April 17, 2014

Weekend Reading: E-Readers & Bringing New Eyes to Blog Posts

reading on a laptopNo guest posts this week, so instead I’m sharing a roundup of the links I’ve been reading lately. (By the way, you’re interested in contributing a guest post, now’s a great time to get in touch with me. Please check out the guest blogger guidelines first.)

–If you’ve been blogging for awhile, then Lexi Rodrigo offers some great ideas in her post, How to Bring New Eyes to Old Blog Posts.
–In an infographic called Uncovering the Freelance Economy, the Zaarly blog shows how writers stack against other types of freelancer.
–Considering buying an e-reader? Check out Kimberly Palmer’s article, Which E-Reader Has the Best Customer Service?, for a succinct breakdown of your options.
–Kelly James-Enger’s 10 Common Freelance Mistakes and How to Fix Them is a must-read for newbies and veteran freelancers alike, featuring lots of links to Kelly’s previous posts.
–Looking ahead to September (where did the summer go?), Emily Suess of Suess’s Pieces has announced a week of prizes and contests for writers, September 12-16. (Hat tip to Jake Poinier of Dr. Freelance for the tip.)
What have you been reading lately? Any links you’d recommend? Enjoy your weekend!

Open Thread: What’s Your Biggest Challenge?

For me personally, and for many of the freelancers I’ve talked to, the hardest part of making a living is balancing the marketing/networking and the actual work. When I’m in the midst of a big project, it’s hard to justify spending time searching for new projects or writing query letters when there’s a paid assignment on the table. We remind ourselves that “someday this project will end” and we know that we should be marketing ourselves constantly, but many of us don’t.

I’m not a procrastinator by nature (quite the opposite), so when I get an assignment, my first inclination is to start gathering sources and dive right in. But if it’s not a last-minute assignment, I try to keep querying and get more ideas circulating before I start on an article. If that doesn’t work, then I can also contact clients I’ve worked with in the past, which is often quicker than prospecting for new ones. Still, it’s a tough balance because both finding the work and doing the work.

What do you find most challenging about being a freelancer?

Are You Earning What You’re Worth?

Lori Widmer has declared today Writer’s Worth Day, so that’s the topic of today’s post. Lori’s blog features some great tips for writers on earning what you’re worth, and I encourage you to hope on over to Words on the Page and take a look.

I can’t tell you exactly how much you ought to charge for writing, because there are too many variables, and frankly, I’m still figuring this out myself. Experience, geography, and the complexity of the project all factor in. Still, there are some instances where I think it’s safe to say that you’re getting screwed. Here they are…

  • Your 16-year-old cousin earns more folding t-shirts at American Eagle. Remember, as a self-employed professional, you have to buy your own health insurance and equipment, plus pay self-employment tax. Regardless of where you live or how experienced you are, you should be earning more than minimum wage. Period.
  • Your per word rate is decent, but after three rounds of edits, the story is half the original length and your hourly rate is too depressing to even think about. Maybe you’re doing this for the clip (which is fine), but it in the future, try to limit yourself to one round of edits, two tops. Anything more than that, and it’s time to renegotiate your fee. I just put my foot down after revisions on an article got out of hand, and the editor finally agreed with me. Be professional, but don’t be a pushover.
  • You’re earning $XX for every thousand page views. I don’t care what some smooth-talking web entrepreneur tells you, this setup almost never amounts to much for the writer. If you don’t believe me, then read what WritersWeekly recently uncovered about Examiner.com’s payment model. They tried to recruit me awhile back, and I thought I smelled a rat. Turns out my instincts were right.
  • Your client calls every half hour to micromanage a project and you don’t bill for that time. If you’re not billing by the hour, then it’s time to start screening your calls! If you are, then you should tack that time onto your invoice. It will help long-winded clients stay on topic and prevent you from losing valuable work time.
  • The project changes scope, but the budget doesn’t change. Ah, the classic bait and switch. Sometimes you have to be a little flexible when an editor suddenly remembers they need someone to shoot photos or write a sidebar, but they don’t have any extra money in the budget. If it happens once or twice, I try to go with the flow and hope it results in additional assignments down the line (karma, baby!). But if it happens consistently, then I have to put my foot down and only deliver what was originally agreed upon.

Have you ever found yourself in one of these scenarios? How did you handle it? And how do you communicate your value to a client?

Flickr photo courtesy of nathangibbs

5 Tips for Organizing Source Material

Recently I’ve had a lot more source-heavy articles. In the past two weeks, I’ve written articles involving a total of fifteen sources. This may not sound like much to people who work in newspapers (all two of you), but it does take some wrangling and organizing.

It took me awhile to work out a system for organizing my research and shaping that research into an article, so I thought I’d share my process. Obviously, there are as many ways to get organized as there are writers, but here’s what works for me.

1. Create folders for each publication. Each time I get an assignment from a new publication, I create a new folder on my computer for that publication, and once I get a repeat assignment, I create subfolders for each assignment to keep the invoice, research, any photos, and the finished article together. Periodically, I move around these folders, so if I haven’t worked with a publication for several months, I’ll move their folder into a sub-folder called “Inactive Pubs.” Still with me?

2. Set up a master document with your interview questions. Often I’m asking the same questions to multiple sources, so if I wrote up my questions and filled in the answers on the same document, I wouldn’t have another set of questions for the next person. Instead, I use a master version of the interview questions (which sometimes get emailed to my editor for approval first) and do a copy/paste or save as for each interview subject. Then I save the document with the source’s name in the file name (or some other keyword to jog my memory). I also use Google desktop so if I know a key word or phrase from the interview but don’t remember the source’s name, I can find it up that way.

3. NEVER delete anything from your interview notes. I don’t record interviews because that makes some sources nervous, plus the laws vary by state. Instead, I use my Skype headset and type up my notes in shorthand. When I started writing features and profiles, I used to edit the document where I typed all my notes and shape that into the finished article. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, if your editor has a question, you don’t have your notes for back-up. Second, you might delete something and then decide you need that really great quote after all. Third, you might be able to repurpose some of the extra information into a new article. Now I keep those documents separate.

4. Keep track of what quotes you’re using. Sometimes I print out my interview notes and mark up the sections that I find most interesting. More often, I go through the document and as I copy and paste quotes into my article, I italicize those sections so I can see what I’ve already used to avoid duplication. That also shows what I can use for other articles without overlapping. For one article involving six different sources, I used tick marks in a separate document to ensure that the number of quotes was roughly equal. I didn’t do this to protect their egos; I did it because I didn’t want one source’s opinion to appear dominant to the reader.

5. Avoid over-promising to sources. Lots of times sources want to know when the article will run, and I always try to be vague. Sometimes I know when it’s supposed to run, but other times I have no freaking idea. Better to say, “this is tentatively scheduled for June” than to promise them the June cover story. Or just say, “my editor hasn’t scheduled this yet, but I’ll send you link once it goes live.” And if you’re collecting photos, tell them you’ll forward their photos to the art department, but you don’t have any control over what they decide to use. That way you’re not setting yourself up for an angry source.

How do you handle source material? Any tips I’ve missed?

Flickr photo courtesy of Brandon Cirillo