5 Lessons I Learned Tracking My Pitches for a Year

Excerpt from The Freelancer:

By Anna Cat Brigida

When I first started freelancing, I saw pitching as an unpredictable part of the job. The pitch itself mattered, of course, but I always felt that I was more lucky than smart when one was accepted. But now I know that’s not true—pitching is just as much science as art.

For the past year, I’ve kept a log of all the queries I’ve sent and editors’ responses (I have to give credit to fellow Contently contributor Julie Schwietert Collazo for suggesting the idea during her pitch class). With this data, I now better understand my own habits. Best of all, I’m using the information to plan out my future freelancing goals.

A pitch log can be simple. Mine is a Google spreadsheet. Every time I send a pitch, I open the spreadsheet and write the outlet name, story title, date I sent the pitch, and mark the status as “waiting.”

When an editor gives a definitive response, I mark the pitch as “accepted” or “rejected.” I mark pitches as “some interest” when an editor responds positively to the idea but doesn’t assign it in the end. If I don’t hear back after a follow-up, the pitch gets marked as “no response.” In the few cases where I’ve sold a story elsewhere or could no longer work on it, I marked the pitch as “withdrawn.”

In the past year, I sent out 148 pitches to 47 publications. In total, I had work published in 20 of these publications, including The Daily Beast, Vice’s Broadly, Al Jazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, Fusion, BBC, and others. My overall acceptance rate was about 26 percent…

You can read the full blog post here.

Is the Internet Stealing Your Precious Time?

 

To become a successful freelance writer or editor, you need solid technical skills. However, you also need to dedicate a certain amount of time each day to the marketing tasks required to develop your business. At least you do if you are not earning the money you want to earn.

Let’s say you want to work 20 (or more) billable hours per week (billable hours are hours when you are working on paid assignments; they do not include the time spent issuing invoices, writing pitch letters or sorting files). And let’s say you are currently working zero to ten billable hours. I suggest that you dedicate the difference (at minimum) between the number of billable hours you are working and the number of billable hours you want to work to marketing your services and developing your business.

Do you feel yourself resisting? “I am a born procrastinator. I do not know how to manage my time.” If that’s what you are thinking, then you should understand such resistance is natural. But it is your job to make resistance futile. Start by taking a deep breath. There. Doesn’t that feel better? (If it doesn’t, it may be because you forgot to exhale!)

Unless you manage your time effectively, you will have difficulty developing your business, or meeting deadlines when you land gigs. Your business priorities should be based on billable tasks that editor or clients are willing to pay for and on non-billable tasks that generate billable work. Your productive but non-billable tasks can be found in your Marketing Plan, which you should have if you want to succeed in any business.

If you don’t have a Marketing Plan—a road map for generating work—you may find that the Internet, email in particular, will become (has become) a great time waster.

Do you, like many freelancers, turn on your computer at the beginning of day and spend considerable time reading and replying to personal email, reading electronic newsletters and online newspapers and surfing the Web? If not, congratulations. The Internet is not stealing your precious time. However, if you start your day reading non-business e-mail and other material (do you really need to read three newspapers every morning?), allow me to ask you a simple question:

Why are you allowing others to steal your time?

Many freelancers (website designers, graphic artists, consultants and small-business owners) start their day wasting time because they do not know how they should spend their time. They may have some vague idea of what they aspire to, but they do not have a road map to lead them to that destination. They do not have a business vision. They have no goals. They do not have a marketing plan.

Such people fritter away valuable hours hoping that work will find them and that assignments will fall like manna from heaven. If you have been a freelancer or an independent practitioner for a number of years, occasionally a former editor or client might call. But can you afford to sit back and wait for that to happen as you read newspapers, watch TV, play computer games, surf the Web or read personal e-mails?

If not, start your day doing marketing tasks (developing ideas, pitching editors or prospective clients) that will generate billable hours.

If you need to, or want to, make more money (or, quite frankly, if you want to write the next great Canadian novel or accomplish anything else your heart desires), set a plan and stick to it. Don’t let the Internet thwart your efforts. Don’t sacrifice your time on the altar of email when you have work to do or a business to develop.

Paul Lima is a freelance writer, writing trainer, and author of The Six-Figure Freelance: How to Find, Price, and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments and other books and short reports on the business of freelance writing and business and promotional writing. Visit him online at www.paullima.com/books.

Free PDF book giveaway: Books on writing and business of freelance writing

To kick off the New Year, I am giving away PDFS of my books–any of my books that might be of interest to you.

In short, if you are interested in books on business, promotional, article or non-fiction book writing, or the business of freelance writing, or even my book of short stories, go to http://www.paullima.com/books/, pick the book that is of interest to you and email paullima.com@gmail.com and request a free PDF of the book of your choice.

That is all you have to do.

You will receive the PDF and NO spam or promotional email. You will not be put on an email list that you have to opt off. Scout’s honor!

So if you want a PDF of one of my books, email me–but you have to email me by the end of the week (Jan. 8) to get your free PDF book.

Happy New Year!

Book helps aspiring writers keep their New Year’s resolution: to write daily

From my experience over the last decade, there is no real accounting for book sales. Or perhaps there is. My books How To Write A Non-Fiction Book in 60 DaysEverything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing and Say it Right: How to Write Speeches and Presentations tend to sell well year ’round. I presume that is because there is a year ’round demand for them from people who want to write, of finish, their non-fiction books, from those who want to start, or elevate, their freelance writing career and from those who have to give speeches and presentations at any time of the year.

However, sales of Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it tend to be dormant, until this time of year and in early January. I guess this is the time of year when writers who feel that they are stuck resolve to overcome their barriers and blocks and get on with writing, especially creative writing.

With over 70 writing exercises to get you started and keep you writing,  Unblock Writer’s Block must feel like a New Year’s resolution, or the book that will help writers keep their New Year’s resolutions — to overcome blocks and to write on a daily basis.

Or as the book promotion says:

If you feel as if you are stuck in a prisoner’s block, then consider this book a set of tools baked in a cake and delivered to your cell. They will help you break out of the block, so you will be free to write again.

So it is interesting to watch sales of this book spike as we approach the new year. Like gym memberships. Only this book is a workout for the writer’s mind! And let’s face it, almost every writer can use a little help now and then to get into shape…. May 2017 be a get fit and break through writing year for you!

Indie Publishing Pot of Gold for Some, Work in Progress for Many

Marie Force is a New York Times best selling contemporary romance author. She is also a self-published author who is very active in the self-publishing community. She recently surveyed self-published authors and has post the extensive results of the survey on her blog. Here is an excerpt and a link to the full results.

Survey responses from nearly 2,000 indie authors, half of them entirely indie published, give insight into the industry and advice on how indie authors can make a better success of their business. Marie Force, the New York Times-bestselling hybrid author of more than 30 indie-published titles, conducted the survey through Survey Monkey with questions developed by Marie with input from many other indie authors. It was widely publicized through indie author groups and social media. Nearly 90 percent of responding authors were female, the majority between the ages of 41 and 50. More than 60 percent of respondents identified a subgenre of romance as their primary genre. Five percent were science fiction authors, five percent were mystery/thriller authors and four percent were fantasy authors. The survey was live from Oct. 8 to Nov. 8, 2016.

When asked the reason for taking the indie publishing path, authors cited greater revenue as their primary reason followed by greater product control. Conversely, their greatest frustrations with being indie authors are the perceived lack of a level playing field on the retail platforms and industry instability. However, 29 percent reported they are indie authors because the frustrations are minimal. More than half the respondents say the biggest benefit to being an indie author is agility and the ability to pivot when needed.

Read the full results here.

In time for Christmas: Books on business, promotional, article writing and business of freelance writing

Just in time for Christmas for the writer on your gift list: popular print and e-books (for Kindle and Kobo) on business, promotional, book, article,  social media and website writing, self-publishing and the business of freelance writing. Book have been written by Paul Lima, a professional writer for over 30 years and a freelance writer for over 20 years. A number of the books are used at the University of Toronto (and other colleges) by adult education writing students.

See if there is a print or e-book for you or the writer on your Christmas gift list from this list of books:

  • How To Write A Non-Fiction Book in 60 Days: Ideal for those who want to write a non-fiction book.
  • Produce, Price and Promote Your Self-Published Fiction or Non-fiction Book and eBook:  “Painstakingly lays out all the information one needs to self-publish a book, including options, pros and cons and caveats.”
  • Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing – Find, Price, Manage Corporate Writing Assignments & Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines
  • Six-Figure Freelancer: How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments
  • Business of Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines, Conduct Interviews and Write Article Leads
  • The Query Letter: How to Sell Article Ideas to Newspapers and Magazines
  • Say it Right: How to Write Speeches and Presentations 
  • (re)Discover the Joy of Creative Writing: Over 50 exercises to get you started and keep you writing
  • Harness the Business Writing Process: E-mail, Letters, Proposals, Reports, Media Releases, Web Content
  • Harness the Email Writing Process: How to Become a More Effective and Efficient Email Writer
  • Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content
  • How to Write Web Copy and Social Media Content: Spruce up Your Website Copy, Blog Posts and Social Media Content
  • Copywriting That Works: Bright ideas to Help You Inform, Persuade, Motivate and Sell!
  • How to Write Sales Letters and Email: Write direct response marketing material to inform, persuade and sell!
  • Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it: With over 70 writing exercises to get you started and keep you writing
  • How to Write Media Releases to Promote Your Business, Organization or Event
  • Are You Ready For Your Interview? How to Prepare for Media Interviews. Prepare for interviews with print and broadcast reporters

Read more about the books online at paullima.com/books.

How much should I charge per word?

How much should I charge per word?

I don’t mean to smile amusedly when freelance writers, editors and translators ask me that question. There is no right answer to that question. But let me start with a story.

I was conducting a freelance business workshop when someone asked that question. I asked the group if any of them has a fixed per work rate. I was surprised by the number of hands that went up.

One translator said, quite adamantly, that she charge fifteen cents per word.

“No matter what?” I asked.

“No matter what,” she replied.

I then asked her how much she would charge to translate this phrase: “You deserve a break today.”

She didn’t skip a beat. “Seventy-five cents,” she said.

Now “You deserve a break today” is a former McDonald’s advertising slogan. I’m sure the company paid a pretty penny to have it written and a pretty penny to have it translated. After all, the words were going on all McDonald’s advertisement and a lot of other promotional material. I suspect that McDonald’s wanted the strongest slogan and best translation that money could buy.

In short, what you charge per word should depend in large part on the nature and value of the job to the client.

I expect corporate clients to pay more than newspapers and magazines, for the most part because the work you do for corporate clients is intended to make money or add value to the company. Hate to be cynical about this, but most journalism (not all, but most) is intended to fill space between ads. It’s the ads that bring value to the publication and to the advertiser. If you are writing one of those ads, ask more than if you are writing the space filling article.

By the same token, expect to charge less if you are editing a book of straight prose than if you are editing a corporate document, especially if it is a complex shareholder document or marketing material.

So if you charge per word for your work, think hard about your rate and scale it up for work that is more complex, critical and valuable.

*    *    *

Paul Lima is the author of Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing – Find, Price, Manage Corporate Writing Assignments & Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines and other books on promotional and business writing and the business of freelance writing.

Feedback and the Communication Process

Excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content 

Communication is a process that often, but not always, ends with feedback. If you want to communicate effectively—in writing or when speaking—you should understand the communication process.

Communication requires a sender who sends a message through a channel (email, letter, report, article, tweet, blog post and so on) to a receiver (the reader). The process is not complete, however, without feedback. Feedback closes the communication loop. Sometimes, noise (competing messages, distractions, misunderstandings and so on) interferes with your message. Feedback lets you know if the receiver understood your message.

Again, you don’t always need feedback. If you are writing an article for a publication, you seldom solicit feedback. You might, however, if you are writing an editorial or writing for a publication that advocates social justice and wants people to participate in the political process. The main thing is to be aware of the communication process so you can make conscious decisions about how to use it.

Advertising and Feedback
When you communicate in person, you can ask for feedback if you want it. You can ask people if they understood what you were saying or if they have any questions. However, when you communicate in writing or other one-way media (such as broadcast, which is primarily speaking the written word), it is more difficult to ask for feedback.

Advertisers want feedback when they communicate so they can measure the effectiveness of promotions, and they have learned how to use direct-response marketing techniques such as discount coupons, time-limited offers, and so on to motivate people to take action–buy something or request more information. They then measure the received feedback—how many widgets were sold, how many people called for more information or, these days, visited a website.

If an advertiser doesn’t know how effective its promotion was, how will they know whether they should run the same ads again, modify them, or scrap them and come up with something new?

In business writing, if you do not close the communication loop, how will you know if the desired action has been or will be taken by the person or group of people you have written?

Again, you do not have to ask for replies from everybody you email or to whom you send information or from everybody who reads your articles. In many instances, your writing purpose might not require you to close the communications loop, especially if you are writing news articles for publications or websites. In business, you often send messages “FYI”—for your (the receiver’s) information. In other words, no action required. Again, the key is to know before you write if you want feedback, and how it should be taken. That way, you can work a call to action into your document—buy now, call today, storm the barricades at 3:00 PM, send a letter of protest.

If you want to know if the recipient has taken the requested action (or has any questions), you need to close the communication loop. You can ask for a reply and monitor the situation to see if action has been taken.

In advertising, as mentioned, and often when using social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on), you go one step further: You not only ask for action to be taken, you try to motivate it.

“Save 20% if you buy before November 30” is an attempt to motivate someone to buy a product by a specific date. If sales go up, you have your feedback and know your motivation worked.

“Click here to read about the new Filibuster 300 and receive 10 free tips on…” is an attempt to motivate a click. “Blog post on <topic>. Read and enter to win. Click here <website address>,” goes the tweet. Without getting into web analytics here, I want you to know that you can monitor clicks to your ten free tips or contest after you send out your promotion, and you can then gauge your feedback or how well your promotion did.

Again, if you do not require a reply (literally a reply or feedback or action), then you may not need to close the communication loop. Deciding whether to close it or not should be a conscious decision, based on your particular needs. The important point here is this: if you need to know that the receiver has received and understood your message or taken a particular action, then you have to put into place a method of closing the communication loop. If the loop does not close in a timely manner—timely as dictated by you and your circumstances—then it is your job to troubleshoot the process.

In other words, you can assume that your message has been received and understood or you can build feedback into the communication process so you know it has or you know if you need to follow up.

Understanding the need to close, or not close, the communications loop or to motivate, or not motivate, action can make you a better writer, but only if you can write well and structure your entire document to lead up to the call to action (or conscious lack of one).

Excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content

 

Query letter: how to sell your article ideas to editors

Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing – Find, Price, Manage Corporate Writing Assignments & Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines

Note: See link to Query Letter Video at end of blog post

You become a freelance writer when you start selling ideas to editors who pay you. To sell your ideas to editors, you need to pitch them using the query letter…

Many freelance writers have difficulty with the idea of sales and marketing. Perhaps because they see writing as a creative or artistic process, they feel marketing sullies the art. Although I see writing as a creative process, I see freelance writing as a business—one that involves sales and marketing—as well as the creative process….

When pitching ideas, I target my markets. It is better to send a few queries tailored to publications you know publish articles like the ones you are proposing, than to send a generic ‘are you looking for writers?’ query to 20 or more magazines in the hope one might bite….

It is best to send an email query letter and let the editor review it when he or she has time. It is also easier to follow up on a query by phone than it is to pitch an idea by phone, but more on follow-up later. Overall, I favour the email (or mail) query for three reasons:

  1. It is what most editors expect from freelance writers.
  2. Many editors will not look at unsolicited manuscripts—a query is shorter, easier to read, and demonstrates the writer’s knowledge of the topic and their ability to write.
  3. It takes work to write a query letter but it takes more work to write an article; I want to know that I will be paid to write an article before I do the work….

When you think of your query as your basic marketing tool—a sales letter customized to solicit business from a very targeted market (one editor)—it all begins to make sense.

Your query letter must be focused on the idea and flawless—no spelling or grammatical errors—in execution, reflecting the detailed care you will give your article. For newspaper or magazine articles, a query letter addressed to the editor will outline the following:

  • Your article idea—the focus of the article or what the article is all about.
  • The sources, or potential sources, of information.
  • Why readers (of the target publication) would want to read the article (demonstrating your knowledge of the magazine’s readership).
  • Why the article should be written now.
  • Why you should be the one to write the article, i.e., a paragraph about you (which your me cluster should help you write)….

Also, your central idea must seem like something the publication’s readers would be interested in or benefit from, and it must be credible. If you propose to profile or interview the president or prime minister, for example, and you have no political experience or no obvious access to that person, the idea will not appear to be credible. It will appear to be beyond your reach, unless you explain exactly how you will accomplish what you propose to do.

Allow me to show you an example of a query subject line and lead (opening) I consider about as close to perfect as you can get.

Subject: Article Query: Show your true love

Dear <Editor’s Name>:

The same bunch of roses that says “I love you” to a mother or “I’m sorry” to a lover could mean long-term illness in communities where they were grown. Doctors studying the issue in Ecuador have revealed the thorny side of the cut-rose industry as they work toward a fairer flower.

The predominantly young workers who toil in the cut-flower industry do not always notice they have medical problems, which tend to manifest later in life. Others, like one young mother I met while attending a community clinic held by the Centre for Studies and Consultation in Health (CSCH), cannot hold a pen straight and exhibits other disorders. But she continues working with cut flowers to make ends meet.

Dr. Jaime Breilh of the CSCH says they first thought poisoning through acute pesticide exposure was making cut-flower workers ill. As they studied the issue, however, they learned low-dose chronic exposure to pesticides caused the problems….

Of course the query goes on from there, as you will see from other examples in the book. But what I want you to do here is imagine this query with the above subject line landing in the editor’s in-box before Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. The editor might think it is a query for another typical “love” article but would open it to check it out because, after all, the editor is looking to run love-oriented articles around Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. He just hopes they go beyond the usual clichés and perhaps offer a bit of fresh insight.

Imagine, now, as the editor gets to the end of the first paragraph: suddenly, everything Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day stands for has been stood on its head. The flowers we send to show our love could be making people sick? If this is something the editor did not know, then this information captures the attention of the editor and causes the editor to read on….

That is what you have to do in your queries: capture the attention of the editor, hold the editor’s interest, and influence attitude. If you can do that, you will dramatically increase your chances of closing the sale. Again, there will be much more on writing queries in the book. But I wanted to set the stage for you here.

An important part of the query letter is you: why should you be the one to write the article? You tell the editor about you in a brief paragraph towards the end of your query. As you pitch different publications or companies in different sectors (for corporate work), adjust your bio to reflect your strengths in relation to the article idea, the type of publication, or the company you are pitching….

Here is a query letter template:

Person’s Name
Position (usually Editor)
Publication Name
Address

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

Opening Paragraph. Make it read as if it might be the lead of the article. Or pose an intriguing question. Or outline a startling new trend.

Support Paragraph. Build on the introduction of the central idea and put your opening paragraph in context. Maybe include some statistics or trend information. Or discuss the economic, political, legal, environmental, or social/cultural reasons behind, or implications of, the person/subject/concept you are proposing to write about. Also, demonstrate a reason why the article would be of interest to the readers of the publication.

Source Paragraph. Demonstrate you have done some research and have access to sources that can comment on, or otherwise contribute to, your article. The higher placed the sources are, the more convincing you have to be about your ability to reach the appropriate sources.

Ask For The Order Paragraph. Literally, ask if the editor is interested in the article. If it is a time-sensitive topic, give a deadline.

About You Paragraph. This is where you add something about you and why you are the right person to write such an article. Be sure to include your contact information: phone, email, and website (if you have one).

Sincerely,
Your Signature
Your Typed Name
Encl.: Clippings

Query letter for style
This query letter that I concocted is presented for style only. Having said that, since creating this query, I’ve seen several articles addressing the theme of “an apple a day” and the impact that fresh fruits and vegetables have on health. So you never know what you can turn into an article.

Dear <Name>:

Is there any truth to the expression ‘an apple a day keeps the Doctor away’? Yes, and here’s the proof.

According to the Nutritional Institute of Canada, one apple a day contains the daily recommended dose of vitamins X, Y, and Z. Apples are also an excellent source of roughage, contain no fat and very few calories. Apples make great snacks for kids. Baked or turned into applesauce, they can be used as a side dish for main meals or as scrumptious dessert.

The readers of (Magazine Name) are health-conscious individuals who are concerned about nutrition and diet. Would you be interested in a feature story on the healthy habit of eating an apple a day?

Along with verified health and nutritional facts about apples, my article will include an interview with the noted apple authority, Johnny Appleseed. I can also provide several of his favourite apple recipes.

I spent three years working in an apple orchard and have written short articles on apples for my community newspaper and church newsletter. Samples of my writing are enclosed. If this article is of interest, please feel free to contact me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or email@mydomain.com.

Sincerely,
Your Signature
Your Typed Name
Encl.: Clippings

Query letter video: sell your article ideas
In this 10-minute video, Paul Lima discusses how to sell your article ideas to newspaper and magazine editors using the query letter. He looks at how to structure and write query letters to pitch your article ideas:

Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing – Find, Price, Manage Corporate Writing Assignments & Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines