How to Make Absolutely Sure Your Article Gets Killed

by Carol Tice – 15 Comments

Your article writing has been rejectedBy Linda Formichelli

I know you want your articles to get killed.

After all, success has its drawbacks. Your less prosperous writer friends may come to resent your article writing success. When your bank account is full thanks to your writing skills, you’ll become a target of unscrupulous telemarketers.

And you know the expression, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall?”

The big one is you, with your hit articles. And you’re gonna fall hard.

But don’t fret: I have five things you can do to make sure your editor kills your article so you don’t get paid and end up with all the troubles success can bring:

1. Under-promise, over-deliver.

You know the philosophy that you should under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?

You should definitely do that when it comes to word count.

When your article assignment is to write 1,000 words and you turn in 2,000 words, it creates all kinds of problems for your editor. She’ll need to comb through your article and decide which 1,000 words she can cut. After all, she has only so much space, so she has to make it fit.

Now, don’t get all wishy-washy on me and turn the extra material into a bonus sidebar. Just squish all those extra words in there and let your editor deal with it.

2. Be all business.

Editors love when writers can convey information in a fun, readable style — so be sure to write your article like you’re penning a master’s thesis.

The drier, the better. Cut out any humor that may have slipped into your article, and absolutely do not use contractions. Avoid showing even a modicum of personality. If you want your article killed, it should look like it was written by a robot…a robot that doesn’t speak English.

3. Be confident in your work.

When you get an assignment, your client will send you a little thing called an assignment letter, which details the specs of the assignment.

Ignore this.

If you want to get your article killed, for the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT re-read the assignment letter before turning in your article to make sure you included everything the editor wanted: the right word count, sidebars, and other details.

That way, when you turn in your piece, you can be sure you’re missing some important elements the editor wanted.

Mission accomplished!

4. Get friendly with your sources.

Editors expect you to beat the streets to come up with the very best, most relevant interviewees for your article. So your job is to just interview people you already know, like the neighborhood pharmacist, your Facebook friends, and your mom.

If those don’t work out, over-rely on source-finding services like ProfNet and Help a Reporter Out, using whoever happens to respond — and whatever you do, do NOT check out the sources you get from there to make sure they’re credible.

After all, you wouldn’t want to make your friends jealous with your success, would you? I didn’t think so.

5. Be an expert.

In journalism, in most cases the writer is not the expert. The writer is the writer, whose job is to interview experts and weave the information together into a coherent story.

So if your motive is a killed article, you need to be sure your editor knows you’re an expert in the topic of the piece.

That means not interviewing other experts. (I mean, you know it all already, right?) When the editor asks you for backup on your facts, tell him you’re the backup. And whenever you get the chance, inject your opinion into the article.

Those five tips should be enough to ensure success in your mission — which is NOT to have success in your writing. And if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to resort to scrawling your articles in crayon on bar napkins.

Have you ever had an article killed? Post in the comments and tell us what happened.

Linda Formichelli writes the Renegade Writer blog. Her new class with Carol Tice is Article Writing Masterclass.

Article Writing Masterclass

One Writer’s Success: 2 Paying Gigs With Zero Writing Clips

by Carol Tice – 19 Comments

Freelance writer got the gig with no clipsBy Craig Baker

Every writer in history has stood at the starting line, pen and paper at the ready, eager for that big story that is going to launch them into freelance writing success.

But if you don’t have any professional writing clips — published articles — to give an editor when looking for your first writing assignment, it can make you feel a bit like the freshman serving punch at the senior prom. All you want is to get to the other side of that counter.

How do you go from wearing the server’s bowtie to owning your own tux in the world of writing?

Frankly, I don’t know yet. I’d say I’m somewhere in the tux-renting phase of my freelance writing career.

But I can tell you firsthand that clips will only get you so far. The rest is actual hard work.

My first clip came when I was fresh out of college; I sent an 800-word guest opinion to our local afternoon newspaper as it was spiraling down the print news drain into non-existence. Lo-and-behold, it was accepted.

The same paper took another piece from me a month later, though they printed a grievous error in the headline and then promptly went out of business.

Well crap, I thought. There went that.

Resurrecting my writing career

It was three years before I tried again. I opened my ears to what was happening in my city until something struck me as interesting, and then I pounced. It wasn’t a groundbreaking idea, but it was an idea. Specifically, it discussed various ancient Native American artifacts that can be found strewn throughout my hometown.

Though I’d been warned against writing a piece before shopping it around, that is precisely how I tackled the no-clips issue. I went ahead and wrote the article.

I wrote about 1,200 words on the subject (my best guess for the average length of other local articles based on a little cutting and pasting from the web into Word), did some research on query letters, and sent a pretty standard script out to the editors of every local publication I could find.

In my email, I told the editors I had stumbled on a neat little story about artifacts, there was a local organization tied to the information (I had a source), and I had guest opinions published in the extinct newspaper.

I sent the article out with my messages, and tried my best to forget about the whole thing.

Within a few days, two of the maybe ten editors I had queried sent responses, and to my surprise, one of them said yes.

The editor that accepted the piece told me that it was what he called “evergreen” (my first introduction to that industry term for an article that can run at any time because it has no urgent news hook). He would save the article until he needed one for filler.

Not the instant-clip-and-recognition I was hoping for but, six months later, it turned into a $100 paycheck.

The second editor rejected the piece outright but apparently appreciated my writing style enough to assign me an altogether different article for an upcoming issue of her magazine. Score! Two clients came from my one spec article.

Building on my success

As I waited for the rush that came with seeing my work in print, I knew I had also gained:

  • two publications I could continue to pitch, and
  • a stronger bio for pitches — I could say I had work pending with two publications.

Once the articles were published, I was able to use my small portfolio of local samples to land jobs with bigger, higher-paying clients within weeks.

My new clients included a $2,000-plus-royalties contract writing content for a video game development firm and an ongoing writing position with a language learning company for $0.25 per word.

I haven’t stopped since.

Putting in the work

What does all of this mean to you?

Simple: if you don’t have a clip, make one. If you don’t know how, learn more about article writing.

Learn about your target publications. How long are the articles? How long are the paragraphs in those articles? The sentences?

Are the pieces written in the first or third person, generally speaking, or do the writers use the “we” so common to alternative publications? How many sources does each article quote, and on which side of the story’s argument do these sources stand?

Preparing yourself with this sort of basic knowledge before you start writing will make sure that even your unpublished pieces are as close as possible to the real thing, which may just get you a second look from someone that calls the editorial shots. Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet—you’ll never publish an idea if you don’t send a query.

How did you get your first clips? Tell us in the comments below.

Craig Baker is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Ariz., and shares author advice on his blog, Starting from Scratch. 

 

How Will Freelance Writers Earn Well From Longer Blog Posts?

by Carol Tice – 47 Comments

photodune-3393975-money-bag-with-question-marks-xsHave you noticed that blog posts are getting longer? Many top blogs are standing out with detailed posts of 1,000 to 2,000 words.

New survey data shows why — longer posts get more and better quality traffic.

I’m definitely a fan of detailed posts that offer examples and case studies on this blog, as you’ve probably noticed. I believe offering more value has made a big difference in growing my blog.

But growing interest in longer posts poses a problem for writers who do paid blogging, as well as for writers looking to promote their own blogs through guest posts.

Popular blogs that could drive traffic to your own blog are looking for longer posts from their guest posters, which is a big commitment when it’s an unpaid marketing activity. Which brings me to this important rule:

Think before you guest post

Suddenly, its not dashing off 500 words off the top of your head for a guest post. Which calls into question whether devoting hours to writing a free guest post is still worth it.

It may be worthwhile if you’re writing for huge blogs that have the potential to be a game-changer for your visibility as a writer…for less powerful blogs, possibly not. I’ll say I find myself checking Alexa or PageRank more often now before deciding whether I’ll write a guest post for a site for free.

My advice here: Weigh the pros and cons carefully, especially in light of the recent raging controversy over whether all guest posting is a spammy SEO gambit that will be penalized by Google. Writing a truly fresh, informative, 2,000-word guest post could take the better part of an entire work day. Only you can decide if that’s a good investment of your time, or if there might be a better way to draw your audience.

One possible solution to the problem of free longform guest posts is to refuse to do them. There is another way to approach guest posting that may work better as longer posts become the norm.

Look for paying guest posts

One way I worked my way out of the free guest-post trap was to focus on blogs that pay writers for guest posts, sometimes on an ongoing basis.

Personally, I was guest posting for free on Copyblogger when I got an opportunity to guest post for a modest fee for Freelance Switch (now Microlancer). Even $50 or $75 a guest post, if you’re doing it regularly, will start to add up. When I was writing for them regularly, I often billed Freelance Switch for $300 a month or more — a nice chunk of change for guest posts I might have written free for another site!

I was lucky that FSw paid more for longer posts, too. That’s another thing to look out for in future, as longer posts become more desirable — sites that have a higher rate for longer wordcounts.

Another plus to guesting for pay: I believe guesting on paying sites is also a better lure for attracting clients.

The fact is, if prospective business blogging clients are impressed that you’re on Huffington Post, they’re going to be more impressed when you’re on a site with a reputation for paying its writers. If you find paid guest-post opportunities, you’re crazy not to take them.

Problem: longer posts, same low rates

At the same time that longer posts are increasingly desired by top blogs, businesses are quickly picking up on the long-post trend, and wanting to hire freelance writers to write longer posts for their blogs.

Problem is, they don’t necessarily want to pay any more than the going rates for shorter posts.

For instance, we got a request on our Freelance Writers Den job board not long ago from an employer who wanted to post a job listing for 1,500-word posts that paid only $100.

Since that’s our floor for posts of 500 words, we passed. But it points up a big problem.

Having struggled mightily to educate businesses about why a blog post should pay $50 or $100 instead of $5 or $25, now paid bloggers face a new challenge: How can we get paid appropriately for long blog posts that are really a lot more like magazine articles than the dashed-off, 300-word posts of old?

As Den member Bree recently put it:

” I’ve been reading more and more that longer blog posts are what Google’s going to consider legitimate and helpful for readers. If this is the case, should we still be suggesting to clients that they pay us for 500-word posts? Or is that a good starting point that we can later jump off to convince them to up their word count (and rate)?”

Yes — it is a puzzle.

I used to do just that — discourage clients who wanted long posts, and sell them on the idea that short ones at $100-$125 a pop would get the job done.

But now there is a compelling case to be made that longer posts will be more effective for your clients.

Which means we need to help clients understand why writers should be paid more for longform blog posts.

9 Tips for higher blog post pay

If clients want longer posts, what should you do? Here are my tips:

  1. Define the project. Writers need to ask careful questions about what the client imagines will be in this long post. Interviews? Survey data? Infographics you’re supposed to create? I’ve heard too many sob stories of writers who didn’t find out — and ended up with an appallingly low hourly rate for writing longer posts.
  2. Think hourly rate. Remember that ultimately, wordcount isn’t as important as what you make per hour. If these are posts you could dash off in two hours because you know all about antique tractors or bathroom remodels or whatever it is, maybe $100-$150 a post would make sense to you. But usually, I think long posts take loads more time than that. So be realistic.
  3. Learn about rates. Going rates for these are still emerging, but I’m going to say $300 should be a floor. That’s still below the bottom rate I’d expect for a 2,000 word magazine feature (even at $.30 a word, a low-end print article rate, that would be $600). So it’s in line with the tradition that blog posts cost less than magazine articles, but is still a major hike from $75-$100.
  4. Charge more. If that rate discussion above doesn’t compute with what you’re earning now, do this: Whatever you charge for short posts now, charge 3-5 times more for longer ones. Or your earnings are going to take a hit.
  5. Work with their budget. Some clients will say they can’t afford to pay fair rates for longer blog posts. But they may be able to if you consider their overall blogging budget instead of their per-post rate. For instance, if a client says they can’t pay more than $50 for a blog post, but they want three long posts a week, sell them on the idea that they could get good traffic with four two long posts a month at $300 each — that’s the exact same budget. Or maybe a mix of short and long posts with less frequency could get it done affordably. Be creative to come up with an answer, but make sure you don’t end up writing 2,000-word posts for $50.
  6. Educate your client. If clients want long blog posts and balk at paying $300 or more for them, they need education about how much more valuable these are than shortie posts at grabbing attention and building their authority. Don’t compare a 2,000-word post to a 300-word one — compare it to having a feature article placed in a magazine, or placing a paid print or radio or Yellow Pages ad. These are the marketing alternatives in many companies’ budgets — and compared to them, blogging is still a terrific bargain, even at $300 a long post.
  7. Find better clients. Yes, the type of clients with the budget for longform blogging will tend to be bigger clients with bigger marketing budgets. If you’re targeting small businesses and startups now, think about moving up if you want to write longform posts for good pay.
  8. Sell repurposing. A long, fully fleshed-out guest post can be combined with a few other long posts and turned into a special report, a short e-book, sent out as part of a newsletter, and more. Explain to clients how much mileage they might get from creating longer posts — and why they will get their money’s worth if they pay $300-$500 or more for them.
  9. Flash your article writing skills. As I’ve mentioned, long blog posts often closely resemble magazine articles. If you have article-writing experience, be sure to play that up to clients — they’re getting journalistic reporting and quality storytelling delivered right on their blog. If you don’t have magazine clips, consider learning more about article writing to get some published credits and strengthen your cred for writing long blog posts. My experience is business clients are heavily impressed by magazine credits.

The rise of longform blogging could be a financial boon for writers — or a sinkhole for writers who don’t stand up for themselves and get paid more for longer posts.

My forecast is that article writing is the killer skill of 2014, and the rise of longform blogging is one of the big reasons.

The era of hastily slapping together a few paragraphs and calling it a blog post is over. So it’s time for writers to up their skills to ride this trend to better pay.

Have you written long blog posts? Leave a comment and give us your take on the rise of longform.

 

 

4 Ways Freelance Writers Can Obliterate Their Weak Points

by Carol Tice – 25 Comments

Freelance writer advertising her weak pointsMany writers tell me they have obstacles holding them back from taking the plunge into freelancing.

They worry they write too slow, or don’t have a journalism degree, or are introverted and won’t be able to do enough marketing.

These stories always make me think of Kristy.

She’s a friend I had in high school who didn’t own any shoes.

Kristy’s father was a professional gambler who was often out of town, or out of money. Or both. With the result that most of the time, Kristy and her mother were barely scraping by.

What impressed me was that it didn’t stop Kristy from doing anything. She left the tiny apartment she shared with her mother each morning, attended school, and even sang in a vocal group with me, for which we wore a dressy skirt-and-blouse ensemble she had designed.

We performed in swanky venues like banquet halls and fancy restaurants. We even played the Hollywood Bowl once!

Kristy was never asked to leave any of those places because she was barefoot. She never even got called out at school because she went shoeless.

I was fascinated by that, so I made a study of what she did that allowed her to skate by without this usually essential item of attire.

Faking confidence

Kristy’s secret: She never looked down and drew attention to the fact that she was barefoot.

She never acted sad or like anything was wrong. She held her head up, met people’s eyes with complete confidence, smiled her dazzling smile, flipped her super-long, strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder, and let her gorgeous soprano voice ring out.

I can only imagine how Kristy felt inside, knowing that her poverty was on view for anyone who cared to notice. But she certainly wasn’t going to give students who might taunt and humiliate her any hints on where to stick in the knife.

And it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the singing outfit she designed for our group had a full-length skirt.

How to play to your writing strengths

Kristy’s approach to dealing with your deficits works great for freelance writers, too.

Recently in Freelance Writers Den, we’ve been having writers do a SWOT analysis as part of our Freelance Business Bootcamp. That is, writers have to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in building their freelance business

This has been a fantastic exercise that I strongly recommend for all freelance writers!

Once they’ve identified their weak points, students look at ways to improve on or minimize those weaknesses and maximize their strengths.

Here are a few tips on how to do that:

1. Fail to mention your weak spot

One writer recently wrote me that she feared her three advanced degrees and complex writing clips on arcane topics would put off prospects. They might feel she was overqualified or would want sky-high rates!

I pointed out that she could simply not bring up her academic background, and create a concise bio signoff for herself that focused on her writing experience or industries she knew.

The same goes for whatever you’ve got in your life that you think might make clients shy away.

Are you about embark on a six-month backpacking trip? Have a physical disability? Your first love is writing your novel? The client does not need to know.

Don’t be like the girl in the photo above, flashing what you don’t have on the ball. Just keep that shirt buttoned up.

2. Ignore deficits and just go for it

Many writers have fears that their lack of a writing-related degree will make it impossible for them to pursue a freelance writing career. Fortunately, I never let the fact that I’m a college dropout stop me from writing for prestigious publications including Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.

Realize that freelance writing is a field with no qualifications except what you can put on the page.

I can tell you from experience, clients don’t care how you came by your article writing skills — in a back alley or at Columbia. If you can tell a story, you can write your way to the career you want.

3. Play up your strengths

Instead of sitting around bemoaning what you don’t have on the ball, learn to emphasize your strengths, just like Kristy did.

Did you used to work for a mortgage lender? Bet those types of firms would love to have you write their websites. Prioritize those likely prospects to the top of your marketing calendar.

Do you write fast? Maybe specializing in rush work could allow you to earn more. Let your writer network know you can dive into the breach if they have a client with an emergency they don’t want to handle.

If all your clips are from content mills, just write super-strong query letters and don’t get into a discussion of your portfolio. More than one writer has gotten a national magazine article sale that way.

4. Take action to turn weaknesses into strengths

Sometimes, writers have a weakness that poses a true obstacle to their being able to earn a living as a freelancer.

Say, you want to write articles for great-paying magazines or top websites, but worry that you don’t have the writing chops.

You know you’re a weak headline writer, or you have a hard time matching your writing style to that of the publication. Or you’re shaky on how to get great quotes and weave them into the story.

In these situations, you’ve got three choices.

  1. Trial and error. You can spend many years writing and trying to improve on your own. (This is actually the method I took! What a timewaster.)
  2. Career stagnation. Or you can keep feeling insecure, holding back from marketing your writing services, and not make much progress as a freelance writer.
  3. Take a shortcut. Finally, if you want to solve this now, you can take an article writing class and get a mentor to share decades of their experience and tips with you.

What are your weaknesses as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and tell us how you overcome them.