freelancing in tough times

Although the Dow may have peaked 10,000 again, freelancers tend to operate in a “lagging indicator” market — a lot of companies still have yet to really rebound, and once they do they have to develop fresh confidence that their rebound is not about to re-rebound. Then they can build up their work and staff again — and then they’ll be able to think about farming work out to their stable of freelancers again.

One thing that’s been a shock to a lot of writers is the discovery that they can lose even their oldest, most trusted clients just like that — and the hardest part is not taking it personally. Long-term clients become like friends; you know about their kids and their vacations, you send them birthday cards and get invited to their company holiday dinners. But they’re often in the same boat as you. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for one of my oldest clients and the following week I wrote her a letter of recommendation. In the intervening time, she and the rest of her department had been laid off.

It’s been that bad.

But just because things are starting to look up (however sluggishly) it doesn’t mean you can afford to let out a sigh of relief and wait for the phone to start ringing. The beginning of the upswing is a good time to get people thinking about you. Here are some things that might help you generate some much-needed future business.

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A Writer Looks at Copyediting

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit posted a link to the following article on the EFA discussion list, and I thought it would make a valuable addition to the list of articles on copyediting that I posted recently.

Scott Berkun, “How copyediting looks and feels:”

“Copyeditors have a tough job. They have to sort out what the author was trying to do, and then help them do it. But if a writer botches a sentence or a paragraph (or chapter), it’s hard for copyeditors to figure out the intent. And of course writing is more than grammar and tense, it’s also less tangible factors like honesty, relevance, humor and value, which the copyeditor might sense is lacking but can’t fix on their own.”

(This copyeditor can’t resist pointing out that the last line above should read: “. . . on his or her own.”)

The article is a useful overview of how authors interact with copyeditors for the benefit of the final product. The comments that follow the article are both thoughtful and helpful as well. And I love his definition of copyediting: “where someone gets ‘all up in your sentences.'”

Some more words of wisdom:

“Good copyeditors are underpaid. They have the most intimate involvement in the creative process, even though it’s late in the game. In many cases they make mediocre writers look good. And of course a bad copyeditor can make an interesting or entertaining writer seem boring and dull.”

Writers and managers: do you value your copyeditors?

just how useful are copy editors?

Three articles approach the question from unique yet complementary angles:

John McIntyre, “Evaluating Copy Editors,” from You Don’t Say:

“If you happen to oversee copy editors, one of our nation’s fast-dwindling resources, you might be interested in some suggestions on how to evaluate their performance. If you are a civilian, unclear what copy editors do, apart from filing for unemployment insurance, this post will suggest to you what is being sacrificed at the publications you read. “

John White, “3 Ways to Make Your Subject Matter Experts Think,” from How to Hire a Copy Editor:

“Why would you run the risk of antagonizing a customer or engineer who is doing you a favor by allowing you to pick his brain for a white paper or case study?

This writer is smart enough not to try to impress the interviewee with her knowledge of the business or technology. She doesn’t need to know more in those fields to make the interviewee think.

It’s all in the three questions she poses them to explain it.”

Ruth Samuelson, “A Missing Sense of ‘Place’ on Acker,” from the Washington (DC) CityPaper:

“Behind every article, there a few—sometimes many—fact-checking dramas you’ll never catch wind of in the final draft.

You think your story’s done. Then, you spend two hours selecting one word. Seriously.

Case in point: . . . “

word diagnostics

I’m always looking for useful analogies to convey how good editing can improve advertising copy, web features, white papers, and other written communications. This morning I was reading an article about medicine and it hit me that what editors do when revising a piece of written work is analogous to what doctors do when diagnosing a patient’s symptoms.

Like a living organism, written copy is a complex system of interactive elements that can be rendered “unhealthy” by the presence of errors in spelling, grammar, or logic. A good editor, like a good doctor, knows how to read the symptoms — for example, “this doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know why” — and can suggest corrections that will restore the piece to optimum health. 

Let’s take a look at how you can apply the four cornerstones of diagnostic medicine to make your writing all better.

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what kind of editing do i need?

On an automobile assembly line, you wouldn’t wait until after you’ve installed all the interior paneling and trim to put in the side windows. When it comes to editing your reports, white papers, instruction manuals, and other important documents, are you doing the equivalent?

Freelance editors are used to talking with potential clients who think that proofreading a document means giving it a thorough syntactic overhaul, and that copyediting covers the writing and insertion of a whole new section of text. Most of us are not averse to taking on projects that cross definitional boundaries, but we do try to make sure the client understands the differences.

“Who cares?” some will interrupt. “Editing is editing, right?”

Honestly, no.

Editors define the types of editing differently not because we’re trying to be split hairs but because we understand that each one should be performed at its own particular stage of the document preparation process — putting the windows in while you’re still assembling the doors, so to speak. Performing the wrong kind of editing at the wrong stage in the production process can derail the whole process.

Use this editing sequence to keep your document assembly line moving.

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freelance writing tips from an advertising master

If, as Ernest Hemingway once told a reporter, the one essential tool of a good writer is “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector,” then Bob Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman/Lewis advertising in San Francisco and St. Louis, possesses one of the most finely-calibrated, jewel-movement, brass-cased crap detectors in service today.

Hoffman’s blog, The Ad Contrarian, covers today’s advertising scene. He offers cogent advice based on over 30 years of experience in the ad business. He doesn’t suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, and doesn’t mind saying why not. Hoffman believes that advertising “has one simple purpose: to find something interesting to say that will make someone buy your stuff.”

Hoffman’s free book, The Ad Contrarian: Getting Beyond the Fleeting Trends, False Goals, and Dreadful Jargon of Contemporary Advertising, is the distilled essence of that principle, both in format and in content. Here’s a quick review that I hope will convince you to order your own copy and read it in a single sitting, and then go apply his insights in your own writing.

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slogans that sell the sizzle

Recently, in preparation for an interview for a magazine article, I visited the website of the interviewee’s organization to get some background information. In particular, I wanted to make sure I understood the organization’s mission; it’s a useful reference point for framing interview questions.

Unfortunately, the mission statement that I found on the “About Us” page didn’t tell me a thing about their mission. It was one of those focus-grouped slogans full of vague buzzwords that promised to deliver intangible things in response to undefined needs. The site design was very clean and professional, but what, exactly, did they do?

I found myself mentally cringing at the thought of getting more of the same during the interview. I was in need of choice quotes and piercing insights, not abstractions wrapped in vapor.

However, to my relief and even pleasure, the interview turned out to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time. The interviewee used sharp, lucid, and concise language to convey information and offer insights. Not only did I get my choice quotes, by the end of the interview I knew what the article would look like — hook, lede, and sinker. Writers live for interviews like that.

Afterward, once I had finished cleaning up my notes, I found myself pondering the power of clarity. Had their website been my only point of contact with the organization, I would buy ventolin hfa online have walked away with a very different opinion about their capabilities. What makes for a good slogan?

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do your proposals listen to your clients?

Accept or DeclineSuccessful proposals demonstrate your skills and capabilities to prospective clients. But superior proposals convey more than just facts and figures — they also demonstrate that you are listening to them.

The people reading your proposal want to know not only whether you can complete their work on time and on budget, but also whether they think you’ll work well with their team. Whether you can ask and answer questions. Whether you really understand what they want to get out of this project.

Somehow, your proposal has to convey this message along with the staffing charts and budget tables.

Sure, you could just salt the text with trite phrases such as “we listen to our customers.” But with a little bit of good writing, you can turn your entire proposal into an example of your responsiveness. Here are some proven tips for putting that into practice:

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paperjamming gets a new home

Cluttered Desk Since their introduction last February, PaperJamming templates have remained among the top ten downloads from the Active Voice Downloads page. Not only that, but blog posts about PaperJamming have powered their way into the top five most viewed posts. Clearly, PaperJamming is meeting a need.

To help make the PaperJamming templates easier to find, I’ve broken them out into their own category on the Downloads page. From now on, instead of being listed under the hPDA templates, you’ll find them between my new CardNets and my iPhone wallpapers.

Plus, the move gives me more room to list the next set of cards . . .

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does your past have a future?

HourglassWould you deliberately set fire to your family’s photo albums? Wantonly wave an electromagnet over cassette recordings of your child’s first words? Smash your copy of the White Album into fragments with a hammer? Shred your grandparents’ love letters?

Of course not.

But if you’re using popular media formats to store your digital pictures, music, and e-mails, you might as well be.

Andrea Japzon wants you to ponder that — and then get busy preserving your digital legacy.

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