Monday, December 07, 2009

Necessary evils of freelancing

One of the necessary evils of being a freelance writer is all the administrative stuff that goes along with it.

Keeping well-organized records is incredibly important. For instance, emails organized in separate folders by client help you to keep track of project details, payment amounts, etc.

I've always been a stickler about keeping records. I save ALL client emails, record each payment in an Excel spreadsheet, save PayPal receipts as PDFs, and scan checks before depositing them. Unfortunately, lately I've gotten to be pretty lax about emails, and as a result my inbox was up to around 6,500 emails by the time I finally went through it last week.

Learn from my mistakes. I spent an entire day going through emails before I finally got my inbox down to about 1,000. A day spent reading old emails, filing, and (sadly) responding to some very old emails from the contact form on my websites that I had missed in all that mess. Luckily, none of them were missed client opportunities, but in a way they were worse: Most were pleas for advice from people who had happened upon my blog on feline hepatic lipidosis.

Don't let your inbox get out of control. It takes a few minutes to answer an email, and a matter of seconds to file where they belong. Much better than wasting an entire day that could have been better spent on billable client work!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

New word count meter

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten back to work on my novel since the night NaNoWriMo ended. However, I have found a new word count meter to replace the now-defunct NaNoWriMo widget.

Just in case anyone else is interested in putting a word count meter on their blog the other 11 months out of the year, this is the one I used: another little progress meter

The nice thing about this meter is that it isn't dependent on someone else's website remaining in place, like the last non-NaNo word count meter I used. This one is totally code driven, so if they ever take down their page all you have to do is update the percentages and word count in the code yourself.

Stay tuned for future word count updates!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

NaNoWriMo ends!

NaNoWriMo ended tonight with November. I did not make it to 50,000 words, but I gave it a pretty good try. Although my word count was frozen at 40,139, I actually had 41,706 at midnight — I just arrived at the site a little too late to update and validate my word count.

My novel is far from done — I didn't put an ending on it yet, and I have some more of the middle to write as well — so I'll still be working on it for a while. I just finished writing another thousand words, which brings my total word count (including the 3700 words I wrote earlier this year) to 46,440. I want to encourage myself to continue writing even though NaNoWriMo is over, so I'll continue posting word counts here until I finish the first draft.

Here's hoping I'll get better at working on it every day post-NaNo than I was during November!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

NaNoWriMo update: The final stretch

Whew! We're down to the last few days of NaNoWriMo. I only added about 2400 words to my total word count today, so I still have 11,000 words to go if I want to "win" this year — which I do. Whether or not that will finish out my novel, we'll have to see, but I have hope!

I'm sorry for not maintaining my blog very well this month. My first year doing NaNoWriMo, I posted my word count on my blog every night, but in my defense I didn't have a horse to visit daily back then! Hopefully, though, in a couple of days I'll have finished my novel, and can put it aside for a little while before I revise it.

One of the interesting parts about this month is how many changes my original plot line and cast of characters have gone through. Three of my characters turned out to be plot ninjas, or perhaps just minor planets demonstrating they have gravity of their own and can therefore influence the trajectory of the story. It meant I was flying blind for most of the month, writing without my outline, but I've decided I actually like the new developments better than my original ideas — I just need to iron out a few of the details.

Those of you who are participating, are you gearing up for a last-minute write-a-thon to get your word count in? How have your novels gone this month — the way you expected, or did you run into problems or changes you didn't plan for?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Snowed under (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo)

It has been a long time since I've posted regularly, and I feel I owe my readers an explanation (or at least, my list of excuses).

For one thing, I've been spending a lot of time with my horse in recent months, particularly since I moved him to a new barn in October, as you will know if you follow my Pony Tales Blog. But on top of that, and on top of my normal workload, this month I am participating in NaNoWriMo — and trying not to sacrifice either work time, or horse time in order to write a novel.

For those of you who aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words of a novel, in the month of November. This is now (in theory) my fourth year of NaNoWriMo, as I "won" (reached 50,000 words) in 2006, and participated (but didn't win) in 2007 and 2008. In fact, I never really wrote anything more than an outline in 2007, and didn't get all that much farther in 2008, either.

You aren't supposed to start the novel until 12:01 am on November 1st, but I'm cheating a bit this year. With my lack of success the last two years, I've decided that it's more important to use NaNoWriMo to help me finish one of the novels I've already started. I also really want to get myself into the habit of writing fiction regularly, as I've been working on it in fits and starts, which doesn't really get me anywhere. Although working on an existing novel is technically against the rules, in my defense I only had about 3,000 words to it when I started NaNoWriMo, and I am dutifully subtracting that word count from the total word count whenever I update my profile.

Of course, this still means that I've got too much on my plate right now, and something has to give. In the first week it was manageable, because I have several regular clients who operate in monthly cycles, and therefore don't give me much work until five or six days into the month. But once the client workload picked up, the novel started suffering — which you can see if you check my progress report. I've had a few good days more recently, though, and I hope to get back on track soon.

If you want to know what my novel is about or read an excerpt, you can do that from my author page. I'll put both of those links in my sidebar, along with a word count widget, so my readers can check up on me and keep me accountable!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The "Make Money Online" myth

As a freelance writer and a work-from-homer, I tend to get pretty annoyed when people ask me, "How do you make money online? I want to do that!"

The owner of the barn where I used to board my horse was the epitome of the type of person who usually gets taken in by these myths. He had retired early, needed money badly, and was convinced that if he gave his email address (and sometimes, his credit card number) to enough people online, eventually he'd find a get-rich-quick opportunity that wasn't just a scam.

How many times have you heard the following questions or statements, either from people you know or those you meet in passing?

"I want to learn how to make money online! Can you help me?"

"How can I do that?"

"So that's what you do — you just write?" (Said as if you just told them you get paid for breathing)

(When you explain what you do) "I can do that! Is there a website you sign up with or something?"

What these people don't seem to get is that for every genuine freelance client, there are 101 scammers just waiting to take advantage of the poor unfortunate souls who can't tell the difference. My old barn owner was forever telling me that such-and-such company had taken money out of his account, or that his inbox was full of spam. In fact, at one point he had tried so had to find a way to make money online that he actually had to change all of his account numbers to prevent the numerous charges that kept hitting his account!

As any successful freelancer knows, writing is a business, and businesses require work. As Wesley says in The Princess Bride, "Anyone who says differently is selling something." Real business opportunities — whether for writing, graphic design, investment banking, or even selling pinatas — don't happen overnight, and usually don't make you rich (quickly or otherwise), either.

My problem is deciding what to tell people that ask these questions. In my experience they are usually somewhat inept, and don't really get it when you try to explain that it doesn't really work that way. What do you usually tell people when they ask you dumb questions like these?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow day, slow day

Lately I've been doing what my mom would call "burning the candle at both ends" — I've been spending a LOT of time with my horse and on a doll show my mom and I had to prepare for. Therefore work has been crammed into odd times — not very successfully, either, I might add.

But today was a snow day, which meant I was stuck at home. And despite how much I was looking forward to it — not to mention the prospect of having enough time to get everything done — I found I was quite restless and unable to focus very well for most of the day.

Do you ever find that this happens to you? That when you are busy and out of the house off and on for days or weeks in a row, you find it difficult to come back to your home office and work for an entire day?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy anniversary to me!

I just realized that today is an important anniversary for me: Exactly four years ago, I was working my very last day at my job as a full-time technical writer. I was quitting to follow the next stage of my dreams: to freelance full-time.

Four years later, I'm still at it, and it's going pretty well (if I do say so myself). Despite the recession, I have still been pretty busy, and it even looks like I'll beat last year's income by $1,000 or so.

I found out this morning from Kathy Kehrli's blog that yesterday was a new holiday: the National Day on Writing. Too bad they didn't make it today instead — that would have been perfect! In any case, I'm celebrating by sitting at home in my pajamas (something I don't often do), working on a couple of deadlines. A combination of the weather (light rain and snow) and my deadlines kept me from heading out to the barn this morning, which is why I'm around to celebrate my four-year anniversary of freelancing full-time!

Happy anniversary to me — and may there be many more!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Funnies for Mondays

I had one heck of a weekend. To read all about that, visit my Pony Tales Blog and read the weekend's posts. And sadly it's not over, either — more fun scheduled for later today.

For those of you who don't want to read the entire story, the short version is that I decided to move my horse NOW, rather than in two weeks, because of an incident at the barn over the weekend. But none of it is happening as smoothly as I'd like.

We are going to try (for the second time) this afternoon to load Panama onto a trailer. But because I have several deadlines this week, and because I can't turn down money now of all times, I have a busy morning ahead of me — I need to work hard and get as much done as possible, since it's unlikely I'll have another chance today.

But before I get started, I needed something to cheer me up first thing this Monday morning. Not being able to sleep in (my first choice), I'm instead posting a few of my favorite funny videos. Only one is writing-related, I'm afraid, but indulge me!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lessons from The Office

Michael and I just finished watching Season 5 of The Office. I've found wisdom for writers in past episodes, and this season held a particularly fine little gem: a lesson in why we shouldn't price ourselves too low.

Spoiler alert — if you haven't seen this yet and you don't want to know what happens in the season, click away!


Basically, the boss, Michael Scott, quits his job and starts his own paper company. He scores quite a few Dunder Mifflin clients by offering low low prices, but it turns out the prices are too low. He and his employees, Ryan and Pam, have a conversation with an accountant that I think is all too applicable in the writing industry, too:

Accountant: Your prices are too low.

Michael: Lowest in town!

Accountant: Why do you think Staples and Dunder Mifflin can't match your prices?

Pam: Corporate greed?

Ryan: Our pricing model is fine... Over time, with enough volume, we become profitable.

Accountant: With a fixed cost pricing model that's correct. But you need to use a variable cost pricing model... As you sell more paper, and your company grows, so will your costs. For example, delivery man, health care, business expansion. At these prices, the more paper you sell, the less money you'll make.

Michael: Our prices are the only thing keeping us in business.

Accountant: They're actually putting you out of business.

It's the last two lines that I think are the most profound. Listen up, newbie writers! You might think you can learn to write faster, turn out more articles per hour, and become profitable "over time, with enough volume," and maybe that will work for a little while, but that's not how you stay in business. You need to think about your long-term goals — whether you still want to be freelancing five years from now, for instance.

Michael Scott goes back to the office and starts calling up clients to raise their prices, and of course they just go back to Dunder Mifflin, because the only reason they'd left in the first place was for the lower price. i.e., You can't quote a client a rock-bottom price and expect to be able to raise it to a more reasonable rate later on.

Naturally, the show has a happy ending: Dunder Mifflin (not realizing that Michael Scott is about to go out of business) buys out the fledgling company and gives Michael, Ryan, and Pam jobs again. But my idea of a happy ending is NOT going to back to work in an office. I like working for myself just fine, thanks! So I have to set my rates to enable me to continue doing that.

What's your happy ending?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ALWAYS carry business cards

You've probably heard this before. Well, let me tell you: always means ALWAYS, as I discovered today.

I had a couple of doctor's appointments this morning for a medical research study I was participating in. I usually bring my laptop to these types of things, in case of any downtime. I have a lovely new bag with compartments for both my laptop and the stuff from my purse, which is what I've been using whenever I bring my laptop with me.

Unfortunately, when I switched my stuff over from my purse this morning, I neglected to bring my business cards. I actually thought about it, but decided that since I was only going to the doctor's office and then back home, it was highly unlikely I'd need them.

Highly unlikely doesn't mean definitely not, as it turns out.

It might have been the least likely of places, but the woman who was doing my PFT asked what I did for a living, and when I told her, it turned out they might need someone to do the writing for their new website. When she asked for my email address, I had to write it down for her instead of giving her a card. While I know (having been in there a few times already) that she is pretty laid back and didn't care — in fact, we ended up commiserating over how we never seem to have business cards on hand at opportune moments — I was somewhat embarrassed by my lack of professionalism.

My business cards are actually quite attractive, and it is always quite satisfying to hand one to a prospective client, or even a colleague. Too bad I didn't have any on hand today... but I've learned my lesson! In fact, I just dug up my extra business card holder and slipped it into the new bag, so that from now on I won't have to worry about it when I switch purses.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking the freelance writing rates survey

Yesterday a commenter on Lori Widmer's blog mentioned a survey she is doing, on freelance writing rates. It's a quick, anonymous survey, on a frequently visited topic for my blog as well as others, so I thought I'd pass it on.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Long time, no read

I just realized I've barely posted this month — on this blog, anyway. It's been quite a month, actually! After I was sick (which really took it out of me), I got kicked by my horse and spent several days hobbling around on a swollen, bruised leg. And then of course I fell on said leg during Friday's lesson... Although that last one wasn't a big deal (other than the time it cost me tending to Panama's injuries), I really got my butt kicked this month.

In more ways than one, unfortunately. My income also took a bit of a hit this month. Partly it was being either out of commission or moving really slowly because of the above-mentioned events, but I think two other factors contributed: summer is over, and I got burnt out from being so darn productive.

First things first: summer. I've mentioned before that summer is always my busiest season. I've noticed during other years that my workload usually picks up like crazy during June, July, and August. And sure enough, September dropped the ball — I think my total income will be less two-thirds what last month's was. (And although I forgot to blog abut it, August was a very good month, nearly as good as July.)

If I'd been feeling more up to it, I probably could have done some marketing and quickly made it back up (since I knew early in the month that it would be slow). But as I said, I was a bit burnt out. And even if I could have overcome this (which I probably could have), getting sick and kicked almost certainly did not help.

Well, here's hoping for a better October!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Taking sick days

I was extremely ill over the weekend. If what I had wasn't the flu, then it was the worst cold I've ever had. I was pretty much incapacitated for both Sunday and Monday, and although I felt better yesterday, I was still weak and lethargic. Therefore I decided to take the day off and spent it camped out on the couch, watching movies.

While I was sick (and over the weekend, I might add), I got an email from a client asking about his article. This brought to mind a question that I wanted to put to my readers: How do you deal with sick days? Do you let all of your current clients know you're taking time off because you're sick? Or do you only let them know if it's going to interfere with a deadline?

I tend to think only the latter is necessary. Particularly over a holiday weekend. But what are your thoughts?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dealing with distractions of a bigger kind

The past week and a half has been pretty busy. For one thing, there was my friend's wedding stuff: Last weekend we had bachelorette party, and last night was the wedding, for which I was a bridesmaid. I also had a handful or so of doctor's appointments, mostly pertaining to the diabetes study I'm currently participating in. And on top of it all, I had some major work deadlines mid-week.

As a result of this combination, I was feeling very unlike myself this past week. First of all, although I wasn't physically hung over after the bachelorette party, I was mentally hung over from the overstimulation. The sensation of being "out of it" lasted for several days, which made it difficult to work as hard as I should have been.

Fortunately, my deadlines did eventually snap me out of my funk, but I had to work extra hard to get my work done. Wednesday night I had to go to bed for a couple of hours because I was so tired, then get up and work until dawn to finish before going back to bed. You do what you have to do sometimes to get it done, but it certainly didn't help my week to feel any less crazy!

Do you ever have weeks like this, where all you can do is to hang on for dear life and hope you get through it in one piece?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NPR's 3-minute short story contest

Can you write a short story that can be read in under three minutes?

Flash fiction is not my forte, but maybe someone else would be interested in NPR's three-minute fiction contest. Stories have to be under 600 words, and the due date is August 25, 2009 &mdas; a week from today.

Good luck!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The freelance internship myth

I often see ads on job boards (particularly Craigslist) seeking writers for "internship" positions. Don't be fooled — these "employers" are deliberately and despicably attempting to take advantage of unsuspecting newbie writers.

On Wednesday Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly.com addressed this issue in her "Ask the Expert" column. She researched the actual U.S. law governing internships and provided several links. To sum up, in order to be considered an internship, the goal of the position has to be to train the intern. The company also can't benefit financially from the intern's work. And finally, the training has to be done on the company's equipment.

Particularly that last requirement eliminates every ad I've ever seen claiming to be hiring freelance "interns." So does the requirement that the company can't benefit from the intern's work.

So if you are browsing the job boards for writing work, beware of any ad that claims to be looking for "freelance writing interns" — or you could do what Angela has been doing, and inform them that their "internship" is in violation of the law!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What a feeling!

Just typing that title made me think of Flashdance — that lovely scene where she dances across the floor with the theme song playing, at the end when she is auditioning for the balley company. The rush I get when I watch that scene is exactly what it feels like to truly love your job.

Even if it doesn't have a theme song.

Anyway, to get to my point — every once in a while when I'm working I just get this feeling like I want to stay in the current moment forever. Today it was when I was sitting on my bed just after lunch, working my tail off so that I could get something done before my afternoon horseback riding lesson. Both of my cats were sleeping on the bed while I worked, and I felt like I almost didn't want to leave — not even to see my horse. I would have been quite content just to stay there and continue working.

Do you get these moments too, when you just love writing so much that's all you want to do? What triggers this feeling for you?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Laray Carr returns

Do any of you remember the Laray Carr scam from two years ago? It was the most involved get-rich-quick scam I've ever seen, but apparently it worked, because Quincy Carr is back — this time as Quinn Rhodes of Niche Age Media. Victoria Strauss has posted a very thorough recap of Laray Carr, and the results of her investigation into Niche Age Media, over at Writer Beware.

Back during the Laray Carr fallout, I had the name and number for a detective who was handling the case. At the time he asked me to send any Laray Carr victims his way. I am going to find his contact information (buried somewhere in my archived emails), inform him of Quincy Carr's newest scam, and see if there is still a pending investigation. I'll let you know what I find out!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ethical issues of ghostwriting

An article that just made top headlines highlights one of the main issues of ghostwriting: being sure you are not accepting payment to do something unethical.

Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy

Basically, over 7 years ghostwriters were paid by the pharmaceutical company Wyeth to produce 26 scientific papers supporting hormone replacement therapy for women. According to the article:

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia.

Of course, in 2002 a real study found that hormone replacement therapy was actually connected to some very serious complications, such as increased risk of breast cancer and dementia, and the drugs fell out of favor.

But what about those ghostwriters who traded their morals for a nice fat paycheck from the pharmaceutical companies?

This demonstrates a very simple rule when ghostwriting: Don't write anything under the protection of anonymity that you wouldn't write under your own name. Even if none of these writers are ever identified and publicly discredited, how do they sleep at night knowing they pulled the wool over millions of women's eyes?

Another rule: Don't ever be dishonest about your motives. If someone is paying you to review their product, don't try to conceal that relationship. It could really come back to bite you in the butt if you do.

The potential conflict of ethics is actually one of the top reasons I hear other writers saying they don't do ghostwriting. I personally think you can be a ghostwriter and still maintain your morals, but in order to do so you have to be sure that your clients know right from the beginning what you will and won't write.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Revamping my goals

After a busy and emotionally draining weekend, I'm now back to work — more or less. I have a lot of non-work activities planned for this week, particularly because my mom is on vacation and wants to spend some time with me. So I'll be in and out a bit all week.

Anyway, after my successes and failures with my experiment in productivity, and after setting a record for 2009 with my July income, I decided it was time to revamp my goals a little bit.

This came partly from realizing that while increasing my productivity was increasing my income, there were still many things that I wanted to do that weren't getting done. For instance, I've been wanting to finish a long-overdue update to my website, and ever since we got back from Europe in March I've been meaning to start working on fiction a little bit every day. And what good is increasing my productivity if I can't achieve some of these goals as well? I'm a person, not a factory drone.

To address this issue, I've decided to rework some of my goals. I want to increase my marketing activities, as I've grown a bit lax in that department in the last year or two, and I also want to be sure that I work on my own projects (fiction as well as my blogs) regularly.

Here are the changes I plan on making to my schedule:

1) Making Monday an admin day. I really liked spending Monday on administrative tasks last Monday. Things like my email inbox tend to get rather out of hand if I don't set aside a dedicated block of time for managing them. Once those types of things are done, this day can also be spent on marketing and working ahead on my blogs.

2) Spending an hour every weekday on marketing. This time will be spent on website updates until I get those finished. After that, I'll spend it on checking job boards, writing queries, blogging, etc. — anything that leads to new clients.

3) Setting aside an hour every day for my own projects. This also includes blogging to some extent, but primarily I'm thinking of the novel ideas I'm always outlining and a couple of ebooks I've been wanting to write.

If I can work these things into my schedule, plus work about four billable hours a day Tuesday through Friday, I should be able to meet all of my goals — income, career, and personal writing!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A successful July

Last week, Lori Widmer over at Words on the Page posted with her monthly assessment for July. At the time, I already knew my July was going to be phenomenal, but I didn't want to post about it until I was sure. Then the weekend happened, and I had no time or inclination to blog at all until today.

Basically, July surpassed every other month this year, nearly achieving the high-end, reach-for-the-stars monthly income goal that I'd set at the beginning of the year. Boy was I surprised! Part of it was because I received a check from a client that only pays me every few months, but even without that check, my earnings for the month were well above last month's!

So far this year, I've noticed a distinct pattern. With the exception of March, which was a little bit skewed because I received several payments for February work at the beginning of March, I have increased my earnings every single month since the beginning of the year. January and February were a bit low, granted, but things are looking pretty darn good right now.

The question is, can I keep up this trend? Can I beat July's record in August? I'd like to think I can, especially with some changes I will be making to my schedule (more on that tomorrow). In July I was really able to increase my productivity, but I know I also need to market a bit more regularly. If I can do that, who knows — maybe I really will beat July's record this month!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ad revenue tips for the casual blogger

Not long ago, a few exchanged comments on Lori Widmer's blog got me thinking about advertising revenue and blogging.

I started putting ads on my blogs about two years ago (I think). It took me an entire year to reach the $100 minimum for a check. After that, I started putting ads on more of my blogs, and now I'm getting on average about $30 a month — which works out to a check for $100 every three or four months. Not bad pay for something I would be doing anyway (I love blogging!).

I also have an affiliate account with Amazon, but I find that one's not very lucrative. I've gotten perhaps $40 in gift certificates over the past couple of years. I keep doing it simply because it's a good way to post an image for the books I review on Livre du Jour (which, again, I do simply because I like to!).

All this to say that I'm by no means an expert on earning ad revenue from a blog. I can, however, provide a few tips for others who want to make a little money on the side, but don't really care about turning their blogs into a full-time money-making endeavor.

1) Plan your ads. Google Adsense only lets you put three ad units on one page. That means you have to plan out your ads very carefully on your main page. Also, certain locations on the page are more desirable, and therefore bring you more money per click.

2) Left to right, top to bottom is the way most people scan online. So theoretically, ads in the top left will be the most successful. I'm not too careful about this, but I do like to use a header ad — an ad just under the blog header, and before the text.

3) Make use of individual post pages. I also put a footer ad on my blog posts, just before the comments. I usually make this a rectangular graphic ad, rather than a text ad. (Graphic ads earn more per click.) I also change the "# comments" link to point to the individual post page instead of the Blogger comment page, so that more people see the ad.

4) Limit sidebar ads. Bloggers who don't want the ads to be intrusive often stick a few skyscraper text ads at the bottom of all their other sidebar stuff, and then wonder why it doesn't work. Actually, I think small, tastefully placed ads in other areas (such as the header and footer ads I just described) are less intrusive than having a ridiculously long sidebar. As a result, I prefer the small square graphic ad, placed higher up in the sidebar, as an alternative to the long rectangular text ads.

5) Don't expect much from AdSense search. In my opinion, it doesn't work. I have it on one of my blogs as a courtesy to my readers (the template doesn't allow me to use the regular Blogger search bar), and I've only gotten a couple of clicks on that in about a year's time.

These tips aren't much, and like I said I am no expert, but there are still a few things I've learned from running ads on my blogs. I hope this will help at least a few of my fellow writers who would like to earn a little extra cash from their writing blogs!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The experiment: Day 10

Tuesday was the final day in an experiment I've done to see if I can increase my productivity, and therefore my income. As a review for anyone who hasn't been following the series, here is a list of the posts:

Day 1, which surpassed my wildest expectations
Day 2, in which I talk about how I maintained my increased focus
Day 3, when I found I was more productive at Starbucks
Days 4 and 5, in which my productivity started flagging
Day 6, when I didn't work enough hours but was pretty productive when I did work
Days 7, 8, and 9, a bunch of no-income days.

On Tuesday of this week, Day 10, I started out by sleeping in — the day was dark and dreary, and it's always difficult for me to get out of bed on days like that. My brain just doesn't believe that it's morning.

After getting up, I took care of a few final administrative things (primarily with my blogs) that I hadn't finished on Monday. Near the end of the day, I finally got some work done, but only about an hour's worth.

I had already planned on stopping the reports on my experiment after Day 10, but unfortunately the results have been somewhat inconclusive. I think I might have to try again in a week or so. The problem is that my sister is getting married on Saturday, so the rest of the week will be spent getting stuff ready on my end — I have to get her present ready and wrap it, and I still need to find shoes to wear for the wedding.

Possibly the other reason why my experiment seems to have failed is because I finished my work for the month pretty quickly, which made my slow period for the month — the week or so after the end-of-the-month assignments have been finished, and the next month's work hasn't yet been assigned — start a little earlier than usual.

Here's a small bit of success, though: Because I was so productive during the early part of my experiment, I was able to accept a small last-minute project my favorite client offered me a couple of days ago. So although the last few days haven't been as wildly productive, I did manage to increase my income for the month as a result of my experiment. It's not a total failure, then!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As part of my admin day yesterday, I made some long-needed changes to all of my blog templates.

On Swan's Blog, you'll find that I've ditched the Blogger profile, written a new bio, replaced my bio picture, and eliminated some of the clutter in my sidebar. I've also provided a link to the site feed (atom.xml), and made my copyright notice a little more prominent.

Finally, I fixed something that has puzzled me for more than a year. My footer looked wacky on my computer screen for some reason, but I finally figured out that was due to an unnecessary bit of code that hadn't gotten deleted for some reason when I last worked on my template. It all looks right now! Hooray!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The experiment: Days 7, 8, and 9

The last few days of my "experiment" have been a little less productive. As I mentioned in Day 6's post, I got started a bit late on Thursday (Day 7), and though I did accomplish the minimum I wanted to do that day, it wasn't the income I was aiming for.

Day 8, Friday, I decided belatedly to take off. My sister had her wedding shower on Saturday, and her wedding is next Saturday, so my mom and I were doing some shopping in preparation for the big event.

Today, Day 9, also saw no income. I really needed an admin day, and what better to do on a Monday, especially during a slow week? I had 3,000 emails in my inbox to go through (I've been very bad about filing and deleting emails lately), as well as a whole lot of blog admin and catching up to do.

Tomorrow, though, will be back to work with a vengeance — and hopefully Day 10 will see a revival of the awesome productivity I had going at the beginning of this experiment!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The experiment: Day 6

Yesterday — Wednesday — was an interesting day. As I mentioned when I blogged about Days 4 and 5, I was getting started on work quite late in the day, because of a horseback riding lesson I'd had that morning.

I ended up only working for a couple of hours yesterday, so even though my hourly worked out to be pretty decent, I didn't meet my daily goal.

I'm getting started a bit late today, too, for a couple of reasons: because I let myself sleep in, and because I spent an hour listening to President Obama's press conference on health care reform from last night. This is further complicated by the fact that I have plans with a friend later today. But I'm hoping that the limitations on my time will actually encourage me to be more productive, the way it did on Day 1.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The experiment: Days 4 and 5

So far this week has been a mixed bag. Monday went pretty good, about as productive as Day 2, even making time for a ride on my horse and some TV with Michael in the evening.

Yesterday, however, didn't go so well. I was at the barn all morning and into the afternoon, first with a farrier appointment and then with some trailer training I've been doing lately with my horse. By the time I got home I was starving, so I grabbed some Burger King. Bad move! Whether because I ate too much, too fast, or my system just isn't used to fast food anymore, it all but put me out of commission for the rest of the day. I was sleepy, achey, had a recurring headache up until the time I went to bed nine hours later.

So today I feel even more pressure to get back to being productive, since yesterday didn't go so well. I'm already off to a late start, since I had a session with my trainer this morning, but I should be able to work some this evening since Michael will be working on homework.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The experiment: Day 3

Friday was Day 3 of my experiment in productivity. Although it wasn't as successful a day as Day 1 or Day 2, it was primarily because I put in fewer hours and finished earlier. Hey, what can I say — it was Friday.

One thing I found on Friday was that changing the scenery worked really well to cure a lag in productivity. I felt like I was really struggling at home, lapsing back into my habits of getting on Facebook a lot and that kind of thing. So I packed up my stuff and walked two blocks to the local Starbucks.

I found that I was much more productive at Starbucks — particularly when my laptop battery started running low, and I had to really focus if I wanted to complete the project I was working on before it died completely!

Do you ever find that working someplace else for a little bit helps to jump start your productivity?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The experiment: Day 2

Yesterday was another successful day in my experiment in productivity. Not as successful as Day 1 if you look at just the paid work, I'm afraid, but largely successful if you look at everything else I accomplished.

I started out the day by checking personal email, Facebook, etc. I tried getting right to work, but found that I just couldn't wrap my brain around it right off the bat. However, I kept my piddling around to under an hour, so it all worked out all right.

Then I got to work. I worked for about two and a half hours total, with a slightly lower productivity than Day 1, but still making more than half my daily goal in those two and a half hours. Not bad!

After that I went to the barn — and this is what killed my earning potential for the day. But I can't regret it, because truly, this is one of the biggest reasons why I love freelancing: because it gives me the flexibility to spend time with my horse. If I can't allow myself to enjoy that, then what is the point?

Michael had evening plans with a friend, so after he left I worked some more. First I spent about two hours updating various blogs, and then I worked for almost another hour. My productivity in that last 45 minutes matched what it was on Day 1, which pleased me.

I promised an explanation of how I'm achieving this giant leap in productivity. I'm doing two things, really: applying sheer willpower, and using a technique I'd read about in a newsletter months ago.

The technique was suggested in an issue of Steve Slaunwhite's For Copywriters Only newsletter some time back. Basically, he pointed out the phenomenon of how productive we tend to be in meetings, when we are forced to focus intensely for a short period of time. He suggested applying the same focus in your regular work, but for short bursts (45 minutes or an hour), allowing yourself to take little breaks (email, checking blogs, whatever) in between.

So that's what I've been doing. I've had a lot of work the last couple of days that is very easy to break up into short focus sessions — blog posts, marketing articles, etc. I haven't even been letting myself respond to emails until I've finished that focus session.

So far, it's working beautifully. I'll keep you posted as to whether it continues to do so.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The experiment: Day 1

Yesterday started out with a major setback to my day — right from the get-go. I woke up at 8am to Michael saying that his car wouldn't start. I was supposed to be taking him to work around 8:30 so that I could keep the car and run some errands, so this wasn't starting out well at all.

Fortunately, it turned out to be just the battery. Even more fortunately, his brother was able to stop by on his way to work and run Michael to the parts store. (It's actually close enough to walk, though not while carrying a car battery.) We got the battery changed out, and Michael's brother continued on to work.

Michael had already called in, so he decided to take the rest of the morning and just work a half-day in the afternoon. So we took the dogs for a walk. As often happens during our walks, we ended up talking about some pretty serious stuff.

This time it was financial stuff. We've been talking about buying a home with horse property, and we had just found out the day before that we probably wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage because we don't have enough equity in our current home, which we were planning on renting out. (There are other reasons why it's not going to work, but that is the main one. Apparently in the current credit market, if you can't cover both mortgage payments on your income — i.e., minus any rent you are paid — you have to have at least 30 percent equity in the rental. We don't, so we're not even going to try to qualify.)

Anyway, we started talking about whether I should take a part-time job (in addition to my freelancing) to save up some money and increase our income, so that we could try again when we're in a better position. Which got us onto the subject of my productivity. The past few weeks, I've been feeling like I'm working more hours than ever, but not actually doing any more. But I also feel that if I could get my productivity back under control, I could increase my income by more than I would make working a part-time job.

Michael was only going to work for about four hours, which would give me five to work while he was gone. So I told him I was going to try to focus as much as possible, and see how much I could get done in that amount of time.

Perhaps you already know where this is going, but the results were amazing! In the end, I worked fewer hours than I have in weeks (excepting days I've intentionally taken off), and made more in a single day than I've made in months without pulling an all-nighter. Not to mention, I felt damn good when I set down my work for the day. Being productive feels GOOD!

What started off looking like it would be a very unproductive day, turned out to be wildly productive. Who would have guessed? I'm going to repeat the experiment today and see what happens. I'll keep you posted — and I'll also give more details about how I've accomplished this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Slammed and spammed

I've been ridiculously busy lately, as you might have noticed from my lack of posting (again). However, one thing I noticed is that I have roughly the same amount of work as last month, but I'm taking more time to do it. My productivity has been gradually decreasing for a while now, so I've taken some action to remedy that — which I'll write about in another post.

I've also started getting a ton of spam. The thing is, I don't know from where. I've never had a major problem with spam, and sudden, wham — I'm getting a dozen spam emails a day. What the heck happened?

Anyway, I have several posts in the works, so check back periodically over the next few days!

Friday, July 10, 2009

FreelanceHomeWriters and Freelance Work Exchange are BFFs

Several years after I wrote my first post on Freelance Work Exchange, this is still one of the most searched-for topics on my blog. It amazes me that I still get emails and comments, at least one or two a month, thanking me for the warning — or, more often, complaining that they, too, have fallen victim to this scam.

Toward the end of last year, another site popped up on my radar that seemed similar: FreelanceHomeWriters.com. They have practically the same trial membership deal, and they too are spamming Craigslist with fake freelance job ads. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I responded to what I thought was a job ad, only to receive an email directing me to their stupid website.

Then on Wednesday of this week, WritersWeekly.com posted with a long list of complaints about FreelanceHomeWriters.com. It turns out I was right, and it's exactly the same scam as Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance: poor unsuspecting wannabe writer signs up for the trial membership, then attempts to cancel and can't, while FreelanceHomeWriters happily sucks $49.95 out of their bank accounts every month.

Although the owner of FreelanceHomeWriters.com is supposedly Charles Wellmore (sound made-up to you?) instead of Rob Palmer, I think this is rather too similar to be unrelated. I mean, the prices are exactly the same, right down to the $2.95 week-long trial membership, and of course the complaints are exactly the same too! I wouldn't be surprised at all if we were to discover that Rob Palmer and Charles Wellmore are actually the same person, trying the same scam under a different name now that so many people have wised up to Freelance Work Exchange.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

You get what you pay for...

Apparently, with the current economy freelance writers are not the only ones pointing out that you get what you pay for. NPR ran a story today on a new book called Cheap, in which the author, Ellen Ruppel Shell, talks about the hidden ways we pay for it when we buy things at discount prices. It's not about the dramatic reduction in quality — it's also about the risk of deflation.

This reminded me so much of the ongoing talk of writers rates' and that clients get what they pay for. The other issue is, of course, that writers' rates trending downward also downgrades the industry, and makes it more difficult to earn a living as a writer. If we aren't careful, and writers' rates fall too much, will writers from India, who speak English as a second language, be the only way to find a writer — kind of like how discount superstores like Wal-Mart and Target dominate the shopping scene now?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Plan D ... for "Dumbass" and "Desperate"

I've been hearing from many of my fellow freelancers that they are experiencing a shortage of writing work. That's not the case with me, but nontheless I thought of you guys when I saw this headline.

See, even if work is getting harder to find, you have something to be grateful for: that you're not as desperate as those people!

Trends in teen fiction

Any good writer knows that it's important to keep an eye on trends in the publishing industry. Whether you want to write articles, books, or anything else, it's important to know what is selling and what is not.

Here's a tip for anyone who is interested in writing young adult fiction, as I am: According to an article in yesterday's Denver Post, darker plotlines are becoming more common — and more popular — in teen fiction.

If you look at the most popular young adult fantasy, you can see this is the case: The Harry Potter series got increasingly dark as it went along, and then of course there was the seductive vampire world of the Twilight Saga. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials was pretty dark, too.

As one commenter on the article pointed out, dark subjects aren't exactly new to teen fiction — authors such as Robert Cormier and books like Go Ask Alice tackled tough topics long ago. But I guess the point of the article is that these books are becoming more common in young adult literature than they used to be.

The implication is that teens these days are more interested than they used to be in darker, more adult subject matter. Thinking back on my own teen years, I think they always have been, actually, but when I was in high school we just moved on to adult fiction earlier. Perhaps young adult authors are simply finally catching on, and giving teens what they really want. After all, young adult is still a fairly new genre, so it makes sense that YA authors are still learning how to get it right!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Well-written headlines: An all-American goal

Happy Fourth of July! Rather than celebrating in the usual manner, I spent the evening at the barn, making sure the horses were safe from fire and fright. Since I've also been working this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about how the important pieces of our lives influence how we celebrate — or don't celebrate — holidays.

An interesting subject for reflection, made all the more interesting because it seems our country's journalists took a break this weekend. Or maybe were just too hung over this morning to recognize the problem with this headline:

Fireworks explosion kills 3 in N.C., 1 in Pa.

Wow, that's a low death count for such a massive explosion.

I saw the headline late last night, when the article was just about the North Carolina explosion. Apparently when they revised the article, they forgot to make one small but significant change to the title: "Fireworks explosions kills 3 in N.C., 1 in Pa."


Friday, July 03, 2009

BookGlutton.com: Interactive online ebook reader

I spotted an interesting story on NPR today: an introduction to BookGlutton.com, an interactive online ebook reader that allows readers to leave comments/annotations and chat with other readers. You can set your profile to show others what you read last, follow other readers, and manage responses to your comments on your profile.

Basically, it's Facebook but with books. Social reading instead of social networking. You get the idea.

Of course, because of copyright concerns, they can only offer books that are either part of the public domain, or have been approved for use on the site by the author and/or publisher. However, this also makes for a really awesome promotional tool for authors. For instance, the current featured article is offering the first four chapters of her newest book via BookGlutton. The obvious goal is to get people reading and discussing the chapters, get the word out about the book, and get people hooked so that they buy it.

The only downfall that I see is that it doesn't work with all browsers. In other words, it doesn't work with my browser. I'm apparently a dinosaur because I still prefer IE 6. I did try to upgrade once, but IE 7 crashed my computer so many times just in the first day that I restored my system's previous settings and never looked back. Heck if I'll make the same mistake with IE 8. And I'm not really a fan of cluttering up my hard drive with downloads, so I'm reluctant to download Firefox just for this one application. (I'm not a fan of that browser either, I'm afraid, so I wouldn't use it for anything else.)

However, I thought many of you — as writers and, it follows, also as readers — would appreciate a social bookreading site. If you try it out, either for reading or for marketing your books, please let me know what you think — since I can't try it out for myself!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A freelance field trip

Sorry — again — about not blogging much. I've been so busy lately, and my blogs are definitely suffering some neglect because of it.

Anyway, today is just gorgeous. After weeks of afternoon thunderstorms, it's finally getting up into the lower 80s. (I didn't think I'd ever be happy about that...) Since I was up early today, I was able to fully appreciate the cheerful weather, and I decided it would be best enjoyed from a table on the patio at my local Starbucks.

(Our dog Emma didn't think very highly of that decision. She wanted to go out and sunbathe, and instead I left her standing in the mud room, looking rather surprised and disappointed. I still feel guilty about that one...)

Anyway, while I was waiting for my drink, I saw three guys in business suits walk in. They looked like they would be staying for a while. Lori Widmer's blog post on treating coffee shops as a networking opportunity is always on my mind when I come here, and here was my grand opportunity!

I wouldn't ever walk right up to them, but I knew that by pulling out my laptop and getting to work inside, I could probably set myself up to have the proper questions asked. But it was cold inside, and there was this perfect little table on the patio that had the table top in shade but the chair partially in the sun (to warm me up). I looked uncertainly from that table back to the comfy armchair I would sit in if I stayed inside.

In the end, shyness won. I grabbed my drink and my computer and bolted outside to the patio. I really need to work uninterrupted, was what I told myself. Oh, and there was the They'll only think I'm a college student, anyway excuse. But what it comes down to is that I'm still a little bit shy when it comes to face-to-face networking.

I'm curious if my fellow freelancers ever have attacks of shyness thata could potentially rob them of a new client. Or is it just me who balks at the thought of having to sell myself to someone's face.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The best indicator of my workload...

...is how seldom I update this blog, I'm afraid.

I've been pretty busy lately, and it usually shows up in the declining frequency with which I blog. The blog most likely to be updated, regardless of my workload, is my horse blog — the others tend to get pushed onto the back burner when I get too busy to maintain all of them (and I have quite a few!).

This is one thing that I need to work on: balancing work and my own projects. I tend to load up on work when I have it, and then inundate my readers with blog posts during slow periods. It's just like how I tend to only market when there is no income in sight (which, luckily, hasn't happened in a while — but still, a bad habit to get into!).

So I'm going to make a list of a few ideas for keeping up on my blogging — and my marketing, for that matter:

* Setting aside an hour of time dedicated to updating my blogs (not reading other people's blogs — I don't need any encouragement there!)

* Focusing on writing rather than reading blogs (something that I've had a difficult time doing since Blogger introduced the dashboard Reading List)

* Scheduling more posts several days or even weeks out when I find I have extra time

How do you avoid neglecting your blog and/or other marketing tasks?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Freelancing report card for May

Yesterday Lori Widmer posted her monthly assessment for May. As you know if you read my blog, I don't often post this myself, but I think this time I'm going to pipe up.

I think I've mentioned before that the year started out kind of slow for me — both January and February's earnings were dismal. March started picking up (despite me being gone for two weeks), and since then I've met my drop-dead minimum goal every month. (My minimum is the amount I need to pay my bills and have a little bit of spending money on the side.)

However, I also have a higher, more idealistic goal that I didn't quite reach. I usually only meet or exceed this goal one or two months out of the year, and I technically already did in March, though that is partly because some February work rolled into March. But in any case, I'm going to make a concerted effort this month to meet my higher goal.

Things are looking good in other areas than financial, too. I've been quite busy with work lately — busy enough to need a three-day weekend after meeting a major deadline. Most of this is from a few regular clients, but just last week I had a longtime on-again, off-again client contact me with some unexpected work. I've also gotten a little bit of marketing in here and there — not much, but some is better than nothing, right?

The one thing that I keep failing on is updating my website. It's been a long time, and I know I need to do this, but it seems there's always something else to do that supercedes this rather large and intimidating task. I'm in the middle of doing a major overhaul to certain pages on my website, but I keep getting stalled on it. So I think that will be my second goal for June — to get those updates finished!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Recharging my batteries

May was a busy month for me. After a slightly slow period at the beginning of the month while I waited for the month's assignments from my biggest client, I stayed pretty busy until almost the very end of the month. It's been a while since I've felt that efficient and productive. It was a good feeling, and it paid off in the income department, too.

But I can only keep up a high level of efficiency for so long before I need to take a break and recharge my batteries, so to speak. So after staying up late to meet a deadline Thursday night, and earning literally twice the dollar amount I usually do in one day, on Friday I wasn't feeling much like working.

I'm not terribly good at forcing myself to work when I don't feel like it and I don't have anything pressing, so I decided to put off the work for that day (which didn't have a fixed deadline) and read instead. I spent the entire day reading, and I have to say it was a fantastic feeling.

Sometimes I work over the weekend, but Michael and I were pretty busy this time, so I didn't push that either. And to top it all off, I let myself sleep in a bit later than normal today.

It sounds like three and a half days of slacking, doesn't it? But to me, it's worth it, because I woke up feeling ready to get back to work — and being genuinely excited about working is priceless, in my opinion!

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's 'Update Your Profile' Day!

Yes, I just made that up.

I was working on a blog today and realized that my Blogger profile was ridiculously out of date: It claimed I had almost three years of professional writing experience, instead of the real number, which is over four years. Whoops!

But that gave me a good blog topic for today: the importance of keeping profiles, bios, resumes, and other marketing materials updated. Obviously you'll want to be sure you are getting the proper credit for your experience and clips, but it can also be rather embarrassing to realize that you haven't updated your profile in over a year — and that clients and colleagues have been seeing outdated information for quite some time!

When is the last time you updated your profile? (Or bio, or resume, or...)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reading as inspiration

Although I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a writer, I didn't actually get my degree in writing. Instead, my bachelor's is in English literature. This is a reflection of the fact that 99 percent of what I know about writing, I actually learned from reading.

I get a lot of my inspiration from reading. Here's a perfect example: I just recently finished reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn). I loved them — you can read my book blog to find out more about that. But I also found them incredibly inspiring.

Part of it is that Stephenie Meyer's story is something of a writer's fairy tale — she's so normal, yet from her very first book, she was so successful. Part of it is also that she writes for young adults, an audience I'd also like to write for someday. But the biggest part is that there is something about these books — the creativity and addictiveness of them, perhaps — that gets my own creative juices flowing. I usually finish a book wanting to start on the next one on my stack, but I finished these books wanting to write. FICTION.

Unfortunately, I'm slammed right now with client projects, so my creative urges will have to wait a few more days before I can start fulfilling them. But in the meantime, I'm adding notes to several outlines and concepts — my head is exploding with ideas, which I don't want to forget before I'm able to get to them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Copyright office backlog

Rumor has it there is a serious backlog at the U.S. Copyright Office right now. Registering a copyright is now taking 18 months, instead of the normal three to six. With the exception of big publishing houses who can afford to pay the expediting fee, of course.

I wonder what that means for writers who start the process to register a copyright, but then have someone steal their work before the 18 months are up? Since a work has to have a registered copyright before you can sue for copyright infringement, I'm sure this is probably going to be a problem for some people.

By the way, notice the story about the woman whose sample ad was stolen by an ad agency? That is why you don't write samples for a potential client. No matter how reputable they might seem.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This sounds familiar!

While at the bookstore Sunday afternoon, I ran across an article in Consumer Reports about the types of work at home scams that are out there.

Check out the scam entitled "Start an Internet business." You give them your credit card number to ship a free CD, which signs you up for a recurring charge of $72.21 a month unless you cancel your membership. Unsurprisingly, the company has hundreds of BBB complaints against it — which, unfortunately, are being largely ignored.

What does this remind you of? Freelance Work Exchange, a.k.a. GoFreelance.com, of course!

I still get emails and blog comments every single month from people thanking me for my warnings about Freelance Work Exchange and GoFreelance.com, or sharing their stories of how this work at home scam ensnared them. I have quite a few posts about them, but here are the highlights:

Is Freelance Work Exchange a scam?, in which I repost a lengthy complaint about FWE's questionnable practices
Freelance Work Exchange is now GoFreelance.com, a warning about FWE's new name and website — same basic scam
A note from Rob Palmer, in which the owner of FWE and GoFreelance.com gives me his email address and claims to be willing to resolve the complaints against him
GoFreelance.com fails AGAIN to keep Rob Palmer's promises, in which Rob Palmer strikes out — I gave him a chance and he blew it!

Judging by the Consumer Reports article, Rob Palmer isn't the only get-rich-quick genius using these scammy tactics. But if I haven't convinced you yet to be more cautious, then hey, leave your credit card number in the comments and I'll be happy to sign you up for a FREE smack upside the head every time you even think about signing up!

Writers who ought to know better

I was shocked to read that the well-known columnist Maureen Dowd recently was caught plagiarizing. Not only that, but the paragraph she lifted was the work of a really high-profile blogger!

She claims that she heard the line from a friend, and didn't realize that her friend was just repeating something she'd read. I'm not sure that I buy that, but in any case, wasn't she still trying to pass off someone else's words as her own? Does it matter if she thought they were her friend's words, rather than another writer's?

Even more laughable, the article referred to the plagiarism as an "error." Ha! Really, a writer like Maureen Dowd ought to know better than to make an "error" like that!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy belated Writers Worth Day

Well, Writers Worth Day was Friday, and I forgot to blog. Instead I spent the day with my husband, who had taken the day off, and made up a few hours of work in the evening.

Being able to take days off like this is, I think, one of the strongest arguments for upholding your worth as the writer. If you take low-paying jobs, you'll have to work almost constantly just to keep up with your bills. If you only take jobs that pay professional wages, on the other hand, you can afford to have a personal life as well as a great career.

Low-paying writing work is demoralizing, not only because it forces you to work for a pittance, but also because it usually leaves you with no free time. Being able to balance my need for income with my desire to spend time on my hobbies is my biggest reason for setting my rates where I do. What's yours?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Busy as a Beaver

I have been SO busy lately. Not long after I told Lori Widmer that I was comfortably busy, not slammed, I ended up... slammed. I think I jinxed myself, though I haven't quite been able to bring myself to regret it!

April was a big month for me, bill-wise, and May is no less momentous. Just the other day I had my horse's spring vet visit, and I have a few other unusual expenses this month. So believe me, the extra work is definitely not a bad thing!

But then you add to that the extra time I've been spending with my horse in celebration of the nice weather, plus the time I've spent on some writing projects related to my doll collecting hobby, and you're looking at the beginnings of a very busy summer.

In other words, I don't have the time to spend on projects that don't pay me well. I have a certain amount of income I need to make, and a limited amount of time I've set aside to make it in. And that, I think, is probably one of the biggest arguments ever for writers setting professional rates.

Which brings me to my next point: Tomorrow is Writers Worth Day. You've no doubt seen the shiny new widget in my sidebar. You can find out more about it on Lori Widmer's blog. Honestly, I won't be surprised if she sets fireworks off from her blog tomorrow. If any one person can make a holiday official, it's Lori. The woman is tireless!

As for me... My husband has tomorrow off, so I'll be splitting the day between him, my horse, and work. What better way to celebrate Writers Worth Day than by reminding myself why my time is worth so much?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Examine this!

There has been a lot of talk lately about Examiner.com, a website that pays writers per pageview. They've been posting ads all over the place and growing pretty rapidly, and as a result they've come to the attention of WritersWeekly.com.

Last week, Angela Hoy ran sort of an introductory column about Examiner.com, asking for responses from writers who work for them. This week she printed the responses she got about how much Examiner.com writers are making. The average, per the responses she got, was $1.46 per article. Atrocious!

But what really appalled me were the writers who were happy with their pay. For instance, one writer said,

The only problem I see is when writers expect to make money quickly or easily. This could be a way for new writers to get accustomed to turning out regular content. I understood the game in the beginning. The problem with newbies is they don't read before they jump in and they expect something for nothing.

So let's get this straight: expecting to earn a living wage is a problem? Even newbies can and should be able to start earning professional wages right away as a writer. What do you think would happen if doctors were told they had to work for free for several years after earning their degree, and anything else was expecting "to make money quickly or easily"? You'd better believe we'd have a whole lot fewer doctors in this world.

But it's the last sentence that really gets me. "The problem with newbies is they expect something for nothing." Uh, hello, we're not asking for handouts here! Writing articles for someone is NOT nothing!

It infuriates me that a fellow writer, one of our own, should suggest that writing is worth nothing. In fact, I find this writer's attitude just as offensive, if not more so, than the rates Examiner.com pays. By saying things like that she is contributing to the low opinion of writers that lead many clients to underrate our services.

Friday, May 08, 2009

"The check is in the mail"

One of the things I hate is dealing with clients who are slow in paying. I'll actually sometimes decline to work again with certain clients who are especially bad about this, and I'll give preference to clients who pay with PayPal — despite the fees that are deducted for each transaction, it's worth it in order to get payment quickly and remove the possibility of the "check is in the mail" excuse.

A couple of months ago, I had two clients around the same time saying they had mailed a check, yet neither was arriving. This was the first time I'd actually had this happen with two clients at the same time, so I was actually concerned that something was happening to our mail! As it turned out, one client had forgotten to mail the check (it sounds suspicious, but I actually believe him because he went to the trouble to meet me in person and hand-deliver it), and the other had simply lied — clients may claim that "the check is in the mail," but the postmarked date will tell the real story later on!

Do clients really think we're too dumb to note what the postmark says?

I personally don't advocate working with a client who gives you cause not to trust them, even if they do ultimately pay you. Have you heard the "check is in the mail" line before, only to get it a week or more later than you would expect? If a client lies about when they've sent payment, but they still pay you, do you still consider that grounds for terminating your relationship with them?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Q: When is a sick day not a day off?

A: When you work from home!

[insert laugh track]

Seriously, though, I have to be pretty ill to not work at all. As in, I'm-going-to-puke-on-my-computer or I'm-cross-eyed-from-medication kind of ill. Otherwise, it just doesn't seem quite honest. After all, how much trouble is it to bring my laptop to bed with me?

I woke up today feeling a little under the weather. As a result, I've been moving a little slow all day. I'm disappointed because I had a lot of plans for today, and now I may not get to anything that doesn't involve curling up on the couch with my computer.

I'd love to hear from other freelancers. How do you handle it when you aren't feeling well? Do you let your clients know and take the day off, or do you suck it up and keep working? And if you usually do the latter, what is your breaking point — how bad does it have to be in order for you to take a sick day?

My hero, Judy Blume

Planned Parenthood recently sent around emails with a message from Judy Blume. Yesterdaay they sent another message stating that she'd gotten a lot of hate mail as a response, and asking us to stand up for Judy Blume.

Of course, I sent an email right away using the message form. I'm a huge fan of Judy Blume; in fact, I'd have to say that she's both a personal and a professional hero of mine. Young adult is the genre I'd like to write fiction for, and I often tell friends that if I have half as many books banned or challenged as she has, I'll be the happiest writer in the world!

Here's how serious I am about Judy Blume being my hero:

Judy Blume as one of Glamour's 2004 Women of the Year

That's from 2004, when she was selected as one of Glamour's Women of the Year. It's been on my fridge ever since — right next to the Peanuts strip where Snoopy is hiding in the mailbox while he waits to hear from his agent.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

That time of year again!

The days are getting warmer — spring is finally here, even by Colorado standards. (In Colorado, "spring" is actually just winter and summer duking it out, and eventually summer wins.)

During the warmer months, I love to sit out on the porch with my laptop and work. Because our house faces west, in the summer I can only do this in the mornings — in Colorado, the most intense heat is during the late afternoon and early evening. Until then, though, the porch is more than comfortable with the shades down.

I think it's during the summer months that freelancing is the most challenging. Nice weather makes me want to spend time outside, particularly out at the barn with my horse. Working outside on the porch is how I get my "fix" and still get my work done.

(Last summer I tried working off my horse's board by cleaning stalls. The idea was to minimize the amount of money I had to make while giving me more time to spend with my horse. It worked, but it also backfired in a way because it was so darn hard to leave the barn and go back home to work.)

How do you cope with nicer weather as a freelancer?

Review of the Asus Eee battery

Recently I wrote an Asus Eee review, but at the time I had just gotten the netbook and hadn't had a chance to test out the battery. Now that I've been using the Eee for a couple of weeks, I finally feel ready to post a review of its battery.

First of all, my Asus Eee came with the 4400mAh battery. Despite its small size, I've been sufficiently impressed with its performance. With normal use (for me — which means Outlook is open, wireless is on, screen brightness is up, and several Internet windows and/or Word windows are open) I get about three hours of battery life. However, one night I got about two hours on half a battery with the wireless turned off, screen brightness turned down, Outlook and Internet windows closed, and the processor speed turned down to the slowest (power-saving) mode. I haven't been able to go four hours yet without using email or Internet, but I imagine I'll get about four hours of battery life with all of the power saving settings on!

I find this all very impressive. I'm also considering buying the 6600mAh battery for my Asus Eee, simply for the sake of having an extra hour or two of battery time, but it doesn't seem to be a necessity!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No self-respecting writer...

Here's another gem from this week's WritersWeekly.com — and just in time for Writers Worth Day, too!

In the Whispers and Warnings section of this week's issue, there's a complaint about Cantara Christopher and cantarabooks.com. Apparently a writer submitted a poem to them, and when they offered to publish it without remuneration, said he'd have to think about it. They then withdrew his work from consideration, and sent him a rather rude email containing this statement:

No self-respecting writer who is serious about a career at your stage would consider payment to be more important than inclusion in a prestige publication like ours.

The letter goes on to talk about how widely read and respected their two-year-old publication is, but it's this sentence that stopped me up short. I mean, really — what they're implying here is that to expect compensation is disrespectful to yourself. What??

Where I come from, it's the opposite — giving your work away is disrespectful to yourself, no matter what stage of your career you are in. How do you expect to have a career at all, if right off the bat you establish a reputation for undervaluing your own work?

The funny thing is, I've never even heard of this publisher, so all their high-and-mighty talk is laughable — not to mention sounds just like every publisher who offers "exposure" in lieu of compensation. If they were so great, don't you think could afford to pay writers?

Newbie writers, pay attention: Never write for publishers who don't pay, but promise great things from the "exposure" you'll get with them. It's nothing but a fairy tale concocted by greedy publishers!

It's called a conflict of interests...

I just want to pass on a quick warning from this week's Writer'sWeekly.com.

Apparently, Author Solutions, Inc. — the owner of three POD publishers, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris — has started up a supposedly independent website for the purpose of helping would-be authors choose a POD publisher that is right for them. However, Angela Hoy did a little investigating, and discovered that the only three publishers the site would recommend to her were the ones affiliated with the parent company.

I think this is more than just deceptive — it feels to me like something that ought to be illegal. I think disclosing the relationship to the parent company ought to be a requirement, don't you?

To make matters worse, the website likens POD publishing with the "indie" movement. So now you've got a website advising wannabe authors under false pretenses, implying that paying to publish their books puts them right up there with the cool, artsy folk who film indie movies and release indie music? Talk about taking advantage of people...

Now, I have nothing against POD, and I've thought pretty seriously about using Booklocker (Angela Hoy's company) if and when I have a novel ready for publication. But I also have no illusions about what POD means. I know it requires your own money and a lot of work to promote your book, but it's worth it to me because — IF you go with an honest publisher — the author retains the rights to their own work and all the files for the finished book.

I think it's shameful that Author Solutions and FindYourPublisher.com are misleading wannabe writers in this manner. Talk about a conflict of interests!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy birthday to me

For those of you who didn't know, yesterday was my birthday. It was nice to have it fall on a Sunday this year, because I was able to spend the day with Michael — but I have to admit, I still did a couple of hours' work on my birthday.

The day started out sunny and gorgeous. It almost always snows in Denver right around my birthday, so this was a real treat! My deaf cat woke us early by sitting next to the bed and meowing at the top of his lungs (I'm sure he was telling me happy birthday), so we got up, went to Starbucks, and then took our drinks and our dogs to the park for a birthday walk.

I also used the Birthday Guilt Trip to get Michael to come out to the barn with me. (He's not really all that into horses, and he hasn't spent an afternoon out there with me in months.) We decided to take the dogs, and spent an hour or two with them in the back pasture while I tied and groomed Panama.

Then we went home, and I worked a little bit, took a short nap, and worked a little bit more.

For dinner we went out to my favorite Japanese restaurant, where we ordered my favorite food: sushi. Then we came home, watched a movie, and I worked a little bit more before going to bed early.

I suppose some might think it's kind of sad that I worked on my birthday, and I actually did try not to have to — but it just wasn't going to work out that way. My client needed their project finished, which meant I had to work! But honestly, it only added up to about three hours, which wasn't that bad.

What about you? Have you had to work on your birthday and other special occasions?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is the home office deduction getting safer?

While doing some research for a client project, I happened across this article from last year, and saved it for comment on my blog:

Slowdown may boost home-office deductions

The article anticipated that in the coming year, the number of people working from home and claiming the home office deduction would increase. Supposedly the slower economy was expected to make people more likely to work from home in order to make ends meet. I assume they mean unemployed people or part-time businesses on the side of regular jobs, because it takes a lot more dedication than simply wanting to make ends meet in order to make a home business suffice as the only source of income!

Since the article is a year old, I can't help but wonder if the IRS really saw the predicted increase in home office deductions.

I also found it interesting that the article claims the home office deduction is no longer a red flag for an audit. I've heard that before, but I've been somewhat reluctant to give any credence to it. I'd rather be safe than sorry; and besides, removing all personal items and activities from my office space would be too complicated, so I'm rather content not taking this deduction.

What about you though? Do you take the deduction, and do you think there's any truth to the statement that the home office deduction is a red flag for an audit?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Should flexibility equal a pay cut?

Today Lori over at Words on the Page blogged about a Morning Show segment featuring a woman who made $1,100 a month sitting by the pool and writing articles for $1 to $20 each. It's upsetting for many of us who are serious about our writing careers (as opposed to a career working by the pool), because it undermines decent wages when clients hear that articles can be had for $1 apiece.

Of course, I think the point of the segment was actually that she was making a living while sitting by the pool, and that she was earning any money at all by doing it. In my experience, this is a pretty common attitude: that we should expect a pay cut for the convenience and flexibility of working from home.

I have mixed feelings about this. I've accepted a pay cut in order to work from home — but in my total monthly income, not in what I get paid per hour. My hourly is actually considerably more than what I got as a full-time technical writer, but at the same time I've chosen to work fewer hours in order to have enough time to work with the horse I rescued a few years ago. The lower income is worth it to me, and I'm lucky enough that my husband's income allows me to make choices like this.

However, the number of hours I work is none of my clients' business. Sure, I may pay for having a flexible work schedule, but I pay for it out of the hours I choose not to work, NOT out of my hourly wage. Don't let clients tell you that the convenience of working from home comes at a price, because technically they are getting a convenience too: the ability to hire someone just for one job, without having to pay benefits or an annual salary.

Asus Eee review

I've been using my new netbook, an Asus Eee 1000HP, quite a bit since yesterday, and I've noticed a few things that I think are worth mentioning — both good and bad.

I mentioned in yesterday's post thhat I like the screen. It's matte instead of glossy, which cuts down on light reflections in a major way. Very nice.

The downside of the screen is that it doesn't quite have the same pixel resolution as my Averatec — 1024 x 600 instead of 1280 x 768. The end result is that even though the screen on the Eee is a tiny bit smaller, things appear a tiny bit bigger on it. I don't mind it, but I still prefer the pixel density of my Averatec.

The machine also runs extremely quietly — quiet ever than my Averatec, which I already thought was quiet. It seems to run a little bit cooler, as well.

My only real complaint is the placement of the right-hand shift key, which you can see in this picture:

Keyboard and screen for the Asus Eee 1000HP

Where the shift key is placed is way too far a reach for my pinky finger, meaning that I hit the up arrow key unless I consciously make an effort not to. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but it is a little disappointing since I wanted two computers with keyboards that I could transition back and forth between with relatively little adaptation needed.

With that small exception, I am really quite pleased with my new netbook. I will start testing the battery on and off the power save settings in a few days. The battery is supposed to reach its full capacity after being discharged and recharged a couple of times, so I'll wait until I've had a chance to do that before I start testing it. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My new netbook arrived!

Here is the moment you've all been waiting for, I'm sure: To find out what I think of my new netbook, the Asus Eee I ordered over the weekend.

When the netbook arrived today, I was amused to see the little box for the little computer:

My new netbook, unopened yet, in its little shipping box

Almost there. This is like Christmas!

Almost there...

My new Asus Eee 1000HP!

The very first thing I noticed was that I really like the screen. One of my pet peeves is laptops with glossy screens, because light reflection makes it so hard to see anything sometimes. So I was thrilled to see that this screen is matte, just like my Averatec.

Matte screen on the Asus Eee 1000HP

Here is a side-by-side comparison of my Averatec and the new netbook. As you can see, they are not that much different in size — but they are different.

Averatec 1000 series vs. Asus Eee 1000HP

Averatec 1000 series vs. Asus Eee 1000HP

I've spent a large chunk of the afternoon working on getting my netbook set up. I like Windows to be configured a certain way: I like the look of classic Windows, I like my power button to be set up so that pressing it puts the laptop into hybernation, etc.

Asus Eee 1000 HP

It's not technically operational just yet, though, at least not for my purposes — no word processing software. This evening I will be going over to my parents' house to borrow my dad's external CD drive and install Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and a few other programs onto the netbook. If my Averatec ever dies completely, I'll probably have to consider buying an external drive for myself — but for now that shouldn't be an issue.

Stay tuned for some operational observations, as I'm sure I will have some as I become acquainted with my new netbook!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A freelance lunch break

One of the things I really like about working from home as a freelance writer is the ability to eat better than I did back in the days of 30-minute lunch breaks.

A freelance writer's lunch break

No, I don't eat salads every day (nor arrange them so nicely when I'm not taking a picture), but my diet is a heck of a lot better than what I ate on my lunch breaks when I worked "real" jobs. There's only one type of lunch available when you have to choose from when you only have 30 minutes to get there, order, eat, and get back.

Sure, as a freelancer I'm more often tempted to eat at my desk while I work, and I don't think I'll ever completely win that battle. I've tried enforcing a strict one-hour lunch break before, but it just doesn't happen. I've decided it's better to eat at my computer when I feel so inclined, and take a break (whatever time of the day it is) if I start feeling like I need it.

How about you? Has freelancing improved your diet, or has it been compromised by the gravitational pull of the fridge?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Biting the bullet and buying a netbook

After months of blogging and thinking about netbooks, I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy one.

Several factors contributed to my decision. A major factor and instigator was that I started having major computer problems early last week. I noticed my computer was running extremely slow and crashing frequently, checked the CPU and it being hogged by one of my programs (my antivirus software, ironically — and a different program than the one that screwed things up before). I deleted the program (screw antivirus software, I don't need it!), and things are back to normal — but I'm now more worried than ever about my computer's eventual demise.

The other reason was because I discovered one of my favorite netbooks back in December, when I wrote my first round of netbook reviews for writers, is on sale at BestBuy.com: the Asus Eee with Celeron processor. I bought it because I remembered that what I liked best about it was that the keyboard and screen size were comparable to my Averatec, which should enable me to go back and forth between the two without having to adjust to the keyboard every time.

I also did some research, and discovered that the reason it felt slow to me in the store was probably because it enables you to set the slower at a slower speed (around 650 MHz) in order to save power when you don't necessarily need the faster speed. With the power save setting being used, the screen brightness turned down, and WiFi turned off, it's supposed to get between 4 and 5 hours of battery power. There are many times when I am just using Word on battery power and could stand to take advantage of that feature!

I'm getting this netbook primarily to be a backup machine in case this one has problems again — or, heaven forbid, dies altogether. I should get it in a couple of days (I ordered it online on Saturday, with 3-day shipping), and I will let you know what I think when it arrives!


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