How many workshops and conferences have you attended solely because of one author who was speaking or teaching? If you are like most people, more than one. But why do we do that? Maybe we read their books. Maybe we know them by reputation. Maybe, and most likely, because we hope some kernel of truth will drop from them and push us through the grates that strain writers to achieve greatness.
Ever ask yourself why writers (many famous and well published) speak at workshops or conferences or teach? Maybe because they need press. Maybe because they enjoy it. Maybe, and most likely, they do it to bolster their income. As I mentioned last week, well known, well-published, well-honored writers have to work a day job to supplement their book writing. With the exception of a few notables, i.e. James Patterson, most authors only produce a book every few years - at least a book worth reading. With contract fees for books at an all time low, writers must turn themselves into a lean, mean writing and speaking machines to “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.”
To some degree, the changes in the publishing industry, coupled with the cost of living and the challenge to find any job these days, has brought a wealth of new ideas, new approaches to writing, new reading resources and gizmos, and thousands of new freelance jobs for writers. When downsizing, business often start with the writing staff - publicity, marketing, education, training - in the erroneous belief that “anybody can write.” The work is parceled out to unsuspecting and too often inarticulate managers.
After almost ten years of this mediocrity and lost revenue, companies have found solid gold. Freelancers don’t require overhead expenses such as an offices and equipment, supplies and insurance, or retirement plans. When this happened, freelance writing requests exploded all over the Internet. If you don’t believe me, type in freelance writers and watch your computer struggle to load the enormous lists. Unfortunately, these same companies, still believing "anybody can write" wanted to pay low rates.
I began working as a freelancer through individual clients, a word-of-mouth type of arrangement. Then I started bidding on jobs through several online freelance companies about ten years ago. Competition was (and still is) high and international. After a few jobs that paid me $1.50 for five 500-word articles for websites, and they wanted ten a day, this dummy woke up. But, I hung in there until I learned how to do research and regurgitate words on the page at an all time high. They weren't looking for quality, they wanted words and keywords that breezed through Copyscape. I built up some credits and that led me to higher paying jobs from the same online source.
It didn’t take me long to realize which companies I didn’t want to work with, but I have to admit that education was painful in all sorts of ways. Some of those companies no longer exist. Nuff said.
And that brings me to today’s lesson. Just as hair styles have changed since the dawn of time, so has the role of a freelance writer. Things have changed DRAMATICALLY in the past three years. It is much easier to find intellectual stimulation and better fees with an influx of professional people and companies vying for our skills and time.
The number of rip-off companies were complained about so frequently, most have been eradicated. I still see companies and individuals seeking to “make a deal” as though hiring a good writer was some type of e-bay activity.
I, too, have changed. I find myself talking to the computer when someone wins the bid; someone who is willing to do the work for 90% less than my I am. I wish the writer well and hope they build their credits quickly. I also wish the client well, because they make what was clearly a cost per hour decision that had nothing to do with logic. We all have to learn from our mistakes.
While online proposals for jobs account for only about 5% of my income, the bidding process is fun and challenges me to sell myself and my work, a trying job for anyone who prefers to hide at the computer or in a book. That process does me more good than anything else I’ve done when it comes to building my business, and I've met some wonderful writers and clients. Oh, the ugly looks I got from other writers when I launched my first marketing campaign. You would have thought I had single-handily pillaged and destroyed the crops for half of the United States.
Here are a few things I learned along the way to become this unusual critter - authorpreneurship.
1. I do not work below a certain rate. Period. I have stuck to that, which has also been painful at times, but I learned there are more than enough people who understand the value of good writing and appreciate the value of editing to sell their products that I will not prostitute myself for the work.
2. The difference between assets and liabilities (try not to laugh), and debits and credits (not the Visa or MasterCard kind), negotiation and browbeating, value given and value earned (not ego and id), harassment and feedback, and best of all friends and acquaintances.
3. The value of contracts and agreements.
4. The necessity of requiring some payment up front or continue to be cheated by “reputable companies and authors.”
5. Prepare for the leaner times when you are flush.
6. I do not work for publications that do not pay. (I have Hope Clarke to thank for harping on this on www.fundsforwriters.com.) Period.
7. If I want to finish and sell a book, the time has to be scheduled, and if it invades my reading time, I have the power to choose.
8. Networking is an absolute necessity to survive as an entrepreneur and as a writer. Deal with it.
9. Prizes such as the Agatha, Pulitzer, Newberry, PEN/Faulkner, Pushcart, Gold Dagger Award, etc. are next to impossible for most writers to win. I will be happy with great reviews on GoodReads and Amazon.
10. There is a secret to the New York Times bestseller list. It is called advance copy distribution. The NYT list is based on the speed at which a book sells in its first week on the shelf. Pre-orders count towards the first week’s sales rate. No wonder ARCs are all over websites such as GoodReads and the authors are happy to give them away and publicize their upcoming books on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
11. Careful placement of a book in a category or selling an e-book for 99 cents can skyrocket a book
to the top of the list, and then the author has bragging rights and sells more books.
If you are interested in being a freelancer and/or an authorpreneur, jump on in. The water’s choppy but what an adventure you will have!