Monday, September 12, 2011

Word Count Limit Got You Down? Try These 6 Editing Tricks

Most of the time, I love being a writer. The brainstorming…the research…that moment when all those random phrases and concepts zinging around my head suddenly settle down and start flowing like a river of hot chocolate. Mmm….

 But you know what I also like?  Editing.  I know that many writers don’t like to edit (and I agree that it’s hard to “kill your darlings,” as Papa Hemmingway says we must) but I find it strangely satisfying, especially if I’m editing to adhere to a word count limit.   It’s like a game:  how tight can I make this story without losing any of its original character or elements?  

One of my proudest moments at this game was when I submitted a 400-word FOB article that had 5 major points (complete with three quotes from different experts), and the editor said – looks great, but can you make it 300 words?  Yikes!  But I did it. I nibbled away 100 words from an already-super tight article without slashing any of the points or deleting my quotes. Really, it’s kinda fun. 
If you’re a writer who dreads whittling away at your beautiful prose for the sake of to satisfy some editorial limit, here are a couple of few tricks that might to make it a bit easier.  

1.       Eliminate prepositions.  Okay, I sound really nerdy - but it thrills me to slash teeny, tiny words such as “of” “in” or “at” from my writing.  It’s like cutting fat from a good piece of meat.   Plus, since prepositions are everywhere, cutting them is an easy way of getting closer to your word count goal. 


Were you the victim of a car rental scam?
Were you a car rental scam victim?

After her husband left, she preferred to stay at home.
After her husband left, she preferred to stay home.

The wildfires in Texas cost the government billions.
The Texas wildfires cost the government billions.

2.       Eliminate “that.”  Most of the time, the word “that” can be deleted from your writing without  impairing the sentence’s meaning. Even though it’s only a single word, you’ll be surprised by often you use it – and how getting rid of it tightens and shortens your piece.  


I think that his wealth made a difference to the jury.
I think his wealth made a difference to the jury.

Being stuck with a bill for damage that you didn’t cause is a nightmare.
Being stuck with a bill for damage you didn’t cause is a nightmare.

3.       Avoid “helping verbs.”   The primary helping verbs are “be” “do” and “have.”  It’s so common to use them in speech that we insert them into our writing without thinking about it.


First, you have to create an account. 
First, create an account.

The customer is always trying to get a discount.
The customer always tries to get a discount.     

The report was prepared by top scientists.
Top scientists prepared the report. **

** A writing bonus! Eliminating the helping verb also forces you to write actively, not passively!

4.       Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary words.  Don’t repeat things needlessly. ‘Nuff said?


He knelt down beside the sobbing child.
He knelt beside the sobbing child.

She couldn’t decide whether or not visit him.
She couldn’t decide whether to visit him.

Top with parmesan cheese.
Top with parmesan.

When shopping at a flea market, look for bargain prices.
When shopping at a flea market, look for bargains. 

5.       Ditch most adjectives and adverbs.  We all know this one (well, we should) but it’s hard to obey.  Some adjectives and adverbs are just so pretty. But it’s true that using a good strong verb in place of an adjective or adverb makes for much tighter writing.  And chances are, when you re-word, you can get rid of a preposition or two as well.


She looked extremely beautiful in that red dress.
She rocked that red dress.

The storm totally ruined our garden.
The storm devastated our garden.

6.       Use contractions.  This one might be difficult for those of you who had teachers like I had, who believed that contractions were for drunks, babies, and uneducated good-for-nothings.  But these days, using contractions in most forms of writing isn’t a sin.  Just look at the style of the publication you’re writing for – if the tone is easy-going or informal, go for it.  You can cut dozens of words this way.

Example: I wouldn’t think you need an example here, but you never know.

What tricks do you use to shorten your writing?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where to Self-Publish Your Book: A Round-Up

As my book-in-progress inches closer to completion, I’m beginning to examine how I’m going to get the darn thing published. I’ve already decided that I want to go the self-publishing route, for reasons I’ve explained here. But whenever I started researching the various self-publishing services, I always ended up rocking back and forth in bed screwing my fists in my eyes, muttering too many, too many, too many.

But one must be brave. So, I turned to my writer’s group at LinkedIn, asking more experienced members to recommend good self-publishing services. The response was awesome. Though I haven’t quite decided which service I’ll go with, I think I’ve got the top options in hand and can make a good, informed decision when the time comes.

To help you narrow down your list, here’s a round-up of the "best" self-publishing services, according the International Writers group at LinkedIn. Of course, not everyone will be satisfied with every service, but this list provides a good starting point to find the right match for you.

(If you’ve had good experiences with others self-publishing services, please add your own in the comments!)

Now, if you’ve been looking into self-publishing, there’s no doubt you’ve come across the name “AuthorHouse.” It’s one of considered the largest of the "big three" of self-publishing (the others being iUniverse and Xlibris, all three of whom have the same owner). Several members of the LinkedIn group were fiercely negative about their experiences with this service. Further research revealed a computer-crashing amount of negative opinions, not to mention some truly alarming reports. Complaints primarily centered around the company’s lack of integrity, inflated prices, control over the cover design, and a workmanship so shoddy that it almost seems intentional.

You might want to steer clear of that one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

5 Reason Why You Should Become an Expat Freelancer

(© IKO -

Well, hello there!  Yes, I’m back after a 3-month hiatus.  That’s right – I took 3 months off from posting and I’m walking right back in here, unashamed. 

I know all the social media gurus say that taking such a break is to commit social media suicide.  That I should at least arrange to throw some old content or some guest posts in my absence.  And I daresay they’re right.  But the Expat Freelancer blog isn’t Copyblogger. And while part of me wishes that I was mistress of all that brilliant content and had an audience that runs in the tens of thousands, the other part of me is happy that I can sneak away for a nice long summer break, lounging on the beaches of Corsica and Narragansett, without feeling guilty or stressed.  

This is the beauty of being an expat freelancer.  As an expat, I have adopted that French “give me vacation or give me death” mentality.  As a freelancer, I can indulge it.  (Not that I didn’t continue to work some while I was away.  An expat freelancer at home has to take advantage of the situation, especially if you target American magazines and clients.) Okay, yes, my beach reading did the latest edition of Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Writer.”  And yes, I did outline a novel.  But none of that felt like work. Can I help that my work is also my passion?

At the moment, I’m feeling so satisfied with life as both an expat and a freelancer that I thought I’d kick of the new season of this blog with 5 reasons why being an expat freelancer totally rocks.  If you’ve been dreaming about writing abroad, maybe this will spur you to make a change!

Reason # 1: You get a fresh perspective…on everything.

Good writers do more than turn an elegant phrase; they offer a new perspective or insight to their readers. As an expat freelancer, you get new perspectives and insights in spades.  Everything from driving on a highway to standing at a bus stop can be a cultural revelation – and potential copy. Even now, I'm working on an essay about my trip to the local Stop & Shop when I was at home in the U.S.  Did anything special happen there?  Not really. But as I wandered the huge aisles, wide-eyed as a refugee, picking up tons of stuff didn't need, I suddenly had a perfect understanding of that mixture of awe and distaste that many Europeans have toward America. What an enormous, greedy, fabulous country. 

Reason #2:  You’ve got instant entry into travel writing
It’s easy to create a niche as a travel writer as an expat, even if you don’t actually travel much. Plenty of magazines and websites will pay good money for to know what’s happening in your backyard.  This is how I got my first clips as a freelancer: writing 100-word reviews of Paris attractions and restaurants.  No travel greater than a metro ride was required. 

Reason #3: Wider Client Pool
Today’s freelancer can work with clients all over the world – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to tap into a client pool in another country.  Unless you live there.  As an expat, I can market my copywriting services with facility to both France-based business as well as those in the U.S. (particularly those in my hometown).  In a sense, I’m a “local” in both locations – or at least, that’s how I spin it.

Reason #4:  Cool Office
Expat freelancers have some of the most exotic offices in the world: tropical beaches, mountaintops, or, in my case, sweet little Parisian cafés.  And if I chose to work at home? I’ve got a kick-ass view of the Seine and La Conciergerie, the tower in which Marie Antoinette was imprisoned.  I admit, I often take the beauty and history of my adopted city for granted, but when I remember, it gives me a shiver of pleasure, privilege and gratitude.  (But you know what? When I’m in the U.S., writing at my favorite Starbucks, I’m pretty thrilled too.)

Reason #5: Positive influence of local customs 
As an American it’s hard to turn off that compulsion to always be productive, to never be caught slacking.  But, as I noted in the intro to this post, living in France has been a good influence in that way. For better or worse, here, there’s no shame in just kicking back and enjoying life at the expense of productivity.  I have no doubt that my work-life balance is more evenly distributed than it would be if I lived in the U.S.  I guess you could say that being an expat helps puts the “free” in freelancer.  (Sorry – couldn’t resist!)   Just make sure you chose to reside in a country more laid-back than the one you live in!
Are you an expat freelancer? What do you love about your career/lifestyle choice?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Expat Freelance Writer for Hire!

I'm excited to announce the launch of my new website! Check it out at  Many thanks to Tanya Olander, who did an excellent job in designing the site.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are These Habits Sabotaging Your Freelance Career?

(Photo credit: Michal Marcol;

The last time I was at “home” (in the U.S.), a book at Barnes & Noble caught my eye. It was called “Why Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women make that Sabotage Their Careers,” by Lois P. Frankel, PhD.

Even though I do have a corner office, a nice little one in the corner of my dining room, I couldn’t help but pick up the book. After flipping through it for a few minutes, I knew I had to buy it. Because even though my corporate days are long behind me, I saw some terribly, familiar habits listed in that book – habits that could be dragging down my freelance career.

Ladies (and maybe some gents), I ask you: are you guilty of any of the following five career mistakes? 

Mistake # 1 – Pretending it isn’t a Game.

Lois Frankel writes: “The workplace is exactly that – a game. It has rules, boundaries, winners and losers. Women tend to approach work more like an event (picnic, concert, fundraiser) where everyone comes together for the day to play nicely...Playing the game of business doesn’t mean you’re out to cause others to fail, but it is competitive. It means you are aware of the rules and develop strategies for making them work to your advantage.

Does this “game” mentality apply to freelancing? It should. The game is different than in a corporate environment, but still it exists. Just because our workplace is our home and we’re working alone doesn’t mean that we’re not in the midst a giant, invisible chessboard.  All those organizations and people who want us to work for free or a pittance while they're pulling down cash from our words...believe me, they know it's a game. (Let's just say that homegirl Ariana Huffington has not made this mistake.)  Magazines, small businesses, corporations, newspapers: they're all in the game.  And when you freelance for any of them, so are you.  Better make sure you're not just a pawn.

And let's not forget our competitors.  They're out there, sending queries to the same editor, bidding on the same projects. If we want to get the freelancing equivalent of the corner office (whatever that may be), we have to keep an eye on what our competitors/peers are doing, spot what we can do better or differently, and then do it, moving as quickly and skillfully as we can.

The great thing about freelancing is that pretty much all of us can get a "corner office."  As freelancers, a corner office can be whatever we want it to be. But that doesn't mean there's no game involved.  Play it, ladies.

Mistake #2 – Playing the Game Safely and Within Bounds.

Frankel writes: “Even when a woman knows the workplace is a game, she has the tendency to play safe rather than play smart. She obeys all the rules to the letter and expects others to as well.” As an analogy, she refers to her style of tennis play, how she always feared the ball going out of bounds, and so artificially narrowed her field of play. But once she started hitting the ball outside of her comfort zone, she says, she started to win more games.

I love this “mistake” and analogy. In the corporate world, I was forever seeing men play fast and loose with the rules…and moving swiftly ahead. Meanwhile, I only dared to follow the rules and hope that someone would appreciate it. (Ha! Why would they? It was the least I could do). In my freelance career, I try not to be such a “good little girl,” though it’s a struggle.

My role model is Linda Formichelli, co-author of the fabulous and inspirational book, “The Renegade Writer.” She, along with co-author Diana Burrell offer scores of valuable tips on how you can be a rule-breaker and still have a successful freelancing career. If playing the freelancing game too safely is a mistake you think you're making, definitely read this book.

Mistake # 13 – Failing to Capitalize on Relationships.

In this section, Frankel tells the story of a woman who was having trouble selling her idea for a new book to a publisher. It turns out that the woman’s father has a good relationship with an editor who could play an instrumental role in getting her idea before the right publisher. When Frankel asked the woman why in the world she didn’t ask her father for an introduction, she responded that she didn’t want to capitalize on her father’s name.

How many of you ladies out there see yourselves here? I know I do. I have an acquaintance who is an editor of a highly prestigious newspaper. I have another friend who used to be the deputy editor of a well-known women’s glossy. Have I ever tried to pitch an idea to either them? Nope. Why? Because I was afraid of being perceived as a “user” or complicating our relationship. Dumb, right?

Men use relationships to advance their interests and careers all. the. time. Frankel advises women to be unafraid to ask for introduction, referrals, or permission to use a colleague’s name when trying to get the attention of someone. Amen, sister.

(** Note- As a pat on the back to myself, let me just say that I recently asked my acquaintance at the newspaper to be a source for me on a buzz piece I’m writing. She answered my questions cheerfully and promptly. No sweat. And now I’m working on a pitch to throw her way. Yay me.)

Mistake #50 Being Modest.

Frankel writes: “Both boys and girls are taught in childhood to be modest – but women take the lesson way too far….When people fail to notice major accomplishments, it’s your job to illuminate them…Completely, totally and permanently erase the words, “Oh, it was nothing” from your vocabulary.

Sigh. Right again, Dr. Frankel. Ladies: are you downplaying your accomplishments? When you’ve done amazing back-flips for an editor or client, are you letting him or her know? Are you asking for testimonials? Are you displaying these testimonials in a prominent way? You don’t have to become a braggart or start boring people by endlessly recounting your successes, but when you have accomplished something brilliant, don’t be afraid to take credit for it – and let others know what you’ve done.

Mistake #59- Asking Permission.

Frankel writes: “Have you ever noticed that men don’t ask for permission? They ask for forgiveness. My hunch is that women ask permission more out of habit than from really needing someone to give them the green light….by seeking permission before acting, we are less likely to be accused of making a mistake – but we’re also less likely to be viewed as confident risk-takers.”

This is a variation or natural consequence of mistake #2 – playing the rules safely and within bounds. We women, I think, are particularly afraid of making a mistake. We often worry that any error we make could be attributed to our gender and reflect badly on others in that group.  Time to get over this fear.

When you have the urge to ask permission of a client or editor, take a look at your motivations. Are you playing it safe? Or would you be genuinely acting out of bounds? Frankel advises women to inform others of your intentions, not ask. In other words, say, “I just wanted to let you know that….” instead of  “Would it be all right with you if….” -- an important distinction.


I could just keep going here. Mistakes #36 “Ignoring Quid Pro Quo,” #39 “Letting People Waste Your Time,” and #55 “Being Invisible,” are other important mistakes I'd like to draw attention to.  But I'll stop now.  If this post speaks to you, I highly recommend buying the book. After all, with 101 tips, there’s bound to be several that will make you squirm uncomfortably, even if these don’t.

Readers: what mistakes/habits might be hindering your freelance career? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding Balance in Life

 (Photo credit: Michelle Meiklejohn,

I couldn't decide where to put this post because I think the advice is useful for both moms and freelancers.  So, I'm doing something I've never done before and cross-posting it at my other blog, International Mama.  Wherever you're reading it, I hope you find it helpful! 

Last week, the Urban Muse posed the question: what is your biggest challenge as a freelance writer? Many of the responses, including my own, concerned finding a suitable work-life balance.  Because we freelancers don’t have to punch the clock, it’s all too easy to allow one aspect of our life – usually work –to dominate the other.
But you know what?  One day, last September, I did it.   For about, oh, four hours, I understood my life to be in perfect balance. Don’t laugh!  As far as I'm concerned feeling that the world is perfectly aligned for four hours is an amazing achievement.  As an expat, I am perpetually seeking – consciously or not – to find a balance between my own culture with that of my adopted country.  Because I’m married to someone of a different nationality, I have to do the same in my marriage.  Throw a couple of young kids and a new career into the mix and you’ve got one off-kilter lady.

But last September, for that brief period, it all worked.  More than worked – it flowed.   

That day was no less busy than any other.  I had to drop my three-year old off at school and then pick him up three hours later.  I had two big assignments due that I hadn’t yet begun.  The baby had a doctor’s appointment later.  My husband was out of town for the week, so, I’d have to handle the exhausting evening rituals (dinner, bath, bed) by myself and then pray that the kids would stay asleep so that I could work as late as I could, then get some sleep myself.  Normally on days such as this, my mind is constantly abuzz, skipping ahead to the next task on my list before I’ve completed the first one.  But  on this day, as I picked up my son from school, my mind grew quiet.  

As we walked down the street, I noticed that the sky was a deep, pure blue and that the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn yellow-brown. I became aware of the pressure of my son’s hand in mine, of the sweet, singing quality of his voice, and of the rush of pleasure these things gave me.  I enjoyed the way the autumn breeze made my open trench coat flap slightly as we walked, and the tapping sound my boots made on the pavement.  With every step we took, I grew more and more connected with everything around me, as if I were beginning to see my place in part of an enormous, smoothly functioning machine. For once, I wasn’t borrowing time from the future or the past. Every moment belonged to itself. I was wholly – in New Age parlance – “in the moment.”  

This sense of connectedness lasted until we got on the metro, and then slowly began to dissipate. But I didn’t feel any panic or depression as the feeling left me.  Instead, I felt both relaxed and empowered. I suddenly understood the key to having a balanced life: being truly present. 

Riding the metro home, I had no urge to check my cell phone, check my to-do list, make notes on an article, send out a tweet,  dwell on my crammed schedule or engage in any of my usual multi-tasking habits.  I was simply happy to sit and listen to my son tell me how he “drew a picture of my belly” at school (no, I wasn’t pregnant – thanks kid.)  

When I got home and turned my son over to the babysitter, I sat down to work without guilt and without anxiety for the tasks ahead.  Time felt different to me; both more precious and more plentiful. It occurred to me that we generally view time as something that is forever slipping away from us, not as something that we always have.  But we do always have time.  Maybe not time enough to achieve every task on our list, but time enough to fully appreciate the things we can accomplish. 

Since this revelation, can I now claim to always have a perfectly balanced life?  God, no!  But now, whenever I feel overwhelmed with work or life, I take a moment to recognize that it’s not necessarily my work-life balance that needs adjusting – but my attitude.  Multi-tasking, letting my mind wander, worrying about anything except the matters in front of me can make my whole world spin.  

Taking a good look at the advantages, opportunities and beauty of the moment helps to set it right again.

How about you? What helps you to find balance?

Monday, March 28, 2011

7 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Help Your Freelance Writing Business

(free-stock Paulus Rusyanto)

As far as I'm concerned, no one needs a virtual assistant more than the expat freelancing mom.   Man, do I want one.  I’ve dreamed of having one long before I ever heard the term.  

In my fantasies, I imagine this person to be sort of a doppelgänger: an alter ego who lives the freelancing life that I would if I were back in the U.S.  While I’m here in Paris writing in various cafes with a café crème at my side, my virtual assistant would loiter at the magazine rack Barnes & Noble, sipping a Starbucks chai tea latte, checking out new magazines and potential markets. While I’m snoozing away  or tending to a sick kid at 2am, she’d be listening to and taking notes at a freelancing webinar that takes place at 8pm EST.  Between the two of us, we'd make one whole freelancer!

Now, I realize that this could happen, at least in theory.  Even a quick perusal of the internet reveals a number of virtual assistants that specialize in assisting freelance writers.  What’s more, there are even freelance writers that have a “virtual assistant” component to their business. These are the ones I’d hire.  The most efficient virtual assistant would already be familiar with the freelance writing world and its networks, sources, terms, and perspective. 

But, alas, I can’t afford a virtual assistant right now.  Even though apparently prices can start as low as $25/hour (although I imagine that most cost more), I currently employ a real assistant without whom I could not do one. single. thing: a babysitter.  In a couple of years, when the kids are both in school, I’ll definitely reconsider the matter. 

If you’re short on time and have a few bucks to spare, here’s 7 ways a virtual assistant could help you  be a more efficient business person  -- and free up more time for you to write. 

1. Find markets/jobs.  God, wouldn’t I love this one.  A virtual assistant could trawl job boards, review magazine databases, or otherwise search for publications that would be a good fit for your ideas.  He could also help unearth writer’s guidelines and find out the names and email addresses of the appropriate editors for your pitches.  

2. Create a database.  As your VA does the above, she could (and should) create a database containing all this information so that it’s always at your fingertips.  Make sure the database is a flexible one that can be easily updated with your own notes regarding each publication.  

3. Fact-Check.   The very idea of getting my facts wrong scares me silly.  A VA could double-check your research, giving you a little extra comfort before hitting “send.”  Your VA could also check out the background of someone you’re considering using as an expert.

4. Attend conferences or webinars.  As I indicated above, I’m forever finding interesting webinars and conferences that are at hideously inconvenient hours or locations. Your VA could occasionally serve as your eyes and ears.  

5. Research potential clients.  You want to do a direct mail campaign but want to tweak each letter/email so that it’s tightly targeted?  Your VA can help dig out key details and fact to flesh-out potential clients so that you can add that personal touch to each letter.   

6. Interview Transcription.  Got a recorded interview?  No need to spend an hour or more transcribing it, when you’ve got a VA to take care of it!  

7. Administrative Tasks.  And of course, a VA can do the standard assistant type stuff: sending out invoices, contracts and other correspondence for you.  He can also keep track of payment status, scheduling and even take phone messages.  I imagine this last aspect can be particularly useful for an expat freelancer with clients in the U.S. – they get to hear a human voice even if they call at an inconvenient hour for you. 

Freelancers: Have you used a VA?  Care to share your experience? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do You Really Want to Be a Freelance Writer?


 Every few months or so, I receive an email from someone newly arrived to Paris (usually a mother with young kids) wanting to meet to discuss how to launch a career as a freelance writer.  While I am always happy to talk about such matters, more often than not, our conversations aren't really about how to start a freelance career. Instead, we wind up talking about the reality of being a freelance writer and whether it’s a career she truly wants to pursue.

I figure we can all save time if I posted here five essential questions you should ask yourself before taking on a freelance writing career.  That way, you can think about these issues on your own and determine whether you want to go forward.  If you still want to talk after reading this, email me!

1. Are you looking for a career or a job?  Consider whether you’re interested in having a career as a writer or simply would like to use writing as a means to earn a little extra cash (emphasis on the little).  If you’re an expat mom, I can see why the latter option appears tempting.  Freelance writing offers you a flexible schedule, you can work from home, and you don’t have to speak a foreign language to do it.  But to be honest, there are more efficient ways to make money.  Writing is often hard, time-consuming work and you rarely get paid the amount your time and effort is truly worth, especially at the beginning of your career.  It can be done as “just a job” but I wouldn’t bother with it if making money were my only motivation (which brings me to my next question….).

2. Is writing your passion?  Most writers don’t start a writing career because it’s convenient, and they certainly don’t do it for the money.  We write because it is a compulsion.  I cannot imagine a day passing without writing, even if it’s just longhand notes in my journal.  I can’t walk down the street without turning everything I see into a story.  To embark on a writing career, I think you must have that compulsion. There’s a lot of annoying crap to slog through as a writer and often you’ll have nothing but your urge to write to pull you through.

3. Can you handle rejection, criticism, ridicule or being ignored?   Rocky Balboa should be the role model of every freelance writer.  Rocky or the Energizer Bunny.  ‘Cause as a freelancer you’re going to face some kind of “negative” feedback (or no feedback) on a regular basis.  Even if makes you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck, there’s nothing to do but pick yourself up, brush yourself off and keep slugging away.  You must have confidence in your writing ability and know how to keep perspective.  It’s not personal.

4. Can you afford to be a freelance writer?  Unless you get extremely lucky and find a regular gig straight off the bat, the money will come in waves.  You’ll probably have to suffer some very thin periods, particularly at the beginning.  For print magazine work, many magazines don’t pay until publication. This means that you won’t see a dime for your work until the article is published, which could be several months after you’ve written it.  Payment goes much faster in the online world.  Nonetheless, you constantly have to keep the wheel turning to keep money flowing.

5. Are you ready to run a business?  If you really want to make a career out of freelance writing, better start thinking of yourself as a small business owner right. now.  Because that’s what you are.  As a freelancer, you’re responsible for finding clients, maintain clients, marketing yourself, handling the accounting, researching ideas, selling ideas, interviewing experts, keeping abreast of current trends…and, oh yeah, writing. 

I’m not trying to turn anyone off of freelance writing – personally, I love it, warts and all.  But it’s not a career to stumble into.

Freelancers with additional opinions,feel free to chime in!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Finding local freelance clients

As an American living in France, I’m always translating. I walk down the street mumbling to myself in French, planning conversations way before I have them. When I need to call the plumber or go to the doctor, I thumb through a French-English dictionary first. And when I read a book on freelancing or the writing business, I translate the advice given to fit my expat life.

As I expand my freelance business to embrace copywriting I’m doing that last kind of translation more and more. For example, many freelance copywriting books advise you to start your business by contacting local clients. Now, of course, with the internet and social media, you don't really have to do that anymore, but it makes sense. With local clients you have the advantage of sitting down with them, seeing their operations first-hand and making a more vivid impression than clients you contact remotely.

Some books recommend finding prospective local clients by subscribing to a local business paper or magazine, or heading off to the library to peruse industry magazines and journals, or using online contact directories. But when you're an expat freelancer, these helpful items may not exist, or you can't get your hands on them, or they don't have contacts in your region.

So, how to tap into the local English-speaking market in your country? Here are a few ideas:

1. Join your local American Chamber of Commerce. The American Chamber of Commerce Abroad (called AmCham) is an organization affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The organization has 112 chapters in 102 countries and its purpose is to “advances the interests of Americans businesses overseas.” Members are composed of businesses and individuals with business interests, and there are plenty of social and networking opportunities. Get involved, find out who’s doing what and be ready to offer your services. (Americans in Paris - here's the link to our local AmCham).

2. Get involved in your Alumni Association. Both my undergraduate and law school have alumni chapters/networks here in Paris. Every month I get email notifying me of local events and parties. Check to see if your school has an association in your country. If not, find out from your alumni office if there are others grads in your area. Maybe it's time to start a chapter.

3. Plan a Tweet-up. For those unfamiliar with the term, a Tweet-Up is a tweet way (sorry!) of saying “Meet Up” for people who follow each other on Twitter. I met my first official copywriting client via Twitter - not because we followed each other, but because we attended a Tweet Up and happened to sit next to each other. Why not organize a tweet-up of people in your area so that you can meet, greet and network face-to-face?

4. Join a private organization. Churches, synagogues, parenting groups, entrepreneur groups, volunteer organizations are all great ways to meet other English-speakers and find out what’s going on in the Anglophone community – and possibly land a few clients.

Expats - How do you find freelance clients?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to Be Your Own Client

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Has this ever happened to you?: You’re writing a piece for a client or editor and that piece is singing to you. Your mind is fizzing with fresh ideas; the words are flowing, smooth as milk. Every time you meet an obstacle, you battle it like a knight and leave its steaming carcass in your wake. You almost hate to let the piece go, you’ve enjoyed working on it so much, but it’s done, finished. You look it over, hit send, and off it goes to the client/editor.

Now it's time for your personal writing projects!

But your creative well has abruptly gone dry. Composing every sentence feels like pulling a live tooth. Each obstacle you meet looms big and scary and it whispers really mean things about ability as a writer and the pointlessness of your task. Your mind starts to wander. You start tweeting random stuff. But then – you remember that there’s another assignment you could be working on! One for a paying client! You quickly abandon your own project and start working on the other assignment. Amazingly, your energy is restored, the words are flowing, and every challenge you face, bested.

If that’s never happened to you – respect. But I’m sure there are more than a few people out there who know what I’m talking about. I had one of those days last week. But as I put away my own stalled project to be fruitful with someone else’s, I sighed: I wish I could be my own client.

Cue the thunderclap, light bulb, choir of angels or whatever imagery you prefer to use when you have a revelation. Suddenly, I realized that there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t offer myself the same attention and creative power than people who pay me. I just had to figure out how. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Don’t just set goals – set a deadline.

Write down every task you need to do for your personal project: research, writing, interviews, etc. and then set a firm deadline for each one. I have never missed a deadline for a client/editor. The very idea makes me feel ill. Meeting deadlines is the bare minimum of professional conduct, right? Why, then, are we so willing to push off personal deadlines? If you want to be your own client, you need to start holding yourself to the same professional standards.

2. Keep the “big picture” in mind as you work.

When you’re working for someone else, it’s easy to keep the “big picture” in mind. The big picture is usually a paycheck. Or exposure. Or building a portfolio and what have you. Once you’ve done the work, you know immediately what you’ve gained. It’s not so easy to see the big picture when you’re working on a personal project. You know what you hope to gain, but you also know that it may be a long while before you reap the fruits of your labor. Find some way of keeping the big picture in front of you as you work. It may be as simple as putting a big Post-It note on your computer screen saying: “Fame & Fortune” if that’s what you seek. Or “Financial Independence.” Or “I’m Quitting My Day Job.” You could also find a picture that embodies whatever it is you aspire to through your personal writing and put that on your desk. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s something physical and in plain view so it can constantly remind you of your ultimate goal.

3. Obtain feedback on your work.

The nice thing about working for people other than yourself is that you usually receive feedback on your work. Of course, it’s always lovely to get positive feedback, but sometimes even critical feedback is welcome. When working on personal projects, you often get no feedback at all. This can make you feel as if you’re working in total darkness, groping and feeling your way forward. And who wants to work like that? Get some feedback on your work. Form a writer’s group. Join a writer’s forum. Get out there and let another writer you trust to shine some light on your project.

4. Praise yourself when you’ve done a good job.

Of course there will be plenty of times when you know you’ve done a good job without anyone telling you. And when that happens, don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back or publicly acknowledge the good work you’ve done. After all, you’re the client. And when you’ve made the client happy, you deserve to feel good.

What would you add to this list?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

eBook Publishing or Traditional Publishing: How to Decide Which is Right for You

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There comes a time in every modern writer’s life when she asks the question: should I write an eBook or go the traditional publishing route? I am now at that crossroads.

I have been working on a book project for the past few – okay, several – years. In all this time, I have never once considered self-publishing the book. I have put so much effort and research and thought into the project, I want the validation that comes with traditional publishing. I gotta see that book on the bookshelf of Barnes & Noble one day.

But recently, I came up with an idea for another non-fiction book that is barking and nipping at my heels all day long. It isn’t going to take years to research and write this book. It’s a good idea. I want to start writing it now, not just labor over a proposal and wait with fingers crossed someone else’s approval. But at the same time, I don’t want to be hasty. It would be a lovely little feather in my cap to have this book published via the traditional route. So what to do?

Here's how I made my decision - might be useful for you, too.

1. Make a good old-fashioned pro/con list. I provide below my thoughts on the general advantages and disadvantages of eBook publishing. It’s not an exhaustive list - you may come up with more items of your own.

Pros for eBook publishing

Cons for eBook publishing

  • Can start writing immediately while creative energy for the project is high

  • Can publish and sell the book immediately when completed

  • Author has total creative control over content, design, title, etc.

  • Shorter publishing process.

  • Production and distribution costs are low

  • Retain all rights

  • Receive a significantly larger share of any profits

  • Potential for residual income
  • Most people don’t buy eBooks
  • Topic may not be suitable for/popular in eBook format.
  • Not as prestigious as print books with traditional publishers.
  • Author responsible for 100% of marketing
  • Can’t put the book on your shelf.

  • No free editorial assistance
  • May not earn a single penny

2. Assign a value to each item on the list. Using a scale of 1-10, I gave each item a numerical value with 10 being “very significant” and 1 being “not at all significant.” I liked this process very much as it gave me an opportunity to really examine my motivations. For this book, I am clearly motivated by having something wholly within my creative control as well as by the prospect of residual income. My final total was in favor of eBook publishing, 55 points to 43 points.

3. Listen to your gut. There’s still a little voice in me that says – go for it! Go for the traditional publisher! And wrapped up in that voice are fantasies of book signings, seeing my book on someone’s bookshelf, talking about the book on the Today Show…..

Whatever. That’s not my gut talking. It’s a few rogue cells in my brain who aren't taking into account my true objectives. When I take a look at that pro/con list with my assigned values, both my reason and my gut assures me that the eBook is the right way to go for this project. Plus, I kinda like the idea of all the new fantasies I can conjour: publishers begging me for the rights to my eBook, promising me vast sums, three-book deals, stays in luxury hotels…..

What have you decided for yourself: eBook or Traditional Publishing? Why?

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