Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Waiting Game

Not too much to report this week, I'm afraid. I've added a bunch of new samples to my website, stayed active on the social media front (that includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and sent out half a dozen LOIs to local real estate organizations. I'd like to get another half dozen of those out before the end of the week. 

The editor at one of my local newspapers gave me the okay to write stories for them, but I haven't heard anything since then. They generate most of their leads in-house, so I want to get a few articles under my belt before I start pitching ideas. No word from the resume company yet, either.

So yeah. All is quiet here on the freelance front. Kinda playing the waiting game a bit.

In general, I think I'm a fairly patient person. I rarely honk at cars in traffic, I don't yell at customer service people over the phone and I always try to tip waiters in restaurants, even if the service is lousy. Unless I'm really perturbed or in a desperate hurry, I can usually park and sit for a spell if I have to, regardless of the situation.

Unfortunately, that sort of passivity is certain death for a freelance writer. Just about every blogger I have listed on my blog roll has mentioned at some point that this business is all about being proactive. You simply can't wait for potential clients to come to you, especially in the beginning. You have to go after them like they're a carrot on a stick, and you're one hungry bunny. I'd like to think that's what I've been doing so far.

However, after almost a month of chugging along nonstop with limited results, my motivation is beginning to wan just a little. I never expected to have a ton of money in the bank right away, but I did think I would at least have a project or two to work on by now. Something concrete. Tangible. Something with a deadline. At this moment, no such luck.

So, the question now is, what to do next? Do I stick it out with my current marketing plan and hope for the best? Do I switch things up and try something completely different? Or do I go with a combination of the two, adding some new tactics while continuing with some of the old?

I'd like to get your thoughts on this before I decide. Three weeks is a ridiculously short period of time to get a business going, even for a full-time freelance writer. I understand that. Still, the sooner I can get at least one project going, the better. 

Q&A for the Day: What do you think my plan should be going forward? What do you do to generate income quickly when you're stuck in a drought? How often do you change marketing tactics to stir up new client prospects?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Queries vs. LOIs: A Freelance Smackdown!

As you may have read in my last post, I've been struggling with the idea of composing article queries lately. I can't say I'm afraid of rejection; it's more like I'm not too keen on making the time commitment. When you add up the time spent brainstorming the perfect pitch, finding potential sources, reviewing previous issues of the publication and tailoring your idea to fit the magazine's needs...well, it's all just so intimidating

I spent hours last week developing several concepts for real estate trade magazines, but for some reason, it was like sloughing through mud. My mind wandered. My prose felt stilted. Nothing gelled. 

I needed a different approach.
Thank goodness for Susan Johnston over at The Urban Muse and the power of online archives. Although her post about letters of introduction (or LOIs, for short) is nearly three years old, the information it contains is every bit as valuable now as it was when she first published it. For me, it was a game-changer. Let's talk about why.

On the surface, article queries and LOIs may seem similar enough, especially to brand-new freelance writers. They both work to sell a writer's services to an editor, hopefully showcasing said writer's experience and ability to write in a particular niche. However, while the query presents an idea for a specific article, the LOI is more general, emphasizing how the writer can meet the overall needs of the publication. 

As Johnston explains in the comments section of her post, queries tend to work best for custom publications that are actively seeking ideas, while LOIs can be a good strategy for trade pubs, especially when your experience is industry-specific. Since most of my clips are related to real estate marketing, I fit into that category. Furthermore, many of the industry publications I follow appear to have their articles written by real estate agents. That means less potential for submitting specific queries, but a ton of opportunity for ghostwriting, another great reason to use the more general LOI. Lastly, I've had a difficult time locating writer's guidelines for the trade pubs in question, so a LOI would be a great way to get a feel for what these magazines are looking for.

So, there you have it---a rough breakdown of the differences between article queries and letters of introduction. Although these freelance cousins are used at different times and for different reasons, many writers will need to create both at some point in their careers. Thus, it's not a bad idea to get some practice creating both documents when you can. Check out this phenomenal post at Dollars and Deadlines for templates of the two, in addition to nearly a dozen other invaluable documents you're sure to use throughout your freelance journey.

Q&A for the Day: Which do you prefer, the more targeted approach of queries, or the more general tone of LOIs? Have you had more success with one over the other, or the same results with both?  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Query or Not to Query?

Recently a fellow freelancer asked me about my querying process, or in non-freelancing terms, how many times I'd pitched article ideas to various publications and what the responses had been. I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't give him a straight answer. The truth is, the very idea of querying freaks me out. A lot. So much that I've avoided the process entirely until now. 

You see, even though I've had dozens of clips published in local newspapers and magazines over the years, I've never actually tried to query an editor before. I was fortunate in that all of those gigs came to me through networking of some kind. However, since we are still very much in a recession, I can't afford to overlook any sources of potential income, especially ones as well-paying as magazines can be. Therefore, off to the Google search box I went, where phrases like "how to write article query" and "how to pitch article ideas" became my new BFFs.

My research revealed a couple of interesting gems I'd like to share. First, there seems to be substantial debate in the freelance community as to the value of submitting queries in general. Some argue that pitching article ideas is an essential and potentially highly profitable aspect of building and maintaining your business. Others, including some very well-known freelancers, suggest that you can develop a lucrative career without ever having to query at all. At the end of the day, when you're presented with such strong arguments on both sides, what's a newly-minted freelancer to do?

For me, the answer came from a third freelancer's post that I stumbled upon yesterday morning. I'd heard about the value of submitting to trade publications before, but never in such clear detail. Reading about this largely untapped market gave me the extra dose of courage I needed. It was as if a missing puzzle piece finally clicked into place inside of my brain. 

I realized that the marketing experience I had obtained from working in a real estate office for two years translated perfectly to pitching magazines in that industry. Of course I could leverage my expertise there! I already knew the audience, understood their wants and needs and motivations. I already knew what my potential editors would want. Half of the work of my queries was practically done for me! Why hadn't I seen it before?

In the end, my little dilemma taught me two important lessons about freelance writing. First, every writer must forge his or her own path; no two are the same, and what works for one person may prove utterly torturous for another. And second, sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is the best, and is often the one staring you in the face the entire time.

Q&A for the Day: When it comes to article writing, are you a query warrior, or a query-free freelancer? How did you decide whether or not to pitch your favorite publications, and what were the results of your choice?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Status Update: Recap of the First Week

Good gracious, is it Thursday already? It's hard to believe it's been almost a week since I traded in my stable 9-to-5 for this crazy, awesome, unpredictable world of freelance writing. And let me tell you, it's been quite a ride so far. Methinks it's time for a recap, both for the sake of your curiosity and my personal need for accountability. Here's how the details shake out so far:

Income Status: No drops in the bucket yet, but I suppose that's to be expected. I'm giving myself a 30-day grace period to get some activity going, which is probably more strict than most. 

Potential Gigs: I have two possibilities lined up at the moment; one with a resume writing company, and the other with a local newspaper. I'm currently working on a sample project for the former and waiting for a final decision from the latter. Hopefully I'll know something definite about one of the two by this time next week.

Where the Leads Came From: I'm one of those throw-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks kind of people, so at least during the first few months, I'll be investigating a bunch of different freelancing avenues to find out what works for me. Here's what I tried this week:
  • Resume Companies: As I said earlier, this is where I got one of my potentials, and even if it doesn't work out, I'll stay with this source for now because I like the possibilities.
  • Local Newspapers: Again, the other source came from here. I wrote for local papers during my part-time freelancing days a few years ago, so I know they're a legitimate gig. You won't get rich off of them by any means, but it's a good way to fill in the gaps between paydays or get your feet wet in the biz.
  • Online Job Postings: Most of these have been through Craigslist, and so far have been ridiculously low-paying jobs. Haven't any luck with these at all yet, but then again, I haven't put out a ton of applications, either.
I don't know why, but for some reason I like letting folks know about this kind of stuff. I could be stingy and keep the info entirely to myself, but why bother? What would that really save me in the long run? A couple hundred bucks? A couple thousand? So not worth it. Besides, if certain very cool ladies like this one and this one hadn't been generous enough to share their wisdom, people like me wouldn't be here today.

Q&A for the Day: What did you do to generate business this week? What worked for you? What didn't? What possibilities do you have waiting in the wings?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

...And We're Off!

I come from a family of athletes. My uncle made his way through college on a football scholarship, my dad ran track all through high school, and my middle sister spent most of our childhood pursuing her dream of competing as a gymnast in the Olympics. Since I am my father's daughter in more ways than one, I followed in his footsteps and ran most of the sprint races during middle and high school.

While in the end I wasn't professional material, I was strong and fast, and most importantly, I knew how to work my butt off. When the time came for me to hang up my track shoes for good, I could say with confidence that I'd made the most of my ability and leave it at that.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my years on the track was the importance of a strong beginning. Every race literally began with a bang. As a runner, and particularly as a sprinter, you learned to live for the sound of the gun. Take off too soon and you'd be disqualified for having a false start. Wait too long and you'd be left in the dust. So you waited, your whole body tensed for that loud, angry gunshot, ready to explode out of the blocks the second it reached your ears.

Among the more inexperienced freshmen and junior varsity runners, you could start badly and still recover to win the race, provided you had the speed to catch up. But against the big dogs, juniors and seniors who competed at the regional and state level without batting an eye? Fuggedaboutit. A bad start practically sealed your doom.

So why am I telling you all of this, you ask? Well, this week marks a new beginning for me, a new sort of race for me to run. Last Friday, I left my traditional, stable, 9-to-5 "day job" to pursue my dream of working from home as a full-time freelance writer. Am I scared? You better believe it. But at the same time, I'm ready for a new adventure, and I'm happy to bring you folks along for the ride. My goal with this blog is to share all of the ups and downs of the process with you in the coming weeks and months, and hopefully get some great feedback along the way from the successful veterans out there. Should be fun. I hope you'll join me.

Q&A for the Day: What new adventures are you embarking on lately?