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.

5 Tips for Freelance Writers to Break into New Markets and Connect with Editors

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Successful freelance writers share common work habits. Two of the most important are: They’re always busy. They’re obsessively searching for new markets.

Juggling these two activities is not easy, especially when the writer is immersed in difficult assignments or facing tight deadlines. Relying on one market, no matter how lucrative and steady, is ultimately dangerous. To cite the old cliché, nothing lasts forever. This is a fact of life experienced freelance writers learn early in the game. Writing outlets dry up for a variety of reasons. The company goes out of business or is merged or acquired. A new editor takes the helm and almost always brings in his own stable of writers he’s been working with for years.

This is reason enough to be constantly working at breaking into new markets. Forging new relationships with editors can be frustrating, especially in the beginning. It requires strategy, time, discipline and persistence. Here are five tips that can help you do it:

1. Identify passions, hobbies and interests
Most people have untapped talents and subjects they’re intensely interested in. Freelance writers have hobbies that could be turned into viable markets. Many DIY writers were hobbyists first. They discovered they could earn substantial money writing about the crafts they’ve mastered – teaching others who are good with their hands and mechanically inclined how to save thousands of dollars by doing household repairs themselves. It’s a lot easier and fun pursuing markets where there is already a strong affinity and a body of knowledge. And they’re already familiar with many of the writing outlets.

2. Network, network, network
One of the best ways to uncover new markets is by tapping your freelancing network. Plug into writer-association events (American Association of Journalists and Authors, Editorial Freelancers Association, National Writers Union), check out freelance writers’ blogs and Web sites, and attend media events.

3. Identify three to five markets you’d like to write for
Familiarize yourself with each one’s editorial approach and philosophy: demographics, stories, writing style, focus, audience and writers and editors (don’t be surprised if you find one or two freelancers you know or have met). Then prioritize the new markets, identifying ones you want to pitch first.

4. Build one market at a time
Avoid a shotgun approach. Conquering a new market is a time- and energy- consuming effort. Pay special attention in developing terse, selling-pitch letters. The pitch letter is a sample of your writing, so each one must be extraordinary. Remember: You’re the new guy on the block, and you are competing with an established stable of writers for the editor’s attention. Your queries are likely to find themselves on the bottom of the query heap. Be prepared to make discrete follow-up calls eight to 10 days after e-mailing a query. But don’t be a pest. E-mail first. If you don’t get a response in 24 hours, follow up with a phone call. Diplomatic persistence is the best approach.

5. Never get too comfortable
Even though you have two or three reliable markets that provide a steady flow of work, never stop beating the bushes for new ones. That not only helps you build a secure market base, but also keeps you sharp and provides constant challenge, change, and last but not least – excitement.

Should U.S. Freelancers Be Worried About Competition Overseas?

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Like typewriters and evening deadlines, many of the staples of print journalism have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Stories are now uploaded, optimized, tagged and tweeted on a never-ending news cycle. With 266+ million website out there, the demand for content is endless.

That’s both good and bad news for freelance writers and content producers. It means more work, but it also means more competition from foreign writers willing to work longer hours with shorter turnaround time, for less pay.

Terry Aldershof, an Illinois-based freelancer with more than 20-years experience called the trend, “the biggest travesty to hit freelance writers since the inception of the industry.”

“It’s essentially turned freelance writing from a pay per word, to a bid-for-service industry,” Aldershof said. “It’s a losing proposition when you are bidding against someone in India or the Philippines where 1 USD is the equivalent of 70 USD in their country.”

Barry Maurice, co-owner of Thought Mechanics, LLC works with clients who need everything from website copy, to content writing, to blogs for their websites. Having hired both US and foreign based writers for his website and his clients, he shed some light on the industry and the nature of competition American-based freelance writers face.

Q: What kind of writing projects are you tasked with finding writers for?

A: The biggest one is when the client wants a blog. A lot of clients like having a blog because of the search traffic it brings. Unfortunately, they don’t like to actually write the content themselves. In cases like that, we will usually use above average writers unless the client doesn’t have the proper budget, then we will find lesser quality writers.

Q: What are the key differences you’ve found between using US-based writers and writers from other countries?

A: Obviously North American and European writers are best. Indian writers are usually not necessarily “bad” writers as they have great spelling and technically are good writers. Unfortunately, they use that classic English-type writing. So they will write in ways that looks abnormal. For example, in their emails they will start off with “Dear Sir or Madam”. Which, there is nothing wrong with it, but it’s not common for people to talk like that.

As for Philippines writers, their first language is not English. So not only do they speak differently but nine times out of ten, they have at the very least mild, broken English.

Q: Is the main reason for hiring overseas because of the money-saving aspects, or are their other benefits?

A: Usually money. It’s also easier to get 500 x 500 word articles banged out super-fast if you are in a bind, by using people from India. They work hard and they aren’t afraid to grind hard.

Q: Can you give me an idea of the pay range writers overseas charge versus American writers for various projects?

A: You can get $2 per 500 words that is “decent” from overseas. My most-used American writer is $10 per 500 words. But I have paid well over $50 per 500 words before when I needed really super good content. And, there are certain sites and forums you can visit with “real” writers where they charge very high prices like $1-$2 per word which I would probably never pay.

Q: How do you go about finding writers?

A: These are pretty much all the places I use:

Need an Article
Digital Point
Warrior Forum
Wickedfire

Q: Do you think US freelance writers should be worried about the future of their field?

A: No, not the good writers who don’t mind working for a living. But I do see a lot of $1 per word type writers who are sitting around waiting for the New York Times to call. I’m not sure what they have in store down the road.

How Freelance Writers Can Make Money and Connections Through Social Media

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Keeping up with all of your social media networks can feel a bit like spinning plates. Are you tweeting enough? Are you engaging Facebook readers? Can you even figure out how to use Google+?

Freelance writers put a lot of time into learning new social media platforms to get our work out there and network with new publications. But can all that Tweeting and social media managing actually pay off? Dave Thomas thinks so, and for a post on Freelance Folder, he provides some tips on how to “Turn Those Tweets, Shares, and Links into Paying Projects.”

Here are a few of his ideas:

1. Make clients take notice–While applying for projects and sending out resumes still works, the social media push of recent years has opened a bunch of new avenues for freelancers. The goal is here to put your business profile up on a number of social media sites so that it gets more attention. In a day and age when paying projects are tough to come by, you need to be your own marketing agency and market, market, market.

 2. Know your audience–Before you start your social media push, know the best sites to use. Using MySpace is not exactly a freelancer’s top priority, whereas a site like LinkedIn is a great way to network and build your business profile. Given their increasing number of users, sites such as Twitter and Facebook are also good venues. Many companies in today’s world have fan pages and Twitter sites, so take the time to find those you’re interested in and reach out to them.

3. Proofread your profile or pay the consequences–While the photos from last month’s Happy Hour may have been a hit with your friends, potential clients may think otherwise. How many times in recent years have we seen well-known or even obscure individuals have a Facebook or Twitter photo come back to haunt them? If you don’t separate the business and pleasure aspects of your life, the latter could come back to haunt the former. One good way to go about a “cleaning up” of your site is to have an impartial friend review your pages and recommend what should stay and what should go.

To read the rest of Thomas’ tips, check out the rest of his piece at Freelance Folder.

Have you ever made connections or money through social media? Let us know in the comments!

5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Assignment

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You’ve just landed an assignment from a new-to-you editor. Congrats! Pat yourself on the back, do a little happy dance, bust out the champagne, whatever you do to celebrate. But before you dive into the writing, there are a few questions you should get answered first. Many editors will include these details in your assignment email, but not all do. Ask these questions to minimize revisions later and ensure that your article hits the mark.

1. What types of sources should I interview? You might be surprised by some of the quirks you’ll run into with different publications. For instance, if you’re writing for a website that’s published by a credit card issuer or an insurance company, they probably won’t want you interviewing anyone who works for a direct competitor. Would they prefer professors? Or can the editor hook you up with an expert who’s affiliated with that company? Many companies are entering the content marketing space so it’s not unusual to have restrictions like this. Even on the traditional publishing side of things, they may have sources who’ve recently appeared in the publication and they’d want you to find other experts.

2. Is there a style guide I should follow? Does the website or magazine follow Associated Press style? Do they have a house style guide? Few technical writers worry about these nuances, but I’ve had editors thank me for asking because it shows attention to detail and a desire to meet their needs.

3. Do I need to gather photos? Some magazines have their own photo staff, but many websites expert freelance contributors to turn in photos with their assignment. Often, this is as simple as asking the PR person for photos or downloading them from the company’s online press room. But it’s easier to request photos as you’re gathering information than it is to email your source months later when they’ve all but forgotten about you. Oftentimes art directors can “make it work” with what you send them, but sometimes there are more specific requirements about size or resolution, so it never hurts to ask.

4. What’s the fact-checking process? Nowadays, many publications expect writers to fact check their own stories, so if that’s the case, you should spend the time to cross-reference job titles, geographic locations, spellings of names and companies, and any other information. If the publication has a formal fact-checking process, you’ll want to know that upfront so that you can give your sources a heads-up and be ready to send in your notes along with a source list.

5. Any pet peeves I should avoid? Writing styles and pet peeves vary from editor to editor so the sooner you know your editor’s preferences, the quicker you can become her go-to freelancer. Some editors hate excessive exclamation points or over-use of quotes, others despise anecdotal leads or paragraphs longer than three sentences. They’ll usually tell you these preferences if you ask, so be sure to follow their advice to the letter.

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