30 Writing + Freelancing Questions from My Mailbag (Part 1)

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Illustration by Michael Cervantes.
Illustration by Michael Cervantes.

Freelancer questions, writer questions, editor questions…

Okay! So here’s what’s up:

I turned 30 this year. That’s a pretty big deal to me. And, even though said event happened in early January, I wanted to keep the “30” thing going for a while longer and answer 30 commonly-asked questions from my mailbag. 🙂

Then I realized I was a couple questions shy due to so many commonly-asked questions being repeats, so I turned to the wonderful community at Be A Freelance Blogger to fill in the gaps. (They’ve got a lot of questions over there!).

Without further ado, here are my answers to some of your freelancing/writing/editing questions! Feel free to scroll through for the questions/answers most relevant to you — it’s a long post!

1. “Is it really okay to e-mail someone as an ‘interview?'”

There comes a point when you have to ask which is more important: How you conduct the interview…or getting the message out into the world?

Usually the words in the interview are more meaningful than how you obtained/conducted the interview.

Use whatever method works best — or is possible — for the situation at hand.

And a lot of it is going to have to do with what’s “possible” for both parties involved. I’ve done interviews that started online and ended on the phone due to power outages. Or interviews that started out in-person and then had additional follow-up done via instant messages because our time had been cut short at the actual event.

Overall, the honest, accurate, information that you share with the readers is more important than how you obtained the information. Most readers won’t care whether or not you interviewed your source in-person or online — they care that what you’ve written down from that interview is what was actually said.

Though, for the sake of disclosure, especially in more newsy pieces, you should try state how you conducted the interview. More on how to do that can be found here.

2. “How do you deal with rejection?”

I usually mope for a little bit and then get back to work. Because, you know, freelance writers don’t get paid if they don’t write; so there’s always that. That’s a pretty darn good motivation to get over rejection as quickly as possible.

And sometimes I think of my friend Nicole.

As a child, Nicole got a chunk of flesh torn out of her neck by a neighbor’s dog. But instead of using that terrifying experience as an excuse to hate dogs forever and never go near one again, she decided to learn about dog behavior and figure out why the seemingly-friendly pup had turned on her. Later in life, she became the happy “mom” of several rescue dogs (and cats!).

She used that violent “rejection” from the neighbor’s dog an opportunity to learn and improve; and was greatly rewarded! So, if a publication rejects your pitch, use it as an opportunity to learn and improve — maybe later on you’ll be the happy “parent” of a published piece!

3. “What do you do to feel more professional when working from home?”

I get dressed. More specifically: I put on my shoes. I dunno what kind of hippie-dippy workplaces you’ve been employed at but all of my past employers required shoes.

4. “What field of writing brings in the most money?”

From my personal experience? Copywriting. But I don’t enjoy it  as much as other forms of writing.

Luckily, there’s still good money to be made in article writing and blogging. Especially ghostblogging! (Seriously. Giving up your byline is one of the best ways to make extra dosh as a writer!).

5. “Most important skill as a freelance writer?”

Be good at writing.

And try to be a good reader. Read for enjoyment; read to improve your writing; and, for the love of all things writerly, read the editor’s guidelines before you pitch.

6. “How do I figure out my rates?”

Rates tend to be personal from freelancer-to-freelancer. Your rates will largely depend on where you live, what your skill level is, and how much you want to earn.

However, in order to be fair to your clients, I’d recommend asking fellow freelancers in your same field what they charge for similar projects. That should give you a good guideline as to the “going rate.” Rate guides like the Writer’s Market books are also good to refer to when you’re in doubt.

Though some of the best pricing advice I read recently came from Freelance Flyer’s Samar Owais:

“If a client has mentioned how reasonable your rates are, it’s definitely time to increase them. Start by doing it for new clients if you don’t want to do it for your existing ones.”

7. “What’s been your biggest challenge owning your own freelance writing business?”

Finding out the hard way the importance of website security.

Also, learning how to type with a cat on my hands:

TypingWithCat

Learning how to type while catted is an essential skill.

8. “What’s a question you’re tired of answering?”

Full disclosure: My BFF (Hi, Kara!) asked me this when she heard I was writing this post. But it’s a great question! 🙂

Any question that I’ve bothered to write down on my FAQ page is a question I’ve gotten so often, I’m “tired” of answering it. And pretty much anyone with an FAQ page will tell you the same thing.

That said, I’ll still answer your question if you ask me something from that page. But there’s a good chance I’ll just send you a link to the FAQ answer as my reply. It makes me feel a little mean sometimes, but, come on, that’s why the page is there, right?

9. “Do you know a place online anywhere that fellow bloggers/editors hang out? I’m feeling really green and I could use some camaraderie…”

Well, if it helps, here are the freelancing/writing/blogging communities I’m a part of:

But I will say this: The one thing all freelancers have in common is that we don’t know what we’re doing. (At least not at first).

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, an editor, or an artist — we’re all faking it! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing freelancers every month for the past 5 years, that would be it. Every freelancer’s success story starts out as “I faked it until I made it.” No lie!

If your client is happy, and if things are getting done well, then you’re doing it “right.” Just try to be ethical, follow the rules set out by the client or publication, and trust that you were hired for a reason (hint: because you’re good at what you do!).

New gigs — especially ones where you’re placed in a position of power! — are always going to feel uncomfortable. And that feeling may never go away entirely. You just have to do your best and trust that that’s good enough. 🙂

10. “How do you get rid of an annoying client?”

Basically, just turn in your two weeks notice like you would at a traditional job. Be professional, even if they’re not.

But if you keep getting so-called “annoying” clients, you may need to rethink your marketing. Or you may just be too picky. Freelancers still have to work with “the public” (the bane of every service worker!), and that means dealing with people — and people can be difficult to deal with sometimes.

11. “I think my rates are too high for the company I’m interviewing for – should I lower them or keep them the same?”

I would probably keep your rates the same.

Why?

Because a client/company not being able to afford you is not your problem. 

If a client/company can’t afford you, then they’re not the right client/company for you. Unless you really, reeeeeeeally want to work for these people, it would be better to politely decline and focus on finding someone who can pay the rates you determined for yourself. 🙂 Trust me on this one: Cheap clients aren’t worth the trouble they’ll inevitably cause you!

12. “Do you ever write sponsored guest posts for clients looking to promote their product/service?”

I will sometimes ghostwrite as the person in need of placing guest posts. But it’s up to them to get the article placed/published. Sometimes a business owner will have a great idea/product that they’d like to write about, but they don’t have the blogging skills to successfully write a guest post. So they hire me to write it for them, as them.

However, I do not write about products I haven’t used myself as myself. And I don’t do paid reviews (getting paid to write a review encourages a positive bias before you’ve even started and that’s not fair!).

Anything you put your own byline on should always be top-notch both in writing quality and journalistic integrity — even though you’re “just” a blogger.

You also don’t want to slip in your own affiliate links into posts you’re writing for other publications (unless they say it’s all right and you say in the post that that’s what you’ve done). And definitely don’t place links that you’ve been paid by outside parties to add in — that gets pretty shady. A lot of writers get tempted to do this — because it essentially means they’re getting paid twice for work they only did once! — but it puts their integrity at risk both in the eyes of the editor and their readers.

In other words: Promotional posts need to be handled with care. If you have any doubts, then you probably shouldn’t do it.

13. “Why don’t you use ads/affiliate marketing on your site?”

Actually, I do. I just lumped them all onto one page so that you guys wouldn’t be bothered by them: https://littlezotz.com/littlezotz-writing-affiliates 

14. “Why do editors sometimes accept a pitch but then reject the post?”

All right. So here’s the deal…

Editors will typically accept the pitch, but then reject the post for two main reasons:

  1. Your post/draft doesn’t follow the pitch you outlined.

Sometimes writers will pitch a great idea, but then write something different. Usually what they turn in is similar to what they pitched, but “similar” isn’t what the editor accepted. If the editor gives the “ok” to a pitch you sent, they want that exact idea sent back to them (in post form).

OR…

  1. Your writing stinks beyond saving.

This is the less common of the two reasons, fortunately, but it’s not unheard of. Sometimes a “writer” will miraculously send in a great pitch…but then it turns out that they can’t string a sentence together to save their life when it comes to actually writing the final draft. O_o (Editors will usually try to work with writers — to an extent — if their idea is truly great; however, if your writing is SO weak that the amount of “editing” required would be equivalent to us writing the post ourselves, then it’s a “pass.”).

If you think you’ve landed in the first category — which, again, is the more likely of the two! — you can try writing back to the editor and ask for suggestions. Try saying something like, “I’m sorry that you decided to pass on this. May I ask for details as to why? And is there anything I can do to change your mind? I’m more than willing to do any rewrites you require.” (That last sentence is important as it shows the editor that you really do care about the post, and that you’re willing to put in thework to make it shine for their publication!).

Never, ever throw a hissy fit upon being rejected, but don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and your writing, and politely communicate with the editor. Most of them WANT you to succeed! I know I do!

15. “How can you tell when a client’s going to be no good?”

There are 16 red flags I keep an eye out for.

Past that, you just kind of have to trust your gut.

Oh, and don’t be so afraid of getting a bad client that you don’t say “yes” to any clients! It’s one thing to be cautious, it’s quite another to paralyze yourself into bringing your career to a complete halt.

Want More? Come Back for Part 2!

Part 2 will tackle another 15 of your most commonly-asked questions, including:

  • “What should be on my writer website?”
  • “How do I deal with burnout?”
  • “When is the right time to go freelance?”
  • “How do I establish myself as an expert?”
  • “What’s the easiest way to get started as a ghostwriter?”

And ten other questions!

That post will go up on 2/25/15.

In the meantime, leave me your question in the comments’ section below!

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