Today I’m talking with author and freelancing expert Kelly James-Enger, whose work has appeared in dozens of national magazines, including Redbook, Fitness and Self. James-Enger says that her success as a full-time freelancer isn’t the result of persistence or luck, but of learning the “secrets” of freelancing. You can find all 101 of these secrets in her new Writer’s Digest book, Writer for Hire (purchase the book here), but here’s a sneak peek at her advice on fostering relationships with editors, building an audience, and the importance of actually sitting down to write (versus just talking or reading about it):
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
To focus their efforts. As a new freelancer, I tried writing about just about any topic, but had little success until I started specializing in a handful of areas--health, fitness, nutrition and bridal. Second, I tell writers to build relationships with editors, clients and other writers. That relationship starts when you start pitching an editor. Even if she says “no,” you can say “thanks” for the response to your earlier query, and then send her a new idea. By doing so, you can get an assignment from someone because you’ve been building a relationship with your pitches.
Can you share a recent self-publishing success story?
In 2010, I published my first POD (print on demand) book. I’d only worked with traditional publishers before then, but I had a book (Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books) that had a market and little competition. So I took the leap into POD publishing. The book has garnered good reviews on Amazon (some are even by complete strangers to me, LOL) and is selling steadily, which is gratifying. And I’ve doubled my initial investment in the book, and will hopefully continue to make money on it. It also helps build my reputation as a ghostwriter/coauthor to clients who might hire me.
What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
You know, that’s hard to answer. But one line that comes back to me is the line on a framed picture I have of a little sailboat on a lake; underneath it says, “When there is no wind, row.” That’s been key to my success.
What's the worst mistake that new writers, freelancers or book authors can make?
That one is easy: focusing only on what you want to write, not what your editor wants you to write.
What does a typical day look like for you?
That was easier to answer before I became a mom. I work a part-time schedule, but on a workday, I get up, get my kids fed and my first-grader off to school, and then I work while my sitter watches my two-year-old. I work about for four hours, starting with my most challenging work (usually this is actual writing as opposed to doing research or transcribing notes, etc). Then I revert back into “Mommy Mode” until my kids are in bed, and I usually spend an hour or so catching up on e-mail, etc.
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past five years?
I’m definitely doing more ghostwriting/coauthoring than I did before. I’m also starting to publish my own e-books and experimenting with POD, as opposed to only going with traditional publishers. That’s definitely a change.
Do you have any advice for new writers on building an audience?
I think if you’re writing books or blogging, you need to think about who your “typical” reader is (even though there is no “typical”) and try to always speak to/reach that person. And be yourself! Your unique voice will attract readers who like it.
What about advice for writers seeking agents?
Look for someone who you feel treats you like an equal, yet is willing to give you business/career advice. Your success is your agent’s success, after all.
What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?
Building a successful career as a self-employed freelancer from scratch would be number one. Number two would be keeping my hand in fiction (I have a new novel that will be published soon), even between running my business and being mom to a six-year-old and two-year-old!
Any final thoughts?
There are as many ways to “be a writer” as there are writers. But you have to actually write! Not just think about writing, or talk about writing, or read about writing, but sit down and write. Everything stems from that.
To purchase Kelly James-Enger's on-demand webinar, "Book Publishing Options Today: What's Right for You?" click here.
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