Category Archives: Making a living

Managing the Creative Workload

The Complete Writer

Section IX: Creative Strategies

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Managing the Creative Workload

Creative workers, especially those of us who are self-employed, often find ourselves trying to cope with a workload that entails tackling too darned many things at once. Managing this workload can be a real challenge.

Normally, I organize my workdays and keep more or less on track by using to-do lists posted on white-boards, one hanging in the office and the other on the door that leads out to where the car awaits.

Sometimes, though, these may serve more to discourage than to help get work done.

Listing all the tasks that need to be done today leads one to try to accomplish 87 gerjillion things on deadline. And that is untenable.

Overload and the to-do list

One day I happened upon another approach.

What if you didn’t set yourself a slew of tasks, an endless to-do list, but instead aimed to get just one important thing done during any given day? That would free up the day to do things you would like to do (as opposed to have to do). And accomplishing one thing a day would mean five goals would get done during a week.

Five things accomplished in a week is a whole lot more than zero things accomplished in a week.

So on a Monday I set out to do the following:

  • Start building a Goodreads presence, somehow
  • Proofread 30 Pounds page proofs; order twenty hard copies to fulfill orders
  • Meet with client; work on his book
  • Post another Camptown Races book
  • Plug the latest Fire-Rider collection; update websites accordingly.

Five chores. By Thursday, I’d accomplished four of them.

I resisted listing any daily to-do chores. The goal was to get through five projects in a week.

Amazing results

Without the nagging pressure of a horde of tasks waiting in the wings, I found myself focusing on a given project for longer periods and with fewer self-imposed interruptions. The result: I got through a lot of work, including some unplanned extra chores for a client. This spun off quite a few other small chores that also got done . . . so in fact, more than five tasks were accomplished that week—before Friday rolled around.

Effectively what had happened is that setting fewer goals meant more things got done! Many, many more things.

The take-away message

Focusing on the bigger picture makes it easier to get moving, and five things to do in a week are less discouraging than ten in a day.

And if one strategy isn’t working, try something different. Even if it’s a tried-and-true strategy, sometimes changing gears (or getting a little help!) can make a big difference.

Turning Failure into Success

The Complete Writer
Section VIII: The Writing Life:
Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay?

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Turning Failure into Success

They say failure can help turn your losing experience into a successful endeavor. That became evident from the erotica publishing enterprise, which after a couple of years appeared to have joined the 50 percent of small business start-ups that fail within five years.[3]

On the surface, what I learned from that is not to try to sell anything unless you have some very strong marketing skills and are willing to spend uncountable hours using them. However, something far more positive is coming out of it.

These days, I have more work than I can handle. People are lined up at the door trying to get me to edit their golden words or advise on publishing them. And one of my clients hired me to help him self-publish a memoir that he intends not for the public but for family and friends.

By way of saving money on design for him, I mocked up three draft covers for his delectation. One of them turned out looking pretty darned nice. Another would be even better if the quality of the image were better—it has a couple of flaws, one of which probably resulted from dirt on the lens and the other of which appears to be a data issue. We used his images, taken with a variety of cameras over forty years.

As I remarked in Chapter 33, there are any number of good reasons to use print-on-demand or e-book technology other than trying to trying to publish a best-seller. In fact, trying to publish the Great American Novel is the worst of all possible reasons.

One of several things I learned a-sailing the Amazon is how to create a nice-looking paperback through print-on-demand technology. As a result, I now have the skills and tools to take a book all the way from manuscript to print. And that process can be modestly lucrative.

Three projects like the client’s private memoir would recover all the losses I’ve enjoyed in the book publishing enterprise.

I’ve also learned of a Mac app that allows you to create really attractive .mobi, ePub, and iBook e-books fairly simply. I may try this on the client’s MS just to see what happens. If it can handle images (not an easy trick), then I would be able to offer e-book formatting of fairly complex documents, too. This would further enlarge the opportunities to make a profit helping other people publish their projects.

I would never advise a client to spend a vast pile of money self-publishing what he or she imagines is the Great American Novel. But if the person has a good reason to create a book-length document for a business, for a nonprofit organization, for patients or customers, or for family and friends, self-publishing can be an economical and relatively easy way to fulfill certain specific needs. And if you’re just a hobbyist—and you know you’re a hobbyist—writing a book because you get a kick out of writing and would like to see your results in print or on Amazon is surely no more expensive than skiing or four-wheeling. As long as you understand what you’re doing and don’t imagine you’re going to get rich (or, probably, even to make a profit), I’ll even help you publish your novel.

Does this experience generalize?

Evidently so; otherwise we wouldn’t have those chestnuts to the effect that you have to fail before you can succeed.

In learning how to lose money, you learn how not to lose money. With any luck at all, you may learn how to make money. This is an underlying principle of all the personal finance advice dispensed in popular media: if you get into debt, you can learn not to get into debt; if a bank screws you, you can learn to use a credit union; if you’re not earning enough, you can learn ways to earn more.

Some errors, of course, are not so easily rectified: fail to save enough for retirement and you won’t have a second chance. Text your way up the wrong way of a freeway off-ramp and your next success will be a Darwin Award.

But most of the time you do have a chance to learn something—and profit from it.

Making Time for Writing

The Complete Writer
Section VIII: The Writing Life:
Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay?

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


Making Time for Writing

A while back, New York Times editorialist David Brooks held forth on the daily habits of famous writers,[2] the implication being that if you want to be a famous writer (or even an infamous writer), you would be well advised to establish a regular schedule that devotes a set period to the work. Or, if you prefer, to The Work.

Plumbing the depths of Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Brooks reports that Maya Angelou arose each morning at 5:30, had coffee at 6:00, and then would set off at 6:30 to a hotel room she rented as a kind of office. There she would write from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 or 2:00 p.m.

Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, would set a goal of 2,500 words a day, to be accomplished at the rate of 250 words every 15 minutes.

The examples are a little extreme. But the fact is, if you want to become a Writer with a Capital W, the number-one thing you have to do is apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. And you can’t do that when you’re trying to accommodate other people’s schedules or working around all the “I’d better get this done first” demands you set for yourself.

Some years ago, my department at Arizona State University brought a speaker to advise about strategies to help crank out the articles and books required to achieve tenure and, once tenured, to manage promotion to full professor.

He suggested we carve out a small window of time three times a week in which all we would do is work on the writing project. We did not have to write. We could research. We could plan. We could outline. We could just think. But whatever it was, it had to be related to the project at hand.

The time didn’t have to be long: even fifteen or twenty minutes. A half an hour would be good. An hour at most. Over time, you might extend it to a couple of hours. But don’t overdo it, he said. In any event, limit the time to a specific period, scheduled for a limited number of days per week.

This strategy has several advantages:

  1. It allows you to keep the spouse and the kids at bay. If they know that at a certain time you’ll be at their beck and call, they’re more likely to leave you alone for the time you’ve set aside.
  2. Three hours a week, while not much, is three hours more than you would work on your project otherwise.
  3. You can work up from a half-hour or an hour to an hour or two, giving yourself six or more hours a week—again, time you wouldn’t otherwise spend on writing.
  4. Working regularly on creative work primes the creative pump. When you work a short time on a creative project, set it aside, and come back to it, you find yourself coming up with all sorts of new ideas. As Brooks puts it, “order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring.”

All of it is easier said than done, especially if you’re self-employed.

Obviously, if you have a regular job, you can find regular times in which to work: 5:30 to 6:30 a.m., before you have to get the kids out of the sack and yourself ready to go; or 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., after the kiddies are put to bed and the dishes are washed.

By contrast, when you’re self-employed work comes in irregularly and deadlines can be erratic. Sometimes you need to put in 14+ hours a day to get the job done. New tasks come in, clients get squirrelly, new business must be hustled, meetings must be met.

When on earth do you find time to do your own thing?

Well, you don’t find it. You have to make it. Got a fourteen-hour day? Either add another hour or two for your writing schemes, or make Tuesday a sixteen-hour workday so as to break free an hour or two on Wednesday.

Personally, as contract editor, I tend to prioritize my creative work over my clients’ work. At some point, I decided I get to have some time of my own to do what I want to do. Selfish, yes. But creativity demands a certain degree of ego.

The only way I know to make broad priorities stick is to create a schedule. You may have a strategy that works better for you. For me, unless I’m following a list of to-do’s that need to be accomplished on a given day, a typical seventeen-hour day looks like this:

Up at 5:30 a.m.: answer the e-mail.

6:00 to 7:30: Write. Or at least think through the project.


6:30 or 7:30: Walk one to two miles with dogs, if weather permits. If not, continue writing.

7:30 to 8:30: Breakfast, coffee, read paper.

8:30 to around 2:00 p.m.: paying work.

2:00 to 3:00 p.m.: Prepare and enjoy full dinner-type meal.

3:00 to 4:00 p.m.: Rest and regroup. Take time to think about creative work, characterization, action, or organization and approach to nonfiction or editing projects in hand.

4:00 p.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.: Write. Answer e-mail.

7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.: Paying work (or, as time permits, writing). Spend part of this time blogging (Funny about Money, Plain & Simple Press News) while ogling Netflix.

10:00 or 11:00 p.m.: Walk dogs, if it was too hot to take them out in the morning.

What it boils down to? If you wanna be a Writer, you’ve gotta work. If you’re gonna work, you need to make time to work.

The Business of Freelancing

The Complete Writer
Section VIII: The Writing Life…
Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay?

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.


The Business of Freelancing

Someone once asked Don Dedera, author of ten books and innumerable magazine and newspaper articles, how he accounted for his success as a freelance writer.

“I attribute it to two things,” Dedera replied. “A working typewriter and a working wife.”

Freelance writing is a tough, unremunerative affair, not one for the frail ego or the free spender. Average incomes range from $4,000 to upwards of $50,000 a year, depending on the survey. An annual take for a freelancer of $25,000 can be considered exceptional. If one’s ambition is to make a living as a writer or editor, one is really better off to get a job on a magazine or in a publishing house. Editors rarely develop much loyalty toward freelance contractors, and publishers try to extract as much work in return for as little pay and commitment as possible. Turnover in the publishing industry is breathtaking. So is the bankruptcy rate; when a magazine is in trouble, the first supplier it will short is the writer. If you have any ideas about freelancing to support yourself while you stay home with the kids after school, live in a Rocky Mountain retreat, and work whatever hours you please, think again.

Given these grim facts, one might sensibly ask why on earth anyone would take up such a dismal occupation.

Three good reasons:

  1. It’s a way to eke out a few pennies and work a small tax break between jobs. Like many “business consultants,” writers who call themselves freelancers often mean they’re unemployed. By freelancing, you can keep your hand in while you look for regular work.
  2. Because it lets newcomers display talents to many potential employers, freelancing can open the back door to jobs in journalism. After selling several stories to an acceptable magazine, you let the editors know you need a job. Then you wait and keep writing for them. Sooner or later, someone leaves and you have the inside track for the vacant position. This is the hard way to get hired, but for many a writer-turned-editor, it has worked.
  3. For all its agony, frustration, and penury, freelancing is just plain fun. It’s one of the few jobs in which you never do the same thing twice and you truly learn something new every day. You meet people you would never encounter otherwise, and you get to ask all sorts of nosy questions. You go places and see things that a desk-bound editor can only dream of while she reads your copy. Established writers decide what they will write about and decline projects that don’t interest them—a choice you don’t have on staff. And yes, you get to pick your hours: any eighteen hours of the day you like.

Building a professional image

Let’s assume, since office rentals are expensive, that you will work from your home. This alone tends to diminish your credibility.

If you are to sell magazine articles—or any other kind of writing—you must go about it in a businesslike way. Editors and other clients are not interested in dealing with amateurs. To persuade potential clients that you are a pro, you must act and appear professional. Among the strategies for accomplishing this:

  • Establish a web site and be sure it looks professional. Services such as and Blogger offer free server space; however, to engineer a professional-looking URL, one that doesn’t end in, for example), you’ll have to pay something, and you may have endure annoying conditions and ads placed on your site. GoDaddy and BlueHost are among the several web hosts that charge reasonable prices for server space and assert no sovereignty over your site.
  • Hire a professional web designer to establish and lay out your site, even if it’s based on a WordPress template. Once you have a good design and understand how to add to and take away from it, you can change content to keep your facts up to date. But unless you are a trained web designer, you should avoid a DIY job on this important tool.
  • Create a letterhead with matching envelopes and business cards. You can do this in Word and store the results on your computer, or, for not very much money, have quick printers at places like Kinko’s or OfficeMax do the job for you.
  • Establish a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Do not, ever, publish frivolous posts or images on these sites! Do not troll, and never engage trolls in arguments or pissing matches. Keep your image friendly but professional on all social media.
  • Join trade organizations. The best writer’s groups for these purposes, in my experience, are the Society for Technical Communication, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Business groups are even more useful for those who seek remunerative corporate accounts; joining the local Chamber of Commerce will bring you into contact with many potential clients.

Operating your business

Set aside time every day for writing. Treat the time precisely as though you were in an office. Use it only for work. Friends, relatives and neighbors, who generally regard work as a place, not an activity, will assume you are free to operate at their beck and call. Resist impositions on your work time, at all costs.

Set goals. Once you’ve staked out some time, you need to organize it by setting goals and arranging your time to meet them.

Assignments provide built-in goals. On your calendar, block out the time you’ll need for backgrounding, interviews, and writing. Plan to finish a first draft several days before the real deadline; then schedule a day to let the copy cool and a day or two for revising and polishing.

Remember to build delivery time into your schedule. If your editor or client accepts e-mail delivery, send the attachment a day ahead of the agreed-upon deadline, to account for Murphy’s Law. This will give you time to resend should your editor not receive your message. If you’re shipping hard copy, figure four working days to send first-class mail coast-to-coast.

Meanwhile, you should aim to send out a certain number of queries in any given period. A reasonable goal is to launch four good, solid proposals each month. When matters lapse, it can take about three months to land a new assignment. So the freelance writer must always stay in circulation. While you’re working on an assignment, search out new ideas, devise fresh angles, write up proposals, and keep them in the mail until they sell.

These, then, might be your short-term goals:

  • To meet your deadlines
  • To develop a certain number of ideas each month.
  • To keep several proposals circulating at all times

Long-term goals address what you want to accomplish over, say, a year—or a lifetime. These are issues you must articulate for yourself and perhaps change as you mature. Writers have various motives. The most common probably follow these lines:

  • To get published, anywhere, at any price
  • To make money
  • To break into national publications
  • To write a book
  • To get a full-time job in journalism
  • To quit worrying about money and produce high-quality writing on subjects that matter for people who care

Market yourself. A website, a blog, and a presence on one or more social media sites not only help to build a professional image, they let people know what you have done, what you can do, and what you want to do. Membership in professional groups and business organizations also helps build visibility in your community.

If you want to write magazine and newspaper stories on a freelance basis, you must to learn to pitch your ideas to editors through the use of the query letter: a formal proposal targeting a specific market. This is a skill unto itself: in one to two pages, you need to show an editor a) that you can write for her or his publication; b) that you understand the publication’s audience and purpose; and c) that you have an idea that fits. Probably the finest discussion of this skill appears in chapter 18 of Bruce Garrison’s Professional Feature Writing. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I refer you to his excellent work.

Most of the Writer’s Digest books on freelance writing include passages or chapters on query letter. Surprisingly little advice appears online, but Monica Shaw at Writer’s Residence provides a nice collection of successful examples.[1]

Successful freelancers sell all the time. When your blog hits the top 100 in its niche, when your book hits print, when you win a writing award, send out press releases to all the local and regional media. If you have a specialty, call radio talk shows and offer to speak on matters of current interest. Write short articles for local shoppers and business publications, and be sure your bio tells readers what you do and how to reach you.

Watch good sales agents in action. And read a few how-to manuals on sales technique. You can use much of what you learn in your own marketing efforts. The key is to stay in motion. Never stop hustling. Never allow yourself to become discouraged, never waste time with people who aren’t live prospects, and always make yourself keep trying to sell every day.

Keep good records. You must maintain records of all your transactions for tax purposes. Keep every receipt, every canceled check, and evidence of any financial exchange for at least five years. Large accordion-style folders are cheap and work nicely for this purpose.

Make records of any toll telephone calls. Some magazines will pay these expenses. You can write the rest off your taxes, but only if you can prove you incurred them for business.

For the same reasons, maintain careful records of your automobile mileage. What you can’t get a publisher to pay for, you can write off your taxes.

Keep a copy of every manuscript you submit, as well as contracts and correspondence with editors. Obviously, electronic data must be backed up regularly. It’s a good idea to have an external hard drive for this purpose. However, remember: all hard drives fail sooner or later. So, it’s useful to back everything up twice, once on an external hard drive and once on a flash drive. You may want to look into free or moderately priced server space on the Internet, such as DropBox or Carbonite. Some writers keep hard copy of all important papers, including manuscripts.

It’s wise to keep old copy, research notes, and interview tapes (or digital audio files) indefinitely. Often you can recycle this data, and occasionally some question comes up that can be answered by something you wrote five years before. Consider using inexpensive cardboard file boxes to store hard copy in a closet or garage. These boxes are also convenient for collecting sample magazines and hard-copy writer’s guidelines.

Keep the production line moving. Your business’s “production line” generates work for pay. Keep it moving steadily. If your client doesn’t give you a deadline, set one of your own. And always meet your deadlines, even if it means working all night to do so.

An odd phenomenon afflicts most writers. I call it “work-avoidance maneuvers.” One starts the day with delaying tactics to keep from sitting down to work: brew another pot of coffee, write a personal letter, water the plants. Because I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t do this routinely, I think it serves a psychological purpose. Some projects, for example, seem so huge you must back into them to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

You can indulge the work-avoidance impulse in constructive ways. Try reading the newspaper, studying a potential target magazine, or reviewing and polishing yesterday’s copy.

If your day’s schedule requires you to telephone people you don’t know—always a stressful task—start the morning with the toughest call. This makes the rest of the day feel like skateboarding along the beach.

When you have a hard time beginning a story, skip the lead and start at the nut paragraph or some later point in the piece. You can work out the lead later. If that trick doesn’t work, try writing a first-person narrative, like a letter to a friend or sympathetic editor, describing what you saw and heard as you interviewed people and did your legwork. If you still can’t get a handle on the piece, set it aside and work on some other assignment; the momentum of accomplishing a small project will carry through to the more difficult one.

Use telecommunications professionally. Consider the telephone a business instrument during business hours. Ring tones for your cell phone should be conservative and discreet; not cutesy, loud, or annoying. Voicemail messages must be professional-sounding and give callers the impression that they are calling an office. If you have a predilection for land lines and your family uses the phone heavily, consider installing a separate line in your office (do not tell the phone company that you will be using it for business, to avoid being charged at a higher rate). Better, get a VoIP service that will let you use your desk phones and also provides NoMoRobo, the only effective phone solicitation blocker.

When crafting a voicemail message, women may want to imply that several people work at the establishment; “none of us can come to the phone right now.” It is unwise to advertise that you are at an address alone or that no one is likely to be there for awhile.

Whenever you call people, they’re always “in a meeting.” This means you spend your day leaving word all over town—or all over the country. When someone returns your call, it is to your advantage to sound like a professional, not like a stay-at-home mom or dad with a laptop on the kitchen table waiting for the brownies to bake.

When I began freelancing, I once left word with a top executive at a Fortune 500 electronics firm. He called back, and I answered the phone with my customary housewifely “Hullo?”

A long, eloquent silence ensued. He clearly thought he had the wrong number or something eccentric was going on.

Business people do not want to talk with eccentrics. During business hours, answer the phone as though you were in an office—with your name or with your business’s name. Set up your voicemail to sound businesslike, too. This is an effective way to build credibility.

Accounting. In this area, you must hire expert help. It’s fine—even advisable—to keep your books in Quicken or at an online budgeting site like But while TurboTax works well for many folks’ personal tax returns, a business return is another matter. Have a tax professional, preferably a certified public accountant, prepare your tax return, at least the first time you fill one out as a self-employed writer. People who claim deductions for home offices make tax collectors itch. Because the tax laws are complex and capricious, you should never try to deal with the Internal Revenue Service yourself.

Deposit the money you earn from freelancing in a separate checking account, and pay your business expenses from that account. This much simplifies the task of keeping track of receipts and business expenses, and, by never mixing freelance income with other money, you can help a tax preparer see how much you earn and how much you spend on business costs. Using a separate telephone line only for business calls also simplifies your bookkeeping.

To deduct the costs of running a home office, you must prove you are truly in business—not playing at a hobby. You have to be earning money, and you must make a profit three years out of five.

The Internal Revenue Service requires self-employed workers to establish a permanent, separate place within the home to use exclusively as an office. The space must be demarcated from the rest of the dwelling with room dividers or portable walls; to be safe, however, you should reserve a separate room for this purpose. You must use the space on a regular basis, not on and off, and it must be your principal place of business. If you have an office somewhere else, you can’t deduct a home office used for the same business.

Once you establish yourself as a for-profit enterprise, you may deduct “ordinary and necessary expenses.” These include rent, utilities, supplies, research costs, travel, subscriptions to professional magazines, membership in trade groups, certain conventions and meetings, communications and postage costs, and the like. Depreciate expensive assets, such as a computer, over several years; IRS rules govern the period over which you must spread the deduction of depreciable items. You are permitted to take a one-time deduction for such equipment, but the deduction may not exceed the income you earned in the year of the purchase.

The possibility of a tax audit is the best of all possible reasons to establish a well organized filing system, electronically and in hard copy. Copies of query letters, proposals, contracts, statements, receipts, and manuscripts will serve as evidence that you are trying to make a profit. If you are audited, you will have to produce all your receipts and expense records for the years in which you are challenged. Keep careful, accurate records and store them for at least five years. Among these records, you should include your appointment calendars.

Literary agents

Magazine writers do not need agents, and few agents will try to market magazine articles, because there’s not enough money in it.

Agents are useful in marketing certain kinds of books. Most writers find agents by word of mouth, through recommendations from other writers. Agencies list themselves in Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace. To choose one blind, pick out several names and start telephoning.

If you should seek an agent, bear this in mind: legitimate literary agents do not charge reading fees. Avoid those who offer to think about marketing your work for a price.

Literary agents offer your work to prospective buyers and negotiate contracts and fees favorable to you. They retain 10 percent of the take as a commission and pass the other 90 percent along to you. Their services are worth this premium because agents usually can obtain higher rates than a writer can negotiate alone. If an agent agrees to represent you, he or she may provide advice and editorial guidance as a service—for free. Most effective agents live in or near New York City, because they depend on person-to-person contact with book editors and publishers, whose offices are concentrated on the East Coast.

Other jobs for freelance writers

If you have the hustle, business has the money. Some people make a good living writing for businesses. They write annual reports; edit in-house newsletters; write press releases, reference and credit reports, company manuals, company histories, brochures, proposals—you name it.

Get this work by word of mouth, advertising, and chutzpah. One method is to print up a professionally polished brochure describing your manifold skills and take it door-to-door, introducing yourself and offering your services. Another is by advertising in business and trade journals. If you have any gift at translating technical language into plain English, advertise yourself in county and state medical, legal, dental, and veterinary journals.

Put out the word to your editors that you’re interested in working for businesses. Magazines often receive calls from people seeking writers for brochures, newsletters, or press releases.

You can also take your brochure to printers, typesetters, graphic artists, and fast-print franchise outlets. These entrepreneurs often have customers who need writers.

Public relations agencies are another source of freelance jobs. When business is good, agencies may have more work than staff members can handle, and they will hire freelancers to write press releases. Writers with magazine credits may be asked to hack out self-interested trade journal articles for clients, at much higher rates than the magazine would pay. Agency fees to freelancers range from $20 to $120 an hour.

Associations and nonprofit organizations also need writers. They may not pay as well as businesses, although some do. They especially need people to write or edit newsletters.

You can write book reviews. You can write blog entries for pay. You can write resumés for job seekers. You can ghost-write memoirs. You can write genealogies. You can do outsourced public information for government agencies. You can handle public relations for schools and libraries.

Everybody needs a writer. All you have to do is see the need and fill it.

Ella, for the moment

NO WAY am I going to get an Ella’s Story post up today. With summer coming to an end, things are heating up here — a lot of activities have re-started and I’ve been busy every minute of every day, mostly out of the house. And in the middle of a great deal of whirling around, in came 7600 words of math copy from one of the Chinese scientists!

Welp, paying work trumps hobbyist frolics, so today I’m going to have to edit copy like mad, since I put off the job over the weekend (do they have Saturdays and Sundays “off” — har har — in China???), today and for the next several days Ella is going to have to wait.

Always glad to get paying work…but sometimes one does wish EVERYTHING wouldn’t happen at once!


And….a-a-a-a-n-d before I can even hit publish here’s ANOTHER of the mathematicians!



Where Is the Grass Greener?

So, in the grass-is-greener department, here’s the question of the day: Can you earn more money cleaning house than you can editing copy?

Well, the lady who came to my house during the Year of the Surgery charged $80 a hit. But apparently she undercharged. Women I talk to at choir say they expect to pay $100. I had her come in every two weeks, but more affluent types will have them once a week. And one lady I talked to, who was working for a woman who farmed her out to others, discovered the woman was charging $120 for her services.

So let’s say you cleaned one house a day for the supposed going rate of $100 a hit: you’d be earning $500 a week. I’m not earning $500 a week.

My co-editor and I have never calculated how much per hour we’re getting paid to put together an issue of the journal we contract to. I spent most of the day on an article that looked like it had never been through the peer review process—but it’s hard to tell exactly how many hours I racked up, because I work on-again, off-again, with a lot of interruptions. But…22 pages of really difficult stuff? Let’s suppose you can get through a page in 10 minutes, on average: that’s 220 minutes, or 3.6 hours.

I’m sure I spent more than 3½ hours on that thing. But suppose each of us allowed it to absorb that much of our time: it’s an entire day of time wasted on producing a piece that in a rational world would never see print. Did we each earn $100 on that effort? Or even $50?

We get a thousand bucks per issue… Each issue has several full-length articles, some creative pieces, a long-winded editorial statement, and a set of self-aggrandizing authors’ bios. Many of the authors are ESL writers or people who grew up in homes where another language was spoken, and so the copy has language challenges as well as the usual academic ones. If we were to work on only that, full-time, we could probably turn it out in a week. Maybe less: but say five to seven days.

So let’s say you had five women, for whose services you charged $120 to clean five McMansions, each woman taking one house. You’d have to ride herd on them, but most of the time you wouldn’t be doing much cleaning yourself. So each of these women brings in $120/day; you pay them $60 (the lady who told me this story was being grossly underpaid), so you pocket $60 — less the amount you have to pay in your share of the FICA taxes, assuming you report the income. $60 x 5 is $300 per day for your crew. Now, $300 x 5 days a week is $1500 a week, or $6,000 a month. And you’d never have to read another plagiarized student paper or another polemical “research study” whose author insists on replacing every third letter with “x.”

You would have to hustle: marketing would be the key. And managing these women would be a challenge. You’d be riding herd constantly. To field a crew of five people five days a week, you’d need to have more than five on the string. You’d have to do a fair amount of training, too, since many cleaning ladies don’t know how to clean.

Check this out, bearing in mind that one of our mentors thinks we should be getting $60/hour for our time:

We most certainly do not earn $1500 a week, either individually or between the two of us. Nor do we earn $120 x 5, $600 a week: the amount one of us could earn cleaning house five days a week.

On the other hand, we don’t work 8 hours a day (regularly) on editorial. My cohort teaches full-time at the University of Phoenix, which just now entails juggling twenty-eight sections of 35 students apiece. You could not get me to do that if the only other choice were starvation. I earn some cash blogging, and rather more reading math, business, and biosciences papers by Chinese scientists. Editing, like teaching, is not what you’d call handsomely paid.

if I’m teaching the largest number of sections the community colleges will farm out to adjuncts, I earn all of $1100 a month. On average. Some months, of course, I earn nothing.

When a profession that requires at least one advanced degree (preferably two) and substantial experience makes cleaning house look good…Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Pen-Names, Pseudonyms: When, Where, Why, and How?

When and how to write under a pen name - useful stuffA friend, in the course of chatting about the Publishing Empire, asked how you go about using a pen-name, and by the way…when and where would you use a pseudonym, and why?

Well, the why can be pretty obvious: if you’re tattling on the President of the United States and the CIA, it’s probably wise to call yourself something like Deep Throat.

There are other reasons, of course. You might publish a memoir or a piece of autobiographical fiction that reflects dimly on a relative. Or maybe you write Edwardian-period romance novels and think a by-line that sounds aristocratically romantic will help sell books. Or maybe you’re doing a corporate project written by a number of people and, to avoid confusion, choose a single (real or fake) by-line.

TravelerCover-LORES-764x1024In our case, for example,Roberta Stuart” is actually five writers, all emanating pulp fiction for the Camptown Races Press imprint. Each has written several Roberta Stuart stories over time. The reason we decided to put them all out under the same pen-name was to build brand recognition: a Roberta Stuart story is short, often witty or outright hilarious, sometimes marked by magical realism, and always genially erotic. An incidental benefit is that our authors can choose to or not to reveal their role in creating the persona of the pseudonymous pornography queen. Some of their friends and relatives know nothing; other CR authors are fairly open about this aspect of their writing careers.

How do you go about it? Simply choose a name and put it on the title and the copyright page. When you apply for an ISBN at Bowker (this is an international cataloguing code — you need it to get your magnum opus into Books in Print), the form will ask you for the name of the author, which may be different from the name of the copyright holder. For all the Racy Books, I always list Roberta as the “author.”

You also can list a pseudonym at Amazon. There, it’s a little more problematic, because Amazon limits the number of pseudonyms you can use. If you publish a lot and you’ve published under more than one version of your own name, this can put a crimp on your style, because Amazon regards every version of your real name as a “pseudonym.”

This, of course, is incorrect. If your name is Robert Smith and you write as Bob Smith in some places and Rob Smith in others, none of those are “pseudo” (i.e., false) names: they’re all variants of your name.

But no amount of arguing with Amazon factotums will bring about a change in this inconvenient policy.

robert sidneyI find it particularly annoying because Amazon has glommed publications that I’ve emitted under three variants of my name. My first book, The Life of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, was published under my full, formal name: Millicent V. Hay. A scholarly biography, it came out at a time when I still hoped for a full-bore academic career, and so I wanted it to appear under the name that appears on my curriculum vitae.

But…I happen to hate that name. As a little girl, I was bullied so fiercely throughout grade school that I became suicidal. The sappy name was a ripe target for the little monsters who made my life so miserable that at the age of 10 or 12, I wanted to end it. To this day, the name “Millicent” elicits a physical cringe reflex.

When I escaped that school and that country and started attending schools in the US, I called myself “Vicky,” a familiar version of my middle name. This worked well because it was so plain vanilla it provided no ammunition and never did spur any significant meanness among my stateside classmates.

essential featureIn the fullness of time, I became a magazine journalist: a writer and editor for a variety of local and regional publications. My byline was the name that everyone knew: Vicky Hay. I never wrote a journalistic article under any other name, and my guide to newspaper and magazine writing, The Essential Feature, came out under that name.

With the vast encyclopedia of contacts I built — I knew or knew of every top-flight writer, editor, graphic artist, and photographer in the Southwest — I decided to start a kind of finder’s service. We would put publishing clients in touch with editorial and graphic talent and, if desired, package books and other publications for them. At this time I took on a business partner, a guy who had been a public relations professional for decades.

He felt that “Vicky” was way too informal. He asked me to start using my full middle name: “Victoria.”

MathMagicWe put a lot of stuff out under that name. In one book, where I didn’t want an essay inside the book to coincide with the publisher’s name, I used my mother’s maiden name, Julie DeLong, as a pen-name. Eventually, I cowrote Math Magic with a fellow named Scott Flansburg, and of course used the fancy middle name: Victoria Hay, Ph.D. That one turned into a best-seller, thanks to Scott’s high-level marketing skills.

Now I decide to experiment with self-publishing, pretty much for the Hell of it…and that’s when Amazon informs me that I can’t publish under the name Roberta Stuart because I already have three pseudonyms.

Which are NOT pseudonyms.

So how do you copyright material written under pen names? Anything you create in a reproducible medium — including writing — is automatically copyrighted as you create it. You own the copyright on it by virtue of your having made it. You can publish it and copyright it under any pen name you please. The copyright will always belong to you, unless you choose to sell some or all of your rights in the work.

Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races Press are both imprints (effectively DBAs) of an S-corporation, The Copyeditor’s Desk. Because receipts come in to the corporation and contractors’ fees are paid by the corporation, I register the copyrights in our works to the corporation. The corporation buys all rights to subcontracted works, and the corporation owns the copyright in everything it publishes.

This provides a corporate veil between the principals (me and a business partner) and the doings of the business. Sometimes this can come in handy. And it certainly simplifies the tax accounting.

If you’re just one little person publishing one little book or one series of books, there’s no reason for you to get elaborate, as long as you dutifully pay your income taxes. Just publish the thing under whatever name you please.

The Writing Life: Never Rains but It Pours

Have you ever noticed that weeks and even months can go by without much  happening, and then all of a sudden everything pops at once? It’s been like that around here.

Last week what should come in the door but…well…not one, not two, not three, not even four, but FIVE editing projects! I haven’t seen a lonely scribbler all summer long, and now here’s a mob of them at my door, just as I’m trying to crank 87 gerjillion Camptown Races Press books for the holiday season!

Speaking of the which, we’re about to promulgate our first Hallowe’en Treat: Janet and the Djinn, a whimsical story of a despairing jilted wife who answers a Craig’s List ad and gets a much more spirited romp than she expected. If you’d like an advance copy, come on over to Camptown Ladies Talk and grab one TODAY, before it hits Amazon. Sign up for the newsletter there (the form’s at the top of the page) and we’ll send you a .mobi or a PDF version ASAP.

Craig's List Janet LoResAdvance copy NOW!
Camptown Ladies Talk

So, back to the issue at hand: five freaking editorial projects when we’re trying to crank eight books this month, one of which I STILL HAVE TO FINISH WRITING!

Lordie! I haven’t been able to get to my own stuff in weeks. But I really couldn’t turn them down. We need the money to keep the business going. Not only do I have to cover the regular overhead — the Cox bill, the web hosting bill, the web wrangler’s bill, the association dues, the paper, the ink, the you-name-it — I now have four (maybe five, soon!) writers to pay. Pay for three of these projects, taken together, will keep us going another two months past the date I figured we’d go broke if we’re not turning a profit.


But last week I tried a plan that shows some serious promise: divide up the day in chunks, and devote each chunk to one (count it, 1) specific task. Don’t do anything else during that period, no matter how tempting or urgent it seems to be. Okay.

So, Friday went like this:

Three hours: Post Bobbi and the Biker. Publicize: Build widgets, manage Twitter and post tweets there, write blog posts, plan marketing campaign.
Three hours: Edit copy
Three hours: Write scene for The Taming of Bonnie (Ouija Lover II)

Et voilà! There’s a nine-hour day, right there.

I ended up spending another three hours cleaning up some very messy computer files and backing them up to a gigantic flash drive and then to the iMac. That was quite a job, but it’s going to make life a lot easier.

Saturday was blown away with a three-hour meeting of a writer’s group I habituate — plus the two hours it takes to get there and back. When I got home, I discovered the power had gone out while I was gone, and it had knocked the wireless off the air. Try as I might, I could NOT get the wireless back online. I called my son, who was pissed that I bothered him on the weekend and not very friendly about the prospect of having to help me fix it. Continued to struggle with it. Went to bed with no wireless Internet access.

Naturally. Just as I needed to push HARD to publicize our first Racy Book for Racy Readers.

Sunday morning I managed to get the system back online and then fly out the door to choir. Singing occupied the rest of the morning.

I fell in the choir loft when one of my platform sandals came loose and dropped off my foot. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt, other than a few mild aches, but it was embarrassing and disturbing. Got home and had a drink with lunch. And then another. And then didn’t feel a whole lot like writing or editing. Blew off the afternoon with a nap and reading someone else’s naughty book.

So spent all of Sunday evening, way into the night, editing copy.

Today I’m going to try the three/three/three schedule again. It’s already almost 7 a.m. and I haven’t had anything to eat or walked the dogs, but hope to squeeze those things in before sitting down to work. Started around 5 and I’ve updated the Twitter buzz, posted the FREE ADVANCECOPY OFFER(!!!!!) at Camptown Ladies Talk and here, answered comments at Funny about Money, built widgets here and at Ladies Talk, reviewed copy I wrote on Friday, checked a subcontractor’s edits and sent her work, with a bill, to the Chinese academic client, worked briefly on the Mongolian expat client’s work, fielded e-mail, and…not gotten a heck of a lot else done.

It’s starting to rain: that gets me out of having to walk the dogs — they hate rain. Thank goodness!

And so, to post this, plug it on Twitter, and slap up a post at Funny about Money. Then: breakfast. Then: real work.


Breast Book Proposal Under Way!

w00t! This afternoon I finally got around to producing a halfway decent draft of a proposal for the Boob Book — the one on making informed decisions when you get a breast cancer diagnosis. And I’ve found a few people to send it to.

First effort was disappointing. The thing has been floating around inside my head for so long, I figured I could just toss it off and be done with it.

Well. No.

Scribbled a thousand-word cover letter. Yes, it covered all the bases. Yes, it distinguished my book from others. Yes, it described the (copious!) market. Yes, it was b-o-o-o-o-o-o-r-i-i-n-g!

It was a thousand-word plod around the bases.

Verbose, to begin with. Maybe if I cut out the overgrowth…

…Shorter, but no less plodding.

Would I buy a book on the basis of this proposal? Could I sell it to my marketing department? Could I sell it to anyone?

Hell, no!

So, I set it aside and went online in search of that old standby, Literary Marketplace.

You can buy a week’s worth of access to LMP for $25. So I ponied up the credit card and bought a username and password.


The online LMP is not the LMP of yore. Back in the day, when you went to the library and hauled the several-volume work off the reference shelf, LMP was elaborately cross-indexed. And that was what made it a valuable work for would-be book authors. You could search a subject index that would take you to every publisher with anything in its backlist relevant to your keywords. You could search publishers by the various types of books the published — textbooks, for example, or inspirational, or genre works. You could search by just about anything.

Better yet, when you found a promising publisher, you also found a list of the key personnel, including acquisitions editors. You found their names, their titles, their snail-mail addresses, their phone numbers, and their e-mail addresses.

No more! The online LMP does not list any publishing company staff. Leastwise, not that I could find.

So, it looked like I would have to find a new literary agent to replace the deceased.

{sigh} For nonfiction? Ugh. Another layer of gatekeepers to cope with.

LMP‘s literary agency listings are slightly more forthcoming. But just slightly.

I trudged through 14 single-spaced pages of linked listings. Whenever I saw an agency’s name that i recognized (or thought I did), I clicked through to its information. Discarded the ones that weren’t in New York City or Boston.

This process yielded eight candidates.

One agency’s owner, I found on further exploration, croaked over last March. So that left me with seven possibilities.

However. When you try to copy and paste from LMP into a Word file so you can store it to disk, the data is jiggered so it won’t paste into Word!

Well. Some of it won’t. The agency names NEVER paste. Sometimes the agency address will paste into Word; often it won’t. Usually the names and email addresses of specific agents will paste over; sometimes they won’t.

So I had to sit there and type what I needed, character by character, shifting back & forth between Firefox and Word.

Infuriating! For this I paid these clowns 25 bucks?

Oh well. I learned something anyway: When you want to use LMP, go to the library.

That little project done, I returned to the proposal.

By now it had dawned on me that the introduction is full of the kind of lively language needed to write a proposal that looked like it was written by someone other than a zombie.

So: open that file, shoof around, fiddle around, adjust, rework, dork… A-n-n-d at the end of all that come up with…

A Pretty Darned Good Proposal!

By golly, it’s starting to look very good. The first paragraph is a real grabber. The next several grafs engage the attention, and one points out the size of the proposed book’s market.

All right!

Set it aside until next Tuesday, when I’ll send it off to the first agent on my list of choice.

Never email on a Monday. Your message will get lost in the tonnage of incoming that floods an agent or AE’s in-box over the weekend. Wait until the person has had time to shovel out his or her in-box. THEN send your golden words.

It’s been years since I dealt with an agent. The last one shopped a proposal around half-heartedly. Never gave me a clue where she was sending it and what the responses were. Then she died.

Presumably she was sick. That would explain the feeble marketing.

By then I had a job at the Great Desert University, one that paid a real salary with real benefits and even had a real office with a real computer and a telephone. Wonders never ceased. Oddly, in return they expected me to work, and so my book writing days went into a long pause.

I don’t hold out much hope that any high-powered New York agent is going to pick this project up very soon. And secretly, I hope it takes two or three months before it attracts anyone’s attention.

That’s because I figure it’s going to take at least six months to get the naughty book business up and running. If an agent comes trotting back to me with a contract, it will have the benefit of providing me enough to live on for a year…but it will slow down the p0rn plan by about that long.

An advance of 15 or 20 grand will help capitalize Camptown Races Press. However, it will divide my attention. And I’m finding the new enterprise demands all my attention. Wander off to do something else, and forward momentum instantly comes to a dead stop. I’m not at all sure that trying to budget, say, four hours a day to the Boob Book and four to the new imprint is going to work.

So. The longer it takes to find a publisher, I suppose, the better. Sort of. In a way.


First Erotica Novelette in Hand!

Hm. Maybe that’s not a felicitous turn of phrase. 😀

Doesn’t take much of this kind of writing to cause you to hear double meanings in about every third word anyone speaks. Who knew?

At any rate, my first effort at writing erotica — the hard-core variety, I mean — is DONE! And sent off to a couple of writing & editing pals for review. One of these wants to fall in with me by way of seeing how this works; she’s more interested in the standard romance formula than I am, and, we might add, a far more gifted writer of fiction.

She being an MFA type, she actually can crank a piece of lit’rature. Me, I’m lucky if I can write a coherent blog post that doesn’t put the reader to sleep. But on the other hand, what we’re proposing to publish hardly comes under the heading of literature.

It took a great deal longer to write the thing — all of about 7100 words — than I expected, since I was in the hospital for five days and pretty much out of it for a couple days after that. Whether I can actually write ten to twenty of these a month remains to be seen. But I suspect once you get the hang of it, you probably can move along at a brisker pace.

And I have an idea for the next bookoid — a piece of spectrophilia. Yes. Believe it or not, getting it off with ghosts is a fetish. And it’s one that’s been around since humans have been human: apparently it stems from a surprisingly common hallucination caused by sleep paralysis. Weirdly, I haven’t come across a story at Amazon specifically revolving around a succubus or an incubus. But there will be one. Soon. 😉

Today, though, I’m going to read some Anaïs Nin. I downloaded Delta of Venus and Little Birds yesterday. Interestingly, her introduction describes the challenge of writing to clinical details in the absence of anything resembling a credible or intellectually interesting plotline. Her client, who was paying her $100 a month to write smυt for a supposed “old man” (who actually was himself), kept urging her to can “the poetry” and just write “sex.”

If you’re used to doing any real writing, that’s easier said than done. In the current biker book, I found myself developing character (as if by instinct) and building motive. Even though I managed to keep the action going at a fair clip, probably more “poetry” intrudes than is desirable.


Oh, sorry.

The point is, it’s harder than it seems to build a story solely by moving puppets around on a cardboard stage.

Nevertheless, probably thanks to “the poetry,” Nin is regarded as one of the finest writers of female erotica in English, even though she thought of the stories as caricatures. Which of course is exactly what p0rn is: cartoonish. Clinically cartoonish.

I, on the other hand, do not care if I’m ever regarded as a fine writer by anyone. I just wanna make a living. And not by teaching freshman comp or greeting Walmart shoppers.