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10 Best Articles for Writers — November 2010

Top 10 Articles For WritersWhen I’m not writing for clients or for this blog, I read a lot of articles about how to improve your writing or your blog. Most of us writers began as avid readers, didn’t we? I still consider myself a learner, soaking up everything I can about our craft and how it’s best practiced in this fast-changing, new-media world.

When I find great articles, I tend to retweet them. And I recently realized that means I can easily create a fun post on the best articles for writers each month, by scanning back through my tweetstream.

Here’s the first edition — my 10 Best Articles for Writers for November. I will not be including any articles or blog posts I’ve written, either for this blog or elsewhere.

If folks enjoy this, I’ll do it as a regular feature, so please leave some feedback and let me know if you find this a useful post.

The Talmud teaches that it’s important to give full credit to sources, so I am mentioning both the author and the site where the post appeared, so you can see at a glance who was involved in creating these insightful articles.

Without further delay, here are my picks. They may not all have initially published this month, but I discovered them in November. They’re listed alphabetically by title, since I can’t possibly rank them. All great information.

  1. How to Fill a Hole in Your Schedule — the Query-Free Freelancer Way – by Jennifer Mattern, on All Freelance Writing.
  2. How to Plan a Successful Blog – A Step-by-Step Guide – by Annabel Candy on The Daily Brainstorm [NOTE: This post is no longer available.]
  3. How to Remove Emotions From Your Writing Business – by Anne Wayman on About Freelance Writing
  4. How to Sprint to Your Blog’s Tipping Point – by Stanford Smith on Pushing Social
  5. 13 Tips for Beginning Bloggers (which I learned the hard way) by Gretchen Rubin on ProBlogger
  6. 10 Typical Questions From Writers (that are really just fear in disguise) – by Emma Newman on Write for Your Life
  7. 7 Ways to Improve Your Writing — Right Now – by James Chartrand on Copyblogger
  8. Top 5 Query Mistakes Freelancers Make – by Linda Formichelli on Renegade Writer [NOTE: The Renegade Writer blog is gone now.]
  9. Why People Should Stop Updating Their Blogs – by Jered Slusher, on Virgin Blogger Notes
  10. Why You Shouldn’t Write for Revenue Sharing Sites – by Carson Brackney, on FreelanceWritingJobs

Have I missed any great articles about writing or blogging this month? If so, feel free to leave us a link in the comments below. I’d like these posts to serve as great reference tools for learning about the craft and business of freelance writing.

Image via Flickr user sam_churchill

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Should I Send Queries During the Holidays? — A Timely Mailbag Question

The Holidays and Query Letters Don't MixHi all —

I know. I don’t ordinarily post on Tuesdays. But I got a question from Christine Champ that can’t wait!

She wrote:

Do you think it’s a bad idea to send out new pitches during the holidays? Like with Thanksgiving coming up, would you not send any new pitches until the following week? I have a few pitches I planned to send out [Thanksgiving week}, but then thought should I wait ’til after the holiday.

Quick answer: I’d wait.

Editors’ schedules are crazy enough on a normal, five-day week. On the short weeks, they’re really nuts. I think it ups your odds of just getting passed over.

I actually wouldn’t send any out the Monday after a long holiday weekend, either. If I don’t miss my guess, editors will spend the entire day just digging out of email and putting out fires. So I think that’s not a good day either.

It’s frustrating to hit these periods where you have a story idea you love, but you need to sit on it. But I think it’s probably the right thing to do.

I’m sure there’s another school of thought, that a lot of workaholics tend to sit and catch up on email during the holidays, and maybe that means in a weird way they might be more likely to take time to read yours. But I guess I don’t want to encourage workaholism, so I don’t add to the pressure by sending queries in a holiday period.

Finally, if you’re snail-mailing queries, go ahead and send them out — they won’t look at them until next Tuesday, but that should work out fine.

Are you sending out any queries during the holidays? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you enjoyed this post consider subscribing to this blog. That way, you won’t miss a fun new feature I’m adding to this blog shortly.

Photo via Flickr user hurricanemaine

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Blogging, Tim Ferriss and the Myth of The 4-Hour Workweek

myth of 4 hour work weekI remember feeling excited when Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek first came out in 2007. I thought — aha! That’s it exactly.

In the future, we’ll all hardly need to work, as our Internet businesses run on autopilot. Selling our information products online will allow us to connect with buyers all over the world, and we’ll make money almost by magic.

Three years of long freelance-writing hours and two years of striving to make my own blog into a money-earner later, I have a totally different view of Ferriss’s manifesto.

I think it’s utter bullcrap.

The proclamation that soon we’ll all only work a few hours weekly reminds me of the predictions a decade or two back that with computers and email, we soon would enter a paperless society. Still waiting for that to happen, as snowdrifts of paper litter my desk.

Why am I skeptical? Because everything I’ve learned about having a successful Internet business — on A-List Blogger Club and elsewhere — indicates that it’s still a heck of a lot of work. I worked far fewer hours as a staff writer filing four stories a week than I put in now as I strive to make this blog a money-earner!

Nobody I know is talking about magical money on autopilot, including top, seven-figure-earning bloggers. (Except the lying, scammy ones.) The real successful bloggers I know talk about grueling ramp-ups, massive guest posting, and working insane hours to make a new product launch a success. They coach others to work harder at burnishing their writing and revamping their blog design to make it more enticing. They encourage writers to create free products they can use to build their audience.

And you know what? It all takes time. Loads and loads and bucketloads of it.

I see really successful bloggers building paid learning communities or launching interactive training courses, which they earn well at, certainly. And it’s absolutely true that at this point, many Internet-based businesses can be done anywhere. Since I live on a small island and work for companies all over North America, I can say that part’s a fact.

But the tiny work-hours thing? Total bunk.

If you have the model of simply slapping a bunch of ads on a site, that might be something where you could outsource every function and live a life of ease. Except at this point few of those type of sites seem to be earning well. Most Web surfers are sick to death of ad-clogged sites and increasingly stay away. Unless you’ve built the next LinkedIn or Facebook or something with a huge audience, forget it.

Which leaves the monetizing-the-blog model. Which I can tell you is work, work, and more work. You can outsource some of it, sure. You can hire a Web developer, get a few guest posts a month, hire a social-media marketer to tweet about what you’re doing. But the core of it, the part where you build your audience by creating amazingly useful, sparklingly well-written blog posts multiple times per week, and then follow that up with stellar products your audience wants to buy from you, where you build your personal brand until you’re hot stuff and everybody wants you…there are no shortcuts there.

Being brilliant and providing lots of value to readers doesn’t happen in four hours a week, for me or anyone I know.

Yes, the Internet allows people to connect in ways that never happened before, and that opens new markets to those seeking to build a business. But the Internet has also created new demands — to respond to your blog readers (in real time, please!) when they leave comments or ask questions, or to interact with the members of your paid community. And that, friends, takes a lot of time. Even in a model like A-List’s, where leaders Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch have deputized a small army of moderators to help them, they still need to lend their own presence and insight to the proceedings. I’m sure if they stopped, membership would plummet.

So I’m don’t know if there is any level at which a four-hour workweek starts to look realistic.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek theory is a load. When I checked in on Amazon to see the reviews, the first three were labeled:

For Sale: One Bridge in Brooklyn — EZ Payments

21st Century Snake-Oil Salesman

Get-Rich Quick Guide for the Shallow

One thing’s for sure — writing a provocatively titled book about how you once got an Internet business to earn for you with little effort (and how everyone else should be able to do it, too) is the surefire way to get rich and end up not having to work a lot of hours. If only we could all work that angle.



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Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest – Vote for Me!

Bring Home The Blog For Writers TrophyThere’s a contest for writing blogs that used to run on Michael Stelzner’s site called the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Now, my A-List Blogger Club leaders Mary Jaksch and Leo Babauta have taken the contest over. This year’s contest just kicked off on their Write to Done site.

So (gulp), I’m going to ask you a big favor. If you enjoy this blog and find the information useful in your writing life, head over to the contest and vote for Make a Living Writing. If a lot of folks nominate this blog by commenting on the contest post over at Write to Done, I’m thinking a crazy thought: Maybe this blog has a shot at ending up on that list.

As it happens, I have a personal connection to three of the four contest judges. I’ve guested for Brian Clark on Copyblogger. I just mentioned Michael Stelzner, who’s still judging the contest, in my recent post about writing and blogging experts I trust, and we chatted on Twitter about it. And Leo Babauta is getting to know my work through the A-List.

In an interesting twist, Mary Jaksch actually emailed me and told me I should ask you to vote for Make a Living Writing. She made a point of reaching out and telling me about the contest, and encouraged me to get out the word about my blog. Interesting, huh? But maybe she’s just promoting Write to Done there.

Early in my career, I really got a jump-start when I won two writing contests. Which makes me wonder if now I could win a prize for my entire body of blogging work here.

Winning a contest like this one would give this blog more visibility and likely bring more readers. More readers could help this blog generate more income — which in turn means I could spend more time giving you free tips on how to earn more from your writing. So in a way, everybody wins.

Even if you don’t vote for me, and you have some other writing blog you love, go vote. It’s going to be interesting.

If you enjoyed this blog, you can do one other thing, too — subscribe. You won’t want to miss the action here next week, when I call bull*&! on the theories of a certain celebrity work/life author.

Technical note for subscribers: Starting Monday, I am migrating my email list to a new provider. I apologize in advance for any technical glitches that may occur.

Photo via Flickr user Shorts and Longs | The Both And

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11 Ghostwriting Questions Answered – A Guest Post

GhostwritingBy Anne Wayman

I’ve been ghostwriting successfully for years now. Freelance writers often ask questions about how I got there and how I manage my ghostwriting business. Here are the 11 most frequent questions I get, and their answers.

1. How did you learn to ghostwrite?

I didn’t, not exactly. A semi-famous minister asked me to finish ghosting her book and I said yes. It turned out well and I tried it again. That worked too. A career was born.

2. Doesn’t the term ghostwriting also include articles?

I suppose there’s always been some ghostwriting of articles. Today, however, article ghostwriting often means getting poorly paid to write articles aimed at search engine optimization (SEO). When I talk about ghostwriting I’m almost always talking about books.

3.     Ghostwriting books seems unfair to me. People should either write their own books or if they hire a writer that writer should get credit. Do you agree with me?

No, not particularly. As a ghostwriter I know I’ll be well paid and that the author will get the credit. Usually the authors are people who hate to write or simply don’t have the time. Since I get their thoughts and ideas into a book for them, I have no trouble giving them the credit.

Besides, the client has to be really involved with the book. They have to work to get the info into my head, and spend serious time with the manuscript making changes, corrections, and helping me get their voice just right. It’s truly a joint effort.

4. What skills do I need to be a ghostwriter?

I think, in addition to being a decent writer, the most needed skill might be called the ability to listen deeply. Somehow, when I listen extra carefully, and with my own ideas out of the way, I’m able to do ghostwriting in the author’s voice, not mine. I’m able to listen without anticipating what I want to say or thinking that what they are saying is right or wrong. It’s through the listening that I’m able to get myself out of the way.

5. How can you demonstrate your experience since the book is in the name of the author?

Fortunately some of my clients allow me to disclose, discretely, that I’ve done ghostwriting for them. My resume simply states that I’ve ghostwritten for so-and-so. Several others are happy to give me recommendations if a prospective client calls them. This kind of credit may be negotiated up front and made a part of the contract. Often, however, I wait until we’re almost done and then I just ask if I can tell possible clients about my ghostwriting the book. They rarely say no. If they do I honor that.

6. What do you do if a client doesn’t do the work they need to do?

One of the things that’s surprised me is the number of people who hire a ghostwriter then quit half way through the project. With one exception, they’ve all had reasons that seemed to have nothing to do with me. Several have said they have just gotten to busy with their business. One had a death in the family and decided they didn’t want to write a book after all. Another worked with her therapist and together they decided it wasn’t time for a book. My contracts are written recognizing that wheels come off projects and we’d mostly parted friends.

7. What happened with that one exception?

I agreed to write a book for someone when I was feeling broke – my first mistake. If I’d been feeling strong I probably would have recognized the client had a real potential to be a problem for me. I normally make sure a potential client has some pretty specific idea about the book they want written – I didn’t do that. Nothing I wrote was satisfactory. Finally the client got angry and wrote the book without me and published it through Lulu. It was full of errors, but it was done. I kept the deposit.

8. How do you market yourself?

I’ve had a website with ghostwriting as keywords forever it seems. Most of my clients find me that way. My business card says I’m a ghostwriter and once and awhile a client will develop from a conversation around my card. Referrals, of course, are gold. I ask for referrals and remind past clients from time-to-time that I’m around.

9. How do you handle contracts? Do you use a lawyer?

I can write my own contracts, although I call them letters of agreement. You can find details at Ghostwriting — 9 Elements of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement. My goal is to establish a professional working relationship with a clear enough specification so we don’t have to go to court to figure out what we were trying to do.

10. How do you charge?

I work out a flat fee based on my hourly rate. Then divide that by the number of months I expect the project to take. I’ve done enough ghostwriting to be pretty good at estimating what’s required. Other ghostwriters charge by the page or by the hour or by the chapter.

11. Will you take a percentage instead of pay?

No, I won’t take a percentage instead of pay. The exception would be an author with a big contract and even then I’d want a significant amount up front.

And I no longer reduce my rate for a percentage. What I do now is ask for my normal rate and a percentage in addition to that – usually 5 or 10 percent. Some of my authors are glad to have my involved this way, thinking, perhaps rightly, I’ll work a bit harder if I think I’m also creating residual income for myself.

Ghostwriting books has been good to me. It’s allowed me to earn a good living and get at least some of the writing I want to do for myself done.

Anne Wayman is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and blogger. Her blog about writing is AboutFreelanceWriting.com

Photo via Flickr user creepyhalloweenimages

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Market Your Writing 40 Kick-Ass Ways — Learn How in One Hour

Market Your WritingHow do you market your writing? Some freelance writers might use a few different methods — maybe you’ve sent a query or two, used social media, and hit a networking event. Or maybe you don’t do any active marketing at all.

As the New Year comes into view, if you’re not earning as much as you’d like, it’s time to map out your writing-market strategy for 2011. The luck fairy is not going to bring you an assignment from that national magazine, or a lucrative copywriting gig from a major corporation. You’ll have to actively seek those opportunities, and navigate today’s fast-changing freelance writing market.

How many ways are there to market yourself? I recently pondered this question with another successful freelance writer, About Freelance Writing’s Anne Wayman.

Together we came up with 40 different marketing techniques you can use to spread the word about your freelance writing services. And we’re going to offer you a chance to learn them all in a single fun, fact-filled, one-hour Webinar.

After I did my survey post last month and asked what you would most like to learn, I saw the majority of the questions you have are about marketing. So Anne and I have designed this Webinar to give you a major injection of marketing knowledge one hour flat.

I am so excited about this opportunity to empower freelance writers to sharpen their marketing and earn more from their work! Here are the details:

40 Ways to Market Your Writing takes places Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 9 am PST. NOTE: Only 150 people will be able to participate.

What’ll be happening in the Webinar? Anne and I will discuss the 40 ways in two sections — online marketing techniques and offline, 3-D world strategies. After each set of marketing ideas, we will take live questions from participants.

If you’re already marketing actively, we bet you’ll still find quite a few great ideas here. If you’re new to marketing, this session will be jam-packed with new strategies you can put into use right away.

Besides a chance to learn a lot about marketing your writing in a short time, this teleclass is loaded with freebies and discounts, including a 30% discount on my 200-page eBook, Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide, for all participants. Everyone will also receive a free special report after the Webinar on the 40 Ways, so you don’t even have to take notes!

We’ve got four door prizes we’re going to give away for the best questions sent in on the registration forms:

One final discount — get $20% off admission if you register before Thanksgiving Day. Until then, the Webinar is just $19.99. The discount expires at midnight on Nov. 24. (If you’re reading this now, the discount has expired, sorry…but you can fan this blog’s Facebook page for possible new offers.)

If you’ve been looking to learn more about marketing, here’s your chance. I can’t wait to talk with you live and offer you personalized help building your business.

You can purchase the Webinar here. Your receipt email will give you all the details on how to register and participate.

Any questions about the Webinar? Please leave them in the comments below…or come over and discuss them on the discussion tab at Make a Living Writing’s fan page on Facebook. Here’s your chance to shape the content we’ll deliver Dec. 7.

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