The Seven Habits of High-Earning Freelancers (Part Five)

Click here for part four of the series. Today we talk about a subject far from the hearts of most writers.    


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

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

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

“I don’t know how.”

“I hate marketing.”

These are all things people have said when I asked them how much time they spent on marketing — and that’s why they’re writing part time as amateurs instead of creating the life they want as professional writers.

The truth is, if you want to write for a living you have to advertise. Even greats like Bradbury, Lansdale and Grisham go on book readings and tours to increase awareness of what they do. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.

As a freelance writer, I spend about twice as much time marketing myself and my work as I do writing it. This includes blogs like this one to showcase my work, sending applications for contract gigs, querying publications, touching base with editors and publishers I know, setting up speaking gigs, and maintaining a social media presence. It also includes time spent on admin and tracking of my marketing efforts.

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 (for me at least) outweigh how onerous marketing can be.

I’d love some comments about the marketing challenges you all face. Maybe we can help each other out by recommending some solutions.

photo credit: onomotomedia

The Seven Habits of High-Earning Freelancers (Part Three)

See Part One and Part Two for earlier installments of this series. Today we’ll talk about a habit observed by almost none of the freelancers I’ve spoken with.




We all have “goals” for our writing, whether it’s making $150k a year or getting that novel in the bureau drawer published. Thing is, most of us don’t make those desires real goals.

A real goal is measurable and has a time limit. Otherwise, it’s just a dream with little chance of success.

By measurable, I mean it’s tied to a number or other “victory condition” that makes it possible to know when you’re finished — and how close you are to completion.

A time limit is a date by which you’ve promised yourself you’ll reach the victory condition. You can divide long-term goals into benchmarks, keeping you on track for the final product.

Metrics are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track for reaching your goals by the time you’ve set. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With over 100 students and a staff of more than 20 employees and volunteers, I had a lot of metrics to track. In my simpler life as a freelance writer, I track only a few:

  • How much money I’ve earned by writing.
  • How much money I’ve been paid for my writing (sadly, not always the same as number 1.
  • How many posts for my blog I’ve put in the hopper.
  • How many “action items” — for example, writing a scene or editing a chapter — I’ve completed on my book projects.
  • How many pitches I’ve sent to potential new clients.
  • How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
  • Whether or not I’ve completed my weekly administrative tasks.
I hold myself to specific standards for each week, and plan my weeks to make sure I reach the numbers I’ve committed to. The specific numbers are tied to my needs and those of my clients. Over time, these individual pieces add up to completing my major writing projects. 

Do you use metrics? If so, what metrics do you hold yourself to, and how do you track them? Leave some comments about your own process.

Thanks for listening.


photo credit: onomotomedia

Writer Entrepreneur: Lifestyle Design Part 3

Part Two listed some tools and considerations for turning a freelance career into your perfect life. In this segment, we’re going to look at setting goals. Most people make two major mistakes when setting their goals:

Mistake One: They set short-term goals too high. 

It’s easy to get excited when planning out your future. You want everything, and you want it next week. So you load up the first weeks or months of your calendar with an impossible laundry list of tasks…and then you burn out. You fail to meet your benchmarks, and soon you’ve given up.

Mistake Two: They set long-term goals too low.

After a few trips through the cycle of Mistake One, it’s easy to get discouraged. Once that happens, you lose sight of the incredible power of a year’s worth of incremental progress. To quote Tom Callos, looking at tasks as a “journey of 1000 steps” can make you nearly superhuman.

These two mistakes (Not my work, by the way. I first heard about it from Dave Kovar) can mean living far beneath your personal potential. When you sit down to write out your goals for this coming year, keep some things in mind to help you avoid both.

1. Focus on your most important tasks and goals. Avoid distractions, and promise yourself you’ll cut at least one peripheral, unrewarding activity from your schedule each month.

2. Choose at least one “impossible dream.” If you write a page a day, you’ve written a sizable novel by the end of the year. If you save three dollar a day (the price of a Starbuck’s coffee), you can buy a plane ticket to practically anywhere. Create a framework of small steps over the year and love where it takes you.

3. Push back at least two projects. You’ll get excited and make mistake one when you first write out your goal calendar. Force yourself to move at least two of them into the second and third quarters of 2012.

4. Have a “bookkeeping party” between Christmas and New Year. Schedule a day to pay that last bill, clean out your garage, email that contact — all those little details that would otherwise clutter your early 2012 calendar. It’s also a good idea to schedule one of these days near the close of each month. It keeps you sharp and motivated.

5. Write your goals down. I cannot stress this enough. Write down your goals, and put them someplace you look often. I used to use my bathroom mirror, but I think I’ll move them to my screen saver for 2012.

I hope this helps. Early in 2012, I’ll post my full goal and scheduling matrix as an framework for everyone. In the final installment in this Lifestyle Design series, we’ll talk about the good and bad of freelancing with a family.


This week was a big, steaming brown pile from an accountability standpoint.

Instead of working on writing goals, I built some furniture with my son, visited with old friends from out of town and cleaned the living bajeezus out of my back yard and garage.

I did manage to meet my basic moneymaking goals, to post on this blog and work on an ongoing speculative project I plan to launch soon. I also finished off a larger assignment and took two meetings on another project I might become embroiled in.

I should have scheduled this week as a week off — I knew ahead of time how hard it would be to get everything done. That way I’d feel pretty okay about meeting my plan instead of vaguely uptight with myself for slacking off.

Ah well — the best part of screwing up is that you get to try again.

Thanks for listening.

More Accountability

Alert readers know that I’ve made the following weekly commitments to myself for my productivity this summer.

6 “Units” of paid writing, 5 Acts of Marketing, 4 Blog “Packages”, 3 Proposals, 2 Administrative sessions and 1 Education module. The partridge and pear tree were optional, based on time.

This week was challenging in terms of accountability. School’s out, so my oldest boy and wife are home. It’s hard to resist the temptation to play and enjoy them. I didn’t always succeed, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I did get up early on Saturday and churn out 7 hours of productivity, but it wasn’t quite enough to meet my goals. As it was, this week’s final tally was: (bold type indicates success)

  • 6 completed units of paid work
  • 3 acts of marketing
  • 4 blog packages completed
  • 1 proposal
  • 2 administrative sessions
  • 1 education module
I have trouble with proposals more than anything else. They’re the most abstract, and seem the like I get the least concrete reward for the work. or maybe I procrastinate out of fear of failure. I’d love to hear what others do to keep themselves up on that sort of work.
Thanks for being here to keep me keeping myself honest. And, as always…
Thanks for listening.