Archive for the 'writing' Category

Seven questions to ask yourself about your writing

1. Is my tone correct? Readers react most strongly to a writing tone that is warm but not effusive, conversational but not chatty, informative but not pedantic, professional but not stiff. Talk to your reader as if he or she were sitting across from you.

2. Does my writing flow smoothly? Well organized writing moves logically from beginning to middle to end, with appropriate transitions and logical conclusions.

3. Is my writing economical? Overly wordy, pretentious, and patronizing writing quickly becomes tiresome. Readers have limited time and patience. Brevity and clarity best convey ideas.

4. Is my writing style interesting and engaging? Varied sentences–some long, some short–evocative language, properly used vocabulary, and active verbs give strength to writing.

5. Is my writing mechanically correct? Poor grammar, misspellings, misuses, “insider” language, jargon (especially when incorrect), and cumbersome construction all detract from the message.

6. Is my message clear? Readers want and deserve to know a writer’s purpose, point of view, and whether the writer advocates a particular course of action. They should not be left wondering where the writer stands.

7. Does my writing grab the reader? Effective writing involves the reader not just at the outset but throughout the book, again and again.

You Ought to Write a Book

Find out how at www.sallychapralis.com/blog.

Are you a page turner or a button pusher?

“‘[M]ateriality matters.’ The reading experience includes manual activities and haptic perceptions (what the skin and muscles and joints register), and so as activities and perceptions of that kind are changed from one kind of reading experience to another because of the object, the reading experience, too, will change.”

There’s an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that compares reading, especially textbook reading, to reading a physical, printed, ink-on-paper book. Conclusion? One effect . . . is that the digital text makes us read “in a shallower, less focused way.” That, I think, is a critical factor for all writers to consider as they write both for print and for on-screen media. JK

 

O Muse, Where Art Thou?

If you’re a writer waiting for inspiration to strike, follow the advice of Huffington Post’s Gretchen Rubin:

Don’t.

Rubin’s 13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done are among the best I’ve seen. One I especially like is “[T]ry going for a walk and reading a really good book.” Hard to do simultaneously perhaps, and that walk stuff may be way too healthful for some, but reading a book is wonderfully therapeutic for sufferers of writer’s block. There’s something about allowing thoughts to percolate in the back of your mind while reading the well crafted words of a good writer that actually helps you discover precisely what you want to write and how you want to express it.

Take a look at Rubin’s tips. It’s well worth the read. JK

BookWords

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

—Agatha Christie (1890–1976)

Writing a book? Start at the end.

People occasionally tell me they’re writing a book. When I ask them what it’s about, more often than not they begin by telling me it’s totally different from anything ever before written about their subject—a truly unique approach. And then they launch into a long-winded, rambling description that tells me they haven’t yet figured out the most important aspect of the book: FOCUS.

Leaving aside the possibility that their book might, indeed, be a radically new take on their theme, their inability to state a succinct premise means they’re going to have a hard time writing it and a harder time selling it to an agent or publisher. They’re too caught up in telling me what they want to write instead of focusing on what a reader might want to read.

I don’t mean to imply that every author must be so market driven that he or she can be successful only by pandering to the buying public. Authors should not lose sight of the integrity of their work and the importance of their point of view. But if they want their book to be read—and isn’t that the reason for writing it in the first place?—they need to consider what will make their audience want to read it.

If you’re a budding author, here’s a suggestion that might help you get your book into the hands of your target reader: Write the blurb first.

What’s blurb copy? That’s the text you’ll find on the inside flap of a hard cover dust jacket or the back cover of a paperback book. It tells briefly what the book is about; it’s the pitch that is intended to sell the book. Blurb copy is an important element in the purchase process.

A customer entering a bookstore first looks around the store for orientation to decide where to begin browsing. Once he or she gets to the section where your book is shelved, the customer scans the selection looking for an eye catcher. Some of the books will be face out on a shelf; most will be spine out. For books face out, an attractively designed front cover will grab the browser’s attention. If the customer cocks his or her head to the right and reads the array of titles shelved spine out, he or she is most likely to pause at the quirkiest or most descriptive or most boldly legible titles. Book designers who concentrate all their efforts on the front cover and add spine copy almost as an afterthought do their authors a disservice. With the thousands of titles that even a small bookstore stocks, it’s not possible to display every book face out; the spine has to help make the sale.

The purpose of a book cover is to encourage a browser to want to pick up the book. The design may be words alone or an illustration—photograph or drawing—that relates to and compliments the subject of the book. The title and subtitle should pique the customer’s interest.

What does a customer do after taking a book from a bookstore shelf? Most browsers will turn the book (paperback) over or open the cover (hard cover) to read the jacket blurb. Imagine you’re that browsing customer. Ask yourself what would interest you enough to want to actually leaf through the pages and read a couple of sentences. That’s what you as an author should put in your blurb. That’s the focus, the appeal, the pitch that will help sell your book. With luck the customer will go on to check the table of contents, perhaps read a page or two, and then decide to take the book to the cashier.

*   *   *

It’s unlikely that the blurb you write now for the book you’re planning will ever actually be used. But you should still do it because

1. It will help you make a sales pitch to an agent or editor.
2. It will help you focus on target readers who will want to buy your book.
3. It will help you stay focused as you develop your book. Tack it up above your computer.
4. It will help the marketing and publicity departments work out a sales plan.
5. It will help you create sound bites to use during promotion appearances and interviews.
6. It will give you a quick answer to the question: What’s your book about?

Unless you self-publish, in the end a new blurb will probably be written by someone in the publisher’s marketing department. Also the artwork you originally foresaw anchoring the front cover illustration and the title you’ve been using since the book’s inception will undoubtedly be changed for marketing and promotion reasons.

None of your first blurb-writing attempts is wasted, however, because each step you complete on your way to a finished manuscript is an important component of your book as a final package, a focused package that will have maximum appeal to many book buyers.

It all starts with your blurb. JK

Are you a writer? Really?

Wondering what to do while you’re waiting to sell your first million books?

Write.

Write to build credentials, confidence, and prestige.

Write for practice. Write for experience. Write for money.

Think of yourself as a writer. Tell people you’re a writer. BE a writer!

When asked, or when you find the opportunity to slip it into a conversation, describe yourself as a writer—but not a freelance writer. If you think you need to add a qualifier, say you’re an independent writer or an essayist or a novelist or an author. Why? The perception of freelance writers often is that they’re out of work and trying to make some money until they can land a full-time job. They get the same respect as someone who says he or she is working as a temp. You know, and I know, that temps generally work just as hard—sometimes harder—as their coworkers who are “on staff.” But that dismissive attitude is always there: Why doesn’t he or she have a real job? The same applies to freelance writers. Which is not to say you can’t be employed in a related or totally different field and still be a writer. A lot of successful writers (and painters, musicians, and other creative types) have done just that.

Independent writers are viewed as professionals who take their work seriously; it’s how they earn their living as self-employed contractors. Many independent writers (or illustrators or actors) earn some or most of their income doing something else while devoting as much time as they can to their creative endeavor. The impression you should strive to project, though, whether you’re writing full time of part time, is that this is your business; this is what you do. You are a writer.

Improve your skills
There’s no question: The more you write, the more comfortable and capable you’ll become with your craft. Good (and marketable) writing is both an art and a skill—an art insofar as invention and creative expression are concerned. Many of your skills as a writer can be learned, however, and are not necessarily wholly dependent upon actually possessing a great artistic talent. You can learn structure, syntax, and diction. You can learn grammar and how to produce a workmanlike product. Sure, I’m assuming here that you have at least a modicum of native ability and a proven capacity to use words to convey abstract ideas. After all, you certainly wouldn’t undertake to do any serious writing if you didn’t have at least some measure of facility with words and a good foundation in the mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and usage. Lacking those abilities, you’d undoubtedly be happier and better suited to following a different path.

Although practice doesn’t always make perfect, it does help improve both your skills and your marketability. The better writer you become, the more likely you are to gain the respect of your readers, and the sooner you can begin earning some (more) income from your work. Exactly how much might there be to be earned? A lot depends upon the type of writing you choose to do. Poetry, essays, and short stories? Very little. Journalism? A bit more. Business writing, such as newsletters and brochures? Still more. Web support and technical content? You’re moving up. High-end advertising, on-air scripting, speech writing? A very comfortable income.

Corporate clients usually pay more than not-for-profit organizations. If you can consistently turn out winning grant proposals, whether for commercial corporations of nonprofit institutions, you’ll never go hungry. If making your mark in a particular discipline is your highest priority, choose to woo clients who not only can use your services but who can also direct you toward others, especially respected leaders, in the field. If earning maximum dollars is where you want to concentrate your efforts, join and use influential professional societies, build relationships with key decision makers, maximize opportunities, and brush up on etiquette and self-presentation. JK

BookWords

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.

Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

How much do writers earn?

There are differing levels of compensation for writers depending upon the type of work they do. Although a number of factors tend to define a writer’s income—type of industry/client, geography, economic climate, among many—it is possible to apply some generalizations. For example, a good, high level speech writer usually can expect to earn more than a commercial script writer. Similarly, script writing pays more than copy writing . . .

which pays more than technical (computer-based or related) writing . . .

which pays more than instructional (staff training) writing . . .

which pays more than public relations . . .

which pays more than magazine writing . . .

which pays more than book editing . . .

which pays more than newspaper writing . . .

which pays more than copy editing . . .

which pays more than proofreading . . .

which pays more than even the pittance that some clients are willing to part with. I once had a potential client (it didn’t work out) tell me, “You know, I’d ask my wife to do this job. She’s an excellent writer. She used to teach third grade.”

Many public and private service organizations pay competitive rates, but be wary of agencies that tell you, “We can’t afford to pay very much because we’re not-for-profit. ” Just because they’re not-for-profit doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be as well. Choose your charities and “good works” carefully. Is the organization paying standard rates for other services and commodities while expecting their creative suppliers—writers and artists—to make unreasonable sacrifices?

A good friend and a seasoned writer was confronted with this not-for-profit argument while being interviewed by a person looking for a writer to work on brochures, annual reports, and other general assignments. Always cool in such situations, my friend looked around the client’s well appointed Chicago Loop high-rise office and began offering compliments about the agency’s location and tasteful furnishings. “So,” said she, “I’m sure the office building manager, phone company, and electric company all give you substantial discounts because you’re not-for-profit, right?”

“Oh, no,” said the client. “We would never expect that to happen.”

“But you do expect me to discount my writing services because, as you say, you’re not-for-profit. Perhaps you can explain that contradiction to me.”

She decided not to accept what the client described as a “prestigious assignment.”

Successful writer-client relationships are built upon mutual respect and trust. JK

As an independent writer, how much should you charge?

In order to make your writing as an independent contractor equal your income as a full-time employee, apply the following formula to your current salary:

Salary + benefits + expenses divided by your hours worked/week = earnings per hour.

Then add at least 50 percent to your current salary to cover the cost of your doing business when you begin working as your own boss. This includes mortgage or rent payments to maintain your home and place of business; utilities; telephone, fax, online and other electronic connections and maintenance; equipment and supplies; postage/UPS/FedEx/messenger services; transportation; subscriptions, memberships, and training; and whatever else may be required to enable you to function professionally.

Once you are no longer on your employer’s payroll, you will have no insurance coverage, sick leave, paid vacation, retirement, or any of the other benefits that you may now enjoy. You will need to replace them, and the way to do so is by factoring their costs into your fee.

If you are currently working a 40-hour week to earn a salary of $36,000 a year, your formula will look like this:

$54,000/year ($36,000 + $18,000) or $1,038/week divided by 40 hours = $26/hour.

A salary of $50,000 per year translates to $36/hr; $75,000 a year equals $54/hour.

Of course, you cannot bill 40 hours of your work each week–you’ll be lucky to bill half that many (see below); full-time writers usually bill around 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year. Therefore, in order for your independent writing income just to equal, not exceed, your current full-time salary, you must double the above hourly rate, and roughly $50 to $100 per hour becomes the absolute minimum you can charge. Anything less means decreasing your standard of living.

Here’s the tricky part: Tell a client that you charge $75 dollars an hour, and right away he or she will mentally multiply that amount by 40 hours in a work week and get $3,000. (People can’t help themselves; it’s a reflex.) Then your potential client will multiple that $3,000 by 50 work weeks in a year and get $150,000, which may be more than the boss is earning. “Wow!” the client thinks, “I can’t hire someone for more than Charlie makes. He’ll have my hide.” And you’ve lost the job.

TIP: Don’t reveal your hourly rate; roll it into the overall cost of the project. Figure your time by the hour and charge by the project. Renegotiate if necessary (see below).

You can bill only about half the time you spend “at work” each week because the rest of your time will be spent

*marketing your business (no one else will do it for you)

*improving and updating your skills (you’ll be your own training department)

*researching current and potential clients (vetting will be solely your responsibility)

*making copies (you’ll become your own support staff)

*going to the post office (support)

*maintaining your computer and other equipment (support)

*shopping for supplies (support)

*keeping your books and records (you must become, or hire, your own  bookkeeper)

*invoicing and collecting from your clients (support)

*worrying about where your next assignment will come from (it’s lonely at the top).

Two final points: When estimating a project fee, don’t forget to factor in research, rewrites, meetings, and travel time and expenses. As a writer you’re selling your talent, skill, experience…and your time.

If your client balks at your price, don’t reflexively lower it to get the job. If you immediately lower your fee, the client will assume you were charging too much in the first place and will lose confidence in you. Instead, offer a compromise: longer deadline; fewer deliverables (suggest the client provide research or proofreading); bartered product or service in return for writing. JK

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