Writerly Misconceptions

What’s on the iPod: Peaceful, Easy Feeling by the Eagles

Great day yesterday. I managed to get a ton of project work done on top of organizing a graduation party for my youngest. I can take one area of my life being stressed, but not two at the same time. But I’ve made enough progress everywhere to be content.

I scored two assignments from a semi-regular client, so I contacted the interview sources to get things rolling there. I did a bit of marketing and I hope to have a few more projects within a week.

I had some time to poke around the blogs and forums, too. And I’m seeing a lot of writers spouting advice and blanket statements that simply aren’t true. Not from my chair, anyway. See if you agree:

1. Trade magazines always pay less. Nonsense. Some of the highest-paid gigs I’ve had were trade pubs. If you go into negotiations thinking this, you’re already handicapping yourself. It’s true some pubs don’t have the large freelance budgets of other pubs, but isn’t that equally true of the consumer pub market?

2. Writers don’t need resumes. Writers need to show their experience and career progression just like any other professional. Your resume isn’t going to look like the resume of say an operations manager or accountant, but it’s still going to show your areas of expertise, your specialties (if any), the publications/clients that have used your services, and how long you’ve been working in the field.

3. Starting with content mills is the best place for newbies to get clips. Sure, if you plan to stay there. Think of these cheapo jobs as black holes – they suck you in and, unless you’re able to defy gravity and dig your way out, you’re going to be there a long time. Plus those clips – including that one about how to pull ticks off your dog – are going to look amateurish to your next clients, who may be looking for someone to do a high-level expose on say the meat packing industry. Guess who they probably won’t hire?

4. Charging hourly is always a bad idea. Yes and no. We’ve hashed this one out before, but it bears repeating. I charge hourly. However, I’ve stopped telling my clients that I’m doing so (and thanks to those of you who convinced me to stop quoting hourly across the board). Instead, I calculate how many hours a project will take and quote a flat rate. For one or two clients, I do charge hourly, but only after I’ve worked with them a bit and determine if they’re nickel counters.

What misconceptions are you hearing these days?

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  • Eileen January 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    No misconceptions to share, but I do want to push back against #2. Maybe it's just semantics, but I think a freelance writer with a resume sends the wrong impression. It positions us in the mind of our client as an employee instead of a valuable consultant. On the rare occasions when I need to convey the same type of information that would be conveyed using a resume, I use a narrative bio, just like executives and consultants use.

  • Lori January 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    It's semantics, Eileen. Even our portfolios are resumes. 🙂 Mind you, in a writer's case the information included will change with every situation, but it's still a synopsis of our experience and specialties. That said, we won't be well served by a typical resume template. As you've said, a bio is more in line with the goal.

    I don't know about you, but it's rare a client asks for my resume – rather, they ask for an outline of our background (again, semantics).

  • Wendy January 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Oh! I love this one, Lori! I want to add to the #3. Picture this. I go to a higher-paying client after coming off of a keyword-stuffing mill job. I use 2 DSL articles as clips (keyword-stuffed, mind you). I didn't get the job. Their response:
    "Really? This is the best you have to offer me?" So, I go to lower-paying jobs.

    Again, I try to break into the higher-paying opportunities. This time, I use a couple of working from home articles. I didn't get any jobs, at that time. The responses (from Life and Creative coaches):

    "You don't have the right mindset for what we need."

    " We're looking for someone to write Goal-oriented type material. Your clips show you're not a fit for us."

    There are even some clients who specifically request that you not give them links to clips on sites like AC or Ehow. That should tell you something right there.

  • Cathy January 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    Any advice that starts with You must do this. Must create a Facebook page, must market this way…yada, yada, yada.

    There's a reason they call them blanket statements – they smother the individual. It's important to stay educated, but then take the information and fit it to your business needs.

  • Devon Ellington January 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    At this point, the minute "content mill" comes into the conversation, I cut them off with, "I don't waste my time with amateurs and dilettantes." I am simply not going to waste my time going over the same tired arguments with content mill addicts. They don't have the talent or motivation to work elsewhere. Let them spin, and the rest of us will land the good work. There's enough good information out there for them to make good choices.

  • Jake P January 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    First of all, dilettantes is a word that simply doesn't get used often enough. Brilliant, Devon!

    LW, your points are all good here, so I'll simply echo that we paid very well at the several trades I've worked at. The other benefit is that we didn't have the haughty attitude that seems so prevalent in consumer mags. And yeah, even I had a bad attitude at the consumer mags I worked at. 🙂

  • Gabriella F. January 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Hi Lori.

    I'm on board with your #1 point. Three of my best magazine clients are trade pubs. They pay fantastico!

    I've run into smaller trades that pay less, but it's a mistake to think trades aren't worth your time.

    And I'm behind Devon's comment 100%. Done talking about content mills. So done.

  • Lori January 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Wendy, thanks for the personal perspective. It's exactly what we've been repeating – they're not good places to start. They're good places to molder.

    Cathy, I agree. Any advice that starts or includes absolute terms – must, never, always – isn't going to wash. What works for me may not work for you but may work for him….

    Devon, I'm with Jake – the use of the word dilettantes makes me applaud. 🙂 As much as I don't enjoy the topic myself, I still want to encourage others (or grab them by their ears even) to do better. I'm a frigging ray of sunshine. LOL

    Jake, I can't imagine you with a bad attitude. 🙂 You're right about the rates. I get tired of hearing people repeating how badly these pubs pay – they don't pay badly. Some do, but that's not common practice. They pay more because they need specialized writers. You don't get specialized writing on a few crummy cents a word.

    Gabriella, I think that leaves more work for us, doesn't it? I'm willing to let people know these are lucrative avenues, but I stop short of insisting. They think "technical" means "hard." It's not. It's just a different audience focus.

  • Paula January 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Over the years I've worked for trades that pay as little as 20-cents/word and up to $1/word – even the lowest payers probably pay 100-times more than mills. (Hint: Look for trade pubs tied to industry associations since they often get some financial backing from their dues-paying members.)

    Another upside to trades? They buy a lot more freelance articles than do consumer magazines that have a slew of staff writers and editors. So even if a trade pays 50-cents/word instead while a consumer magazine is paying twice that, your odds of repeat sales are far higher with the trade.

  • Lori January 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Great point, Paula. I've had multiple assignments from the same trade pub, sometimes simultaneously.

  • hugh.c.mcbride January 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    "Always" & "never" are red flags for me when it comes to advice.

    I realize that there are, of course, certain absolutes in this world (ex, *never* ask Lori to do a quick edit on your Demand Studios article before you send it in) — but back here in the real world I remain wary of things that I abolutely positively hafta hafta hafta do.

    And on a quasi-related note, can't tell you how much I enjoy hangin' out with folks who both use & appreciate words like "dilettantes." Though how Warren Zevon went an entire career w/out writing a song called "Amateurs & Dilettantes," I'll never know …

    Happy Friday to y'all, & hope your weekends are restful & refreshing.

  • Lori January 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Ironic that we're talking about the "bad" side of absolutes one day after my "Freelance Nevers" post. 🙂

    Hugh, that's one absolute you can count on. LOL

    We use lots of big words here – some of them printable. 🙂

  • Lee January 16, 2011 at 1:19 am

    I've been wondering about #1. Thanks for the tip that they're well paying. You're right about #2. I've emailed by resume to a number of clients, and it's helped make the sale for me. I think it gives them a quick picture of who I am. I absolutely agree with #3. Avoid at all costs.

  • Jenn Mattern January 17, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I actually disagree completely about resumes. When I hire contractors I won't hire one who sends a resume anymore because it shows me they don't fully grasp the difference between employee and contractor relations. It makes them look inexperienced as a freelancer no matter how much actual project / niche experience they might have because they won't let go of old employment standards that really don't need to apply to business owners. And I never give one to clients or prospects. My mechanic doesn't give me a resume when I take my car to him. Neither would an accountant, lawyer, or pretty much any service provider you use. You are a business owner just as they are. And many freelancers already struggle enough to act like one.

    It immediately sets a poor tone, making you the equivalent of an employee on paper. And that's not a good way to kick off a professional relationship when you're a business owner.

    A portfolio should be more than enough (especially in addition to your own Web copy / sales pitch), and if it's not then that's where I'd say freelancers need to turn their attention. By all means, the information you mention should be available in some way (although client lists are rarely necessary if your portfolio is adequate). I just think calling it a "resume" or formatting it in any way to look like one is a step in the wrong direction. Your business site is there to give prospects what they need. And it's often a far more professional option.

    When you start off the relationship acting like a prospective employee you risk being treated as one. And that's not acceptable in a client / contractor relationship.

    I actually just wrote an article covering this in more detail for a client (not published yet but called "Freelancers: Why it's Time to Bury Your Resume").

    So we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one. 😉

  • Amie January 19, 2011 at 12:32 am

    #2…I had the BEST time putting together the resume (or whatever word you want to use) that I used as a freelancer. It gave me the opportunity to showcase my talents and experience creatively, which is what clients want to see anyway.

  • Lori January 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Hi Lee!

    From personal experience, #1 is nowhere near true. I have made my bread and butter from the trade pubs. #2 has been hotly debated for some reason by writers. Same writers have bios and lists of accomplishments on their sites – basically resumes. 🙂 I think people get locked into the idea that a resume is one set format. It's not. I write them for a client almost daily. They're easily adaptable to nearly any profession or industry.

    Amie, couldn't agree more! We're writers – we SHOULD have creative resumes!

  • Lori January 23, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Actually Jenn, we agree completely. A boilerplate resume is not right. However, a portfolio (which is basically the same thing as a resume) is right. A writer's "resume" or "portfolio" should be creative, so I agree wholeheartedly that a standard resume is not going to wash.

    It's semantics, but our portfolios are resumes in that they show our expertise and our skill level. My website doesn't list a typical resume-type format, but more a listing of links to what I've done and a bio of my background. Still a resume, but a shortened version.