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Monday, December 18, 2006

First Steps In Writing And Publishing

I didn't always want to be a freelance writer. When I was little I wanted to be an architect. I loved creating new things out of nothing, putting pieces together and changing them around so they made more sense. My favourite toy was Meccano, which I liked for the same reasons - a girly girl I definitely was not. As it turned out, I couldn't draw, which is a major disadvantage in the architectural field.

Luckily, right about the time that my art teacher was trying to disown me, I discovered that I was good at something else - languages - and that's how I got to know the people who would join me on my first publishing venture. I was already hooked on reading (and really enjoyed English Lit classes), and this would get me hooked on writing (in spite of my English teacher's criticisms of my poetry).

When I was 16/17 (in lower sixth, which for my American friends is the class before your final year of high school), a friend and I took over the defunct school newspaper. When I say defunct, I mean that it had appeared sporadically throughout my five years at that school. C and I decided to take it on and run it. We learned the hard way what it takes to create a publication:

  • We had to commission writing from other students
  • We had to edit it
  • We had to rewrite it if it didn't meet the brief or write it if someone missed a deadline
  • We had to arrange for illustrations
  • We had to learn to price the paper to recover our costs

Now these were the bad old days before desktop publishing, so putting together a school newspaper meant using a Gestetner machine. It was time to outsource. We drafted my mother and anyone else who could type to type the content we had on stencils. Where that wasn't possible, we got someone with excellent writing to copy the content onto the stencils. We found a way to incorporate the drawings (don't ask me how; I can't remember) and then we began the messy business of inking the machine, attaching the stencils and getting the number of copies we needed. In the process we got covered in black ink, but that didn't detract from the thrill of our first publication. Once we had stapled it all together, we were able to sell our first issue of Breakthrough for a paltry sum.

This experience got me hooked on connecting with readers through writing and publishing. It was kind of like early blogging, without the technology. We put material out and got almost instant feedback, which we used to improve the next issue. We were in touch with our readers - heck, we were our readers! I can still remember the thrill of seeing my name in print for the first time - and I still love it now. And even though a lot of my freelance writing is ghostwriting, I still get satisfaction from writing something that others want to read.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

How Freelance Writing For Free Pays

Freelance Writing Is Not Easy

Freelance writing is not an easy job. You have to spend time writing things you are not interested in because you're getting paid, and you are always worrying about where the next gig is coming from, at least at the start. And if you're ghostwriting, you don't even get the credit for your writing. That's why promotion is so important for freelance writers. It keeps your name out there and keeps the freelance writing work coming in. I'm always saying that writing for free isn't writing for free if you get something out of it - and now I have a concrete example to show you.

Freelance Writing History

When I started freelance writing, I wrote an article called Freelance Writers - Five Reasons Why You Need A Website. Some of you may recognise it as Freelance writers - four reasons to get on the net. I didn't get a dime for this article. It was picked up by freelancewriting.com and has been read by more than 3,000 people. It has also resulted in 120 visitors to my site in the past year. That's 10 a month since I wrote the article.

Freelance Writing Promotion

That's one freelance writing article. I know that's not a lot on its own, but I have about 50 articles out there, at least 33 of them unique and all with links back to my site. That's potentially a lot of traffic and may be part of the reason that I'm now getting more than 1,000 unique visitors a month to my freelance writing site. I am also getting Adsense money because some of those visitors like what they see. And people are starting to contact me about writing work (in fact, some of them are contacting me FOR freelance writing work, but that's another story). My point is this, one free article has made a big difference to my profile and to the money I make from freelance writing. Why not try it yourself?

Monday, December 4, 2006

Blogitive: The Party's Over For WritingUp

I was an early user of Blogitive, back in the days when it used to be fun. I made up rhymes and other bits of nonsense and included a link as well. It was good for creativity and gave a few people a laugh as well, but it looks like the Blogitive party is over.

It seems that blogs on WritingUp, BloggerParty and a few others are no longer going to be accepted from today. If you have a blog on one of those sites and have already had your post accepted, you will be paid, but they're not planning to issue any more offers. Here's the post that lays it all out.

I have mixed feelings about this because it started as an easy source of income, but it's not so easy now. I haven't been posting as many Blogitive posts here because of two of their rules (the 'only write about the press release' rule and the 'two posts in between rule'.) Apart from that, I haven't had much time, so writing three posts to make $5 is less cost effective than writing one. I know some people can do it, but it's been difficult to fit it in with my other writing work. Other paid posting sites don't impose those rules (at least not yet, and I can write a fun post in five minutes and get paid).

Maybe Blogitive has done me a favour. I won't waste time looking for WritingUp offers that I have to reject. It may also be the kiss of death for my BloggerParty blog. Who knows? On the plus side, I've still got a couple of other blogs they will accept, if I can be bothered to write anything for them. I hope you do too.

(Thanks for the heads up, abi.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Was Unfaithful To Adsense

I was unfaithful to Adsense. I admit it. My faith wavered in the face of suspected click fraud and I removed my Adsense ID. I was seduced by other advertisers, too numerous to mention, but I have learned my lesson. I have gradually replaced all the false tempters on my blogs and sites with my Adsense ads. I have turned away from temptation and I have had my reward ...

... or at least I will, in about two months. That's how long it takes to get your money after you have racked up the magic $100 figure. I could have had it earlier, if only I'd believed.

I still don't think it's the be all and end all. Frankly, I make more money from paid posting. But I've noticed something. It's about a year since I started blogging. Now that I have hundreds of posts and have done lots of promotion, I'm starting to get some clicks. So I've concluded that it's all about being patient, something I've not been that good at in the past.

Shameless self promotion
The new edition of Writing Lab News is out on Thursday. It's got information for writers and tips and tricks that anyone can use to promote themselves. Check out sharonhurleyhall.com for the back issues and sign up to get your copy of the December issue.

Recent articles include:
* How To Get Fair Pay For Freelance Writing
* How To Promote With Article Marketing
* Get Relevant Links For Your Website
* How To Write Money-Making Copy

Friday, November 24, 2006

Freelance Writing: Trading Pennies For Dollars

As a freelance writer, there comes a time when you have to start chasing dollars instead of pennies. When you start out as a freelance writer, every commission is important, no matter how little it pays. That's how you get contacts and get a selection of clips that you can show to anyone who asks. It's also how you learn to write fast, because at 1 cent a word, you have to do a lot of writing to pay the bills.

To give an example, I had one task that I do that consisted of writing about 3,000 words a day. It's news, which meant minimal creative effort, but it still took time to write. When I started the contract, it took me half a day to write that amount. By yesterday, when I ended it, I was able to do the same amount in two hours. That was important, because it didn't pay very well and I needed to leave myself time to get some jobs that would make some money. There was also a small problem of successive late payments. (My golden rule is, don't let someone get away with that too often or it could become the norm.)

Don't get me wrong - I still do some low paid jobs, because it keeps the cash flowing, which is what cash flow is all about :) but I am also on the lookout for jobs that pay better. One of my recent opportunities gave me the chance to double what I usually get for ghostwriting, but I want to do better than that.

That's why I'm trying to change the balance of my writing. I have a couple of jobs which keep me going and I do a lot of paid blogging for various blogging ads places. But getting rid of one contract means I now have time to look for a few higher paid jobs (Deborah NG tries to have a $10 minimum payout on the jobs on her site). And replacing it with something that paid more means my bank balance won't suffer while I'm doing it. For me, this is all about working smarter, with the ultimate goal of freeing up more time to write my books, play with my daughter and go to the beach. I'll let you know how it goes.

So, I'm interested to know, as a freelance anything, how did you make the move from the peanuts jobs to the ones that really paid?

Freelance Writing Hub

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Hub For Promotion

I'm always on the lookout for somewhere new to promote my writing and other skills, and a few months ago I made a couple of Squidoo lenses, one on SEO and another on freelance writing. Lo and behold, one of my current clients actually followed me around the web before contacting me through one of the lenses. So I'm a firm believer in trying lots of new forms of promotion, because you never know which one will pay off. Of course, that can make it difficult to identify the really effective ones, but I'm working on a way to solve that. A few weeks ago, I got a lead on a Squidoo like site, which I bookmarked and forgot about till last night.

It's called HubPages. Like Squidoo you add modules which you can fill with text or images. I haven't explored all the options yet, but it doesn't seem to have as many advertising options as Squidoo. The interface is clean and it works fast. It took me only a few minutes to make my SEO hub, which is similar to my Squidoo one. Even if I'd had to do it from scratch, I don't think it would have taken more than half an hour.

You can also earn money through your hub with Adsense, Amazon and Ebay. This didn't work as well as it could have. I couldn't get my Adsense account to talk to HubPages and my Amazon affiliate account is with the UK site, which doesn't seem to be supported. But for those of you in the US it would probably work well. There's not much more to say about it so far - I've only been on the site for a day. I'll keep you posted on what kind of traffic it brings.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Working on Self Promotion

I spend a fair bit of time on self-promotion - or at least I did before I got so busy writing. One of the things I find is that I try things and create profiles, then lose track of where they are. So I created a little ready reference for myself, which I plan to add to as I take up new writing and promotion opportunities.

The other good thing about this list is that when I go to a new site, I can create a profile in seconds. I use the intro from my main site and this list to let people find out more about me while I'm filling in the details. It's in three sections. The first is a list of the places where people can see my work. Of course, since I do a lot of ghostwriting, almost half my work isn't there.

Where I Write:

The second section is my recent publications. Of course I've got articles going back nearly 20 years in other publications, but people want to know what's up to date.

My Books and Publications

The final section of my quick ready reckoner is borrowed from gracepub, who suggested somewhere that this was an easy way to let people find your stuff. This is where the benefits of article marketing really pay dividends.

Search For Sharon

This doesn't have all my work by a long shot - and after this week's efforts I'll need to do some updating, but it's a useful promotional tool.

MySpace For Business

I'm always on the lookout for new places to promote myself as a freelance writer - and I found another one this week. I'm a bit of a sucker for email newsletters, though I'm trying to break the habit. Anyway, one of them passed on the following information about a new place to promote yourself and make contacts.

It's called Bizfriendz (affilate link). It bills itself as 'MySpace for business' and it is remarkably similar in the way it works. Like MySpace, with BizFriendz you can set up a profile, including personal, education and professional information. Like MySpace, you can add multimedia to the account. Unlike MySpace, you can earn money by referring people, and more money when your referrals refer other people. I haven't earned a dime yet, but I've only been there a few days.

Bizfriendz has only just gone live, so there's no way of telling whether it's going to be huge or another flash in the pan. I've had a couple of friend requests so far and I'll be monitoring my site traffic to see what it brings. Check it out for yourself and see what you think. And if anyone knows more about it than I do, please feel free to add more info in the comments.

Friday, November 10, 2006

ReviewMe: A New Paid To Blog Opportunity

This is a sponsored post about a new way to make money online. I first read about this site on Believin's blog and rushed over to sign up. When I visited ReviewMe I saw an attractive site with an laughably easy sign up process. In fact, I was able to sign up while chatting online with a couple of friends. I put in my name, address and Paypal address and was good to go. You can also opt to be paid by cheque.

The way it works is that you submit your blog to be considered for reviews. I haven't yet figured out what criteria they use, but I suppose they want a blog that is indexed and gets a decent readership. I submitted three blogs for consideration and had two accepted, this one and my Writng Lab blog. The other blog was not accepted, but that's no surprise, because although it's been going for months, even Technorati won't accept that it exists. Something's strange there.

Anyway, back to ReviewMe. The blog submission form is simple. You need a name, URL, feed URL, category, six tags and a description. Your site is checked and accepted or rejected straight away - no hanging on waiting for confirmation emails. You can submit six blogs and do unlimited reviews on each one. Once you're set up, your blog is assigned a value per review based on its popularity and other factors. You earn half of that price for writing a review. My blog was assigned an initial value of $40, which means I should get $20 for this review. I'll keep you posted. They pay once a month at the start of the month.

So far, I like what I see. ReviewMe insists that bloggers disclose that posts are sponsored. I like that too. Watch this space. I'll keep you up to date with my ReviewMe Adventure.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Blogitive: More Posts, Less Time

I've always been a big fan of getting paid to blog. I've written posts on how I get paid to blog and getting more out of Blogitive. But now this is getting to be hard work. $5 for 10 minutes work was fine, but $5 for an ad and two posts in between is less cost effective.

And, wouldn't you know it, this has coincided with a flurry of offers. I'm hoping that other paid blogging sites are not going to go the same way.

I wrote to Blogitive to complain (I won't put a gloss on it) about their new policy and to say bloggers needed more time to do all those posts. This is what they said:

We had to do this to increase the quality of the Blogs in our network. Clients don't like to see Blogs that just have posts written for our clients. Blogs should be about many random things and this forces everyone to write about different things that might interest them beyond our offers. The time to write posts isn't an issue for most Bloggers and we have even considered shortening it so more Bloggers can get offers easier.

Looks like my Blogitive days might soon be at an end.

Too Much Writing, Too Little Time

One of the issues many writers face is time management. I read a good suggestion today about using a timer to make sure I spend time writing instead of checking email or blogging, which are my two favourite distractions. I always deliver on time, but I tend to work unsociable hours. One day, I'd like to fit the writing into a shorter space of time. What are your writing goals?

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Giving Freelance Writing Work Away

I was tickled to read one of gracepub's posts where she referred to me as 'giving work away'. I hadn't thought of it like that. It's probably the first time in my freelance writing career that I've been in a position to do that.

Normally, I take on all the jobs and work too hard trying to do them all. But when I got the latest one, I realised I'd have to write 9,000 words a day for the next four months. That's just too much, especially if I still want a husband, a daughter and friends at the end of it. So that's why I posted the opportunity yesterday. I spent a lot of time getting the contract and figured someone else might as well benefit - and someone will.

Freelancing can be precarious and it's tempting to say yes to everything when the work is coming in, but sometimes you have to learn to say no. After all, if you work yourself into the ground, there would be no point in earning any money. So, although it doesn't come naturally, I'm going for balance.

What similar choices have you had to make, if any?

New Ways To Make Money From Blogging

One of the things my blog is about is how to Make Money from freelance writing. One way that works well for me and brings in some nice pocket change is Blogitive. But in order to qualify for the program you have to have a blog that's indexed in the search engines and one that is popular.

There are lots of ways to do this, including submitting your site to directories, burning a feed with Feedburner and doing what you would do anyway - visit people's blogs and comment on them in the hope that they will comment on yours. That part isn't difficult and at $5 a time for writing about a web release, it's a nice little earner, particularly during the slow writing months.

Now they've got a few more programs. One of them is to put news headlines on your blog (which probably wouldn't work here), but the other is more exciting. It's ghost blogging, which I do anyway, so I'm looking forward to the chance to make more money with fewer ads.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Why I'm Happy That I'm Not Finishing My Novel

Everyone's got NaNo on the brain - everyone except me, that is. For about four years, I've had a novel outline languishing in a corner of my desk. It has stared at me reproachfully as I have done other jobs and written other things. I've felt guilty because I feel I haven't stuck to it - or even got started properly, but yet every time I sat down to write it, my brain froze and I couldn't manage more than a few desultory sentences. As you can guess, that has done nothing for my self image, especially since I am a prolific freelance writer and ghostwriter.

So it was because of this that I decided to attend one of the Inspired Author Friday night online workshops. The reason was that writing coach Lori Chance was going to be there, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to finally kickstart that novel writing.

It was an interesting session, in which I got very public therapy for my novel writing malaise. Lori was great, talking me through all the reasons why I might not be getting started with the novel (time pressure, fear of failure, perfectionism) and the qualities I had used in the past to successfully step out of my comfort zone (focus). We talked about ways of getting support with novel writing (courses, critique groups and so on). But the upshot was not what you might think.

At the end of the session I felt exhilarated and liberated because with Lori's help I had finally given myself permission to let that novel go, at least for now, and to concentrate on writing one of my other ideas instead. I have now put some regular writing time in the diary (only once a week, but once I get obsessed, as I will, I'm sure it will be more often) and a friend has offered to set me up with her writing group.

So I want to say a public thank you to Lori. I also want to let you know that you can benefit from her experience for free. Lori's got a site at DestinationWords and a free writing life coaching group on Myspace. Browse around Lori's profile and you'll find a lot of useful and interesting stuff - and some of it can be applied to anyone, not just writers.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Writing And Loving It

Gracepub recently wrote a post called Are You A Writer? and it got me to thinking. Yes, I am a writer, partly because I couldn't imagine doing anything else and partly because that's my job. It's what I do and who I am. However, what I'm doing now is a far cry from what I imagined a writer's life to be when I first had the dream in my teens.

Like many aspiring writers I dreamed of writing the great (fill in the country) novel or becoming a famous poet. Neither of those things has happened yet. Instead, I spend my days writing about mortgages and finance, camping, language teaching and (best of all) working in the movies. I write about a variety of topics, some interesting, some less so, but although fame is still distant, I'm still happy.

That's because even when I complain about a particular writing project - and let's face it, some of them are hard - I still get a kick out of making my living from writing. I would never want to go back to working for someone else or working in an office. This is what I wrote in a comment on gracepub's post:

Writing is a strange profession; if your face isn't on a dustjacket or your byline in a national magazine or newspaper, then many people don't take you seriously as a writer. I guess you have to learn to do without the approbation of your peers and write anyway.

I suppose that's where I am now. I know that one day I'll get around to writing more for myself than for others, but for now I'm enjoying beign able to pay the bills. How do you feel about how your writing career has developed?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Long Reach Of Article Marketing

Finally, one of these things that I can write about legitimately. Do you know that one of my most read free article marketing articles on EzineArticles has to do with funeral flowers? I'm not making this up, I promise. Here's how it happened. About four years ago my husband got into a new financial venture, selling prepaid funeral plans in the UK market. He had a partner and things went swimmingly for a while. I did a website for them and it seemed to do the trick. It was simple (which was just as well given my skill level) and professional.

A few years later, they wanted to drum up some publicity, so I suggested article marketing. I took the original website content, most of which I had written or edited and (with their permission) turned it into eight articles relating to funerals and funeral plans. One of them is about planning your funeral, including thinking about flowers for saying goodbye, as Dotflowers mentions.

Even though those articles have nothing to do with my main business of freelance writing, ghostwriting and teaching, they're still out there working for me. The reason is that part of the deal was that in the three link resource box, one of the links pointed to my site. Depending on the search engine you use, you can find the article (called 'It's Your Funeral: Why Not Plan It Properly') at least a hundred times. That's a hundred inbound links to my site. OK, so some of them are probably not the best quality, but at least they are there.

My point? Even if you write about something like funeral flowers and even if the article is old, you can still get some benefit for the resources and sites you are promoting.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Freelance Writing Myths

Freelance writers hear a lot of things from their clients - and they shouldn't believe all of them. The things clients tell you, as a writer or ghostwriter, are often designed to get you to provide your best work at the lowest possible price, and to give them something to measure your work against if you don't hit their target.

Freelance Writing Myth 1 - There Is Lots Of Info On ...

Clients always say things like:'There is lots of information out there, so you shouldn't have any trouble with this' and 'I found lots of links on Google'. Clients who do this are often trying to lowball me or have been fooled by the 1 million links on Google. I must admit, when I hear this, I'm often tempted to say unkind things such as: 'if there's so much great info out there, why am I the one that's looking for it?' I don't, though, knowing better than to bite the hand that might feed me.

Because the thing about search engines is that one million web pages does not equal lots of good information, not in a research sense anyway. What you've got instead is the same information one million times - and you're the sap that has to make sense of it. So if you have to research something outside your niche and write more than a hundred articles and make them all sound different, that can be a tall order.

Freelance Writing Niches

Gracepub has been quite vocal about the benefits for freelance writers of finding and staying within your niche. When you do, you have knowledge at your fingertips and you can write fast and earn more money. When you don't, you can end up having wasted your time and be out of pocket. I write about UK finance and I've done this before, in a series on credit cards. All of the articles were different, though much of the information was the same. (By the way, I had a funny experience the other day when I was researching a subject and some of my own ghostwritten material came up). But with other subjects, it's not so easy. If you don't know the subject well enough, you can't always differentiate between the articles.

This happened to me with a project. OK, the client was picky, but he had a point - some of the articles were very samey. And the reason - there wasn't loads of information out there. When I looked into it, there were a few facts repeated ad nauseam. I tried my best, but I just couldn't make the articles different enough and I didn't have enough inside information to make the difference.

So now I've revised some of the articles and I'm playing a waiting game. If the revisions are OK, that's a quarter of the money I want to earn this month taken care of. If not, it's back to the drawing board and looking for another freelance writing job.

Related freelance writing information

It Shouldn't Happen To A Freelance Writer
Rejected? Don't Be Dejected
Five Questions Every Freelance Writer Should Ask

This is the first in an occasional series on freelance writing myths. Feel free to join in on your blog or to let me know of myths you've experienced in your job.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Freelance Writers Need Time Off Too

I am taking a day off today. I have been busy for months, and not just with freelance writing. In the last three months I have completed an international move and done more writing than I ever thought possible. I'm so busy that I have very little time to promote - and promotion is part of what has made me so busy. So why am I taking a day off?

It's simple. Every now and then you need to remind yourself of the reasons why you work at home. My reasons (in no particular order) include being able to set my own schedule, not having to dress up and spending time with my daughter and family. This week I've been particularly busy having done a panic acceptance of too much work the previous week. My daughter has been asking me to play and I promised that if she could be patient (as if!) I would play on Friday afternoon. So that's what I'll do when she gets home from school.

Before she gets home, I'm also going to do some stuff around the house, because we've still got a fair number of boxes everywhere and it's driving me crazy. And maybe I'll also go to the beach and go to my favourite coffee place with my husband. And maybe ... And maybe ...

Days off come so rarely that it's tempting to fill them with stuff. I've always been a hard worker, but I work harder now that I'm at home than I ever did as a lecturer - and that's saying something. The danger of that is that you could burn out, as a good friend warned me. So I'm taking some time to chill before that happens. WAHMs are high risk candidates for burnout because they never have any time off.

Yesterday, I sat at the computer from 8am till about 9pm, with only a couple of short breaks. When I got up my eyes were blurred and my wrists were aching, but I had met my deadlines. I'm only behind on one thing now (here's why) and I'm sure I can catch up over the next week. I've written three articles this morning (1500 words in total, which is just a warm-up) and now this freelance writer is out of here. Time to relax.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I Can't Write Like This

Do other freelance writers have to put up with this? As I type this, someone is drilling in the background (but it might as well be in my head). Someone else is fitting a smoke alarm which is beeping once a minute. I'm sure someone else will come knocking at the door in a minute. That's what happened yesterday and that's why I was up till nearly midnight so I wouldn't get too far behind on my writing work.

The story behind this is that in April we came to look at the house and left a list of jobs that needed to be completed. Four months seemed a reasonable time scale, but when we arrived they hadn't been done. One month in, we were still waiting, so two nights ago my husband crafted a strong email, the gist of which was that we were tired of waiting for the contractor to get his act together and we might consider legal options if he didn't get the jobs done. So yesterday, we had people popping in every five minutes to do the jobs they should have done four months ago.

Writing Deadlines

So today I am really fed up, because I have too much writing to do in the next week, and every time people are in the house I lose at least half a day. Now, of course, I'm glad they're doing the work, but if they had done it when they were supposed to it wouldn't be interfering with my writing deadlines.

I have an ebook due in two days, some Lifetips due in four, some blog posts daily from Monday and 95 articles of a series of 100 to do over the next couple of weeks. This was already going to be a manic schedule as I'm fitting it around my daughter's school day. Now it's nearly impossible. Ok, rant over - somebody say something to cheer me up, please.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Setting Freelance Writing Goals

Freelance writing is like any other business - you have to set goals to make it a success. When I went freelance a year or so ago, my goal was to make enough money working from home to replace my former salary as a part time lecturer. It was five months before I made any money at all. In that time, I concentrated on creating my website, writing a few children's stories, entering writing competitions (only two, neither of which I won) and writing free articles so I would have some up-to-date examples of what I could do. This helped me to polish my writing skills.

Finding Freelance Writing Jobs

I also looked at many of the sites that listed freelance writing jobs and started applying. That was a difficult time, because bidding is hard work for little reward. I learned a couple of things about bidding, while I was doing it:

First, I learned to have some text ready that I could cut, paste and change around to suit any job with only minor editing. This included a paragraph about the job and my proposal, a paragraph about my relevant experience, a paragraph with links to examples of my work and a paragraph with contact details. That's enough for most bids (and too much for some - some people only want the figures). That didn't help me much with winning bids, but it did help with learning to blow my own trumpet and promote.

Second, I learned that if you're competing with people who will write for peanuts, you will never earn what you think you're worth. So I swallowed my pride, dropped my prices and vowed that one day I would get better paid writing jobs.

Freelance Writing: The First Job

My first freelance writing job (paid) came from one of my former students. I suspect it gave him a thrill to be in the driving seat, but I didn't care. He was pleasant, polite and paid on time - everything you want from a writing client. The next big job came from someone who wanted to take advantage of my experience as a teacher. The job was ghostwriting a lesson. Again, done and paid promptly.

At the same time, I was writing for a new venture that I first heard about here on this site - the revamped InspiredAuthor. Over the course of four months or so, I wrote 75 articles for two new topics I was managing, one of them on freelance writing. I was able to use these as examples of my web writing and that suddenly put me in a whole different league where writing jobs were concerned.

The next thing I knew I was writing for a whole slew of sites on a variety of topics and 10 months after I went freelance, I had achieved my first goal. I was pleased about it, because I was doing it part-time, fitting it around childcare and other family responsibilities. I now have a couple of regular writing clients who pay above the minimum, though I still take the 'peanuts' jobs as well. If I write fast enough, I can make enough from the job to make it worth my while.

Freelance Writing Goals

It has to be said that I managed that first freelance writing goal with only a minimal amount of planning and quite a lot of learning, from people on this site and others. What I have learned in the process is that unless you turn your ideas into goals they may never happen. That means prioritising and detailing the steps that need to be taken to achieve those goals.

For example, I know that in 10 years' time, I don't want to be scrabbling around for 1 cent a word jobs, so I have to raise my profile further and do some writing that will bring in residual income. I can also use my teaching experience to do the same thing. So my plan for the next year is to try to find a few more of those higher paying jobs, and to convert my offline journalism courses to online courses. I've also got a few plans for books. I'll let you know how it goes. If you're a writer (or in another business), I'd love to hear about your process for setting goals and how you've done with achieving them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Writing Gold

While I'm stting at my desk writing, Monex is trading in gold, which apparently has held its value. Bully for them. What I value, especially at the moment, is my brand new ADSL connection. Living with 56k has been difficult, especially when my last writing job required me to download several large files as background information. Not only did the dialup drop out several times during the downloads, but it also downloaded a couple of them twice. So that was a couple of hours during which I could surf the net even more slowly than usual.

Since a lot of my work is for the internet and researched on the internet, life in the slow lane has been a trial. Add to that the minutiae of setting up a new home and you'll see how inconvenient it has been for the rest of my family to have to do without a telephone while I've been working. So a working ADSL connection (even though it's only 512k) is like gold to me. It will make my writing life so much easier.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Writing For Money

That's what freelance writers do. I've popped in from time to time and read the debates about the ethics of putting ads on your blogs. But here's my position. I'm a freelance writer, which means I get paid to write. If someone is going to pay me $5 or more to put an ad on my blog, that makes me a well paid writer. I do the post in five minutes, which gives me an hourly rate of $60. At the moment, I'm the main breadwinner at home and I can't afford to turn down that kind of money.

Paid Freelance Writing

If I asked most people to pay that for my writing, they would laugh in my face and go to someone who will write for less than 1 cent a word. Granted, I hope not to have to do this forever. There are also a few ads I've turned down. Today I've been lucky. They want me to write about search engine optimization and a press release from USWeb about Google's Accessible Search.

What most people question is whether putting an ad for SEO on my blog lessens its quality. Judge for yourself. On all my posts I make it clear that there is sponsorship so people can take that into account when forming a judgement. But the people who pay for ads on blogs pay for links. The rest of the content is up to me.

I was amazed to see a link on another web page (I'll post it when I find it again) referring to me as 'working for Blogitive'. I think whoever posted that missed the point. I work for myself - and that's why I have ads on some of my blog posts. That's also why I can take the time to craft a detailed blog post about an important freelance writing issue.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Making Money From Freelance Writing

Freelance writing is like any other business. Any business person (or affiliate marketer) will tell you that the bedrock of the business is in repeats. That's the people who keep paying year after year without your having to do anything more. That doesn't work well for freelance writing. But what does work is getting repeat business. As with any business, work where you don't have to resell yourself is money in the bank.

Freelance Writing - Show Me The Money

For freelance writers that means one of two things. Repeat work from clients who know your writing and use you as their first choice, or a regular writing contract that means there's a bit of your income you don't have to chase as long as you keep delivering. The less time you have to spend promoting, the more time you can spend on writing (promotion IS important, too, but that's another story).

I've been lucky. Since I started full time (ish) freelancing a year ago, I've met a few people who liked my writing and brought me new work. So much so, that it's been about two months since I've bid for any work. The less time I spend bidding, the more I spend writing. Then, just before I left the UK, I hit the mini-jackpot. Someone saw my site and my CV (this is where my promotion paid off) and approached me to write daily blog posts on the UK financial market. I can't say who, because it's ghostwriting, so it's confidential.

Freelance Writing Lessons

I broke the payment into an upfront retainer (small, but enough to make sure that if I don't get paid at the end of the month, I won't be too far out of pocket) and a per-post fee. This should ensure that I make just under a quarter of my (rockbottom) monthly target from that source. (I make a slightly lower proportion of my get rich quick and retire target). Lesson number one is to work out how much of your work time you will spend on the job and price to match.

By the end of the first week, I was asked to increase the length of the posts and the quantity. I said yes to the first but no to the second. The reason is that I need to earn a certain amount of money to pay my bills and this client cannot pay me enough of a retainer for me to give up the chance to do other work. So lesson number two is to make sure you don't get so much repeat work that you have no time to do lucrative writing jobs when they come up.

Then my client asked me a question: 'what happens if you're sick or go on holiday?'. Yikes, I hadn't thought of that - and I should have. We all assume we'll always be ok until we aren't - and then it's too late. So I asked a friend with experience in the market whether she could cover for me in those cases. And I also asked whether she wanted to mop up the extra work he had going. So I did both my friend and my client a favour. Lesson number three: always have a contingency plan for your freelance writing work.

What I'd like to find now is another client who will operate on a similar basis. I'd like to have at least half my income come from this sort of work. That would mean I could almost always pay the bills (because my job is portable, I'm the main earner at the moment) but wouldn't be too dependent on one source. Lesson number four: diversify.

So to recap, I've now got:

  • an agency that puts lots of work my way
  • a client on contract who should (fingers crossed) pay me for the next year
  • two clients who give me writing work when they have it
  • occasional work from Lifetips
  • some paid blog postings

And I didn't do all this alone. Some of it was promotion, but a lot came from tips and introductions from other writing friends, gracepub in particular. Lesson number five is: you never know how or when the contacts you make will help you. One of the things I've enjoyed most about this site is the friends I've made here. They've given me advice on everything from website development, to networking, to publishing. And I've met a lot of fellow freelance writers who have shared their tips and experience. Thanks, everyone.

Freelance Writing on Inspired Author

Check out the revamped freelance writing pages on InspiredAuthor. And subscribe to my free writing newsletter, WritingLab News. Lots of good content and absolutely no spam.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Doing It On The Floor

It's amazing what you can do when you have to. I moved into my new house on Wednesday and that's all it was - a house. Not a stick of furniture. Lucky for me we had the piece of cardboard the fridge came in and two of the most uncomfortable airbeds known to man. Air? More like rocks! I haven't slept this badly since my daughter was born.

We were lucky, though. Thanks to a little foresight (and some help from a friend), the phone was connected on Tuesday. Getting an internet connection was a little trickier, though. On Tuesday I went to the bMobile office (the mobile arm of Cable and Wireless, not known around here for their customer service). I asked whether I could get a dialup connection that day. They took my details and my money and said I'd have a connection that afternoon. Hah! Did I heck!

I went back the next day and went through the same thing again. Still no joy. So on Thursday I went to the rival company, Sunbeach. They set up my service straight away and when I got home I was able to connect and wade through more than 200 emails. Oh joy!

Now I have a dilemma. Do I get ADSL through Cable and Wireless (cheaper but with shoddy service) or through Sunbeach (a pleasure to deal with)?

And in case you're wondering what I've been doing on the floor, it's working on my computer. No furniture, so I put my laptop on an empty suitcase, the keyboard in my lap and started typing. Today I'm in luxury, because a friend has lent us some plastic chairs.

So now my laptop is on two suitcases and the keyboard is in my lap. I have deadlines every day this week, but I'm feeling good. I had positive feedback on the first blog posts I did for a new contract, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day. Hope you're having a good day, too.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Freelance Writing From Anywhere

Can you really write from anywhere? I'm about to find out. For about four years I've been planning a move to the Caribbean. Now the day is finally here - my last day in England for a while.

I'm packing my bags and selling my car and tomorrow I board a plane. My trusty laptop will be with me, so I can start work as soon as I arrive. Or at least I could. What I'm really going to do is have a few days off, go to the beach and relax, if only for a few days.

I've got deadlines in the first week of September, so I can't slack for long. Wish me luck - I'll be back here in early September (provided my Internet connection is up) with an update on freelance writing on an island. In the meantime, all my other writing is linked here. See you soon :)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Four Secrets Of Freelance Writing

I've been freelancing for the last year and I've been reasonably successful for the past three months. This doesn't mean that I'm getting rich, but that I have managed to replace the salary I was earning as a part-time lecturer. In fact, now that I've cleared the overdraft I built up over nine months of earning a pittance, my account is in the black. During this time, I've learned a couple of things about freelance writing. I'm sharing those with you for whatever they're worth.

Freelance Writing Is Not A Get Rich Quick Scheme

Many people see freelance writing as a glamorous life. You get to write and earn shedloads of money. Wrong. Freelance writing - successful freelance writing - is a job. Even if you love it, you still have to work hard to pay the bills. More than that, you have to promote yourself feverishly in the hope that someone will give you that first break. And once you start to build up relationships with people, you will still have periods where the earnings are lower than you want.

Freelance Writing Gigs Are Like Buses

The thing is, freelance writing gigs are like buses (or taxis in North America). Nothing for ages, then three or four at once. Every writer has slow periods. The people who run freelance agencies will tell you that writing work slows over the summer and around major public holidays. Freelance writers have to prepare for these slow periods by taking the work when it comes. The upshot of this is that you balance times spent twiddling your thumbs with times where you can't leave your computer long enough to eat. With practice, you learn to estimate how long jobs will take you and when you need to start bidding. Right now, for example, I've stopped bidding for jobs, because anything I get is likely to be due either while I'm mid-air or while I'm wrestling with an Internet connection setup. I've told everyone that I'll be unavailable for a week from next Thursday. But, I've spent the last month preparing for this by taking on lots of work to build up some cash reserves.

Freelance Writing: You Have To Give To Get

As a freelance writer, sometimes you have to take work at much less than your preferred hourly rate. Even if you are worth $50 an hour, the realities of the internet marketplace mean that you will rarely get it unless you have an established relationship with a buyer. Instead, you may have to write for as little as 1 cent a word. This is not a lot, it is true, but if you are getting lots of work at that rate, it will soon add up. The faster you write (and your speed will improve) the better that hourly rate begins to look. Where this pays off is that you earn the trust of someone, who may well be prepared to pay you more the next time round.

Always Say Yes And Panic Later

When the writing work comes in, I sometimes wonder how I'm going to do it. I have a three year old and I do most of my writing three days a week, plus naptimes and evenings. At the moment I say yes to most writing jobs, and then I fit the writing into whatever time I have (in fact, I should be writing an article on credit cards right now). The reasons for this are:

  • to earn some money for writing
  • to increase my writing speed
  • to write about new topics and build up expertise
  • to build relationships with people who might give me more writing work
The next step is to weed out the non-payers and accept more work from those who consistently have jobs and pay on time. That will make it even easier to make a success of freelance writing. The

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Freelance Writing On The Move

How do you keep writing when you have to travel? Here's my situation. My freelance writing career is going well. I have been incredibly busy for the past couple of months. All that is great, except that I am trying not to lose my mind while planning a transatlantic move. After four years of planning, it's almost crunch time. The house is covered in boxes, the shippers are coming tomorrow and we're hassling the lawyers to give us the dates we need to get other things booked into the calendar. Meanwhile, I've had to keep writing.

Organising My Writing Life

I was relatively organised. I scaled back on most of my work so I could help with the packing (my DH has been doing most of it). But the dates kept shifting, so I said yes to things that I thought would be due after shipping (which should have happened two weeks ago). However, nothing ever goes to plan - and this is no exception. So I've found myself with lots of writing to do while the house was being dismantled around me and while trying to keep my three year old from getting stressed. She knows we're moving, but she doesn't like seeing her things packed away. Although we're trying to keep things normal, there's no way they can be.

I kept writing and met most of my deadlines, writing by day and packing by night - until after midnight, some nights. Eventually, yesterday, I caved. For the first time in a long, long time, I told a client that I could not meet her deadline, explained why and asked for some flexibility. She was very understanding and even offered me a day more than I had asked for (which is good, because I'd added a day more than I thought I needed). I didn't like doing it, but it was more professional than missing the deadline without explanation. I've also told a couple of other people that I can't do any more work this week.

Clearing My Desk

All my desk paraphernalia has gone. I'm down to my laptop, with an external mouse and keyboard. Tomorrow we're moving into temporary accommodation and I've got to set up the wireless router so that we can all have access to the internet and I can meet my new deadlines. Surprisingly, I am managing well without a printer - I just print to PDF and save it for later. I realised that I don't need as much stuff as I thought I did. I don't have to print out much because I proofread on screen (I do print out some things, but not as many as I did. After all, I've got to do my part in conserving some trees).

Once the move is complete, I can start work again, but this is only part one of the move, so I'm still keeping new work to a minimum. Part two of the move comes in about two weeks when we finally leave the country. Fingers crossed, our internet connection will be set up when we get there. Then I can unpack my laptop, keyboard, mouse, router and extension cord, set them all up and get back to work.

What are your essentials for writing on the move?

Sunday, August 6, 2006

It Shouldn't Happen To A Freelance Writer

Now that I'm a freelance writer, I'm happy doing what I've always wanted to do, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. For the first time in a long time (and I mean LONG), I had a piece of work returned to me for revision. It's a research job, looking for additional information to accompany articles. The irony is that I'm the one who set the standard for this particular type of work, so you'd think I'd know how to do it right. Not necessarily - and here's why.

The Writing Brief

As a freelance writer, the writing brief is the most important part of your job. After all, how else are you to know what to do? But briefs aren't always clear and when you're working through an intermediary (as in this case) you don't speak to the person giving the brief. So it's a bit like pin the tail on the donkey. You might get it right, but you have an even greater chance of missing the mark completely. (By the way, this isn't the intermediary's fault, but if the client doesn't brief the middleperson correctly, then the middleperson can't brief the writer correctly.)

Now, don't feel depressed by this. Once you're an experienced writer, or you have experience with certain types of writing, your chances of getting the job right first time increase. But this job is an example of being lulled into a false sense of security. See, I did the sample topics, found lots of info and links, but what I didn't realise is that I was tapping into the client's unspoken criteria. And those are the ones that bite you in the butt.

Some clients know what they want and give a clear brief, but they are in the minority. Others have an idea of what they want which becomes more defined when they don't get it. In this case, the client wanted a certain number of links in a certain number of categories, but this had never been put in writing or articulated. The upshot of that was that I submitted one article (that I couldn't find a lot of links for) and had it bumped back to me.

Working Through Rejection

I'm only human. I don't like having work returned. It wasted my time, because I had to spend time redoing work that I thought I had finished. That stopped me from doing other jobs. As a professional, though, I have to be prepared to revise work if it's not right. If I do it quickly and without complaining (except to you), then I'll continue to get work from that source.

The good thing is that now I know what the criteria are. That means I can work more efficiently. And I hope I won't get any more work returned for this particular job.

The moral of the story:

  1. Try to find out as much as possible about what is required (it never occurred to me to ask how many links the client wanted).
  2. Where possible, deal directly with the client (middlepeople sometimes make for misunderstandings)
  3. If you have to do a rewrite or revision, don't complain or argue, just do it (freelance writers need thick skins).
  4. Even an experienced writer can have work returned

Have you had work returned for revision? How do you deal with the knockbacks?

Friday, August 4, 2006

1000 And Counting - Website Promotion

Website promotion works. I love the sound of this number. 1000. It rolls off the tongue and gladdens the mind. I'll tell you why. That's the number of unique visitors to my freelance writing site in July. These are my best figures yet and it's all been done through free promotional techniques (and the contacts I've made here on WritingUp). Now, I know these are small figures compared to a lot of big league sites, but they're not bad for a freelance writer's site that's just over a year old.

To get to this point I have used self-promotion of all kinds, including blog carnivals, writing free articles, and looking around for any articles that will help me find out what the next step is. I've taken advice from Mitch, Haven and gracepub and many others.

But this is not just about blowing my own trumpet. The thing is that you can do this too, if you want to. There's no big secret (especially since I've been blogging about it for a year). It's just a matter of taking the time to do it.

And by the way, just so you know, not everything's going my way. One job has stiffed me for GBP150 - so I need to figure out how I'm going to recover it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Stepping Into Self-Publishing

When I signed up with Lifetips several months ago, I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. Within a short space of time I had written on fruit, video chat and conversational Spanish. Spanish meshed well with my previous experience and fruit was general knowledge, but to do video chat I had to step out of my comfort zone and I mean way out. I'd just about heard of webcams, but had no idea, until I did this site, about their history and the many things you could do with them.

In the last month or so, I've done a couple more sites for them. I did an intro page to freelance writing (not live yet) and some tips on educational travel. Freelance writing was relatively easy, while educational travel was done late at night and in a hurry after my laptop trauma. (Not my best work, it's safe to say, but it was competent and it was delivered on time.

But now I'm really happy, because I've become their expert on self-publishing. To do this, I had to assess the existing site, write 10 new tips and advise on how the site could be improved. In return, I've got a link to my blog and to my new ebook. It seems a good deal to me. Self-publishing, here I come!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Where I Get Paid To Write

I'm going to be terribly un-British today. In the UK, people don't talk about what they earn. They mask the true picture behind phrases such as 'could be worse' (meaning, I'm not on the breadline yet) and 'I do all right' (meaning, I'm rolling in it). But today I'm going to talk about cash for writing. Specifically, the places I've written for in the past six months to a year that have helped my freelance writing career and my bank balance by paying cold, hard cash. I hope you'll manage to make these sources pay you, too.

Get Paid To Write With Lifetips.com

Lifetips.com is a tips site where you get paid to write tips on just about everything. After doing 10 free tips you get access to the paid tips jobs. For these you have to write up to 100 keyword based tips for up to $1000. You also have to write up to 30 sponsored tips for $10 each.

My only gripe with Lifetips is that what you get paid per tip depends on the editor's assessment of their usefulness. However, if you're happy with earning about $850 for 100 tips of about 150 words each, then this will suit you. New tips sites come up every week and if you're in a slump you can answer users' questions at $3 a pop. I plan to write about Lifetips in more detail in another post, but what's important is that they pay on time. Cheques go out on the 1st of every month and in my best month with them (2 tips sites and several user questions), I netted over $1,600.

Get Paid To Write With ExquisiteWriting

ExquisiteWriting.com is an agency that lets me get paid to write, but frees me from the pain of bidding myself. It's run by Julie-Ann Amos and works really well. Whenever jobs come in she sends emails to a few people offering them round and you get a commission and a pay rate. Julie-Ann offers a basic pay rate plus more if the job pays more. She also seems to have an endless stream of work, so it's worth contacting her through the site.

Pay from this site has been around $800 a month - and I could have had more if I'd been working full time. I like writing for this company because they pay twice or three times a week by Paypal or (if you live in the UK) credit transfer. You write, you invoice, you get paid. As a freelance writer, that works well for me.

Get Paid To Write With Blogitive

I've had a lot to say about getting paid to write with Blogitive in the past, so instead of repeating myself, I'll just say this: $500. That's how much I've made from them. OK, it was over four months, but within that period there was almost a month when there were no offers, and occasionally there have been dry weeks. I reckon that Blogitive is about $100+ a month, which isn't a lot, but makes a nice addition to the monthly income. Here are the links to my previous posts on Blogitive:

Deborah Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs List

This site does not pay me directly, but it is a great place to get paid freelance writing jobs. I've already reviewed this, so I won't say more, but leads from this site have led to a couple of paying jobs at around $100 a pop. The most recent one is likely to lead to repeat work.

These are the top places that are paying me at the moment. I hope they work for you, too. If you're freelancing, which places have you found the most profitable? Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Paragraphs - Who Needs Them?

Some things in life should be easy - and reading a blog is one of them. I don't know about anyone else, but when I see a huge chunk of text on the home page, I skate right past it. My eyes transmit the lockdown code to my brain. Too much visual information assaulting the senses. Trying to read an unbroken block of text is like trying to eat a whole cherry pie in one bite. Some people may be able to do it, but most would choke. So that's why we need paragraphs.

You see, the thing is, you've got to make it easy for your readers. If you want them to get your point quickly and move on to the next one, it helps to break up the text. The brain copes more easily with small chunks of text, and my brain could use all the help it can get.

Every blogging system is different, so you'll have to do it in different ways depending on which one you use. On WritingUp, a couple of returns (hit the 'enter' key twice) usually does the trick. If it doesn't, you can use the letters
. That gives you a line break.

As a sub-editor and editor, I spent a lot of my time making long paragraphs into shorter ones and each paragraph had to have a point. This is a good rule for blogs as well. I won't go on about the paragraph thing, especially as a couple of other writers have written about them in detail. Instead, I'll just point you towards Majansa's post on blog formatting and Gracepub's post on paragraphs. Both are well worth a read for the new blogger.

This post has been sponsored by the Volunteer Editing Support Team.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The FT Is Haunting Me!

A long time ago, I worked for a small division of the Financial Times (yes, THE Financial Times). I edited stock exchange announcements for financial reports on UK and European companies. It wasn't the most interesting job I've ever had, but I learned to read an annual report and became familiar with a plethora of financial terminology.

After, I'd done that for two years (it was in the middle of the UK recession, so I couldn't afford to be picky), I was happy to move on to a more traditional journalism job, and I put that period behind me. The only reminder of it was a two line entry on my CV. It looked good, and I'm sure it got me many interviews I might otherwise have lost. However, I didn't work on financial matters again for a long time.

But recently I've been getting lots of work from a freelance agency, and I've found myself writing about financial matters again. Loans, mortgages, credit cards - you name it. Some of it's interesting, some is not, but I reckon I'm getting it because of that two-line entry on my CV. And at least it's regular, paid work. I've worked in a lot of different industries. If they go in turn, then I could find myself writing about metals next. Watch this space.

What about you? Have you got any jobs in your past that have come back to haunt you?

Friday, July 21, 2006

How To Prove You Can Write When You Have No Clips

The other day someone asked me a question. It was: 'How do you apply for a writing job when you have no writing credits?'. I knew the answer because when I relaunched my writing career last year all my writing credits were old. They proved that I used to be able to write, but there wasn't any recent history to show that someone had thought my writing was worth publishing. The advice I gave is based on what I did. Here it is:

1. Use your blog as an example of your writing. Point editors towards it and they'll be able to see your writing and people's responses to it. That will give them an idea of how popular you might be with their readers.

2. Turn some blog posts into articles, sign up with EzineArticles and upload them. The next time a job comes around, you will have clips you can show. Also, find a few places in your genre that are looking for free content and offer it to them, provided they link to your blog or site. This is a short term strategy (I don't advocate writing for free long term) designed to get you some clips. This worked extremely well for me, and it's great for promotion too.

3. If you know the publication you are approaching for a job or writing commission, write a short piece of the type they publish and send it as an example of what you can do. If you haven't got a lot of publication credits, this at least shows you've read the mag and thought about what they might want to publish.

4. Practice, practice, practice. While I was doing the EzineArticles thing, I also wrote reviews for three sites. I didn't get paid directly, but I learned a lot about what people found useful and what type of writing they responded to best. It's a good way to start to find your writing voice.

These strategies worked well for me. At the moment I have more writing work than I know what to do with, and it's only taken a year. Admittedly, I had a headstart in terms of writing experience, but in the case of clips, five year old clips are worse than nothing, so I was starting from scratch.

Now, this is just a start. I'd love to hear from the rest of you what worked when you were getting started. And editors and publishers (you know who you are), what are you looking for in a new writer?

A final question, not quite related. I'm thinking of offering an article spot in my monthly newsletter to anyone who writes about writing. No money, but a short bio with a link to your site or blog. I'm looking for 6-12 articles of 300-400 words initially. I don't mind if they've been published before as long as you own the rights. What do you think? If anyone's interested, drop me a comment

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My Path To Writing

I was inspired to write this by a recent post from Trick Falls on writing inspirations. I haven't always wanted to be a writer, though I have nearly always written. When I was a child, I used to mess around with drawing house plans and I thought I might want to be an architect. My high school art teacher finally put an end to that when I was 14 by requesting that I not waste her time by returning the following year. (Shame really, I enjoyed art, but even I must admit that drawing wasn't my strong point.) I also enjoyed playing with Meccano and experimenting with buildings, but it would have helped if I'd had either a good science teacher (for the laws of physics) or some aptitude for scientific subjects. But I didn't. So that left me with words.

Don't get me wrong, words were not something that I settled for in lieu of the other two options. In fact, they had been a part of my life for as long as I remember. My mother remembers me as a little girl who never stopped talking. And what I remember is that as soon as I started getting pocket money (maybe around the age of seven), I started spending it on books.

I was a voracious reader. I started with Enid Blyton, moved on to Richmal Compton (William stories), Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Biggles and various children's classics. Once I'd exhausted those, I took a brief swing through some teenage fiction (Judy Blume and the like), before heading for my parents' bookshelf. Now they had a lot of books. There were books in the hallway, in the dining room, in their bedroom and in every spare space, so I was happy. At first I took the books I was allowed to read (lots of mysteries - Agatha Christie, Nero Wolfe etc) and then I raided the shelf for other books (Jacqueline Susan among others). Don't worry, I was quite a bit older than seven by this time. Not everything I read was great literature, but it made me appreciate a good story. And though my reading tastes have changed, I still do.

The reason I mention this is because most writers worth their salt are also readers. So reading was a crucial part of my development as a writer. (And let me take a moment to plug Scrabble. I started playing the junior version at around six and the adult version at eight with my grandfather. There's nothing like it for enouraging a love of words and boosting your vocabulary.)

At school, I always enjoyed writing stories, but I never thought much about that enjoyment. There were two experiences that set me on the road to writing. One was pleasant, the other not. The first one was growing up with an alcoholic father. By the time I was 15 I had a lot of anger and sadness to write out and that's when I started writing poetry and keeping a journal. I'm not saying it was any good, but it was writing. The second thing was becoming co-editor of the school newspaper at 17. Now, this was in the old days. We used a Gestetner machine, commissioned people to do illustrations by hand and got covered in ink. That was when I first felt the thrill of writing for publication and managing a magazine. I really loved it.

But I'm slow on the uptake sometimes. So I did nothing more than the occasional poem while I was at university and away in France. When I got back home, a local paper was looking for someone with language skills. I applied, got it and started work as a journalist. In that job and in all my other journalism jobs, I got to write about a variety of things and to do a variety of publishing related tasks. Although I didn't always like my bosses, I loved the job.

Then came my last boss. He was a bully and for the first time, I contemplated leaving journalism. So when a chance came to teach it at university, I jumped at the chance, thinking that I could freelance as well. That didn't work out, because of the amount of preparation a new teacher has to do and then childbirth and motherhood.

Throughout this time, I'd continued to write the occasional poem, but it was when I went back to work after maternity leave that it struck me. I wasn't happy. I wanted to write full time (or at least part-time so I could spend time with my daughter). Finally, a year ago I made the jump after listing the pros and cons. The pros were that I had lots of experience as a writer and would be able to work from home doing what I loved. The cons were that I didn't have many recent contacts and I might not make any money for a year.

So now, here we are. I'm getting paid to write and I'm happy. Inspiration is all around me. My daughter has inspired children's stories (five to date) and poetry. My nomadic life has inspired books on moving (still half-finished). And blogging at WritingUp has inspired lots and lots of writing, most of which you have seen.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blogging For Smarties

Blogging For Smarties is not the opposite of Blogging For Dummies, a book which tells us how to do what we already do here at WritingUp.If you want advice on smart blogging, try Performancing.com, Problogger.com or read Seven Essential Blogging Habits. This is about a conversation with my three year old which made me think about the life of a WAHM.

Like many people, I used to go out to work. For my daughter, work was something that you did when you were out and when you were home you were off duty. But last year, when I went freelance, that started to change.

Of course, the change didn't happen overnight. Freelance writing success rarely comes quickly. But with all the writing I've been doing in the last couple of months, something major has changed. I'm never off-duty, though I force myself to spend family time (that IS why I'm a WAHM, after all). All you writers will know, though, that when a deadline looms, everything gets shoved aside so you can deliver on time. And that somtimes means children, too.

Like most three year olds, my daughter is the centre of her universe, and she doesn't like my work stealing the limelight. She knows I'm a writer (thanks to five unpublished children's stories which I've tested on her and her friends with great success) but she doesn't always understand that it means I have to sit at the computer. But she IS beginning to understand about money, so I came up with a way to explain my blogging and writing habit to her. The conversation went like this:

Me: You know that Mummy's a writer, don't you?
T: Yes (smiling)
M: Writing has to be done at the computer, because that's where people write. Do you understand?
T: Yes
M: Do you remember Daddy explained to you about earning money to buy treats?
T: Yes (warily)
M: Well, that's why Mummy has to write. So she can earn money to buy food and treats like Smarties (Smarties are small chocolate sweets wtih a bright coating, like M&Ms but smaller). They are her favourite treat at the moment.

So that's where the notion of writing for Smarties came in. And since I also earn money from blogging, I must be blogging for Smarties too.

Funnily enough, I think my daughter understood what I was getting at. And it gives me a handy way to explain why I'm sitting at the computer sometimes when I would rather be playing with her.

What about all you other WAHMs? How do you explain your work to young children - or older children? I might need to come up with something new in a couple of years.

PS. If you haven't already read it, check out Mitch's post on backing up - it's great advice for any writer. I wish I'd read this before my laptop died.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Published And Proud Of It

I'm falling in love with TodayBooks.com. This might be the honeymoon period, because I've just had my second book listed with them. And it's one that's grown out of this very blog. Remember when I did a series of posts on search engine optimization and website promotion? Well, that turned into a presentation for Inspired Author. One day when I had not much else to do, I converted the presentation into a Word document and sent it to TodayBooks.

A couple of weeks later I got back an email that said that they liked the book but felt it was a bit thin. Who could blame them? After all, it WAS based on a bullet point presentation, so I knew it was light on content. But sending them the presentation gave them the chance to assess whether it was something they would publish. After I thought about it for a while, I decided to beef it up by including some of my original blog posts from here, generalised so they didn't just apply to writers. This book is the result of the combination.

The whole process has taken several weeks. TodayBooks are extremely slow at responding to email. What I like about them is that if they think changes are needed they tell me. They also promote the book on the home page. Most importantly, I get an ISBN, so I can list my book with Amazon and others.

There's one thing I thought they could have done better. The suggested a new title and asked me to write sales copy. I had no problem with that - after all, if I wasn't prepared to promote my own book, why should they? But ... they've changed the title again and they didn't change the sales copy to match. That's why the title of the book is SEO Tricks but the sales copy refers to Web Page Action. That's a bit careless, I think.

All in all, I'm happy. I've got my second ebook out and it's a general one that I can promote heavily. It will look great in my profile on IFreelance and other places. And I may make some pocket money from it, too

Saturday, July 8, 2006

My Laptop Disaster Recovery Plan

As a working writer you should always have a plan B for when technology lets you down. It’s my own fault. I should have known better. In fact, I usually do. When I first owned a computer in the early 1990s, I fell prey to a Word macro virus. I got my act together, installed an antivirus program and have not had a single one since.

I've been equally ferocious about backing up. First I used floppies, then CDs, then DVDs. If nothing was handy I used a virtual backup drive by emailing my work from one email address to another. I never lost anything. That was the old days. If you read my previous post you'll know that my laptop died and I lost a couple days' work. So how could this happen to someone who's usually so well organised?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. I'm much less well organised since I had a child. Simply put, there's much less leftover brain power to apply to keeping my life ticking over. I wouldn't have it any other way, but this wouldn't have happened to the old paranoid me three years ago. I'm stretched thin and suddenly very busy. The result of that is that when I managed to do 25 tips for LifeTips (I finished them on Wednesday when my daughter was napping), I forgot to back them up. Most of the time you can let things slip for a little while, and there's no danger. Not this time - and there was no warning. At 5.15 my laptop was working. At 6.15 it was dead.

What this has taught me is that it's important to have a plan B when you make your living with a computer. Until recently my plan B was my husband's computer, but he's on the road more, so I can't relay on having access to it. The library doesn't open at hours that suit the rest of my life. I quite often work late at night after my daughter’s gone to bed and my local library closes at 5.

While I was facing the loss of two days' work and the prospect of 10 days without a computer (and I admit, shedding a few tears of annoyance), I thought of a plan. My hubby had a tablet pc he had never used so maybe I could use that as a backup. We bought a USB keyboard and then tried to get it connected to our wireless network. Nothing. I fiddled around with settings, still nothing. Eventually I discovered that Microsoft’s tablet software does not support WSP-PSK or whatever it is, so it's not going to happen. So I dug out an Ethernet cable and finally got online.

All of my work at the moment has to be researched on line so doing without a net connection is not an option if I'm to meet my deadlines. Now I've got to figure out how to prop the tablet up so I can type and see the screen at the same time.

Meanwhile I am missing my favourite programs:
- Firefox - I will install this soon
- Thunderbird
- Performancing - my blog editor of choice (by the way, that’s why there are no links or fancy formatting in this post. I’ll go back and fix it once I’ve got my laptop back).

I have lost
- 21 lifetips
- a new poem
- my WritingUp backup
- my invoice template
- this week's writing jobs - most of which I had submitted

The lesson I'm getting to is that you need to have a plan B. So, I've now got a few.

First, I'm moving everything that I can online. I already use blinklist and Google calendar. Now I'll use my gmail account for backing up my work in progress. That way I can access it wherever I am.

Second, as soon as I can afford it, I'll get a cheap desktop pc as a backup.

Third, I'll replace my 80GB external hard drive with something that I can keep permanently attached to my laptop, so I can backup as I go.

Fourth, I’ll put a reminder in my diary so that I always do it.

Fifth, my new laptop will come with an international next day onsite warranty.

Apart from the social deprivation of being without a reliable internet connection (regular writnguppers will know what I'm talking about), this incident has very real consequences for my writing. I'm going to have to make up a couple of days' work over what is already a busy week. I won’t get caught this way again.

How have you done with disaster preparedness? Do you have a plan B?

PS. If I'm a bit slower than usual responding to comments you'll know the reason why. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Website Promotion: Here's Proof That It Works

I recently did a post on website promotion strategies for writers and bloggers. Today I had more proof that it works. While I was browsing around my site stats, I noticed a few inbound links I didn't recognise. One of them turned out to be from Worldwide Freelance Writer. They publish a newsletter (every couple of weeks, I think) and the next issue is on their site. One of my free to reprint articles from EzineArticles is the lead article. This is good news for me, as it has links to both my site and blog.

To make the most of this opportunity, I've written to the editor pointing him to my other free to reprint writing articles on EzineArticles. I've also said that I'm available to write unique content for their standard fee (which was about $20 the last time they were accepting submissions).

I figure I haven't got anything to lose. The only thing to do now is to update my bio on all the articles, so it shows the latest links I am promoting.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Look What You Can Do On WritingUp

This morning I was wasting time when I should have been writing. I decided to go back over all my old posts and tag them and group them. Then I started playing around with the topic specific pages. This is what I found out.

When I clicked on a topic, it brought up all the blogs on that topic. Nothing new there. Then, there was a login link on the right - that's not new either. What was new (and I may be late in discovering this) was that when I logged in and clicked on the my blog link, I found only the posts I had written in that category. So in theory I could now promote the following subcategories:

I'd like to be able to do one on promotion, which is the other tag I use, but there's no specific topic for that yet. What is does tell me is that I need to be much more careful about tagging blog posts so that my niches are well defined.

This has great possibilities for focused promotion. Now that I've found these I'll be adding them to social bookmarking services, blog directories and submitting the links to search engines. It can't hurt, can it?

Monday, July 3, 2006

Website Promotion Strategies For Writers And Bloggers

You can't argue with these figures. This month I had 843 unique visitors to doublehdesign.com (200 more than when I wrote about this in January). I had 17,000+ hits (only a small increase) and I had nearly a 50% increase in page views (to more than 10,000). This month I've also had a few emails a week from the contact form on my site and people have seen my stuff and contacted me about work. So I must be doing something right. The trouble is, when you throw everything at a problem, it can be hard to know which one has worked best. Here's what I did. I hope following these steps will help you promote successfully too.

1. Choose A Domain Name

I bought my domain name almost a year before I was ready to do anything with it. That was one area where I made a mistake, going for a name that captured what I thought I wanted to do. Doublehdesign is ok, but SharonHurleyHall.com would have been better. I've bought the other one now, but I've put a lot of effort into promoting doublehdesign, so I'll have to be creative in how I promote the other one. If you are blogging, choose the name of your blog carefully. Although you may be able to change it later, any links that you have promoted may show up as broken if you change the name (this happens on WritingUp). This will not help with site traffic.

2. Create A Website

I set up my site. This was quite simple when it started. There was a home page, a bio/cv/resume page, a ghostwriting page, a writing samples page and a contact form. This was enough to get me going. It was simple and I added the bells and whistles such as my photo, links pages, a sitemap and google ads later. I added one page a week to my site for about four months. I updated at least one page every week or two. If you're blogging, add at least a couple of posts a week.

3. Promotion By Adding A Blog

I added a blog in November. This was a good move, because that's when my traffic really started to increase. However, a month later, I got addicted to blogging at WritingUp, so it might have been just as easy to use a WritingUp feed on my site, with links back to the site whenever possible. This is a strategy several WritingUp bloggers use effectively.

4. Submit To Google, Yahoo, MSN

I submitted my site and blogs to Google, Yahoo and MSN. I also submitted my site to DMOZ, where it's been listed at last after nearly a year. Then I submitted to other appropriate directories. The difficulty with this is that there was rarely a category that matches exactly what your site or blog is about. Some directories listed writers' sites as personal, others as business, still others as arts. I just picked a category and hoped for the best. This added to my search engine hits and to my traffic. I submitted my blog to blog directories of all sorts. First of all I went for those that did not require a linkback, then I targeted a few that did. Traffic to my blog soon surpassed traffic to the main site. A word of warning, though. Sometimes you can get submit-happy and submit to sites that will bring traffic that you don't want. I don't think it's a coincidence that a month after doing an accidental mass submit to sites around the world, I got traffic from sites looking to sell Viagra, Tramadol and more.

5. Promotion By Writing For Free

One of my best promotion techniques was writing for free. I wrote free articles for EzineArticles.com, GoArticles.com, ArticleMarketer.com, ArticleBlast.com, SubmitYourNewContent.com and many others. These are the ones that have resulted in the most links back to my site. EzineArticles is the one that had the quickest results. Two of my articles got picked up by freelancewriting.com and I consistently get 10 or more hits a month from this site. I also wrote reviews on Dooyoo.co.uk, ciao.co.uk and Epinions.com. This allowed me to practice writing, earn some pennies, show some versatility and develop my writing voice. Again, many of these turn up all over the web.

6. Finding Opportunities Through Blogging

I signed up with freelance job agencies, looked on craigslist and looked at other job listings. These brought some work, but blogging has been even more fruitful. It was on WritingUp that I first heard about InspiredAuthor, Blogitive, Lifetips, IFreelance and other sites which are now the backbone of my freelance writing life. Taking time to read other blogs paid off in a way I could not have predicted.

7. Promotion By Exchanging Links

More recently, I have done link exchanges with writing sites, joined a writing web ring and changed my site template to be more seo-friendly. I am now getting more visits than ever. Figures for the year to date are nearly 4000 unique visitors, about 54,000 page views and about 86,000 hits. The figures were skewed slightly by the Viagra-Tramadol brigade in February. I have also used, social bookmarking, tagging and pinging.

8. Promotion Through Keywords, Tagging And Pinging

I'm also trying a new strategy. I look to see what people have been searching for (or in the case of my blog, which ads appear on the days I make most money) and then I blog about that topic again. I haven't done this on writingup yet, but I have done it on my other blog. It's too early to say how that will turn out. I do use keywords in my blog posts, though. If you want your blog to be known for a particular subject, research the keywords, use them in your blog, and use them as tags. If you look through my blog, you'll find that tags on the early posts are all over the place, while tags on recent posts are much more focused.

9. Promotion: Keep Updating

Believe it or not, when I started my promotion efforts, I didn't know much about what I was doing. I read, learned and tried new ideas, discarding the ones that didn't seem to work for me. Now that I know more about what I'm doing, it's time to look at my site and blog again and see how they could be improved. Some of the pages need some work on keywords; others need to be split into two. Of course, I'm so busy writing now that I have less time to spend on promotion, but I know I've got to keep up my website promotion efforts to keep the ball rolling. I hope some of these strategies work for you.

Friday, June 30, 2006

One For The WAHMs

I had another poem published on RITRO.com today. It's called Not For Ladies. This was my take on the whole birth experience, so I'm sure many women will relate. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

How I Got Paid By Writing For Free

A lot of freelance writers complain about writing for free or for peanuts. Most of the time I agree with them. Writing is a skill and freelance writers should earn a fair rate. But there are times when writing for free is useful. Let me give you an example.

Last July, I was helping a friend move house. It made me realize that I knew a lot about moving and sparked a series of articles on moving house. The articles are:

  1. Move-it Yourself: Five Steps to Success
  2. DIY House Moves: Five Ways to Make Sure Your Stuff Stays Intact
  3. Hassle-free House Moves: Five Strategies For Success

I had no particular audience for them, so I submitted them to EzineArticles and GoArticles and forgot about them for a while. To my surprise, those articles have been reprinted on several websites and are among my most popular (non-writing) articles. (They've also been scraped onto several Blogger blogs, but that's another story.) I got two benefits from writing these free articles. The first was almost immediate. Within a few days, I found links to my site on Google and other search engines.

The second was more recent. Last week I got an email from a site which specializes in house moving. They'd seen my articles and wanted me to write something specifically for their site. Of course, they wanted me to write for free as the site gets half a million visitors a month and they would give me a resource box. I held out for some money and I'll get a nominal sum for writing the article. The good news is, that I should be able to use this for further promotion - and as I'm hoping to write an ebook on moving, that can't be bad.

My point is (and I know I'm not the first or only one to say this) that writing for free isn't writing for free if you get something out of it. As a new writer, writing for free can give you clips that are published all over the web. It's a chance to hone your writing skills and build up some expertise. If you have a good selection of clips then you will make a better impression on editors and others who might want you to write for them.

As an established writer, writing for free is a chance to get some exposure and show off your expertise in particular areas. It's also a chance to have some fun writing about subjects that are not part of your core area. Whichever category you fit into, it's about promoting yourself as a writer. Do enough promotion, and that can lead to writing jobs that you WILL get paid for.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Want To Be A Professional Blogger?

Professional bloggers make money for a living. That's all they do - blog and promote, blog and promote, blog and promote. I have to say the idea has begun to appeal to me, as long as I can write other things as well. Using social bookmarking, Blogitive and other promotional tools are a good start, but there's much more to problogging than that.

If you want to know how to become a professional blogger, you should visit Darren Rowse's problogging site every day. This week he's published his A-Z of Professional Blogging. This is a list of tools and sites to help bloggers. Even if you don't want to turn pro, you can learn something helpful here. I get a new tip every time I go to the site. The A-Z of Professional Blogging has so many links that just following those will give a mini-course in blogging. Check it out.