Find Freelance Writing Success by Making Your Own Rules

header-rulesSeasoned and successful freelancers have a lot of “been there, done that” advice to offer but not everything you hear necessarily pertains to your business. Some of it may very well be outdated, or that person might just follow a set of freelance writing rules that works for them, but might not work for you.

In order to succeed in today’s digital content landscape, the only real rule is that you’re allowed to break the rules. After all, this is YOUR business, and YOU get to call the shots.

Here are a few examples of rules I’ve adapted to suit my business:

My work isn’t done when I hit submit.

Spending time promoting your work on social media is not only appreciated by your clients, but it’s great for your own brand. Don’t think of it as “one more thing I’m being asked to do for free.”

It’s also worth taking the time to reach out to thank sources you’ve interviewed and share the link to your story. Although you may think “I ain’t got time for that,” carve out a few minutes. It can lead to good karma and more work. Example: I once interviewed an expert source in a niche industry, and when his company needed a content writer to ghostwrite for his blog a year later, he immediately thought of me. Not only did he love how my article turned out, but he said he appreciated that I didn’t forget about him once our interview was over. That five-minute email turned into thousands of dollars in income.

The lines of journalism and content are blurred, and that’s OK.

My old-school journalism training made it sound like writing for a brand was going to “the dark side,” but that’s just not the case anymore. (To be fair, I also went to J-school in the pre-social media days when the internet was in its infancy, and the concept of digital content marketing didn’t really exist.) Still, I know some writers that really took those lessons to heart and wouldn’t “lower” themselves to write for a marketing company or PR agency.

The fact is, if you remove all of the stuff that runs below and alongside most quality content marketing and branded pieces, the articles themselves aren’t much different than the traditional journalism you’d find in magazines, newspapers, or media websites.

Of course, some of the work I do is promotional in nature, and so I make a every effort to avoid conflicts of interests. For instance, if I write for a brand, it automatically becomes off limits to use as a source for stories I write for other outlets.

I’m also totally OK with removing my byline or ghostwriting for someone else — another rule that not everyone is comfortable with.

My bottom line? If you want to make a living in the freelance writing world, as long as you maintain your personal ethics, there’s nothing wrong with writing for both traditional publications and corporate brands.

Embrace the learning curve.

The editorial process is very different if you’re working with a print magazine versus an online publisher versus a content marketing firm. When you’re working with a new client, take the time to understand their process, and make no assumptions about the “right way” to handle challenges that arise.

Ask questions up front and read contracts carefully to make sure you’re getting a fair deal. And always be professional, even if a job turns out to be a bad fit for you. You never want to burn a bridge because everyone knows everyone in this world — trust me.

My final rule is don’t be afraid to be a rule breaker. Some of my best clients were those that other writers wouldn’t give the time of day.

Making my own rules doesn’t mean that I’ve never been burned, but the longer I do this, the better I’ve become at separating the good opportunities from the bad. That’s the beauty of freelance writing — you control your own destiny, and you don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules.

Is there an unconventional rule that has helped your business thrive?

Seasonal Content Marketing So Fun, It’s Scary

Is your content a(1)I write a lot of articles, blogs, newsletters, infographic copy — you name it, I write it. But perhaps one of the things I enjoy most is taking a topic and putting a fun seasonal twist on it.

Readers really appreciate and trust brands that provide them with valuable information, especially if they can do so in an entertaining, creative way.

If you’re looking for a writer who can power your seasonal and holiday content packages, I’ve got you covered.

Take a vampire-sized bite out of my favorite Halloween-inspired content treats (if you dare!):

* How to Tame Your Credit Nightmares – From an “invasion to the credit snatchers” to a “nightmare on debt street,” I had a lot of horror movie-inspired fun with this personal finance advice piece.

* The Scariest Things on Your Credit Report – Whether your credit history is haunted or you suspect some paranormal activity, if you haven’t been paying attention to what’s lurking in your credit report, you might very well be in for the fright of your life.

* Face Your Fears: Overcome These Job Seeker Scares – Do you need an employment exorcism? Are you facing a psycho interviewer? Check out this bloodcurdling blog post aimed at helping job hunters fight their biggest fears.

* Spooky and Successful Viral Content Marketing for Halloween – In this one, I round up examples of brand marketers who’ve used creepy content to capitalize on everyone’s favorite haunted holiday.

No matter the topic, by tapping into what’s going on in your customers’ lives — whether it’s Halloween, a news item, or a big pop culture event — you can grab their attention, and deliver engaging content that casts a spell on them to keep them coming back for more.

Contact me to discuss your freelance writing needs.

No Big Deal… Just My Mug in Times Square

So this happened…


This past May, I was the featured guest on Profnet’s #Connectchat on Twitter. The topic was “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer.” I enjoyed taking part and fielding really great questions from my writing peers in 140 characters. But most of all, I got a kick out of the cool perk of getting my headshot in Times Square for a few hours. Pretty sweet!

Check out the recap of the chat by Profnet’s Evelyn Tripacti, the chat host.



Want to be a Freelance Writing Success? Develop These 6 Attributes


I recently took part in a webinar hosted by Profnet’s Evelyn Tipacti, in which myself and ASJA president Randy Dotinga shared some tips for “Breaking into Freelance Writing.” Go check it out (Bonus: you’ll get to hear my Brooklyn accent in all its glory!). In the meantime, I wanted to share a few more follow up thoughts here.

While everyone defines success differently, I define my own as being able to choose the work I want to do, and make a living doing it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I believe you can fast track your road to success if you develop these key skills:

Know how to write hella good. If you ain’t able to write, then you ain’t gonna get no assignments. Beyond grammar and style know-how, you need to know the rules of journalism so you don’t get into trouble with plagiarism, you know the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, primary and secondary sources, what’s on- or off-the-record — all that good stuff. Lastly, you should learn the lingo of the industry, whether it’s “moving a stat to the nut graf” or using a “stronger call-to-action,” you want to know what your client is asking for.

Do the job without whining. There is no writer in the world who can file every assignment as a “walk away” – meaning that all of your words will remain exactly in tact and no revisions will be necessary. If that were the case, editors would be out of jobs. It’s sometimes hard to see final copy that is different from your own, but never forget that you’re a hired contractor and the customer/client gets the final word. Full disclosure: I was an editor for 15 years, and I can tell you that the writers with the biggest egos and the biggest mouths tended to also be the ones who missed deadlines, didn’t follow the assignment agreement, or made awful grammar errors. The real pros know how to take things in stride. Do what you have to do to complete the job, or as my kickboxing instructor would say, suck it up!

But don’t be a sucker. There are exceptions to the above whining rule. If an edit results in something that is factually incorrect, or if the story is so drastically different that you’re not comfortable putting your name on it, you need to have a conversation. If you’re on your third round of edits and the editors clearly can’t decide what they want from the story, you need to break that cycle. If you’re contracted for 1,000 words, and your editor decides he wants 4 sidebars that bring the total up to 2,000 words, ask for additional compensation. And even if you do have a bad experience, if you’re able to take the high road and finish the assignment, take solace in knowing that you never have to work with that person again (reason #642 why freelance life is awesome!).

Never apologize for the work you do. It irks me when professional freelance writers talk down to other writers because of the jobs they decide to take. It goes something like: “How can you work for such a low rate? You’re devaluing what we do.” Or, “I would never write for free. That’s so pathetic.” Or, “You can’t write brand content and call yourself a journalist.” If you’re not paying someone’s bills, you can’t presume to understand their motivations for choosing a particular job. A blog post that only pays $75 might take me 20 minutes to write, which according to my calculator, is the equivalent of $225 per hour. You know what I say to those with a holier-than-thou attitude? You keep holding out for those $2 per word assignments while I pick up all the “low-paying” jobs you’re too good for. As for working for free or crossing into the dark side of content marketing? Well, that’s fodder for more posts (which I promise to work on soon).

Use your internal pause button. If anyone ever saw the emails, tweets, or Facebook posts that I’ve typed out and didn’t send, I would have a very different reputation. Sometimes it feels good to vent by pounding furiously on the keyboard after something ticks me off (an inept PR person, a nasty source, edits that make no logical sense, a lost invoice claim, etc.). But then I give myself a mental pause, and by the time I cool off, I almost always delete what I was about to post. You might think bitching publicly is taking a stand, but many times, it will just make you seem like a prima donna. And all those great writer boards and forums you sign on to share your complaints? Just imagine that a few of your editors are on there lurking, because I can tell you for a fact, that some of them are. If you’re going to out a publication or an editor in some way, make sure it’s for something significant and that it’s a bridge you’re willing to burn.

Be kind. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but being kind is always better than being a cutthroat. There is this myth that freelancers are out to get each other and steal work from their competition. Personally, I don’t associate with this sort, or maybe it’s just not true. What I have found is that the vast majority of freelancers understand that like virtual co-workers. We network, share resources, and sometimes refer each other for jobs. Truth be told, I won’t put my own reputation on the line for just anyone, but I do try to share others’ work on social media, or give people a heads up if I hear of a job that sounds like a good fit for their expertise. Do the same, and you’ll see – the good karma will come back to you when you need it most.

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be a successful freelancer writer? These are the attributes that have been working for me so far. Which skills have been the driving force of your business?

Freelance Writing Lessons of the Week

Some business lessons I’ve learned during my freelance writing and content marketing adventures this week…

Get on Google+

I had the pleasure of speaking with some really excellent experts for an article about why content marketers need to be on Google+ for The Content Strategist. I guess I kind of knew that I should be on that platform since I created a profile some time ago, but I learned a lot about how ramping up my efforts can help me establish my author credibility, improve my search rankings, and connect me with potential clients/sources, etc. So if you’re on Google+, too, add me to your circles and I’ll do the same with you!

I’m human

I’ve been churning out a lot of copy — I mean, a LOT — lately, and I’ve always prided myself on not missing deadlines and being accurate. So when I was alerted that I spelled a source’s name wrong in an article, I naturally beat myself up about it, and for about a second, wondered if I’m spreading myself too thin. Luckily, the typo was online and was fixed in 10 minutes, and the source and my editor were super gracious about it. But it reminded me of my days as a print magazine editor when I’d agonize over copy to ensure that no mistake ever went to press. The lesson here is that in this super fast content creating world, I have to cut myself some slack if I make a mistake, but also, not to forget the fundamentals — one of which is to spell check the names, titles, and credentials of all people mentioned before hitting submit.

Sometimes, freelancers have to wear a corporate hat

This was one of those weeks in which I worked with new clients and sources who do things in a more corporate way than I’m used to. Waiting for a source to run an interview request past legal, reading through complex spreadsheets to map out workflow, sitting through webinars and conference calls, creating proposals… these are very different activities than when I work with traditional publishing clients. The good news is I like living this dual life since it exercises my writing skills in lots of different ways, and helps diversify my business.

Full-timers don’t quite get what I do

Speaking of which, my fellow freelancers will understand what I mean here, but I’m still struggling with how others perceive my writing business since I’ve left the cubicle world. It is, in fact, a business, but others assume it’s side work or a hobby of mine, I can blow it off whenever I want to, and that at least my husband has a full-time job to support us. Um, no. Just because I work from home now doesn’t mean I’m on an extended vacation, or watching TV all day. If I carve out an hour to go to the gym or do something with my kids, it’s because that’s one of the perks of the freelance life. It also means I’m up working that night while you’re sleeping. Believe me, I’ve never had a tougher boss than I have right now. She’s relentless, demanding, and expects me to work ALL the time! I hope over time she learns to chill out. 😉

So that was my week.

Care to share something you’ve learned?

After Boston, Is There Any Turning Back?

Like most people, I was elated over the weekend to learn that the terror is over in Boston. But I was foolish last week. I tried to shield my kids from the horrible Boston marathon bombings and the aftermath. I say I’m foolish because my oldest is 8 — just like Richard Martin was — and I should know better by now that he lives in a different world than I did when I was 8.

He lives in a world where tragedy, terrorism, school shootings, and lockdown drills are a normal part of  nightly dinner conversations and are carefully worked into classroom lectures. So when I saw the news this past Monday, my immediate thought was the same as most people I talked to.

Again? How can this be happening again?!

My next thought was that I didn’t have the strength to have another “important talk,” and see the confused, frightened look on my son’s face as I sat him down to explain that evil exists in this world, but that good always triumphs.

For the last few months, it’s been Sandy Hook and Hurricane Sandy (which was particularly tragic in our area), the sad death of a karate classmate, the realization of what a beloved aunt’s cancer battle really entails… maybe if I can spare him this one, I thought, I could preserve his innocence just a little longer.

But of course, when he went to school the next day, he heard all about it and began asking me for details as soon as the dismissal bell rang. He asked for the kind of details that no 8 year old should ever, ever be concerned with. He wanted to know how many people died. He wanted to know if any of them were young people. He wanted to know why anyone would do this, and if the police will kill them like the soldiers killed Osama Bin Laden. I started with the fact that there had been three deaths, with many other people hurt.

Here’s what he said: “That’s not so bad. It could have been worse. It could have been like the Twin Towers.” In that moment, I realized my sons are growing up in a world where we rank tragedies in terms of body counts, in which “only 3” casualties makes it almost unremarkable. In this new world, when bombs can go off in a major city on a beautiful day during a highly attended athletic celebration, we can say “it could have been worse” because we know it could have been — we lived through 9/11 and haven’t forgotten the horrors of that day.

I don’t think it could be much worse for the families of the deceased, or for the spectators whose limbs were blown off, of course. The fear doesn’t get more real than the type felt by the residents who were in lockdown during the massive manhunt for the two terrorists.

But for those of us watching from afar, who did not have friends and family in the immediate danger zone, we’re desensitized to it all now. Sure, we mourn, we get angry, we pray, and we tear up with pride as we watch our nation come together and break into impromptu renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. But we’re not surprised or shocked anymore.

While this saddens me, I can at least take comfort from the fact that through these awful events, children are also seeing the best of humanity, heroism, courage, and patriotism. They can look for the “helpers,” as Mr. Rogers said, and always find them.

I just wish my kids could know what 8 felt like for my generation, where we derived our notion of good vs. evil from pro wrestling, Rocky movies, and Scooby-Doo. But after Boston, I’m not sure that’s possible.

RIP Mayor Koch, My First Boss

New York City Mayor Ed Koch gave me my first job. You see, we were in the middle of a water shortage in the early 1980s, and he took to the TV to appoint all New York City children his deputy mayors.

This was the closest thing I could find on YouTube about the Save Water campaign. (I love the kids’ accents!)

I was around 4 or 5 years old when this happened, and apparently, I took the job very seriously. I saw the perfect opportunity to flash my imaginary badge and start taking charge when my family took me to a NY Mets game and we went to the bathroom between innings. As we waited on line, in stall after stall, I heard flush after flush, and I started to get mad. Didn’t they know that there was a water shortage? Hadn’t they ever heard: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” and all that?

I started yelling something to the effect of: “Hey everybody — listen up. I’m the deputy mayor, and you need to stop flushing all these toilets right now!!!”

Needless to say, I never lived this one down. But as I laughed about it today with my cousin, it made me realize how likeable and how New York — yes, I’m using New York as an adjective! — Mayor Koch really was. No matter what, I’ll always appreciate that he put his trust and faith in me and my fellow deputies that we could make a real difference in the world. That’s a big deal to a five year old, or at least it was to me.

Rest it peace, Mr. Mayor! It was a pleasure working for you.


A Few More Bullet Points on Gun Control

So I wrote this: The President is Right on Target With Gun Law Legislation.

I needed to share my thoughts about gun control, and many of my fellow parents have reached out to tell me they agree with my feelings on the matter. I might not have felt so strongly about it, had it not been for the fact that over the last month, my son has been coming home from school, and telling me about the lockdown drills he’s been doing in class. He was so proud of himself when he told me his clever idea to stay safe. “If anyone came into my classroom with a gun, I’d pretend I was already dead so they wouldn’t shoot me.” Did I mention he’s 8 years old? He should not be worrying about things like this.

Like Huffington Post writer Lisa Belkin wrote just after the Sandy Hook shootings, gun control is very much a parenting issue now. That’s why I decided to write down my thoughts, too — my raw, emotional thoughts — on the matter.

In response, gun supporters have been attacking what I wrote, which is no surprise. The experience has confirmed that there are a lot of angry gun owners out there! Because I don’t really want to engage them in such a public forum as the HuffPo comments section — frankly, some of them scare me — I thought I’d share a few additional thoughts here.

First, an admission: I screwed up. I didn’t properly research my gun terminology, so a good portion of the comments call me out for my ignorance, and to an extent, rightly so. I said “automatic” weapons, when I should have said “semiautomatic.” I had my editor make the correction for me. My bad. I’m not a firearms expert. I’m not a constitutional scholar, as I said in the piece. I’m just a concerned parent. Nitpicking every word I use and every analogy I make is choosing to ignore the crux of my argument, which is that having a national conversation about gun violence is a good thing.

Dispelling some false logic… Yes, if we took away every gun (which, of course, this administration is in no way, shape, or form saying it wants to do), the bad guys will find other ways to kill. After all, the terrorists used box cutters to take down airplanes and kill over 3,000 people. But saying that we didn’t ban box cutters, so therefore we shouldn’t change the gun laws is using false logic. For starters, we did overhaul our entire airport security screening processes after 9/11 to include not being allowed to take any sharp objects — from nail clippers to knitting needles — onto an airplane. We did not ban these items. We just adapted the way in which we’re allowed to use them. Furthermore, I understand that these new laws will probably not stop every determined criminal. There is no magical solution, unfortunately. But if rethinking some policies can spare even one innocent victim, isn’t it an option worth exploring?

Let’s talk politics. Did I mention that I’m a Republican, with many family members who own guns? I didn’t write the piece to go on some pro-Obama, liberal soapbox. However, there are those who believe that tampering with gun laws is just the beginning phase of our country turning into a dictatorship. They’d have you believe that Obama would send armies into the homes of its newly disarmed citizens, just like the Nazis did. That’s what the staunchest gun supporters would have you believe. Is that not being just a tad paranoid? Here’s what’s true: Until Newtown, when it came to gun violence and gun control, Obama avoided the topic like his election depended on it. Maybe it did. But after Newtown — after the election was already in the books — the public outcry demanded he take this issue on, and so he did.

Not all big cities with strict gun laws are overwhelmed by violence. I live in New York, where Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been far more outspoken than the president on gun violence. And guess what? New York is considered one of the — if not the — safest big city in the nation! Sure, there are still too many illegal guns on the streets, and still lots of work to be done, but at least we’re taking steps toward making the city and state safer.

Who decides who’s worthy of gun ownership? That was a question asked in response to my post. Obviously, whatever law is passed will clearly define that answer, the most obvious being that those with a history of violent crimes should not be permitted to own a gun. And to be sure that that doesn’t happen, criminal background checks have to be a must; as of now, they are not happening across the board. There needs to be a real process and real consequences, just as there is a process for getting a driver’s license or applying for a loan.

The Second Amendment still stands. People are still not getting that message. No legislation has suggested that we take away the right to bear arms. We are blessed to have that right, but anything taken to the extreme will have consequences, and therefore, we put exceptions in place when necessary. For instance, we hold freedom of speech sacred, but the exceptions are we cannot defame others, or yell “fire” in a movie theater. The very fact that we have amendments in the first place indicates that we are a nation that is willing to change and progress for the good of its people. If that means our right to bear arms will require being screened, trained, and recertified after a certain time period, than so be it.

The truth is I wish this issue would go away on its own and never come back. But after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, and the Aurora movie theater, we didn’t learn. Now we’ve added Newtown to the list.

We can’t just lay down and play dead. Not this time.

Taking Care of Our Own: Staten Island Strong!

I’ve often heard Staten Islanders say we live in the “Forgotten Borough,” and to some extent, it’s true. In the first couple of days after Sandy left a path of destruction all up and down the Northeast coast, most of what was shown on the news was about the ravaged Jersey Shore and the flooded NYC Subways. It wasn’t until a few days later that the world heard about what happened in Staten Island, where unfortunately, it was discovered was the place in which the most people died as a result of the storm. And if not for the incredibly brave first responders who made over 1,300 water rescues that night (1,300!), the number of deceased would have been even harder to bear.

(If you haven’t read my essay in The Huffington Post, I hope you’ll take a look.)

Because of the delayed reaction (and admittedly, also because of the sheer logistics of deploying government and charitable help to get here from out of state) Staten Islanders didn’t see any Red Cross trucks or FEMA representatives in those first few dark, terrible days. What they relied on was the overwhelming generosity of their fellow Staten Islanders.

Neighbors shared generator plugs, and helped each other pump out water and begin the cleanup process. They took displaced friends into their homes, and brought meals to the elderly. Around the Island, makeshift donation centers immediately started popping up at local bowling alleys, children’s party places, fitness clubs, and even out of people’s garages. Would-be marathoners turned their canceled runs into an opportunity to “run” supplies like batteries, flashlights, and nonperishable food to the most effected neighborhoods. On Halloween, just a couple of days after Sandy, trick-or-treaters went around not asking for candy, but handing out sandwiches. Local businesses stepped up and began offering their goods and services free of charge. The Staten Island Hilton filled its rooms, lobbies, and conference room areas with evacuees, and all of the supplies needed to keep them comfortable, clothed, and well fed.

Facebook and Twitter turned out to be the best way to share information so that volunteers knew where to distribute the massive amounts of donations that came pouring in. I tried to compile what I saw in my feeds here on the blog.  Slowly but surely, efforts became more organized, and volunteers were ready and waiting to take on their next assignment. And through it all, it was our local politicians who stood on the front lines, day in and day out, to help bring some attention to what Staten Islanders were going through, and ultimately, make sure the forgotten borough received the help it so badly needed. So James Oddo, Nicole Malliotakis, Vinny Ignizio, Andrew Lanza, and Michael Grimm — I applaud you, and I thank you!

Eventually, FEMA and the Red Cross did show up. As did Jon Stewart, Julianne Moore, and a handful of other celebrities. As the story unfolded on the evening news, the help started pouring in via private and corporate donations. And as I sit here writing this, it’s the eve of President Obama’s visit to Staten Island, I’m betting the first one he’s ever made. To think that the President will be walking around Miller Field tomorrow, where my kid plays baseball!

While we of course appreciate all of this very helpful and much needed assistance and acknowledgement, what Staten Islanders will remember the most about this tragedy is how we all pulled together for each other. From day one and still to this day, when the rest of the world forgot about us, Staten Islanders took care of their own. Through our strength, faith, and fortitude, we sure showed the world how unforgettable we truly are!