Tag Archives: Joe Wallace

Freelance Writing Lie Number 99: Never Write For Free

Ready for some GREAT advice that runs counter to everything you read on every writing site that tells you not to write for free?

Not only should you write for free, if you run a blog you should HUNT for opportunities to write for no money.

Now you think I am crazy, right? Like I’ve gone off the deep end after constantly re-writing copy for people who drop their plurals?


Let me introduce you to the concept of guest blogging. Guest bloggers get to pop in on someone else’s blog, throw around a few pearls of wisdom on the topics of the day, and get some nice linkbacks to their blog, resume page or MySpace site. Now you’re starting to see the light, I think.

Guest blogging is a practice that is used by savvy self-promoters to increase visibility and drive more traffic to their own pages. It cuts both ways–you post links promoting the other person’s blog where you guested, and they drive traffic back to you. Your readers and theirs start to cross pollenate.

You generally don’t get any money for this, but the traffic is definitely worth the effort. Let me give you a hint: always try to guest blog on a site that has a bit more clout than your own. This is good for your Google standings and will bring some of those higher profile readers over to you.

Write for free, folks. Don’t listen to those other writing websites that tell you anything different. Just remember to write for free in THE RIGHT WAY.

Top Ten Freelance Writing Blunders

Top Ten Freelance Writing Blunders in No Particular Order:

10. Failing to get the editor’s actual name for your query. “To whom it may concern” is the mark of a rank noob. Even if you ARE a rank noob, don’t do this. EVER.

9. Failing to spell check all e-mails to potential paying sources. ‘Nuff said.

8. Not reading the instructions. Do the guidelines say NO ATTACHMENTS? What makes you think YOU’RE the exception? Editors HATE people who don’t follow the directions, and they round file accordingly. Me? I don’t even give them a CHANCE. Does that make me a jackass? YES. But I am the one behind the desk.

7.  Talking money up front. DO NOT discuss payment in a QUERY letter. Let the editor tell YOU how much they are willing to pay. To do otherwise sounds presumptuous. If you get all the way through the query stage and have started to write the piece and haven’t heard about payment, THEN find a tactful way to raise the subject.

6. Do not query before breakfast, before coffee or after beer.

5. Failure to follow up. Never send a query and let it disappear into the ether. Always follow up, even if it is just to say you’ve found another market and you are sending a courtesy letter. This will stick out in someone’s mind–courtesy is always appreciated by editors.

4.  Sending unrelated resume items. Editors do NOT care that you were the president of your college cheerleading club or the head of the basket weaving department. If it is relevant to your pitch, include it. If not, dump it.

3. Admitting you have few clips or credits. Why bother to send a query at all? Why not just write a rejection letter to yourself in the name of the publication instead? You’ll save time. If you want to catch the editor’s eye, don’t waste time talking about what you HAVEN’T DONE. Tell them what you CAN do.

2. Sending a query without your contact information. Always include more than an e-mail address. Send the full monty INCLUDING relevant links to your work where possible. Make yourself very easy to find.

1. Being anything but polite, accomodating and willing to bend over backwards a new editor. If they want it in five days, give it to them in three. If they want 100 words, give them EXACTLY 100 words. If they want a sidebar about hot air ballons sailing into the rings of Saturn…you get the idea. Editors expect new freelancers to be willing to go the distance. Oh, and you have to find a way of doing this that does not seem like excessive kissing up, too.

Freelance Writing Lessons From Henry Rollins

New freelance writers can learn a lot from Henry Rollins.  Many people wrote Rollins off as “the guy who ruined Black Flag.” He took those early dire personal struggles–and all criticism of him as an artist– and used it all as inspiration to just keep going, battering away at a variety of projects to see what would work. Whatever you think about 70s punk, Rollins is definitely a success. He went from being an always-broke, semi-starving musical outsider to a one-man industry thanks to relentless speaking tours, small press publication, film appearances and other multi-media work.

Rollins is a force to be reckoned with when he sets his mind to putting the word out on a new project. He’s what every freelancer should be–a tireless promoter of the task at hand. Not everyone can live up to the demands of a self-employed creative person, but Rollins shows us how to do it right. Never rest, forget about self-defeating attitudes and activities. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Rollins is not the world’s greatest writer, but he’s got a real talent for non-fiction. He’s at his best when he’s writing travel pieces–his observations about life in other countries (and ours) is top notch. His fiction work is violent, transgressive and often funny, but he shows more writing prowess in his personal observations. The Portable Henry Rollins is a great primer for his work, and it is easy to take inspiration from his writing. Check out the selections from Get In The Van and his other titles…you’ll instantly get the attitude, the ferocity, the refusal to roll over and die–all the attributes a freelancer should have–or at least aspire to. You won’t learn how to make money freelance writing with this book, but you’ll take away a new sense of purpose for your own work. Rollins is infectious like that.

Confessions of an Editor: The Eternal Evil Of Adverbs & Adjectives

Before I start this screed, let me confess that I’m as guilty as anyone of using adverbs and adjectives. Usually when I am hyper-caffeinated, I find myself pouring them onto the page at a rate that would make you weep. So I don’t write this to say, “Be like me–I’m just as cool as they come!”. Rather, I write this to remind MYSELF not to do these things, and you too–one day you’ll send some copy my way and we’d both prefer to avoid the unpleasantness which is sure to come if your work is rife with adverbs and other nonsense.

To begin, let’s define adverbs and adjectives. The Capital Community College grammar page is most helpful here–refer to it often. I love the short-and-sweet definition found on that page. Adverbs are words that modify a verb, adjective or another adverb. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns.

What the page doesn’t say is that in many cases, adverbs and adjectives are STUPID and POINTLESS. Consider that last line, for example. It may be informative to say adverbs are pointless, but STUPID? That’s me getting wordy again. It would be more accurate to say adverbs and adjectives are often needless words.

Clear, concise writing demands brevity. If you feel the need for more descriptive prose, consider this line from James Ellroy’s The Cold Six Thousand;

“He walked. He grabbed at the cell bars. He anchored himself.”

That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? We don’t need to know what happened next. This line tells us everything. He’s trapped in jail and getting ready for something to happen. Now let’s read this as it would be submitted by some writers you probably know;

“He walked quickly and grabbed at the cell bars. He braced himself nervously.”

The power of the line vanishes. Let’s look at another one.

“Jimmy took a painful blow to the face. He staggered drunkenly down the corridor, arms flailing wildly.”

Now when we cut out all the crap: Continue reading Confessions of an Editor: The Eternal Evil Of Adverbs & Adjectives

Five Ways to Quickly Improve Your Writing

How would you like to make a LOT more money from your writing? Let’s face it, you can put together a slam-bang query, get the editor’s attention and land the gig; if what you turn in doesn’t live up to the hype, you’re dead in the water with that editor for another assignment. Good freelancers are the ones who learn the value of establishing a relationship with your editor. The only way to do that is to get past the first assignment with a new publication. Editors hate nothing more than the writer who presents well because of a an agonized-over query letter, but didn’t live up to the promise with the completed article. You might not think you’re guilty, but if you aren’t doing at least two of these five steps, you could be cheating yourself out of more money.

Here are five ways you can attack your writing to make your editor appreciate your work:

1. Read Strunk and White before starting a new article. The eternal one-liner “Omit needless words” is only a single nugget of genius–The Elements of Style has the power to change your writing style in ways you can’t even imagine. Read the section on misused words and phrases and watch your copy change practically overnight.

2. Scour your copy for “garbage words”. Garbage words include therefore, occasionally, and so forth, hopefully, and extremely. We know the crash was horrific. It’s overkill to say “extremely horrific”. Strong writing does not need these things. I just heard a character on a television show say someone was “extremely dead,” and if you REALLY need an explanation why that is poor writing (when said without irony), I suggest you go back to Strunk & White and read some more.

3. Omit statements when questions are more concise. Let’s consider the dilemma of the radio advertising writer. Here is someone who needs to convey a large amount of information, but only has 30 seconds to do it. Instead of writing “People looking for used automobiles should check out Uncle Harry’s Used Car Lot,” a good radio ad will ask “Are you looking for a used car? Try Harry’s Used Car Lot”. To put this in article context, consider the following statement: “20 million consumers purchased at least two handguns in 2002 because of fears over high profile crimes such as murder and bank robberies.” Continue reading Five Ways to Quickly Improve Your Writing

Confessions of an Editor: I Hate Your Needless Words

Years ago when I first learned my trade, I remember wondering why my writing mentors railed so hard against passive voice writing. We’re all guilty of it, most people don’t see anything wrong with it, and passive voice is one of the dead giveaways to an editor that you aren’t quite the kick-ass writer you think you are. Your cover letter might be exciting, your query compelling, but once you include those needless words and break the number one Strunk and White commandment, you are DOOMED.

Unfortunately, getting rid of passive voice is not the whole answer. Your writing needs help if you still use garbage words and phrases. What do I consider a garbage word or phrase? Read on:

“The new Remington Rifle can often be used to hunt small animals, but its real purpose is to shoot down big game.” 

Tell me, just WHAT is the purpose of using the word “often” in that sentence? Never mind the rest of the errors for a moment, concentrate on that phrase “can often be used”. This is too much fat and not enough meat.

Try this on for size:

“Some use the new Remington Rifle to hunt small animals, but its real purpose is to shoot down big game.” 

Why does this sentence read better? Because it gets to the point and obeys Strunk and White by OMITTING NEEDLESS WORDS.  Now look at the rest of this sentence. “…but its real purpose is to shoot down big game.” Continue reading Confessions of an Editor: I Hate Your Needless Words