Like many of you I suspect, I’ve got lots of projects on the go at once, with three different pro identities: web editor, psychologist and creative writer. And from your comments in our course discussions, I know lots of you experience pull in different directions, which can end up making you feel stretched laterally, but not necessarily making forward headway at all…
So here are a few suggestions to ease the stretch and get that forward momentum going:
Your mission statement might be something like: ‘To write video scripts for busy owners of professional services businesses’ which is concrete and usefully specific – or it might be more abstract ‘To create a fantasy series based on canine world domination, the like of which the world has never seen before…’
Either way, this mission statement creates your core priority, the one aim that can keep bread on the table, comfort your brain or help you feel you are doing something that truly matters to you (The bread and the brain comfort do not always go together, unfortunately).
The book ‘On Form’ champions energy management as opposed to time management, with lots of sensible advice like doing energizing work first thing, rather than keeping it as the reward-you-never-get-to, at the end of your day. And we all know that when we do energizing work, time seems immaterial.
In surgeon Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto, the author reveals how using a specific checklist in operating theatres cut deaths by a half. As writers, we can use them to improve our writing and stick to the appropriate priorities if we’re writing for different platforms. So my most used checklist has just four categories: is it clear? have I used the best word? is it entertaining? can a shorter version replace any ‘-ing’ words? (bad habit #no 97 here)
Your life of the mind may be riveting … but your ole bod is housing this mind. Can you do exercise before starting at your desk, break up your day with physical activity, check your neck and shoulder tension periodically, or maybe get a standing desk?
I can’t remember where I picked this tip up from, but if your e mail contains a lot of organizing information, – like for who you are writing, on what and to what deadline – then it makes sense to keep other information there, such as progress reports on clients and meeting summaries. Just put these into drafts and make sure you don’t send them. Get yourself another e mail address as sendee, for insurance.
We write to reach others, but ironically to write well, you have to spend a lot of time alone. Now a lot of us who write may find solitude and the ordering of our worlds through words most energizing… but to keep perspective and remind ourselves we write for others, we need to go amongst them… Find people like yourself in writers groups, library events and book festivals.
Whether you write commercially or do it for other reasons, a philosophical approach can help focus your practice. Here are some recommended practical philosophy books, from the always-interesting Ryan Holiday.
Quite a find for you this month, thanks to writer Hilary Shepherd at Penfro Lit Fest. You Write On is a forum where you can get feedback for your writing from editors at top publishers. And it’s free…
Here’s a list of useful sites for indie authors, some of which I’ve mentioned before, but not all: https://www.amarketingexpert.com/top-50-websites-indie-authors/
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to a talk by artist Sarah Jane Brown, where we spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon, sat amidst her paintings in a gallery, listening to her story of how she’s shaped something she loves into a successful business. Based in remote West Wales she exhibits and sells in London galleries, taking a prolific and disciplined approach.
After a couple of decades working in business finance, and experiencing something of a slump of the soul, Sarah set about doing what she had always wanted to do – paint. Through evening classes originally, then a foundation year and degree ( she was student of the year and got a first) she became an artist. Half way through her course she held an exhibition at the beautiful St David’s Cathedral of her work and it sold out… she sensed she was on to something.
Sarah emphasizes how her heart and soul create her work. She works in batches of ten paintings, never knowing what the final outcome will be, but she collects mood and theme boards beforehand. What she does identify beforehand is the emotion and feeling she wishes to convey Then she moves intuitively from one painting to another, so they almost end up talking to each other and having a conversation, until the whole series is completed. It struck me there are parallels here for those of us who are keen to create a series of books.
She took us through a series of questions an art coach suggested to her:
When you were younger what did you want to be?
What are your favourite things?
What are your secret dreams?
I lose track of time when…
If I could be/do/have..
She further suggests adding the answers to these up and crafting them into a life mission statement, starting with My life’s purpose…. Hers is about creating work that inspires a sense of optimism and purpose. Sarah has recorded this mission statement on an app, Sublimator, which plays in the background behind her favourite music. She reviews her mission every year.
While she loves to paint above all else, Sarah spends a couple of hours every day on doing the business of being an artist… and she employs a relation who is a marketing expert for five hours every month to help market her work. She has an accountability partner – someone she skypes once a week, with whom she shares written goals and to do lists and who challenges her – which is reciprocated when Sarah is dodging challenges or skipping over the unpalatable…
Sarah uses social media enthusiastically and has been on courses to learn more about it. Her philosophy is that the more you give of yourself the more you get back, and that people love to feel included in the personal side of a life. She talked about the joy of creating and how the creative process can be therapeutic, but then how boosting it is to let your paintings go when you sell them and they bring value and meaning to the buyer. She spoke of how important it is to value your clients and have a personal relationship with them – to the extent that Sarah has one photo of herself she uses across social media and the same photo is on her business card. She talked about giving little ‘wows’ to your customers (something creative businesswoman Julie Dodsworth talks about) and gave us, her appreciative audience a little ‘wow’ of a takeaway couple of cards of her beautiful work.
Almost all this advice applies to freelance writers too, I reckon, and from Sarah Jane there was much to uplift and inspire. Here’s her website.
Here are this month’s links:
The Invisible College: excellent BBC radio creative writing lessons from likes of Roald Dahl and Allen Ginsberg.
Marketing resources: an absolute monster of a post from the ever helpful Joanna Penn, to keep you busy over the summer.
Joanna is featured in this list too, 20 Writers To Follow On Twitter and I’m certainly going to be adding these to those I follow! If it is summer where you are and you are planning to be writing, then may the word juices flow and feel free to update me on any news and progress you may have over at the course, on Udemy.
As a freelance writer or business writing pro, not one of us wants to waste our time creating social media that few people want or attend to. At the end of this post there is an interesting presentation on writers who earn over $5K monthly from self-publishing, and you’ll see that one of their characteristics is less time spent on social media than some of the rest of us.
This month, I’m keen to share with you a writer friend who I think is a total whizz at social media and creating standout content. She’s called Helen Reynolds, and she’s a communications professional. She’s also a cartoonist and trainer, working in the public, arts and non-profit sectors. Exceptionally creative, she makes content for her niche – other communications professionals in the same sector, and these are the same people that she runs workshops for.
At the top of this post is an image of Helen’s book, a collection of her cartoons which @weareresource offered to publish. Here’s a favorite:
What can we all learn from her approach?
I hope you’ve found this useful. As per usual here, some interesting links for you:
A couple of weeks ago, I heard the inspiring and dynamic Joanna Penn talk at the Bristol Crime Writers festival. Of note to freelance writers was her marketing steer for non-fiction writers to create blogs and podcasts, but for fiction writers to focus on Amazon KDP Select and paid-for ads on Amazon and Facebook. Joanna’s recent post on how her income breaks down may give you insights.
At the top here I mentioned the presentation on writers who earn over $5K monthly+ from publishing – this is from ALLI, which has lots of helpful resources.
And finally, whatever we write, we need to be skilled at story craft. Here’s a useful and detailed post on this from Jane Friedman’s blog.
With the money, time and inclination, anyone can self-publish these days… and who’s to stop you if you feel like producing something self-indulgent? Your family and Aunt Maisie may love it, after all…
But for those of us who want to publish a book which helps our business, or indeed becomes a business as commercial fiction, or serialized self-help perhaps, what are the top roles you’ll need to play?
Researcher and Marketer
As well as researching your subject, you’ll need to research your audience and how online book marketing works. You’ll need to look at what similar books are selling on Amazon, what type of readers you need to attract, and where they hangout online. Facebook interest groups, twitter bios and hashtags, Instagram hashtags, Reddit forums, Quora and You Tube will all be worth a gander, as well as GoodReads and Wattpad. If you can’t find places online where your target audience hangs out, then maybe your book idea needs a rethink…
You’ll need to decide what sort of book you’re writing: is it a short e-book selling at the magical $2.99 ( where you get to keep $2 on Amazon) and possibly part of a series? Or is it a longer, more definitive work? For many self-publishers Amazon is the only show in town, and learning what works here – on the world’s third largest search engine – will be vital.
Why do you want to write a book? Yes, a book can add credibility, authority and bring new customers to whatever you offer – but however fast you write, a half-decent read takes planning, thought and total immersion, that may be more effectively spent creating a series of videos, a state-of-your-industry white paper, a podcast or an online training programme. You may find it easier to reach folk and make an impact through a different means. Weigh up your options.
You can pilot your idea and oil your writing muscles, if so inclined, by producing longish blog posts at least weekly for a few months. And if you use WordPress for your blog, then you can easily convert this content into an e book, or pdf for Createspace to make an actual book, over at Pressbooks.
You’ll no doubt have noticed that there are millions of authors hawking their wares online and shouting a lot about them.
You will need stealth and inventiveness to stand out. How would your book work as an infographic? Does a social problem feature in your book that you could report on for online news publications? What would a video of highlights from your book include?
Here’s a useful exercise from literary agent Andrew Lonie:
This exercise along with blogging can help you stress-test your idea.
I’m writing this post just before Llandeilo Lit Fest, a community book festival founded and organized by Christoph Fischer. Christoph is a prolific self-publisher, who has build considerable community both online and offline in his home area of West Wales. He contributes a great deal to readers of all ages and in return he gets book downloads – over 150,000 at time of writing.
In a way, self-publishers need to have something of the impresario about them, whether it is like Joanna Penn, with her wide ranging self-publishing advice, or Mark Dawson, with his self publishing Facebook group and courses, or Mark Schaefer, with his conference talks and teaching.
We write above all else to connect – and we’ve lots of choice today about where we connect with readers, whether we choose live events or online forums as our thing.
I hope you don’t find these demands too disheartening. There is value in writing a book that very few people read – you dig down deep into you subject, develop self – discipline and persistence and perhaps see yourself and your subject differently at the end of the exercise. But when you write a book that people are stimulated by and wish to chat about, then this value rises tenfold. Having done both, this is my troth… and I wish you the best for your book.
Here are this month’s useful links:
Is it worth you producing a newsletter as a freelance writer?
The web is awash with internet marketing advice saying that e-mail capture and a newsletter is a most effective means of communicating with customers. And some reputable newsletter producers like Cooperpress and Next Draft have created cracking businesses from their production.
Newsletters demonstrate copy writing and editorial skills in a way that little else can, and can be targeted towards a most specific client group – so your newsletter could be aimed at marketing directors of law or finance firms perhaps, or editors of environmental websites or women’s issues thought leaders on twitter, maybe. Your main aim needs to be to write extremely helpful content for your particular target client, and to build a relationship with them through this content.
If you’re a one-person freelance writing business, then this doesn’t need to be scaled to the grandiose. Once a month may suffice and you’re after a small number of meaningful relationships, rather than bombarding people with newsletters and content they have no interest in. You’re digging deep rather than sprawling wide…
CONTENT, CREATION AND COST
Your newsletter does not need a complex structure. You could start with your subject FAQs and concerns and create steers for these – and I’d suggest your opening is as much about your audience as you can possibly make it, only leading into what you’ve been up to, later in. You’ll need to decide how much original content to make and the extent to which you curate other people’s writing.
What you’re reading here currently is one structure for a newsletter: one fairly dense post, link and information-wise, followed by a few helpful links I’ve curated over the past month. In other newsletters I use a three-section structure: what’s helpful how-to info, what’s quirky and new, and what is locally relevant.
Your newsletter does not need to cost much to produce, apart from your valuable time and thinking of course… For the most modest update, you may want to look at Tiny Letter run by MailChimp, or its fuller offer Mailchimp, which has lots of help on its site and is free for up to 2000 subscribers. I know writers who are loyal to Madmimi and for cost effectiveness on a large scale Your Mailing List Provider has fans.
If you use software like MailChimp, it gives you terrific insights into what your clients are interested in, like this:
If you’re floundering over where to put your time and effort into writing online to showcase your work, a newsletter linked to your blog or portfolio and aimed at the niche you wish to serve seems to me to be the most efficient option. You can store your newsletters together, like I’ve done here, to show prospective clients.
And if you celebrate it, Easter is coming soon, the time of new beginnings… so it’s a perfect chance to get cracking.
Here are this month’s three useful links:
Freelance Writing Portfolio: Creating A Freelance Writing Portfolio From Scratch
Business Of Writing: Books About The Business Of Freelance Writing
How To Write (and the writer Chris Brecheen, has my favourite writer’s facebook page ):
And three newsletters especially useful to writers, I reckon:
Whatever you write, change will give your writing dynamism, vividness and grip your reader.
In business writing, we want to hear how problems get solved, how businesses grow and how changes in the context our business operates in, may affect it.
In fiction or screenwriting we want to experience our characters changing both through their own decisions and forces in the environment acting against them or causing them surprises…
One of my favorite writers on change is William Bridges, who describes three stages to what he calls transition:
Laura Emily Dunn, who is a student here and a contributor to the freelance course, has boosted her career in a novel and interesting way this year.
Based in the UK, at the start of this year she produced an infographic on the British Prime Minister’s clothing choices, which gathered much attention from national press and broadcast media, as well as writing commissions for her.
Having long planned a trip to Washington for the inauguration, anticipating a Hillary win, Laura ended up going on the Women’s March and covering both inauguration and march for media in the UK.
Laura’s quirky and creative infographic has boosted both her slate and address book, to start the year in style…
Business Writing Skills Refreshers
So what has this all got to do with these doodles here ? Well I’m trying to learn to cartoon, so these are my early attempts at characters. Cartooning, like infographic making, is at core a writing skill – though as I’ve found out, it helps if you can draw too. I can’t currently, but am diving deep into the whole art of cartooning, where there is much that applies to business writing.
Scott McCloud’s fascinating Making Comics describes five critical aspects of cartoon storytelling: choice of moment, what to include; choice of frame, the right distance and angle to view those moments; choice of image; choice of word and choice of flow. All these choices can apply to our business writing too – what to cover, how subjective or objective our writing is, and the images, words and sequences we use.
Why not take a subject you write about and if you’ve not experimented before try it as:
Or make an infographic, like Laura did.
You never know where pressing refresh on your mental browser may take you…
Here are three links which may help refresh too:
Improve Your Writing: 10 Essential Tips To Improve Your Writing Style
Business Tools: Freelance Writing Tools
Career Development: How To Think Like A Content Marketer When You’re Really A Freelance Writer
Laura’s blog is here and may your writing zing in 2017!
Over the Christmas holidays – and by way of saying thanks to all you lovely students – I thought I’d create an online Christmas stocking for you here, stuffed with some info goodies to help your freelance writing careers in 2017.
If you like podcasts, you may find Ed Kandia’s High Income Business Writing useful. He co-wrote a book ‘The Wealthy Freelancer’ and hey… who doesn’t want to be one of these?
I’ve mentioned Jorden Roper here before and her most direct and practical advice on freelance writing. She’s now got a You Tube channel and here’s a sample: 5 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Avoid Content Mills And Bidding Sites. Jorden’s viewpoint is spot-on here, I reckon.
This site posts jobs and is a collaboration between three freelance writers so it may appeal to you: http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/11/pitch-to-the-hidden-places-that-hire-freelance-writers/
Running a freelance writing career can feel rather chaotic, but the wonderfully professional Jane Friedman comes to the rescue here, with advice on marketing and publishing checklists for writers. Definitely a link for the New Year resolution wish-list.
And finally everyone deserves a treat at Christmas, don’t they? So here’s inspiration if you’re giving to a fellow writer – or indeed if you want to give yourself a gift – and why not? Warning: you may get distracted for some time here! https://uk.pinterest.com/taralazar/things-writers-like/
If like me, you’re hoping to get some undisturbed writing in over the holidays, then all the best for it. Whatever you’re up to, I’d like to thank for your support this year and may you and your loved ones have joy and peace over the next couple of weeks.
She opens the office door. She smells something…wet metal, steak tartare? On the breeze from the window, a dripping sound. Grace Emmerson sees Harold John, her boss of 10 years, slumped in a corner…
What question do you ask yourself when you read this? I imagine you thinking ‘What’s happened here?’ but you can let me know if otherwise…
This could open a news article, a work of fiction or a presentation even, aiming to create drama and grab your reader’s attention. Whatever you’re writing, Stephen King homage, technical spec or marketing video script, your writing will succeed when you hold your reader’s attention in thrall.
On Halloween then, here are some tips to thrill your audience in your writing.
Be An Attention Engineer
At the excellent Killer Women Festival run by London female crime writers, Erin Kelly took us through how to create suspense, emphasizing the importance of sensing what questions your readers will be asking. Whatever you’re writing these three questions matter:
You may not be addressing these three questions directly in your work, but you need to have answered them in your head. And when questions are answered for your audience, then new questions need to be posed. Getting to the key questions is the cruncher.
Like this example from a book review in the Atlantic magazine:
Play With Your Readers
Misdirect them, puzzle them and surprise them. If you love Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train you’ll know that at least the first half of these thrilling novels are misdirects. We think someone’s done something heinous, but we’re not quite sure… I’m currently reading Tammy Cohen’s excellent When She Was Bad, about half-way through, and a character has drunk some coffee which has a violent effect on his innards, which he believes is down to deliberate contamination… If so who’s done it, I wonder, and why?
If your writing in any form has what’ s known as a ‘baggy middle’ can you give it that shot of poisoned caffeine?
Create Sufficient Threat
Whatever you’re writing too, there must be sufficient threat to a featured character, for it to matter. Or indeed to ourselves, the readers.
So if a business is threatened by change for instance, you need to show just how much they value what is under threat. Sometimes a gripping headline is all your writing needs to convey sufficient threat:
In business writing, personalized case histories can help illustrate threat, as shown by Abbi Whitaker on Forbes.com:
This threat can be delivered with shocking suddenness as fear supremo, Stephen King describes here: “No waking or dreaming in this terminal, but only the voice of the writer, low and rational, talking about the way the good fabric of things sometimes has a way of unraveling with shocking suddenness. He’s telling you that you do want to see the car accident, and yes, he’s right—you do. There’s a dead voice on the phone…something behind the walls of the old house that sounds bigger than a rat…movement at the foot of the cellar stairs. He wants you to see all of those things, and more.”
What do you want your readers to see this Halloween?
Isn’t life grand when an accident becomes an opportunity?
A start-up tech company hired a freelance writer friend to create some news blog posts for them. Now this friend is canny, so she negotiated her fee upwards based on her network of tech PR specialists and journalists. She would be doing some of the connecting for the client.
But, when her network read the posts, they said ‘Nothing new here, nothing to get excited about’. When she told the client, they were disappointed but also grateful. She’d saved them time and money, pursuing an idea which was going to be a hard sell. So she didn’t get shot, but paid…
And now she’s establishing a reputation in this sector as an ace traction-detecting copywriter, for new ideas.
So first step to increasing your value is:
That is, the chattering classes of PR and journalists who specialize in your type of writing. I can think immediately of three students of mine, whose targets for this would be left-wing campaigners, alternative health experts and establishment politicos, for instance. You will have something they want – news and opinion – and they will have something you and your clients need – feedback.
I know I don’t need to tell you how useful Twitter can be for tracking down PR experts and journalists – and you can store their handles in a list.
Book publishers Hodder Headline recently set up a site for book bloggers to connect with new titles and review them: Bookbridgr, endorsing how useful the blogosphere can be for marketing. Here’s another site that links book authors directly to bloggers: Bookbloggerlist.
If you’re floundering as to where to start hunting down bloggers, then Alltop, which agregrates websites and blogs in every subject matter, may help.
At a writing festival recently, thriller writer Matt Johnson suggested that book blogging can be a good way to get a manuscript seen by publishers, when they already know and like the way you review.
In this blog, I write partly for freelance writers, often starting out on their careers. So on the whole, you don’t have a lot of disposable cash…Forgive me, those of you are loaded.
But my cv and online courses are evidence of knowing something about writing, so this means I’m asked to provide consultancy services to government and on and offline teaching media to institutions. They are people with reliable cash in this niche.
While these clients are not necessarily the sexiest, they are usually stable and trustworthy. And the other consideration is that while these clients are not spending their own money, they are often prepared to invest in high quality writing, which will make them look good and endure.
How do you meet these people? Well, keep an eye on conferences and meet-ups in your sector which have a government and institutional bias, or if you’re seeking PR and marketing professionals in your sector, then do the same. Check out Eventbrite and MeetUps in your locality.
Sam, a freelance writer friend, has an admirable technique. He’ll say: Obviously I’ve bread to put on the table, children to school and dogs to worm, but may I ask what is what is the top rate you’d consider for this job, and would you be so kind as to consider paying me this?’ It works like a charm, he says. Gentle humour can be a great way of dispensing with embarrassment…(the embarrassment could be just a Brit thing, so please ignore if it does not apply to you).
You’ll find more on market rates in this post.
To be truly helpful to a client as a freelance writer, you need to know what their overall goals are.
When Finn stared blogging for a HR dept, he suspected it was just ‘something we feel we should do’. But as the client got to like his work and ideas, she told him the company was most interested in the online education potential of HR. So Finn suggested some E-Book and video ideas, which got commissioned. He quickly had to find a freelance team who could help him with production aspects beyond his skills.
Many effective executives are too busy with their day-to-day job concerns, to poke about in online potential and creative ways to explore this. You can do this for them. The demand is there, as this article shows, with Business Writing coming in quite high on the list.
The upside of having an idea-supplier relationship with your client, is that you no longer need to sell yourself to them. You can use enthusiasm and your latest discovery instead. What this means though is that you have to be quite nifty at finding out what new ideas are emerging and how they work. You’ll need google alerts to the most newsworthy sites in your sector, and you’ll need to decide where to upskill yourself and where to outsource to other freelancers. And you’ll be helping your clients move forward bringing both business and relationship value to your collaboration.
It makes me think of that old saying about luck being the result of preparation and opportunity.