September 17, 2014

Open Thread: What’s Your Biggest Freelance Challenge?

My freelance pal Steph Auteri wrote a great tell-it-like-it-is post a few weeks back about five common freelance writer pitfalls, among them query fear, inability to negotiate, issues with scope creep, and burnout. I’d like to use that post as a jumping off point for today’s open thread, so click on over and read the full post. I’ll wait.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss. Do you agree or disagree with these pitfalls? Are there other challenges you face as a freelance professional? I found it interesting that Steph lumped scope creep and time management together. When she crowdsourced ideas on Twitter, I chimed in with scope creep, because much as I try to spell out the project scope before we get started, I often field requests for extras like brainstorming taglines or completing an extra round of revisions because they changed their target keywords. Time management isn’t such an issue for me (especially not since I read 168 Hours), but managing scope creep can be a major challenge. What about you?

More Than Magazines: 5 Opportunities for Writers

Have a question about freelance writing? I’ll be answering questions as a guest on Carol Tice’s The Freelance Writer’s Free-for-All this Wednesday at noon PST/3pm EST. The live phone chat is free but you do need to register in advance.
Last year, I blogged about eight alternatives to magazines. As the content landscape evolves, it creates new opportunities for writers, especially those who are adaptable and willing to think beyond traditional media. That was the reoccurring theme at the ASJA conference earlier this year and it’s something I’ve really taken to heart.
Here are a few more alternatives to magazine markets.
  1. Social media ghosting.
    Many companies and solopreneurs want an active social media presence but don’t have time to actually tweet or blog themselves. Enter the social media ghost, often a freelance writer who’s social media savvy enough to write tweets and status updates in the client’s voice. I’ve done this for a few clients where I email a set number of tweets weekly and the client schedules the tweets she wants to use. I send a few extras with the understanding that she might tweak or nix a few tweets (hence why I send more than she actually needs) but she pays a flat rate per month. One strategy for finding these gigs is to pitch your social media skills to an existing client and use that to gain referrals.
  2. Conference coverage.
    This is not a new phenomenon but it’s a niche I recently discovered. Organizations that host conferences often publish conference recaps for those who couldn’t attend. It requires excellent note-taking skills and the ability to synthesize a large volume of information. Want to know more? Read my tips for covering conferences. I landed my conference coverage gig through networking but if you live in an area that attracts a lot of conferences, you might pitch yourself to some of the organizations that are planning conferences or introduce yourself to the conference planners at local hotels in case they’re able to refer you.
  3. Video script writing.
    In case you haven’t heard, video is the new hotness, so as more and more companies create instructional videos, webisodes, and other video content, they need writers who can translate a concept into a video script. I haven’t done this myself, but Carol Tice reports on her blog that writing video scripts can pay a very decent hourly rate. Just remember that web surfers have a short attention span, so online videos are generally short and tightly focused to keep their attention.
  4. Case study writing.
    Yet another opportunity that’s not entirely new but as the need for quality online content grows, case studies are often part of that equation. In her Writer Profits blog, Susan Carter offers tips on writing successful case studies. Since case studies are essentially based on stories, it’s an ideal format for journalists with a knack for weaving together details and writing narrative.
  5. Teaching.
    Teaching writing or related subjects may not bring you big bucks but it’s a great way to boost your credibility and network with others. I teach an intro to freelance writing course at Boston Center for Adult Education, and each class gives me something to think about (and write about) as students often ask interesting questions that give me a new perspective on writing. I’ve also made some new friends through BCAE and hope to offer an online version the class someday. If you’re interested in teaching, scout around your local adult or community education center as a starting point. If you have a master’s degree, you might be able to land an adjunct professor gig as well.
Have you tried any of these avenues? Which ones have you found most interesting? What other opportunities would you add to this list?
Flickr photo courtesy of the Italian voice

Guest Post: Writers and the Threat of Digital Theft

By Sandra Aistars

Everyday, we encounter the work of professional writers. Whether in articles in the newspaper, a book we are reading for pleasure, a blog about our favorite hobby or the copy on a website where we do our online banking, authors enrich and inform our daily lives. Writers write to entertain and to educate, to express and to articulate ideas. Professional writers also write to keep a roof over their head; they earn a living as freelancers and novelists, writing articles and even copy for the web.

The Internet has opened new doors, allowing writers to publish instantaneously on a blog, taking magazines and even books online, and making self-publishing a reality. It allows writers to connect with readers in entirely new ways, and connects colleagues for collaborations across the country. But for all these innovations, it has also opened new doors for their work to be stolen and misappropriated.

Writers, like all who work in creative fields, know too well the threat that digital theft poses to their livelihoods. Chances are better than good that you, or a colleague of yours, has seen your work appear online without your permission, or seen someone else profit from distributing your work without authorization. You know that “free” – even if it is illegal – is hard to compete with.

Websites that traffic in unlicensed, infringing content steal not only writers’ work, but also their relationship with their customers. They insinuate themselves into the rapport that could have been formed between the author and her readers via the author’s own website. To further add insult to injury, these infringing sites are then profiting from the work they stole, either by charging for the content or through ad revenues derived from their sites. This is damaging not only to the financial well being of writers, but also to the well being of their craft. Instead of spending the time and energy they could have used writing, authors are forced to spend it tracking down illegal activity.

For these and many other reasons, the Copyright Alliance created a new website, Artists Against Digital Theft. The site provides all creators a platform to speak up about their experiences battling digital theft. Kim Bahnsen, an author from Iowa, shared that she has seen her print runs decrease and her advances get smaller as the result of book piracy, making her ability to earn a living as a writer increasingly difficult. As she says, “Piracy adversely affects me because people who download free copies of my books don’t turn around and buy them later, or buy my next release. That is the most egregious untruth told by the pirates.”

On the site, you can share your story and contact Congress, letting them know that you support their efforts to curb this ever-growing problem of digital theft. Among those efforts is the recent introduction in the U.S. Senate of the bipartisan PROTECT IP Act, a bill that would give law enforcement the tools it needs to target operators of rogue sites that are dedicated to for-profit trafficking in counterfeit goods and unlicensed copyrighted works.

Why did we do this? Artists need to know that there are aggressive voices on the other side who believe artists’ rights should take a back seat to the interests of those who seek to obtain their work for free. Creators need a forum to ensure that these voices do not go unchallenged. The works you write should be afforded the same respect afforded to products created by other small businesses and entrepreneurs in your community.

Unchallenged, the future of digital theft paints a bleak picture for creativity. Brenna Lyons, a Massachusetts-based writer explains, “What we have now, without legislation powerful enough to protect us and with the safe harbor laws working against us, is a system where everyone can make good money on the work of a creator but the creator herself. At what point did we lose sight of the fact that intellectual property–the right to say who can reproduce and distribute our works…even sell our works–is the sole property of the creator? Without that, creators stop sharing their creations. What a lackluster world that would be.”

Sandra Aistars headshotSandra Aistars is the Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization of artists, producers and distributors from across the copyright spectrum. Prior to joining the Alliance, Sandra served as Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Time Warner Inc., where she coordinated the company’s intellectual property strategies. She has provided pro bono legal counsel throughout her career to numerous independent artists and creators including singer-songwriters and non-profit arts organizations.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

Open Thread: Networking Success Stories

Every so often, a writer or other freelancer tells me how much they hate networking, how it just doesn’t pay off for them, and how they’d much rather be at home watching episodes of True Blood.

Yes, networking often forces you out of your comfort zone and into a roomful of strangers. Rarely does it offer an immediate pay-off and sometimes it doesn’t pay off at all. But when it works, it works.
That’s why I’d like to swap networking success stories for this week’s open thread to show how some of the best freelance opportunities come from your network. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Twitter or LinkedIn or attending meetings of your local chamber of commerce or meeting other writers informally for coffee. The important thing is to get your name out there and get involved in the community.
Two stories that illustrate my point:
  • A few years ago, as I prepared to visit some friends in Washington, D.C, I decided to email a blogger I admire and see if she’d like to meet for coffee while I was in the area. We had a lovely time over coffee, so I looked her up the next time I visited D.C. and she asked if I’d like to come along to her writer’s group. There I met several other writers and we started following each other on Twitter. I saw a few of them again at the ASJA conference. One of the D.C. writers heard from her editor that she needed someone in Boston to cover a conference, so she referred me and that wound up being a very fruitful opportunity. (That editor also needed a photographer so I found a friend of a friend and referred him, too.)
  • Before I left my full-time job, I heard about a copywriting company that subcontracts projects to freelancers. Turns out one of my mentors knew the founders so she suggested I contact them. At first they didn’t have any projects that fit my skills. But I kept in touch, sending a holiday card and semi-regular emails until (almost a year later) they needed someone to write product descriptions for a toy catalogue. I worked on that project for nearly two years, and I’ve written for their other retail clients as well.
What about you? Have you landed a new gig thanks to social networking? Or do you focus more on in-person networking? What’s worked best for you and do you have any success stories to share?
Flickr photo courtesy of Litandmore