All posts by Helen Gallagher

Feeling Stuck? Use Reverse-engineering

by Helen Gallagher

book magnified

Reverse engineering refers to taking something apart, such as a product, seeing how it is made, and then making it better.

With so many self-published author triumphs lately, I’ve begun teaching people how to use reverse engineering to identify a path to success. (Four self-published books, created at, made the New York Times bestseller list last week.

Here’s a brief rundown on the reverse engineering strategy as it applies to author marketing, by looking at a successful book launch.  Maybe some of you with engineering minds can improve on this description:

1. Define your task, in this case an independently published book that lands on the best seller list.

2. Ask yourself  “How did they do that?”

3. Look up the author and write down all the elements of the successful author’s platform:

Web site, blog, Amazon author page, the number of reviews, where else is the author published (articles, online, guest blogs).

4. Visit their social media pages. If you follow the people you admire, you have a back door into their strategies and can implement similar ideas for your own work. If you are working on or promoting book that is similar  to theirs, you can even ask for an endorsement, or extend an offer for the author to write a guest post for your blog.

The next time you read of another person’s success, turn that glint of envy into curiosity. Figure out how they did it, and use that model for your own work.

Helen Gallagher writes and blogs at

Write Like An Olympian

swimThe drive, perseverance, and sheer determination!

Our jobs are so much easier than the Olympic athletes, yet we sometimes stop trying, quit too soon, or get in our own way. Lets use the examples of Gabby Douglas, who planned for her Olympic success since age 12, and the determination of the 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia who put herself out there to win, but lost the judo match in a mere 82 seconds. And of course, Mark Spitz now needs an extra suitcase to bring all his medals home – an Olympic record of 20 medals and counting.

There is no Freelancers Olympics, but we still show up to do our work. But you have to wonder what successes we could achieve if we really tried to push the boundaries, went for the gold… broke the limits, and WON.

It’s Monday: Go update your blog, tweet about something good in the world, then get back to work and surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

iPad or Laptop for Back-to-School?

If you’re a parent, your freelance income has to cover a lot of school expenses for your children.  Here are some important considerations before you spend money on a tablet computer for your back-to-school offspring. These tips are courtesy of, who invited me to excerpt their full list, written by media editor Jeff Somogyi.

IPADGIRLWith summer already on its way out, your college-bound child is probably in the midst of asking for more and more money to buy the “essentials” they’ll need for dorm life in the upcoming school year. (FYI: A BMX bike is not an essential school requirement for anyone, except those attending BMX U.) It’s very likely that they’ve also mentioned needing a little device called the “iPad.” That may have gotten you wondering if, in this day-and-age, the iPad should be considered instead of a laptop for kids heading off to university.

And so, as the youngins are about to matriculate, they’ll come at you with all sorts of “reasons” why the iPad is a “valuable tool” for “learning.” Are you prepared to fight back? Are you armed with the knowledge you need to protect your dollars? You better be, because — as we’ll show you — the iPad just isn’t a suitable replacement for a laptop, in terms of meeting your student’s needs. Here are 10 good reasons why:

1. It’s expensive-ish

An iPad, at its most basic 16GB configuration with Wi-Fi connectivity starts at $399 — and that’s for last year’s model. The latest model, which is packed with a retina display and all sorts of extra goodies, starts at $499. The higher-end models (that include 64GB of storage and 3G connectivity) can burn a hole into you wallet in the shape of $829 … with additional per-month rates for data plans. Even at the cheaper end of the spectrum, we often find full-fledged laptops deals for about that price. Though the iPad 2 is close, it just doesn’t make monetary sense to buy an iPad instead of a laptop.

2. It’s not the best solution for note-taking or editing documents

A virtual keyboard doesn’t have any tactile feedback. This tech is fine for a quick text on your smartphone, but the iPad’s keyboard — which is a non-standard shape and size — is a bit more awkward. And say goodbye to touch-typing because your fingers will start drifting, and you’ll soon wind up with a page of gibberish.

Further, if you do manage to struggle your way through writing an entire term paper on the tablet, editing is another headache completely. Using your finger tip for fine placement of the cursor is next to impossible, and it’ll take you a few tries to land it where you need it. After several failed attempts, you’ll be wishing you had a laptop with a real keyboard and mouse.

3. It’s ultra-portable — and ultra-droppable

Taking a tablet everywhere means there’s a greater chance of dropping it anywhere, and breaking it. There will even be more of a chance that your kid will forget completely that it’s in their bag and, as kids will, fling their satchel across the room — only to be rewarded with a gut-wrenching *crack*, followed by a cold-sweat-inducing *tinkle* of broken screen glass. Just try forgetting you have a 5+ lb. laptop in your bag!

4. What makes it desirable to your teen is what makes it desirable to criminals

Your college kid wanting an iPad is second only to the desire of a criminal to steal one. It’s so light (see above) and small that it’s easy for a n’ere-do-well to quickly yoink and abscond. Sure, there are security locks you can use, just like the kind you can get for a laptop, but who — especially among the devil-may-care college-age set — really takes the time to actually use it instead of saying, “Pfft! It won’t happen to me?”

5. It’s too distracting: Games, apps, 4Gs, web-browsing, Twitter, and messaging beckon

The iTunes App Store boasts more than 500,000 apps — which is tantamount to over 500,000 distractions for your child, who’s supposed to be paying attention to his professor. (Well, 599,998 distractions and two dealnews apps! WINK!) Angry Birds, too, will be calling during those long lectures, we’re sure. But on the contrary, would anyone boot up DOOM or Minesweeper on a laptop in the middle of a lecture? Probably not. That’s a commitment that doesn’t allow them to lie to themselves that it’ll be “just for a minute.”

6. eTextbooks are a marvel, but there’s no secondary market

Your kid will probably make the argument that an iPad can display digital textbooks and, since the device is lighter than a stack of dead-tree tomes, you’d be saving the planet and them from years of backache and possibly a future addiction to painkillers / chiropractors. To this argument, you should tell them to wear their backpack over both shoulders, like one is supposed to, and they shouldn’t have a problem.

7. It’s meant for solo enjoyment, which means social seclusion

You want your kid to grow up to be a personable, extroverted, well-functioning member of polite society, right? So why would you give him a personal entertainment device that all-but-guarantees he’ll spend every moment of his free time with his nose pointed at a tiny screen, drowning out the revelry, camaraderie, and general good-times that are taking place around him?

Got an hour between classes? iPad. Waiting for the shuttle to campus? iPad. Yes, your child could seclude themselves with a laptop — but not in as many places. Let’s see them try walking down the street watching the latest The Walking Dead on their laptop! It’s too cumbersome and awkward. (Just like The Walking Dead.)

8. It’s essentially just a status symbol

Like any gadget, the iPad is a status symbol. Like any Apple gadget, it’s an expensive status symbol. It’s something we’ve been trained by society and lifestyle magazines to want, simply because it’s a luxury — and if we can be the first to have it, somehow, we “win.” To combat this, you can sit your kid down and, being very earnest, tell him that he doesn’t need things to be popular. Then explain to that laughing at you, when you’re trying to be serious, isn’t getting him closer to that iPad.

9. It’ll be old technology by the time you actually buy one

Apple is very consistent with its release schedule of devices. New models come out like clockwork, and our guess is that the iPad is not going to stray from this tried-and-true model. Specifically, an even newer version of the tablet is surely going to come out sometime in March or April.

That means the iPad your kid wants to own in August is already six months old and half-way through its lifecycle; what’s the point in buying this older model, when there’s a shiny new version on the horizon that your child will surely start eying greedily once it debuts?

10. They’ll probably want a laptop, too!

Yes. You heard that right. If you buy an iPad for your kid thinking, “Well, that’s that,” think again! Since there are situations in which a tablet just doesn’t cut it (see above), your child will come to realize that she definitely needs a full-fledged desktop or laptop (like the new MacBook Air, of course) for school, too. Whether it be for essay-writing, Internetting, game-playing, or entertainment-centering, you’re looking at a double-dose of device deployment. Never forget: There is no end to the amount of money a kid can or will ask for.

Share this with your circle of parents-on-a-budget, and enjoy the full article at

Mid-July Bulletin: Summer is Passing You By!

Every writer needs rest. And sometimes, especially if your life is
particularly harried, you simply need to stop and "be" for a while.
Great writing doesn't flow from an exhausted, frustrated heart.

Source: Beth Erickson,

Mid-July Bulletin:  Summer is passing you by!

We’re one month into the season and too many of us are tethered to a wi-fi signal instead of a beach ball.

Need some inspiration to help you make a few changes before we run out of summer?

  • Take a Friday off…  Get any deadlines finished early, and go outside Friday morning for some fun.
  • Swim… Get to the water, either a nearby pool, a lake, or a good walk along a calm river. Let your mind float.
  • Eat out… Work-at-home freelancers eat from hand to mouth – usually a sandwich or handful of snacks from the kitchen. Enjoy summer by eating at an outdoor cafe. Nothing formal, just a flatbread and a glass of wine, a good burger, or a great ice cream sundae. You deserve it.

Freelancers aren’t alone in our relentless workload. Corporate employees also fail to take enough time off.  A Harris Interactive study states nearly 57 percent of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of 2011.

So shake off your Monday routine. Tonight, go out and watch the stars, and enjoy the richness of quiet relaxation.

Helen Gallagher it the author of Release Your Writing: Book Publishing Your Way. She shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology here at and through her books and blogs, accessible through She is a member of ASJA, National Book Critics Circle, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

Want Better People-Skills?

Here’s another bit of advice from Robert Bly’s book: “Make Every Second Count.” discussed last week.

This list is even easier than his ideas to gain ten percent productivity.

A long long time ago, BF (Before Facebook) there was a concept known as “people skills.” Bly’s suggestions for better people skills are worth reading, and can be distilled down to a few basics that can carry you far when working with others.

I’m distilling them down to the essence, so you can tweet or  put ’em on your phone and carry them with you today:

  1. Make a conscious effort to be positive.
  2. Answer emails and phone calls promptly.
  3. Take an interest in people’s lives.
  4. Meet people halfway.
  5. Listen before speaking, maintain eye contact, and admit when you’re wrong.

Read more in Bly’s book if that list doesn’t turn you into a charmer. He explores the psychology behind these traits. People tend to want to work with you if you communicate well and can keep impatience or annoyance off your face.

If you want to be on the ‘preferred vendor’ list in your world, it couldn’t hurt to apply these few principles.

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes about, coaches and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network (, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

How to Get 10 Percent More Productive

It’s summer and you’d rather be at the beach than looking out the window. daydream

Here’s help from Robert W. Bly, an author you maybe familiar with. Bly has written over 75 books, and is known as “America’s top copywriter.” He share some of his productivity tricks in “Make Every Second Count: Time Management Tips and Techniques for More Success with Less Stress.

Are you ready to move beyond to-do lists, and banish your bad habits?

Here are a few of the suggestions in Bly’s book that can help almost any writer. They stem from his ten percent solution …

1. Add 10% more productive hours to your day. Find your time wasters and put those non-essential tasks aside. Work another half-hour instead.

2. Get 10% more energy. This won’t work every day, but sometimes all we need is a walk around the block, or a few invigorating exercises to keep going another hour at the task at hand.

3. Think 10% faster. I like this one, because I’m often a lazy-brain when I get overwhelmed with researching an article or editing a manuscript. Bly says we can get something solved faster with sharper thinking. Here is a paraphrased example: Identify the problem, assemble pertinent facts, gather general knowledge, look for combinations, use checklists, get feedback, team up with others, etc.  In other words, don’t stay stuck. Get moving on the problem and spark a solution.

4. Make your brain think 10% faster. Did you know that “brain decay” begins around age 35 and accelerates dramatically when you reach age 50? The solution involves steps you can do daily: focus on good nutrition, physical and mental exercise to keep the wheels turning and keep your brain sharp.

5. Speed up your reading by 10% or more. Writers read all day long, and we can get bogged down reading online, clicking from one thing to another in today’s information explosion. Bly suggests you figure out what matters to you now; focus on that, and make notes to refer back to other ideas. For things that matter less, such as magazine articles, try to read faster. A 10% improvement today, says Bly, will multiply the value in your life many times over.

BIO: Helen Gallagher shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology at Her books and blogs are accessible through She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.