Friday, June 24, 2016

How do you become a freelance writer?

I am the administrator of a Facebook group for writers. One member recently asked, "How do I become a free lance writer?" Here's my reply (slightly edited):

First of all, "freelance" is one word.

The term comes from medieval times, when a mercenary warrior would provide himself and his lance to a lord who would pay for his services, rather than to a lord he had a long-term relationship with.

I freelanced for dozens of magazines, newspapers and advertising agencies back in the 1970s. I had majored in journalism in college and then moved to NYC and got a job as ass't editor of a magazine. I used my contacts gained at that magazine, plus samples of what I had written, to sell work to other publications as well as ad agencies.

The specific paths may vary, but three vital ingredients are 

(1) experience that generates published writing samples,
(2) knowledge of potential media clients,
(3) story ideas. (In journalism, an article is called a "story" or a "piece.")

It will probably be tough to sell your first article if you have no experience. Many writers start writing for low-paying (or even no-paying) community newspapers. If you can write very well about even dull news events, such as school board meetings, Little League or high school sports, or community bake sales, your published samples should help you to move up to more interesting assignments at better-paying media.

It's important to become familiar with publications,

broadcast stations and online media that might publish your work. My first job was assistant editor at High Fidelity Trade News, a "trade" magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. My knowledge of hi-fi equipment got me work writing for Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Country Music magazines. My experience there helped me make the transition to more mainstream magazines such as Esquire as well as newspapers, ad agencies and PR agencies.
  • It's much easier to get freelance work if you have a specialty, or multiple specialties, hopefully with little competition.
If you are one of just three people in the world who know all about left-handed nuclear reactors, and an editor needs a story about that subject, it will be easier to get the assignment than if you are one of a million people who like to write about cars, decorating kids' rooms or cooking turkey.
  • You should constantly be sending out "pitch letters" (which can be emails), suggesting stories to appropriate media. Even if you don't sell the pieces you suggest, once you become known to editors, they'll probably contact you when they need a story in a field you are qualified to write about.
You have to learn the appropriate contacts at the media you are interested in. That info can be gleaned by reading the staff listings in the publications, and through directories. In general, publishers are concerned with finance, not writing, so don't contact them. At a small publication, contact the editor. If there are multiple editors, contact those who are in charge of departments that are appropriate for your work.

Don't pitch an article about do-it-yourself bicycle repair to a cooking magazine or a website for funeral directors.

  • While specialization makes it easier to get work, it's important to be able to write about anything. Even if you normally write about fashions or funerals, if you are first-on-scene at a train crash, particularly if it is not covered by others, try to sell the news report.
One other path to publication is blogging. With a blog you just have to make readers happy, not impress an editor. Over the years I've written blogs that specialized in multiple subjects, and some of them led to freelance writing gigs.
  • Be aware that there are probably as many writers looking for work as there are unemployed actors and singers. The oversupply reduces the money that publications will pay, except for the top tier of writers.
Freelancers can be paid by the word, by the "column inch" (in newspapers) by the number of pages published (in a magazine), or by other systems. In the early 70s I was paid from a dime to a dollar per word. Business writing generally pays much better than magazines or newspapers. I was shocked to discover that some current publications pay as little as two cents per word.

Writers Market is an excellent directory of possible buyers of your words and should be on your shelf. In addition to its directory function, it has lots of helpful advice on the business of writing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Don't order your pizza with tombolo and onions

Words can be fun, and even funny.

I've previously written about flongs, dingbats, pilcrows and other strange publishing terms. Today, I'd like to introduce you to the TOMBOLO.

Although the word came to English from Italian, it's definitely not something you'd enjoy on top of your pizza or inside a calzone.

A tombolo is like a sandbar, but it is perpendicular to the shore, not parallel to it.

Here in Milford CT, we have a famous tombolo (but everyone calls it a sandbar).

At low tide, it connects Silver Sands Beach with Charles Island -- which may contain buried pirate treasure. I named my publishing company after the beach (which is also a state park). 

Charles Island was allegedly cursed three times.

(1) The first curse was brought in the 17th century by an Indian chief, whose tribe fought for the island which they felt was sacred ground. After settlers defeated the Indians, the chief said, "Any shelter will crumble to the Earth." No building on the island has lasted more than a few years.

(2) The second curse was supposedly brought by Captain Kidd in 1699 when he buried his treasure there. Captain Kidd cursed with death anyone who attempted to dig it up.

(3) The third curse was supposedly brought in 1721 by five sailors who stole Mexican emperor Guatmozin's treasure. Guatmozin put a curse on the stolen treasure. After four of the five sailors suffered tragic deaths, the last sailor hid the treasure in the basement of a Milford tavern. When it was discovered by a drunk searching for beer, the fifth sailor transported it to Charles Island, moving the third curse with it.

Legend says treasure hunters discovered an iron chest in 1850. As they attempted to open it, a "screeching, flaming skeleton descended from the sky. It lurched into the pit where the chest was, sending forth a shower of blue flames." The treasure hunters dropped their tools and fled from Charles Island. They returned the next day and their tools were gone and the digging site had been smoothed over, as if they'd never been there.


- - - - -

Pepe's pizza photo from OurBridgeport.com

Tombolo photo by Randal Ferret

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book promo postcards usually make no sense, except for companies that sell cards

As I've pointed out many times, since self-publishing companies sell few books to readers, the companies must make their money by selling services and paraphernalia to writers. 

As shown below from the Outskirts Press website, the promotional postcard is a common piece of paraphernalia that writers can buy.

The frequently inept and dishonest Outskirts says: "Postcards are the most effective direct mail piece" and sells them for the equivalent of 50 cents each.

(below) AuthorHouse offers an even worse deal, selling twice the quantity -- 1,000 -- for $535 (53.5 cents each)

The self-pub websites are generally vague about where the cards should be sent. However, "Christian" self-pubco Xulon press says, "Now you can mail a full-color postcard about your book to family, friends, bookstores, and more!" -- but doesn't provide pricing online without a user name and password.

Sending postcards to bookstores is probably a waste of money, as is sending them to your friends, former landladies and distant cousins, or ordering postcards to push a novel or poetry book.

However, if you publish a useful and interesting nonfiction book, and can get a good mailing list, then the campaign might work.

If you’ve written a book about Shelby Mustangs and can get a mailing list of Mustang fans, your postcards could sell some books. Make sure the card tells where books can be ordered. Consider making a special offer such as free shipping or an autograph or 10% off for orders placed within ten days.

I’ve use VistaPrint for cards (not for cards touting books, however). VistaPrint will sell you very nice color cards for as little as a 20 cents each, even in quantities as small as 50.

Keep in mind that the response rate to direct mail pieces is usually less than 5%, often much less. And, starting today, you'll have to pay 33 cents to mail each card -- even the 98% that don't sell books.

If you do the math, there's a good chance that you'll find that it makes little or no sense to spend money on a postcard campaign. Would you spend $535 for 1,000 cards plus $333 for postage and $1,300 for a mailing list rental (total $2168) to sell 25 books on which you'll make maybe four bucks each? You can send out more cards if you want to lose more money, or buy the cards direct from the printer to lose a bit less money.

If you are convinced that cards can be useful, they must be part of a multifaceted marketing campaign, and ideally should arrive while other strong publicity is going on. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Some old books deserve to die. Some deserve to be updated.

Most authors focus on their current books, or on their next book.

It can be equally productive to take a look back

You may find that a book you published several years ago can be updated, reinvigorated and become a moneymaker once again.

As your publishing empire grows, you'll find that you have more old books that are potential big assets. Look them over and pick some winners. Maybe an ebook should also be a pbook, or vice versa. Maybe a title or subtitle could be better. Maybe the cover or interior formatting needs work. Maybe you now know more than you did previously. Maybe errors need to be corrected.

If your book is nonfiction, you may have to verify and possibly change scores of pieces of information. For fiction, maybe a visual enhancement is all that's needed.

Since each of your books should contain a list of your other books, if you publish frequently, your old book lists need to be updated. Ditto for lists of blogs and websites. Hyperlinks inside ebooks should be checked and changed if necessary.

Maybe you have some new blurbs to include. Maybe your bio is out of date.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog you probably know that horrid publishing-services provider Outskirts Press is a frequent target for my scorn.

Back in 2010 I published Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How Do They Stay in Business?

I wanted to warn the company's potential customers to stay away because it produces shitty books and provides shitty services. It also overcharges.

Last week I received an email from someone who wanted to buy a copy but found it was available only used, for more than $1,000! (The new price is $10.95.)

I checked and found that the book had inexplicably gone out-of-print. I quickly tapped a few buttons and made it alive again.

I looked through the manuscript file and realized
that a lot had changed since 2010. 

Despite all odds, the horrid company is still in business—and still disappointing customers. Since Outskirts still exists, I thought it’s appropriate to update the book.

It's getting a new cover as well as new text. I'll even lower the price by a buck.

So, how does Outskirts Press stay in business? It attracts ignorant writers who know even less about publishing than the employees and management of Outskirts Press know.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Authors considering self-publishing should consider some unpleasant facts of life

  1. You’ll probably see ads proclaiming “FREE PUBLISHING” and you’ll also encounter publishing packages priced under $200. Here’s the truth: (1) No self-publishing company will print and deliver a book for free. (2) Unless you are prepared to spend $1,000 or more ($3,000 or more would be better), you probably won’t get a high-quality book and will not be able to tell many potential readers that the book exists and convince them to buy it.
  2. Writing your book is just your first assignment as an author. Unless you are prepared to make a major effort to publicize your book, few people will know about it or read it.
  3. Most books lose money—even those published by media giants with huge staffs of highly paid and experienced experts. Million-sellers are very rare in the book business. In self-publishing, thousand-sellers are very rare.
  4. Most writers love to write but few people get rich from writing (or from poker, painting or singing). Learn as much as you can about writing and publishing, and work as hard as you can to produce a fine book. But don’t quit your day job and don’t remortgage your house to finance your publishing.
  5. Although a first book can be profitable, don’t assume that your first will be profitable. Write your first book for the joy of it, or to impress your friends and family, or to change some minds, or as a learning experience or a business builder. Over months and years, as you improve your writing skills and learn more about the publishing business, the profits may come. If writing is not either fun or profitable or both—stop writing.
  6. There’s nothing wrong with publishing for pleasure. The cost of publishing a book may be much less than the cost of a boat, a vacation or even a pool tableand nobody expects them to show a profit. If you can afford to publish for fun, do it. If you can make money while having fun, that’s even better.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Make literary history. Invent a word as Willie and I did

William Shakespeare's birthday was celebrated on April 23. Since it was his 452nd birthday but he died when he was just 52, he was not present to blow out all those candles.
The Oxford English Dictionary ("OED") shows more than 2,000 entries where a quotation from Shakespeare is the earliest source available. That doesn't mean that Willie invented those words, but he certainly popularized and legitimized them.

It's been said that the celebrated "bard of Avon" introduced somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 words into English literature -- far more than other writers.

Here's a list of some of the words Willie is credited with inventing.


I, on the other hand, claim to have invented just one word: answerer (for a piece of telecommunications equipment, not a person who answers).

I will now present my claim to fame. Maybe the OED will pick this up and add to my immortality.

In 1969 and '70, on my first job after college, I was assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News -- a magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. In addition to audio components such as speakers, turntables and receivers, we also covered other electronic products that could be sold in hi-fi stores.

Part of my job was to edit press releases into brief new product announcements. The format included a one-line headline with the brand and type of product, plus a photo and a brief description with suggested retail price.

Unfortunately, our magazine columns were just 2-1/4 inches wide. That was big enough for "Harman-Kardon: Receiver." But there was no way to fit "Crowne: Telephone Answering Machine" into that narrow space.

So, with the approval of editor Bryan, I decided to call the device a phone "answerer," and no readers complained that they did not understand the term.

In later years recording tapes, motors and other mechanical guts were replaced with digital circuitry. Newer terms such as "Telephone Answering Device" ("TAD"), "Digital Answering Device" ("DAD") and "Answering System" came along.

Although dictionaries still define "answerer" as a person who answers, Amazon uses the word my way. As with Shakespeare, my word may outlive me. I am proud to have contributed one small bit to the English language.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

28 reasons why books don't make money

(From the upcoming The 100 Worst Self-Publishing Misteaks by Sheila M. Clark and me.)

Each year hundreds of thousands of different book titles are published. Some sell millions of copies. Many sell thousands or hundreds. Many sell just dozens—or even fewer—copies.

Books “fail” for many reasons. Here are some:

  1. Your book stinks. There are many ways for a book to stink.
  2. Your cover is ugly.
  3. Your cover image conflicts with your title or genre.
  4. Your cover is an indiscernible blob when reduced to "thumbnail" size on websites.
  5. Your title is confusing or vague and your subtitle doesn't help.
  6. Your name conflicts with your genre. Pearl Zane Grey dropped the "Pearl" to write macho westerns. Joanne Rowling became "J. K." to attract teenage boys to her books. If your last name is Hitler or Stalin, get a nicer pen name for romance novels or books about flower arranging or etiquette.
  7. Your title has been used by other books. Maybe many other books.
  8. You are being confused with another author—or maybe someone with a bad reputation. If your last name is Madoff, use another name for books about investing.
  9. There are many other nonfiction books covering the same subject. You have too many competitors and probably should not have published the book. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook or JFK biography?
  10. There are too many novels in the same genre. Does the world really need another book about post-apocalypse lesbian vegan teenagers?
  11. You wrote poetry.
  12. You didn’t work hard enough at promoting your book. Not enough potential purchasers know it exists.
  13. You’re too bashful to promote yourself.
  14. Your book is hard to find. It’s not available where people expect to buy it.
  15. Your market is too narrow—not enough people care about the subject. You may write an absolutely wonderful book about your absolutely wonderful mother, but your potential audience may be eight people—or two people. 
  16. Your price is wrong. If it’s too low, there’s not enough money left for you, and the low price hurts your book’s credibility. If it’s too high, you may scare readers or lose sales to your competitors.
  17. Your book has received either too many bad reviews or no reviews at all.
  18. You tried to do too much yourself, and did not hire a professional editor and designer.
  19. Your timing is wrong. The book came out too soon or too late. You missed the peak of popularity. The fad either never became big enough or went out of fashion before the book was published. Sales of Jerome Corsi’s book questioning President Obama’s birthplace dropped to almost nothing because it was published after Obama released his birth certificate. Pick a hot topic, and one that may stay hot, or at least warm, for a few years. 
  20. Your thesis has been disproved. Obama was NOT born in Kenya. 
  21. You used a self-publishing company and its services were overpriced or the company did not do all of the work you expected it to do or it did not produce a high-quality book or it did lousy or inadequate promotion or it went out of business.
  22. You spent too much money on original photography or illustrations, and did not have enough money left to promote the book.
  23. You don’t have a website where potential purchasers—and book reviewers—can find more information.
  24. You think that your work will end when you finish writing. Promoting may take more effort and time than writing.
  25. You don't know enough about your subject.
  26. You have nothing new to say. 
  27. Your book stinks (worth repeating).
  28. Your book stinks (worth repeating).

Monday, June 13, 2016

Erich Duncan's publishing advice sounds like Borat wrote it

Although the following sounds like it was written by Borat  (Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), it actually comes from Erich Duncan. Erich probably should not be giving advice about publishing -- at least not in English.

Just how with Select a Self Publishing Hit

For brand-new writers without agency representation, it has become increasingly hard with break into main publishing houses. As more and additionally more editors become uneager with take chances on untried skills, authors tend to be turning with regard to better numbers toward the actual self-publishing path. Not just does this particular give them better control over the actual completed product and additionally its pricing, it additionally invites them with participate on to a better degree with regard to the creative (and additionally aggressive) marketing of their titles. Here tend to be a number of methods on exactly what to take into account with regard to choosing the actual self-publishing entity that is right for a project.

Within the example that your needs will actually need to be able to economize much more with regard to the event that shopping from the internet try using barnes & noble promo code.

1)Determine how much time your needs can reasonably commit with the actual self-publishing process once a book is completed. While the actual turnaround at multiple of today’s self-publishing companies is very fast once you possess submitted a material, it’s going with take a a good deal of legwork on your own piece with promote its launch, solicit book reviews, do podcast interviews and additionally give talks.

2)Define a target market for the actual book. The particular amount of money and additionally time your needs program with invest is based on regardless of whether your needs program with give the actual book away with friends and additionally relatives because sentimental keepsakes, make use of with regard to combination alongside a great ongoing workshop and / or class that you are teaching, and / or take it on to a broader mass media system.

3)Assess that self-publishing business is going to give your needs the actual best contract based on the projected amount of duplicates your needs want to market plus the in-house distribution mechanism with regard to put (i.e., Amazon, Ingram, Barnes and additionally Noble, etc.).

4)Research the actual various pricing packages granted through various self-publishing companies. Various of them, by way of example, is going to publish a book at no charge but yet the actual completed product is going to probably be of inferior high quality and additionally make use of generic covers. A few is going to provide titles only with regard to a great ebook/downloadable formatting while others provide choices for hardcover, softcover and additionally sound versions (see Resources below).

5)Determine regardless of whether the actual companies assign ISBN numbers, make the books accessible through main distribution channels, and additionally provide ongoing creator support/resources without additional charge.

6)Visit author talk rooms and additionally solicit feedback from fellow authors whom possess gone the actual self-publishing path. Familiarize yourself alongside sites for instance Preditors and additionally Editors that delivers comprehensive scuttlebutt on publishing companies that will not be worth a time and additionally cash (see Resources below).

7)Order sample titles for review once you possess narrowed down a list of self-publishers with three and / or four and additionally compare their respective high quality with regard to terms of size, cover design, layout, paper and additionally binding. Don’t be shy regarding asking queries that will assist your needs make a great informed choice.

8)Compare the actual various bills associated alongside set-up, proofreading and additionally modifying services, visual design/photo uploads for covers, etc. Should you program with work modifying and additionally design jobs yourself, your needs can conserve a a good deal of cash.

9)Examine the actual pricing and additionally royalty structure of each self-publishing package. Conventional publishers regularly never exceed a 10 % royalty. Alongside self-publishers, however, the actual price tag that your needs set for a book (based found on the page size and additionally format) put together alongside the discount your needs provide with bookstores can easily cause a royalty because high because 65 %.

10)Read the actual fine print of the self-publishing contract with ensure that you are retaining every one of the rights because the actual creator and additionally you’re not locking yourself into a great inextricable relationship with regard to the event your needs choose to withdraw the actual book and / or market it on to a traditional publisher.

Contrary with prevalent belief, a conventional publishing apartment isn’t going with do that much buzz on your own brand-new book should you tend to be a genre and / or mid-list author; their focus is going to be found on the main names that tend to be already creating them cash. Accordingly, editors is going to regularly ask how much your needs program with participate with regard to the marketing of the book if they even choose to buy it. If you are going to be performing that hard with regard to promotions anyway, the benefit of controlling your product and additionally pricing structure through self-publishing additionally ensures that your book is accessible for purchase longer than it would certainly if put with regard to bookstores by a conventional publisher. (The particular average lifespan on a bookstore shelf for genre and additionally mid-list books by beginners is just regarding 6 weeks unless of course there’s a very high demand for it.)

While a conventional publisher is going to cover the actual expense of copyediting, layout and additionally cover designs and additionally piece of the total production cost, they additionally remove control of the layout and additionally design from the hands of the authors. Within many instances, they can easily even change the actual title of the book without the actual author’s permission. This isn’t going with result if you are the actual you who’s calling all of the shots.

The particular higher the actual discount your needs make accessible with bookstores, the actual more receptive they is with carrying a title. If a focus is primarily going to be online sales and additionally book fairs, bookstore discounts aren’t going to be because significant a factor with your needs.

Should you don’t already possess you, develop an url with help buzz a brand-new title. This could consist of a photo of the cover, a short synopsis, a great excerpt, and additionally reviews.

Set up a great account through PayPal thus that you can process orders online.

Be wary of self-publishers whose right discount contract is based on your own buying 100 plus duplicates of the title yourself and additionally taking responsibility for storing them and additionally delivery them out with consumers. Unless of course your needs teach classes and / or conduct workshops where the actual book is necessary reading for participants, selling 100 plus duplicates on your own own is going to be tough.

If a self-publisher is just going with make a book accessible through its own web pages, a book isn’t going with receive the actual exposure it deserves.

(Yes, I know that this word salad was probably assembled by a computer to attract search engine traffic, and that Erich Duncan may not exist.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Will your book be better if it's bigger? Probably not

The bigger the book, the longer it takes to finish writing, editing and formatting it, the more it costs to produce and purchase, the more errors it will have, and maybe the fewer people who will buy it.

I almost never go to movies that are longer than two hours, because I know the movie will become a $14 nap. I am similarly reluctant to buy books with more than about 350 pages, because I doubt they will keep me interested.

In an online forum for authors, a newbie recently discussed his debut novel -- which will have more than 800 pages.
  • It will be extremely difficult to persuade people to buy a huge and expensive book written by someone they've never heard of.
Maybe that book should become three books, or should be drastically cut. Almost any page can sacrifice a sentence or two without suffering. Most sentences can shed a word or two, and no reader will miss them. The maximum number of pages for a book is determined by printing and binding equipment (if the book is printed) and what people are willing to pay, carry and read.

One the other hand, the United Nations’  Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organ­iz­a­tion declared 49 pages to be the minimum length for a book. A publication with fewer pages can be a leaflet, pamphlet, booklet or brochure. Call it a book, and you risk offending nearly 200 nations.

Despite the UNESCO decree, no printed book has 49 pages. Pbooks have an even number of pages even if some pages don’t have numbers on them. An individual piece of paper in a book is called a leaf. Each leaf has two sides, called pages. A 100-page book contains 50 leaves. Or leafs.

Publishers don’t have to obey the United Nations. Outskirts Press can make “books” with as few as 18 pages, the minimum from Create­Space is 24 pages, and Lulu can do 32 pages. 

[above] Very thin books can't have titles and author names on their spines. I just increased the page count of my newest book from 118 to 132 to get a thicker spine. I added some important information. Printing will cost a few cents more per book but I am not raising the retail price.

Most printers can produce books with as many as 800 to
1,000 pages, but books with more than 500 pages are unusual. With nonfiction, you need to have enough pages to cover your topic adequately. Don’t skimp, or pad.
  • The book should not be so big that it will be priced a lot higher than its competitors or seem like “too much to read.”
  • It should not be so short that it seems incomplete, or doesn’t offer value for its cost.

The form of a book affects the acceptability of its size. A printed book with 600 pages could be heavy to carry and difficult to lay flat (and expensive to print and ship). 

The cost of each additional page printed is insignificant. The cost of each e-page is zero. There is a prejudice against very thin books, so try for a minimum of about 120 pages. Thin books just don’t seem like real books.

Novels can be much longer than nonfiction. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is about 1,300 pages long, and some of Rowling’s Harry Potter books have over 700 pages.

A book’s page count is not final until it is ready to be printed. Many factors determine how many words fit on a page, including page size, type size, line spacing, margins, headers, number and size of illustrations, front and back matter, etc.

An 8.5-by-11-inch manuscript page holds about twice as many words as a common 6-by-9-inch book page. A 200-page manuscript can yield a 400-page book (with no graphics), and have about 100,000 words.

Most ebooks don’t have real pages. I know of one ebook with just nine “pages” and one with 1,594 -- unless the person reading makes an adjustment which changes the total.

With most ebooks, the readers can adjust typeface, type size and vertical/horizontal orientation. That changes the number of apparent pages. A hundred people could read a particular ebook, but they’re not necessarily reading the same book. 

Publishers Weekly analyzed data from Amazon.com and declared that the median average "word count" for books is 64,531 words, which translates to about 290 paper pages. While a mean average might be more useful than the median (half of the books have more words, half have fewer), the number from PW is still useful. It’s probably best for new writers not to stray too far from the average.

It’s normal for writers to love their words -- but readers may not share the love. Some writers who love their words recognize that there are just too many words. I voluntarily cut a book I wrote from 518 pages to 432 pages, and it’s better because of the cuts. It may have been even better at 396.