9 Habits: Master Your Game

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit 8: Master Your Game

Lawrence Block is an award-winning mystery author with an immense body of work and enthusiastic following. I’m still a little mad at him for retiring, leaving me with only 10 ½ Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries to entertain me for the rest of my life. For years, Block wrote an advice column in Writer’s Digest. In one such column, he said that writers who don’t read the magazines they want to write for won’t get published – and they don’t deserve to.

Editors I’ve spoken with say the same thing. You’d be amazed and appalled at how many people pitch a magazine without ever having read it, or even cruised the website.

I get that comment a lot online and in my workshops: authors who want to be published, but who don’t read much in the genre where they work. Some of them tell me they don’t read much at all.

If you want to write for somebody, have the common courtesy to research what they do and who they are. Find out the kind of writing they want, their editorial slant, and what topics they’re interested in publishing.

The best freelancers take it several steps further. Many sites and magazines have editorial calendars that describe in broad strokes what kinds of articles they’ve already slated for a specific issue, and any special topics they want to cover at certain times of the year.

They’ll also tell you early they need to receive a piece in order to have it ready for a specific issue. This research lets you pitch your ideas from an angle based on what the magazine has already decided to cover.

The same goes for business writing. If you approach a business, approach already knowing what kind of copy they have on their website and in their advertising. Come prepared with specific examples of how you can make it better. Have the common courtesy to know a little bit about that prospective client before you ask them to give you money.

Researching Opportunities

Researching what specific venues you want to write for is vital, but you won’t get far without also researching all the various venues that might carry your work. There are so many fish in the writing market sea there’s no way you know about them all, let alone which ones are currently in need of your particular writing skill set. Consider this list.

Professional blogging for business

Writing your own blog for sales or advertising

Microbusiness/niche blogging

Developing business documents

White papers

Technical writing

Grant writing

Business plans

Venture capital proposals

Nonfiction articles for major magazines

Nonfiction articles for trade and hobby magazines


Advertising collateral

Web copy

Legal SEO

Informational SEO

Social media releases

Press releases

Local newspapers

Regional newspapers


Self-published books

Direct mail marketing copy

College entry essays

Traditional publishing

Case studies



These are all markets that pay real money for good words. The top tier on most pay a dollar or more for each word you produce. Thousands of professional writers derive their sole income from writing in just one of these categories.

The deeper you research your market and industry, the more opportunities you’ll find to sell your work. That means more assignments, and more money.

Knowing Your Rates

One reason people get discouraged about writing for a living is they see ads for gigs that pay $5 for 1,000 words or some similarly ridiculously low fee. Though the price for any work ultimately comes down to what you negotiate, I see four distinct tiers of payment in most circles.


Some publishers or clients want to pay $5 or less for a blog post or article, or they want you to write for free to get exposure for your work. Do not accept offers at this price point. You’ll make less than minimum wage. Worse, accepting those offers perpetuates the idea that this is a reasonable amount to pay for what we do.

It’s okay to write for trade, for example doing some blog entries at your kid’s karate school in exchange for a few private lessons, but that’s not working for free. It’s exchanging value for value…which is what professionals do.

Breaking In

A wealth of writing opportunities pay between 3 and 6 cents a word. A lot of it is with content mills or low-end legitimate publishers. It’s not what you deserve, but can still add up to a decent living. If you take 30 minutes to write 1000 words, that’s still $30 to $60 an hour. Not a bad payday.

Until you get good at estimating and negotiating your contracts, you’ll probably also spend many of your first hourly assignments stuck making about this much per word. The per-word rate will get even lower as you become better at your craft and you produce more words per hour at the same wage per hour. That’s why writers negotiate on a per-job basis instead of a per-hour contract.


A portfolio of strong copy coupled with good testimonials will land you jobs where you get $100 to $150 for a single blog or online article. You’ll also start to get assignments with mid-range national publications for about the same amount per word. At this rate, it’s possible to clear six figures a year if you’re willing to make a real job of it. I work mostly in this tier, and make a solid middle-class living while working about three to four hours on most weekdays.


I’ve completed about a dozen assignments at this tier, and would love to do more. Rates of $0.25 to $1 or more per word for articles of several hundred or thousands of words are the norm here. Major national magazines, ghostwriting for major clients and a few top online publishers pay these rates. You’ll also get paid at this level for short, high-impact work like brochures or direct mail scripts – though you’ll find they words take longer to write for those assignments.

30 Days to a Bigger Audience

Edit: At the end of May I realized my infrastructure settings required more time than I had budgeted for…so I’m pushing everything by a month. I’ll have all the infrastructure online by end of June and get this party started in July.

This all started because I’m making a big move in my career. I have loved being a freelance writer, and continue to love so many parts of my job…but I’m going to be shifting over the next few years.

By my 50th birthday, I want to have all of my income coming in from writing my own stuff for my own projects, rather than having most of it coming in from other people hiring me to write on theirs.

Now, by “all” I mean “enough to afford the lifestyle I desire.” I have favorite clients and industries who I’ll always be happy to work with, but you get the general idea.

All of you will be getting a front-row seat to many aspects of this move. Starting here, today. In June, I’m performing a 30-day challenge where each day I take one step to increase my mailing list subscribers, my social media following, or similar fan groups.

Below is my plan. 30 days of direct action to increase my following. You should steal it and apply it to your own writing life, whatever that might be.

30-Day Plan: Goals

Everything on this plan serves building up one of my four pillars of publicity: Facebook Group Membership, Newsletter Subscribers, Blog Subscribers, and Followers of my upcoming YouTube channel.

I plan to increase the first three by 200% in June, and to get the YouTube channel following (currently at zero) to over 100.

30-Day Plan: Infrastructure

Between now and June 1st, I need to do a little infrastructure work. The worst thing any business can do (and writing careers are a business) is to attract a whole bunch of people to come see something that isn’t ready yet.

When I push for publicity, my shit has got to shine. To that end, I need to:

  • Get some moderators/contributors to help out on my existing pages
  • Create an author page for myself on Facebook
  • Make really awesome landing pages for my newsletters
  • Create a sign-up sequence for the upcoming Farkas Foxtrots series newsletter The Foxtrot Charlies
  • Up my content game on my social media feeds
  • Create a compelling YouTube channel, including at least 6 videos
  • Get all the images and art necessary to accomplish the above

That should keep me pretty busy for the rest of this month. Then it’s go time on June 1.

30 Days to a Bigger Following

Here’s the meat of the action. My 30-day calendar for the month of June. Right now, I’m just listing the 30 action items. Later on I will put an actual schedule and calendar available for download…but this post is meant more to help you brainstorm than to provide an exact road map.

1.Run a “Boost Post” ad for each Facebook Group

2. Do a signup push for the newsletters on Facebook

3. Add a link to my group on my website menu

4. Put a link to my group in my email signature

5. Send a mass, targeted message on Facebook promoting my group.

6. Launch a new newsletter

7. Promote each newsletter on my other newsletters

8. Add links to groups on my personal and author Facebook pages

9. Interlink all of my groups

10. Do a targeted announcement on my personal Facebook page

11. Add CTA buttons for subscribing to my newsletters into my blog posts

12-15. Facebook Live videos (I’ll do these once a week, so it counts for four)

16. Limited time special offers for mailing list subscribers

17. Perform a conversion run with my current contacts (sending each a personal email inviting them to the newsletter best suited, or to hang out in a Facebook group)

18. Promote the Facebook groups to related groups with similar interests

19. Add an exit intent popup to my landing pages and website

20. Add a subscribe button to my page

21. Add my blog url to my email signature

22. Run an Amazon giveaway.

23. Create a “gateway course” for one of my newsletters as a subscription magnet.

24. Add social proof to newsletter landing pages

25-28. A/B test signup forms (I’ll do this for each of four projects, so this counts as four)

29. Run Facebook ads for my mailing list, including a strong offer

30. Hold a contest/raffle/giveaway where entry requires subscription.

That’s it for now

Come back for progress updates, including two potentially exciting new projects.

Meanwhile, are you on my newsletter for writers yet? You should be.

9 Habits: Know Why

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit Seven: Know Why

Freelancing is hard work. You set your own hours, but you have to own your time and responsibilities so you can use those hours effectively. You’re your own boss, but you have to be effective at making yourself do stuff you don’t want to do.

Freelance writing is even harder.

Although the demand is out there, lots of people would love to write for a living. Lots of people who would otherwise be great clients think they know how to write. That means pushing against a market that wants to pay you less than you’re worth.

Add to that the uncertainty of making your nut every month, the lack of health benefits or paid vacation, the fact that working from home means not going to get cart food as often as you’d like…pretty soon you start to wonder why you signed up for this gig in the first place.

To make this work, you have to start and end with your reasons for taking on this life in the first place.

Starting Big: Your Mission Statement

You came to writing for a reason. It might have been simply because you like to write. It might have been because you can write from anywhere in the world, and go to work from anywhere with halfway decent Wi-Fi. It might be because of how much you hate wearing a suit to work, and Habit Two be damned. A mission statement can help you remember those reasons when things get tough.

A mission statement is a sentence or two that describes in detail why you do what you do. Most mission statements you see on corporate websites aren’t actually mission statements. They’re thinly veiled marketing ploys with no teeth, no heart and no meaning. For example:

Do not use them for inspiration here. They get nobody fired up, except maybe the person who got paid serious money to write that nonsense.

You don’t want marketing speak in your mission statement. You don’t need it, because this mission statement is just for you. It won’t work, because you’ll know if it’s a load of malarkey.

Instead, it should reflect exactly why you write for a living – or want to write for a living. Hopefully, it will use words that resonate with you so you keep wanting to write even on days when it’s hard.

For better or worse, here is mine:

To afford what my family needs and serve my personal values while working from home with abundant time for my wife, children, friends and interests.

There’s no marketing doublespeak in there. It’s just a list of the key things that motivate me to do what I do. Make enough money. Be a good dad, husband, and friend. Have time for my hobbies.

I love what I do, even the more challenging parts of it, but I do have rough days. When I have those rough days, I read and reread (sometimes re-reread and re-re-reread) my mission statement to keep me plugging until the days get easier again.

Zooming In

Your mission statement tells you why you write in general, but what about why you write the particular piece you’re procrastinating on today? That’s where zooming in to a project calendar helps. It’s a simple process, which itself becomes a habit as you make it part of your regular routine.

Step One: Your Five-Year Plan: Ask yourself what you want your writing career to look like in five years. How much money do you want to be making? How many books do you want in print? How about speaking gigs? Where do you want to travel? Is there a magazine you want to see your wok in? Write it all down. These are specific goals that you attach to the values you captured in your mission statement.

I set my last 5-year plan on my 45th birthday. By 50, I have some pretty aggressive ideas in mind. I’ll let you know about them in a whole post of their very own.

Step Two: Your Plan for the Year: Every six months, work out what you have to do over the next twelve months to keep yourself on track for your five-year plan. Even though you’re planning a full year, you do this every six months for two reasons.

  • It makes sure you always have at least six months of solid plan ahead of you at all times, instead of starting each year with no lead time.
  • It lets you adjust the nearest six months of your plan according to changes in circumstance that happened since the last time you set your 12-month goals.

This adds a level of granularity, creating the steps on the path you need to follow to reach your seemingly aggressive five-year plan. After a few iterations of this, though, you’ll find those five-year goals are easier to reach than you’d expected.

Step Three: Your Monthly and Weekly Tasks: Break up those yearly goals into 12 monthly sub goals, spread out to account for the rhythm of your year. For example, don’t commit to lots of work in the summer if you have young children.

Break up each month into 4 weekly plans. Those plans become daily agendas, thus creating your to-do list for the most important goals in your writing life.

Always plan your months in 4-week chunks, even though most months have a few “bonus days” at the end. Use those for catchup, or relaxation.

When you find yourself wondering why you’re writing yet another ad brochure for your local proctologist, you can trace that task all the way up the chain to your yearly and five-year plans. It will remind you that this is just one step on the path to the life you’ve promised yourself.

There’s not much that’s more inspiring than that.

6 Ways to Kick Your Own Ass

The worst thing about working for myself is I’m pretty sure my boss is shagging my girlfriend.

The second worst thing Kick Ass 1is, just like with any job, there are things I have to do that I really don’t want to. Sometimes those things are not just important, but urgent…and yet the call of procrastination is so strong. In a regular job, that’s what the boss is for. You see her walking around and it reminds you to get your ass to work.

Working for myself means I don’t have a boss to kick my ass when I’m struggling to get the grunt work done. So I have to be my own boss. I have to kick my own ass.

And so will you.

Continue reading

9 Habits: Brag

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit Six: Brag

The truth is you have to make some sales if you want to write for a living. Professionals in every field advertise themselves, their company or both. Professional writers don’t get a pass from this rule just because the concept scares most of us.

As a freelance writer, I spend about as much time marketing myself and my work as I do writing it. This includes my blog and social media presence, sending applications for contract gigs, querying publications, touching base with former clients, setting up speaking gigs, and reaching out to local businesses.

If you don’t know how to market, learn. If you don’t like marketing, suck it up and get to work. This is part of the freelance life, and the rewards outweigh doing something you don’t love once in a while.

Look at it this way, whatever career you have now includes doing stuff you don’t like. It might be a particular task, or dealing with a specific kind of client. You might love every part of your job, but hate the commute or missing dinner with your family while you’re on a trip. Whatever it is, you still do your career because the good outweighs the bad.

It’s like that with freelance writing. You’re gonna have to market yourself. What you need to ask yourself is whether or not that pain is worse than all the gain you’ll get from becoming a full-time writer.

Every time I bring this up at a conference or with a coaching client, I hear the same objections.

“Dammit, Jason! I’m a writer, not a salesperson!”

Awesome Star Trek reference aside, yes you are. At least, you will have to be if you want to sell enough work to call yourself a professional writer. The thing about reality is, it doesn’t care about your opinions. It exists whether or not you want it to, or like it to be that way. To succeed in this or any other field, you must meet reality on reality’s terms.

“I don’t want to sully my art with commercial concerns.”

I’ve talked about this earlier already, both in this book and on my blog. It’s possible I’ve mocked some people about it on the internet. Bottom line: this attitude is bullshit. You can grow your talent by writing for a living, or let that talent atrophy by giving your time and energy to another job. It’s your choice

“Money’s not important if you do what you love.”

Karate schools don’t make any real money. I lived for seven years on less than $20,000 while working 70 hour weeks doing what I loved. I did have fun, but I have a lot more fun now that I don’t worry where my mortgage payment’s coming from. You can do what you love and have plenty of money. Doesn’t that sound nice?

“I don’t know how.”

Yes you do. If you’ve ever been on a date, or gotten a job, or convinced your kid to do his homework, you have successfully sold something. You might even have enjoyed the process. See more about this below, because sales is actually something you do every day.

“I hate marketing.”

Chances are you don’t really. It’s much more likely that you have a skewed perspective of what marketing really is. Even if you do hate marketing, you still have to market. The fallacy in that case isn’t your belief that you hate marketing. The fallacy is your belief that it matters. Which brings us to…

A Change In Perspective

The real secret about successful reluctant marketing is to change how you view it. Marketing doesn’t have to be cheesy, manipulative “The first 100 callers get a second potato twirler absolutely free!” ad copy. Sales doesn’t have to feel like the last time you bought a used car.

Remember the last time you really, really loved a book? Remember how you talked about it until your friends told you to stop? Remember how a few of those friends went out and bought the book (or borrowed it from you)?

Guess what? You were selling that book! Do you love your book at least as much as you loved that book you raved about to your friends? If so, doesn’t it deserve the same treatment? If not, why aren’t you writing a better book?

At its core, marketing and sales are simply identifying a need, then letting somebody know you can fill it. People need writers to write stuff. You write stuff and like money. There’s a beautiful symmetry there that only needs a connection. Marketing is nothing more or less than making that connection.

Unleashing Your Geek

I’m a geek. A big geek. I dig science fiction, pay attention to comic books, appreciate the inherent mathematics in good heavy metal. I run a D&D game twice a month and have deeply considered opinions about the differences between the book version and the movie version of Lord of the Rings.

But you know what? Everybody’s a geek in their own way.

Have you ever gotten a jock talking sports statistics, or a dizzy woman who hasn’t read a book since middle school talking about her favorite celebrities? What geeks! Even Mad Men lead Don Draper is a geek when he’s talking about what he does best.

We’re all geeks, and that’s a good thing. Not long ago, I got three job offers without asking for them simply by geeking out about how awesome it is to be a writer in the 21st century. I didn’t go into those conversations looking for work, or trying to make a sale. I just talked about stuff I find fascinating. My energy and passion, and the knowledge that comes from them, made the sale without me even having to try.

Don’t “market” with cheap tricks and cheesy lines. Make the sale by telling people truthfully how impressive you are. If you do it well, enough people who need you will hear about you that you’ll make sales without ever once having to say “Act Now!” or “Moneyback Guarantee!”.

You Have a Heavy Responsibility

Is your writing excellent? Of course it is! If it weren’t you would be spending the time you’re reading this getting better at your writing.

You have a responsibility to the world to get the song of your words out into the soundtrack of the universe. You also have a responsibility to make it the best song you can sing. Your writing can make the world a better place, even if it’s only by giving people a laugh on a stressful day.

If your work can make people’s lives better (and it can), I have one question for you:

How dare you keep it a secret?

Who the hell are you to withhold the brilliance of your writing from those who need it? Who are you to stand in between people you can help and the help you can give?

Stop it. Immediately. And give yourself permission to be awesome, feel awesome, and let other people know how awesome you are.