Category Archives: marketing

The Business of Freelancing

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

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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.

Whoa! Will Medium come to the rescue?

For hevvinsake. I just discovered that I may not have to delete copy from P&S Press before publishing on Medium!

Well. That would be a bit of a godsend. I’ve been, shall we say, not happy at the prospect of having to deconstruct this site. Turns out you can import your blog — part and parcel — to Medium, and not only will this action not trash your Google ranking, it actually will improve it.

Check out what Andre Piazza has to say, in a post about optimizing Medium stories:

Find new audiences: import your existing content to Medium

Sometimes, you have already done the hard work: creating the content. Now, it’s time to reap the benefits.

This chart shows the number of view, reads and recommends one Medium user gained in the course of 30 days simply by importing his existing blog. No new content created. Credit:

You should consider importing your entire blog to Medium. You don’t need to delete the original blog (or posts); in fact, the objective is precisely to keep the original content in its place. The advantages of importing all of your posts at once are:

• Efficiency: no need to copy and paste posts individually. Your content will be automatically import to Medium

• SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Findability: when importing the posts, Medium will automatically add a CANONICAL statement to the HTML code linking to the original blog’s URL. This ensures that search engines (like Google, Bing, Yahoo) will process both links in a way that increases your search rankings for both posts (original and Medium’s) and also grows the authority of both assets: your blog and your Medium page.

If you’re ready to give the import tool a try, start here and on the comments, keep us posted of the results.

Medium’s algorithms will place your content in front a new audience that otherwise would never have heard of you

Outstanding! Even if exporting this blog to Medium doesn’t increase the number of eyes on copy, the fact that it will not crash Google search results is huge. Just the sheer amount of time saved by not having to swivel-hip around taking down content so that it will have been off-line for ≥ two weeks by the time it goes up on Medium…omigod! How can I count the ways that I did not want to do that?

He also suggests simply reposting Medium stories on LinkedIn, rather than jumping through hoops revising them to make them resemble new copy:

Find new audiences: repost your Medium stories as LinkedIn articles

Same content gains different traction in different social platforms. That happens because the same content will be showed to more or less people (and in different ways) depending on the platform it was written and the platform it is being shared.

For example, a Medium story will usually get less eyeballs when shared on Facebook (as a link) when compared to the same content written as (a native) post on Facebook. This happens because social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube favor distribution of content that is native to them. Facebook is notorious for giving preference to videos directly embedded to its posts versus videos shared as a link in YouTube.

As you start developing a collection of Medium stories, consider sharing them on LinkedIn as (native) articles. This not only likely increase the number of readers to that content, but also will get you new readers, some that will potentially cross-follow you to Medium.

Start here to post articles on LinkedIn by copying the content from Medium and pasting on LinkedIn. Remember to add a statement like this to the bottom of the post: “This article was originally published on Medium <link to the article>.” For more ideas on how to use the footer to improve your Medium game, read on below to number 12.

This also registers as some kind gift from heaven. LInkedIn will be my main stand-in for the defunct Facebook, because I already have a presence there and already have some followers. But there, too, I’ve felt I had to write all new copy for LinkedIn. Like the latest, for example

Naturally, I can’t be posting chapters of strange fantasies like Ella’s Story there. LinkedIn really isn’t the place for fiction. And I’m not at all sure Medium is the place for it, either, though I did find an article describing its use for publishing fiction.

Welp…the Learning Curve looms high, up ahead through the misty altitude. Just getting started learning how to work it and have not yet tried to establish a site there. But in the meantime, I will UN-unpublish the chapters in Ella’s Story, If You Asked, and Complete Writer, and will not have to take down the accruing full MSS for each of those.

It’s a miracle! 😀

Why I’m Quitting Facebook…

Graffiti in Berlin of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The caption is a reference to George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Actually, I’m not exactly quitting. I’ve been thrown off for “hate speech”: remarking that public restrooms for women are often filthy. Of course, as with most social media, there’s no way of reaching a human being or appealing the CopBot’s judgment.

My long-haul trucking friend Connie — one of the few women in the business — was going on at Facebook about unisex bathrooms at truck stops. She remarked that when on the road, men’s bathroom habits tend to  be (heh) execrable. Many truckers, for example, are given to defecating into a plastic bag or urinating into a soda bottle and throwing the waste out the cab window onto the road’s shoulder. Unisex bathrooms, she reported, are uniformly filthy because of similar habits brought indoors.

I replied that women’s bathrooms are filthy, too, and for the same reason — and that it’s the proprietor’s responsibility to keep the facilities clean.

Forthwith comes a notice from Facebook:

Only you can see this post because it goes against our standards on hate speech.

Women are slobs, too. I’ve been in amazingly filthy women’s rooms. Problem is that the proprietors need to be required by law to keep the facilities clean.

How amazing is that?

As ridiculous as it is, nevertheless I deeply resent it and indeed consider it to be slanderous.

Later this afternoon, in comes yet another machine-generated e-mail from Facebook, noting that I seemed to be having difficulty signing in and instructing me to “click here” to sign in with one click. That instruction returned me to the profoundly mistaken and insulting slap in the face above.

Many of my friends have already left FB because of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, which made it impossible to pretend Facebook’s intrusiveness somehow wasn’t there. I should have left then, too, when I could do so with some dignity. I’ve stayed though, partly out of inertia, partly because it is nice to stay in touch with friends scattered around the country, but largely because Facebook has been my main marketing tool for the P&S Press books.

But y’know…it’s not a very effective marketing tool. And it’s not the only game in town.

More effective marketing? Get off your duff and go give public presentations. Write guest columns for magazines and newspapers. Pay Kirkus to review your books. Make yourself an expert on your subject matter and tell people all about it.

Sitting at home with your feet up while you tap away at a keyboard is just…well…not effective.

Shortly after I published 30 Pounds/4 Months, a diet guide and cookbook, I decided to run a Facebook Ads campaign. A friend who was busily making himself an expert, too — on amateur book marketing — insisted that this was the way to go!

Accordingly, I hired a marketer with glowing reviews of her Facebook expertise. Fantastic sales were guaranteed. We created the Plain & Simple Press and The Copyeditor’s Desk Facebook pages, and after she put them online, we launched a Facebook Ads campaign.

She was sure we would see a sharp spike in Amazon sales.

Along comes the first revenue report from Amazon.

Not only is there no spike, sales went dead flat after the FB Ads campaign went up! On the day our campaign went live, sales dropped off sharply. Then: nothing. Literally, not one sale.

She couldn’t believe it. Surely that couldn’t be possible! I surmised she thought I was trying to get out of paying her, so determined was she to believe that this state of affairs could simply not be true.  Not until I sent her PDFs of the Amazon reports did she believe me.

So…as a marketing tool, maybe it works for some people. But if you’ll do a little googling, look around the Web, check out a few YouTube videos on the subject, you’ll learn it doesn’t work for a lot of people.

I should have left a long time before this. Facebook is as hypnotic as online games. You get engaged with it, and you can’t quit gazing into the cobra’s eyes. Truly, it has become a dreadful timesuck. This morning I rolled out of the sack at 4 a.m., and with nothing much to do sat down in front of the computer. Next time I lifted my eyes from the screen, it was 6 o’clock!

Two hours blown away, with no more awareness of it than if ten minutes had passed.

So. What am I going to do?

Well, first, I’m not going to rejoin Facebook, even if the hard-copy complaint I’m snail-mailing to their Menlo Park HQ gets a rise out of a living entity.

Second, I’m probably going to join Medium, where, a few posts at a time, I will move the *FREE READS* chapters, once I get a feel for how the platform works. I may post chapters for one of the books at LinkedIn.

Third, I’ll join some new groups and offer to give presentations by way of letting people know these books exist.

And fourth, I’ll pitch ideas for guest columns to various publications around town and around the country. Weekly newspapers, in particular, are holes in the office floor into which to pour copy; editors are thrilled to find writers who can compose a simple sentence.

What I am not going to do is have anything more to do with the intrusive, privacy-invading, and arrogant likes of Facebook.

Wikipedia. By Victorgrigas – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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.

Self-Publishing: Why It Doesn’t Work

Should you self-publish your book? It depends. Here are some things to be aware of if you're thinking of self-publishing.Know how to get a small fortune?

Start with a large fortune and publish a book.

Nyuk nyuk! That old chestnut wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. As a practical matter, most people make nothing on self-published books. They soon find their magnum opus interests no one but themselves, and the whole project turns into an expensive hobby.

Right now I have a pricey Facebook Ads campaign plus several other efforts en train, by way of peddling one of the 48 books and bookoids my two imprints have online at Amazon. It’s been going on since January and we have sold exactly zero (yes, that’s 0.00) copies of the book.  Not for lack of trying: serial versions have earned five-star reviews.

The books that are selling — the smut published through Camptown Races — do not even come within shouting distance of breaking even on ad investment.

The cookbook sold smartly to a group of friends but in the wide world has sold just a few copies.

Yesterday as I took a break from hour after hour after crushing hour of recovering a 325-page Word file that corrupted for reasons unknown, I reflected on the reasons for this.

Books have never been easy to sell. Unless you have a platform from which to market them — a business with a broad reputation or one that does something relevant to the book’s subject matter — you will have to hustle madly to bring your book to anyone’s attention. That has ever been so, yea verily long before the Amazon disruption.

Amazon has made the marketing challenge infinitely more difficult. Without literary agents and publishing houses as gatekeepers, the market is now flooded with dreck and chaff. Not just flooded: we’re talkin’ tsunami here.

Readers know that about 80% to 90% of books offered on  Amazon and waypoints are junk or self-serving marketing tools. They also know, if they’re at all savvy, that they can acquire most of the stuff — and even some readable books — for free. So of course they’re not about to pay you enough to cover your time and skills. Not when they think they shouldn’t have to pay you anything at all.

So, the nature of the market has changed: not for the better, where people who write for a living are concerned.

Then we have the issues inherent to self-publishing that have always worked against independent writers: publishing a book or periodical and getting people to buy it requires a full staff of workers. It’s not something one little person working alone is likely to succeed with.

Every time I’ve published a book through a mainline publishing house — and I’ve published three of them, not counting the ones I’ve worked on for my employers or the ones my business has packaged for other publishers — I’ve worked with an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a layout artist, a proofreader, a marketer, and various secretaries and admins.

The first magazine I worked for had five editors, three graphic designers, four or five ad space sales staff, and a publisher whose job was to market the publication. The next magazine had three high-powered editors, a fact-checker, a photo editor, four graphic artists, a production director, and a marketing department. It also had a book division with its own editor and designers.

To make a self-published book fly, you need to do the work of all those specialists.

And you’re not a specialist. If you are, it’s as a writer, not as an artist, a marketer, a sales rep, an acquisitions editor, a production manager, a copyeditor, or a proofreader.

Because you’re an amateur at four out of five of the many jobs that need to be done to write, produce, and sell a book, your chances of success are almost nil. But even if you were expert in all those lines of work, you’re only one person: there’s no way you can do the work of five people and do it well.

That’s why you’re better off trying to sell your book idea or manuscript to a mainstream publisher. And it’s why, if you have a  lot of money to start with and are willing to subsidize your book project by hiring the talent needed to put it together and sell it, you’re likely to end up with a lot less money.

How to address this problem? In the next post, I’ve suggested ways self-published books can work in your favor. They’re not obvious: check them out!