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.

You Should Be Listening to Metal Right Now

Parental-Advisory-psd12954Folks who know me already realize I’m a huge metal head. I cut my teeth on Sabbath and Iron Butterfly, saw everybody from Iron Maiden to Anthrax to Faith No More in high school, played bass in a short-lived metal band, and have continued to love the metal well past the age benighted souls might have suggested I outgrow the tendency.

Here’s the thing about heavy metal: it’s good for you. It makes you smarter. It energizes and empowers. It relieves stress. Beyond those generalities, my experience as a solopreneur and general kicker of ass has taught me five ways metal is the best possible genre for empowerment and self-actualization available.

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9 Habits: Write Lots

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 Five: Write Lots

In Habit One, we talked about the importance of writing nonfiction if you want a career as a writer. This is absolutely true, but the truth (like all truths) is more complex than that. If you really want to make it as a writer, you must cast a wide net of projects so you can write as much as you need to live the life you want. This takes a variety of forms.

Write For More Publications

Even as print appears to be burning out, there are thousands of magazines willing to pay you for your words. New websites appear faster than you can offer to write something for them, meaning there is an effectively infinite supply of potential clients on the web. Do the research and find out who carries articles about your areas of interest and expertise.

When you have an article idea, pitch multiple venues with slightly different angles on the same topic. Also look for tangential publications. For example…

  • Imagine you’re a travel writer researching a piece on museums in a local tourist town. Don’t just write the assignment. Pitch the hobby magazines related to each museum. Look for the kids’ activities at each location for an article to pitch at a local parenting magazine. Contact the local tourist bureau about doing a guest post.
  • Similarly, imagine you’re doing a lifestyle piece on kitchen organization. Pitch some personal finance blogs about how kitchen organization saves money. Reach out to parenting magazines about childproofing kitchens. Look into paid reviews for the items you recommend in the article.

See how in both examples, you take the same piece of research and turn it into multiple paydays without self-plagiarizing or doing dirt to your original publisher? That’s one of the most important facets making your time turn into enough money to live as a writer.

Be Willing To  Write About Everything You’re Offered

Don’t just write about what you want. I love writing about martial arts, and I’m a regular contributor to Black Belt, the biggest martial arts magazine on the market. But my total monthly income from writing about martial arts caps out at $300 to $500. I make a living because my beat is absolutely anything somebody is willing to pay me to write.

A partial list of topics I’ve covered recently includes travel safety, SMS marketing, social media, marriage equality, wildlife viewing, stress relief, martial arts, getting enough sleep, music for working out, feline leukemia, disability insurance, expulsion policies in private schools, student loans, virtual phone systems, drunk driving, role-playing games, search engine optimization, zombies, quantum mechanics and my toddler’s bathroom habits.

I’m not an expert on everything I write about. I don’t have to be, and neither do you. As a writer, your chief talents should be writing and research. As a friend I interviewed for a piece I did for American Express OPEN Forum says, “If somebody asks you if you can do something, and you can – or you can learn how before your deadline – the answer is YES!”

Write About More Things

Make a list of 20 things you know well, or would like to learn about. For each of those things, make a list of 100 topics you could write about or research. You now have 2,000 potential articles to sell. As you do your initial work on each, you’ll find at least five concepts per original idea that you can pitch to different venues. That’s 10,000 total articles. At $100 each, which is low, that’s $1,000,000 – a decade worth of six-figure years. And you’ll come up with other ideas during that decade.

This may seem similar to just being willing to write about everything you’re offered, and it is. The difference is in the impetus. Being willing to write about everything means says YES when somebody asks if you can take on an assignment. Writing about more things means coming up with as many ideas as possible to offer to potential clients. Put together, they’re a powerful combination.

Write More Quickly

This is one of the biggest dividing lines I’ve noticed between professionals and amateurs. It’s also a demonstration of why writing for a living beats writing part-time while working another job. Amateurs on web forums I frequent, and most of my clients when they come to me, talk about putting down 1,000 words on a good day. Today – not a particularly busy day for me – I’m at 7,000 with another 3,000 to go. About half of those are iterative drafts of projects, but the other 5,000 words are new content.

Let’s do the math here. Even the low-paying content mill market pays about 3 cents a word. Writing 1,000 words a day means you make about $30 a day, less than $1,000 a month. Doing the same thing half as fast as I do adds up to $150 a day -$31,000 a year for working five days a week from home. And that’s at the lowest end of the pay scale. At 10 cents a word, probably an average payday for commercial writing, that’s $2,500 a week. Writers generally get paid per word or assignment, not by the hour. The faster you work, the more you make.

Be Open to New Ideas

When I started writing, I mostly did articles for magazines and websites, but that grew to include business documentation, ad copy, even a travel guide. Then I got asked to write some scripts for video ads, then a ghostwriting assignment, then speech writing and an opportunity to publish some e-books. Every one of those gigs created a new stream of income for my writing business. It not only made me more money, it gave me a variety of types of assignment that kept me from getting bored.

I talk with a lot of writers these days, and most of them have assigned themselves some kind of niche. They might say “I’m a travel writer” or “I design brochures.” That’s great. Writing about our passions is one of the best parts of the job. When those people ask me why they can’t make it full-time as writers, they’ve already answered their own question. They’re violating the Fifth Habit by not writing as much as they can.

Top 10 Books of 2018

Hi all. Some of you saw this photo over on Facebook, my top 10 books I read in 2018. Here’s more details about all of them, including my putting a stop to the “in no particular order” part of the FB post.

10. The Kull Stories, by Robert E. Howard

This is old school pulp, set thousands of years before Conan roamed Hyboria. I read it because I got an assignment about it over at Modiphius games, and was pleasantly surprised how philosophical and interesting the adventurers of this ancient fictional king were. A quick read like most old pulp, worth the time and worth coming back to.

9. Blades in the Dark, by John Harper

One of two tabletop role-playing game manuals to make my list this year, it’s on the top ten for some really innovative mechanics and for making an extremely evocative and colorful world. I feel like the city of Duskvol is as real as Nero Wolfe’s townhouse or the Enterprise. Worth playing (which I have) or simply reading for parts.

8.Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher

A collection of short stories intended to hold us over in the near-half-decade that’s lapsed between Skin Game and the upcoming Peace Talks. Really enjoyable return to the world of Harry Dresden, especially the Bigfoot stories and the zoo trip novella at the end.

7. Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of, by Jason Durall & Others

The platonic ideal of a tabletop role-playing game manual. The rules are interesting, innovative, and balanced at the exact sweet spot of flexibility vs. crunch. The world is, naturally, stirring for anybody with a sweet spot for epic fantasy. The production quality is outstanding, even for the publisher’s high-production-value lines. A solid book. Can’t wait to play it.

6. #Republic, by Cass Sunstein

Probably the least fun but most important read for me of the year. Cass was a social media advisor to President Obama, and this book is her scientific and legal breakdown about how current usage of social media is damaging to an informed democracy. She supports the argument with recent, well-constructed studies on how people form, change, and keep opinions, and ends the book with several suggestions as to how we might change things to create a more informed, less polarized, voting public. TL/DR: stop unfriending that one uncle. It harms your brain and makes you a less effective participant in democracy.

5. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

I’m late to the party on this Newberry Winner, but finally got around to reading it. There’s a big twist so I won’t do any spoilers. Just know it’s some of the best YA out there right now. Emotionally powerful and page-turning, with excellent characterization. You’ll finish it in an afternoon, so what are you waiting for?

4. A Blade of Black Steel, Alex Marshall

I could go off for weeks on all the parts of this second book of the Crimson Empire trilogy I loved. It’s epic, gutter fantasy with terrible people doing wonderful things. Amazing, varied ensemble cast. World-threatening events. True heroism and 90 pages of the finest mayhem I have experienced in fiction or real life. As a bonus, it’s LGBTQ friendly but not in an obtrusive way. People just are who they are, and nobody thinks it’s any of their damn business.

3. I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya

In this memoir, Ms. Shraya discusses two of the ways my gender is capable of sucking. She talks about growing up as an effeminate male, and the bullying that engendered. Then she talks about living as an adult female in a world where women have to worry about their safety, just, all the time. I’ve been struggling somewhat with the whole transgender concept for a few years, and I learned a lot from this brief, gut-punching essay.

2. The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline

A story of what happens when the world starts to end, and the powerful decide to harvest an entire ethnic group as medicine. It’s a YA novel with enough meat for adults, and written with a lyrical beauty that’s what would happen if Ray Bradbury had a baby with Sharon Creech, and force-fed that child on Aldous Huxley, Gary Paulson, and Leslie Silko. Read. This. Book.

1. The Ghost Keeper, Natalie Morrill

So listen. I’m very, very male. I cry twice a year, tops. This book used my entire allotment of tears for 2018. It’s a holocaust story about events around the holocaust, and how surviving it impacted the characters. Told through a pair of lenses at different times, it’s the best work of literary fiction I’ve read this year, and in at least two years before 2018.

 

And that’s the lot of them. What did you read this year that just set your brain on fire?

9 Habits: Keep Score

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. 

We all have desires for our writing careers, whether it’s making $150,000 a year from home or getting that novel published. The thing is, most writers don’t make those desires real goals.

 

 

By “real goal” I mean something you’ve expressed in a way that’s measurable and specific, attached to a time limit, written down, then checked regularly.

  • You make it measurable so you’ll know when you’re done, and how much progress you’ve made at any given time.
  • You attach a time limit by setting a specific date by which you promise yourself you’ll be finished. With large goals, it’s a good idea to split it into smaller chunks along a timeline, such as writing a page a day to finish a 300-plus page book in a year.
  • You write it down to give the goal psychological importance and permanence. Steve Maraboli once said a goal you don’t write down isn’t a goal. It’s a wish.
  • You check it regularly to keep yourself inspired, and to confirm your daily decisions and progress are in line with reaching your goals.

You might have heard of SMART goals, which is a decades-old way of checking to see if your goals are really goals, or if they’re just wishes. I’m a big believer in this, so much so that I wrote a blog post about it.

Metrics and Key Performance Indicators

Keeping score is a matter of tracking your progress toward all of your goals. Metrics are how you keep score. They are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With 120 students and a staff of over 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.

Each of these metrics is like a vital sign. They tell me how “healthy” my writing business is at any given time, and — because I know how they work — if one number isn’t up to speed it gives me some ideas of how to fix it.

Every week, I go over these numbers.

  1. How much money I’ve earned by writing.
  2. How much money I’ve been paid for writing (sadly, not always the same as number one)
  3. How many posts for my blog and social media presence I’ve completed.
  4. How many action items – for example writing a scene or editing a chapter – I’ve completed on book projects.
  5. How many pitches I’ve sent to potential clients or new magazines.
  6. How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
  7. 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 monthly numbers I’ve promised to myself. The specific numbers are tied to my needs, my schedule and what my clients are asking me to do. Over time, the individual pieces add up to success.

It’s also important to identify one to three Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a given week, month or quarter. These are the numbers that really tell you how you’re doing, and which — if they don’t look good — could threaten the health of your writing career. 

If the metrics are your blood pressure and body fat ratio, the KPIs are whether or not you are breathing and able to move your legs.

My KPIs change based on what I’m focusing on at any given time. This quarter, I’m focusing on earning my monthly minimum income, and building my mailing lists and social media following. Thus, my KPIs are:

  • Amount of money earned and paid
  • Number of “meaningful contacts” made for potential followers

Watch both kinds of numbers and you will see your writing business grow. Fail to keep an eye on them, and if you succeed it will be a matter of luck. You can’t control luck, and you sure shouldn’t rely on it. 

Ways To Keep Score

Really, any system that keeps your finger on the pulse of your writing business is a good system. If you already have a good handle on this, don’t go looking for a new system to learn and apply. If you don’t already have a system for tracking your metrics, here are a few that work pretty well.

Spreadsheets

It’s possible you already use this for your family finances. Apply the same concepts to track your progress toward earning a month’s worth of income, accumulating finished pages for your novel, and sending enough queries out to get the clients you want.

Paper/Whiteboard

I use whiteboards to track my daily assignments. They’re easy to update as my day progresses, and they’re right there on the wall to remind me to stay on task. I have a big one for my work station wall, and a little one I carry around with me. You can do the same thing on a piece of paper, a drawing pad, or whatever else suits your fancy.

Professional Software

The advantage of professional metric tracking software is it’s the perfect tool for the job, fine-tuneable to your exact needs and built with tools to remind you about important assignments. Some will even lock down the games on your computer if you’re too close to deadline without showing sufficient progress. The bad news is these are expensive, sometimes very expensive.

Apps

Apps are the flip side of the professional software coin. They’re cheap or free, but don’t have the robust tools and easy customizability of the bigger suites. Still, a simple reminder app like Remember the Milk can combine with a to-do-list app to track a lot of your basic metrics.

The 3/4 Double-Whammy

As you recall from the last post, Habit Three is all about “Acting Your Age” and being responsible within your writing business. This habit is about getting serious with the metrics and numbers that drive your success.

If you’re slacking on Habit Three, it can become easy to let your numbers fall because tracking them isn’t very entertaining and besides, there’s Netflix to watch. This can end very badly for your and your writing.

But if you’re strong on Habit Three, Habit Four becomes pretty easy. Just promise yourself you’ll keep an eye out here, then keep that promise.

Simple enough?