Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

Years ago, when I first started writing, I was more worried about seeing my name in print than I was about getting paid for my work. So, like many other “new” authors, I threw just about everything against the wall while I fulfilled my real life obligations. Would a part-time job pay my rent while I wrote at night? What about a full-time job as a writer? Or how about a volunteer position where I can write to build up my resume? What shortcuts did I need to take to see my name in print?

Red Question Mark | Used from Stock.xchngIf you’ve ever been in the “I need to pay rent and I don’t like junk food” place that I’ve been in before, you’ve probably had these same discussions with yourself. Then, when any and all forms of writing assignments start piling in, you get excited because dammit, you’re a writer. Did it matter you just worked for three weeks on an article and didn’t get paid for it? Did it matter you don’t own the rights to what you just wrote? No. What mattered is that you wrote and got published, so you start to let a lot of things slide.

Then, at some point, you wake up and you smell burnt coffee. You get burned. Badly. Someone republishes your work and scrapes your name off the credits and expects you to shove your angst under the rug. A partner manages to “forget” you signed a contract and drops off the face of the planet, so you never get paid for weeks of effort. The story you handed in is different from the story that got published and you were never notified. An editor lost your manuscript. The pitch you handed in years ago is now a multimillion dollar book and no one believes it was your idea. The list of crimes against writers goes on and on and on.

Here’s a tough question for you: Would you quit a job if your boss was being an asshole? Then why on earth would you allow yourself or your work to be treated like crap?

Quite frankly, the cost of making bad decisions is a lot higher than you might think because writers are not paid according to the time and knowledge required for a polished manuscript. Not only is your name and your reputation attached to whatever it is that you’re doing, the time that you spend dealing with crappy projects means that you’re losing money because you’re spending less time on the projects that have a better chance of succeeding. When you’re new to writing, it’s great to experiment so you can find out where your strengths and weaknesses are. But what happens when you’re no longer new? Have you thought about turning down projects you don’t want?

Now, some of you might think that there should be some sort of database out there to pinpoint who the assholes are. However, that is not a professional thing to do because while you may have had a crappy experience with one publisher, a different writer may have had a great one. Yes, patterns can develop, but every situation is usually different because there are two sides to every story. You may be pissed off that you didn’t get paid, but the company could have been filing for bankruptcy, experienced personnel changes or has a policy against paying for delivered work past the deadline you were supposed to meet. Remember, too, there are cases where bad things happen not because a publisher is an evil bastard, but because you’ve experienced a breakdown in your communication with them. That last bit is part of the reason why I believe good, two-way communication is so essential to any writer’s overall success.

So what happens when you get burned? Well, first you have to rant about it in private. (Yes, you really do!) While you’re at it, order a very large margarita, go for a run or play a game. Then, at some point you have to learn when to cut your losses and move on.

In my mind, I don’t believe enough writers ask themselves why they are working on projects that they’ve committed themselves to. To those of you who haven’t gotten paid for your work yet, I understand what you’re going through. You’re hungry to get their name out there. I get that. I really, really do. If you are happy blogging or writing fan fiction and now you’ve got a ton of readers then that’s great! Are you happy writing for free or do you want your readers to pay you? Have you ever asked yourself how much you want to get paid? Are you being realistic with those expectations? Do you know what writing you can get paid for versus what writing you can’t?

The quick response to these types of questions is to say something like, “Well, so-and-so author ended up making millions by bucking the traditional system this way…” While that is true, those experiences are not typical for most writers. What I’m trying to convey in this post, are the questions the rest of us need to ask ourselves. Lightning can strike, but I wouldn’t bank my career on it. Would you?

Is Your Next Writing Project Worth the Trouble? Use the K.I.S.S. System and Find Out!

There are a lot of ways to communicate your point, but sometimes the simplest vocabulary and the shortest sentences offer the the biggest benefit. While every writer knows and understands that, what’s not so simple is our process for making decisions.

Enter the K.I.S.S. system, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. (The acronym can also be used to describe Keep It Short and Simple, too.)

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the challenge for a lot of writers is this little thing called “the brain.” This spongy mass tends to get in the way of great writing because it’s easy to “over-think” your projects and what you’re working on. Having a strategy to write is one thing, but thinking about your writing so much that you end up either a) not writing or b) writing something you’re not happy about. Our writing ends up suffering because we feel obligated to write something rather than focus on something we want to write.

If you feel you’re over-rationalizing your projects, then read on because I’ve got good news for you. You can use the K.I.S.S. system to simplify your woes and get back to writing what you want to write. All you have to do is ask yourself these simple questions and limit your responses to one, two or three word answers.

I’d like to help you by using an example. Let’s say you are tasked with writing an e-book about how to use WordPress. Here’s how the K.I.S.S. system can help you:

    1. What am I writing? – e-book
    2. Who am I writing it for? – first-time users
    3. What is the format of my project? – how-to, non-fiction
    4. What is the primary focus? – explain main features
    5. Do I need to do any research for this project? – no
    6. Do I need to use any additional skills? – yes, screen shots
    7. Is the project paid or unpaid? – paid
    8. What do I achieve by working on this project? – money, publication credit
    9. Do I own the rights to the content? – no
    10. Is there a contract? – yes, work-for-hire
    11. Are edits including in the contract? – no
    12. Is this a project I want to write or have to write? – have to, money
    13. Am I getting paid fairly? – no
    14. Is the publisher reputable? – yes
    15. How much time will this take? – 10 to 15 hours

Here you can see that fifteen questions, broken down into simple answers, offer a wealth of information. In this example, the writer can see at-a-glance what the project will entail from the legal side of things to the production side. Based on these fifteen questions and responses, is this a project you would take on in your schedule?

If you’re interested in a related topic, I offered a little bit of information on this when I designed some writing exercises to learn word conservation. The K.I.S.S. system can also be applied to the way in which you write as well. A writer’s style is often something that develops naturally over time. Using simple, clear phrases can help improve your writing in some cases, but may not work for every project that you’re writing for.

What kinds of questions would you ask yourself when working on a project? Can you limit your answers like I did?

How Clients Get Away With Not Paying Freelancers (And What You Can Do About It)

piggy-bankAs I mentioned earlier this week in a post about why writers need to list more skills than just writing, it’s not uncommon for businesses to undervalue communication to cut financial corners. Many businesses will add company communications to other positions as a way to save money, especially if it’s not the businesses primary product or focus. Please keep in mind that I’m not talking about writing reviews or blogging here, because there may be instances where writing for free makes sense to build your online presence.

As writing and content strategy professionals, we may specialize in fiction or non-fiction because that is what defines us. Writing is our “product” that we deliver to clients in a timely fashion. We expect to get paid for what we do, because we don’t want to work for free.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to writing that I wanted to share with you today. That darker side is what happens when we isolate ourselves from one another and don’t do our homework on the businesses we work for. It’s what happens when we chase the rainbow because we want to get those elusive writing credits and get ahead. The result? We don’t get paid.
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How Much Should You Get Paid to Blog?

Are you new to blogging? Do you know how much writers typically get paid per blog post? Back before blogging existed, most writers would get paid by the word. The higher the word count, the better pay a writer might receive, the more prestigious the publication. For example, publications with national distribution models might offer $1.00 a word on up. Fiction, on the other hand, ranges from free to 5 cents a word on up. You can see a huge disparity in how fiction is paid even through the two, free fiction directory websites that I had listed earlier.

Taken from the perspective that writers should “charge by the word,” I’ve run into the challenge of explaining not only “what” blogging is to some of my fellow writers, but how much they can expect to get paid. One example of this, is that I forwarded a job listing for freelancing to a writer who was looking for work. The job was pretty decent: $10-15 per 300-500 word post on a regular basis. The writer responded by telling me that the company obviously couldn’t afford them, even though they had never blogged before.
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The Cost of Writing Fiction versus Nonfiction

Before I’ve offer you some suggestions on resources you can utilize to get published, I’d like to point out the financial aspect of writing. My only caveat to this post, is that parts of this post compare the difference between how much a short story pays versus what a nonfiction article might. Books and blogging are two entirely different matters, and I am doing everything I can to get some realistic figures and feedback in order to provide you with factual information. Regardless, the truth of the matter is that nonfiction pays more than fiction. Let’s take a look at some sample numbers for a 2,500 word article versus a science fiction short story.

The nonfiction rate came from a major magazine with a large distribution; the fiction rate is a “professional writer’s rate” advocated by the Science Fiction Writer’s Association. When you have a chance to sit down and look at all the different publishers yourself (the most common one being Writer’s Market’s paid subscription service, you’ll often see that nonfiction consistently pays more than fiction does.

What does this mean to you?
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