Monday, June 29, 2009

Freelance Resource Monday: The Must-Have List

As a writer, what resources can't you live without?

For me, the must-have list includes:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (11th edition)
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition)
Strunk & White's Elements of Style
Google (or any search engine that gets me to the background information I'm looking for)

What did I miss?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers—Or Can They?

I am looking at the freelance writing job board for possible gigs. Many of them are low-paying—much lower than the rate I’ve calculated I need to make per hour to cover my expenses and earn a reasonable living. So I choose not to apply for them. It’s the right choice, I know. I need to have standards.

But I need work. I have bills to pay. I need something now. Isn’t minimum wage better than nothing?

These are the sort of dilemmas freelance writers face every day. These are the sort of dilemmas I’m facing every day.

Freelance writing rates have spurred some hot debates recently (see below for links to a few of the many posts on the subject). And for good reason. The rates many individuals and companies post along with their job descriptions on Craigslist, freelance job lists, and the like are low. Terribly low. We’re talking pennies per word. Ten dollars or less for a fully researched, well-written blog post. We’re talking much less than minimum wage.

And the thing is, people are willing to do that work for those rates. So more potential employers post their gigs with miserably low compensation. It’s a vicious cycle, and one I refuse to jump into. I am worth more as a writer than those companies are willing to pay. I am not that desperate. I will get a gig waiting tables on the side or will take on teaching more composition classes to pay my bills before I’ll settle for giving away my hard writing work for free.

Unless, of course, a publication I’m incredibly passionate about pays paltry rates. If I get a chance to write about a topic that means a lot to me or for an organization whose cause I believe in, that’s a different story. But to pour my heart and soul into a writing assignment for some nameless person halfway across the country who’s willing to send me a check for less than $10? Um, no.

Still, if it comes down to crappy payment for work or no payment at all, is it any wonder that fledgling writers are taking what they can get?

Where do you draw the line?

Learn More
Why Bloggers Should Be Paid More (Men with Pens)
Why Some Freelance Writers Accept Such Low Pay Rates (
Freelance Writing Rates (ScrawlBug)
Why Low Pay is Bad Pay, No Matter the Rate (Erik Sherman’s Writer Biz)
Harlan Ellison: Pay the Writer (Freelance Writing Gigs)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Are You Ready to Make the Leap? (Part 4)

Hello again. It’s time for part four in the “Are You Ready to Make the Leap?” series. In case you’re just joining, I’ve already provided a rundown on three signs that you might be ready to pursue a freelance career full-time. But there are still a few more to go before we’re finished. So we’ll jump right in with number four, after I catch you up with the first three.

1. You’re restless.

You’re looking for flexibility.

You have the right personality.

4. You have steady work. Now, I don’t want to scare you, but if you’re making the leap without a single freelance writing assignment or project lined up, you’re going to be in trouble. Applying for open freelance positions, marketing yourself, sending out letters of introduction, writing queries—all of these things take time. Then you still have to do the assignment, invoice for it, and wait for the check. If you don’t have something lined up before you get out of your current position, you may be waiting a long time before you see any cash coming in—I’m not talking weeks here, I’m talking months.

Plus, if you haven’t dipped your toe in the water to see what work you can get, how can you be confident you can make a go of it? That’s why so many freelance writers get started part-time, writing in the mornings or evenings or on weekends around their full-time jobs. It gives them a chance to build their portfolios and their confidence, to make industry contacts, to line up assignments that hopefully lead to even more assignments.

There isn’t a magic formula for how much freelance work is enough to go it alone. I didn’t have enough to fully replace my full-time income when I quit, but I got to the point where I couldn’t take on any more work if I was still working full-time. I had reached the point of no return, where I either had to stop pursuing freelance work, focus on what I already had, and keep my day job or ditch the day job and forge ahead with freelancing. I chose the latter.

What will you choose?

Photo: ClickFlashPhotos

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are You Ready to Make the Leap? (Part 3)

I’m back with another installment in the “Are You Ready to Make the Leap?” series, designed to help you figure out if it’s time to pursue the freelance life. We’ve already heard two “start thinking about leaving if ...” situations. Now it’s time for the third.

1. You’re restless.

2. You’re looking for flexibility.

3. You have the right personality. Not everyone is cut out for the freelancer’s life. On the surface, it seems pretty cush. Work in your pajamas. Get up when you want, quit when you want. Pick work when you want to. Be your own boss.

But the reality is, it’s hard.

When I started working from home remotely for my previous career, I had plenty of people tell me, “Wow. I don’t know how you do it. I would never have the dedication to work from home.”

They’re a step ahead of many freelancers, who leap without realizing just how much work is involved.

It’s true: I could leave my office right now and go watch TV. I can go to the gym, the grocery store, the bank whenever I want. If I want to take a snooze, I could walk away from my computer at any moment and do just that. Yet for the most part, since I started my own full-time freelance writing business a couple of weeks ago, I’ve put in at least 7 hours a day (and sometimes many, many more than that)—mostly sitting like I am right now, at my desk, in my office.

Some people have the right personality for this kind of work. They’re independent, they can handle being alone without someone to chat with for hours at a time. They’re focused and dedicated and not easily distracted. They can juggle multiple projects and tasks at one time and switch quickly between them, without waiting for someone else to supervise and tell them what to do.

Does that sound like you? Then you may be ready. If not, think a little harder. There isn’t one personality you must have to make freelancing work for you. But if you’re easily distracted or are thinking about freelancing just so you can enjoy the free and easy benefits, I wouldn’t jump quite yet. Remember, it’s freelance work. Not freelance leisure.

Photo: ClickFlashPhotos

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are You Ready to Make the Leap? (Part 2)

If you’re trying to figure out whether it’s time to quit your day job and pursue a freelance career full-time, you’ve come to the right place.

This week, I’m giving a rundown of some of the signs that led me to pursue freelance writing and editing full-time. If you recognize any of these signs in your own life, it may be time to get serious about pursuing the freelance life.

1. You’re restless.

2. You’re looking for flexibility. When I decided to quit, I was trying to juggle 30 hours a week at my full-time job (after having dropped down from 40, thanks to an incredibly accommodating boss), graduate classes, and teaching composition at a local college. Oh, and I was taking on freelance writing and editing projects too.

Trying to squeeze my 30 “official” work hours in during prime work time for the rest of my company was tricky—and sometimes I felt like I was leaving my coworkers high and dry when I wasn’t around.

But I needed flexibility, so if I had a term paper due I could spend more time that day on researching and writing the paper, or if my students had turned in their term papers I had enough time to grade them in a timely manner. I didn’t want to forsake my full-time writing and editing duties, I just needed the time I devoted to them to be a bit more loosely structured. And that wasn’t really possible—the 30-hour workweek was a generous concession, but asking for even more flexibility would have been too much.

I realize, of course, that the flexibility of my 30-hour workweek (with a whacky schedule to accommodate mid-day teaching) is a rarity. But if you’re interested in sticking with your current job yet could use some freedom to pursue grad classes or freelance more, it doesn’t hurt to ask your employer what your options are. Particularly in this economy, some employers may even welcome alternative work arrangements. Just think hard before you do—what happens if she says yes? What schedule will you propose? Are you prepared to do more work in less time and bring home a smaller paycheck?

And if she says no? Are you ready to pursue more freelance work without the safety net of full-time income and benefits?

Learn More
Well, I Quit My Day Job
To Plunge or Not to Plunge: Becoming a Fulltime Freelancer
Free Download: Are You Ready to Quit Your Job and Work from Home?
Before You Quit Your Day Job: 12 Practical Ways to Build an Emergency Fund
The Transition from Part-Time to Full-Time Freelancer

Photo: ClickFlashPhotos

Are You Ready to Make the Leap? (Part 1)

I’ve been asked before by intrepid writers who, like I was, aren’t sure when to take the leap into freelance writing: How do you know? How do you know for sure when the time is right to go full-time?

My answer probably isn’t what they want to hear, but hopefully they give me points for honesty: You don’t. Unless you suddenly get laid off from a job or a dream writing project falls in your lap one day out of the blue, you can’t possibly know for certain now is the time to leap.

I thought about going it alone for months, agonized about it even, before I decided it was time to say goodbye to my job and take the plunge. When I did, I wasn’t hit with a big revelation. I wasn’t positive I could even make it work. But the stars aligned just enough that I decided it was time to try.

Looking for signs that it’s time? This week, I’m going to share (one at a time, so this post doesn’t stretch on for eons!) signs that I took heed to—and that you might want to consider as well.

First up: You’re restless.

I was lucky enough to have a job that I enjoyed, to work with people I appreciated. But I got restless and realized I needed a change—I wasn’t engaged in my work like I had been before, I had other interests outside of work that were suddenly more appealing. Despite the fact that I was working on some great projects and enjoyed my coworkers, I wasn’t as inspired as I had been in the past.

Stop and think: What would make you happy right now? What would keep you engaged in your work? Do you simply want a different position with your company? Is there conflict with a coworker or supervisor that's fueling your boredom? Or is it more than that—are you dying to get out on your own and be your own boss? Get to the root of the restlessness before you make any snap decisions.

Everyone gets an itch to do something new once in a while. But if all you can think about scratching that itch, and the only antidote appears to be a freelance writing career, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about moving on.

Learn More
Well, I Quit My Day Job
To Plunge or Not to Plunge: Becoming a Fulltime Freelancer
Free Download: Are You Ready to Quit Your Job and Work from Home?
Before You Quit Your Day Job: 12 Practical Ways to Build an Emergency Fund
The Transition from Part-Time to Full-Time Freelancer

Photo: ClickFlashPhotos

Monday, June 22, 2009

Freelance Resource Monday: The Renegade Writer

The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell was the first freelance writing book I ever purchased. I was in New York at a college journalism convention and for some reason, broke as I was, I decided I had to have the book.

I've read it a couple of times since then, and you'd know instantly it's an often-used tome by the pages that are dog-eared, by the underlining and stars and the notes throughout.

What I love most about The Renegade Writer is exactly what you'd guess from the title: It bucks the rules. It is, as the tagline states, an unconventional guide to freelance success. Many freelance writing "rules" are made to be followed. But a whole lot of them can be ignored, I learned from Formichelli and Burrell, and you can still reach success. In fact, you'll get quicker responses from editors, you'll earn more for your work, and you'll thrive as a freelance writer.

The other thing that really stands out about the book is the way it's written. It's conversational and casual and even a bit snarky in places. Formichelli and Burrell are honest and aren't afraid to share their insider secrets and fill you in exactly what has—and hasn't—worked for them.

Plus it's inspiring. These writers have made it and, armed with their pointers, it's possible the rest of us can too.

Since the relase of The Renegade Writer in 2003, the authors have also written The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock. (I haven't checked it out yet, but it is on my to-read list.) And, perhaps best of all, they blog away about their renegade ways at The Renegade Writer Blog.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Let It Go To Your Head

Many freelance writers, myself included, tend to downplay compliments that come our way. Someone says something nice about our writing or our interviewing skills or whatever it may be, and we say thanks and shrug it off and go back to whatever it is we were doing before, without giving those kind words a second thought.

But when criticism comes our way, it’s a different story. We’ll latch on to every little word that comes out of someone’s mouth (or from an email) and agonize over what we did wrong and how we can make things right. We’ll toss and turn at night thinking about how we screwed up, about what we should’ve done differently, even if all we did was spell a word wrong.

I was reminded of this yesterday. Sometimes I can be a bit hasty in my blog posts, particularly when I’m trying to juggle wanting to write to my much-loved readers with finding time to write (for money!) on a tight deadline. When I get a chance, I try to go back and read through recently published posts with fresh eyes to catch errors. But every once in a while, someone will beat me to it and alert me to a typo. I'm grateful for it, but then I’m relentless about going in immediately and fixing it, and then re-reading as many posts I can get through afterward, because I’m just sure there are more problems lurking in there somewhere.

Why not spend that much time on the positive feedback? Don’t we deserve it? Aren’t the kudos earned, after all, for our hard work?

Later yesterday, I received an email from a source for a profile I wrote recently. Essentially, he said that he’s been interviewed for a number of publications over the years and he wanted to let me know “with absolute candor and honesty” that he was impressed with how well done and accurate my work was.

I responded quickly without thinking much about it and said, “Thanks, I think it’s because I type so fast so I can get down every word sources say.”

Ah, the freelancer’s knack for deflecting praise with a swift click of the “send” button.

Only this source wasn’t having it. He emailed me again and said, “More than that, it’s good listening and care toward accuracy.”

The fact that this gentleman (who happens to be a CEO of a multimillion-dollar company, no less), took the time to respond again and, essentially, tap on the glass surrounding my writer’s bubble to let me know I really needed to understand what he was saying, got me thinking.

In our society, we’re surrounded by people who spend their days promoting themselves, who do little else besides think about how awesome they are (or think they are). Yet as writers, we tend to lurk in the background, to write our words and then disappear in the shadows so no one knows we were even there. That’s all well and good. But why don’t we take the praise? Why aren’t we proud enough to show it, to say, “You know what, I am good”?

Hence this post. I gave myself permission for a moment to revel in the compliment, to appreciate what this source said to me and to think about other positive things people have said about my work. I have to admit, it felt great. It was a huge confidence booster, and I returned to my work with renewed energy and dedication.

Now I think you should try it. Think about the last compliment someone gave you about your work. Roll it around in your head for a while. Pat yourself on your back.

Well done, writer. You deserve it. Really, you do.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music for Writing To

Writing under a deadline? Want to procrastinate? Suzanne Vega shares her list of top procrastination songs over at The New York Times.

Check it out, then let me know: What songs do you procrastinate to? And which songs make you more productive?

I'm writing under deadline right now and like a little background music–nothing too distracting. So far this morning iTunes has supplied Ray LaMontagne, Sara McLachlan, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, A Fine Frenzy, Josh Ritter, and Lisa Hannigan. (I'm on shuffle, folks. I haven't been writing for that long already!)

You Might Be a Freelancer If You're ...

Patient. You send out queries and LOIs. You hear nothing. You do not throw things at the wall, because you know this process takes time.

Persistent. Once you’ve been patient enough, you follow up. Again. And again. And then you send out another batch of queries and LOIs because You. Will. Not. Give. Up.

Confident. You know you’re talented. You know you have a great concept to sell. You’re a terrific—terrific—writer. Just because the people you’re pitching to are too blind to see it doesn’t mean you're not great.

Creative. You’re an idea person. You come up with new story concepts in the shower. On the treadmill. When you’re washing the dishes. You create story ideas on the fly but also know how to take a pitch that falls flat and craft it anew for a different editor or publication.

Thorough. Your queries are thoroughly researched, and the stories you write are even more so. You ask the hard questions of your sources. And you have a proofreader’s eye when it comes time to make final changes to your own writing. In other words, you are methodical and meticulous every step of the way.

Flexible. You get a last-minute assignment and have to work through most of the weekend to get it done. OK. Will do. Your editor has changed her mind and wants you to write a totally different article from the one you originally turned in. On it. You don’t get pushed around, but you are accommodating to clients’ needs.

Frugal. When the assignments (and the checks that go along with them) are coming in, you’re happy as can be. You may even splurge on something nice—perhaps that new laptop you desperately need or even a new outfit for when you actually get out of the house. But you know better than to go blow all that cash in one place, because this month might be a monsoon but next month there’s a very real chance you’ll be in a drought. Serious money management is the key to many a freelancer’s success.

Business-savvy. You know what editors are looking for in a query. You know how to craft your words in such a way that readers say wow. But beyond that, you can also keep your own books. You know what you need to know to run your business—and you know that as fun and fanciful as freelancing can be, it is a business.

Passionate. There are ups and there are downs in the freelancer’s life. You’re willing to take them all in stride because this is what you love. This is what you want to do. You can’t imagine yourself in an office working a 9-to-5 or behind the counter of a 7-11 or doing anything besides this right here—even on the tough days, it’s the best job in the world.

Now, freelancers, it's your turn: What did I miss?

Photo: Steve 2.0

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

For Love or Money

Here’s the thing. I want to write about the things I’m passionate about. I want to write for the publications I love. For the alternative press, for those small, savvy magazines that buck mainstream magazine formulas and somehow succeed. But a whole lot of those publications I want to write for don’t pay well, if at all.

Yes, I know I should be doing it for my love of writing, not my want for money.

But especially now that I'm freelancing full-time, those writing gigs I secure have to pay my bills. I have to eat. I enjoy traveling—and that’s expensive. I have to make a living.

So what’s an idealistic writer to do? What do you do?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Freelance Resource Monday: Mediabistro

When you're just starting out in the freelance writing world, you need help. Lots of it. You want to know what the heck a query is, where you're supposed to send it, what skills you need to have, how to market yourself, and a million more things. I hope to address many of these topics right here at Julie Tries Writing.

But until I do, you're in luck: there are a ton of fantastic resources—online, in print, you name it—to help you out. So I've decided that each Monday I'll share one of my favorite freelance writing resources with you, dear readers.

First up: Mediabistro.

It's a site dedicated to creative types who work with content, including editors, writers, graphic designers, book publishers, and more. You'll find the latest media news, blogs, jobs listings, and online and in-person writing courses and workshops. Plus you can create your own online freelance profile (for a fee) so employers can find you.

If you fork over $55 a year, you can become an AvantGuild member. Basically, it's an all-access pass to the Mediabistro site, including How to Pitch articles for your favorite pubs, professional resources lists, a mastheads database, an editorial calendar guide, salary surveys, discounts on eClasses and seminars, and more.

I regularly rely on How to Pitch articles and the mastheads database to get going with my queries. And I've even taken a Mediabistro class before (more on that soon).

There are a slew of other benefits too. As an AvantGuild member, you'll have access to health insurance discounts, financial planning and tax services discounts, dental savings, deals on books and magazine subscriptions, and more.

Now, I'll ask you: What freelance resources do you rely on? Share here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekend Work

I'm a big fan of weekends. Even now that I'm my own boss, I still count down to those two days each week when I can stay up later and sleep longer and do things like golf and garden and relax more—even though there's usually a bit of work thrown in.

This weekend, I'm actually running off to Vegas for a friend's bachelorette party. And, for what may be the first time in the past two years, I'm not taking my laptop with me so I can get work done on the plane. It's exhilarating. It's a bit nerve-wracking. Can I really cut the cord? (Of course, I will have an environmental law textbook to keep me company ...)

Here's a question for all you freelancers out there: Do you work on the weekend? Or do you try to take Saturday and Sunday off like "regular" working stiffs? If you do work on the weekend, do you try to limit your work time at all? Or is your schedule more fluid–if you work all day Sunday, do you try to take Monday off too? Or do you just snag random hours each day for personal time and boot the whole idea of a set schedule to the curb?

Share your schedule stories here. And have a great weekend—whether you're working or not!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Link Love: 5 Tips for College Freelancers

I just read a great post on tips for college students who want to freelance while they're in school over at Freelance Switch. If you're a college student looking to break into freelancing (or gearing up to generate more work), I suggest you check it out.

I started juggling school and freelance work after my junior year at Drake University. It does require some serious time management, but the rewards are worth it. When I graduated from school, I'd earned a decent amount of money and had a full portfolio of clips. Even if you're not landing high-paying gigs, it's worth it to get the experience and get your name out. Look for local publications, nonprofits, and small business who could use some help writing articles, crafting marketing materials, and so on. Trust me, it's worth your time, even if you aren't snagging cover stories for national magazines right away.

One last note: There's some debate as to whether you should present yourself as a college student or not. Most of the people I freelanced for knew I was a college student because I landed work with them through internships or Drake connections. But I definitely didn't go out of my way to publicize the fact. Right after I graduated, I started taking on copy editing projects. Most of my work was done remotely, so when editors actually met me in person they'd about fall of their chairs. "Wow! We didn't realize you were so young," I heard, more than once. There wasn't anything wrong with that fact, and at the point I met them it didn't matter because I'd already established myself as a copy editor.

I can't help wonder though: If they had known how young I was before I got the copy editing jobs, would those gigs have gone to someone else?

Mastering the Resume

Quick. List all the “resume writing rules” you’ve learned over the years.

Keep it on one page. It can be two pages. Keep the descriptions short. Be specific and detailed when you explain what you did. Include your college education. Don’t include your college education.


It’s enough to make any otherwise sane freelancer or job applicant go off the deep end. How can there be so many contradictory rules? And what the heck are you actually supposed to do?

I scoured the Internet looking for resume writing advice. And the conclusion? There are no hard-and-fast rules guaranteed to bring you success. That being said, these pointers can help:

Remember the basics. Make sure your full name and contact information is easy to spot. With each resume entry, include the employer name, your position, and the dates you held the job.

Know what to skip. Don’t bother listing references or complete addresses for employers on your resume. That takes up too much space. Just state that references are available upon request.

You don’t need to state an objective on your resume either. Particularly if you’re including a cover letter or letter of introduction, there’s no need to mess with explaining what you’re after on your resume. Instead, use that space to include more about your experience and qualifications.

Focus on experience before education. For freelancers, experience trumps education any day. So if you keep your education on your resume, move it to the bottom and keep it brief. On-the-job experience will set you apart, not the fact that you were awarded a presidential scholarship.

Be specific. Spend some time on the details. Rather than simply saying you wrote articles for a certain publication, state how many articles you wrote. Were they features? Front of book pieces? Essays? What were they about? The more detail, the better.

Show some personality. When I was an undergrad at Drake University, Glamour deputy editor Wendy Naugle critiqued my resume. Her advice: “Are you fun and trendy? That should show in your resume or cover letter. Ditto if you are a serious literary type. I believe there is no right or wrong here … Showing your personality will help me know how we might fit together as a team, and it may help me remember you.”

Be honest. Whatever you do, don’t stretch the truth about your job title, the dates you were employed, or what you did in a given position. Talk up your strengths, but don’t exaggerate. It will only come back to bite you in the butt.

Use strong language. You don’t have much room to work with, but your resume is another opportunity to showcase your mad writing skills. Avoid passive sentences and bland verbs. Use active (albeit accurate) wording wherever possible.

Watch the length. Be concise and get to the point. Your resume might not get tossed into the recycling bin if it goes onto two pages, but unless you’ve been in the workforce for decades, stick to one. I keep mine short by editing out experience that doesn’t seem relevant for what I’m applying for. And if I’m really tight on space, I’ll cut older entries, even if they may be related to what I'm applying for (sorry, Drake Magazine, sometimes you just don’t fit).

Think formatting. When I was an editor for a custom publishing company, I absolutely hated receiving resumes from freelance writers that were obviously cobbled together and sent hastily—spacing was inconsistent, typefaces switched halfway through the page without reason, some text was abnormally large. Take the time to check the formatting of your resume. Fix bad breaks, messy spacing, text inconsistencies.

Your resume doesn’t have to win design awards. Mine is simple and straightforward—no color, no images, just text. I’m a writer, not a designer, so I focus on getting all of my words on the resume in a way that’s attractive, accessible, and easy to read. It’s functional and that’s what matters.

That being said, if you’re a designer too, your resume is another way to sell your skills. So show off what you can do, without going over the top.

Proofread. This is a no-brainer last step. Double-check dates you listed (mistakes there can raise flags). Check spelling—at least twice. Read through the whole resume looking for mistakes—at least twice. Have someone else read it for you too if possible. Fresh eyes always help.

Learn More:
Dear PEP: How Long Should a Resume Be?
Review Your Resume – Avoid Bloopers
Resume Basics for Freelancers
How to Write a Masterpiece of a Resume
A Freelance Writer’s Resume

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Freelancer Fears

Freelancer fears of the day:

Am I absolutely, positively, certifiably insane? Am I about to spend twice as much time working to get paid half as much?

Every time I exercise my freedom to go to the gym or run errands in the middle of the day, will I collapse in a pile on the floor afterward, racked by guilt because I could’ve spent that time drumming up new business?

Will I be able to balance work and the rest of my life when I can’t have the rest of my life if I can’t find enough work?

What scares you?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Getting Over the Grief

I made the leap into the freelance writing world independently, on my own, because it was time. But I know a lot of you who are in the same boat didn’t dive in gracefully. You were pushed. Someone came up behind you when you were enjoying the view and shoved you over the edge. Blame it on the faltering economy. Blame it on a publishing industry in the throes of an identity crisis. Whatever the reason, you’re here now beside me in this boat.

Any major, life-altering change is bound to have an effect on your psyche—particularly if it’s one that you did not choose and that happened to you suddenly, without warning. It’s a trauma and it takes its toll. To really get your feet back under you, to be at the point where you’re able to move on with confidence, it’s important to take some time to address the emotions you’re feeling and to think things through.

Here’s how to get yourself on track by working through the five stages of job-loss grief—and launching yourself into your freelance writing career.

What’s going on: You’re numb. You can’t believe this has happened to you. Odds are, the reality of your situation hasn’t fully sunk in yet. You feel unmoored.

How to cope: Give yourself time. You don’t have to jump into a job search or start seeking freelance writing jobs the second you’re laid off from your position. It’s OK to take a few days or even a few weeks off to recover from the initial shock. Sleep late if you need to. Take long walks. Spend time doing activities that you love but that you don’t normally have time to do when you’re busy juggling work, social commitments, and family demands. Work out, meditate, read a good book. Do whatever you can to stay sane, to recover, without falling into your own never-ending pity party.

What’s going on: The shock has worn off. Now you’re just angry. “Why me?” you ask, and you look for people to blame. This should not be happening to you. You’re smart, you’re talented, you did everything right. Others who still have their jobs may be subjected to your bitterness.

How to cope: Take your frustrations out on a boxing bag, on a long run, or by journaling until your hand hurts. Resist the temptation to launch into a tirade about how unjust the world is to everyone you meet. Rather than playing the blame game, channel that anger. Make a list of what makes you great, of your talents. Your former employers don’t know what they’re missing out on. Now, what can you do with all those stellar skills?

What’s going on: You begin to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way you can get your old job back. Perhaps they made a mistake. They’ve realized they can’t live without you, right? They must have by now.

How to cope: Face your feelings head-on. You’re a logical person. You know deep down that as much as you wish otherwise, the job isn’t coming back to you. You can’t do anything about that. Instead, brainstorm ideas for what you can do. You can update your resume. You can identify publications or websites you’d like to write for. You can take that short story idea that’s been lingering in the back of your mind and run with it.

What’s going on: The reality sinks in. This is real. You aren’t getting your old job back. If you’ve made the decision to start looking for new jobs or to pursue freelance work, you may also be struggling because things aren’t moving along as quickly as you would like. Are you used to working in a busy office? You might be lonely because you don’t have coworkers to talk to anymore. Or perhaps you’re choosing to isolate yourself. You may be doubting yourself and your abilities.

How to cope: It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to take some time to work through your feelings. This is an important stage of grieving, so don’t feel like you have to “get over it” immediately. At this same time, you don’t want to languish in a pit of despair for too long. Talk to friends or family members who will lend a sympathetic ear. Get out your journal again. Spend some time looking inside yourself. What would make you happy now? What can you do to turn things around? Listen to your heart and your gut. And take care of yourself—work out, eat well, get outside and enjoy some fresh air. You’re about to embark on a busy freelance career, so you need to be healthy!

What’s going on: You’re at peace. You understand now that you couldn’t have done anything to stop your job loss. You’re calm, you’re organized. You may even get motivated. “It’s going to be OK,” you think. And you know what? It is.

How to cope: It’s time to take action. Implement a game plan for where you want to go and what you want to do. You still may face moments of doubt and uncertainty, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re confident in your ability to find a new job or make freelancing full-time work. Now run with it.

Learn More:
Job Loss Grief
Job Loss Survival Guide
Job Hunting Tips: How to Deal With Losing Your Job
Five Immediate Work Options After Losing Your Job

Please note: This blog post is meant only to offer general advice and motivation. If you are seriously struggling with depression or pain as a result of your current employment situation, please seek help.

Photo: lisa_at_home2002

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hitting Send

I just sent an info-packed query off to one of my favorite publications. I've never tried to write for the magazine before, but I decided there's no time like the present to give it a shot.

As any freelance writer can attest, there's a moment of indecision when your cursor is poised above the "send" button, just before you launch that query email into oblivion and hope it reaches the intended target.

Am I sure this story idea is good? Maybe I should have done more research. Did I remember to attach my resume? I wonder if I should have included different clips. Should I have proofread my work one more time?

It's easy to get paralyzed by the questions and second-guessing. But at some point, you have to do it. You just have to hit send and see what happens.

I haven't decided yet whether it's possible to overanalyze a query letter, whether it's possible to spend too much time agonizing over every word. But my hunch is that there's a point at which you can do no more, when you just have to submit it and leave the query in the editors' hands to do with it what they will.

This doesn't mean you have to be passive. You don't have to sit back in your chair and twiddle your thumbs or check your email every two minutes just in case. As I mentioned yesterday, it means going about your business. Finding other work. Enjoying yourself. And then, when the time is right—in a couple weeks, maybe in a month—you follow up. I'll shoot another email to the editor just to check in, to make sure she received my query and to see if she has any writing work for me.

And maybe, just maybe, if I'm lucky, before that can happen her name will appear in my inbox and she'll say, "Yes, please! We want you to write for us."

That, my friends, is the freelance writer's dream.

Photo: visualdensity

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Magazine Writing 101: Where to Start

A longtime friend (and we’re talking long time—I think we ran around in diapers together) recently asked me a question I’m guessing a lot of other intrepid writers grapple with.

She and her honey started their own independent climbing guide publishing company, but now she’d like to take her specialized knowledge and write for some of her favorite magazines. Only she’s not sure where to begin. “Julie, do I need an agent?” she asked recently.

And I’m incredibly glad to be able to say nope. That’s the beauty of writing in the magazine world. You don’t have to hire some expensive agent to do your bidding for you. Armed with the right words, the right ideas, and the right contact at the right magazine, you can land freelance writing gigs faster than you can scale K2. (Of course, things don’t always move that quickly. But you never know!)

If you’re looking to get your first article or two (or 250) published in a magazine, here’s a look at how I get started. I’ll expand on plenty of these points in future blog posts too, but it never hurts to hit the ground running with a quick overview.

Brainstorm. Like all creative endeavors, the best place to start when it comes to generating article ideas is with some brainstorming. Maybe you start by making a master list of all the topics you know about and would like to write about—no censorship, just write whatever comes to mind. Or, like me, you might generate a list of ideas as you move through life. Sometimes, an idea comes to me in the shower or while I’m brushing my teeth. Other times, I’ll come across a nugget of an idea in the newspaper or on a blog or even when I’m driving down the road. I have post-it notes and receipts and notebooks scattered all over the place with the results of my brainstorming because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when an idea strikes you sure as hell better write it down or it may be lost forever.

Refine your ideas.
Once you’ve exhausted your brainstorming time (or you have a big enough list you’re ready to forge ahead), it’s time to refine. Look closely at each of those ideas. You don’t have to throw anything out for good, but you do need to narrow down your ideas so you don’t spend the rest of your life sending out queries that go nowhere. Which ideas are you drawn to the most? Which are most timely or seem to have the most potential? Which ones are better saved for another day? You might use your instincts to narrow down the list, or you may have to do some research. (Sometimes, it helps to skip to the next step first and then come back to this one.)

After you narrow down your list, start to flesh out your ideas a bit more. What sources could you talk to? What resources might you rely on? What’s the fresh angle you’d use if this sort of story has been done before? (Do some searching. Make sure your exact angle hasn’t been done before.) The more thought you put into your ideas upfront, the better.

Find the right market. At some point in the process—once you’ve narrowed down your list of ideas to a manageable chunk or once you’ve found the idea—it’s time to pick the right market. If you’re writing about a specialized topic, such as rock climbing, the ideal market might come to mind immediately. That’s great. If the ideal magazine doesn’t jump out at you, however, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean your idea isn’t stellar. It just means you need to spend some time searching.

You might start by heading the library or the bookstore. Check out the magazines. See any possibilities? Spend some time searching online too—you’ll come across publications you may not have thought of. Maybe you’ll even decide an online magazine is a better fit for this story. That works too.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of possible publications, it’s time to get serious about researching the magazine. Look at their most recent issue. Look at past issues from the library. Search their archives online. Familiarize yourself as much as possible with the publication—not just the overall editorial content, but also the typical length of the articles, the tone, the number of sources used. The more information you gather on your fact-finding mission, the better.

Get the guidelines. If your query never makes it to the right person at the magazine, all hope of landing a story assignment is lost. That’s why finding the right contact—and tracking down writer’s guidelines—is so important. You might start by studying the magazine masthead. If you want to write a feature, is there a specific features editor you could send your query to? Is there a general articles editor?

If the masthead doesn’t yield enough clues, it’s time to search online. Most publications have their own websites, and many even include a section with information on writer’s guidelines. (Writer’s guidelines typically include information on how editors like to receive queries, who you should send them to, the sections of the magazine that are open to freelancers, and sometimes even the rate they pay.)

If you’re not finding the information you need on the magazine’s site, search for the guidelines you need on sites such as Mediabistro and Writer’s Market. You may have to pay a fee for these sites though, but you can also track down guidelines from free sources such as Writers Write and Or try searching for the publication name and “writer’s guidelines” in Google and see what comes up.

Craft your pitch.
Once you know who you’re sending your idea to and how they like to receive it (by email? snail mail?) it’s time to convince them you have an article idea they can’t refuse. Remember that you’re not only selling your story idea, you’re selling yourself and your mad writing skills too. Why should this editor hire you over every other writer who’s sent a query? Be specific. Show your personality and your wordsmithing skills. Explain clearly what your idea is and why you’re the person to write the story. Be conversational yet polite. Don’t waste too much of the editor’s time rambling, but give him or her enough detail so they can see you’ve put thought into the idea.

(Whole books have been written just on the topic of query letters, by the way, so we’ll dive into this topic often in the future. Remember, too, that you probably need to assemble some clips of work you’ve done and a resume to send along too. More on that later …)

Edit, edit, edit. Whatever you do, don’t send your query the day you write it. I know you want to get your idea in the editor’s hands immediately. I know you want to write the article now. But trust me, as someone who has sent out queries on the fly only to discover glaring errors later on, it’s in your best interest to let that baby sit for a day or longer. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes. You might even have a friend read it for you.

Cut out the crap. Proofread. Look for the littlest error. If you’re trying to establish yourself as a writer, you don’t want a typo or grammatical error or punctuation snafu to stop the editor dead in her tracks. And trust me. Editors are busy. They don’t have time to read all the queries and letters they get from writers. So if there’s anything that’s going to get your idea tossed in the trashcan straightaway, it’s minor errors.

Edit again. Seriously.

Send it! Once you the query is ready and edited, you’ve assembled your clips and resume, and you’ve bitten off all your nails (oh, is that just me?), it’s time to send that great idea off to the editor. Address the envelope and stick it in the mail (make sure there’s a stamp on it!) or hit “send” on your email if the editor prefers an online pitch (make sure the attachments are there!). Now sit back and relax.

I know you’re going to want to call the editor an hour after you send that email to make sure he received it. You’re going to agonize every day over whether it went to the right person. You’re going to want to fly to whatever city the publication is in and snoop around the offices just to make sure your letter is actually there. Don’t. Start working on other queries. Garden. Do something, anything, other than thinking that query to death. It’s not going to do any good. Editors are busy. It may be days, weeks, or even months—yes, months!—before the appropriate editor even has time to look at your query. And it may be longer than that before they can do anything about it—editorial calendars are scheduled way in advance, other duties take precedence over presenting new ideas.

So sit tight. You’ve done the work. Now it’s time for the waiting game.

Learn More:
How to Write a Successful Query
How to Write a Query Letter
Perfecting the Magazine Query Letter
A Query That Rocked

Photo: bravenewtraveler

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Marketing Blitz

Right now I’m in the midst of a promotional blitz of sorts. I’ve identified a list of companies and publications that I’d love to write or edit for (and that, I think, are a good match for my skills and abilities). And now I’m sending out a flurry of introductory letters, resumes, and clips.

Yet I’m not going overboard and sending out queries to every single company to which I’d like to proffer my services in one week. Why? Because as well-written and interesting as I’m hoping my introductory letters are (they are by no means cut-and-pasted for each company, but are for the most part similar in tone and information presented), as carefully as I crafted the descriptions of my experience on my resume, as sure as I am that I picked representative clips that will resonate with potential employers, I don’t have any clue what my success rate will be.

I’m a realist. I know how paltry the actual response for this sort of “cold email” is.

And until I snag a fish—whether it’s a guppy or the big one—I don’t want to throw the same style of introduction to everyone. This is going to take some refining until I figure out how to hit the right chord with the right audience, until I get things just right.

And if this initial attempt to drum up business fails? I’ll go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what I need to do differently. And do it. Such is the nature of starting out in this game.

Learn More:
The Letter of Introduction

Sample Introduction Letter for Blogging Jobs
How to Land an Assigment Without Writing Queries
Hate Writing Query Letters? Try LOIs

Photo: Mzelle Biscotte

Monday, June 1, 2009

A New Chapter

Today is a big day. Today is the day I become my own boss. Today is the day I embark full-time on a freelance writing and editing career.

Sure, I’m nervous. Of course I am. I just quit my job and took the leap into the world of freelancing at a tough time in the U.S. economy. Remember? It’s a recession. Magazines are folding all over the place. Budgets are tight.

But I’m excited too. It’s a new chapter in my life, a new adventure. And I love adventures.

I’m ready. It’s not like I decided to do this spur-of-the-moment. In fact, I:

Thought about freelance writing. Read books on freelance writing. Read blogs on it. Strategized. Budgeted. Researched opportunities. Strategized some more. Ran the numbers again. Thought about it some more.

Tested the water. (Just dipped a toe in.) Thought more. Wrote more.


Now it’s time to breathe. Now it's time to write. Now it's time to be my own boss.

I'm ready.