Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: What Does Your Client Want?

 

This is the central question when you’re doing marketing writing or blogging or any type of work for your freelance clients.

In initial meetings, when you decided if you wanted to work together, you hopefully discussed goals and vision. Your contract should define the parameters. Now, you can get into specifics.

For a client, the next question I have is, “Who do you see as your target market?”

Because sometimes who we/they “see” as the target market isn’t necessarily the best/lucrative/realistic market. Sometimes there’s value in targeting them anyway and expanding the market. Sometimes the desired target is so far from the reality of what will appeal, that there has to be some discussion and consideration. Desiring to sell dog food to cat owners is not going to grow your business.

Stretching and expanding is great. Casting a wide net is great. But spending money in a completely wrong direction is not worth it.

Far too often, the answer is “everyone.”

Well, yes, we live in an information age. Hopefully, we can restore Net Neutrality, and get more information (and education) available to everyone.

But “everyone” is not the right target.

Who is the ideal audience?

Novelists, playwrights, diarists, bloggers, etc. often write for a specific “someone” as their “ideal” audience, even if they can’t actually give height, weight, eye color, hair color, name, etc.

When you create a marketing campaign, or are part of a team that executes one, you need to have that “ideal audience” defined.

If you work for an organization that puts on a variety of programs, the target for each may be a little difference. You want your regular attendees to feel welcomed and included, so that they look forward to returning, time and time again, and having a fresh, fun time each visit.

You also want to expand the audience — place the materials in spots so people who are interested in this type of information will come across it and get interested.

How do you do that?

Listen
We’re back to that whole listening thing we talked about last week. Listening to your client is the most important skill you have.

Listen not just to the words, but to the subtext. What’s not being said? Is there a contradiction? Why? What’s the meaning under the words? What does the body language indicate?

Ask Questions
Ask questions, get clarifications, go deeper.

Asking questions doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It means you’re interviewing the client and digging deeper for context and depth.

Match Message to Platform
I do not agree with the often-quoted marketing advice that the same information must be on every platform and it all has to match.

The tone and the message need to be consistent. But different platforms serve different types or portions of information better.

Facebook is different from Twitter is different from Instagram is different from Tumblr is different from Ello is different from Vero is different from Dots is different from MySpace and so on and so forth.

What is the strength of each platform? What is the weakness? Use each to its best, and slot in your information in a way that works best for the platform. Yes, if you have event information that needs to be disbursed across all platforms. But as someone who uses multiple platforms, when I see ONLY the same information on each one, I resent it. To me, it means there’s an information blanket being thrown over everything, and no individuality involved.

On a social media platform, if there’s no engagement, no response when I share or comment on something, I move on pretty darn fast.

Business has de-personalized so much, to the point of not signing legal documents, because it’s easier to hurt people when you stop thinking of them as “people.” Government is doing the same. It’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in, on multiple levels. De-humanizing and de-individualizing in order to make higher profit.

The way small and medium-sized businesses and organizations can compete is by re-personalizing.

When the client gets that, and is willing to pay for the time it takes to do that, the client will see an increase in profit. It grows more slowly, but it happens.

We’ll get more into de-personalizing and re-personalizing next week.

Other messages are better shared through blog posts or articles or advertorials or media kits or web content. Match your message — or the portion of your message — to the best platform.

Message Expansion Takes Time & Resources
You need the time to come up with the message and create the materials. That means uninterrupted work time, not answering the phone or sending out invoices or doing the ten other things too many small businesses try to foist on you when you sign on. (Make sure your contract defines your parameters).

You need the time to post things, or schedule things to post. I use Hootsuite when I want to schedule posts on multiple platforms, Twuffer to focus on Twitter. I like the way Twuffer pushes photos to Twitter.

Quick response time is key, especially on social media. You need engagement. It’s not about posting and expecting audience growth. You post, there’s a response, there’s engagement, it’s shared, there’s more engagement and so forth and so on.

This takes time. When you’re building a social media presence for a business, you’re not screwing around on social media. Don’t apologize or try to minimize the time or the level of engagement necessary to make it work. Don’t sell yourself short.

Be Prepared to Change Direction
Your client might decide that’s not really the message they want out there; or that it’s taking too long to pay off.

The latter is the hardest to work with. Because so much on social media is instant, clients often don’t understand that it takes months to engage and build an audience. Months of daily interaction. Try to set realistic goals for growth at the beginning. Included engagement goals. Not just getting more followers, but the amount of interactions/the quality of those interactions. Then try to exceed those goals wherever possible.

Keep Communitcating with Your Client
It’s not just about what’s working. It’s also about what’s not hitting the mark, and what might need tweaking.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen, listen, listen.

Communication and being sensitive to your client’s needs and desires is key to making it work in the materials and in the office.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Crafting Client Voice

“Voice” is a term that is used in writing to denote that special way an author puts together words in order to resonate with a reader.

Authorial voice is something some writers struggle to find and then hone for years. It is something that makes a reader recognize it’s you and not one of your ten thousand colleagues within the first paragraph.

However, when you stretch yourself to marketing writing for others, it’s not about YOUR voice. It’s about your client voice. That brings with it special challenges.

First, whose voice is the client voice? Is it the person who hired you? Or the person who owns the company? Or the person who runs the company? Or has this particular company created a character that’s the face of the company that needs a voice? Or is it a combination?

When you come in to work on marketing materials, one of the most important questions to ask early on is “Who is the voice of the company?” Not “what” but “who.”

Far too often, marketing materials miss because there is no cohesive voice. Even if it’s a collaborative or a co-operative, and different voices are featured, there needs to be a single, unified voice that represents the company.

Part of your job as a writer for that company is finding that voice and then developing it.

This is where my theatre training comes in. Because I know how to create characters, both on the page and with actors, I can work with the decision-makers in the company to create a voice and then use it consistently across the different types of channels — press releases, social media posts, websites, etc.

It can be a challenge when there are too many voices (often with egos attached), and you have to both combine them and distill them to create a distinctive voice. It can be a challenge when you’re working with a small business owner who is still trying to find the voice and wants their own personality to be the voice.

Handling their egos in this is a delicate matter. We all deserve basic human dignity and respect. But many people aren’t as interesting to a vast audience as they think they are. So they need help developing a business voice that is individually “them” but also better. It’s the Best Self, the most polished and professional and witty and funny and incisive self that also engages an expanding audience and interests that audience in whatever the business needs to promote/sell/serve to stay in business.

The first step in this is to genuinely LISTEN. Out of the first ten thousand words of what the client thinks they want, you might find 20 that are useful.

For me, it is use-LESS to have these conversations on the phone. In general, I find the phone a waste of time, money, and creative energy. I’ve never had a business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds that had value.

The conversations that develop voice need to happen in person or via video conferencing. The person’s tone, the facial expressions, the body language, the light in the eyes, the places they smile, what they find amusing — all of this is vital for the writer to craft the character and voice that will represent the brand. You enhance what works, you recede what doesn’t.

You create a character and a style that effectively communicates the message and expands the audience.

That has NOTHING to do with slathering photographs of the business owner and workers all over the place. In my opinion, selfies do more harm than good in business. It doesn’t “personalize” the business or product; it dilutes it.

Having a spokesperson is different — those photos are done in designated shoots with a specific purpose in mind. The spokesperson is chosen for the ability to promote a specific look and voice that the decision-makers believe best represents them.

If the business wants headshots of specific individuals or a page on the website of workers happily going about their day — great. But there’s a time and place for those types of photos, and it’s not a daily social media post.

The exception to that could be a service organization — but then you need to get signed releases from everyone you photograph. Someone coming into your space is not automatic permission to be photographed and shared publicly. People get to decide where and how their likenesses are used.

If you try to force them, you will lose them.

You want to capture the speaker’s natural rhythm and cadence; at the same time, you enhance it, strengthening sentence structure and word choice, cutting out the boring bits, the qualifiers, the passive. You do this while retaining the speaker’s cadence.

When I write a speech for someone else, when I do it well, the speaker sounds as though speaking off the cuff – even though we spent hours honing it and rehearsing it. Once we researched it.

Yes, as the writer, when I write something that will be spoken live and/or taped, I’m the one who rehearses the speaker. Part of that is my theatre training. Part of that is that I can rewrite and make necessary changes in the rehearsal process so that it sounds even better and more natural.

Because I LISTEN. I listen as the writer, but I also listen as the audience. I work on multiple levels simultaneously, because the material I create must work on the audience on multiple levels.

So talk, listen, create a voice, and work with those who are the face of the company (speaking engagements, chamber events, trade shows, etc.) so they speak in a similar cadence to the marketing materials. Yes, they are themselves. But when they represent their company, they have to align themselves with the company voice.

Even with a small company, it’s a lot of moving parts. It takes thought, planning, creativity. But most important, you need to listen. You need to understand subtext. You need to be able to shear away the words, gestures, and quirks that dilute the message and focus it in a way that’s easy to speak and easy to hear.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Handling Work While Sick

 

I decided to write about this topic on this particular week, because I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks, which has meant rearranging some of my workload. I talk about the guilt involved whenever I get sick on the January 21st Ink in My Coffee post, and how that doesn’t do anyone any good.

But here, today, I’m talking about steps to handle the workload during an illness. Please feel free to leave your suggestions and techniques in the comments.

Communicate
For me, that is the most important tool in handling work at any point. But, when I know I’m getting sick, or am sick, clear communication is the key. If I’m expected on site for something and I’m sick, I let them know as far ahead as possible to reschedule it, or change it to be remote work.

There are times when you get hit with something overnight and can’t let the client know until the last minute, but, for instance, if I have a bad cold with a hacking cough and can’t talk, I let them know that I’m not coming in to spread germs and cause tension in the workplace a day or so ahead.

I give myself a realistic time to get well and reschedule beyond that. Whatever can be done remotely before that time, I will do, but I try not to book remote work to do while I’m still sick. I won’t get better if I spend “sick time” sitting up at the computer frantically trying to get things done.

Build Breathing Room into the Original Schedule
Procrastination is something many writers contend with. For some writers, the tighter the deadline, the higher the adrenaline, and that’s how they prefer to work.

But if you get sick right before a deadline, it can come back and bite you in the butt.

I try to plan out my workload so that nothing is loaded too close to a deadline. There are plenty of times when I don’t send it until the deadline or a day or two before, but I often have it finished ahead of time, and do a final once-over before the send.

This way, I’m not scrambling right before a deadline. AND, if I get sick, it’s already ready to go when it needs to be out.

Building in breathing room. It always keeps the pressure off, and you’ll especially find it useful when you get sick.

Know When to Ask for Help
If you’re down for a long time, and you’re worried about losing the gig, talk to your client and ask if you can bring on someone else of your choosing to help with the project. Hopefully, we’ve built a network of fellow freelancers we trust. We can either work together, or hand off the project, depending on the needs of both client and writers.

Tell the Client About Scheduled Procedures
If you’ve got a surgery and recovery time scheduled during a project, be upfront about it. Let the client know how much you can realistically work ahead on the project — provided they deliver what they need to on their end on time. Let them know what you believe is a reasonable schedule to resume after your recovery time. If possible, build it into the contract.

If you have an accident or something unexpected that requires surgery/recovery time, etc., let the client know as soon as possible and work out a new schedule.

In some cases, you might lose a gig. But being upfront shows you have integrity. If you know you’re having surgery and need recovery time, but don’t mention it in early discussions, and then run into a problem during that time, you’re breaking the client’s trust.

I am not someone who believes it is easier to beg forgiveness after the fact than ask permission. If I find out someone didn’t ask permission/communicate when they knew something important ahead of time, I know that THEY knew I would refuse. It shows a lack of respect. I don’t forgive. I’m done.

Retain a Professional Look If You Skype
While you’re sick, you might be talked into participating in a virtual meeting on a project via Skype. While sitting there in your pajamas with your hair a mess and wadded up tissues next to your half-empty bowl of soup “proves” you’re too sick to come in, it’s not going to help with the meeting.

Remember you can say no to the meeting, that you’re not feeling up to it.

If you say you’ll do it, shower, brush your hair. Even if you wear more casual clothes than you would in person, make the effort to look professional.

Shower Anyway
Yeah, when we feel sick, the thought of taking a shower is often overwhelming. But I always make myself do it, adding eucalyptus and other scented tablets to the shower to feel better. It makes a huge difference to climb back into bed clean.

I also have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas” when I’m sick. Especially when I’m absolutely miserable, I haul myself into the shower and then put on clean “day pajamas.”

I am, however, someone who does not work in pajamas. Even when I work remotely, without Skype, working in pajamas does not work for me. I don’t dress up, but I do get dressed in what I call my “writing clothes” which are casual, but lets my subconscious know I’m ready to work.

Yes, there are writers who love working in their pajamas. Good for them. It doesn’t work for me. Pajamas tell my subconscious to go to sleep, not be creative.

If You Work, Be Quiet About It
You may feel well enough for an hour or two to do some work on something. Do it and save it and look at it again when you’re better. Don’t send it off to prove you’re really “not that sick” or that you’re staying on top of things. I make more mistakes when I’m not feeling well. That extra proofread when I’m healthier makes a big difference.

I find that I can often create when I’m lying in bed, half-dozing. I keep a pad of paper or notebook by the bed and take notes.

But I don’t do much with them until I’m coherent again.

Also, if you get into the habit of delivering work from your sickbed, it will become the expectation. Do everyone a favor and hold onto it.

Take the Time to Get Well
That’s one of the most important parts of it. If you push too hard too soon, you’ll get sick again and be out longer. If you can take time early in the cycle and get well, do so.

If you need to tell the client, “I’m sick, I’ll be out of touch for three days,” do it. Turn off your phone. Don’t return calls. Check your emails once a day if you feel you have to, but you don’t have to respond.

How many clients have you had where they drag their feet on what they’re set to deliver, but the minute you’re out of touch, they need an instant response? There’s very little that’s so important.

Remember the old adage “Your disorganization does not constitute my emergency.”

Hopefully, you’ve built some safety valves into your contract for the above.

But when you’re sick, take time. Sleep. Eat properly. Watch and read whatever you want. Rest. Get well.

Because once you’re well, you’ll be more productive, and that serves everyone better.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Personal Strategic Plan

Businesses have strategic plans, update, and implement them regularly. Perhaps you already have one for your freelance business (if you’re a small business owner reading this, rather than a writer, consider hiring a good writer who knows how to put one together to help you — it will be some of the best money you’ve spent, provided you actually follow through).

Perhaps you don’t yet have one. And, as a freelancer, we choose to live our lives differently than a business, with more freedom to use our lances where we choose. So it’s more personal than many corporate plans.

You need several elements to create your own plan:

Vision
Where do you want to be? When do you want to get there? For me, as an individual at this point in my life, ten years is too much. I look at five years, then three years, than a year (also, for me, considered New Year’s resolutions).

I’m not a big fan of “vision statements” because I think they often use market speak to cover the real destination/determination. But if you feel a vision statement is helpful for you, craft one. If you feel sharing it will garner the business that helps you reach your vision, then, absolutely, post it on your website.

Part of my “vision” when I work with clients is to communicate THEIR vision in an exciting and engaging way, and in their unique voice.

With my own work, my vision has to do with each project improving in both art and craft, over the previous ones.

Some people break down “vision statements” and “mission statements” into separate categories. I feel they should be integrated, especially for a personal plan.

Core Values
Whenever I see a company talk about “core values” I am suspicious. Do they walk their talk?

But for your own strategic plan, you have to decide what your core values are in relation to how you want to progress in your working life.

One of my values is that I now extend my practice of “conscientious consumerism” to when I hire on with clients. If I don’t trust their integrity and values, if I feel they are hypocritical, or if they are trying to profit off something I believe is harmful — we are not a good match.

We all have to make our own decisions, and draw our own boundaries.

SWOT Analysis
This means:
Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

I’m not a big fan of this element of a strategic plan, although it’s good to clinically look at your own strengths and weaknesses, and then decide how best to use both.

Opportunities? As freelancers, we daily create our own.

Threats? For freelancers, it’s usually the threat of our work and boundaries not respected.

Read a few corporate strategic plans and the SWOT will chill you. It explains a lot of why we are in the mess we’re in.

Long-Term Goals
This is important. As freelancers, we’re often trying to get through the day, the week, the month.

Look at the best of the freelance community, the ones who thrive — they’re looking ahead. They’re using each assignment as a building block to long-term goals, not as a stopgap.

Break yourself out of crisis mentality and look at what you want long term.

Again, most of us are freelancers because we want a better work/life/personal/creative balance. In our personal strategic plan, we need to work on goals for different areas of our lives.

As freelancers, we tend to want and need a more integrated life than a compartmentalized one.

Manageable Steps with Deadlines To Reach Them
It’s great to take time to come up with all these lists and plans, but if you don’t take action on them, it’s all useless.

Break down your goals and visions into manageable blocks, and give yourself a deadline for each one.

We’re freelancers; we’re used to deadlines.

Then take the actions necessary to see them through.

Timed Assessments
I like to check in with myself on my goals every month, and then do a big reassessment every year.

Daily To-Do lists make me feel confined and imprisoned; monthly ones give me the flexibility I need to get it all done without feeling overwhelmed. See what works for you. It’s okay to change.

Adjustments
As you assess, as you grow, you will see that you have to let go of some things in your plan you were sure about early in the process.

It’s okay. It’s not failure to realize that something no longer works in your evolution. It’s healthier to let it go than to stick to it just because you wrote it down.

Implementation
The most important thing, in any strategic plan, though is to take action and not expect it to happen without the work just because you wrote it down.

The elves aren’t going to show up and write your books and clean your house and send out your media kits and LOIs. You have to sit down and put in the work.

Start now.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Multi-Tiered Self-Marketing

I mentioned last week that I was working on both a marketing plan and a personal strategic plan, and that there would be places where they would intersect.

The personal strategic plan won’t be ready until sometime in February. But I’ve been working on the marketing plan, because that’s important to land the work.

My plan is multi-tiered. I work marketing myself as far as the books, plays, radio plays, etc. I work marketing myself when I pitch to publications or bloggers editors.

I also work marketing myself to potential clients, where I write up THEIR marketing plans. A future post will talk about some of those challenges, especially when it comes to small businesses.

Each of these tiers has a slightly different focus. A different slant.

I’m an advocate of media kits, especially for authors. You want top-tier coverage? Put together a good media kit and get it out there.

My own challenge with my main media kit is that I tried to put too much into it and it became unwieldy. So I’m streamlining it. That’s a conversation for another day.

First Question
For me, the absolute, most important question in any marketing plan is:

What do I want?

When it comes to the books, the answer is “book sales” or “coverage that will lead to book sales.”

When it comes to the plays or radio plays the answer is “a production contract.”

When it comes to publications/editors, the answer is “a well-paid assignment that will hopefully lead to more of the same.”

When it comes to potential clients, the answer is “a meeting to see if we are compatible.”

The latter answer is fairly new. The answer used to be “hired by the client.”

But what I want from a client relationship has changed, especially over the last year and change. It’s not just about getting hired, any hire; it’s about working with and for someone I can like and respect. Someone I believe has ethics and integrity on multiple levels.

You can talk all you want about how “being professional” means you can work with anyone. Great. Go ahead.

That is not my choice.

I want to work with clients who have both personal and professional integrity. Who are doing something about which they are passionate. I might not know much about it, or be passionate about it myself, but if they love it, I can use that passion and communicate it effectively, thereby growing their business.

But not if I think they don’t have personal and professional integrity. That is a personal choice. Separating last year from a client whose ethics I felt were shaky (although everything was technically legal) was the right move.

This shift changes the way I market myself to clients. It means I do more research earlier in the process about the client and the business, before I even send an LOI. Not just that they’re a company with some stability and not a fly-by-night, but more about how they do business, with whom they do business, how they interact in the community.

It also adds value to the initial meeting.

So, my first question in any marketing plan for myself is “What do I want?”

Which is different than when I meet with clients to work on THEIR marketing plans — again, a conversation for another day.

Different Strategies for Different Tiers
Since I do many different things, I work on a strategy for each type of work I do. My marketing plan for the books includes new releases, the back list, re-releases, how I work with the publisher, what portions of the marketing burden the publisher takes on, doing swag for promotional packages, adding in appearances, workshops, etc.

Budget factors hugely in this; 2018’s biggest obstacle was not having the marketing budget to do what I knew I needed and wanted for the books. I hope to make the necessary adjustments for 2019.

The marketing plan for the plays is about sitting down with the Theatre Guild’s list and seeing what play fits with which theatres in the US, and going through lists of international companies to see if any of them would be a good international fit (although, on the current political scene, it’s much harder to go international now, which is a blow to me, since my work does well overseas). The marketing for the radio plays is similar to that of theatre plays, although there are fewer venues.

With the plays and radio plays, it’s also seeing about who’s accepting pitches to commission new works and seeing if something I want to write fits. Commissioned work is important in this field.

This doesn’t need a lot of money; it’s more about well-written plays, outlines, samples, and previous credits. It is, however, about time and research.

Articles/publications marketing/pitching is constant, because editors move and publications start and cease. It’s about keeping up with the market, having an updated portfolio of samples (or, in my case, several), and sending out pitches every week. There’s also tracking the pitches, which is important for all of them.

Pitching to clients is about networking, watching businesses and listings, and seeing who needs what, and who might not know they need something, but I can suggest an approach that is useful.

It’s full of moving pieces, and, in my case, requires a large print calendar where I can see a month or more at a time.

Every electronic calendar I’ve ever used has failed me.

Constant Flow
The hardest habit to get into is constant marketing. When you have a lot of work, you want to focus on the work, not getting more work.

But this is exactly when you need to focus on getting more work, so you’re not scrambling with NO work when you’ve finished your current work.

The more you can have certain materials ready, the less time it will take to put together your pitches and get the out the door. I talk about this in detail in my workshop and Topic Workbook Setting Up Your Submission System.

Have these pieces ready:
Current resume (I have more than one, each with a focus)
Sample portfolios (online and as samples you can send. Again, I have several)
Updated clip files (online and hard copies)
Quick bio paragraph with credits (about 250 words)
Updated website

For fiction/plays/radio plays, as soon as I deem a piece ready to go out on submission, be it to agent or editor or producer, I prepare the following (each in a separate document):
Logline
One paragraph summary
Chapter outline (if applicable)
Synopsis (if applicable)
First 3 Chapters/50 pages/10 pages in .doc and .rtf
Radio plays in both BBC format and US format (I only do US Numbered format upon request)

Keep Logs
I have a Submission Log of the full pieces that go out, and a Pitch/Query log for pitches, queries, and partials.

I dropped the ball on my LOI log last year for business writing, which was a huge mistake. I will remedy that in 2019.

Logs help you track deadlines, payments, contract dates, and follow-up.

Regular Marketing
It’s not always possible to market every day, but set aside a few hours each week, and make sure you get out there.

Taking a few days to set an overall plan for the different facets you plan to explore will save you time in the long run.

The more you pitch, the more likely you are to land a good assignment, and the less likely you’ll have to scramble during fallow times.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Hit the Ground Running

Are you the type who hits the ground running, or starts slow and then accelerates?

Both work, and it’s an individual choice.

I, however, prefer to hit the ground running. When I used to do National Novel Writing Month, I’d write ahead; at the top of the year, I try to get ahead. Because I know how things can change and upset all those apple carts we so neatly set up.

One of the things I do is work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the year. You’ll see some questions to muse over for the year here, although my answers are on the main page.

I’m also well aware that those answers can and will need to shift over the course of the year. They are a roadmap, not a prison.

It is the second of January, a Wednesday, and I will be working on site with one of my clients today.

On my own time, I will also be working on two things I believe are important for my own growth and success this year: my personal strategic plan, and my marketing plan. They will intersect at certain points. But they will also form another roadmap for what I want in my business-related work, and in getting the work I do for myself (rather than clients – the novels, stage plays, radio plays, etc.) out to a wider audience.

In 2018, I got overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead of focused targets, I splattered a bit too much, and wound up settling for work in the short term that was necessary, and not pushing through for better work in the long-term that would have fulfilled more than one aspect of what I’m working toward.

I’m adjusting that this year.

Now, some of the things I set up last year are paying off this year — one in spring, one in fall. So I wasn’t completely off-track. But I let too much go, because of a difficult, demanding situation that took far too much emotional energy as well as physical energy. I have to adjust that this year.

I’m not sending out pitches and LOIs this week — where the holiday falls, let people enjoy it and clear off their desks a bit. But I’m planning and writing pitches and working on campaigns that will launch next week. Campaigns that are aligned more to the long-term rather than the short term.

I will talk more about this in the weeks to come.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Assessing, Adjusting, Planning

This is the last post on this blog for the year. I’m finding the “Best of” lists exhausting this year, so I’m not bothering with my own.

What I am working on is a year-end assessment (as part of my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions). What worked this year? What didn’t? Where did I fall short? What did I choose to give up because it no longer worked?

From there, I can make adjustments. We all have things we think we want, but as we get closer to them, we find we don’t, or other bits of our lives have shifted, and it no longer makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with that. Realize it, and make adjustments. Change the plan.

You don’t have to stick to a plan that’s no longer working simply because you put time into it in the first place.

With your new knowledge, decide where you want to go from here. Make a plan.

Realize it’s a roadmap, not a prison. You’re allowed to change it any time you want.

I am an advocate of New Year’s Resolutions. I think it’s important to set the bar and then meet it and exceed it for yourself. You don’t get a prize just for showing up. You roll up your sleeves and put in the work.

When people whine about them, about not keeping them, it’s usually because they make resolutions that they feel they SHOULD make instead of something relevant to their lives.

Many of the ones who get huffy about New Year’s resolutions (especially creatives) are people who, when you look at their work over the past year, haven’t done all that much. They don’t want it enough, aren’t willing to make the compromises/put in the work necessary to achieve it, lack the time management skills, and, most importantly, the will to get it done.

We’re all juggling difficult lives and often multiple jobs and childcare or elder care or a million other things. We have to make choices along the way that will get us closer to our goals, and get us OUT of living in crisis mode every day.

There’s nothing wrong with getting help to find a way out of that spiral. If you’re in a self-defeating pattern, do your research and find someone who can help you break it. Be it a therapist or some sort of coach or some other professional. That’s a positive step, not a negative one.

There are other people who don’t make New Year’s Resolutions without denigrating those who do. These people are out and about, creating the lives they want. They don’t need to make New Year’s Resolutions because, to them, every day is the opportunity for a fresh slate, and they are determined to do something positive.

They smile and nod and wish us well on our resolutions, while taking the actions necessary to make their own lives better on every level — which, in turn, often betters the lives of those around them.

So take some time amidst the holiday insanity. Think about what you want and what you need (which aren’t always the same thing).

Break down some manageable steps that get you closer to the life you want.

And take every opportunity, every day, to do something kind or beautiful or unusual, which will also feed into building the life you want.

Have a lovely holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side of it!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Considerations

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

But sometimes, you risk getting lost in the shuffle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Business Etiquette, Blaming Women, and The War on Theocracy

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

First, the basic common sense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where appropriate, I also give books to work colleagues.

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

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

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

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

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

She shut up.

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

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

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

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

I call bullshit.

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

It’s about money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no regrets.

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

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

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

We can appreciate each other as people.

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

That is how we take back the holiday party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially at this time of year, it matters.