Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to talk about some oldie, but goodie elements of article writing that are still important for writers. It’s easy to dismiss some tried and true techniques because of all the fancy, technological whiz-bangs available to writers, but when technology fails – and it will from time to time – it’s good to have something to pull out of your coonskin cap.
Archives for July 2010
How Do You Track Your Income?
The benefits of being your own boss outweigh the advantages of working a 9 to 5 job – we’ve already established that. Sometimes, though, we might forget that there are certain responsibilities attached to being a freelancer. For sure, we KNOW these responsibilities are there, but especially for those new to the freelance business, little things might slip by you every now and then.
When it comes to taxes, the need to track your income is paramount. After all, how will you be able to declare your income and compute taxes accurately if you do not follow some one system or another?
This post is the result of a comment I saw on some forum regarding one woman talking about a client who forgot to send in his 1099 before tax time. As a result, she forgot to declare that as part of her income. The job was a one-time deal done at the beginning of the previous year, explaining the lapse. For many freelancers, one-time deals are not that uncommon, and if you are not careful, you might find yourself facing a similar situation as the one I just described.
You may be thinking, so what? Well, this just might bite you in the butt later on, when the IRS sends you a revised tax statement. If it’s a small job and it’s just one, then no worries. However, if you neglect to declare a considerable amount (or several jobs amounting to a lot of money), then you’ll end up having to pay maybe several hundreds more.
So how do you track your income?
Obviously, this depends on your personal preference. I suggest keeping separate files for different items such as receipts, bank statements, invoices, etc. Whether you use a box, a filing cabinet, an expandable folder, an Excel file, or some other software, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that your filing system will help you NOT to overlook any income that you make so that when you declare your taxes, you can be as error-free as possible.
FWJ readers, care to share your income tracking system with us?
If You Will, I Will?
Marcy Sheiner asked a question about an English expression “if you will” several weeks ago. So Marcy, this post is for you.
Here’s Marcy’s comment/question/pet peeve.
Marcy Sheiner says:
July 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm
This is a pet peeve rather than a question, but maybe you can tell me if there is ever a sane reason to use the phrase “if you will.” I’ve noticed it’s beoming most trendy, in speech more than writing, but sill. And what on earth does it mean?????
I have been hearing – and reading – this phrase used for as long as I can remember and didn’t really think much about it. Since Marcy brought it up, though, I thought about it a little bit and did some research as well.
From what I understand of the phrase, it is a way of making a concession. Using “if you will” (usually at the end of your statement) is akin to saying “if you wish to do so” or “if you want”.
Several forums provide the same explanation. Take a look at these examples:
He wasn’t a very honest person, a liar if you will. – Idioms
Think, if you will, about …. – Yahoo Answers
Basically, the phrase is used when you want to state something but are not totally committing yourself to a position. It seems that the phrase is an informally accepted, but it does make some people cringe.
Personally, I don’t mind reading/hearing/using it, as long as it’s not excessive. How about you? What do you think about this phrase?
Book Writing and Publishing FAQ – Do I Need to Write My Book Before I Try to Get an Agent or Publisher?
While I certainly don’t claim to be an expert about book writing and publishing, I have had 6 books published by major publishers, and I’m writing my 7th. Therefore, I feel like I can answer at least some questions about book writing and publishing.
Keep in mind, if you ask 20 authors, agents, or publishers the same question, you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. With that in mind, my answers to the questions in the new Freelance Writing Jobs Book Writing and Publishing FAQ Series are my opinion and based on my own research and experiences. Different tactics have worked just as well or better for others. In other words, don’t take my answers as law, but do consider them as suggestions based on my own learnings. Also, keep in mind that these answers apply to people who want to be published through traditional publishers, not through self-publishing or print-on-demand publishing houses.
With that said, here is the first question in the Book Writing and Publishing FAQ Series:
Does my book need to be completely written before I approach publishers or literary agents?
There are a couple of situations that can affect the answer to this question, so there isn’t a clear yes or no answer.
If you’re a first time fiction author, than it’s highly likely that a publisher or agent won’t even consider your query unless you have already completed your manuscript. The reason is simple — they need to know that you can actually finish what you started and your book won’t fall flat ten chapters in. While you won’t be asked to show a publisher or agent the completed manuscript until they review and approve some sample chapters, they will want to know that it’s done, the word count, and that it’s waiting for them to read whenever they’re ready.
If you’ve already published a fiction book through a well-known publisher and your sales numbers show that your book had some success, then you might not have to write the complete book before you try to sell it. You might only need a few sample chapters and a great query letter and summary. If you have an agent or relationship with a publisher already, you can ask them what they want to see from you for your next book idea.
Now, let’s talk about nonfiction book publishing. Typically, you don’t have to write a complete nonfiction manuscript before you can start querying agents and publishers. However, you will need a well-written query letter, proposal, and annotated table of contents. You should also have a few sample chapters written in case an agent or publisher request them. Publishing nonfiction books is different from fiction in that much of your success at working with an agent or publisher is based on your platform — your ability to prove that you have a way to reach a large audience and push sales of your book.
It’s important to understand that nonfiction book publishers evaluate proposals and often modify the direction of the book to suit their needs and vision of the marketplace. If you write your entire book before you secure a publisher, you might end up having to rewrite the entire thing. Furthermore, nonfiction book publishers typically determine the word count for books they publish, particularly for first-time authors. Therefore, you don’t want to spend months and months writing a 150,000 word manuscript only to have a publisher tell you that they don’t want the manuscript to be more than 70,000 words.
Of course, if you’re worried that you might not be able to write a complete book, then you should consider writing the complete manuscript before you query agents and publishers. Once you sign a contract to write a book, you’ll be given a deadline when you need to hand in your manuscript, and for nonfiction books, that deadline is often a lot sooner than you might expect. It’s not uncommon to get a nonfiction book deadline of 3-months!
I Can't Help Myself – It's Too Funny
So, if you checked out my recent post in which there’s a video of Stephen King cracking wise with Late Night host Conan O’Brien, then you may have noticed they talked a fair amount about King’s contribution to a still-growing wave of paranoia regarding clowns. If you didn’t watch the video clip but know anything about the book/movie It, then you’ll still have enough context to understand why what I’m about to share is relevant.
Anyway, that whole part of the conversation kept reminding me of a hilarious story that one of my favorite comedians (Dan Cummins) tells about the origin of his own fear of clowns. I must warn you that this is absolutely NSFW, but it’s a pretty funny story, nonetheless.
Ooh, ooh. I even just figured out how to make this post writing-related: I’m trying to pitch a story about Dan to a magazine that showcases talent to colleges around the country.
For some reason, the version of today’s post that went up wasn’t the final version I wrote. If you’d like to read a really, really short dialog that you can use to avoid talking to your kids about sex, you might want to scroll down and reread it.
Building Your Freelance Writing Brand – Part 4
It’s time for Part 4 of the Building Your Freelance Writing Brand series here on Freelance Writing Jobs, and today, you’ll learn about manipulating search engine results and how to handle negative conversations about your brand online. You can find links to Parts 1-3 of the series at the end of this post.
First, it’s important to understand that this is not a lesson in search engine optimization, although some of the suggestions in Part 3 and Part 4 of the Building Your Freelance Writing Brand series certainly do apply to SEO as well.
With that said, here we go…
What kind of results do you get when you Google your name or your freelance writing brand name (if it’s different from your personal name)? Are they the results that you want people to find when they type your name into the Google search box? If not, then you have some work to do if you want to build your online brand reputation and build your business. Fortunately, writers are in the perfect position to do exactly that because we’re great at creating content! With a bit of strategy, we’re positioned to be the best content marketers!
The key to manipulating search engine results is to leverage the power of the compounding effect of blogging and content sharing as discussed in Part 3 of the Building Your Freelance Writing Brand series. Generating incoming links to your own amazing content and getting others to write about you and your amazing content are the free and easy steps that you can take to begin the process of adjusting search engine results for your name.
Here are some ways to do it:
Offer to write guest blog posts on popular blogs that rank well for search engine optimization (use a site like MyBlogGuest.com to find guest blogging opportunities), create your own branded content, offer your services for interviews on interesting blogs, podcasts (poke around BlogTalkRadio.com to find shows that match your niche), or create your own video content and publish it on your own YouTube channel. Again, anything you can do to create amazing content that people want to talk about and share is a step in the right direction to getting positive information about your brand to the top of search engine results.
But what if someone says something negative about you online? What do you do? What if that negative information shows up high in search engine results for your name?
First, don’t panic. If you’ve been creating amazing content, making connections with other online publishers, and sharing and conversing with people across the social web, then you’ll already have a handle on your search engine results and these types of negative comments are unlikely to really affect you. However, if they do appear too high in your search results for your name, then you have three effective choices, which I refer to in my upcoming book, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, as flight, fight, or flood. Here is how the concept works:
If someone says something negative about you online, which you’re worried could damage your online brand image, you can avoid it entirely — flight. Consider the source of the negativity. Often a negative comment, particularly if it comes from someone who has his or her own reputation as being known for publishing such comments, will disappear quickly if you let it. Also, the more time you spend online, the more you’ll notice that some people start conversations simply to incite others. In time, you’ll get better at identifying these people and ignoring them.
If the source of negative information related to your brand is an online influencer with a strong following or the negativity is spreading quickly, you can step into the conversation and add your side of the story — fight. Just remember to always communicate in a manner that accurately reflects your brand image. Furthermore, if you’ve already been creating amazing content and networking and building relationships with other people across the social web, then your reputation might already be well established and your network of brand advocates (those people you’ve connected with and built strong relationships with) are likely to come to your defense!
If a negative result shows up too high in search engine results for your name, you can flood the Internet with positive content fully search-engine optimized to rank high for your name in order to bury that negative result. There are many useful search engine optimization resources and websites. I’ll write a post with some SEO tips here on Freelance Writing Jobs soon. In the meantime, one of my favorite resources is SEOmoz.org.
Bottom-line, you can be in control of your online brand reputation and make sure potential clients, publishers, and employers find the results that you want them to find when they Google you by creating amazing, shareworthy content, making online connections, building relationships with those connections, and monitoring your online reputation (i.e., Google results). Stay tuned for Part 5 of the Building Your Freelance Writing Brand series where I’ll talk about how to monitor your online brand reputation.
Read Parts 1-3 of the Building Your Freelance Writing Brand Series
Stephen King and Conan O'Brien
I recently took a Facebook test (which are rivaled in accuracy only by those found in Cosmo, btw), and it told me that my writing style is closest to that of Stephen King. I don’t suppose I’m all that surprised, as he was the first adult author I ever read (Cujo in the fourth grade). This led to a rather awkward and very brief sex-related conversation with my mother while on a cross-country Amtrack adventure.
10-Year-Old Me: Mom, what’ this word mean? (Pointing to the slang term used.)
Panicked Mother: What do you think it means?
10-Year-Old Me: Never mind.
I worked my way through most of his then-existing cannon by the time I got to college and pleasure reading went by the wayside.
Later on, I read his On Writing and was quite pleased to discover that The King of Horror and I have a pretty similar approach to the writing process. I’m one of those people who will take validation where I can find it…or pretend it exists. I haven’t read a whole lot of SK’s most recent works, with the exception of Under the Dome. I ordered and read it on my Kindle and had no idea it had been a particularly long book (Kindle doesn’t show page numbers) until other people who had read it on paper were freaking out about it.
Still, I have a soft spot for this particular author. I also happen to think that Conan O’Brien is hilarious. So, I was pleased to find this clip of King on Conan’s old Late Night show. It turns out that even though he’s a bit…well, odd…Stevie can hold his own against Conan’s comic chops.
Working for Yourself: Failures in Efficiency
Ooh, “failures in efficiency” sounds just like “failure’s inefficiency.” How cool is that, fellow Word-Nerds?
I used to read a lot of blogs, but I just don’t seem to have the time, energy, or attention span to keep up with any of them lately. In my defense, I am running a business, sustaining a marriage, keeping a house, raising a child, and growing an entire human being in my body, so if anyone is personally offended that I don’t keep up on his or her blog…he or she is totally a selfish loser.
I do find myself with the occasional lull, however, and at those times, I like to take a quick peek at some of the sites that make me laugh. I’d look at educational sites, but frankly, I don’t have the brainpower for it these days. Throw me a highly inappropriate “text from last night” or dangle an “lol cat” in front of me, and you’ve pretty much monopolized my entire attention span.
It turns out that one of blogs I occasionally like to frequent for the chuckle factor (gee, that sounds like something dirty) has a post about that very thing. I definitely recommend you go check out “This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult” on Hyperbole and a Half, and the following pictoral excerpt should give you a bit of an idea as to why.
Note to the author/artist, Allie, if she happens to notice this. Please don’t sue me for using your image. I’m trying to send you traffic, and I’m totally giving you credit, and I think you’re so hilarious, and I don’t really have any money anyway.
6 Things Freelance Writers Can Learn from Sharks
In honor of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programming starting August 1, here are 6 things freelance writers can learn from sharks. No, I’m not advocating that we should chomp unsuspecting clients who get on our nerves, although some days that idea is tempting….
1. If something is working for you, keep doing it.
Sharks are an ancient species, and they have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years. If they haven’t evolved much, it means that as a species they have been successful. Once you find a type of writing or a niche that is working well for you, stick with it as long as it continues to make sense to you.
2. Keep moving.
Sharks are constantly in motion. They may not be actively hunting all the time, but they are patrolling the water all the time. Even if you are not currently looking for work, it pays to keep an eye on the marketplace to see what kinds of opportunities are available and who is hiring.
3. Get good at detecting opportunities.
A shark has an amazing ability to detect the presence of a possible meal in the water. According to SharkFacts.org, they have a finely attuned sense of hearing that can detect a fish from a mile away and can sense one drop of blood in a million drops of water.
Freelancers need to develop a nose for finding opportunities, too. Checking out job leads is a great way to start, but you also need to be talking to other people in your network regularly – whether you think they are able to hire you or not. Some of the best gigs come from word of mouth or referrals, and you aren’t competing against hundreds of other people for them.
4. A thick skin is a helpful attribute.
Shark skin is an interesting organ. If you were to stroke it in one direction, it is very soft and smooth. Run your hand the opposite way, though, and it is as rough as sandpaper. The skin was even used as sandpaper by wood carvers at one time.
If you are going to be putting yourself out there as a freelance writer, you need to develop the ability to not take the word “No” personally. You aren’t going to get every gig that you apply for, and not every client you work with one time will turn into a long-term client. Some people are very easy to work with and know exactly what they want, while others can be very challenging to deal with.
5. Sometimes a test bite tells you all you need to know.
If a shark sees something on the surface of the water and isn’t sure whether it is food or not, it will take a test bite to check thing out before making a meal of it. Unfortunately, when the object in question is a person on a surfboard instead of a seal, the test bite has the potential to cause a serious, if not potentially fatal, injury.
When you accept a gig from a new client, it’s a good idea to start slowly. Instead of committing to a large project, start with a handful of articles instead. That way, you can see whether the two of you will work well together. If not, you can finish what you agreed to and swim on looking for your next great gig.
6. Once you develop a bad reputation, it sticks with you.
Sharks aren’t inherently bad; they just do what they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, they also tap into our fears of something lurking in the deep that we can’t see until it’s too late.
Sharks are definitely on our radar, in a way that other predators don’t seem to be. We refer to surfing on the Internet, and it can be compared to a great big ocean of knowledge. While we want to make a name for ourselves and become big fish, so to speak, we don’t want to get the reputation as someone who is flaky, difficult to work with, or who provides subpar work.
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