Category Archives: Freelance Writing

Techniques and resources for freelance writers who are looking for writing jobs.

Freelance Wanted, Sort of…

This is a story about a freelance job that looked good but, by the end of the process, smelled bad.

Like many freelancers, I troll Craigs List a lot, looking for opportunities.  Most of the time, I am looking for writing jobs but every once in a while, an ad of a different color attracts my attention like the ad for transcriptionists.

The company, Focus Forward, is willing to pay $10 for every 15 minutes of transcribed tape.  Since I transcribe my own interviews all the time and am pretty fast at transcription, I thought I could make a few fast dollars doing something interesting and easy.  I applied.  It wasn’t all that easy.

First of all, you have to download transcription software.  Then you have to download the “rules” for transcription, transcribe a test tape and send it in for “inspection.”  I was fine with the software download.  I was fine with doing the test.  I ran into trouble with the “rules.”  They have a LOT of rules that are not logically ordered and contradictory.  But I decided to play the game.

Here’s a company that states, right in the rules, that you have to transcribe the audio tape, verbatim.  Last time I looked, that meant word for word.  In those same rules, however, they have a whole list of words and verbalized pauses that they don’t want transcribed.  Problem #1.

They also carefully call out that you have to transcribe everything including the conversation at the end…but don’t mention the conversation at the beginning. So transcribe everything but not really.  Transcribe the conversation at the end…but no mention of the beginning.   Problem #2

And Focus Forward gives you ways to cover words that are either not clearly stated on the tape or not at all familiar to you.  You are told to use [PH] to indicate you are spelling the word phonetically if you can’t hear or don’t recognize it.  I used this device for a drug name I had never heard of but that was called out as incorrect in the transcript.  Problem #3.

I got a snarky email informing me I didn’t make the cut.  Failure to type the intro conversation about the weather and vacation was fatal.  I also use [PH], capitalized celiac and spelled Super Fresh as one word.

Freelancers everywhere probably have similar stories of making an honest effort to meet all the requirements of a prospective client only to be washed out NOT for lack of skill or lack of trying but for being utterly unable to jump through hoops that are tangled up like spaghetti.  If, when that happens to you, remember…it really isn’t your problem.

BTW Focus Forward is STILL looking for transcribers.  I wonder why?

84 Comments

Filed under Business writing, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing

News Versus Articles – What’s the difference?

The first difference between a news story and an article is simple — a news story MUST be balanced.  All angles and parties have to be represented.  That means doing your homework, getting the background and contacting  interested parties.  It is more work but only telling one side of a story ensures prejudicing the content and perhaps, the reader, to one interest group’s point of view.

Another difference is this is one place where what the author thinks about any element in the story is just not relevant, at all.  The story should be told by the people involved with the writer only providing bridges where necessary.  For example, here is an excerpt from a story on an internal dispute within a union.  I have removed the names and titles of the people quoted because this story has not been published yet but notice how the quotes are used.

“The leadership sees fit to railroad this through the membership by limiting information, restricting the vote by having it a “must be present” vote… in the most remote location in the state, in the middle of the week in the middle of the day. What a sham.  There are 20,000 of us shift working … and they really expects us ‘to be present’ to vote at the most important vote in the history of our union? I don’t think so.”

“That is a totally inaccurate statement and it’s unreasonable,” says XXXX, President of the Board of Directors of the union.  “We have been talking about this for quite some time.”

Do all your interviews.  Transcribe your notes.  Let the interviewees tell the story and follow this old journalism rule — include who, what, when, where and why.  It’s a simple rule but a good one.  The trick is to pack as much of that information into the beginning of the story as possible then flesh these elements out and let the people you interview tell their story in their words.

If you have done your job well, neither side will be able to claim victory.


Leave a comment

Filed under Freelance Writing

What Makes A Writer Run

I was standing in a store yesterday waiting while someone tried to figure out how to mail the manuscript for my first novel to a publisher in Canada when, suddenly, right there, my next novel started to write itself.

Granted, I have had the idea and the high level outline for this one in my head for about 9 months but my character was strangely quiet. Then, while watching the various characters come in and out of this store, each with his or her own story, each wearing their hopes and dreams on their faces, Trish started to speak and I was ready for her.

One thing a writer is NEVER without is pen and paper so I whipped out my pad and wrote the words as fast as I could, barely keeping up with her/me. If you want to write, carry the gear. Guess why?

Because the way it comes into your head the first time you hear it is almost always the best way to write it! Even 15 minutes later, chances are you just won’t be able to capture the thought, the words, the scene the same way. And believe me, there is nothing worse than trying to remember the moment of inspiration.

So be prepared, listen and when the talking starts….start writing!

4 Comments

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing

Crashing and Burning But Still Writing

Living life in the fast lane sometimes means you’re going to crash!  I’ve been recuperating from a car accident, reading and thinking, a dangerous combination.  It’s funny how important something you love becomes when you can’t do it.  I love writing; I leaned just how much on my enforced hiatus. 

Why writing?

It is the most basic form of connection that people who will never know each other, may never speak to each other, can use to bridge an entire continent.  Writing opens your eyes to different views and your mind to ideas you might never have encountered.  Sometimes a few words cobbled together in an expression or sentence can change your life.

Every writer hopes to have that kind of power, to hear his or her words repeated, to see them ripping across the Internet, touching and changing people’s lives at the speed of light.  Not many of us get that opportunity but if we keep writing, keep sending our words out into the universe, we may not shake the universe but we will touch some people, connect with strangers and make a difference in our world.

So whether it’s a short story, a tall tale or a novel, keep putting words on paper and keep reaching out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing

Assigning Your Own Stories? Advice on Getting Started

What happens when an editor decides to move from handing out assignments to making you responsible for finding your own stories?

At first, it can be a little scary.  How do you get started?  Where do you start?

It’s a little easier if you have been writing for that editor and for the magazine for awhile.  You know the topic areas the magazine covers and you know what kind of stories the editor likes.   But even if you haven’t, even if you are new to the publication, there are some basic steps you can take to begin to wrap your arms around being your own assignment editor.

First, hold a call with the editor or drop by for a quick meeting.  This gives you a chance to ask some questions and make sure that both of you have the same understanding of just what your new role is.  Here are some of the questions I ask and the reasons why I ask them.

  1. What story types are you looking for – cover stories?  Features?  Profiles?   One editor I work for covers 7 states and has two regional editions to fill.  I would love to do cover stories for her because I earn the most money from covers but I can’t assume that’s what the editor has in mind.  So ask where can you be the biggest help to this editor?  You will pitch the right stories but you will also begin to build a stronger relationship with the editor because you are making his or her life easier.
  2. Do you have an editorial calendar that I can review?   This can really help you start to think through topics that might fit into that month’s issue or this quarter’s volume.  Your story ideas will fit better if you know what the editorial direction of the publication is.
  3. Are there any topic areas of special interest?  Most editors know their audiences so well that finding stories is easy for them.  This question helps you to make it easier for you, too. 
  4. How many stories will you be able to take from me?  Editors usually have a stable of freelance writers that they like to work with so they may only be asking for one or two story ideas a month from you.  That takes a little pressure off your back and makes it easier for you to find and flesh out story ideas that really might interest the editor.

These few questions will help you to cut through the “gray” area that suddenly appears when you become your own assignment editor and makes it easier for you to start generating ideas.  The faster you generate them, the faster you can write them and the faster you get paid!

Leave a comment

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing, Writing Articles

Writing for the Web – Just The Beginning

Anyone who has written for more than a few years might feel a little intimidated when someone asks, “Do you know how to write for the web?”

It’s writing, right?  I write for a living, right?  What’s the big deal?

Writing for the web is not a big deal; it still requires writers to pay attention to word choice but with an added consideration — making sure what you write is optimized for organic search.

Before you panic, stop and think about it.  When you need background on someone or statistics to round out a writing assignment how do you use search engines?

You put in a string of keywords related to the topic you are looking for and wait for the results to show up on your screen, just like everybody else.

Let’s say you were searching for statistics on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  If you want current data, the timeframe is important.  If you want statistics, you need to include that word, too.  Then you have to direct the search engine to the topic for which you want statistics.  So maybe you would enter this phrase:

2008 statistics prevalence Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This phrase helps the search engine to know what sites to bring back to you.  Search engines scan millions of pages for those keywords and bring back the sites that match them most closely.  If you don’t choose your words wisely, you could get hundreds of thousands of sites, most of which won’t help you at all.  As specific as this phrase was, it still brought back close to 20,000 results.  The first page of results was spot on — and from reputable organizations like www.birthdefects.org/.

So what does this have to do with writing for the web?

For all the articles that my very directed search brought back, there are probably 10 times that number of relevant articles on the Internet that did NOT get found.  Why not?    The writer forgot to use the keywords that people searching for his or her topic used.  If the keywords that people use to search for information are not included, the search engine is going to skip right over your article.

Two questions probably popped up in your head as you read that last paragraph. 

How do I know how people are searching?  Even if I did know, why would I change a really well written article by stuffing keywords in it?

The first question is easy to answer.  Try using a tool like Google AdWords – https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal – to see how people are searching for this topic.    Select “descriptive words or phrases” then enter your search terms or search terms that you think are related to your topic, into the text box to the right.  Leave Use Synonyms checked and click on the Get Keyword Ideas button.

Google will bring back keywords in the order of highest search volume to lowest.  So, now that you know the keywords that people use to search for information about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, what do you do with them? 

This goes to the second question — if you write an article but don’t optimize it for search engines….they will not come unless they get lucky!  If you want your articles, pages or press releases to be found, you have to use commonly searched key words or phrases in them so search engines can find them.

Using keywords and keyword phrases in your writing is not as hard as it sounds.  If you can find out what the primary keywords are before you write, you can work them in while you are creating.   If you don’t, you can get a handle on how people are searching for your topic after the fact and revise your article to include them.

Either way, knowing how people are searching for the topic you are writing about then using some of the keywords and keyword phrases in your article may help your writing to rise to the top of the search engine results when people search for your topic.  And isn’t that what all writing is really about — getting people to read it?

2 Comments

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Writing for the Web

Write A Novel in One Year

Up before dawn and a lot to do this morning but none of it involves writing — except writing this post!

It’s 5:45 AM and I have already done yoga but I still have to muck stalls, exercise my horse and clean my chicken coop and water the five fruit trees waiting in my garage, in buckets, for Spring.    I should be finished long about noon!  And I mean finished.

There are some days, like this one, when it doesn’t seem possible.  So, on days like this, sometimes I think I will just read a book or do some research online instead of writing.   Then the inner voice that nags me starts to whisper things like “Real writers don’t take breaks.”  “You can’t really write anyway so why not read?”  Or my favorite, “No one will ever read your novel so maybe you should quit.”

While I don’t really believe that voice in my head, it is tempting to contemplate not writing sometimes.  What?  A writer who thinks about not writing?  What kind of writer does that?

An honest writer. 

When you have been writing for close to 2 decades, and I mean writing stories, articles, brochures, business plans and essays, you might also think about life without a keyboard attached to your wrists or a pen stuck to your fingers.  You might long for the days when you can lay in bed with a novel, a cup of coffee and no desire to put words on paper.

Writing is hard work.  It takes discipline.  It requires loving attention and long hours alone, just you and your thoughts and your writing tools.  It is the proverbial labor of love.  No magazine is ever going to pay you for the 5 hours you spend researching or the 2 hours of interviews you do to learn about and explore the topic.  Transcribing notes — 4 hours and not billable.  Contemplating how to start the story?  Not going to earn you a dime.

From assignment to finished article, it can take up to 20 hours of hard labor.  The most I have ever been paid for a cover story of more than 2200 words was $400.  When you do the math — that’s $20 an hour or 18 cents a word — you can see that this is not a job for those who want to make easy money.   Most magazine publishers pay about 10 cents a word.

Making a living as a freelance writer is hard.  I don’t know a lot of people who are successful at it.  Most of us have full time jobs so we can support our full time passion.  Working 45 hours a week, commuting about 2 ½ hours every day and trying to get a little time in for exercise, eating, cooking, cleaning, laundry and sleep leaves me about 10 hours a week when I might, actually be able to sit down at the keyboard and write!

So, how do I make time and save energy for writing?

I get up at 4:30AM every morning.  I write before I eat, before I go to work, before I head out to the stable or put in a load of laundry.  I write for an hour every morning.  Whether it is journaling or banging out two new pages in my novel or putting the finishing touches on an article, I write.

As early as that is in the morning, as hard as it sounds to put EVERYTHING ELSE on hold and just sit here and write, I do it because writing lives at the very core of me.  When I don’t do it, I find myself resenting all those other things that are necessary to living and all those other people who make my life so rich and full.

So, advice from one writer to another – write!

Find a time of day, early, middle or late, when you will take just one hour for yourself and write.  Then stick to it.  If you only write 2 pages a day, you will have more than 700 pages of your novel written in just one year.  And if you aren’t writing a Russian novel, you could have two full novels done by this time next year!

Leave a comment

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Writing Articles

Reading And Writing

Writers usually read a lot.  

Favorite genres for me are murder mysteries and, oddly enough, biographies.  Recent books range from Dorothea Tanning’s autobiography – Between Lives: An Artist and Her World — to the downright humorous look at death and dying recently written by Jonathan Barnes entitled Nothing To Be Frightened Of.  

When I’m not nose down in a book, you can usually find me browsing through a favorite magazine like The Equine Journal, Practical Horseman, Mother Earth News, Advance Magazine for Nurses, Mother Jones News or Countryside.  I have books and magazines in every room in my house, have a supply in the car for emergencies and keep a couple of each in my briefcase.

When I read, I sometimes feel guilty because I am not writing!  I find it hard to rationalize sitting around enjoying someone else’s words while mine remain bottled up in my head.  But a funny thought occurred to me over this long holiday weekend.  Reading is really good for the writer’s mind!

When I read, I am learning about new topics and maybe even new words and ideas but I am also doing a whole lot of subconscious and symbiotic learning.  Learning is occurring at a level below articulation.  This is how children learn spelling and punctuation.  Why should it be any different for adults who write?  Why can’t we learn about characters and dialogue and plot this way?

The trick to getting the most out of those hours I spend away from my keyboard with, as my Mom used to say, “My nose buried in a book.” is to read consciously.  If I find a chapter, paragraph or sentence I like I stop and try to work out why I like it.  Is it the order of the chapter?  Are the sentences growing and building and moving me to a new or different place?  Am I learning more about the characters?  Are the words that the author chose ringing true to the story and the characters?  Why did I like it?

If I can pause long enough to figure that out, I might also figure out how what I learned could work for me in my writing.  What’s good about learning to read for more than the story is that you can use this technique and learn, even from a bad book. 

Give it a try.  See what you can learn about writing from your favorite author.  It’s also a great excuse for grabbing a book and a cup of tea and spending an afternoon just reading.

Leave a comment

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Writing Articles

Writing Resolutions

We all make them but writers tend to make New Year’s resolutions that actually sound like they can come true!

Part of the reason our resolutions sound plausible is our facility with words.  Part of it is that anyone who writes for a living often thinks about the future and how they will manage as the economy shrinks and traditional publications fall to online magazines and, you guessed it, blogs.

So, what resolutions am I making?  The first one is to share as much of what I have learned in this freelance writing business with anyone who is trying to get started in it.  Why would I do that?  Why would I give away what it has taken me more than 18 years to learn?

Because I wish that someone had shared their knowledge, their insights with me.  It would have made the first 17 years just a little bit easier.  So, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts about and tips on freelance writing.

Freelance writing is tough at the very beginning because everyone wants to see samples of your writing and prefers writers that are published…which makes it harder to get published.  That said, there are a couple of places you can look for freelance jobs. 

 

Of course, one of the first places I check is www.craigslist.org .  I look in both Philadelphia and Delaware.  Click on the Writing/Editing link almost at the bottom of your screen – just right of center.  I have found a couple of freelance jobs through this listing.  One caveat – for every writing job I got through Craigs List, I probably submitted 100 queries.

 

I also subscribe to one free newsletter which has job listings but, more importantly, has tips, ideas and stories about writing and how to get started and keep going.  It is called Writer’s Weekly by Angela Hoy.  You can subscribe by going to http://www.writersweekly.com.

  

You also may want to look into Writer’s Market.  It is published every year and half of it covers book publishers, editors and agents and the other half covers magazines.  You can look at it at Barnes & Noble or maybe your local library would have a copy.  The good thing about Writer’s Market is that it includes all the information about the magazine including the editor’s name and contact information, the percent of the magazine which is written by freelancers and story ideas the magazine is seeking.

 

Oddly enough, I got the writing job with Equine Journal by answering an ad in their magazine.  So another tip would be to read through magazines and see who is looking for freelancers.  The down side is that some magazines only pay a very small amount — $60 per 600 word article – just 10 cents a word.  But I love horses and love writing so it works for me.  I also write for Advance Magazine for Nursing and The Art Times Journal. 

 

And I write for businesses but that is harder to get into and stay into.  To get jobs with businesses, you really, really have to network.  More on that later.

 

Those are a few of the ways I just stay tapped in.    I hope they help you meet some of your New Year’s resolutions

Leave a comment

Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Writing Articles, Writing Resources

What Do Healthcare and Horses have in common?

No, that’s not a trick question.  It is the question I get when I tell people I write for Advance Magazine for Nurses, The Art Times Journal, MD News and The Equine Journal.

The answer is really simple.  A good writer can write about anything!

Good writing is not about being an expert in any one subject, although that can make it easier but it also limits your freelance opportunities to just that one area of expertise.   Good writing is all about knowing how to write.  The basic elements of hammering out an article, a brochure, a corporate report and even a short story or a novel are about the same:

  1. Select a topic.  Getting an assignment from an editor makes this easy.  The more you write on a topic, the more ideas you will get on your own.
  2. Get a handle on your audience.  You won’t write the same way for teenagers that you would for adults or the same way for engineers as you would for bankers.  Your target audience will help you to find the right voice and vocabulary to use.
  3. Do your research.  No matter how often I write about horses or web site planning or healthcare, I ALWAYS do research before I ever contact anyone for interviews.  TIP:  if you are writing an article, make sure you save documents and sources so you can cite them.
  4. Determine which sources, which people you want to interview.  Your research may help with sources; your editor may as well.  And as you build experience in a subject area, some of your professional acquaintances my help, too.
  5. Conduct interviews.  My editors don’t care what I think or know.  They are looking for insights and information from industry experts.  That’s where interviews come in.  Interviews will form the meat of your article.  TIP:  I always record my interviews to make sure I accurately represent what the subject matter experts have told me.  A small digital recorder that connects to your cell phone makes this incredibly easy.  I got a TinyTEK from www.pimall.com and have been using it for 4 years.
  6. Type up your notes.  Why you ask?  There are two reasons — it makes it much easier to find an answer while you are writing if you can word search or scan a type written documents rather than notes on a legal pad.  Secondly, typing the notes actually begins the process of writing.  My brain, my subconscious, starts to put together connections and write the story while I am actually typing the notes.
  7. Read your notes then walk away!  Vacuum.  Mow the lawn.  Do something mechanical and repetitive and wait for your brain to begin the magic of writing.
  8. Clear your desk off.  Get a cup of coffee or tea.  Sit down and begin to write.  Write quickly, almost in outline form, inserting quotes from the notes and creating the beginning, middle and end.  TIP:  if you are having trouble getting started just think to yourself, “What am I trying to say?  What story am I trying to tell?”  Then tell it.
  9. Read your first draft OUT LOUD.  That’s right, read it out loud and you will instantly find places where the language doesn’t flow or the logic doesn’t work.  Mark up the draft, revise it and read it out loud again.
  10. Follow this process and edit until you are comfortable that it is in pretty good shape then read it again and this time ask yourself these questions.  Does it tell the story logically?  Completely?  Compellingly?  Does it make you want to know more?  Take action?
  11. Check your references and citations.  Make sure they are correct and that the format you use works for the publication you are writing for.
  12. Ask a “neutral 3rd party” to read the article.  You will be surprised what someone who hasn’t lived with the story, who doesn’t really love it or isn’t invested in it, can find.  TIP:  take the observations, changes and questions with good grace.  If this reader misunderstands or gets lost, you can bet the magazine, report, brochure readers are going to misunderstand or get lost, too.
  13. Make the final changes then, guess what?  Read it out loud one more time.  TIP:  if my gut says, “Don’t send the article right now.” I wait, sometimes overnight.  My subconscious is seeing something I am not seeing so I give myself another chance to read it through before hitting the Send button.
  14. Send your article, report, brochure, short story winging on its way to your editor and get started on the next one!

Follow this approach and you can write about horses, cardiology, surrealism, defense contracting and any other topic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art Journal Articles, Equestrian Articles, Freelance Writing, Medical & Nursing Articles