Thursday, November 25, 2010

5 Mistakes Every Freelance Writer Should Avoid

Yes, yes...shame on me for not posting in so long. But be happy for me! Silence on the blog generally means that I've had lots of paying work to keep me busy. It's sad that the blog falls by the wayside during busy stretches, but hey - something's gotta give. And now that I'm entering a "famine" period, I have time to share with you some of the stuff that I've learned.

I've noticed recently that pretty much every freelance blog has an article titled something like: "5 Mistakes Freelance Writers Make" so I thought I'd go ahead and throw in my 2 centimes.

1. Failing to follow-up on queries, promising leads, etc. Always, always, always follow-up on queries that you've sent or any leads you've gotten. About 50% of the magazine work I've snagged has come from following-up on original queries that went unanswered. Most of the time, the editor has actually thanked me for sending a follow-up, saying that s/he was interested but lost track of the query, the time, etc. You may be letting potential work slip through your fingers if you don't follow up, so make sure that you do! Even if you get a rejection on the follow-up, you can take advantage of the contact by quickly throwing more ideas in the editor's path while your name is still fresh in his or her mind.

2. Being a Perfectionist. It sounds like a great answer to that classic job interview question "What is your greatest weakness?" but striving for perfection can hurt as much as it can help. It can make you less efficient, promotes procrastination, and keeps you from advancing. I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to spend weeks on a single query letter. I'd interview and sometimes even re-interview potential sources to find the perfect quote to include in the pitch. Or I would spend days and days immersing myself in background research, as if an editor was going to give me a pop quiz on the subject. And then, of course, I would write the query letter over and over, looking at it from every conceivable angle, until I felt assured of its brillance and perfection. But none of this saved me from receiving rejections and it wasted a lot of time.

These days, I avoid the trappings of perfectionism by setting a reasonable estimated time for completion of a project. If I find myself taking too long on a task, I step back and make an honest assessment of whether the extra time is justified. If not, I force myself to move on. Since becoming less of a perfectionist, my productivity has improved immensely --and I don't think the quality my work has suffered at all.

3. Failing to fully understand the terms of service and publication. Always make sure that you understand everything that is required of you and the circumstances of publication before starting to write. When is the article due? How many words should it be? What rights are you retaining? When will it be published? When will you be paid? Is there a kill fee? Does the editor expect you to provide photographs? All of this information should be clear - and in writing - before you lift a pen (or move your mouse).

4. Failing to Diversify. It's nice to have steady work with a client that always pays on-time. But it doesn't pay to get too comfortable with the gig, no matter how reliable it seems. What will you do if your client's business folds or no longer needs you? A freelance writer should always be looking for the next (or another) gig. It's exhausting, but it's the trade-off for being able to work in our pajamas. And this leads me to my final point....

5. Failing to Have a Plan for Your Career. You know, I thought I had a plan for my freelance career. But after having read the very excellent book, "The Wealthy Freelancer"
I have come to realize that all I really have is a bunch of goals. Naturally, having clear, written short-term and long-terms goals for your writing is essential, but it's not necessarily the same thing as having a plan. Goals tell you where you want to go; plans tell you how to get there. Freelancing is a business and without a proper business plan, you may find yourself career stalled.

Happy Writing!