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8 Reasons Why Writers Need Twitter

Get Twitter to Market Your Writing!Twitter. Yes, that crazy, 140-character insta-communication place everybody’s talking about. It seems like you’re either hooked on it, or you don’t understand it. I was a serious skeptic, but now that I’ve spent some time on it, I’m finding it an invaluable tool for me as a writer and blogger.

When I first heard about it, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.” What can I possibly communicate in these short messages? How can I meaningfully connect with anyone?

But I believe the space limits on Twitter in fact make it more powerful and efficient than other social-media sites. Here are some of the reasons I’ve grown to love it:

1. #1 Internet brain-picking site. Would you like to be inspired daily by the Dalai Lama? Want a quick hit of what Guy Kawasaki or Chris Brogan is thinking? Don’t know who Guy Kawasaki or Chris Brogan are yet? Just follow them and find out. Twitter gives you instant access to some of the brightest minds around the globe, in various fields (especially social media and marketing). For starters, just hang out, follow some whip-smart folks, and learn.

2. Make new friends. I’ve connected with wonderful writers around the country, some of which I’ve chatted with on the phone since, from poking around on Twitter, and seeing who follows me.

3. Learn to be concise. The 140-character discipline of Twitter really teaches you how to write for today’s short-attention-span, online audience. Try to be witty in two lines while still including a link–it’s good practice.

4. Find sources…and let them find you. I’ve found Twitter a good emergency source-finding mechanism, even for arcane stuff. Also, some folks are so into Twitter that it’s the fastest way to get them–give it a try if you’re having trouble reaching someone by phone or email. Also, lots of marketing consultants are out there telling business owners they need to find journalists on Twitter to market their business…so if you get on, story ideas will come your way.

5. Meet editors. Lots of publications are jumping on Twitter. Can be a great way to find an editor name in this era when so many publications don’t seem to have mastheads anymore.

6. Get listed. Twitter’s lists feature has become a great way to get known (and to find people). I’m in 85 or so lists, and have made nearly a dozen–easy way for me to quickly save names by category, i.e. writers, business sources, etc.

7. Find jobs. Twitter is an increasingly hot place for jobs. I created a list for job sites that are on Twitter, so I can run a feed and just look at listings whenever I want. You can also use tools such as TwitJobSearch to run job searches on key words.

8. Get social-media skills. If you’re not working with clients yet who want you to do social media for them, you probably will be soon. So hang out on Twitter and learn the etiquette so you’re ready to combine  your copywriting skills with social media to earn more.

How are you using Twitter to help your writing career? Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything. And for more on how writers can use social media to help their careers, see my Twitter tips and samples.

3/15/01–Oh heck! I DID forget one more thing that’s great about Twitter — #WriterWednesday (or #WW). Every Wednesday, writers on Twitter tweet about what they’re up to, salute new friends or listers…fun dialogue to scroll through. Just search on the hashtag phrase and enjoy…great way to connect with other writers.–Carol

Photo via Flickr user 7son75

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Query Don’ts

Writing Query Letters For Dummies

Now that I’m looking over many of my mentees’ query letters, I’m finding some of the same mistakes repeated over and over again. So I’ve put together a list of query “don’ts” to help writers avoid basic errors that can be big turnoffs for editors.

• Don’t let your query exceed one page. Even if you’re emailing, don’t run on and on. Remember, most articles commissioned these days are fairly short, so show your editor you know how to be concise.

• Don’t begin with “I want to write an article about…” Of course you do. When you begin by stating the obvious, you tell the editor you are not a very imaginative writer. Begin with the proposed opening paragraph of your article, or with some interesting facts about your topic that draw the editor in and gets them interested in your idea.

• Don’t tell the editor how long your article should be. Often, writers include a sentence such as, “I’d propose writing a 1,200 word feature on this topic.” This is a very bad strategic move. Do you want to not get an assignment because the editor only has freelance budget for 800-word stories? Or be excluded from consideration for a 3,000-word feature? Let the editor decide how much space your idea should have in their publication.

• Don’t say, “I’m sure your readers would be interested in this.” Remember, you are writing to the person who knows the most in the world about what their readers like. Don’t ever presume to know more. Instead, say something that connects the publication’s audience to the idea and shows off your research: “With all the recent coverage of health insurance, I believe this update would be of interest to your small-business audience.”

• Don’t make your bio too long. A couple of sentences at the end is great. You’ll mostly prove you’re right for the assignment with the strength of your query, not your resume. This isn’t a college paper, so don’t put a long bibliography citing past articles. Instead, provide a few links to current clips online. If you don’t have anything online, make PDFs of a few articles so you can put them on your Web site and link to them there.

• Don’t throw in sources without explanation. If you mention sources you’ll use, be sure to connect them to the story – explain their expertise or how they’ll be used. Are they an example business, for instance, or perhaps an industry expert? Say, “I would interview the director of the Boys & Girls Club in Monterey about their years of experience helping the disabled,” not “Interviews would include the director of the Boys & Girls Club in Monterey.”

• Don’t fail to proofread. A single typo spells a quick trip to the trash can for query letters.

• Don’t forget to polish. This little query letter is your writing showcase! If you write a really standout query that shows you know the publication and its audience well,  you may get an assignment even if the editor doesn’t like this particular story idea. So buff it to a high shine. It should be so well-done you almost want to frame it instead of mailing or emailing it off.

Are there other query “don’ts” you see a lot out there, editors? Leave a comment and let us know.

Photo via Flickr user Horia Varlan

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Why Editors Don’t Respond to Your Query

By Carol Tice

Has this happened to you? You write a query letter to a new publication you haven’t worked for before, you send it off…and then nothing.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this issue around this and other forums, mostly along the lines that editors who don’t respond with at least a ‘no thank you’ are thoughtless and rude. I find for the most part the writers making these comments don’t know a lot of editors.

Since I do, I thought I’d ask an editor or two about the volume of queries they get and the reasons they don’t respond to all their queries. I got feedback from several of my national-magazine editors about why this is–I’m not naming names here to prevent them from being inundated with even more queries!

Here are a few possible reasons editors haven’t responded to your query letter.

1) They get too many queries to respond to them all. One editor of a niche online vertical site for a national business magazine, for instance, let me know she gets 100 queries daily weekdays, and more come in on weekends. So think 600 or so queries a week. And she’s editing a niche online site for this publication, not even working for the print magazine! Imagine how many queries editors at big print publications are getting.

2) They haven’t looked at your query. Sometimes, editors fall behind–on long weekends, after vacations, on production day. They really may just not have read it yet, even though it’s been weeks.

3) They’re too busy with other tasks. Editors have a lot of responsibilities writers may not know about. They are not simply sitting at their desks editing copy and reading queries all day. They go on retreats, plan future issues, take meetings, work on budgets, work on layout redesigns, plan layoffs, take trainings to learn new technologies, interview prospective full-time hires, and brainstorm with their established writers. They are some of the busiest people I know. For instance, my BNET editor signed on to work at 3:40 a.m. one morning this week while also “upchucking” from a flu, and I routinely see him on at 11 pm as well.

4) They looked at your query, and it was lame. When editors get really bad queries–ones that aren’t remotely appropriate for their publication–they often just move on. I think they don’t quite know what to say. And they get so many queries that fall into this category–most editors I’ve ever worked with expressed disbelief at how many utterly amateurish, poorly crafted queries they receive.

Writers like to gripe about how editors can’t do them the courtesy of answering their query. Well, are you doing the editor the courtesy of sending them a stellar pitch?

Instead of focusing energy on perceived editor shortcomings, you’ll be better served by focusing on improving what you send them. If you’re not getting any bites, assume your queries could use improvement. Study your target publication carefully before writing. Read some of the great books out there on how to write query letters and ratchet up your skills. Query Letters That Rock is one good recent book on the topic. Also, send more queries to more publications and up your odds of success.

I’ve never met an editor who doesn’t live for the moment they find that rare query in their pile that knocks them out. It’s a fresh idea, sharply written, and they know right away this is a new writer they’ve just got to call. It just doesn’t happen that often. Good queries are like tiny masterpieces–they should be so great you almost want to frame them and put them on your wall instead of sending them in.

If your query is really strong but the idea isn’t a perfect fit, you can often still get a gig. This happened in the past week to one of my mentees–after we buffed up her query, a national magazine passed on her original idea but assigned her four marketing pieces instead. Invest some time and energy in mastering the art of querying and it’ll open a lot of doors for you.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo from Flickr user TheCreativePenn

9 Time Management Tips for Busy Writers

Improve Your Time Management Mom

Ariella gets an attitude if mommy works too much!

I wish I had a dime for every time someone has said to me, “I don’t know how you do it all!” Many of the people who say this know that I’m married and have three kids–now aged 7, 8 and 17. And that besides my paying clients, I write this blog, blog once a week for WM Freelance Writing Connection, and am finishing up writing an ebook on freelance writing.

So given that this is productivity week, I thought I’d discuss some of the things I do that I believe make it possible for me to balance my busy family life with a good-earning writing career.

1. Exercise. I try to either walk uphill for an hour first thing in the morning, or do Wii Fit yoga before work, or I hike in the woods near my home or bike with my kids. Time spent exercising never subtracts from productivity-it makes you so much more creative and productive that it more than makes up for the time spent, I find. And it’s so important to stay healthy, or you won’t be earning well for long!

2. Have fun. I never miss my regular monthly Mah Jongg game. I go geocaching with my family. Last week, I learned to cross-country ski. I sometimes play Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook with a bunch of my friends. These kind of breaks away from writing for high-quality family time and recreation are absolutely essential.

3. Rest. If you’ve read my previous post on the secret of my writing success, you know that I am always off my computer and away from all writing chores from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown each week. Remember, we’re not called human doings, but human beings. Our bodies weren’t designed to work all the time.

4. Outsource. I have housecleaners come twice a month to take care of all heavy cleaning. I send my teen to the mini-mart for a gallon of milk. I pay a Webmaster because tech stuff makes me cry. If it isn’t time-effective for me to do it, I find someone else to do it.

5. Let go. I do not have a pristine, utterly clutter-free house that looks like a design magazine is about to come take a photo. The pile of shoes and toys on my porch is atrocious. If we can walk about the house without tripping on anything, I’m pretty much satisfied.

6. Ruthlessly organize and prioritize. From my years as a legal secretary, I know to come into my office each day with an agenda. I know what the most important things are that need to get done, and the secondary objectives I’d like to get to, and I knock them out.

7. Turn down low-paying jobs. I focus on finding well-paid work and don’t waste time on low payers. That’s right, prospective clients call me and I turn them down if their rates aren’t in my ballpark.

8. Sleep and TV. I don’t do a whole lot of either. Six hours or so a night of sleep seems to do me, along with the occasional weekend nap. I frankly find the vast majority of TV shows really boring at this point in my life–a couple hours of shows is plenty in a typical week. I Tivo everything so I save 20 minutes watching commercials for every taped hour. Mostly, I’d rather read, write, think, or plan.

9. Say no. The fact is, I don’t really do it all. I turn down a lot of things. Will I organize the elementary school’s auction? No. Will I clean out the closet? No. Will I give a Torah commentary at the synagogue this week? No. Don’t try to conform to anybody’s idea of a supermom…those women are all having quiet nervous breakdowns, I believe.

What do you do to manage your busy schedule? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Guest Post: Email Time Management Domination by Jessie Haynes

Jessie HaynesThis week’s theme is better time management for writers. I’ve invited productivity columnist Jessie Haynes to tell us how to kick email addiction. Since picking up email once…per minute…is a real problem for me, I was anxious to get these tips!

For more on the email problem, see this great blog by Trust Agents co-author and wildly dominant blogger Chris Brogan.

Organized, Productive Email Time Management Domination That Works…Now!

By Jessie Haynes

Email is the source of stress and sorrow, so many freelancers say. Try this step-by-step overhaul of your current email practices and see if you can’t ease those woes.

1. Organize your email by function – as you read top to bottom (and you cannot skip anything in this process because you read each email once and once only as you process) and either move it to a folder that corresponds to that function or archive or delete the message and make a note in your task manager / planner / to-do list.

Functions could include:

-waiting – all of the things that require another action / event before you can do something about them. Tip: write down just what you’re waiting for in some note because you should rely on your brain for very little beyond thinking of something once and remembering where your reminder is.

– read

– research

– share

– and you get the point! Remember that no function means no reason to have the email: to the trash.

Sort through those emails in your inbox by what you need to do with them. After you’ve done this once, you should have everything sorted for future function-processing. Having your needs fulfilled for later inbox processing brings us to the next step in email time management domination…

2. Half your current email checking frequency, at least. Schedule your “processing and doing” sessions. Tip: you can always process immediately after a “do” (like when you get new emails as you’re sorting through what you have already) but you can never go to “do” while processing.

I say to strive to check your email only once per 24-hour period, but this is terrifying to most freelance writers. Because of how much time most freelancers are spending swimming in their email, this seems like a logical allotment. Theoretically, anyone properly processing and doing their inbox functions could check their email as much as would allow them to complete their tasks. Regular, proper processing means you can find your own balance. My once per 24-hour period rule may or may not make you more effective: find out for yourself just what will work for you.

3. Deliver the right amount of energy per message. Spending too little effort in a response backfires like dominoes with an email train messier than that simile, and too much effort just wastes your time. Be conscious of how much effort you expend.

4. Divorce immediacy and think like a business owner. You are your CEO–and janitor as Carol likes to say–of your own business and you don’t scurry forth at the whims and beckons of others. Organize your tasks and get to them as you sort them–conquer fuction by function after you’ve had time to sort them. Work on your own decided urgency. A business owner’s time is valuable. It is also just that, the business owner’s time and not anyone else’s.

5. Find your best practices. Telling you exactly how I manage my email won’t really do much for you–mileage varies. Your own trial and error alongside attentiveness, observation and flexibility will help you discover your ideal email policy.

Please, leave feedback. If you want some advice on your email situation, leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as I can!

About the Author: Jessie Haynes owns JHaynesWriter, Web writing services for the organization and productivity niche. 

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21 Ways to Market Your Writing: The Social Media Edition

Tools to Market Your WritingEarlier this week, I discussed 11 ways to market your writing services. In this post, we’ll delve into 10 more marketing methods, this time using social media and the Internet.

1. Use LinkedIn. If you subscribe to one of the paid levels on LinkedIn,  you can send InMail messages to anybody you want. At the $25 level you can send three a month, at the $50 one, 10 a month. The people don’t have to be connected to you. You can just identify prospects and send them a pitch letter. Here’s the kicker: LinkedIn reports sending InMail has a 30 percent response rate. Apparently it’s just so new and novel that it gets you noticed. That’s right–for every 10 of these you send, three prospects will contact you. Killer!

Other ways I use LinkedIn: Look at the “Who’s viewed my profile” box and click on “More.” Sometimes you’ll get an exact name, and then you can send them a message. Great way to connect with prospects. LinkedIn is also a happening place for job ads–many of them are exclusive to the site. Just toggle the search bar to ‘jobs’ and put in your key words.

2. Publish articles on Biznik. Writing a strong, informational article on the networking site Biznik is a great way to attract attention and find clients. Each week, many members (including me) get a digest of the most highly read and rated articles of the week…great way to get your expertise in front of a large audience of business professionals.

3. Find contacts on Twitter. For those who haven’t discovered this 140-character wonderland yet, Twitter is like the Wild West of networking in that it’s wide open–tons of companies and publication editors are on there learning and meeting new people. You can do searches on key words (such as a publication name you’re targeting), find people, and follow them. They’ll often check you out and follow back. You can use their profile to learn more about them, lurk around and see what they’re into, build up your cred on the system with followers and insightful post, and then direct mail (DM) them a very short intro or pitch, or contact them on email. You can also attract prospects by tweeting about what you’d like to do, i.e. “Looking to connect with more business magazine editors.” Twitter is also an increasingly popular place to find job listings. I set up a list with a bunch of writing-job tweeters on my page, so I can see a realtime feed of them at a single click.

4. Use your blog. Your blog can be a place for you to slap up your daily musings, or it can be an amazing showcase for your best writing. Read great bloggers who discuss the art of this format–Problogger, Chris Brogan or Write to Done, for instance–to get a sense of how brilliant you need to be. Then write it, circulate it around in social media, and they will come. Leverage your blog to get better blog assignments from more highly trafficked sites, and clients will find you through reading your posts. Happening to me all the time these days.

5. Comment on other people’s blogs. Participate in popular blogs on your topic. Sign with your URL and mention your latest blog post to draw interested visitors to your site. Then…see #4. I just got a serious mentoring prospect from a single comment I left on the About.com site for freelance writers along with my site URL, for instance.

6. Email marketing. Build an email list from prospect nibbles you get and business cards you collect at networking events. Create an e-newsletter with business writing tips. Send information every couple of weeks or so to keep your name in front of prospects — maybe a tips article, or a piece of news you noticed that you think would benefit your potential clients. Be helpful.

7. Facebook fan pages. Got a blog? Set up a fan page for it. Even if you don’t, set up a fan page just for you as a writer. Hold contests, take polls, get people interested. A growing way to connect with prospects, particularly those looking for writers who understand social media.

8. Web video. Video is an exploding online marketing tool. Make a short video describing how you work with clients and put it on YouTube. It’s one of the most trafficked sites on the Internet. Need I say more?

9. Google local and Citysearch. A lot of writers aren’t aware of Google’s local feature that allows you to put your business on the little map that often appears at the top of keyword searches. Great way to jump to the top of natural search results. Likewise, Citysearch recently went back to allowing free listings. So go get yours. When I did mine, there was like a big one other writer on there for all of Seattle. Score!

10. Your neighborhood forum. If you’re looking for small business clients or local publications, check out local forums. I’m on one on BigTent for moms on the island where I live, and it’s an amazing resource for knowing what’s going on in my community…and a specialized, intimate setting to get out the word about my writing.

Are you finding clients through social media? If so, leave your success story below. If not, what questions do you have about how to go about it? Let me know–I’m happy to answer reader questions here on the MALW blog.

Photo source: Flickr user webtreats

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