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Writing and Publishing

Writing Advice that May Not Be True

There’s lots of advice floating around about writing, being a writer, and finding success. Though well-intentioned, some of this advice is bad information or oversimplified counsel. Here are some tips I’ve heard, many of which I’ve also said.

Check out these common pieces of advice and discover the truth about them. Though we’ve already touched on some of them, I repeat them here, so they’ll appear in one place.

Show Don’t Tell: Using words to paint a picture (showing) is more powerful than to state what happened (telling). In general, this tip is good advice, but it’s sometimes better to just tell readers what happened. For example, it would be boring to spend several pages showing readers about a four-hour car ride where nothing significant occurs. Instead just say, “Four hours later they arrived at their destination.” That’s telling, and in this case, it’s the right approach.

Write Every Day: Yup, I said this maxim before, and I share this tip every chance I get. But I don’t mean it literally. I mean it figuratively. What I mean is to write regularly. Although for you it might mean every day, it could be every weekday or only on the weekend. The point is to have a writing schedule and commit to it.

Although this guideline makes sense to me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, some writers chafe at the thought of writing every day. Instead, they only write when they’re inspired or have a deadline. If this idea works for you, embrace it. Ignore the advice to write every day, but not until you’ve tried it first.

Write in the Morning: This tip is another one of my favorite adages. Many people even claim scientific confirmation that the morning is the best time to write (or do anything important), with maximum productivity and optimum results. My morning production is far better than in the afternoon. Writing in the morning works for me and works well. The early hours are when the good stuff happens.

Some people claim the morning isn’t right for them, that other times of the day work better. If that’s you, and you’ve tried mornings only to find them lacking, ignore those of us who insist you write in the morning. Pick the time of the day that works best for you.

Write What You Know: There’s an element of truth to this recommendation. What we know best, we can write most effectively. 

When it comes to nonfiction, writing what I know flows with greater clarity and speed. But that doesn’t mean I can’t research something I don’t know and write an effective piece. I’ve done it many times.

When it comes to fiction, if I only wrote what I knew, it would be a boring piece about a middle-aged white guy living an uneventful, routine life. Who’d want to read that? Therefore, in my fiction, I write about what I don’t know. More specifically, I write what I can imagine. Then I live vicariously through my characters and their experiences that I make up. 

You Must Have A Platform: An agent once rejected my submission, not because of the quality of my work or relevance of my idea, but because I didn’t have a platform. He didn’t say I had a small platform. He said I had no platform. Ouch! I doubled down and began working on building my platform in earnest. I hated it. It sapped the life from me. I almost quit writing because platform building distressed me so much. Seriously.

Yes, having a platform to sell our books is important, regardless of whether we want to indie publish or hope to be traditionally published. A platform will help us be successful faster, but it isn’t a requirement.

You Must Be Active on Social Media: This statement often finds itself coupled with building an author platform. I’m on several social media sites, but I don’t get them—not really. And although social media is at times enjoyable, it can be a huge time suck. I’m better off spending that time writing.

Someone who enjoys social media and understands how to use it to connect with people can realize great benefits. But I’m not one of those people—at least not yet. I connect best with people through my newsletter, on my blog, and via email.

You Must Have a Website: I agree that an author website is essential. It doesn’t have to be fancy or extensive, but it must exist and be inviting. 

And for writers who think social media is an acceptable alternative to a website, I vehemently disagree. A social media platform can change its rules at any time for any reason, can shut down your account without warning, or not allow your followers to see your content. These actions happen all the time. 

But a website is something we control. That’s why it’s essential. Even so, some authors claim to get along fine without one.

You Must Have an Email List: Email isn’t a sexy, new technology, but it is a proven method of reaching people. As authors, having an email list remains our most effective way of selling books. If you don’t have an email list, start one today. Every name you ethically and legally add to your list is a prequalified buyer for your books. Sure, you may get by without an email list, but why is a risk not using the most effective book marketing tool available?

Always Use an Outline: When I write, I always have a plan to guide me. It may be an outline, bullet points, or a destination to write toward. This approach is the most effective way to write quickly, not waste words, and avoid unnecessary amounts of cutting. Using an outline is the most efficient way to write, and as a career author seeking to drive income through my words, greater efficiency means increased revenue potential.

There’s nothing wrong with being a discovery writer (pantser)—and many authors prefer this method, claiming that having a plan stifles their creativity. But this approach isn’t the fastest and most efficient way to write. You decide what works best for you.

Use Microsoft Word: I’ve been using Microsoft Word longer than I can remember. Although I used other word processing programs before it, they’re now ancient. Microsoft Word is the standard throughout the publishing industry. Although alternatives exist and each one has its merits, you’ll never go wrong using what the rest of the industry uses. (See “Word Processing Alternatives.”)

You Must Use an Editor: Although this tip is wise advice, it isn’t absolute. No one forces you to use an editor before you publish your work. But if you want to avoid harsh criticism and one-star reviews, use an editor. And if you say you can’t afford to use one, I say you can’t afford to. Your writing career and your reputation as an author is at stake. (See the chapter on “Editing.”)

I used two editors for this book, as I do with most of my books. I can guarantee you they didn’t catch everything—no book is error-free—but they did make this work a whole lot better than I could have ever done on my own.

Don’t Design Your Own Book Cover: Again, no one makes you hire a cover designer for your book. You can do it yourself. But unless you have experience as a graphic artist and have produced successful book covers for other authors, don’t attempt to make your own. 

Your cover is the single biggest means to sell your book, so you need the best cover possible. And you aren’t the one to do it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Discover What Type of Writer You Are

There are different types of writers. They have different motivations, are at different places in their writing journey, and have different goals. Here are five common scenarios:

1. The Aspiring Writer: I’ve heard many people refer to themselves as aspiring writers. But they’re misusing the label. They say aspiring because at this point in their journey they lack the confidence to say they’re a writer, so they qualify it by tacking on aspiring

If this characterization describes you, I encourage you to take a deep breath, drop aspiring, and instead say, “I am a writer.” State it with boldness. It will take practice to say with confidence, but you can do it. You are a writer.

In truth, an aspiring writer is someone who doesn’t write; they aspire to write—someday. But they’ll never get around to it. Yes, they act as a writer. They read books on writing, go to writing conferences, and hang out with other writers. They talk a good game, but it’s just talking.

They want to have written, but they don’t want to put in the hard work, to sit down and write. They aspire to write, and it ends there. 

Don’t be someone who aspires to write. Just write.

2. The Hobbyist Writer: Next, we have people who write for fun, write for therapy, or write for family and friends. They’re hobbyists. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

So if a hobbyist writer accurately describes you, accept it. As a hobbyist, you may not publish much and certainly won’t make much money from your work, but you are writing. And that’s what’s important. Own that label, and celebrate it. 

But if you want to realize more from your writing, consider moving beyond being a hobbyist.

3. The Passion Project Writer: Some writers have a book they must write. It’s a compulsion, a calling. They work hard to produce the best book they can. Then they indie publish it. Then they spend years promoting and marketing their book. 

This book is their passion. 

But it may be the only book they ever write. Or if they do write other books, these works may fall short because the passion isn’t there. And it shows.

There’s nothing wrong with having a passion project or being a one-book author. I know many people who wrote one book, and that’s it. That’s okay. But if you want more, consider the next two categories of writers.

4. The Artist Writer: I know many writers who view themselves as artists. They create wonderful work and produce it regularly. But they only write when the muse hits or when they have a deadline. If they don’t feel like writing, they don’t. They’re often discovery writers (pantsers). Writing speed and output frequency doesn’t matter. They’re artists, and producing art is all they care about.

If the phrase starving artist comes to mind, it could fit this category of writer. They may not make much from their art, and it’s doubtful they’ll earn enough to support themselves. That’s why the artist-writer needs another source of income. This supplemental money could be a day job or a side hustle. It may be a spouse, an inheritance, or a generous patron.

If this is your situation, that’s okay. Accept it for who you are, what you want to be, and what works for you.

5. The Career Author: The fifth category is a career author. Although their words may flow from many different motivations, they have one trait in common: writing is their job, and they strive to make money from it, either full-time or part-time.

They haven’t sold out. They’re being intentional. They value the craft and may even view it as art. They also write with passion. But, in addition to art and passion, they write with purpose. They want to share their words with others and earn money as they do. They have an entrepreneurial mindset. They’re an authorpreneur. 

My Journey: At various times in my writing journey I have stopped at four of these five writing destinations. Some of my stops have been brief, and others longer, but where I am now—and where I want to remain—is as a career author.

Right now, I make some of my income as a book author, and my goal is to one day earn all my income through books. But money is not my motivator; it’s the outcome. My desire is to share my words with others. As I often say, my goal is to “change the world one word at a time.” And making money from doing so is a sweet result.

Discover what type of writer you are and embrace it. Don’t let anyone tell you your path is wrong or inconsequential. You are a writer.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Celebrate Being a Writer

Even though it took me a while to call myself a writer, I’ve been writing most of my life. In high school, I learned I had a knack for it, and it’s been part of almost every job I’ve had. Although I’ve had some great jobs, my work as a full-time writer is the most rewarding of anything I’ve ever done.

Using words to educate and entertain others is an art form that I cherish. Being an author and writing every day is a job so wonderful that it doesn’t even feel like work. I get to influence and encourage others with my words. How amazing is that?

I don’t plan on ever retiring. I like writing too much to stop. My prayer is that I will be able to write—and write well—until the day I die, which I hope is a long way off.

Until then, I will persist in my goal to change the world one word at a time.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Tips on Being a Ghostwriter

I’ve ghostwritten some books and enjoyed doing so. The payment is almost always a fixed rate, paid in installments. Require the first payment before starting the project, and the final payment is due when the writer submits the finished product to the author. (The person who hires you is the author, and you are the writer.)

The number of installments is up to you and the author. Two, three, or four are common, but my last book was in ten installments (per the author’s request).

Also, try to frontload the installments so you receive more money in the beginning. That way if the project doesn’t work out, the author changes their mind, or they stop paying, then you have received just compensation for your work to date.

Don’t write on spec or have it contingent on them getting a book deal. Also, avoid a revenue share based on books sold.

Though you could negotiate a base fee plus a revenue share unless the author has a large platform and can sell books, assume there will never be any significant revenue for them to share with you. So make your base fee large enough to make the project worthwhile. See “Ghostwriting Fees” for some general ghostwriting rate ideas.

If you need to interview the author, such as for an autobiography or memoir, your fee should cover your time. Estimate high. You may need to help the author organize their thoughts, or they may be evasive or unwilling to share, which has happened to me.

Two related items: Always have a written agreement that states your fees, the installment amounts and dates, and details of what you will include and not include. A basic “work-for-hire” agreement should work. (Remember, I am not a lawyer, and this response is not legal advice.) 

The other item is to be aware that you are selling your words and cannot claim them as your own or reuse them for another purpose. Though a nice author may share the byline with you or acknowledge you were the writer, most will not.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

How to Make Money through Freelance Writing

Being a freelance writer can take many forms, some lucrative and others that leave you struggling as a pauper.

Payment for most freelance work is by the finished piece, though some might be per word. But when it comes to looking at how much you can earn as a freelancer, always think in terms of dollars per hour. If you charge $100 for a piece that takes you five hours to write and edit, you’re earning $20 an hour.

Unless there’s a strategic reason to do so, aim to make at least minimum wage for your freelance work. But don’t be satisfied with that. Seek higher-paying work, knowing that the effective hourly rate for experienced freelancing can be $50, $100, or even more an hour. But use this hourly rate for analysis purposes only, and don’t share it with clients. Instead, quote the price per finished piece or the rate per word. 

Though I’ve never quoted a project rate per hour, there may be times when a project is so undefined that quoting an hourly rate is the only option. But then, I just pass on those types of messy projects.

And never compete on price. That’s a race to the bottom. Someone will always undercut you.

Instead, here’s how to go about getting the better-paying freelance gigs.

Start by considering what you like to write and are good at. Then find a niche you’re knowledgeable about—or willing to become knowledgeable about. Look at how much competition you would face in the market. Then consider what clients/publishers are willing to pay. In general, the less competition you have, the more you can charge, and the more people will pay.

For myself, I like to write blog posts and am good at it. I selected a small niche market I know well and promoting my services for writing content marketing pieces. Because of my knowledge of the industry and long-standing reputation, coupled with the ability to write fast and well, I have little competition. 

As a result, I make enough income from being a commercial freelance writer in this niche market that I could support myself full-time through it—if needed. Fortunately, I have revenue from other sources to supplement my freelance writing.

The point is that it’s possible to earn a living through freelance writing. But you need to find a niche with little or no competition and produce great content that your clients will love and pay for.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.