Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:
Thanks for the great question. It’s difficult to provide a super specific answer without knowing a bit more (the type of writing you’d like to do, particular topics you’re interested in, audiences you’d like to reach, etc.), but I do think we can provide some general guidance.
The first step I’d recommend is getting clear about your writing goals. We addressed a similar challenge in our Friday Fun response to a new blogger who wasn’t sure how to evolve her blog into something that “makes a little money.” Knowing where you want to go makes figuring out the steps to getting there a LOT easier. Your plan to become a published novelist would be very different from your plan to become a syndicated columnist, a self-help author, a screenwriter, or a journalist.
Once you know where you want to go, the second step is brainstorming about how to get there. This is obviously a topic that’s way bigger than a quick Friday Fun post, but at a really high level you want to start by studying your target market:
- The Publishers – Print and digital distributors and other outlets that pertain to the kind of writing you want to do – what they are publishing, who their audience is, what they are looking for, etc.
- The Target Audience – “End readers” as well as any gatekeepers like editors, their interests, where they hang out online, who/what else they read, etc.
- The Competition – Other writers who are succeeding in the space where you want to play
- The Influencers – The trend makers and “experts” like high-profile bloggers, review sites, etc.
The point of this research is NOT to retrofit your writing to suit any real or imagined audience. It’s to help you better understand the lay of the land so that you can uncover and recognize opportunities. When you know (and are engaged with!) your market, you can more easily spot and take advantage of openings that are a perfect fit for you.
I hope this is helpful. Good luck and do let us know if you have follow-up questions!
Lisa J. Jackson: I know what you mean about wanting credit for your writing. I started writing for local papers so I could see my byline and even though the articles weren’t anything that changed the world, as it were, seeing my name in print was a thrill that still makes me smile. Most of my work now is ghost writing, in that my name is seldom on any final product.
However, not having your name on something doesn’t mean you can’t have it in your portfolio to share with other prospective clients, unless that’s part of your agreement when you refer to ‘commissioned.’
To morph into your own writing, as you mention, what is it that interests you? What do you want to be writing? What types of markets are you interested in? A great resource is LinkedIn – you can find groups of people you want to write for, writers who are doing what you want to be doing, and so on. Search on keywords and you’ll be on your way!
Also, you may find this Freelance Writing Jobs website helpful. The daily e-mails are full of jobs and great articles.
Deborah Lee Luskin: Jamie and Lisa have great advice; I just have twos cautionary tales about ghost-writing: In both these instances, the clients were confident they could write their own stories if they just had the time. One was a novel, another a biography.
In the first instance, the client sent me about four pages, all about the name brand clothes, cars and gadgets the main characters used. This was preliminary to writing a contract. I gave my best spin about what was good, what could be better, and what I could do, wrote out a contract and an estimate, and sent him a bill for the two hours I spent – as we’d agreed on the phone. It took a while to get paid, but I did. No further material was ever forthcoming. I was relieved.
The second instance was from a very successful businessman who wanted me to write an inspirational book about his life and his work. He had a great idea. We spoke on the phone; I did some research about him (checked his bonafides, business and background ) and traveled to meet with him. We had a great meeting in which I outlined what I could do (research and write) and what I couldn’t (design the physical book), but I did give him the name of someone who is a book designer. He said he’d get back to me when he returned from three weeks of travel.
My friend the book designer contacted me the next day, saying he’d contacted her and tried to interest her in the job, offering her significantly less than I proposed. She told me I was still charging too little, and in her experience, this was the kind of client to avoid. Not a problem, since he didn’t contact me in three weeks.
He contacted me six months later, asking when I could start.
I replied that I had two projects on my desk that would take me the next six months.
Could I resend my proposal?
No. (He’d never paid me for my preliminary work.)
Did I know anyone else who’d be interested?
I was sorry I couldn’t think of anyone off-hand. (I like my colleagues and contacts.)
I think ghostwriting is a great gig with the right client. And if a by-line is important to you, it can be negotiated into the contract, often offset by a lower fee. The business man cited above made it clear he didn’t want to share the by-line; he also didn’t want to pay me for shaping his ideas into a well-crafted narrative.
On the other hand, I do a great deal of non-by-lined writing for major medical centers, and I’m fine with that. We have a contract for each assignment. I write it and get paid. Some of the writing is by-lined, but a recent job turned into something unexpectedly bigger than the 400-word piece initially contracted. By the time the editor finished (using my original interviews and research) she’d spent another three months to finish what turned out to be an 800-word story. She would have given me the by-line to the piece that was finally published, but I turned it down, as it was no longer my work.
Hope this gives you some idea of the twists and turns of working as a pen-for-hire.