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Creating Your Content
This year marks the fourth year I have earned my living as a professional writer/educator. In the four decades of life prior I gathered up a lifetime of experience as a schoolboy, soldier, security consultant, private investigator, body guard, salesman and marketing expert. All the time I wrote as part of how I made my living. from homework to reports to surveys to sales copy; now and then some fiction, too.
You can learn a lot about my writing and my work from this site. Feel free to explore, spend some time reading the many pages and then, contact me and discuss how I can create some content for you. Web copy, blogs, ghost written books, whatever writing you need I can provide it.
I finished my novel, ‘Never Be Unsaid’ and hit the 50,000 word target for National Novel Writing Month. All up the novel has nearly 90,000 words and is currently being reviewed by my literary friend and fellow author, Ginny Lowndes. I can’t stress enough the value of having a critical friend review your work. Ginny has given me some great tips and ideas for improving my novel. It will mean more writing, but this project has taken a couple of years to get from idea to manuscript, so a few more weeks will be worth the wait and the effort.
I learned my lesson with the 2011 Nanowrimo event. That produced the 2012 Miles-Franklin Award entrant, ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’. It was rushed, not so much the writing but the vital background work; the editing, proofing and reviewing that makes all the difference between a good novel and a literary masterpiece. I’m hoping this year, ‘Never Be Unsaid’ will be that literary masterpiece. I have said everything in it I have to say for now so my next work will be more commercial. I have chosen YA, or young adult (also known as teen fiction) for my next genre. I recently completed a YA novel for a client as a ghostwriter and enjoyed the work. I also consider ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ to be suitable for a YA audience (12-18+), but y next work will be aimed at the market and the vocabulary used will be far more simple and easy to understand by the major group of readers too often passed by. Boys.
I know from my own work as a tutor many simply hate reading because they aren’t very good at it. A lot of that comes down to not being interested in the book’s characters and plot. I’m going to see if I can add to the body of work available, give them the modern equivalent of Biggles, The Famous Five or Swallows and Amazons, without resorting to witches, wizards, zombies, vampires or orcs. Wish me luck.
I just received an email from the CEO of a domain name auction site. I had used the services of one of their competitors a year or two ago to try and sell a web site or two, albeit unsuccessfully and keep on their mailing list because they do send out interesting info from time to time and today I received this missive.
We’ve got more kickass shit for you.
When XXX and I first started building niche sites we made a huge mistake. During keyword research, we accidentally targeted keywords by “Broad” instead of “Exact Match.”
Oops! You can guess how that ended up…”
I read no further than the first line of copy. I replied to the CEO asking him if ‘kickass shit’ was working for him as it certainly put me off reading any further. So, am I an old geezer at 52 or someone who fails to see the value in using profanity to persuade people to buy whatever I am selling? Am I being over sensitive to a couple of words that are in pretty much widespread use, particularly in American society? I note Americans, despite many being openly homophobic, do seem to have a disturbing interest in other people’s buttocks. ‘Kickass’, ‘kick yo ass’, ‘own your ass’, ‘beat your ass’ and the telling, ‘your ass is mine’ spring to mind as being rather common dialogue choices both on the screen and in real life, if one differentiates between Hollywood and YouTube as source material providers. He replied pretty promptly:
I’m gangsta…what can I say?
I wonder why those with a ‘serious problem’ wouldn’t be good customers? Is my problem serious? I’m not offended by the words themselves. I have used them in various combinations myself (although an ass to me is either someone behaving badly or a kind of donkey), though not usually in polite company and only in print when I firmly believed it would be appropriate and in context to do so. So is he using them in context? If so, what does that say about his client list, or at least his evaluation of those he markets to?
I am writing a novel at the moment where, like my previous novel, ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’, I ensure I use profanity sparingly and completely in context and avoid obscenity at all times. I do like writing obscenity though, I have to confess. I enjoy exploring the full, rich range of the Anglo-Saxon end of the English language and basically writing as many I know speak. But only when my audience is of a similar bent. When I write for a wider audience, especially minors, I keep it ‘language appropriate’. But then what does that mean these days and is a far more casual regard to the lexicon what the market accepts, even demands? What do you think?
As November approaches I am readying myself for National Novel Writing Month once again. NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to get that novel written, or finished. They have a word count calculator so you can track our progress and this year Lulu.com are offering a free hard cover book of finished manuscripts.
I plan to complete ‘Never Be Unsaid’ although my word cont will only include new work written during the month. You need to write 50,000 words, about 1,667 a day. Clear your schedule and set aside your writing time now. Plan your novel and get stuck in! I like to set out a scaffold showing me the chapters and basic plot thread as well as separate notes on characters, setting, plot and theme.
I missed out last year as I was at the Singapore Writer’s Festival. The year before I wrote ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ and entered it in the Miles-Franklin and Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. This year I won’t chase Miles-Franklin’s prize as it is due too close to publication and I want to have the manuscript properly edited in early December. I might chase the Prime Minister’s Literary Prize, though. Just like the Lotto, you have to be in it to win it!
I have been pretty busy the past month or so with some excellent assignments and terrific clients. I learned, or rather I should say re-learned a valuable lesson about selling oneself cheaply. Don’t do it. I agreed to write a novella of 35,000 words or so for US$800. Never again. The client took forever to fund the project via Elance escrow and only after I had finished it and was hanging on to the manuscript awaiting payment. He also tried to cut our agreed fee because he was having money issues, mostly from not taking into account the exchange rate and the Elance fees. Not my problem, basically as I wrote the book on time and to the highest standard. Anyway, no more ‘quick, cheap jobs’ for me as they are more trouble than they are worth. Funny how when you have a client who is wiling to pay a fair fee for your services you never have problems, only when you do favours or cut your rates.
Prospecting for work on Elance lately I have come across numerous dreamer jobs. Not dream jobs, but jobs put up by dreamers. One wants a 244 page book read and reviewed in 2,000 – 2,500 words to academic standards for, wait for it, $0.003 per word. That’s a third of a cent per word. Another wants 1,000 words, again they must be academic standard, for an eighth of a cent per word. What amazed me was that not all those chasing these jobs lived in India, Pakistan, the Philippines or Nigeria. I appreciate our writing colleagues in these countries can work for much less, but some respondents were in the USA, UK and Canada. I did notice they were new with no jobs up or feedback given and I was willing to work for free to get some runs on the board when I first began, too. I would still caution anyone about working for someone with so little budget, or worse, so little regard for a writer’s skills and time. Don’t do it.
Unless you are absolutely cash strapped or desperate, hold out. Pick and choose the jobs you bid for. Specialise and make one or two areas your own. I do ghostwriting, particularly eBooks and high end articles. If they don’t work out around the $50/hour mark then I really need to either love the project or have nothing else to do to chase them. Never forget, time you spend working on your business is as valuable and vital as time spent working in it. Spend the time prospecting, networking, finding better clients rather than toiling away for fractions of a penny.
My latest crop of clients for ghostwriting services have given me a good education into ghostwriting and how I feel about my work. First of all, there were three projects that, once I created them for the client as outlines I really wanted them to reject them all. Hde didn’t nd I am writing one of them for him and I must say, it is getting easier the more I write. Let me explain.
I was so rapt with the story I came up with that I wanted to write it for myself and put my name on the book cover, not his. Yet, that is not what a ghostwriter does. We are writers for hire, literary mercenarys writing for whoever pays us. Hired pens, or keyboards in this case, rather than hired guns. I carried a gun for pay many years ago as a much younger man, first wearing my country’s uniform and later in a suit or the uniform of whoever was paying my wages. Today I write for myself but I also write for pay, yet all of my writing is always, has to be, my very best.
When you are a ghostwriter you might think if you get a job writing fiction you can write any old flannel, after all the client won’t know the difference otherwise they would have written it themselves. Yes, you can do that but I won’t. If you don’t stand for anything then what good are you? Taking someone’s money under false pretenses is no better than holding them up at the muzzle of that gun I used to sling.
It hurt to let my baby go but to be honest, if the client hadn’t asked me to come up with a story I would likely as not have never thought of it, so let’s not get too carried away here. Now I have taken their money (I always get 25-50% up front as a commencement fee because I do a lot of work just to get to the point where I can start typing) they deserve the best I can do. Simple as that. Why? Because that is the right thing to do; the professional thing. It would be easy enough to offer ‘A Dark And Stormy Night’ standard writing, but that’s not how I do things.
Many years ago I was working a job where I came into contact with blokes in the same game, but on the other side, so to speak. One was bragging to his mates how when he had been in his country’s army they once cleared some bad guys out of a strongpoint by walking the ‘baddies’ wives and kids in front of them as they advanced on the strongpoint. His table all found that highly amusing. My table wasn’t so chuffed. One of our lads, a lovely bloke but tough as nails and the real deal, turned around and said; “Hey mate. In our army, we put ourselves in front of the women and children, not the other way around.” They must have got his drift because they shut up, packed up and left the canteen. I have never forgotten that and have always been one to put the women and children behind me, whether I’m soldiering or writing. In other words, do the right thing, the ethical thing.
This doesn’t mean you work for free or give away your capabilities. Another client I was writing a non-fiction book for realised after the first chapter where I had copy edited his original content then, as asked by him, added my own material that this was not how he wanted to proceed. He realise he could write the book, didn’t need a ghostwriter and as much as he liked what I wrote, it wasn’t his book. Fine, no problem. He also wanted a refund of the balance of the commencement fee. Balance? What balance? I had invested several hours reading his two other books he sent to me to get an idea of his style, plus I had spent over an hour on a conference call and several hours producing a scaffold and outline he was able to use to better organize his work. I earned my commencement fee and, once I invoiced work to date he accepted that.
As a writer you spend precious time thinking, creating and developing the material. This needs to be compensated for because it is work and work time. During the time I spent doing work on his book I wasn’t earning money on any other project. In fact I had blocked out several weeks to ensure his job was done to schedule and I stopped looking for other work so that I wouldn’t double book. Now I have a gap in my work schedule I will have to fill by finding other clients and that time is not producing any income as it would have had he not realised, through the work I did with him to that point, that he should write it himself.
The bottom line? Give great value and go your hardest every time but, do not be ashamed to ask for a fair reward. You deserve it and not asking for it insults you and your client, as if you don’t think they are professional enough to accept you have a right to be paid for what you know as much as what you do. What do you think?
This month I published my ‘edgy’ anthology, ‘In Grave & Dark Clad Company’. Sixteen short stories of sex offenders, suicides, serial killers and assorted strange people, normal people and a few in-between people. I have several other stories that will form the basis of the next collection but they really didn’t fit into this one. I think you need to resist the temptation to throw in everything you have ever written just to make the page count and get them out there.
An anthology should have a theme or some common thread tying things together. I have other stories that are funnier, fluffier (well as fluffy as my writing ever gets) and perhaps more far-fetched but this collection just seemed to gel and say, ‘enough’ when the last one was included. So far sales have been promising with lots of people promising to buy a copy. It is available through Lulu as well as on Amazon courtesy of Create Space and of course Kindle and everywhere else as an eBook thanks to Smashwords.
I spent an hour this morning unsubscribing myself from nearly two dozen sources of clutter in my Inbox. It is amazing how you can wind up being inundated with emails you simply stop bothering to read, or that take up too much time and give little value in return.
I will now receive far fewer emails and have more time for Facebook… Aaargh! Actually I need to spend more quality time on social media promoting my business and services. Social media is the way to go these days so ignoring it isn’t an option.
Now I have been back from Singapore and the Philippines for a fortnight things are starting to settle back into a kind of routine. I don’t have a lot of paid writing work at the moment and I confess I haven’t gone hunting for it, either. Writing work doesn’t just fall in your lap, you have to put yourself out there and chase it like any other kind of freelance work. Not that I am complaining as I am relying on the tutoring and lecturing to bring in the cash while I spend some much awaited ‘Me Time’.
I have two major writing projects happening at the moment: my novel ‘Never Be Unsaid’ and my short story anthology, ‘In Grave And Dark Clad Company’. Both have been on the back burner for months, even a year or two and now I am investing precious time to get them happening. The novel will still take a long time to get to manuscript stage as I am about a third of the way through and writing maybe a chapter a week. The anthology is ready for editing, formatting and layout and then publishing but… I think I need to rethink the content.
Rather than just throw in every short story I have written over several years I think I will give this one a theme and keep it only for the twisters, those stories with a macarbe or shocking twist, even just the human nature stories. I’ll keep the humour and the political satire stuff for another collection. I chose the title from a line in ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathanial Hawthorne, a gothic literature story I had to read for a research paper I produced for a client this month. I don’t think my stories could be classified as gothic, even contemporary gothic, but there are gothic elements.
Sometimes the writer needs to allocate time for their own writing, otherwise this freelance writing business is no different to any other job where you swap your time for their bucks. If you don’t exercise your freedom to do your own writing, then you deserve to lose that freedom and be forced back to being a wage slave. Mind you, if you get too self-indulgent you might find the reality of having to pay that mortgage makes wage slaving an attractive proposition and when you are over 50, there aren’t as many propositions out there to be attracted to!
I just finished ghostwriting a small eBook for a US client. Lots of fun and the client was rapt with the finished product, which is how they should be. I now have a couple of other writing jobs bobbing around and of course I am close to the big family vacation in May. I have about 15 hours of face to face tutoring to do between now and May and that is pretty much that. In other words I am free to write for myself! We have money set aside for the trip, the expenses while away and more due when clients pay for work recently completed so life is pretty good. In short we are managing and very happy.
I must say working for yourself like this isn’t for everyone and sometimes I do envy those in ‘regular’ jobs with sick leave, super, holiday pay and basically more money. Then I think how I was dead a few years ago and that every breath is a bonus. Might use that as a story title; ‘Every Breath A Bonus’. Since I brought my fees inline with other professionals I have been found by a different breed of client and I must say I do enjoy not having to haggle over a few cents a word. It does make you try even harder because once you get the taste for decent rates and the income they generate, you can never go back to competing with Third World writers for content mill work.
Now, what will I write about? I have my short story anthology to collate and add to. I have my novel, ‘Never Be Unsaid’ and the eLiterature Project to work on and of course a dozen blogs, some updates on books and some promotional work on my publishing house backlist. And there was I thinking I was on holidays!
I was at the Blacktown Car Boot Sale last Sunday. We got there after noon so it was free to get in and most people were packing up and leaving. The market is held in the old drive-in theatre and next to one of the speaker stands someone had abandoned a 1960s-70s era Olympia manual typewriter. Just like the ones i used to type up incident reports when I was a Military Policeman back in the early 80s. It all works and while it needs a clean up and a new ribbon, the kids love playing with it. These things are German made and pretty much bullet-proof. It will clean up nicely and look as good as the one in the photo.
What I like about it is it is solid, heavy and reliable. A bit like me some would say. I won’t be doing any work on it but I do recall the transition between typewriter and word processor on my desktop computer. It was an Amstrad 1512 and I bought it as they were being replaced by 286 models. It had two 5.25 floppy drives and a CGA monitor. I hooked it up to a dot matrix printer and away I went however I kept the Canon portable electric typewriter I had been using for a few years for invoices and ‘quick’ stuff. Back then dot matrix was the only printers available, it was right before laser and bubblejet (inkjet) came in. Remember the special printer paper with the holes down the sides for the drive sprockets?
When I upgraded to a 386 PC in 1990 or 91, followed by a $600 bubblejet Brother printer I could buy today for $49, with colour print, scanner and photocopier, I never went back to the typewriter. No need as I and my income had caught up with technology. All that was nearly a quarter of a century ago! No matter how technology changes, though, the need for quality writing never disappears. You can have the best writing tools in the business, which I have) and that won’t ensure good content.