Category Archives: Professionalism

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.

[44]

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.

or

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.

[43]

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 WordPress.com and Blogger offer free server space; however, to engineer a professional-looking URL, one that doesn’t end in .wordprss.com, 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 Mint.com. 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.

Strategies for Success

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

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.

[42]

Strategies for Success

Now that I know what I’ve learned from experience in the self-publishing game, if I were to start Plain & Simple Press or Camptown Races Press anew, here is what I would do today that I did not do when I started the enterprise.

Hire an experienced marketer with a proven track record—up front

A marketing person would be my first hire. That is where I would put most of my start-up money, and it’s also where I would invest the most effort in recruiting and personnel assessment. I would hire this person before doing anything else.

The woods are full of people who will tell you they can market books. Most of them haven’t the faintest. Some are so hungry, they will lie just to get the job, saying they understand how to engage this or that tool to attract readers and sell books. In addition, a lot of popular ideas about what strategies work are simply wrong, or are outdated.

Where do you find a paragon among book marketers? Ask everyone you can think of, in and out of book publishing.

Track down authors whose books resemble yours and that are selling well. Send each author an inquiry asking if they can recommend their marketer. Most will not respond, so you’ll need to send out quite a few queries. But sooner or later you’ll probably find someone who will refer you to their marketing agent.

Contact the local Public Relations Society of America chapter. This group’s members are working professionals in marketing and public relations. They have a jobs board and invite job postings from prospective employers.[30] Be prepared to budget some money to post an ad and to hire someone for a gig that lasts long enough to produce results.

If there’s a publishers’ association in your state, along the lines of the New Mexico Book Association,[31] attend a meeting and ask members for suggestions. Many of these groups are very active and include publishers and authors with successful track records.

Attend regional and national book fairs. Network actively and inquire among the people you meet to see if anyone can refer you to a good marketing agent.

Attend regional and national writers’ conferences. The larger, better established ones attract New York literary agents. These people do know effective marketers. They may (or may not) refer you. Nothing ventured: while you’re there, you can also ask authors who seem successful.

Budget a substantial amount of money to pay for marketing services and campaigns, which should begin before the book is published. In retrospect, it’s clear this is where the largest share of a publisher’s or author’s budget should go.

Hire a virtual assistant to handle the social media time suck.

Although the effectiveness of social media marketing is, in my opinion, questionable, it cannot be neglected. And it is very time-consuming.

This is another task to which I would dedicate a fair slab of the budget.

You or an assistant should write blog posts every day having to do with subjects related to your books or your readers’ interests. Each of these needs to be optimized for and posted at Pinterest, and then you need to post each one at Facebook groups, on your Facebook business page and on your personal Facebook timeline, at Goodreads, on Twitter, at Google+, and to the extent appropriate, at LinkedIn.

Exclusive of the blogging, which you should be doing anyway, the ditzy social media tasks can easily soak up two hours a day. That’s two hours when you’re not writing, two hours that you’re not out on the town networking, two hours that you’re glued to the computer unable to exercise or take care of your family or read or think or do anything else. And two hours is a conservative estimate.

Unless you truly love passing your time on social media, hire someone else to do this stuff.

Crowd-fund or take out a business loan to pay these contractors.

It’s always better to use someone else’s money than to throw your own down the drain. Platforms such as Kickstarter,[32] Publishizer,[33] and Unbound[34] help fund and market your publishing project. Obviously, you have to share the revenues. But these outfits can generate revenues: a share of something is a lot better than a share of nothing.

Some such organizations function like publishers, but they seem to be more flexible in terms of the kinds of books they’ll chance their money on.

Put books on Ingram right away.

Ingram provides distribution services needed to circulate books to retailers, educators, and libraries. It offers a wide variety of marketing and fulfillment services, as well as a partnership with CreateSpace, a PoD service whose reviews are mixed but which is internationally known.

I would not use Ingram’s CreateSpace for printing, because I want more control over that process than you can get by working through a gigantic faceless corporation that outsources its jobs overseas. However, I would get my books into their distribution system as quickly as possible.

Focus on person-to-person and business-to-business marketing

Early on, I discovered that the 30 Days/4 Months diet plan and cookbook sold easily and in gay abandon when I talked it up to groups in person. Campaigns to sell it on social media generate plenty of “likes” but not many sales.

Acquaintances made in writers’ and publishers’ groups report similar experiences. Almost everyone who is making any money on their books will tell you that speaking in front of groups and arranging author-signings and bookstore presentations sells more books than any amount of virtual jawing on social media.

The next stage of my marketing campaign will be heavy on presentations and in-person networking. If I could have started out knowing then what I know now, I would have hit the ground with personal presentations, radio talk-show interviews, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

Set a Target Income and Ignore All Other Metrics

No amount of “awards” or “Amazon Best-Seller” ego-stroking status changes the real measure of a business’s success: the bottom line.

At the outset, decide how much you believe your book sales should earn: $NNN per year.

Keep accurate records of your income and expenses, in Quickbooks, Mint, Excel, or a similar tool. Nothing else matters in terms of your book’s success. Many “Amazon best-sellers” earn next to nothing for their authors, and many books that do not appear in Amazon’s specious best-seller categories earn well. Pay attention to this fact.

No other device works as well to make you scam-proof.

[1] https://www.loc.gov/publish/cip/

[2] Here’s a good place to start: https://www.the-bookdesigner.com/2010/03/cip-what-it-means-how-to-read-it-who-should-get-it/

[3] http://www.bowker.com/

[4]http://www.creativindiecovers.com/free-online-isbn-barcode-generator/

[5]https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/help?ie=UTF8&topicID=200650270

[6] http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/

[7] https://forums.createspace.com/en/community/docs/DOC-1323

[8] http://www.bowker.com/

[9] http://www.creativindiecovers.com/free-online-isbn-barcode-generator/

[10] https://www.smashwords.com/list

[11] https://www.fiverr.com/

[12] http://online.brescia.edu/graphic-design-news/7-prominent-graphic-design-associations/

[13] http://www.thecopyeditorsdesk.com/contact/

[14]http://writeablogpeoplewillread.com/about-this-course/?hop=phxgirl

[15] goodreadsucks.com

[16]http://www.salon.com/2014/10/21/battle_of_the_trolls_kathleen_hale_reveals_the_war_raging_between_authors_and_readers/

[17]http://www.victoriastrauss.com/2014/07/18/on-trolls-and-fake-bad-reviews/

[18] http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-automate-your-tweets-3-useful-twitter-apps/

[19] http://www.wpbeginner.com/plugins/how-to-automatically-send-tweet-when-you-publish-a-new-post-in-wordpress/

[20] http://www.pinterestforbloggers.net/

[21] http://www.networkedblogs.com/

[22] http://mailchimp.com/

[23] Victoria Strauss, “Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them,” June 9, 1915. Writer Beware. http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/06/awards-profiteers-how-writers-can.html . In late 2016, the Writer Beware blogsite remains at http://accrispin.blogspot.com/. Don’t miss this valuable resource.

[24] “Confession: I’m a #1 Best-Selling Author…and a Nanny,” July 18, 2016. http://thefinancialdiet.com/confession-im-1-bestselling-author-nanny/

[25] Rachel Deahl, “New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn below Poverty Line,” September 11, 2015. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/68008-new-guild-survey-reveals-majority-of-authors-earn-below-poverty-line.html

[26] “ February 2016 Author Earnings Report: Amazon’s e-book, Print, and Audio Sales,” http://authorearnings.com/report/february-2016-author-earnings-report/

[27] Jay Yarow. “How Many Kindle Books Has Amazon Sold? About 22 Million This Year,” July 20, 2010, Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/sorry-amazon-kindle-e-books-outselling-hardcovers-isnt-that-impressive-2010-7

[28] Claude Forthomme, “Only 40 Self-Published Authors Are a Success, Says Amazon,” February 7, 2016, Claude Forthomme-Nougat’s Blog, https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/

[29] Jennifer McCartney, “Self-Publishing Preview, 2016,” Publisher’s Weekly, https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/

[30]http://www.prsa.org/Jobcenter/employers/products_pricing/intern_entry_level_freelance/

[31] http://www.nmbookassociation.org/about-nmba/

[32] https://www.kickstarter.com/discover/categories/publishing

[33] https://publishizer.com/

[34] https://unbound.com/

Scams for Every Writer

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

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.

[41]

Scams for Every Writer

Plus ça change . . . As a young journalist and book author, I was often invited to speak at writers’ conferences. There I first observed that people who yearned more than anything on this earth to be Writers with a Capital W were subject to the most astonishing scams.

In those days, it was harder to get yourself published. Still, if you couldn’t persuade a publishing house to take you on, you could pay a vanity press to print up your golden words, which would make you feel entitled to go around calling yourself a Writer. The fee was hefty.

There were various fake literary agencies, too, that would charge you a “reading fee” to tell you how brilliant your undistinguished novel was. Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere another scam.

But now, when anyone can “publish” by posting whatever they please on Amazon, publishing itself is a kind of scam. And it breeds scamlets as cats breed kittens. The entire book industry is overrun with scams.

The ego gratification game

At lunch the other day, a dear and talented friend, self-publisher of an urban fantasy that’s been getting good reviews and selling reasonably well, reported that she’d found a place where you could sign up to get free reviews. And hallelujah, sister! You could enter your gilded book in a CONTEST! For a small fee . . . Reader’s Favorite, said she: one of her friends won first place in his book’s category. So worth it!

ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding

The old scam alarm went off inside the head. Where had I heard about writer’s contests with big prizes and prestige that cost just a few bucks to enter your book? Yeah . . . that one is old as the hills.

A little snooping around on Google, that treasure chest for cynics, brought up a rumination from Writer Beware,[23] one of my favorite no-bullshit sites. As you might expect from a hustle that’s been around for so many years, there’s now a vast array of “contests” that will put you in the running for “awards,” in exchange for fees. Once you’ve won a Reader’s Favorite “award,” you get to spend more money flying to Florida, and you’ll have even more opportunities to spend money on any number of bits and pieces of merchandise.

These profiteering “contests” are only one of many types of grift aimed at wannabe writers.

Really, e-book publishing itself is exactly that: a form of vanity press that looks like it’s free but is not.

Back in the Day, my feeling was that if you couldn’t persuade someone else to publish a book, it likely wasn’t worth publishing. Never would I have paid somebody to publish something I wrote: people paid me to write, not the other way around.

That, you see, is the definition of a professional writer.

The self-publishing grift

Today the landscape has changed—publishing has been “disrupted,” we’re told. But how much has it changed? That still remains to be seen.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints. It’s free, after all. In a way.

But it’s not free, because publishing and marketing, when you get right down to it, are publishing and marketing.

If you have half a brain and no real-world publications experience, you will hire an editor to advise on your book’s quality and to copyedit, and you’ll hire a graphic artist to design your cover.

Editors cost money. Graphic artists cost money.

If you’re not very techie or if your book contains even slightly more complexity than a table of contents and a few chapter headings, you will need to hire an e-book formatter.

E-book formatting costs money.

If you wish to publish your book in print, you will need the graphic artist to redesign your cover to accommodate a back cover and spine.

Graphic artists cost money . . . again.

And you will need a graphic artist or a professionally designed template to lay out the interior content.

Graphic artists cost money . . . again.

Alternatively, book layout templates cost money.

Then you will need to print the thing.

Printers cost money.

Once you’ve “published” the book (“posting” is probably le mot juste), you need to sell it. That means you need to let the world know it exists, through advertising, social media marketing, consignment, and face-to-face pitches.

Advertising costs money.

Navigating the shoals of the intricate and by and large opaque social media platforms requires a professional.

Professional social media marketers cost money.

Persuading retailers—especially bookstores—to carry your book costs money.

Amazon as scam

One could argue that, for most authors, the whole publishing industry is a bit of a scam, at least for those who don’t understand their real occupation will not be “author” but “ad copy hack and self-employed marketer.” That’s most egregiously true for people who style themselves “indie authors” and self-publish on Amazon.

Case in point: a report from Laura Jane Williams over at The Financial Diet.[24] She shares some straight talk about the economic facts of life enjoyed by a number-one best-selling author—that would be one published through a real publisher that pays a real advance (yea verily, a Big Four publisher). Without going into detail, let’s just note that she’s trying to support herself as a part-time nanny.

Very few writers ever make earn a living at their craft. Publisher’s Weekly, the sine qua non of trade journals for the publishing industry, reports that most authors’ earnings fall below the poverty line,[25] and what is more, author income has been dropping since 2008.

Authorearnings.com reports optimistically that 1,340 writers earn over $100,000 a year,[26] and half of those are indies. This revelation is extracted from a mind-numbing aggregation of data gleaned from Amazon. AE claims, probably correctly, that the share of the market for books sold on Amazon is increasingly going to independent (i.e., self-) publishers. This is no doubt true: publishing on Amazon is the hot new thing to do. But that you are in a market does not mean you’re making any money in the market.

1,340 authors

Let’s think about that. It’s not very many, when you consider that Amazon has 14 million books online. If half of those six-figure writers are indies, then only 670 writers in the whole world are making a credibly good living at their trade.

Amazon sold 22 million copies of Kindle books alone in 2010.[27] Imagine. How many authors are required to produce 22 million sales?

Amazon itself deems only forty self-published authors “successful.”[28]

Between Amazon’s price-fixing practices and the enormous saturation of the book market, independent publishers and all authors face daunting challenges.[29] Getting a self-published book on the shelves of a real, physical store is not easy. The other day I learned that the pre-eminent independent bookstore in my state charges indie authors $300 for shelf space—and I can assure you, your chance of selling $300 worth of books there is almost nil. By and large, sources through which real-world bookstores order their stock do not carry self-published books. You can get access through IndieReader and Ingram Spark . . . assuming you can afford to pay for it. Additionally, attracting media coverage from recognized mainstream newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters is extremely difficult: indie authors just don’t get no respect.

I’m often told that instead of clinging to my pessimistic view of life—the view from which one is never disappointed—I should try to be an optimist.

The optimist, then, would say about those forty “successful” authors, Why shouldn’t I be one of those?

But I can’t get past the realist’s challenge: Why should I?

 

The Complete Writer: Get to Know a Style Manual *FREE READ*

Chapter 11
Get to Know a Style Manual

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Even if you hire a professional editor—which you should, if you’re self-publishing and want your writing to look professional—you still should familiarize yourself with the style manual relevant to your type of writing.

The standards are The Chicago Manual of Style, the American Psychological Association Style Manual, the Associated Press Style-book, and Modern Language Association style, outlined in the MLA Handbook. There are also specialized style manuals for the sciences and the professions, among them the American Medical Association Manual of Style; The Blue-book: A Uniform System of Citation and the Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual; and the Council of Science Editors’ Scientific Style and Format. There are others.

Each of these serves a different purpose and a different market. Chicago, for example, is the standard for the book publishing industry. Almost all publishers of fiction and nonfiction follow Chicago style. APA (American Psychological Association) is used by writers in business, education, psychology, and the social sciences and is the standard for scholarly journals in those disciplines. MLA style is used almost exclusively by journals in English and foreign languages; most college students learn to use it because research writing is taught in freshman composition courses, which are based in English departments and taught by English faculty. AP (Associated Press) style is used by newspapers, magazines, and public relations professionals. And obviously, AMA, Blue-book, and CSE style are used by doctors, lawyers, and scientists. AP is not APA is not MLA is not AMA . . .

They’re all different from each other!

For that reason, the MLA style you learned in college will not suffice for the book you hope to self-publish. Nor will it do for a manuscript to be submitted to a traditional publisher, since typesetting and formatting are now foisted on the author: your book will be typeset from the manuscript you submitted, and so your copy will need to be correctly formatted, no matter who publishes it.

Consider a passage describing research done by the eminent Professor Boxankle. APA style would format first the passage and then the reference to its source like this:

Content:
Boxankle (2017) found that the salinity of water in which baskets were woven “is the critical factor in determining outcome” (p. 143).

Reference Section

Boxankle, O. Q. (2017). “Underwater basketweaving: Key components for success.” Journal of Comparative Basketry 11(2), 140–50.

In Chicago’s author-date system, the same information would look like this:

Content:
Oliver Boxankle (2017) found that the salinity of water in which baskets were woven “is the critical factor in determining outcome” (143).

Reference Section

Boxankle, Oliver Q. 2017. “Underwater Basketweaving: Key Components for Success.” Journal of Comparative Basketry 11 (January): 140–50.

Chicago’s notes-and-bibliography system would elicit these:

Content:
In a 2017 study, Oliver Boxankle found that the salinity of water in which baskets were woven “is the critical factor in determining outcome.”3

Footnote:

  1. Oliver Q. Boxankle, “Underwater Basketweaving: Key Components for Success,” Journal of Comparative Basketry 11 no. 4 (2017): 140–50.

Alternatively, after the first reference or if the full references were listed in a bibliography at the end:

Second end- or footnote:

  1. Boxankle, p. 143

And that, let me re-emphasize, is from just two of the many manuals in use.

Few authors come to know these manuals in exquisite detail—research and writing are quite enough to take up one’s time and attention. That’s why authors and publishers hire copyeditors.

However, it’s wise to have at least a working knowledge of the manual your publisher wants you to use. First, obviously an acquisitions editor will be more impressed by a manuscript that looks reasonably clean than by an amateur production.

Second and less obvious is that a sincere effort at formatting your work according to the desired style can save you money. Editors set their rates to account for the difficulty of the job.

Some editors charge by the hour. Clearly, a task that takes six hours because the editor has to do extensive reformatting will cost you more than a job that takes four.

Others charge a page rate based on the editor’s estimate of the copy’s difficulty. This is especially true if English is your second language, since the challenge of editing ESL copy varies wildly according to the author’s facility with the language. My rates, for example, range from $4.50 to $15 per page. If the client asks for an hourly rate (some business executives prefer this), it will range upwards of $40 an hour, depending on how complex and demanding the job will be.

So, even though you needn’t be an expert in every style manual on the market, it’s in your interest to build a working acquaintance with the manual your publisher uses. If you’re self-publishing, get a current edition of the Chicago Manual and use it.

 

Writers: Please Don’t Do These Things…

New client emailed that the author of one article accepted for her employer’s latest anthology (employer is an academic press) has entered a section break at the bottom of every page.

Understand, these articles run upwards of 35 pages.

Not only that, but he entered random paragraph breaks all over the  place — in the middle of grafs.

Before she can send it to us for copyediting and documentation formatting, she has to go through the entire damn thing and remove every section break and every irrational paragraph break; then go through and correct the paragraph formatting and presumably try to figure out what the correct pagination is supposed to be.

Dollars do donuts the guy entered those section breaks in an attempt to force do-it-yourself footnotes to fit at the bottom of the pages. If so, when she deletes them, she will generate a Mess for the Ages.

Why do people do that? And who can second-guess such silliness?

Don’t enter wacky commands in Word. If you don’t know how to make Word do what you want it to do, either take a course in using Word or hire someone who does know how to use Word.

Please, dear authors…

Don’t…

Enter superscript letters and try to manually stick footnotes at the bottom of the page or at the end of the MS as endnotes.

Do…

Use Word’s footnoting function: Insert > Footnote
This function will allow you to select footnotes or endnotes, as desired.

footnote

Don’t…

Enter a hard tab (i.e., press the tab key) at the beginning of every paragraph.

Do…

Format your paragraphs so the first line is automatically indented: Format > Paragraph > Special. In this menu, select “First Line.” Word will default to indent 1/2 inch, but you can change that if you wish  (in the pulldown menu next to “First Line” that says “By…”).

Don’t…

Create hanging indents in your References section by hitting a the return key at the end of each line and hitting the tab key at the beginning of each subsequent line.

hangingindent

Do…

Select “hanging indent”  in Word’s paragraph formatting function: Format > Paragraph > Indents and Spacing > Special > hanging.

functionhangingindent

Don’t…

Hit the space bar twice after every period, question mark, exclamation point, colon, or anything else you can dream up.

Do…

Enter one (1) space after punctuation. A word processor is not a typewriter; with word processors we only enter a single space after all those punctuation marks. Typewriters used nonproportional spacing, and typists learned to enter two spaces after periods and the like to make it easier to see the ends and beginnings of sentences. Word processors allow you to typeset copy; typesetting does not place two spaces after punctuation.

Don’t…

Don’t EVER hit the “space” bar over and over to enter an indent, either at the beginning of a paragraph or to line up numbers in a column.

indent

If you do this, I personally will wring your neck.

And Don’t…

Use the space key or the space and tab keys to line up numbers or blocks of copy in columns or on a page.

No attempt to align numbers

list-2Attempt to align with spaces.
These will squirrel around…
Trust me!

Do…

Use the Table function to align numbers.

list-3Numbers & copy aligned in a table

list-4

How they’ll look in print
or with the table grid turned off.
These figures will stay put!

Don’t…

Use Turabian for your documentation unless specifically asked to do so by your publishers.

Some schools encourage students to use Turabian for theses and dissertations. Real publioshers do not use Turabian. They use MLA, APA, or Chicago style, or they use a style manual specific to their academic discipline.

Turabian, as Purdue notes, “follows the two CMS [Chicago Manual of Style] patterns of documentation but offers slight modifications suited to student texts.”

When you use Turabian, some wretched editor has to waste time searching out and correcting every one of those “slight modifications.” Please. Get it right to start with.

Do…

Determine what style manual your publisher uses and do likewise. If you’re an academic writer, buy the style manual appropriate to your discipline. If you contribute to or write books, buy a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. If you’re a wannabe magazine writer, buy a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook.

Whichever manual is appropriate to your job, use  it!

Don’t…

Include items in your “References” or “Works Cited” section that are not cited as sources in text. An article or book chapter is not a Ph.D. dissertation: you’re not trying to prove how widely read you are to some committee.

Do…

In your “References” or “Works Cited, include only the sources you’ve cited in the body of your text. If you want to include a complete bibliography in your book, don’t call it “References.” Try “Bibliography”or “Recommended Reading” instead.

One could go on and on. Unfortunately, though, I have work to do.  Please don’t make extra work for me! Learn to use your word processor as a word processor. If that’s beyond your ken or you just don’t have time to fiddle with it, hire a virtual assistant to type your final manuscript before submitting it to an editor.

Please. READ THE WRITER’S GUIDELINES!

What is the matter with people that they just flat REFUSE to follow instructions? Please. Don’t be one of “those” people. When a publication has writer’s guidelines, read the GD things. And while you’re at it, try to figure out how to abide by them.

Today I spent a good five hours trying to untangle an unholy mess a contributor to one of our clients’ scholarly journal made of her references section. Page on page on single-spaced page of references: one long, nauseating tangle.

This journal wants accepted papers formatted in Chicago author-date style. Apparently neither of the faculty editors looked carefully at the final copy before accepting Author’s final effort and filing on DropBox for us to clean up.

Chicago author-date looks superficially like APA style. But it is, most decidedly, not APA style.

Author’s “References” section looked superficially like Chicago author-date. But it was,  most decidedly, not Chicago author-date nor APA style.

The only way to describe it is as a kind of half-assed, bastardized version of APA.

Chicago does NOT set titles — any titles — c/lc (“sentence style”).

Chicago does NOT leave quote marks off article titles.

Chicago does NOT insert punctuation between the journal’s title and the volume & number.

No style manual known to Personkind uses two colons in the data for a journal’s volume, number, and inclusive pages. Nowhere does anyone write Wallbanger Quarterly, 26:14: 226-348.  Or better yet, Wallbanger Quarterly, 26:14: (Summer 2014) 226-348. W.T.F.?????

By the time I got about halfway through this endless aggravation, I had to get up and pour myself a bourbon and water. Well before that point, I was so fully launched into swearing and calling upon any number of deities to lay supernatural curses on Author’s head that the cleaning lady asked me if I was all right.

I asked if I could go into business with her, cleaning houses. She pretended not to understand enough English to respond to that one. But she did like the idea that we should both go to school to learn how to drive a forklift.

All of this happened after my associate editor and her underling had gone through the document, supposedly behind me. Because they saw some edits and comments left by one of the faculty editors (or possibly one of Author’s readers or peer reviewers), they jumped to the incorrect conclusion that I’d already edited the copy. No. I had formatted it in the journal’s template but left the edits to the sidekicks, whose skills amply rise to the job.

Going through this bitch absorbed a good five, maybe six hours of my $60-an-hour time that could have been spent editing the copy of a client who does pay my full rate. I charge a cut rate to non-profits, because The Copyeditor’s Desk is interested in supporting good works and because we know full well a scholarly publication can not, on a bet, afford our august services.

Five hours of my time comes to about $300, at my regular rate. That is over a quarter — almost half! — of what we are charging to prepare the entire book for typesetting. And I will have to pay my subcontractors part of that for the work they did on this misbegotten document.

FIVE HOURS taken away from a client who does happen to pay a fair market rate.

All because some bird-brained author couldn’t be bothered to read the writer’s guidelines. Or if she did, she couldn’t be bothered to go to the library to consult a hard-copy Chicago manual or spring for the modest fee to look at the damn thing online…or take the time to look at it for freaking FREE.

This is it. I’m telling Client that when authors submit sh*t like this, we are bouncing it back, and they can kindly tell their magnificent contributors to do the job right.

If you do not want a variety of deities raining curses on your head, dear scribbler, read the goddamn writer’s guidelines!