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Advice for Freelance Writers (Interview by Working Writers and Bloggers)

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Thanks to Cherie Burbach of Working Writers and Bloggers for doing this interview with me! Hopefully some of this advice can help other young freelance writers and bloggers looking to get gigs and make money!


You started freelance writing when you were just fourteen! That’s amazing. What types of work did you do back then and how did you decide it’s what you wanted to continue to do?

I started writing book reviews for a local teen magazine, then began contacting editors at the local newspapers to see if they’d consider publishing my reviews in the entertainment section of the Sunday papers. They went for the idea and soon I was seeing my work in print. I loved book reviewing, but I was very interested in writing human interest pieces and investigative reporting—so I went back to the teen magazine where they let me have a little more freedom to pursue my interests.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and even though at that time my interest was more towards writing books—I knew that having a few published pieces under my belt was a great start. I didn’t realize I would grow to love the industry so much.

Have you noticed the “feast or famine” world that people think about when they picture freelancing?

Oh, totally. As a freelance writer you have to prepare and expect months of draught. You’re always on the lookout for your next gig and live in a permanent mindset of being practically unemployed. Then some months you’re so overloaded with work that you have to hire a second writer to work under you while you catch up. That’s why it’s great to make friends in the industry—hopefully your feast means they can work during their famine and vice versa.

You’ve done everything from write copy on the backs of shampoo bottles to pieces for mainstream magazines. What’s your approach to maintaining a successful freelance career?

Never stop networking and don’t burn down any bridges—no matter how badly clients treat you.  Early on in my career I used to attend a lot of networking events and hand out a million business cards. Now I don’t have to try as hard to make connections. I mostly network online, reaching out to different companies with ideas on reworking their content, or writing to different editors with pitches for different pieces. I’ve also learned that most business is repeat business or referred business—so always part ways amicably with clients. I’ve even reached out to clients with small edits or advice after we’ve ended our project and those small acts have usually generated a lot of gratitude and referrals to friends and co-workers. You should also always keep up an online presence, so if you’re not working for someone else—work for yourself, put up a website, write blogs, and publish whatever you can, whenever you can.

In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?

Find clients that need your help. I often go to stores and read the back of products to see if their copy needs reworking. If they do, I head to Google or LinkedIn and get the right person’s email to let them know that I could be of service to them. Most businesses are so shocked that someone is analyzing their work and finding errors or areas of improvement, they’re very eager to hire you to fix or refine it. There’s no room for subtlety or shyness in this area of work. Find a problem, point out a problem, and fix the problem.

As for getting creative and magazine pitches noticed? The key is persistence. I’m an editor now and I’ve been one in the past. My inbox is a black hole. I work with so many writers I can’t chase them for stories. If an editor likes your work, feel free to submit more—often. We’re in the business of sharing great content—so if you can write it, we do want to hear from you!

Platform is so important for any writer today. Tell us about your blog Let’s Feel Better and how you’re using it as a platform builder.

I grew up with two rare diseases and have spent my life learning to coordinate my education, relationships and work around chronic illness. Lets Feel Better has helped me to communicate with those around me who were maybe too scared to ask—or had fallen victim to the negative stigmas of chronic illness. It’s been a great way for me to connect with the rare and chronic disease community and I’ve been able to find my niche as an editor for The Global Genes Project, a rare disease organization whose mission is to unify the international rare and genetic disease community by providing connections and resources to ease the burdens of affected families.  My ultimate goal is to become a voice for chronic illness and help others to understand that we can lead productive, effective lives and to encourage those with these conditions to not surrender their aspirations, despite the challenges.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?

That we don’t make money—or that we’re a free service. Freelance writing is how I make money and there is money to be made in this industry. It’s a little cut throat and you have to be willing to take control of projects and learn how to balance client’s wants with their needs. You’re not here to pat CEO’s on their head and say, “everything is perfect” you’re there to stop them from humiliating themselves with bad copy and to help them put their company’s best foot forward when communicating with the public as well as other businesses.

Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?

I have a book on business in general that has helped me—Peter Shankman wrote a fantastic book geared toward the public relations industry called “Can We Do That?” He’s one of my all-time business idols and I highly recommend anything he’s written from his celebrated books—to his tweets and Facebook statuses!

Where can we find you online?

I blog at Letsfeelbetter.com and my portfolio can be viewed at www.ilanawrites.com. Questions can be directed to my twitter account @IlanaJacqueline!

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How Do I Create a Business Card that Stands Out? Tips for Your 3×2 Resume

Some people like to collect comic books. Others collect cats. I’ve seen a few episodes of My Strange Addiction that still make my insides squirm–but now we’re getting off topic.

Personally? I collect business cards. I’ve always loved whipping out my wallet and saying “Here–take my card”–to potential business prospects, to new friends, even to guys who were hitting on me when I didn’t have a clue–and later forced me to text them, humiliated, and let them know that I’m engaged and just thought they were looking for a PR agent.

What? How am I supposed to know these things?

What? How am I supposed to know these things?

Whatever the occasion, I’ve got a business card made for it. Potential client needs a copywriter? Bam. Take a card. Potential client needs a marketing expert? BAM. In the hand. Potential cop asking why I’m parking handicapped and don’t have any broken bones? BAM! I’m insulted, but prepared.

I’ve also been known to leave cards with my blog’s link on them in women’s bathrooms, bars, and doctor’s offices.

What? I just like the idea of being able to introduce myself when I’m not even there.

So, having created about 47 of my own personal designs and supportting VistaPrint, Moo.com, 123Print, and Zazzle through their infancies and into the grand printing presses they now are…here are some tips for creating a stand-out business card:

1. Size Matters: Oversized Business Cards Annoy the Shit Out of Me

If I can’t fit it in my wallet or my pocket, then what good is it to me? You think you’re being cool by handing me a giant ass piece of cardboard with your phone number on it? Well, you’re not. Do not go big or go home. Go regular sized or smaller. Take these cute little numbers for instance:

 

s42. Confuse Them: Bizarre Graphics, Crazy Words–But Don’t Forget to Make Your Point

I fell in love with the cards at moo.com. They’re just so funky and well… weird. And they’ve always made a splash at every networking event I’ve been to. Real conversation starters! People are all…”What is this?…Oh, wait…I get it. I like that!”

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Mince Pies–eyes–King Lears–Ears–They’re words. And I’m helping you to find the right ones because I’m a writer. Ha–Get it? You do get it, right?

3. Show Them Your Pretty Face: Adding a Picture Helps Them To Remember You

As if anyone could forget the girl in the short red cocktail dress at a networking event! But if you find your calls not being returned after an initial meeting–it’s probably because you were nervously checking your wallet to make sure you didn’t hand over the card with your grocery list on the back of it, instead of making eye contact like you should have been doing. Adding a picture to your card helps people make a personal connection.

"Now I remember this chick! She's the one who wouldn't shut up about her poodle."

“Now I remember this chick! She’s the one who wouldn’t shut up about her poodle.”

 

4.  Tease Them

Whether it’s a blank card with a QR code, or just a link–these kind of business tools poke at our inner curiosity. It’s like finding an unscratched lottery ticket in a parking lot. You could go to this website and become a millionaire! Or maybe just find a new blog you’ll like…Or get a discount on lawn mowers. I don’t know. But I want to know.

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5. Pick the Right Card for the Right Person

There are lots of kinds of business. There’s funny business. There’s serious business. And there is the business of managing other people’s business. I like to start by stereotyping them and choosing the perfect card to hand them appropriately.

For the serious business types I go with the elegant cursive, raised print cards:

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And for the rest, I go with a bright pink and green card they could find at the bottom of their purse–in a dark club–at night.

Shazzam!

Shazzam!

 

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Five Rules to Winning Over a Literary Agent

It’s really only been a few months now that I’ve been hacking away at a directory of literary agents, trying to find the right one to represent me and my book. I’ve read all about the process of finding a literary agent and and know the process can be long, arduous, and full of rejection. As I reminded myself through several panic attacks over the last few weeks–even J.K Rowling was rejected over 100 TIMES!

I don’t even have wizards or redheads in my book. I’m fucked.

But I pushed forward and took a lot of time crafting my proposal. Because I’m not writing a fictional novel, I don’t actually submit a finished manuscript to a prospective literary agent. I just send them a very detailed outline of what the book will look like, smell like, sound like, and how many people I personally know who have agreed to buy multiple copies. I also added a list of the men in publishing that I’ve slept with and included a head shot to show my facial features are symmetrical enough to appear on a book jacket.–Or I might have just sent a 40-page summary of the project and my career–one or the other.

And I’m proud to say I’m now an official expert on rejection. I’m like really, really good at it by now. And while I know many of you are here for the chronic illness advice–I figured you’ll all probably want to write your life story (because living with chronic illness is wayyy more fascinating than a normal life) and so this is good advice to keep stocked away with the extra toilet paper and Daisy razors.

#1 –  Use the Agent’s Name When Writing to Them

IT'S RIGHT THERE ON THEIR WEBSITE IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THEIR WEBSITE

This is obvious, right? I don’t actually need to tell you this, right? I’m just saying it because when people used to pitch to me at Today’s Teen they’d address me as “Dear Editor,” or “Manager of Today’s Teen” or sometimes, like, “Hi Amanda!” Who the fuck is Amanda? I don’t care if you’re sending out your email in triplicates–just let them know that you’ve put in the five seconds of work to look up your name before you write them an email. Rude…

#2 Read the Submission Guidelines

No, Hermoine. It's not. It's called wasting somebody's time. No, Hermione. It’s not. It’s called getting your email deleted.

Don’t send it in the mail. Only send it to one agent. Don’t include an attachment. Add a sexy come-on. Only wear purple while writing the proposal. Add a ten word bio of yourself only using verbs. Whatever they want, give it to them. Just give it to them.

#3 Don’t Claim You’re the Next Stephen Kingtumblr_m30esbq4LH1r5we8w

I had a gym teacher who nicknamed me “King” in elementary school because I liked to write. At the time I was way too young to read The Stand. Now I’m not even that big a fan (although I was addicted to the first season of Under the Dome.) But I wouldn’t be a big enough of a dumb ass to claim I was better than/equal to him. Let’s be real now.

#4 Don’t Send an Incomplete Idea

Duff ain't got time for this. Duff ain’t got time for this.

Don’t claim to have a great idea for a novel–and then promise you’ll write it after they decide to represent you.  Have a query, and follow it up with a proposal (non-fiction) or a full manuscript (fiction.)

#5 Don’t Bitch Back

WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN'T LIKE MY SAMPLE CHAPTER? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T LIKE MY SAMPLE CHAPTER?

I’ll admit it. R.J’s had to restrain me from writing a nasty response to an agent before. (Once. And only because it was a really snotty rejection letter.) But mostly I keep in mind the golden, obvious, #1 rule– The agent doesn’t get paid unless they sign a contract with you AND sell the book. So if one of them, by the grace of god, decides to sit there–read your proposal and write up a five page response to it so that you can have a better shot at actually getting a rep? Kiss their feet, thank them for their time and be forever indebted to them for bringing you one repaired sentence closer to publishing your book than you were yesterday.

Alright. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest I’m going to go cry over my proposal with a wine glass full of Propel Sport and revise, revise, revise….

VakfBKk

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The Most Common and Infuriating Mistakes Publicists Make

Before I was in PR I was in newspapers, magazines and blogs. For one of my more popular online magazines, I would get anywhere from 50-100 pitches from publicists on any given day. The majority were deleted, laughed at, junk-mailed and spam-blocked. There were a variety of reasons why your emails would be trashed and here are a few examples:

  • “Dear Editor,”– My biggest pet peeve as an editor was being addressed as one. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job—and I’m sure when people address the president with “Dear President,” it’s probably not so awful. However, in this situation you want my attention. You want me—the editor who has 80 writers to manage, 160 articles to edit and an editorial calendar to plan—to stop what I am doing and listen to why you think you should be featured in my publication. I think the least you can do is take five minutes to search the website and learn my name. If I’m going to put my time into promoting something you’ve created—FOR FREE, shouldn’t you be as committed and invested in this as I am? And shouldn’t that at least begin with a proper introduction.
  • The Ten Page Email—  The magic words are “Let me know if you’d like some more information.” Again, my time = valuable. I need to know what you’re pitching, why you’re pitching it, and to what it relates to in reference to my publication. This should all be addressed in the first few sentences. As a publicist you should be able to get your message across that briefly. Do not give me ten pages of your finest marketing copy unrequested. If I want to know more, I’ll ask and I might actually even read it.
  • Mass Email Blunders—I believe this is the most gruesome truth about PR today. Mass emails are a bad business. They don’t get results, they don’t get my attention, and they don’t put your client’s best foot forward. Do personal emails take more time? Yes. Do they mean you need to look for exact names and emails? Yes. Does it mean you need to personalize the content of each email? Absolutely! Because if you don’t do that, then this happens:
  • RE:FWRD:– When you put a fake “Re:” or “Fwrd:” in the subject of your email, you are obviously implying that we’ve had this conversation before. So am I more likely to open this email? Yes. Does it make me super pissed off to realize you’ve tricked me? Why, yes it does! DELETE!
  • Unrelated Pitches – Sending a press release on the benefits of Viagra to a teen magazine? Looks like somebody is charging by the hour…
  • Follow Up – If you pitch me a story and I really like it, I’ll respond right away and so should you! If you don’t, my inbox will flood and I will totally blank on what we were talking about. Similarly, if you pitch a client—such as the many that were pitched to me during this holiday’s gift guide do not follow up in February asking if your client was selected. For one: it tells me that you could give a crap if your client was selected, they’re not a priority. Two: It tells me that you don’t read my publication and didn’t check my website for this at all. I’d rather get a “thank you” or a “screw you” instead of a “did you?” When the answer is two clicks away.
  • You Had a Good Pitch That Resulted in a Story, and Then You Never Pitched to Me Again – Why? If you’ve connected with me in an appropriate fashion, I enjoyed your pitch and featured your client—why did you never pitch me another client? This industry is all about building connections. I rely on your content just as much as you rely on my ability to publish it. Stay in touch and make the most out of a good situation!