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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ghostwriter For Hire

I've been a big fan of Squidoo for some time, and have three lenses there, including on on site promotion. So it's no surprise when I find quality content that is just waiting to be discovered.

Today's discovery is a lens on ghostwriting. How To Hire A Ghostwriter is aimed at those who are intending to hire ghostwriters and answers some common questions in a clear and simple way. If you're starting out as a ghostwriter, it's a good way to find out what clients might be looking for and what you can charge, though there are other resources that do that too.

I've written a bit on ghostwriting myself, but I found this a really useful lens. Way to go, stevemcc.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Writing For Free Pays Off Again

Like any other freelance writer, I want to get paid fairly for my work. However, there are times when writing for free can be worth it. You get promotion and publicity and it raises your profile.

Here's another case in point. Nearly two years ago I wrote It's Your House, Don't Give It Away, an article on severance of tenancy (UK legal term for putting your house in joint names), for a friend who was running a legal services website. Since the object was to drive traffic to his site, I put it up on EzineArticles.

Now the friend has returned the favour, submitting my article to a UK legal services firm as part of the flagship content for their new blog. Although the blog is new, this firm is one of the fastest growing legal services firms in the UK, so it won't do me any harm to have my article there, with a link to my site and EzineArticles profile. I may not have been paid in money, but I have been amply repaid in promotion.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

WLN May 2007 Preview

This is cross posted from my Writing Lab. The next edition of Writing Lab News is out in a few days. Here's what I've got planned:

-- How To Promote Your Way To The Top Of Google
-- A guest article on freelance writing success
-- Diary Of A Working Writer
-- Five Essential Reference Tools For Writers
-- An insight into a writing market
-- I Must Be Doing Something Right

and more.

Last month's issue can be found here.

If you want to make sure you get it as soon as it comes out, there's a subscription box next to this post (in the middle of the right column). So go on - subscribe. Lots of good content about writing and I'll only mail you once a month. You have nothing to lose so sign up now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Professional Pay Please

When it comes to freelance writing, I have never been too proud to write for peanuts or even for free, but it's time for that to stop. Writing for free has helped me to promote myself as a writer. The articles I have written are still driving traffic to my website. I have also used them to land writing gigs. Writing for peanuts has helped me to pay the bills (when I write very fast) but it is not a good long term career strategy. Not only will I lose interest in writing, but I am likely to burn out quickly. So I need to earn more money from writing.

And why not? After all, I have 20 years' experience of writing for newspapers and magazines. I have been writing good web content of all kinds for the last two years. Sometimes it seems that I have written about every topic under the sun. Although I haven't really, my expertise includes writing on writing, online business, consumer finance, parenting, blogging, promotion and much more. So I think it's fair to say that I have something to offer to my writing clients. In addition, I write quickly, my work is virtually error free and I'm great at following a brief.

That's why I think I should earn more than one cent a word for my writing. I had an experience this week where someone outsourced a project I had given them to writers who were being paid half a cent a word (!). While I'm surprised the writers took it, I am not surprised that the quality of the work was poor.

To be honest, even on one cent a word jobs, I like to maintain my standards, but I won't give the job as much care as if you pay me a living wage. That's why I've decided to actively seek better paying work, where I get a professional rate of pay for a professional job.

And clients like the work they get as a result. One of my recent clients said he had rarely worked with a writer who got his brief so well. He also signed his email with kisses, because he was so happy. And that's the difference you get when you pay the right rate for the job. Am I the only freelance writer who feels this way?

Want A Free Database?

How would you like to get hold of a free online database? Well, it's easy to do with this new offer. You can try the new online database tool, QuickBase from Intuit. It's free for one month and you don't even need a credit card.

Intuit makes QuickBooks and is now getting into web apps - that's why we now have QuickBase. Not only is it a database, but it is also a customer relationship management and project management tool.

I think this will be especially useful for those who want these features without paying for a huge IT department, so small business owners might be especially interested. Once the trial is over, MavenMapper says that $249 a month will buy a ten person subscription, which is cheaper than some of the competition.

All support is handled by Intuit. When you sign up, a sales rep gets in touch and offers tutorial videos and other help so you can get to grips with the application and give it a real trial. That doesn't cost you a dime, so QuickBase has to be worth a look.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Serving Two Writing Masters

It's never easy to serve two masters, but when you are writing for search engine spiders and for human readers you are doing just that. As a ghostwriter I write a lot of content that is designed for the search engines. That means that my clients have rules about keyword density (the number of times each keyword is used) and about whether keywords have to be used exactly as written, including spelling mistakes.

The main goal when writing for search engines is to have keywords corresponding to the most searched for terms so that when people search for those terms again they find your site. And it probably works, though search engines are constantly updating their search algorithms so they can't be fooled. That's why the emphasis has changed from metatags to keywords to whatever the latest info is (I'll leave that for another time).

However, there is a problem. Content that is written primarily for search engines may seem turgid and boring to a human reader. After all, web content is about addressing the reader directly in a sort of conversational style, If you were talking about plastic containers, you would only mention it once or twice as you would both know what you were talking about - 15 times would make for a dull conversation.

Some writing clients have caught on to this and allow white noise around the keywords. This is words like 'the' and 'a' and prepositions which help to make the articles better for human readers while still keeping the keywords intact for search engine spiders. In addition, they realise that using the keywords only a few times can be just as effective as using them 15 times, provided they are placed correctly. Search engines want to see relevance. That means that whatever the article title is, you should have the keywords in the first couple of sentences. And if you also have them in the last couple of sentences, that will indicate that there's relevant content throughout the article. Of course, there's more to it than that. You need to think about your subheadings and the content that follows them too.

As a ghostwriter, it can be difficult to write for two audiences, but that's just what we often have to do with web content. Where possible, I try to write something that I would be happy to read, but there are times when you have to bite the bullet and do exactly what the client wants, even if it goes against the grain. The thing that bothers me most is spelling mistakes, so I always check whether the client really means to include them, pointing out that human readers will think less of the content if they are left in - it sometimes works. How do you handle writing for two audiences?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Art Of The Follow Up

It never hurts to send another email. Sometimes it feels like you don't have time but failure to follow up means that you could miss out on a contact you need.

Take this example. Last week I sent some info out to a writer who wanted to work with me. She seemed keen, so I was suprised that I hadn't heard from her. Today I was at a loose end and sent an email to see if she was still interested. Turns out she was and had emailed me, but the email never arrived.

Following up has meant that I get the chance to build a working relationship with a great new writer. It does make me wonder, though, whether some of the other people I thought were blanking me were actually waiting for a response from me. Time to do some more following up. :)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Writer Promotion Is Important

If you are going to get paid to write, then you need to make sure that prospective clients can find you. That means promotion, but it doesn't have to cost you much. I've outlined some of the ways I promoted myself for free in How To Promote Your Way To The Top Of Google. Let me know if you have any tips to add.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Freelance Writing For Professionals

One way to make sure you are taken seriously as a freelance writer is to be professional. This can mean many things, but for me it's about how I do business to make sure that the client gets what they want and I do too. The client wants work that is produced on time and to spec. I want to get paid to write and get repeat business or referrals. There are four things I do as a professional freelancer:

I don't say yes to a job unless I'm pretty sure I can deliver. Failing to deliver makes me look bad with the client. It also puts me under stress so I have learned how to say no.

However, sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control. If I think the deadline is in jeopardy I give the client plenty of notice and options for retrieving the situation. The rule here is to ask for what you need and make it realistic - there's no point in asking for an extension twice. I give the client a reason why I can't deliver on time and I say how much I can deliver by the due date. I also let the client know that I am working hard to get everything done.

I ask questions up front rather than waste my time and theirs by doing something wrong. Having to do a job twice is bad for cash flow, so I always get as much information as I can before starting the job. I usually explain to the client that he will get a better service if I do this - then it's no problem.

I don't work for people who repeatedly fail to pay within the required time scale. As a friend said to me recently, you have to know when it's time to fire the client. One of my clients approached me recently to do more work. I still have one unpaid invoice with that client and have had to chase him five times for payment. I said to him that I would not feel comfortable doing more work until that invoice was paid and that I would not feel comfortable doing another job until THAT invoice was paid. Time is money - you don't pay me and I don't have time to write for you.

Using this approach means that my clients know they can count on me - and that counts for a lot on the occasions when I need some leeway. It also means that I don't have many non-paying clients (I've had a few - what freelancer hasn't?)

What other advice would you give on being a professional freelance writer? Feel free to drop a link to something you have written on this issue in the comments thread.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ghostwriting Ethics

Here's another find from Mom and More, a discussion of ethics and ghostwriting. Here are my responses to the questions:

1. Would you completely write a book, play, or other creative work and allow someone else to have the credit?

This is a tough one. As a ghostwriter, I might be asked to do this and I suppose it's part of my job, so if I agreed to do it I would. However, if I could write a successful fiction piece I would be tempted to write it myself and take the credit.

2. Would you write a blog and allow someone else to claim it as their own?

Yes, I do that all the time. I ghost blog for several people and that's part of what pays my bills. However, I have several blogs under my own name (or recognisable pseudonyms) so I don't feel cheated. I think sometimes people need help with writing and that's what they get from me.

3. Would you use a pen name or pseudonym?

Yes, I would, but I haven't chosen one yet. I do have a couple of internet identities, though.

4. Would you write a nonfiction piece and allow someone (or something as in the case of a company) to have the credit?

That's another ghostwriting one. It's my job, so that's what I do. If I could give the same dedication to my own writing, I would already have finished a couple of novels.

5. Would you write someone’s term paper for them?

Absolutely not! As a former lecturer this makes my blood boil and I won't be a party to anything that smacks of plagiarism.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bloggerwave Pays You To Blog

I'm always on the lookout for new ways that you can get paid to blog and I've now found another one. It's called Bloggerwave and it works similarly to other paid to blog sites. You sign up, you get your blogs approved (lightning quick when I did it) and then you take up one of the opportunities. I signed up yesterday and have already written two posts for them.

At the moment, there are only a few opportunities but I am sure that will change. In the meantime, the system seems to work well. The site loads quickly, too, which is a plus for those of us with temperamental internet connections. So far, I like Bloggerwave, so I'm hoping for good things.


My Writing Team

As you know I started a new venture in January, leading a small writing team. Boy, has that been a learning experience. And it still is. Here are some of the ups and downs of the past three months.

There was a lot of initial interest in the writing team. One person asked to work with me, took a job and then backed out at the last minute, leaving me to rely on the kindness of friends and some hard work to get the job finished on time. This was a big deal for me because I NEVER miss deadlines, though I do sometimes renegotiate.

A few more people were put off by the amount of writing that they had to do. I can understand this, because when I started I was appalled at the rates I had to write for and the money I was making, but I soon decided that if that was the market, then that was what I had to do to start with. And it's been worth it, because I have improved my skills and knowledge and have now started to earn more money for some projects.

Then there were the people who waited until a job was due to tell me that they couldn't complete it. To say I was incensed would be to put it mildly, so I waited till I had calmed down before pointing out that a last minute approach didn't leave me enough time to find an alternative - a couple of days would have been better. And I've also had dealings with people who want to do the job part time or less, which is fine, as long as they don't promise what they can't deliver.

Working with a team means that I spend a lot more of my time checking work than I had expected and it has also affected my cash flow. I try to pay people within a week of invoicing - and sometimes have managed within a day - but if people don't pay me on time, this can stretch me a bit. However, as a freelancer, I am only too aware that people have bills to pay, and I don't want to make writers wait for money when they have delivered the work.

On the plus side, I am developing relationships with some very good writers, who have put themselves out to meet deadlines, even when the money didn't seem great. They know who they are, and I am very, very happy to be working with them. I've also hooked up with a couple of new writers in the last couple of weeks who look very promising.

I've discovered a lot about the inner workings of Paypal including how to pay people when there's no cash in my account. I've made a bit of extra money, though not quite as much as you might think. In fact, there were some jobs on which I made 25 cents for spending 20 minutes checking, giving feedback and rechecking.

Overall, I'm not complaining. Although there have been some difficult moments, I can see that this will be a good experience, so I'm looking forward to what I learn over the next few months.

And here's a final question - as writers, what would you want from the people who supply you work. I think I have an idea, but it would be better to know for sure.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Finding Balance In Writing

Domestika has set me on the track of this meme about balance in the writing life, forcing me to face some uncomfortable truths about my life as a freelance writer. Of course, I aim for balance. I even have a written plan for the amount of time I will spend writing, with family and on myself. The trouble is that it all goes out the window when I have a deadline. Instead of finding balance, I end up sitting in my chair, typing my fingers off and watching my butt grow larger by the second. But for what it's worth, here's my plan for achieving balance in the writing life:

1. Family time – I try to go with my husband to collect my daughter from school each day. It gives us time to catch up on our day and then to get the latest news from school. I also try to make time a couple times a week to spend the entire afternoon with my daughter, playing, reading, watching television and generally having fun.

2. Exercise – I have lots of exercise machines, which I am trying to use. I go to a weekly salsa class and I try to hit the pool five times a week and the beach a couple of times a week. We also try to walk round the block a couple of times a week, which is more family time.

3. Social time – this is less frequent, but it involves spending time (non child related) with my husband, and also with friends (sometimes child related)

4. Me time – this is the bit that tends to suffer, but occasionally I splash out on a pedicure or spend half an hour reading something that has nothing to do with work or childrearing.

I don't think I've achieved balance yet, but I'm much nearer to it than I was when I worked as a lecturer, with long work days and nights.

Now, who shall I tag? How about Dana Prince, Katherine Huether, Productive Pen, gracepub and suejeff