Goals/Strategy


In this continuation of my previous post on writing for free, I’m going to look at one more instance when it’s time to say no to not getting paid for your work.

In Part 1 of this post, I mentioned two situations where you should move on from writing for free to getting paid:

1) When you’ve already done free work for a “customer” and they want you to continue working for free

2) When you already have several writing credits to your name

Please refer back to Part 1 for the details on these two scenarios.

A third and final instance I want to mention is…

When you’ve already built a platform or created a brand for yourself. Now, you’re probably thinking, How can I create a platform or brand if I don’t have much writing experience yet? But the truth is, branding has become so important for a writer, that many are doing this first before they ever begin to start trying to get published.

I have heard of many writers who did not start out as writers, but rather as experts in their field. So, they built up a blog or a website, many even held workshops on their topic, and did all they could to become the “go-to” person for their area of expertise. Then, once people knew who they were, they started writing for magazines and then eventually books.

Depending on your subject area, this is a very feasible way to go, especially in today’s viral market. And, once you have established yourself to the point where you do have some name recognition and have begun to build a decent platform of exposure (through speaking engagements and so forth), you will have some leverage when approaching publishers.

You may not have writing credits to your name, but you can approach a publisher by letting them know how many followers you have on your various social media avenues, plus how many speaking engagements you do every month or year. In essence, you’re telling that publisher, “People know my name, and if they are interested in the subject I will be writing about for your magazine, they will come to you to read it.” Having a built-in following before you ever approach a publisher gives you a good case for getting paid for your work.

A great example of this is a now-author I know who began experimenting with a food fast. She wanted to clean up her body and kick-off a major lifestyle change. She had tried many different kinds of fasts, but chose one referred to as the Daniel Fast, after the story of Daniel in the Bible, who basically only ate fruits and veggies and nuts and seeds, despite the king’s offer of giving Daniel the best meats and “delicacies” he had available.

She recorded every single thing she ate as well as how she was doing psychologically and physically during this fast. She blogged about it, tweeted about it, even set up a website for recipes. After a period of time (a few months, I believe), she had so many people following her blog, asking her about her recipes, and trying the fast for themselves, she decided to turn her experience into a book.

She got picked up by a publisher because they could see how much interest there was in her subject, and since she had been though it herself, she was an expert so to speak, in this type of fast. She was not a writer before this experiment, but she is now. We are seeing this more and more in the publishing world.

The point of all of this is to say, don’t think you have to continue to write for free. If you have the credentials, and you have the experience, and people want to hear what you have to say, you should get paid for saying it!

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Recently I was asked by a writer friend, “How long do I have to keep writing for free?” I told her, “That’s up to you.” I guess that wasn’t the answer she was expecting, because she gave me quite a surprised look. Maybe you’ve got that same look on your face right now! So, let me explain…

Many people in the writing/publishing business (myself included) will tell you to accept pro bono jobs when you’re starting out and trying to get yourself on the map as a legitimate writer. I still agree this is a good idea. It’s the same principle as a new business in town giving away samples of their products or services for a limited time so their prospective market will take a chance and experience them.

There’s nothing wrong for a writer to offer to do an article for free–perhaps in exchange for a link to his website and a bio. Or, to give away some copywriting expertise to a local business in order to gain exposure and build a resume. Not only is it not wrong; it’s smart business. But at some point, you need to draw the line and start collecting money for your work. So, when do you know when to start saying no?

Here are a few scenarios when you should cross over that line:

  • When you’ve already done free work for a “customer” and they want you to continue working for free. I will usually give the same customer two freebies, depending on the nature of the job. If it’s extremely time consuming, or if it didn’t seem to produce much exposure for my work, then I will only give away one job. But, after working for someone twice for free, they need to start paying!

The exceptions to this are if you’re working for an organization you care about and just want to help them promote themselves, or if the company is offering you a consistent gig that will not consume too much of your time. I have worked for free writing a monthly article for a nonprofit but only because it didn’t take very long for me to write. I was able to build my business alongside this free job, and all the while I was accumulating writing credits.

The problem with continuing to give away your work for free to the same customer is that the longer you do it, the harder it becomes to tell that customer they need to start paying. (This is similar to the problem with ideologies like Socialism, but that’s for another blog.) But, the truth is, if they liked your work enough to ask you to do something else for them, then they should pay for it. And, deep down they know this; and more often than not, they are waiting for you to call them on it. Chances are, they won’t say anything if you don’t.

So…how do you transition a client from nonpaying to paying?

One thing I’ve done in the past is to set up an escalating fee scale with my pro-bono customer. After I did my first freebie and they decided they liked my work enough to ask me to write for them again, I proposed a payment scale that started out at 50% of what I would normally charge for that particular job. The pay increased 10% every time I did a job, until we reached my full pay rate. So it took 6 jobs for me to reach my full pay rate, but at least I was making money, and we were moving in the right direction! And, they agreed that as long as they were happy with the work, it was worth it for them.

Another way to handle moving from a nonpaying to a paying customer is to negotiate a contract (make sure it’s written and signed) stipulating that you will do 2 or 3 freebies, but then you get paid at a certain rate for 2 or 3 more jobs (or whatever terms you can agree on).

  • When you already have several writing credits to your name. This is the case with the writer friend of mine whom I mentioned in my opening paragraph. She’s been published in magazines and online a few times now (all for free), but continues to accept more nonpaying jobs.

Once you have published work, especially in print media, future publishers really should not be asking you to write for free. There will always be nonpaying markets–both in print and online–but you will know going into a job whether it pays or not. Once I had a few published pieces, I no longer submitted my work to nonpaying markets. Now again, there are reasons why you might:

–It’s a market you really want to break into, because you know it could lead to other opportunities or because it will give you a chance to do something out of your niche. When I first started writing for kids, I took a couple nonpaying jobs because it was new for me. I wanted a chance to prove myself as a children’s writer, so even though I already had writing credits, I did some children’s work for free to gain exposure in that market.

–It will give you an opportunity to promote yourself or your work by offering bios, website links, or book promotions. In the past, I have traded the chance to get paid for an article with the opportunity to promote my book and my website because that was more important to me at that time.  Many magazine markets are willing to do this if you have an article that will fit the theme of their magazine.

Once you have published credits and have experience to put on your resume, limit your search to paying markets (unless you have a good reason not to, as mentioned above), and send those publishers clips of your work and your resume when you submit your query letter or manuscript. If an opportunity comes to you where the business owner/publisher does not want to pay for your services, you should send them clips of the published work you’ve already done, along with a rate sheet for the type of services they’re asking for. That should give them the hint that you don’t work for free. If it doesn’t, then it will be up to you to tell them or…take yet another nonpaying job.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will continue the discussion on when you should say no to nonpaying jobs.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve explored the topic of niche writing, so I thought I’d venture down this path again and add some ideas to fuel both sides of the debate many new writers have with themselves: Should I find a writing niche and stick to it? I’ve heard cases for both sides, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve heard and add my own two cents.

First the advantages to having a writing niche as opposed to writing in various genres or in several writing outlets (magazines, online, business media, etc.)

1. You will learn to hone your skill in one area, which means you will ultimately get better at it

2. You will become “known” for a certain type of writing

3. You can make more effective industry connections if you stick to one area of writing (the logic here is that you won’t spread yourself thin at industry events but rather meet people who write or publish only what you write, thus more effective networking)

4. You will have a better chance of selling yourself and your work to a publisher or agent because they will see you as a long-term prospect in your niche (meaning more predictable), as opposed to someone who continually jumps around trying different things

5. You will have an easier time branding yourself so that you become the product along with your work, which helps with future projects and promotions

Now, the disadvantages of having a niche vs. not:

1. You will miss out on any writing opportunities that don’t fall within your niche

2. You won’t learn to expand as a writer unless you take on different roles or attempt several outlets for your writing

3. You can make more money as a freelancer if you have multiple revenue streams from various forms of writing

4. You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself if your niche sees a decline in popularity

5. Having the same niche for too long can cause you to become stale as a writer

Many of you have probably heard these or similar arguments–you may have even had this debate with yourself. So, which side is correct? Here’s my two cents:

If you are a new writer, still trying to figure out what you want to do, my advice is to spread yourself out. Try various genres. Write for whoever wants to hire you or where you think you can land a publishing credit (within reason, of course!). If you are trying to make writing your sole income, then I would suggest creating as many possible revenue streams with it as possible. Then…

Once you gain some real experience as a writer and begin to find your voice, start narrowing the field. Try to hone in on one or two areas that you’ve received good feedback in or that you believe is both a strength of yours and an interest. Begin to perfect your craft in these or one two areas, but still try to seek as many outlets for these specific areas as possible.

I think it’s important to write what you have a passion for, or your writing career will probably not last long. If you’re in it to simply make some money or follow the latest greatest writing trend, then you will most likely not succeed long term. Or, if you do, I doubt that you will feel good about yourself.

In a nutshell, my belief (and I’m sure there are some out there who can prove me wrong) is that for the short term, expand your horizons and don’t lock yourself into a niche until you can decide what exactly that niche should be. As your writing career progresses, begin looking to define yourself in some unique or at least narrow way. In the long term I believe this is where you will find the most success and the most satisfaction as a writer.

But, also remember, writing is a journey, so don’t rush this process. Take the necessary time to discover who you are and who you really want to be as a writer. And don’t let anyone or any market define that for you. After all is said and done, you are the one who has to live with yourself!

As a writer, what are you afraid of? Many new writers have fears because they don’t know yet if they can succeed. But even experienced writers have fears. Most writing fears can be grouped into three categories: fear of failure, fear of rejection (and these two are different), and fear of success.  I’d like to talk a little about the difference between the fear of failure and the fear of rejection as well as how to determine which of those three you may be dealing with.

A fear of failure is when you don’t think you’ll make it because you believe your personal efforts, skills, achievements, and so forth aren’t good enough to help you reach your goals. The fear of failure is very inward based and points directly to your personal efforts as a writer.

When you think about reaching a goal or making it as a writer, do you have doubts that say you can’t because of an intrinsic ability or characteristic? Do you look at your shortcomings and think they’re going to hold you back? Granted, we all have insecurities when it comes to our writing. But if they great enough to keep you from thinking you’ll ever succeed, you’re likely dealing with a fear of failure.

A fear of rejection is more outward based. This fear believes that even if you do your part others in the writing world will reject you and cause you to fall short of your goals. This may take the form of a publisher not being interested in your book or magazine article, or other writers not being accepting of you for whatever reason, or the writing industry not ready for your writing style or approach.

Many writers are actually way ahead of their time, and industry influencers aren’t willing to take a chance on them, so they get rejected. It’s only those writers who can rise above this fear of rejection and remain persistent who will eventually find their way.

To combat the fear of rejection, it’s imperative to learn not to personalize the rejections. Often books and articles get rejected, even if they’re well written, due to market trends, budget constraints (for books), topics that miss the mark, etc. You must approach each project realizing that rejection is a very real possibility and have a plan of action in the event you are rejected. Maybe you can re-target that article or send it to a different magazine. The more market research you can do before submitting any work, the greater you’ll decrease your chances of rejection.

Determine beforehand that you will not take the rejections personally. Use them as a learning tool to see how you can improve next time. I had a writer friend who used to say she’d visualize each rejection letter as a stepping stone that was paving her way to being published. I thought that was a great image to keep in mind! So, if you’re adequately confident in your own ability to succeed, yet believe there are “forces” “out there” that are going to stand in your way, you’re probably up against a fear of rejection.

“[Fear of success] is definitely a sign that we’re running out of fears. A person suffering from fear of success is scraping the bottom of the fear barrel.” — Jerry Seinfeld

I laugh every time I read that quote. But for many people, this is a very real fear. In my earlier post on the fear of success, I go into detail on ways to overcome it based on getting at the root of what you’re really afraid of. For now, I’d like to simply identify it so you know if it’s affecting you.

When you think of succeeding, are you happy about it? Do you have a sense of accomplishment, of satisfaction, of joy when you see yourself succeeding? Or, do you have a sense of dread, of anxiety, or uneasiness–even if you can’t put your finger on why? Most people with a fear of success can’t really identify it as the culprit, maybe because they think it’s absurd. But being successful launches you into the unknown–and fear of the unknown is a very strong fear.

There are various roots to the fear of success, but if you have any negative reaction or emotion to the thought of succeeding, then you’ll have to look further and find out what about success is making you wary. Because, regardless of what fear it is or where it comes from, it will absolutely paralyze you as a writer and create roadblocks you may not even be cognizant of. Your fears will ultimately become self-fulfilling prophecies that dictate how far you will go as a writer. It’s worth checking into!

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted about writers’ fears,but if you’d like to learn more about conquering the fear of failure as well as the fear of success, please take a moment to read those articles.

Yes, it’s this time of year again…goal-setting time! As many of you probably know by now, I’m a huge believer in setting goals for yourself. And, not just setting them, but putting them in writing so you see them often and remember where you’re headed.

I also believe an important part of goal setting that often gets overlooked is the revision of previous goals in order to form new ones. The prefix “re,” as most of you probably know, simply means “again.” So when you’re working on a revision of something, you’re trying to cast your vision again. When you revise a manuscript, you’re hoping to give it better focus, make your vision for it become clearer and come alive on the page. Likewise, when you revise previous goals, you’re trying to cast your vision for those goals again.

Instead of forming completely new goals for 2012, look back to those goals you set for yourself in 2011 (or even earlier). Which ones were you able to meet? Which ones did you come close to meeting? And which are still a dream?

If you met your goals–kudos to you! Look at those and ask yourself if they were perhaps too easy. Did you have to push yourself to meet them, or did they come rather effortlessly? This will help you in constructing new ones. Then determine if reaching those goals helped you stay on track with your overall career goals. You may’ve met your goal for writing 50 poems over the course of the year, but now that you’ve accomplished it, has it brought you closer to where you want to eventually end up as a writer?

If you came close to meeting your goals but didn’t, ask yourself why not. Were there distractions that got you off track? Did you end up going in a different direction with your writing? Did you just get lazy? (That last one can be tough to honestly admit!)

Sometimes distractions get in the way that cause our writing to take a back seat. That’s OK. If you still believe in these goals and think they are do-able, then recast them for 2012. Sometimes not meeting your goals because you ended up taking a different path is a good thing. In this case, re-evaluate those goals and see if you want to completely abandon them for your new direction. This is the power of goal revision. If you failed to meet your goals simply because of apathy or laziness, look closely at those as well and determine if those goals are still worth striving for. If your heart’s not really in it, then perhaps those need to be abandoned as well.

If you’re leaving 2011 with goals that are still only a dream and you haven’t even come close to reaching them, try to determine the reason. Were they unrealistic to begin with? If you set a word count goal for yourself with 3 kids under the age of 4 in the house, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Or, if your goal was to hit the NY Times Bestseller List when all you’ve published so far were magazine articles, there’s a good chance you’re going to be let down.

If you truly felt your goals were realistic but you still didn’t meet them, was it was due to circumstances out of your control? In this case, there’s not much you can do but try again. Either re-set those same goals for 2012 or revise them to include only elements you can control: “I will submit my manuscript to 10 publishing houses or agents by the end of 2012” vs. “I will have my manuscript published by the end of 2012.”

You can’t control what happens once your manuscript hits an editor’s desk, but you can control the process of getting it there.

Don’t just dive into your new goals without looking behind at your previous ones. Use them as your springboard to re-direct, re-vise, and re-evaluate your writing path. You’ll have a much clearer look into the future after you’ve looked into the mirror.

Blessings for a prosperous and word-filled 2012! And, please check this blog over the next week for an update list of 2012 writers’ conferences.

While you’re considering new goals and events that you’d like to add to your New Year’s Writer’s List (you do have one of those, don’t you?), I’d like to suggest adding writing contests as well. Most writers I know do not actively pursue writing contests. They typically take the attitude of, If I happen across one and I’m not too busy to submit something, then I might consider it.

Contests, however, should be approached more strategically than such happenstance. Not only are contests an excellent way to practice sharpening your writing skills, but the rewards can be great. Most offer either cash awards or writers’ resources or toys (books, software, e-readers, and so forth) for placing in the top 3 (some even in the top 10), which can be good enough reason for sending in a submission.

But even if you don’t win or place in the competition, think of the panel of judges you’ll have carefully reviewing your work. Your manuscript would probably not gain this much attention if you sent it to an editor directly. Many writers have received book deals, gained agents, or at least got their work published because of a writing contest. And, I’ve heard of others who, even though they didn’t win the contest, the judges were so impressed with their work that they’ve used them for work-for-hire projects or have given them an open door to submit more manuscripts to them.

Not bad for a $25 entry fee and a little bit of your time.

I wouldn’t suggest entering every contest you come across, however. For one, there’s usually a price tag involved to enter, even though it’s typically small. Instead, pick and choose those that best fit your genre. If you’re a beginning writer, you’d also probably do better with a smaller contest where you’re not going to be up against thousands of entries.

I’ve chosen just a few writing contests on the short-term horizon for your perusal. In addition, at the bottom of this list are websites to bookmark for future reference, as they contain their own lists of contests held throughout the year. Pay attention to the deadlines, as most are fast approaching.

CNW Publishing – Contests for fiction, nonfiction, children’s, and poetry; deadline for all entries: 3/15/12

Athanatos Christian Ministries – Contests for Christian short stories and poetry; deadlines: 3/19/12

Fish Publishing – Contests for fiction, poetry, and short memoirs; deadlines: 3/20/12 for fiction and 3/30/12 for poetry and memoirs

Writer’s Digest – Contests in nearly every genre, including sci-fi, thriller, YA fiction, flash fiction, poetry, self-published books, and short stories; deadlines vary throughout the year. Also have one annual competition that also covers several different genres.

American Christian Fiction Writers – Contests include 9 different fiction categories, such as YA, historical, and speculative; contests open in early January and close in early March

Women on Writing – Quarterly contests for flash fiction; next deadline: 2/29/12

Arts & Letters – Contests for fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and poetry; deadlines: 2/28/12

Summer Literary Seminars – Contests for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; deadlines: 2/28/12

FanStory – Continual contests throughout the year in various genres

The NewPages Classifieds – Lists contests for magazines and books throughout the year

Poets & Writers – Lists poetry and various writing contests throughout the year

There’s an old saying I repeatedly tell my kids: “If you don’t have a target to aim at, how will you know when you hit it?”

If we writers don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish with our writing, how will we know what success looks like when it comes–or how far we still have to go to achieve it?

Every business, non-profit, and even individual should have some sort of mission statement. This is another way to say you should have a purpose, a reason for being, a destiny. You may not know entirely what that looks like yet, but as a writer, you should have some driving force that brings you in front of your computer or pad of paper every day.

Often, we do have something in mind when we begin to ponder what our purpose or mission is in writing. But, more often than not, it stays in our head and never gets written down. Something powerful happens when we take the time to articulate our mission and actually put it into writing. In fact, there’s a Bible verse that states this very well: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it” (Habakkuk 2:2).

When you have your mission written out and keep it in front of you, you can run with it. It serves as a constant reminder of the target you’re trying to hit.

So, what exactly should a mission statement look like? It can and will look different for everyone, but it should somehow answer the following questions:

~ Why are you writing?

~ What is your writing passion? (What is that force that makes you sit down and work?)

~ What is your writing focus? (This could be genre, audience, or subject)

The mission statement I’ve used for myself over the past few years has been: “To develop written materials that help kids and adults draw closer to God in fun and practical ways.”

I try to keep this focus as the center of all I do. Sometimes projects will arise that don’t completely fit that description (for instance, I just wrote two books for Capstone Press on earthquakes and volcanoes), but I never stray too far from it (it’s quite doubtful that I would ever write chick lit strictly for entertainment).

A mission statement, therefore, should help keep you on track with your purpose. Unless you’re just starting out and want to take every writing job you possibly can, your mission statement will help you say “no” to those projects that are not aligned with your purpose. It’s OK to take on differing assignments for a while as you’re building writing credits, but there will come a time when these “outside-your-purpose” jobs will rob your time and distract you from ever reaching your writing destiny. Sooner or later you’ll have to set writing boundaries, and having a well-thought out mission statement will help you do just that.

A mission statement will also help you set boundaries between your writing and the rest of your life. Unless your purpose includes becoming a best-selling author with at least one book coming out every year (hence, you’re writing 50+ hours a week), you’ll need something to help keep your writing in perspective with the demands of a family and perhaps a full-time job. Having a realistic mission statement can help keep you grounded and better prioritize your various responsibilities.

What a mission statement is not, however, is a detailed blueprint for how you’re going to hit your target. Rather, it’s a picture of what that target looks like. From your mission statement, you can formulate short- and long-term goals that will tell you how to get where you want to be. Those goals should be fluid; don’t be afraid to change them. And, don’t be afraid to change your mission statement either. If you thought your purpose was to be a comedy writer so you can make people smile, but everyone groans at your jokes instead, it might be time to rethink your writing mission!

If you don’t already have a writing mission statement, I highly encourage you to take some time to think about one. Why are you writing? Where do you see yourself as a writer 5, 10, or 20 years from now? Put it down in writing and place it where you will see it every day. I guarantee it will help you “keep your eyes on the prize” on those days when you feel like getting out of the game.

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