed, and I’m having trouble re-learning it. Again, I’m not utilizing the platform’s full potential.

Post: The more time I spend on the site, the more I like it. It’s difficult to get interaction, but not so difficult to get eyes on content. It drives traffic well back to the sites, the serials, The Process Muse, and individual articles. I think it’s one of those where things build slowly. It’s a very calm site, and some people think it’s bland, but there’s the chance to read a wide variety of material there, and take one’s time so doing.

Ravelry:  I have not been on the site in months. I made the mistake of downloading a pattern and was put on a mailing list that sends me 20-30 emails a day; when I “unsubscribe” they just change the name on the sender. It’s caused a lot of problems in that inbox and will take weeks to unravel (no pun intended).

Spoutible: Early on, I was rather skeptical of the platform, but the more I use it, the more I like it. There’s a wide range of users across a wide range of interests. It’s easy to find people, follow, and interact. There’s decent and building interaction on the platform. I’m leery of a specific core group who attacks anyone who disagrees with management’s decisions. To me, that is behaving like what they claim to protect against. And yet, the site overall is developing its own personality and settling into a mellower and more conversational vibe, which I enjoy.  I’m steadily building a community there, and having some good conversations. There seems to be more room for an artist community there than on some of the other sites that skew toward politics and only politics. It had a steady build in engagement over the past few months, and drives traffic to the other sites.

Substack:  The newsletter is growing more slowly than I would like, but it’s steady. I have good conversations, and there’s such a wealth of fantastic material that it’s difficult to keep up. I’ve started reading the other newsletters to which I subscribe as palate-cleansers when I shift tasks, which helps. I absolutely love the “Notes” feature, and have had some lively and interesting conversations there. This has the largest community of writers and artists of the platforms I’m exploring, which is why I enjoy it so much.

T2: This is supposedly a new platform created by ex-Twitter engineers. I signed up on the waiting list to beta test and have heard nothing. Perhaps they changed their minds, once Bluesky launched.

TikTok: I bit the bullet and started a TikTok account in May. The challenge I’m enjoying is creating short, engaging videos without putting myself on camera. I’m frustrated that I have to do edits for sound credits on my phone rather than on the desktop, and even more frustrated that one can only edit a sound credit once, and what posts still isn’t correct or what I put in the edit line. I’ve created introductory videos about my work, and, right now, use it primarily for the serials. I have introductory videos up for the serials, and then I have templates into which I pop the information for each new episode. It’s definitely driving traffic to the serials at the moment. As I work on other creative projects this summer (and once I get my new camera), I will play with more types of videos and see what I can come up with (still remaining off camera).

Tribel: I find that waaaay too many members follow to get someone to follow back, then unfollow. And too many people have no profile information and/or no original posts. Again, similar to Twitter, it’s about algorithms. Since I started on the platform, it’s more about politics and less about art (and the impact the arts can and do have on politics and all aspects of life). I got increasingly frustrated with the platform, even after trying to spend more time on the platform to find more colleagues. In February, I only posted the #28Prompts. By early March, I rarely went on it anymore. Too much screaming, not enough conversation.

Tumblr: In January’s roundup, I forgot to mention Tumblr, even though I’ve had an account there for years. It automatically cross posts from some of the blogs, and then I visit it to drop the newest links to the serials. When Twitter started flailing, there was an influx, and it looked like it was going to get wider engagement, but that’s scaled back. I still post steadily and visit a few times a week, trying to engage more.

Twitter: Twitter just makes me sad, most of the time, now, so I spend less time on it. I’m sick of people demanding free administrative labor by others on their accounts, claiming they “can’t tell” if anyone “sees” their tweets. No, I am not doing your hoop jumping because you are too lazy to go through your follower list. Fuck off. And the amount of “faux engagement questions” that people have no intention of engaging, but just ask something to get a high rate of responses irritates me. I’m blocking a lot faster than I used to, and that helps a lot. I locked my account in May, because there were too many trolls, which has hurt engagement and traffic. Also, a good portion of my audience is no longer on Twitter. The fact that I can no longer directly post from WordPress or from Insta is a big minus. However, with the WGA Strike going on, it’s the primary source of discussion with other writers affected by the strike. It’s frustrating. Also, they want me to “choose” which kinds of ads I want, and interrupt postings to try to force it. I don’t want any of the dumbass ads on there now, so I just close out and then go back in. I’m constantly trying to decide if it’s worth spending time there, or if it’s such a dumpster fire, I need to leave at the end of the strike. I block probably 50-60 right wing trolls per day right now.

I’m trying to streamline the way I create and post on the various sites, since none of the schedulers (Buffer, Hootsuite, etc.) give me access to all the platforms I need, and I’m not paying for a service that doesn’t let me do what I need to do. I would rather carve out a 4-hour block once a month and schedule all the serial posts, and then be able to connect the blogs to every platform on which I want to share them, but everyone wants exclusivity without giving enough in return.

I suspect I will cut back on more platforms between now and the end of the year. In the summer, I’m going to buy some paid advertising for the serials, and we’ll see what kind of effect that has on sales. If it works and I’ve picked the right platform, that will be my focus. To be rude and blunt, as much as I enjoy hanging out and having conversations, if it’s not also driving traffic and boosting sales, I can’t put my time there. I have to place my time on sites that give me both the social aspect and drive traffic to my sites, leading to increased sales.

I’ll do another post either near the end of the year, or early next year, updating the changes from now through the end of the year.

All of this underlines that your own website as basecamp is more important than ever.

What conclusions have you come to from your social media experimenting?

Creative Fuel

image courtesy of Speedy McVroom via pixabay.com

What do you use for creative fuel? Do you use elements similar to your work, or do you need something completely different from it to stimulate it?

So often, there’s a delineation made between freelance work for others and creative work one does with fiction or music or painting or whatever. In reality, these are all aspects of our career. We shouldn’t feel forced to monetize everything we do – hobbies are meant to give pleasure. But working in more than one sphere shouldn’t make us feel divided. The elements should feed each other.

When I feel depleted, I need to look at the why:

–Am I working too many hours without a break?

–Do I need to eat or drink something?

–Am I doing work that I dislike?

–Are these tasks/assignments pulling me away from my overall vision, or a path toward them?

Sometimes, we’re just tired. Sometimes, we just feel down about life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes, it’s our subconscious and/or our bodies telling us we’re on the wrong track.

Refilling the creative well with fuel will help us figure out the root cause of the depletion so that we can deal with it, instead of making a temporary fix to get us through the day or the pay period.

Eating foods that energize you in healthy ways, staying hydrated, and taking breaks help keep the day on a more even keel. If it turns out the root cause of your dis-ease is that you are taking on work you don’t like, or you feel that the work you are doing pulls you away from your vision and/or your core integrity, you can sit down and figure out how to make changes. It might be a series of small shifts that add up; it might be a break from what’s holding you back and a completely new direction. But refilling the creative well will help you make those choices from a stronger, more grounded place.

If you’re working too many hours without a break, schedule your breaks like appointments, so that you will actually do them, rather than skipping them. After lunch, I take 30-60 minutes to sit in my reading corner and read something that I’m not being paid to read. Often, it’s re-reading other writers or artists talking about their work: Twyla Tharp, Hilma Wolitzer, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Truitt, Elizabeth Berg, etc. I find it refreshing, and it reminds me to take joy in the work.

I’m attempting to add in a mid-afternoon break, of about 20 minutes, to lie on my acupressure mat, after doing a few backbends or similar stretches to counteract the time spent hunched over a computer.

When the weather gets nice again (today it doesn’t feel like that will EVER happen, but it will), I hope, at least a few times a week, to take a late morning/early afternoon break either out at The Spruces Community Park or up at Windsor Lake. I might bring a book or a notebook and write there. Or I might just sit and BE.

Walks don’t do it for me. Every time someone swears whatever ails me will be fixed by “taking a walk” I want so scream. Walking stresses me out (unless I’m walking a labyrinth). Going into nature and being still there works better for me.

Again, when the weather gets better and I can actually go out and about, I’m going to re-instate the weekly Artist Date. This is a technique Julia Cameron first talked about in THE ARTIST’S WAY. Once a week, you go and do something just for you. My “artist dates” tend to be going to look at art, going to listen to music, or visiting a bookstore or library. Cameron encourages one to do it alone, but as someone who spends so much time alone, I sometimes prefer to do it with someone. And sometimes an artist date will mean attending a meetup or an event by a small local business.

If I’m feeling stuck on a project, often the best way for me to shake the words loose is to go and look at paintings or sculpture.

The irony of refilling the creative well is that, for it to work for me, it can’t feel like it’s related to the work when I go and do it. However, as a writer, EVERYTHING relates to the work, somehow. Every experience is material. That’s why nothing we do or feel, as artists, is ever wasted. It’s part of the whole of our lives and makes our practices more holistic.

What do you use as creative fuel?

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.

Summer Hours

image courtesy of LEEROY Agency via pixabay.com

Hopefully, everyone who celebrates Memorial Day Weekend had a lovely one, and there are bank holiday weekends for everyone else either just passed or quickly coming up!

That brings up the question of “summer hours.”

When I worked in theatre, there was no such thing, unless I was working on a particular summer season, where the work intensified, rather than rolled back.

When I worked for a publishing company, most people took off by 12 or 1 PM on Fridays (many took the Hampton Jitney out). Support staff/admin people usually stayed until 3 or so, and there were early happy hours all over the city.

As a freelancer, I spent far too many years overworking. And summer hours weren’t an option.

I intend to change that.

In the Women Write Change group, the concept of “summer hours” came up. Some are taking Fridays off. Others take Mondays off from client work to do other writing projects. When I worked in theatre, Monday was usually the dark day, so Mondays feel more natural to me, but my inbox is usually quite stuffed from not looking at email over the weekend.

I’ve found my brain naturally checking out by about noon on Fridays since mid-winter.

I live on the second floor of a restored historic house in a small city in the Berkshires. There’s no air conditioning in the building, and it can get HOT in the summer. The ceiling fans and other fans help, but it gets hot.

Something I started doing last summer was taking longer mid-day breaks, which has evolved into the whole Taking Longer Lunch Breaks that I talked about on this site a few weeks back. I made like a European and took a big chunk of the afternoon off, and then, when it cooled down, worked in the evenings.

This summer, I’m going to try a mix of things. I plan to work longer hours, taking the Midday Heat Break as necessary, from Mondays through Thursdays, so that I can stop client work by noon on most Fridays. There’s flexibility in this, because if I take a day off midweek for whatever reason, I may have to work through Friday and into the weekend.

That’s one of the things I love about the freelance life – as long as I meet my deadline, I choose which hours to work on which projects.

There’s a lovely lake about ¾ of a mile from the house, and I intend to spend a good portion of sunny days there. Chances are I won’t drag the laptop up there, but I may take the Kindle or the tablet up and do some work lakeside. Writing in longhand is also an option, as is editing on hard copy.

That is the plan. However, we all know the best plans going awry, and all that.

I will let you know how it goes. Are you making adjustments for your summer schedule? What are they? How do you decide your summer hours?

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).