Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Key Elements of a Freelance Writer's Business Card

Last Saturday, I sat down to accomplish what I thought would be a simple and straightforward task: picking my business card. But instead of taking the one or two hours I thought it would, I agonized about it all weekend, dragging friends and my husband to peer at my designs; even, in a desperate moment, trying to get my preschooler to weigh in. In the end, I’m satisfied with the design and format I chose, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

What are the elements of a good business card for a freelance writer? Your name should be on it, of course, along with your email address, website address and telephone number. But beyond that? There are worlds of opinions. Most freelancers agree that today’s business card should be creative,. Forget about those standard white cards with your name, title and coordinates -- bright colors, patterns and designs are the way to go these days, as are cards with vertical orientation. After that, consensus goes awry. Here are some of the issues.

1. Your title. What should a freelance writer call his or herself? “Writer” isn’t specific enough, as it doesn’t tell people what kind of writing you do. For some, “freelance writer” is acceptable, but others say that it’s still not detailed enough – you need to say “business writer” or “travel writer” and so on. And if you’re an editor or proofreader in addition to writer? You need to have that on there too.

My take: If you can be specific as “travel writer” and “business writer” and those are the only markets you’re targeting, then go for it. But if you’re like me and can’t, or don’t, want to define yourself so narrowly, I say stick with “Freelance Writer” or “Writer & Editor” and so forth. There are other areas on your card to indicate what your business is about.

2. A description of services. Some writers swear that it is essential to list your areas of specialization on your card. For example, on the back of your card you might have a bullet point list noting that you specialize in press releases, brochures, white papers and other marketing materials.

My take: It’s a fine idea but it carries the risk of cluttering your card. My eyes glazed over at some of the examples I saw. The business cards were so crowded with information that I could barely find the name of the person whose card it was. In my view, the card should just be an initial enticement to get potential clients to look at your site. It doesn’t have to be a mini-version of your site.

3. A tagline. Many writers add a short text summing up their abilities or the service they offer.

My take: Again, it’s a great idea, if you have a gripping tagline. If you have a hum-drum tag, you might as well have none. But a really good tagline can make people sit up and take notice. One of the best taglines I've come across was that of freelance writer Susan Johnston, author of the Urban Muse blog. Her tag? Clear. Creative. Compelling. I loved that. Those three words gave me a nice little preview of Susan Johnston’s style and what she could offer a client. Of course, it completely ruined me for coming up with a brilliant tagline of my own. I kept thinking: “I know! Clear…Creative…oh, wait.” Rather than forcing the issue, I opted to go tag-less, for now. Business cards are fairly inexpensive. If a dazzling line comes to me, then I’ll simply order new ones.

4. Your address. For privacy reasons, some freelancers don’t put their address on their business cards, giving only email, phone numbers and the like. Others give only city and state (and country).

My take: I suppose it could be risky – but, for heaven’s sake, these days just giving your name to someone enables them to find out all kinds of personal information about you. Since I’m marketing my services internationally, I felt that having an address grounded my business…and explained why my telephone number is a foreign one. I could be persuaded of the folly of this.

There are countless other issues to consider: should you include a Twitter handle? Your Skype phone number? A photo of yourself? A logo? The list goes on…

Personally, I feel that less is more. As writers, it’s important to know how to deliver effective messages concisely – and our business cards should reflect that. If your budget allows, get a second business card that offers a slightly different slant, so that you don’t have to cover all your bases in one shot.

In the end, I don't know if my business card is perfect, but I do know this: having a less-than-perfect business card is better than having no card at all. If you don't yet have a business card, check out the following printing sites:

Vista Print – This site offers free business cards – you only pay for shipping. It must be popular with many freelance writers as several blogs that I've read mention it.

Zazzle – I ordered my cards at this site. I really liked that you can customize your own design. The cards haven’t been delivered yet, so I can’t speak to their quality.

What do you think a freelance writer’s business card should include?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

5 Mistakes Every Freelance Writer Should Avoid

Yes, yes...shame on me for not posting in so long. But be happy for me! Silence on the blog generally means that I've had lots of paying work to keep me busy. It's sad that the blog falls by the wayside during busy stretches, but hey - something's gotta give. And now that I'm entering a "famine" period, I have time to share with you some of the stuff that I've learned.

I've noticed recently that pretty much every freelance blog has an article titled something like: "5 Mistakes Freelance Writers Make" so I thought I'd go ahead and throw in my 2 centimes.

1. Failing to follow-up on queries, promising leads, etc. Always, always, always follow-up on queries that you've sent or any leads you've gotten. About 50% of the magazine work I've snagged has come from following-up on original queries that went unanswered. Most of the time, the editor has actually thanked me for sending a follow-up, saying that s/he was interested but lost track of the query, the time, etc. You may be letting potential work slip through your fingers if you don't follow up, so make sure that you do! Even if you get a rejection on the follow-up, you can take advantage of the contact by quickly throwing more ideas in the editor's path while your name is still fresh in his or her mind.

2. Being a Perfectionist. It sounds like a great answer to that classic job interview question "What is your greatest weakness?" but striving for perfection can hurt as much as it can help. It can make you less efficient, promotes procrastination, and keeps you from advancing. I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to spend weeks on a single query letter. I'd interview and sometimes even re-interview potential sources to find the perfect quote to include in the pitch. Or I would spend days and days immersing myself in background research, as if an editor was going to give me a pop quiz on the subject. And then, of course, I would write the query letter over and over, looking at it from every conceivable angle, until I felt assured of its brillance and perfection. But none of this saved me from receiving rejections and it wasted a lot of time.

These days, I avoid the trappings of perfectionism by setting a reasonable estimated time for completion of a project. If I find myself taking too long on a task, I step back and make an honest assessment of whether the extra time is justified. If not, I force myself to move on. Since becoming less of a perfectionist, my productivity has improved immensely --and I don't think the quality my work has suffered at all.

3. Failing to fully understand the terms of service and publication. Always make sure that you understand everything that is required of you and the circumstances of publication before starting to write. When is the article due? How many words should it be? What rights are you retaining? When will it be published? When will you be paid? Is there a kill fee? Does the editor expect you to provide photographs? All of this information should be clear - and in writing - before you lift a pen (or move your mouse).

4. Failing to Diversify. It's nice to have steady work with a client that always pays on-time. But it doesn't pay to get too comfortable with the gig, no matter how reliable it seems. What will you do if your client's business folds or no longer needs you? A freelance writer should always be looking for the next (or another) gig. It's exhausting, but it's the trade-off for being able to work in our pajamas. And this leads me to my final point....

5. Failing to Have a Plan for Your Career. You know, I thought I had a plan for my freelance career. But after having read the very excellent book, "The Wealthy Freelancer"
I have come to realize that all I really have is a bunch of goals. Naturally, having clear, written short-term and long-terms goals for your writing is essential, but it's not necessarily the same thing as having a plan. Goals tell you where you want to go; plans tell you how to get there. Freelancing is a business and without a proper business plan, you may find yourself career stalled.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Only Book I Feel Like Reading

Man, it’s been forever since I updated, but September was a crazy month. My three-year old started school, my husband was all over the world, I had lots of freelancing work to do (yay!), and I had to adjust (am still adjusting) to a completely different work schedule.

Perhaps because September was so stressful, I experienced a sensation that I have only felt once or twice before in my life: I didn’t feel like reading.

For those who know me, this is a huge deal – perhaps even unthinkable. I’m someone who won’t buy a purse, no matter how fashionable, if I can’t fit a small paperback into it. I panic if I go on holiday and I think I haven’t brought along enough books. My husband says, not entirely with admiration, that I’m addicted to books.

I’m beginning to think he’s right because even though I didn’t feel like reading last month, I still craved it. I didn’t want to but I had to read. It was weird. I would climb into bed at night, wanting nothing more than to go to sleep, but instead of punching my pillow and turning the lights off, I’d find myself looking through the books on my nightstand (which is actually a full-sized bookcase), feeling distressed because absolutely nothing appealed to me and yet I knew I needed something.

The book that finally appeased my soul was this: Harry Potter. Any of ‘em. All of ‘em. (Well, except the last).

Why Harry Potter? After giving it some thought, here’s what I figured out: the reason I didn’t feel like reading was because reading had become work. I couldn’t read a magazine without thinking of topics that I might pitch. I couldn’t read a non-fiction book without thinking about my own non-fiction WIP that so desperately needs my attention. I couldn’t read a fiction book without analyzing sentence structure, character development, the author’s word choice, or fretting about when I will ever have time for fiction again.

But when reading Harry Potter, all of that fell away. Not only is Harry Potter’s world a wonderful place in which to spend time, the JK Rowling story is one that warms the heart of any writer. I’m sure you know the tale: a depressed single-mom, down on her luck, comes up with an idea about a boy wizard while stuck on a train, writes the book, is rejected 12 times, but eventually finds and publisher and goes on to become the first writer billionaire. I love it! Reading the books with this in mind, all I felt was pleasure and inspiration. Just the thing a tired mom needs.

October is shaping up to be just as busy as September and I’m probably going to finish re-re-re-reading the Harry Potter series in the next week or so. Does anyone have another suggestion for a good book to read when you really don’t feel like reading?

It's not for myself that I'm asking. It's for a....friend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

International Freelancer's Day

Were you aware that September 24th is International Freelancer's Day?

Me neither.

But it is. In honor of this day, there is going to be international online video conference exclusively for “the solo professional.” (Note that this isn’t just for freelance writers, but freelancers of all stripes, from copywriters to graphic designers to translators.)

According to the website, on September 24 and 25th, conference participants will have access to 10-15 video presentations per day featuring topics relevant to building a successful freelance business. Just as with a regular conference, the videos will play at a certain time and date. And best of all – it’s free! All you have to do is sign up.

I’ll definitely be watching at least a few of the videos. As I pointed out a few months ago, we expat freelancers often have to go through a lot of trouble to attend conferences, so it’s great to have one that we don’t even need shoes to attend. Moreover, I’m optimistic about the conference because it’s being organized by Steve Slaunwhite, Ed Gandia, and Pete Savage, the three authors of “The Wealthy Freelancer” – a book I’m currently reading. I’ll review the book on this blog in a few days, but I’ll say right now that I’m really enjoying it. These guys have something good - and new – to say.

If you’re still not convinced about the conference, watch the introductory video on the conference’s website. It’s not super-informative as to the actual events, but nevertheless gets you all jazzed up to participate and proud of being a freelancer. It makes us seem like we’re Gladiators or something.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Post for la Rentree: What My Law Career Taught Me About Freelancing

Since everyone in France goes on summer vacation at roughly the same time, the return to normal life in September is called "la rentrée" (the re-entry). It's one of my favorite times of the year, not only because the weather tends to be at its best, but because Parisians are so unusually cheerful and I like the laid-back, almost careless way everyone eases into their regular routines. One is busy, returning phone calls, answering emails, getting kids ready for school -- but not stressed. It's as if the entire city has recently awoken, yawning and smiling, from a long, pleasant nap.

In the laid-back spirit la rentrée, I return to this blog simply by linking an article I recently wrote for FreelanceSwitch.com called "What My Law Career Taught Me about Freelance Writing." My life as lawyer definitely taught me a thing or two about how to run a freelance business.

Happy Autumn!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Notes from the Motherland

Ahhh...it's great to be in the Motherland. When I walk into the bookstore and see the array of magazines on display (so bountiful and so cheap, compared to the jacked up international prices) I bemoan my expat status. How easy freelancers have it here! I think. I would be churning out dozens of queries a week, if I lived here.

It's not true, of course. My two little monsters are the primary reason I don’t write more, not my diminished access to U.S. writing markets. But nonetheless, I am scrambling to take advantage of my time in the U.S. and accomplish a slew of freelancing tasks that are easier to do over here than over there.

For the expat freelancer that may be visiting his or her home country for a spell this summer, here are a few freelance-related duties you might want to take care of while there:

1. Pay a lengthy visit to the bookstore.

I’ve always adored books and bookstores, so it’s great to have a job that virtually demands that I spend a lot of time in one. When I’m at a bookstore for professional purposes, I spend about 60% of my time hanging out at the magazine stand, searching for new markets and staying updated on old ones. I spend 30% of the time checking out the latest nonfiction books to assess which topics are hot and might be relevant to articles or queries that I have in the pipeline. I jot down any titles and/or authors that might be a good future source. The remainder of the time, I loaf around in fiction.

2. Research at the library.
Expat freelancers based in Paris are lucky to have the American Library in Paris at their disposal. But the library is based upon donations and doesn’t always have the most recent books. Neither do online libraries. So, when I return to the U.S., I always bring a list of topics that I want to research in the library while I’m there.

3. Do some interviews

Most of the sources that I interview are based in the U.S. When possible, I schedule telephone interviews while I’m in the U.S. so that I don’t have to deal with huge time zone differences. Trying to schedule a phone interview with a person in Seattle while I’m in France just sucks.

4. Check out local markets

I am fiercely jealous of freelancers based in their home country because not only they (probably) have an easier time finding new markets, they also have access to plenty of local markets. While at home, I grab up every halfway interesting-looking local paper, magazine or rag. Most of the time they publish local news, but some of them have travel departments that may be worth looking into.

5. Take an Editor to Lunch

Two of my favorite freelance writing guidebooks recommend occasionally taking editors that you work for out for lunch to improve client relations and get an opportunity to present your ideas in person. Hmmph. None of the publications I write for are based in my home city and, even if there was one here, I’m not sure whether I’d actually have the gumption to ask an editor out for lunch. It sounds like a good idea, though, if you think the editor might be amenable to that sort of thing and you have the sort of personality that could pull a lunch like that off. Me, I’m not ready for that. Maybe next summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Don't. Stop. Me. Now! (I'm having such a good time... having a ball...)

I wasn’t sure where to put this post – here or at my other blog, International Mama. But I guess it’s most appropriate here since maybe other expat freelancers can relate.

In my last post, I mentioned how living abroad means working around an unfamiliar vacation schedule. I was pretty cheery about it in that post, having just spent 10 days in the sunny climes of Biarritz. But now it’s the middle of June and my real summer vacation is looming in front of me like a black hole. I know that as much as I’ll fight it initially, come the start of July I’m going to get sucked into that hole and not fully emerge until the beginning of September. It’s making me sad.

People who don’t freelance don’t really get it: “Just enjoy!” they say. Or, if American they say, “I wish I had so much vacation.” And I respond: “I wish someone would continue to pay me during my vacations!”

But, you know what? It isn’t just missing out on a paycheck. I hate losing momentum. I’ve had some great breaks in the past two months and I want to keep riding on that high you get when people like – and pay for - your work. Vacations make me happy but so does getting an email that says: “love that story idea…will be sending you a contract shortly.” My husband thinks I’m a workaholic. But really I just love writing. I love building a career from scratch. I love feeling increasingly confident about my work and taking on bigger challenges.

Right about now, you might be saying: so, don’t take such a long vacation. Uh-huh, I hear through my computer. Well, the thing is, my other job requires me to go on vacation: my mom job. The tots need to spend time with my family in the U.S. They need to see their family in Germany. They need to spend time with me and my husband, when we’re not sneaking glances at our cell phones or “just quickly checking” something on the computer. To accomplish all this traveling takes time – and thank goodness for our kids – time is something we have.

I know that once vacation starts, I won’t be worrying too much about the work I’m missing. I’ll get a chance to do some personal journaling. I’ll get lots of article ideas. And I’ll get my writing groove back in September. Still, as vacation inches ever closer, I can’t help but feel as if I’m preparing to say goodbye to a good friend for awhile.

Readers - what about you? Are you reluctant to stop working? Is this an expat problem or a freelancer problem? Or maybe a mom problem?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

5 More Ways to Make Money as a Freelancer

Sorry for the radio silence! In France, May is packed with holidays and I – along with about a quarter of the population – was on vacation. One of the funny things about being an expat is that you adopt the customs of the country that you’re living in, which creates a culturally unfamiliar vacation schedule. A couple of years ago, an editor asked me to write a feature that required tons of research just before I was leaving for a month-long vacation in Italy. I recall being excited about breaking into this particular magazine, but shocked that he expected me to work in August! In France, pretty much nobody works in August! Only the essentials. I had to remind myself that in the U.S. I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the timing of this assignment (I wouldn’t have been on vacation for four consecutive weeks anyway), and dragged several thick books to Italy with me.

Anyway. A while ago I wrote a post about 5 ways to make money as a freelancer and promised to come up with a few more ideas. Here they are!

1. Write an email newsletter

I am currently subscribed to some 15-20 email newsletters (no, I don’t read them all). Somehow it only dawned on me a few months ago that the authors of these newsletters aren’t merely writing these things for publicity or out of the goodness of their hearts – they’re getting cash money for them! Some make their money through advertising…others have sponsors…and a few, have readers willing to pay for the news.

Having never written for an email newsletter, I’m not sure how to begin. I do know that you can either start your own newsletter on a topic that interests you, or you can try to find a job as a newsletter writer for an organization that might like or need one. Bizymoms.com has some good information on how to start your own.

2. Teach writing

This is a variation on the standard “teach English” job that many of us expat have done (or thought about doing). I imagine that if you’re not in an English-speaking country, there are plenty of people in your adopted country who want to improve their written English as well as their spoken English. Think business people who have Anglophone clients, people who want to find a job in an Anglophone country, or those who are staying put, but want to make themselves more marketable. Students, too, might be willing to cough up a few Euros (yen, pesos, dinar, etc.) to receive instruction on a certain type of writing. You could even set up a one-day seminar, where you teach several students at once.

Even though we’re abroad, we’re not limited to teaching the locals. If you’re a reasonably established writer, you may be able to find a teaching job on the ‘net, or even at a local university. Non-expats: think about contacting a community college with an idea for a course.

3. Ghostwriting

This has been on my mind since seeing Roman Polanski’s “Ghostwriter.” How strange is it to write an entire book and never see your name on the cover? Not being able to admit that you wrote it? I don’t think I’d like that. But hey – not only books are ghost written. Articles, columns, and even some blogs are ghostwritten. And from what I understand, the pay can be quite good. Here’s a website by British ghostwriter Andrew Crofts about how and why he got started in the ghostwriting business.

4. E-books

E-books are the wave of the…present. They’re here. They’re now. They’re an excellent way to make a tidy residual income, if you pick the right topic and market it well. For more thoughts on why and how you should write an E-book, take a look at Remarkablogger’s post: How to Write an E-book that Doesn’t Suck. It's funny. And very true.

5. Translation Services
For you lucky expat freelancers that have mastered the language of your adopted country, you can make good money on the side by starting up a freelance translating business. My husband just had to have his birth certificate translated – and that single page cost 52 Euros! Of course, these translators are long-time pros recommended by the American Embassy for official business, but still. It’s an indicator of the kind of money you can make. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the American Translators Association. Even though it's for American residing in the U.S., it’s full of good tips on starting a translation career.

So there you go. I'll try to post more regularly now...well, until August.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

WordHustler - A free magazine database!

Hi folks - found another handy source for finding markets that I thought I'd share with you. It's called WordHustler and it's actually a submission platform for writers. Among its many features, it automatically sends out and tracks submissions for you, allowing you to review all your outstanding submissions at a glance and know their status (published, pending, rejected, etc.) instantly.

While it mostly appears to be designed for fiction writers (all of their examples seem related to novels and screenplays), but it is clearly mean for freelancers and non-fiction writers as well. It has a "markets" database that lists over 5,000 magazine publishers, literary agents, contests, etc. with proper contact information. You can search by a variety of categories, such as travel, health, essay markets and so forth. I spent about a half-hour browsing the markets and came up with several interesting publications I hadn't heard of before.

Searching the market listings is free but having the program send and track queries costs $2.99 per query letter. To me, this seems a bit steep considering I can do it myself for free. But for those who have the ability to churn out dozens of queries each week, maybe it's worth it. (Again, I think the service part is better geared to fiction writers or those with longer-length projects). Anyway, I think it's worth checking out, even if just for the market database.

If there's anyone out there who has tried WordHustler's other services, feel free to comment on this blog and tell us whether it's worth it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

30 ways to slant an article

Yesterday I was cleaning out my office when I came across a 2005 issue of Writers Journal. I wasn’t freelancing back then so I hadn’t paid much attention to the articles that related to freelancers. But yesterday, I re-read the issue with new eyes. Some of the articles were already quaint: one article talked about email submissions as if it were a new-fangled thing, another talked about how to use Microsoft Word, frequently encouraging readers to save their work on a floppy disk. But there was one article that, I think, will forever be useful.

The piece was on article slanting. The author, Dennis Hensley, told of his friendship with a reporter for the Associated Press, who was a master at taking one general topic and churning out dozens of different articles about it. Hensley said that the reporter got these ideas by running every topic through a grid that provided twenty-four ways to spin the subject. He then provided a sample grid and idea to show how it worked.

I thought it was a great exercise and promptly forgot about my office-cleaning project to try it out. I picked a subject that I only know a little about (gardening) and applied it to the grid. It worked great. In fact, I got so enthusiastic about the project that I enlarged the grid to 30 angles. The grid and my results are below.

Give it a whirl, keeping in mind that you won’t always get 24 (or 30) viable articles from the exercise. The grid is only a point of departure – some ideas won’t pan out on closer inspection. But even if you only find 12 or 15 potentially saleable angles, that’s still pretty good, no? Just think of the variety of potential writing markets!

Concept: Gardening
Angle: Article Idea Title

1. Regionalism: An expat’s guide to developing a French garden.

2. Humor: 5 plants even you can't kill.

3. Looking back/recalibration: Experienced gardeners weigh-in on what they would have done differently when starting their gardens.

4. Gender Differences: Tips on how to resolve differences when you and your mate have different visions for your garden.

5.Generational Differences: What your grandchild can teach you about gardening.

6. Contemporary Application: 5 ways technology can improve your garden.

7. Defusing Fear: Declare war on your weeds with these 3 homemade solutions.

8. Prosperity: How to make money from your herb garden

9. Back to Basics The ABC’s of Composting

10. Confidence-Building: It's not too late to change the theme of your garden.

11. Religious/Spiritual: Creating a spiritual space in your garden

12. The arts (poetry, music, painting, cinema) A stroll through famous gardens in poetry.

13. Insider Scoops: Six Things a Landscape Artist would never say to your face about your garden.

14. New Perspective: Yes, you can have a vegetable garden on your balcony!

15. Personal Trauma: Creating a Memorial Garden.

16. Controlling Emotions: How to deal when you hate your next-door neighbor’s garden.

17. Checklists and Procedures: Get the right pH balance for your soil in 5 simple steps.

18. Variation on the Traditional: What you need to start a rock garden.

19. Saving Money: 3 things you think you need a landscape architect for…but don’t.

20. Saving Time: 6 Gardening Tools that can cut your weeding time in half.

21. Mental and Physical Perspective: Tone your abs while pulling weeds!

22. Altruism and Self-sacrifice: How to Start a Community Garden

23. In-Depth Analysis: Book author/award-winning gardener explains the importance of drawing up sun/shade patterns before designing your garden.

24. Using Momentum: Your lawn is finally under control…time to decide on a theme!

25. Historical Perspective: The historical development of the English Garden.

26. Kids: What having a butterfly garden can teach your child.

27. Cuisine: A round-up of edible flowers for your garden (with recipes!)

28. Health: Seven herbs you should have in your garden for better health.

29. Pets: How to stop Rover from eating your petunias.

30. Travel: Five must-see botanical gardens in the world.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Do You Workshop? A Writer Conference/Workshop Round-up

A good friend of mine is a fiction writer who is always attending this conference or that workshop. I’ve listened to her experiences enviously: she always seems to come away from these gathering enriched, refreshed and excited to continue with her work. Despite my envy, somehow it never really occurred to me to seek out conferences and workshops for freelancers or non-fiction writers. But after reading this post at the Writer Abroad blog, I decided that it was time to take action.

Even a cursory search on the web revealed scores of writer conferences all over the world for journalists and non-fiction writers. Though I have yet to attend a conference or workshop, from everything I’ve read, it’s clear that these gatherings can be especially valuable for expat freelancers. Here’s why:

1. Conferences provide opportunities to meet editors and agents. Many conferences have panels featuring editors and agents who discuss the latest trends and news in the publishing industry as well as describe the kind of articles and books for which they’re searching. Afterwards, writers have the opportunity to meet the panelists (in some instances, in an organized fashion) and get their ideas heard and names known. This is a special boon for us expat freelancers, whose far-flung life means we can’t do a lot of face-to-face networking with many of the editors for whom we write. (I don’t know about you, but it’s complicated for me to even schedule a phone call! But that’s mostly the kids’ fault.)

2. Conferences/workshops offer opportunities to meet other writers. It’s so easy to make connections with writers online that sometimes we may disregard the need to meet writers in real life. I know I’m guilty of this. But…call me crazy…seeing an avatar or photo of someone online just isn’t the same as meeting someone in the flesh. Conferences /workshops strike me as a great thrust into real life – and we can meet all kind of writers that maybe would have flown under our radar online. You never know where connections with other writers will lead you.

3. Conferences/workshops can introduce you to new genres and markets. I’m always bitching about the difficulty of finding new Anglophone markets/magazines as an expat. Conferences often offer seminars and sessions across all fields and genres and a variety of magazine editors attend. This makes for a great opportunity to develop new angles and interests for your writing.

If you’re concerned that the cost of travel might be an obstacle, consider this: your travel expenses, registration fees, and a few other related expenses are (most likely) tax-deductible! That’s a nice little perk that you can't ignore.

So, are you with me? Here are links to 12 conferences/workshops that take place all around the world. And as a bonus, here's an amusing (and helpful) link that offers seven ways to make the most of a conference.

If you can recommend any other good conferences for freelancers or non-fiction writers, please feel free to share!

Workshops & Conferences for Non-Fiction

1. The Paris Writers Workshop This 5-day workshop in Paris appears to be open to writers of all levels who have the requisite manuscript. Workshop sizes are limited 15 participants so register early!

2. The Geneva Writers' Group Conference In addition to an annual conference, the Geneva Writers' Group offers Saturday workshops for a variety of kinds of writing (including personal essay, opinion, travel, etc.) on the 3rd Saturday of every month.

3. Abroad Writers Conference Has multiple conferences a year, each in a different location in the world. Upcoming conferences/workshops are in France, Italy, Scotland and India.

4. Doha Writers Workshop Offers help to writers of all experience levels in Qatar.

5. San Miguel Writers Workshops Though at first glance this workshop (in Mexico) seems to be all fiction, it isn't. They offer workshops for a variety non-fiction writing, including memoir, travel, personal essays, and even blogging!

6. The International Writers' Workshop This workshop takes place in Ghana. Its non-fiction compenent mainly focuses on travel and memoirs.

Conferences & Workshops for Freelancers

7. Surrey International Writers Conference This Canadian conference can benefit writers of all stripes, fiction, non-fiction, freelance, poets. The conference provides an opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with agents, editors, and other professional writers.

8. American Society of Journalists and Authors Writers Conference You have to be a member of ASJA to attend this intense NYC conference. To be apply to be a member, you must submit 6 articles of 1,000 words or more that have been published in major national magazines. If you are book-writer, you must have written at least two non-fiction books, or have written one and are under contract to write another. A committee will notify you if you have been accepted. A conference to aspire to, I guess!

9. Writers and Editors: One-on-One To attend this conference in Chicago, you must submit to a committee 3 recent clips from national or regional magazines. As the title of the conference suggests, you get one-on-one time with editors from a variety of publications.

10. Travel & Words Writers Conference A one-day conference in Tacoma, Washington that welcomes all travel writers and freelancers.

11. Travel Classics Writers' Conference Another twice-yearly conference for travel writers that offers one-on-one meetings with editors. If that's not incentive enough - the conferences take place at reaaaally luxurious-looking spa hotels.

12. Blog World & New Media Expo This looks like a conference useful for every freelancer or writer, no matter what your specialty. The conference isn't just about blogging, but how to use social media to maximum effect in your writing career.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

EuroWriter - a new magazine database

Drive-by post: Just wanted to alert all you expat freelancers (and regular freelancers) to a new magazine database that features English-language magazines published in Europe! EuroWriter is a site updated and maintained by Alistair Scott, a freelancer living in Switzerland. The site not only offers contact information and links to writers guidelines, it also features English-language writing competitions in Europe. Go check it out!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with expat freelancer Heather Stimmler-Hall

You'd be hard-pressed to find an Anglophone expatriate in Paris that hasn't heard of Heather Stimmler-Hall. For those newly arrived to Paris -- and even for many of us old-timers -- her Secrets of Paris website (and blog and newsletter) is a fantastic resource that covers all aspects of life in Paris, from where to find organic pet food to which grocery stores are open late. She is also author of the award-winning book Naughty Paris: A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City, and you'll inevitably find articles written by her in most English-language magazines about France.

I've been a subscriber to Heather's newsletter for many years, and I have admired her evident success as a freelancer abroad. So, I was delighted when she agreed to share details of her journey as writer with The Expat Freelancer.

EPF: What prompted you to move to (and stay in) Paris?

HSH: I came to Paris as a student in 1995, and eventually met and married my (now ex) husband, who was British and also living in Paris, in 1999. He's the reason I stayed initially, and after 10 years of living here I didn't want to leave, so I'm still here!

How established was your writing career when you moved here? How did you get your start?

I had taken four years of journalism classes in high school, where we produced a weekly newspaper. My senior year I worked at the daily Phoenix Gazette (now part of the AZ Republic) and did summer classes at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. In college I worked for the school's news bureau for four years, so I already had a lot of clips and formal journalism training when I arrived in Paris. I was an editor at ELLE.com in 1999, then went freelance in 2000. It was the dot com boom, so I started off with a lot of web clients, but the crash hit right after I went freelance, so it was a tough start to the millennium.

The majority of your writing work is travel-related. Did you become a travel writer because you were in Paris, or was travel writing the niche you always wanted to work within?

I never planned on doing travel writing. I was going to be a White House correspondent (I majored in political science in college). At ELLE.com I was in charge of the travel section, and when I went freelance it was the easiest topic to sell (I had moved to the French Riviera at that point, so there were only a few low-paying freelance news jobs for English-speaking journalists). Unfortunately it's a topic that many non-professional writers are willing to do for free, so it's hard to find well-paid freelance travel writing jobs. Guidebook writing is a thankless slog of a job for little pay, but if you make your deadlines and do a good job, you can find consistent work.

When you first started writing, were you worried about your ability to earn a sufficient income as a writer abroad? In your opinion, what’s the best way, writing-wise, to earn your keep?

Ha! I took journalism in school because I wanted to make a living and being a novelist didn't seem practical. But I've always known what the average income was for my line of work, so I had no illusions going freelance. It helped that I was married to a supportive husband when I started out. The first five years as a freelancer I didn't make enough to live off. I think I make enough now because I have a few editors who hire me over and over because they know I'm professional, make my deadlines, and turn in consistently good content. (I have friends who do technical writing or business writing. They make more, but they usually tell me they hate what they do. So there is a trade off, for sure.)

What was your biggest breakthrough as an expat writer? How did it shape your career?

I think getting the job at ELLE.com (when it was still based in Hachette's Paris HQ) opened a lot of doors for me, even though I only got the job because I knew HTML (back in 1999 Paris this was incredible); I knew nothing about fashion, which is why they had me editing the travel and decor sections. When I went freelance I could easily contact the editors of major magazines because I had the name recognition behind me. It probably moved me into feature/lifestyle/travel writing and away from news/political writing, which has obviously shaped my career. I probably only write one or two non-travel articles per year now. It also helps that I've been doing my Secrets of Paris newsletter (now a website and a blog) since 1999. Putting in your time shows you are a reliable, hard working writer. Most freelancers don't last that long! ;)

What has been the biggest disadvantage of being an expat writer and how have you worked around it?

My French isn't good enough to write in French, so I can't find many jobs that pay in Euros (99% of my writing jobs are in US dollars, ugh). But I also have a private tour company, so I make Euros from that work.

Your book Naughty Paris hit the bookshelves in 2008 and you’re always hard at work on uncovering the "Secrets of Paris" for your website. What else are you working on these days?

Naughty Paris second edition and Naughty New York. I'm also always trying to improve my websites and make them more useful for the people reading them.

Do you have any advice for other expat freelancers?

Although it's possible to pretend you aren't legally living in France if all of your clients are abroad, the benefits of being in the French system (I'm covered by AGESSA) outweigh the costs, and make your life soooooo much easier in the long run. If you're living in France and writing about France (basically, "making a living off France"), pay your taxes and contribute to society and the upkeep of this beautiful city like the rest of us. ;)

Heather Stimmler-Hall is an American freelance writer living in Paris. To learn more about Heather's writings and Paris tours, visit her website: www.secretsofparis.com.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The positive side of rejections

Last night, I got a rejection email for a pitch that I sent to a national glossy a couple of months ago. Addressing me by my first name, the editor thanked me but said they’d decided to cover the topic in a different way. As far as rejections go, it was pretty neutral. There was nothing in it to make me hopeful about future pitches (though previous rejections from this editor had encouraged me to send more queries) nor did it make me want to curl up and cry. When I turned off my computer and went to bed for the night, I thought about the rejection again and felt strangely content.

I often feel this way about rejections.

I don’t know how it is for most of you freelancers out there, but I don’t receive a response of any kind for more than half of my pitches. This annoys the crap out of me. I put a lot of effort into each pitch, gathering expert quotes and sources, and make sure to suggest an appropriate department of the magazine for the story. I know editors are swamped, but how hard can it be to type a quick “no thanks” as a courteous nod to the work the pitch entailed? I could understand ignoring the query if it was topically off-base or full of misspelling and grammatical errors, but my queries aren’t.

As I lay in bed, I started thinking about why rejections bring a certain satisfaction to me and came up with the following:

1. Rejections bring closure. I dislike the tired word “closure” but it’s accurate here. I appreciate knowing when a query is officially off the table and I’m free to shop it to the next pub. Of course, since so many editors don’t bother with rejection letters, most of the time I don’t wait for a rejection to send a query off again. Still, it’s nice to know that I can send it elsewhere without any potential awkwardness.

2. Rejections are a form of acknowledgement. A rejection means that my email got to where it was supposed to go (I always fear that it is sitting unread in someone’s spam folder). It also means that someone read it and gave it at least a few seconds of thought, possibly much more.

3. Rejections bring opportunity. Rejections are a good opportunity to contact the editor again. After receiving last night’s rejection, I quickly sent an email to the editor thanking her for her response and promising her another query in the near future. I spent this morning researching other topics so that I can send her another pitch later this week. At the very least, this will help to keep me on her radar screen. Even if she rejects the next pitch, at least I’m taking steps towards becoming a familiar name to her. The more familiar I become to her, the more willing she might be to take a chance on one of my proposals…assuming, of course, that I’m presenting her with good work.

4. Rejections are part of the writing life. To me, rejection is the flip side of publishing an article –a kind of badge of courage. A few years ago several freelancers on the writer's forum that I frequent made goals to receive a certain number of rejections a year instead of acceptances. I thought that was pretty wise. If you’re getting rejections, it means you’re putting your ideas and work out there. It means you’re trying. It means you’re writing. Rejections are an inevitable part of a writer’s life. And somehow it’s the teensiest bit satisfying to receive this confirmation that a writer’s life is indeed mine.

How do you handle rejections? Have you ever had something positive arise out of a rejection?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Deductible Expenses and the Freelance Writer

So, last week found me at my accountant’s office, proudly handing over all my W-2s and other evidence of my income earned for 2009. Although it amounted to less than two week’s salary from when I was a lawyer, he smiled approvingly. For the past couple of years, I’d shown up with a laughably meager income that he sort of waved away. But this time, I could tell that he thought I’d at last gotten serious about my writing. He was right. But evidently, not serious enough.

“Good, good,” he said, flipping through my papers. “And what are your expenses?”

Ah. Those.

While I meticulously kept proof of my income, I hadn’t given much thought to my expenses at all. This year (2010), I had saved the receipt from the computer I bought when my old one went on the fritz, and saved the receipts from expenses incurred from building my clips site, but I couldn’t think of one receipt I had saved from 2009.

“Uh, I didn’t have any.” I said, stupidly.

“You didn’t buy paper?” he asked. “Pens? Books for your research? A library membership? ”

Yes, to all of those things, but I didn’t think to save the receipt for such small fry. But I should have. These little things add up and can make a sizable dent in the amount of taxes owed.

Are you keeping track of the expenses associated with your writing?

Here are some other expenses that may be deductible:

1. Business-related fees. Are you a paying member of MediaBistro.com? Do you pay for the online Writer’s Market (or the book, for that matter)? Do you pay for the internet, your professional website, a research service (e.g., LEXIS/NEXIS), a premium PayPal account? Business cards? All of these things and more may be tax deductible. Oh, and you know what? Magazine subscriptions might be deductible as well – of course, you have to prove that you used them for business expenses. My accountant says that an emailed print out of a query letter to that magazine, and/or an acceptance or rejection email from the editor of that magazine can help validate your claim.

2. Professional advice. Have you paid professional advice related to freelancing over the past year? An accountant, for example? What about an agent, editor, web designer or lawyer? Their fees might all be able to be written off – and so can the lunches or coffees that you had with them while discussing business.

3. Your home office. This is a complicated deduction and my accountant has never tried to deduct it from my taxes because my office is in a corner of my dining room (my former office now being my kids’ room). But if your office is used purely for business purposes, you may be able to deduct a portion of your annual rent or mortgage (based upon the percentage of space your office takes up) from your taxes.

4. Equipment used in your work. Your computer, printer, fax machine, scanner, cell phone, computer software and even office furniture may be able to be deducted, although it’s rather complicated. Because these things have a long lifespan, some things can be deducted outright, while other items must be amortized or depreciated over a few years. Ask your accountant his or her opinion. My accountant told me that my new computer, for example, would be depreciated over three years.

5. Payments not received. I was happy to hear about this one – a magazine I worked for shut down last year and even though my article was published in its final issue, I never got paid. It wasn’t worth chasing down the former publishers of the magazine, so I just mentally wrote it off. It was very pleasing to learn that this expense could also be formally written off!

6. Travel expenses. Of course, you can’t go on a luxury vacation, write a blog post about it and expense the trip. But if you have an assignment that requires you to travel, you may be able to deduct the business aspects of the trip. Attending writer’s conferences, workshops and retreats may deductible as well.

7. Subcontracted work. Did you ever pay another writer to complete a job you’d contracted for? The fee you paid this writer may be tax deductible.

I’m sure there are plenty of other deductions, but these were the ones my accountant brought up. Of course, not all of these will be applicable to your situation – but start saving those receipts anyway. Not only might it help you save on your taxes, it will help you to think of freelancing as your business, and not just a cool job.

And since none of this relates specifically to taxes for expatriates, here is some information about filing taxes that every expat should know: Foreign Tax Credit and Foreign Earned Income Exclusions. Good luck!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

5 ways to make money as a freelancer

A million years ago, when I had that extremely short-lived writers' group, I recall someone asking how one could make real money as a freelance writer. She said that writing for magazines couldn't possibly generate a substantial income.

I think that it's true: most freelance writers can't and don't rely solely on magazines or newspapers for income. If I've learned anything in this career, money from freelancing comes in fits and spurts. Many magazines only pay once the article has been written and "accepted." Others won't pay you until the article is published. And since a lot can happen between the time the article is written and publication (once a magazine folded after I wrote the article and I never got paid even though the piece was published in the final issue), it's hard to count on that money until you're holding it in your hand.

So, one must supplement one's income through other means. Here are 5 alternatives to consider:

1. Blogging

In case you hadn't noticed, these days everybody has a blog. Everyone. Newspapers, businesses, libraries, law firms, hospitals...just everyone. And, of course, people like you and me. But, of course, it takes a whole lotta time to keep blogs updated. So newspapers, businesses, libraries, hospital, law firms, hire people like you and me to keep the blogs updated. It can be fun and easy and can mean regular pay. Plus, for an expat freelancer, it means that you don't have to be in the same country as your employer. I have written for a couple of blogs on a regular basis, and have really enjoyed writing without having to be responsible for finding an audience, advertisers, or even pictures and formatting!

Look at Blogger Jobs and ProBlogger for blogging jobs.

You can also monetize your own blog but I think it takes a very specific idea, a huge following and an incredible amount of time to make it profitable. But I do know of people who receive a solid, steady income through advertisements on their blogs.

2. Copywriting/Commercial Writing

You know all those brochures, newsletters, pamphlets, and other marketing materials that cross our paths every day? People write them. Very often, freelancers write them. And these companies are willing to pay good money for quality writing. If you don’t believe me, check out Peter Bowerman’s classic book (and website): The Well-Fed Writer. According to him, you can achieve self-sufficiency as a freelance writer in 6 months or less. What does self-sufficiency mean? Well, according to him, a “comfortable, not-unusual week nets $2000.” Sounds pretty good. I have never attempted to break into business writing since the language of most of the business ‘round here are French, but I do keep my eyes out for opportunities. And I’m sure it’s possible to break into Anglophone business markets from abroad, but as I’ve never tried, I don’t know how. If anyone has any ideas on how to do this, feel free to share!

3. Editing/Proofing
Many freelance writers supplement their income by offering private editing/proofing services. Tons of businesses, students, and fellow writers will welcome you with open arms. If you know your way around Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style or cackled over Eats Shoots and Leaves, then maybe this is an option for you. If you’re an expat freelancer in a country that doesn’t speak English, I imagine that there would be a wealth of proofing/editing opportunities.

4. Résumé writing.

This is the classic job you can do from anywhere. Again, you’ll need to have stellar proofing skills and an eye for detail. You could either seek work through an already-established resume writing company or you could try to start your own resume writing business. This blog tells you how to get started. As expats, we’re well-placed to target people seeking jobs in our home countries. French CVs and American CVs are quite different. I feel confident that many French people seeking jobs in the U.S. would love to have an American eye assess their résumé.

5. Greeting cards.

If you’re always cracking people up with your witty quips or don’t mind getting really sentimental in your writing, consider writing for greeting card companies. You can make quite a tidy sum scribbling a few lines. According to this article, you can make $3 per line to $150 per verse. When you think about it in terms of "per word" payment that can amount to several dollars per word! Makes a nice break from those .10 per word magazines.

There are plenty of other writing options, but I think it’s dawning on my husband that I’m not actually running the kids’ bathwater. I’d better do a “5 more ways to make money as a freelancer” another time. G’nite!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Deconstructing magazines

You might have noticed a recurrent theme in my posts: where to find Anglophone magazines while abroad. If you're new to freelancing, you might wonder why this is important: if you have access to a magazine name and its website, why is it so important to see the magazine itself?

Pretty much all books on freelancing agree that it is essential to take a good long look at a magazine before pitching to it. Editors hate with a burning white passion to receive pitches that clearly do not fit into their publication. I'm not just talking about sending a pitch about sports cars to a fishing magazine. I'm talking about sending a pitch about fly fishing in New Hampshire to a magazine that only writes about boat fishing in Wisconsin. A freelancer should deconstruct a magazine before pitching to it: she should know the exact kind of articles the magazine publishes, have an idea about which department the article would work well in, and understand the writing style of the publication. When you can, you should even look at several issues of the magazine to make sure your intended topic hasn’t been recently covered.

Of course, you can still land an assignment without having deconstructed or even seen the target magazine first. These days, you can get a lot of the information you need from the magazine’s website. But the more prestigious the magazine and the less experienced you are, the better it is to show the editor that you’ve done your homework. Even if the query is rejected, the editor may remember your professionalism. You definitely don’t want to send a pitch that stands out in the editor’s memory for its failure to adhere to the magazine’s concept – or because it details a story that was on the magazine’s cover last month.

As I’ve written previously, I often go to the American Library of Paris to check out the periodicals there. I also stock up on certain magazines whenever I’m in the U.S. Sometimes I ask friends who are in the U.S. to brings pubs to me when they visit. And of course there are a couple of magazines I subscribe to. I would subscribe to more, purely for research purposes, but that gets expensive. But recently I learned a way to make it a bit cheaper: sign up for free subscriptions.

Did you know that there are tons of free magazine subscriptions out there? Take a look at this site. And this one. All you need is a North American address and the pub is yours! Sure, that’s only part of the problem solved for us expat freelancers: the magazine still has to reach us. But it’s a lot cheaper to pay for postage rather than paying for postage and the magazine. I've gotten subscriptions to a few top parenting magazines this way, in addition to a couple of health magazines I'd like to write for.

Most of the time I don’t have the magazines sent to me: I just ask my mother to do a quick title check to make sure that the topic I’m pitching hasn’t been written about recently. If there’s an article of particular interest to me, I ask her to scan it and email it to me. So, okay, yes, you need an assistant in your home country. But personally, I feel more confident sending off a query knowing that, whatever the editor ultimately decides, I’ve done all that I could to fit my article into the magazine.

If anyone out there has a better way (or just a different way) of approaching this problem, please tell me because this is the aspect of expat freelancing that bugs me the most!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Still *another* way to find markets!

Just a quick post to say that I found another great database: Mondo Times. They list over 25,000 media outlets in more than 200 countries. It's not just magazines and newspapers but television and radio, too. You'd think that with all that information it'd be confusing, but it's really easy to navigate. Outlets are divided by topic, country, and city. I'm seeing lots of regional and smaller pubs that don't make it onto other databases. Very cool!

Monday, March 8, 2010

3 Online Tools that an Expat Freelancer Needs

Yesterday I conducted a very satisfying interview on Skype, which got me feeling all affectionate for the service. I do many interviews on Skype, either through their telephone service or IM chat (which I LOVE because your entire conversation is already perfectly preserved). Anyway, Skype got me thinking about the things that make life a bit easier for expat freelancers. Here are my top three.

1) Skype . I imagine most expats know about Skype, but if you don't, download it. Now. Skype is software that allows you to talk with other Skype users through your computer for free. Most of my sources have Skype and, in my view, there's nothing unprofessional about using it to conduct interviews. Did I mention that it's free?

eFax. eFax is another free service that is pretty great. When you register with eFax, you are assigned a U.S. fax number. As I mainly target American magazines, this number takes away the worry that editors will be annoyed by having to pay a premium fee when faxing documents (contracts, tax information, etc.) to me. And as it goes right to me my email, I don't need a heads-up about when the fax will arrive.

3) PayPal. Yet another free service! PayPal allows you to send and receive money online. (Actually, the service has dozens of features, but for freelancing purposes, I only use it to receive money). It is so easy. When you register, you provide your bank account information so that when you are paid, you can transfer the money from your PayPal account directly to your bank account. Many online pubs pay through PayPal, and its so much simpler than waiting to receive a paper check, and then going through the bother of taking it or sending it to your bank.

Of course, I'm talking about the basic level for all these services. For a fee you can get all the bells and whistles that these companies offer, but for me the free service works just fine. Check them out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Markets for Personal Essays

....and I'm back! My second child, Pup, was born goregeous and healthy less than a week after that last post. And the number of items I'm juggling immediately went from, say, 5 to 15. I don't know why one extra child would put so many more balls in the air, but it truly does. It's crazy! But getting easier and more fun everyday. Well, some days.

Part of the reason that I feel so knackered is that I have continued to write. My husband is annoyed with me for not taking a maternity leave, but frankly, it's a relief to have something else to do besides change diapers and get dissed by my toddler. I have researched, written and sent out several excellent queries (if I may say so myself), drafted dozens of articles for DS, whipped up a few articles for Venere.com, restarted work on my non-fiction book, and made a "clips site" which showcases samples of my work. I also tried to form another writer's group, this time seeking only one person to be my "writing buddy." But that fell apart after only two months - she was a mom of five working a full-time job. Guess there's no need to say more.

These days, as ever, the thing I find the most difficult about expat freelancing is finding publications for which I'd like to write. That's why, for the time being, I have turned my attention to writing essays. Essays are great for the expat because tons of online pubs seek them, which means you don't need to find samples in a bookstore. I also like them because they don't involve research, you don't need an expert to back up your opinion, and you can write in your own voice. A nice break from magazine writing! (Well, in my case, magazine querying).

Right now, I'm working on a couple of essays that I hope will be accepted in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Here are several more pubs that accept essays - click the links for submission deadlines and writers guidelines. If you know of any other good ones, feel free to share!

Cup of Comfort

Skirt Magazine

The Public Sphere

Common Ties

Underwired Magazine

The Sun Magzine


Marriage Partnership

NPR: This, I believe

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

When I first had children, I thought that they’d slow down my writing career.  And so they have. But in some respects, they’ve done ...