Tues. June 20, 2017: Market Choice/Writing Choice

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Cloudy, foggy, muggy

Today, I’m going to spend some time on choosing the right market, and then backtrack to the daily details of my constant striving (and strife) to balance the freelance writing life.

Last week, I struggled over an article, but was ultimately satisfied I’d done good work and sent it to a new-to-me market that pays fast. I specifically crafted an article I hoped would hit their sweet spot because they pay fast. I don’t like their style or their content. I don’t like writing on spec (and in many cases, I won’t). But I didn’t expect the piece to take as long as it did to write and research, and, as I’ve said numerous times, I liked the fact that they pay fast.

I woke up this morning to a rejection.

I knew it was well-written, carefully proofread. The fact checking sheet was solid, with reliable sources. But they wanted more National Enquirer and less New Yorker. Basically, I hadn’t dumbed it down enough for their readership. I’d hoped I’d mimicked their style; I’d tried to mirror it as much as possible, without making myself throw up. I cared about the topic, and wanted to do it justice. I had hoped to find a balance between an interesting, well-written piece and the pandering they often do to their readership.

The market was the wrong choice for me. Does that mean I’m not “professional” enough to be able to write for them? Some would say yes. I say I wrote to the limit of pandering my gag reflex would allow, and hoped it would fit what they were looking for. It didn’t.

I should have stopped writing as soon as my gag reflex engaged. Hey, it would be great to detach myself from the content and not give a damn. Write whatever the market wants, take the money and run. Well, if I turn down corporate gigs for companies whose missions I believe are unethical, and they are offering me enough so I could buy a house in a year, and I still say no, why would I do the same for an okay-but-not-brilliant rate? There was only so far I could go.

I’ve worked hard on my author’s voice; I’ve worked hard so that when I ghost, I can mimic the “author’s” voice. I’ve worked hard building craft over a long period of years. Perhaps that means I should be able to bend the craft to fit any market; or perhaps I should just write for those markets I respect.

I liked the idea of the piece. In fact, I loved it — the topic was something I cared about. The research was interesting, and I was sorry I had to distill the piece down as much as I did to fit the market’s parameters.

The topic was part of the problem. Although it was, technically, in one of the arenas the publication claimed it wanted, it was something that would appeal more to the literate than the reality-show crowd.

Basically, I attempted it to appeal to a wider audience, when the market appeals to a narrow (and often narrow-minded) audience. Once I knew the idea was for a literate audience, I should have re-slanted it and aimed it at a different publication.

I followed the formatting guidelines exactly. I had the proofreading, the links, the format — exactly. But the content was off.

In my classes and in the Topic Workbooks, I harp on the necessity of following submission guidelines EXACTLY. An acquaintance of mine is handles submissions for a monthly publication; they get between 800-1000 submissions per week. 85% of them are pitched unread because they don’t follow submission guidelines. Of the other 15%, 75% are then rejected because of sloppy writing and lack of proofreading to such an extent that it would take the editors too long to fix the errors. Massive editing doesn’t fit the production schedule of the publication. 10% don’t fit the focus of the publication (probably a great many of the 85% that were rejected also did not fit the publication, but they never got that far). The remaining submissions make it to the editorial meeting for possible inclusion.

So, let’s say, that particular week, they got 1000 submissions. 850 are chucked out for not following guidelines. That leaves 150 — not too shabby. 75% of those are so badly written, they’re out. That’s 113 badly written pieces that are chucked, and another 15 that don’t fit. That leaves 22 possible pieces. Not bad.

This is when it gets really competitive. 22 viable pieces come in once a week for a limited number of slots free every month. 22 pieces a week x 4 weeks — 88 pieces per month when there are probably only 20-30 slots available.

The competition is keen.

From what my rejection letter stated, it looks like I at least made it to the round where it passed guidelines, format, and craft, but they felt it didn’t fit their focus. In other words, it was one of the 10% chucked out for not fitting the publication neatly enough. Which is a perfectly legitimate reason for it to be rejected.

I knew the finished article was a risk, because it wound up being more “literary” than I expected. At that point, I could have decided not to submit. But, I decided to take the risk, just in case they’d pick an occasional piece that was a bit more literary.

I wanted the money. Nothing wrong with that.

They didn’t want the piece. As is their right.

Now what?

I still like the piece. What I’m going to do is reformat it and re-slant it a bit. Some of the fact-check links that the original market demanded will be transformed into a sidebar for additional information. I’m going to re-shape some of it and add some of the content I liked, but knew I had to cut for the particular market (both word count and content restrictions). And I’ll pitch it to a different publication. A publication that wants more New Yorker than National Enquirer.

It also means that two other articles I have pending with this publication will probably be rejected for the same reason. In which case, I won’t keep submitting, quick pay or no, because my time is better spent working on pitches to publications that pay $1/word, where I like their content and they like mine.

It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. I submitted to a publication that left a bad taste in my mouth, whose work I don’t like, and I wasn’t willing to match enough of their writing style to get in. Some would say that means I’m not “professional” enough, not detached enough. Definitely not detached enough. Others would say I’m not a “hack”, and I shouldn’t have tried hack writing. I don’t happen to think there’s anything wrong with hack writing. Many a writer who went on to public works we still read was known as a hack in their own time, churning out stories for pulps, and articles and reviews for anyone who would pay them enough to keep a roof over their heads.

“Writing to market” is an important part of selling one’s work. Since this is my business, not my hobby, I better write material that sells. I better also choose my markets by what they actually publish, instead of what I think they should publish.

So, onward.

Yesterday was one of those days that no matter where I worked, the work didn’t flow well. My hyperaccusis/misophonia was bad (as it is when I’m under severe stress) and almost any sound caused pain.

I took my mom in to the doctor, and she had a biopsy. Fingers crossed it turns out well. I had trouble writing anything by the time we got back. I tried working at the library, but it was too noisy. I came home and did some research and noodled with a few ideas.

I sent off my requested revisions to my new editor, explaining nicely that if he wanted something first thing Monday, it needed to be on my desk before noon on Friday, not at 9 AM Sunday morning. If I get fired for that, so be it. They don’t pay enough for me to compromise my Day of Disconnect.

I will have quite a bit to say tomorrow on the Shakespeare idiocy that the ignorant and stupid are currently engaging in (since most of them seem to think he’s alive and can be bullied). But that’s another piece for another day.

Today, I have errands to run, and I’ll try to work at the library for a bit. I’m having trouble finishing the short stories that need to go out, but I just have to buckle down and do them. I have some more article pitches to send out, and others to work on and/or follow up.

And I can’t neglect the longer fiction, which has gotten the short shrift the last few weeks, replaced by articles that are on a quicker pay cycle.

Tomorrow, the weather’s supposed to be clear, so I have to get back to work mowing (the terrace is looking like a vacant lot again). I also have a project meeting way down the other end of the Cape that I’m looking forward to. I don’t want to get my hopes up, and it’s out of my usual client range, but I like the company, and I like the person I dealt with so far, so fingers crossed it will all be good.

Tomorrow is also the Solstice, and I have to get ready for that celebration. I’m not feeling much like celebrating, but it will make me feel better.

Back to the page.

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Wed. June 14, 2017: An Attempt To Bully Me Into Unpaid Work

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

Yesterday wasn’t as productive as I would have liked. I got out some pitches; I did research for an article I’m writing (the whole thing is taking much longer than I would have liked).

I withdrew from a project that interested me, because we couldn’t come to terms on money. I have bills to pay; this is how I make my living. Just because I love what I do, doesn’t mean I don’t get paid for it. The person in charge of the project understood, and we parted on good terms.

On a different project, the producer who wanted me to write unpaid corporate spec scripts started arguing with me about it. I re-iterated that the samples of previously produced work, in the style and tone they claim they want, are enough for them to make a decision. The producer insisted it wasn’t; that they were getting “commercials”, which they didn’t want — they wanted fun scripts. I pointed out that the samples I gave them were specifically that — mission-specific entertainment, where actual information is wrapped in engaging stories and characters, NOT commercials. The team should READ those samples, and look at the two script concepts I pitched, and then decide whether or not to hire me. If I’m not the right person for the job, fine; we both move on.

The argument came back that the client isn’t willing to read “other people’s samples”, but only spec scripts pertinent to their product, and that I should write two of them, and that the client wanted to talk to me ON THE PHONE — not about the concept, but about why I should write for them for free.

I have yet to find a so-called business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds anything but a complete waste of time. Most phone calls are about the ego of the person insisting on the call, who either wants to talk through the noise in his own mind because he couldn’t be bothered to do proper prep, or simple, straight up ego because he likes the sound of his own voice so much. It interferes with my work and is a complete waste of my time. That is why I charge for phone time, in 15 minutes increments, like a lawyer. If you’re going to work my last nerve and waste my time and interfere with the progress on your project, it’s going to cost. The time is billed and paid upon completion of the phone call. That is non-negotiable. I also only accept phone calls on appointment. I have my voice mail set up NOT to take messages; I don’t return phone calls. If you insist on talking to me by phone, we set up an appointment via email. We talk in that designated time frame. Period.

A single useless phone call ruins an entire day of creative work, so I have very strict boundaries about phone time.

I set out my phone terms, and, of course, got more argument, about how I “owe” the client unpaid phone time.

Honey, I don’t “owe” your client anything. I’ve never met the client. I looked at the previous videos and thought they were crap — poor writing coupled with bad, vapid acting. Yeah, if you want to use “fun” videos to sell your product, you’ll have to do some major fixes, starting with the writing.

I’m not doing it for free. This is how I earn a living — writing.

Another big red flag: “If you do this, there’s the chance for more work down the pike.” Um, is that unpaid, too? Because that’s not something I need or want. Besides, that false carrot is one of the best-known ruses to get new-to-the-biz writers to do unpaid work. Granted, this “You should be grateful to work without compensation” is the norm for Cape Cod; however, this supposed client is supposedly in a major city, and therefore should know better.

The producer admitted that several writers that were interested in the gig had brought up concerns about writing product/project specific material on spec. I don’t know if every professional writer who pitched received the same kind of bullying attempt, or if, for some reason, I was singled out.

Again, the pressure was “They want to make sure you understand it’s not a commercial and we plan to shoot at the end of next week, so we’re in a time crunch.”

YOUR time crunch is NOT my problem; I already said the deadline was not an issue (it’s not; I’m a seasoned script writer, I’ve fed doctored script pages to a film set across the country during a shoot). If YOU READ MY SAMPLES, you’ll see that I understand what you want.

Read the samples. If you like the samples and the concepts I pitched, hire me. If you don’t, then move on to someone else. Or, you demand unpaid work. I say no. We both move on.

But this insistence that I wouldn’t even be considered without project-specific spec samples, and then arguing when I refuse to do them is ridiculous, unprofessional, and guarantees that, when I see your product advertised in the future, I associate it with unprofessional behavior and avoid it.

In the interim of all this back-and-forth, which wasted half my work day (and oh, I am SO tempted to bill for wasted time, but that’s going a bit too far even for me), I landed another assignment. A very short script, no argument about my regular rate, no phone time, all sorted out within two hours of the pitch.

I withdrew from consideration from the PIA potential gig, explaining that I was contracted on another job within the same time frame, and that’s the one I’ve accepted.

More argument, that it’s “not fair” I took another job when I was talking to them about their job, and they’re in a time crunch. I was tempted not to respond, but I did, pointing out that I hadn’t been contracted by them, and we were at an impasse. I was not going to write product-specific scripts on spec. I would only do so if hired, contracted, and the deposit paid, and every hour that they argued this instead of hiring a writer was an hour that made their time crunch tighter. Also, if we started from such different positions on what our working relationship should be, I could only see it degenerating; obviously, I am not the right person to work with them, so we say goodbye and move on to better partnerships for both of us.

MORE argument that they wanted a professional writer and liked my credentials, but wanted to see spec scripts on their product before they made a decision.

Those spec scripts aren’t coming from me, as I made clear over and over and over again. I didn’t even bother to reply.

Instead, I went to work on the job for which I was contracted, for which I had been paid a deposit, and made decent progress on it. It’s a 30-second spot, something with which I have a lot of experience, so it’s a case of writing visually and aurally, and then cutting down as many words as possible.

The afternoon was so hot I wasn’t much use. The cats were little fur puddles, and I split time between doing research for a project and working on my next assignment for my new editor. AND, the second part of the afternoon was listening to the Congressional Hearings — more about that later.

I didn’t get any work done on fiction yesterday, because I fell into the trap of working on nonfiction first thing in the morning instead of fiction, which requires a completely different headspace, and never worked my way back to the fiction.

A good reminder that:
–I must always work on fiction early in the day; sometimes I can work my way back to another fiction session later in the day, but only if I’ve launched the day with it;
–I must always do my own fiction, my daily 1K quota, FIRST, before I work on any other assignment, no matter what the deadline or the pay. Otherwise, it throws my creativity out of whack.

A new-to-me author followed me on Twitter (always fun to widen the author circle). I followed back. I immediately got a DM hawking his book. Unfollow. That’s not how you get me to buy your book. That’s how you get on my list of I Don’t Read Your Work. SOCIAL media is about building the relationship first, and then telling me about your book. And then, if we’ve been having pleasant interactions, heck yeah, I’ll buy it, because I believe in buying as many books as I can afford from my contemporaries. But if I’ve only just heard of you and you privately hit me up for money, that guarantees me striking you off ALL my lists.

If you only came here for the writing commentary, click away, because I’m about to talk about politics. This blog is about balancing life and writing; the poisonous political situation, unfortunately, affects my writing (negatively, for the most part).

Jeff Sessions was always unqualified to be Attorney General, and yesterday’s hearings solidified his incompetence. He repeatedly perjured himself, both in this hearing and in previous hearings. He “can’t remember” meetings that should be pretty memorable. He claims possible future executive privilege that hasn’t been invoked, which any first year law student knows is crap. He stonewalls, rambles, and attempts misdirection. He refuses to answer questions, putting him in contempt of Congress. To hell with Congress — he holds the American people in contempt, especially those who aren’t white men. I don’t believe, for one minute, that he attended a legitimate law school or has a legitimate law degree. It’s far more likely he sent away for it on the back of a matchbook. I expect the top law enforcement official in the country to be ethical, intelligent, capable of coherent and rational reasoning, able to discern fact from fiction, secular, tolerant, fair-minded, committed to justice and the Constitution, and well-spoken. Jeff Sessions is none of those things. He should have never been confirmed, and he needs to be removed.

Senator Kamala Harris was brilliant, and those old white men who keep trying to shush her should have their mouths duct-taped. She was a prosecutor. SHE should be our country’s Attorney General.

We have lovely thunderstorms last night, and it’s cooler. That means I need to get back to mowing today, along with working on fiction, working on my essay, and my article, getting out some more pitches, and following up on some more pitches that have been out for awhile.

I am desperate for a few days off, but I need to hit my earnings for the month. Then, hopefully, I can take Fourth of July days as a holiday and rest my brain and my soul.

Watch out — I’ll be promoting the Independence Day-themed short mystery “Personal Revolution” starting tomorrow.

Out to the mower, and then back to the page. A migraine is coming on, and it’s slowing me down.

Published in: on June 14, 2017 at 9:20 am  Comments Off on Wed. June 14, 2017: An Attempt To Bully Me Into Unpaid Work  
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Tues. April 16, 2013: Grief

Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

To think, yesterday started so well.

I mean, 3700 words on the new book. LOIs. Follow-up on the LOIs from January (and gaining some immediate positive responses. 10 pages on the next non-fiction book up in the queue (that will be traditionally published). I percolated on the play that’s due at the end of May, and started thinking about the appointments I need to set up in NY.

And then — the explosions at the Boston Marathon. We’ve had non-stop coverage, of course, on all the channels. Which would be great if there was actual news to report, and they didn’t just retread the same ground over and over and over again. There needs to be a limit to how often a piece of tape depicting a disaster can be rolled.

The latest numbers this morning are 3 dead, over 140 injured. It’s just appalling. It reminds me too much of incidents in NY. I’ve been crying off and on since it happened, then feeling guilty about being so upset, because I’m fine out here, and so far, everyone I’ve managed to track down (there are still a few outstanding) are safe, too. There are plenty who are worse off than I am. I alternate between the pain and the numbness of grief, yet I’m also aware that it’s more abstract for me than for people with direct experience, the same way that, when I was directly impacted by other events (losing people I knew and cared about), it was abstract for others. The rational and the emotional sides haven’t aligned yet.

Sat outside this morning, with Tessa and the first cup of coffee, just grateful for the sunshine and the bird song of the moment.

On a completely different topic, Penny Estelle is my guest today over on Biblio Paradise, talking about her latest release, Hike Up Devil’s Mountain. In spite of everything that’s going on, I hope you’ll stop by and drop her a comment — she’s also doing a giveaway.

Devon