Make the Business Side of Freelance Writing More Pleasure than Pain

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Writers have a driving need to describe, explain, and express. The change of seasons intoxicates. The vibrancy of fall leaf colors attracts and the irony of such beauty coming at the end of the growing season causes inner contemplation. The creative soul could at times exist and thrive in the world of individual and craft; however, for most self-employed writers the creative process must also pay the bills.

Enter Dr. Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation. Dr. Vroom’s theory works on the principle of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Within this work management theory a writer can find a financially rewarding balance between the creative and the mundane.

Simply put Expectancy Theory asks what you expect the outcome of your tasks will be and offers a formula for how well you will succeed based on your mindset. How well you expect the task to proceed will affect your motivation to begin and complete the task. For example, you pitch an article idea but have heard this editor is slow to respond and is even slower to pay after the article is filed or you have worked with this editor before and have firsthand experience of this fact. The creative part of you loves researching and writing on the topic this magazine covers, but what will be the outcome of the task knowing there may be hazards ahead? By using Dr. Vroom’s Theory, you can work through the emotional part of taking this assignment based on how motivated you will be to begin and finish. Motivation has a distinct effect on your bottom line.

The Theory’s three factors grant insight into how you see an assignment from past experiences and if you perceive the outcome to be rewarding or unsatisfying. Do you see the project as producing pleasure or pain? The factors are: Expectancy, Valence, and Instrumentality.

Expectancy: You have the assignment. It is penciled in on your calendar but the closer it gets to the time to contact sources to set up interviews the more you dread getting started. Why? What’s causing your hesitation? Check your motivation so that before you pitch this market again you will know whether it is worth your time. Ask yourself is the pain worth the pleasure. Figure your hourly rate and consider time lost due to procrastinating.

Valency: What is your reward for completing this article? If the subject matter is not your specialty and in fact you find it boring, think through what will make completing the article more pleasurable to you. Will you be compensated well, help others with the information in the article, or will writing the article have long-term positive effects on your career.

Instrumentality: After thinking through your motivation for pitching and completing the project now measure the probability of obtaining the desired outcome which is your project will be more pleasure than pain. Use the following equation:

Force (Motivation) = Valence x Expectancy

The Force or motivation you apply to the project is a direct result of the outcome you want (Valence) multiplied by how you fared previously producing the project or a similar project. For example:

1) If you feel the outcome of this project will reward you in ways that will help your career the Valence rate will be high. The same is true of the Expectancy rate. 2) If you do not believe payment for the project is sufficient and completing a similar project was previously unsatisfying then both rates will be low. 3) One rating can also be higher than the other i.e., you feel the Valency of doing the job is low but did have a good experience previously then the rates will vary. The expectancy rate can be high with a low valency rate, as well.

1) Force (64) = .8 (V) x .7 (E)
2) Force (16) = .2 (V) x .1 (E)
3) Force (36) = .6 (V) x .2 (E)

Force in each of these equations measures your motivation to do a job and can help you make a conscious business decision of whether to accept a project. As usual, you will initially figure your hourly rate for a project but factoring in previous outcomes can keep you from taking a project that will become a time drain. Ask yourself is the pleasure worth the pain as a freelance writer. If not, find a project you are better suited doing. You will, at times, have to take projects you are not excited about, but if the outcome is rewarding then you know you have made the right decision and knowing that will produce a positive attitude toward the project.

Why Using a Smartphone as a Recorder is a Bad Idea

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One of the most common questions that I’m routinely asked by new journalists and investigative article writers is what recorder I use to tape interviews. I actually have two small portable Olympus digital recorders (WS-300M and an Olympus LS10) that I’ve been happy with. Both recorders have intuitive controls and good recording quality. I’ve even used the latter for broadcast interviews. Occasionally, I see journalists using iPhones as a recorder, which is fine if you’ve got nothing else. But the many disadvantages are not worth the convenience for the following reasons.

  • Using your smartphone as a recorder will diminish the short battery life that you already have to deal with. A dedicated recorder uses cheap AA and AAA batteries that you can more easily replace on the go.
  • Dedicated recorders typically have blinking recording lights that allow you to see from afar that they’re actually recording.  
  • Smartphones are harder to operate and monitor on the fly than a dedicated device. Try wading through menus on a touchscreen while in bright daylight and running to keep up with an interview subject. Most digital recorders have a single physical record button.
  • Using your smartphone at a press conference or roundtable means that you’re giving up your link to the world until the event is over. Not a good idea if you need to make or take a call, look something up on Google or snap a photo.
  • The biggest issue I’ve seen is how some smartphones can affect electronic devices while sharing a podium or press roundtable. Cell phones transmit regular signals to communicate with local cell towers and these pulses, especially when on GSM or EDGE mode, can be picked up by nearby digital recording devices and it is loud. Your colleagues will hate you for ruining their recordings.

A few tips:

If you do see a smartphone being used as a recorder, place your recorder as far away as possible from the device. But keep the recorder close to the speaker since distance increases how much background noise the microphone will pick up. If you insist on using your smartphone as a recorder, turn the cellular feature off. Inversely, keep your own smartphone away from your digital recorder while doing interviews. Switching the phone to “airplane mode” is the safest precaution that you can take in both instances.

 

 

5 Essential Marketing Tools for Freelance Writers

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Whether you like it or not, freelance writing is all about marketing. You need to not only market your services, but also market the idea of who you are and what makes you different than the millions of other freelancers out there. Writer Leo Babauta ruminates on the 10 Essential Marketing Skills For Freelancers in blog post for Freelance Switch: “As a freelancer (or potential freelancer), you live and die by your ability to sell your services. And unless you’ve got some kind of agent or marketing firm doing your marketing for you, you’ve got to be your own marketer. If you’re like me, that doesn’t come naturally.” Babauta has a point. Freelancing is all about doing-it-yourself, so if you want to push your career to the next level, here are 5 tips on how to market DIY style:

Blog. It’s been said many times before, but the blog is the new resume. If you don’t have a blog, learn how to start one up. And don’t just rant about politics and talk about your cat. Make your blog look professional, write about things that would look good to potential clients, and offer your services to others (with contact info, of course). If you are a designer, be sure that the design is clean and creative. If you are a photographer, the photos should knock them out. If you’re a writer, have only your best writing on your blog. In all cases, have a simple, clean layout with well-written words. If you’re not good at this yet, constantly learn and refine. Look at other professional blogs for inspiration, then tweak. Then edit some more.

Collaboration. One of the best ways to market yourself  as a freelance writer is to collaborate with others. Instead of only working by yourself, offer your talents on a project. If you’re a writer, offer to collaborate with other bloggers — if you give them some free writing (do a guest post), you have just reached a wider audience, and you’ve developed a relationship with another blogger. You can do the same with whatever service you offer — offer it up for free (or at a discounted rate) so you can develop relationships and reach a wider audience.

Listings. Be sure that you’re on all the freelance job sites, or at least the ones that apply most to the service you offer or the market you’re aiming for. You don’t have many words to make a pitch, so offer a few words to differentiate yourself and a link to your blog if possible.

Business card. Don’t go with anything tacky or overly complicated. Keep it simple, professional. The fewer items on your card, the better. Really, all you need is your name, your service and your email address, but you can put a slogan or logo if that works for you. Also, some have argued that the new business card is to simply say “Google me”. If so, be sure that you’ve researched your Google results thoroughly.

Email skills. This is how I do most of my marketing, in combination with the blog and collaboration ideas listed above. I’ll simply email someone to see if they’re interested. I’ll do a short pitch about myself and my services (a short paragraph) and make them an offer. If they write back, great. If not, you can either follow up or move on to the next one. Don’t be too pushy. Again, be professional, and offer a link or two to show samples of your work. People don’t have a lot of time to read emails, so be sure to keep it short. Be friendly and professional. And make them an offer they can’t refuse (not a “Godfather”-style offer, though).

To read the other 5 of Babauta’s tips, check out the full article at Freelance Switch.

How do you market yourself as a freelance writer? Any successes? Any failures? Let us know in the comments!

Is Ghostwriting Op-Eds an Unethical Practice for Freelance Writers?

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Opinion pieces have long been an esteemed venue that showcases the voice of experts and a ideas of activists within the pages of a newspaper. But how would your own opinion of the Op-Ed section change if you knew that these pieces were not written by the the names on the byline? In a piece for The Guardian, journalist Dan Gillmor opines for the op-ed page, and the practice of hiring ghostwriters to pen pieces under famous names.

He refers to “bylined opinion pieces that are quite obviously not written by the supposed authors. Op-ed pieces that run under the bylines of famous politicians, celebrities and business people are almost never written by those people, just as they rarely author their autobiographies. They don’t have time. Their staffers and PR people, or paid ghostwriters and content writers in the case of books, do the research and writing for them.”

Gillmor looks to place blame on publications for the unchecked use of ghostwritten materials.

Unfortunately, newspapers often don’t check to see if their op-ed contributors are shading the truth or lying outright. The evidence is clear that some editorial page editors don’t believe it’s their responsibility to vet for accuracy and truth what they publish, unless the material comes from their own staff – and, of course, even that doesn’t guarantee veracity.

What do you think of ghostwritten op-ed pieces? Are they unethical? Many freelance writers ghostwrite for a living, but are there certain ghostwriting gigs you just wouldn’t take? Let us know in the comments.

Improve Your Freelance Writing Bio With These Tips

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Gone are the days when freelance writers journalists can hide behind their typewriter or computer in relative anonymity. Now, with the advent of social media, writers need a snappy bio and eye-catching headshot. In fact, even traditional publishers sometimes request a bio and headshot from contributors, so it’s smart to have both pieces at the ready. Here’s how.

Match the tone to the platform.
Some people use the same photo and bio for everything to maintain a consistent brand. But if you’re writing for a variety of publications on a variety of topics, then one size may not fit all. I keep a few different versions of my bio for different types of publications (business, lifestyle, blogs) and different lengths, playing up the credits or tidbits that are most relevant to those readers. Ditto on photos. You might use a casual, friendly photo for your Twitter profile and a more formal, professional-looking headshot for a trade publication.

Get creative.
Headshots and bios tend to be formulaic (“She has written for X, Y, and Z magazines”), so mix things up by varying the sentence structure or mentioning something that sets you apart. Have you worked as a foreign correspondent? Scored an exclusive interview with Michelle Obama? Started a popular blog that’s been optioned for a movie? Include that! To make your headshot more memorable, think about what settings or props you could include without distracting too much from your face. When a photographer friend agreed to help with my headshots, I got permission for us to shoot at a writer’s space that features old-fashioned chalkboards, rows of bookshelves, and other writerly backdrops.
Nix the nerves.
I know several writers who hate writing bios or posting for photos, and unfortunately people can sense that discomfort. Hate writing about yourself? Ask a friend to help or pretend you’re writing a bio for a client to give yourself some distance from the project and relieve self-consciousness. Not ready for your close-up? Enlist the help of a photographer with experience putting clients at ease so she can help you loosen up. Alternately, find a candid photo of yourself that you love (ideally one without lots of other people or crazy backgrounds) and crop it as your social media avatar. Better to use a candid photo where you look like yourself than a headshot where you’re clearly uncomfortable.
Keep it up to date.
To keep it from getting stale, update your social media bios every few months or whenever you have an exciting new accomplishment to add. And reread your bio before sending it to an editor. Photos are a little tougher to update as often, but certainly make sure it still looks like you and avoid anything that feels dated (shoulder pads, scrunchies, bleached denim, unless that’s what you’re going for). Speaking of which, I need to revisit the bio and photos on my website now …

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