How To Harness the Power of NaNoWriMo… All Year Long

We’re just a few days in to NaNoWriMo, and the tweets and motivational blog posts are already flying fast and furious. Not that I’m participating, mind you. I’m not a novelist, and all of my attempts at “fiction” back in college were thinly-veiled, totally emo personal essays (as were everyone else’s). But I can’t help feeling envious that fiction writers have a month like this, during which they can go all in on that large project they’ve been daydreaming about for eons, a built-in support network (and hard-core accountability) just an email or dedicated forum away.

Of course, I get my motivation and accountability elsewhere. My writing partner, Lyz Lenz, sends me threatening emails every week.

But what about the rest of you? Where can you go to ensure that your writing goals are met, thanks to a mix of motivation, camaraderie, and abject fear?

1. For those of you who have trouble updating your blog on a regular basis (shut up; I was doing very, very important things… okay, I was tweeting and surfing Etsy), there’s NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month (also in November). You can check out the BlogHer site for writing prompts and badges and then dive on in, secure in the knowledge that, at least for one month, you were on top of things.

2. If your November is just too damn busy (with Christmas shopping), there’s always Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Blogathon, in May. Check out Michelle’s Blogathon page for all the ways in which participating can help you build your biz.

3. And of course, those are just two of the more well-known ones. You can search for blog carnivals within your specific niche at this handy-dandy online directory.

4. If you’ve got your blogging covered, however, and would rather concentrate on content you can create for actual money, I highly recommend Freelance Success‘s twice-a-year Query Challenge. For the brief period of time in which I was a member of this professional writer’s group, I found the Challenge to be its most beneficial resource. Participants were split into teams and pitted against each other, earning points through queries and LOIs, and through the assignments that resulted from them. Team members had to report their points once a week, and team rankings were sent out in the weekly e-newsletter. There’s nothing like some healthy competition (and the fear of letting your teammates down) to make you sweat.

5. Then there are those sites and applications that target your writing productivity, and that can be used year-round. 750 Words is one such resource. It’s a site on which users aim to write at least 750 words a day and, for their troubles, receive points for their progress, and stats about what they’ve written (such as their most productive times of day, their quickest entries, their most common topics, and their most frequently used words).

6. Finally, if extreme terror is the most effective form of motivation for you, there’s always Write or Die. I’m afraid to use it, but rumor has it that, if you don’t reach your writing goals for the day, this application send you a threatening email, announces your failure to the entire Twitterverse, erases your hard drive, and makes your coffee pot malfunction.

Just kidding.

Write or Die tracks your writing and, if you pause for too long, you either a) receive a gentle reminder pop-up, telling you to stop being such a goddamn slacker (gentle mode), b) are subjected to an “unpleasant sound” that only ceases if you continue writing (normal mode), or c) are forced to watch your writing unwrite itself (kamikaze mode). Note: I am afraid to use this app.

7. Of course, you could always use mini goals, rewards, self-imposed deadlines, and good, old-fashioned self-discipline, but where’s the fun in that?

Any of you guys have an app or non-technical trick that keeps you at your keyboard?

Related: Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Resource Roundup: 4 Time Management Applications, Are Professional Organizations Worth the Cost?, Motivational Trick: Fear (of Letting Others Down), Finding Someone to Drag You to the Finish Line

Spill It: Do You Unknowingly Waste Your Best Stories?

Tomorrow morning, I’m heading up to Good Commons in Plymouth, VT, for a Revitalize Retreat organized by healthy travel organization Pravassa. I don’t travel (or unplug) often, and I’ve never taken a vacation alone. But I’m looking forward to daily yoga classes, and cooking classes during which we’ll prepare farm fresh meals. I’m looking forward to field trips to nearby sustainable farms. I’m looking forward to soaking in the hot tub, and stuffing my face with s’mores at the fire pit. I’m looking forward to spending quiet hours with my stack of books (Michael Ellsberg’s The Education of Millionaires, Elizabeth George’s I, Richard, and Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves), and to meeting other blissed-out, beginner yogis.

When I told my yoga instructor about the trip, he was all, “Cool! Are you writing about it!?” And then I hemmed and hawed and finally admitted to him that it hadn’t occurred to me.

But this is only half true. Another part of me had thought about it in passing, and had then decided that I wouldn’t be able to come up with a compelling story angle. Or that it would be too much of a long shot to sell a story that wasn’t about sex. And was it worth the effort? Wasn’t I supposed to be having fun? Unplugging?

I do this all the damn time. Not that my life is a non-stop party, but what about that casserole competition I enter every year? What about the traveling potluck I partake in? What about my very first trip to a fertility center, or my very first trip to a biker bar? Aren’t these story-worthy? Am I surrounding myself with wasted opportunities? Or should I feel okay about not mining every aspect of my life for my writing?

I guess I’m allowed to slack sometimes, but I feel as if it happens way too often. And considering how burnt out I can get on sex writing, I should probably branch out into other content areas. So what holds us back from writing about our outside-the-niche experiences, and how can we push back?

1. It doesn’t occur to us to write about that awesome, fantastic, one-of-a-kind experience, because it’s not work-related. 

Our minds should always be open to new story ideas, and this means analyzing every experience and interaction with a writer’s eye. Show interest in others’ stories. And show interest in your own, too. Look through your calendar and ask yourself: What can others gain from this super-cool thing I just experienced?

2. We have trouble coming up with a unique story angle.

So I’m going on a yoga retreat. Big deal. Almost every other writer out there has come to make yoga a big part of their lives, and stories about the transformation they’ve experienced through yoga are a dime a dozen. There are even hybrid yoga/writing retreats! No one cares about my experience!

This kind of mindset is poop. Self-defeating poop. Examine your experience from every angle. What sets this one apart from others of its kind? Is there an interesting back story? Did you learn some counterintuitive lesson? Is there a how-to or Q&A that can grow out of this experience? Get creative. I mean, isn’t that your job?

3. We worry about venturing outside our niche.

This is also poop. Plus, I recently wrote about it! Revisit that post to learn more about starting from scratch in a new niche.

Am  the only one who does this? Or do you regularly use new experiences to break into new niches?

Related: Freelance Dilemma: Brainstorming New Ideas

How to Start from Scratch with a New Niche

This is a metaphorical lump of dough.

Like any good love affair, even a thriving writing career can get into a slump. And by “slump,” I’m not referring to the lean times in your typical feast-or-famine cycle. I’m referring to a successful business that — for some reason or another — you just feel bored with.

You know the feeling: Every targeted press release seems to say the same thing. Every forthcoming book you’re offered for review seems to have the same premise. And when your favorite sex toy purveyor offers you the latest and greatest vibrator with all the bells and whistles, you just feel meh.

While your niche may once have been a passion (and perhaps still is), it doesn’t seem to leave room for all the new interests in your life.

But is it worth it to switch gears? Will food editors be interested in a piece from a veteran health and wellness writer? Will tech editors care what the go-to sex columnist has to say?

I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. Way back when, after stumbling upon an internship creating adult content for a personals site, I threw myself into the sex content niche for very personal reasons. I was interested in exploring sex positivity within the contexts of feminism, sexual dysfunction, and past abuse.

These days, I’m cool with the sex writing, but it’s not all I am. I also sing funeral masses. I love hoop dancing. I’m addicted to yoga. I’m a disaster in the kitchen, but I love cooking, too. I go wine tasting with my husband. And I’m a crazy cat lady.

Gee whiz. It sure would be fun to write about those things, too.

And I can but, in order to succeed, I need to take a lesson from those days when I was just starting out. Luckily, while I may — for the most part — be starting from scratch, I still have one of those pre-made crusts to work with. (Too much? Too corny? To hell with it.)

Step One — Research New Markets:

As has become pretty apparent here lately, I have a new hobby. It involves doing headstands and acquiring a hot ass. I’m also into dance-based workouts like belly dancing and hoop dancing, have been doing callanetics for 12 years, walk wherever I can, read books like French Women Don’t Get Fat and The Flex Diet, and enjoy cooking things from scratch. So why the hell does my writing only focus on sexual health?

Wanting to rectify that, I recently took a field trip to Barnes & Noble and picked up copies of Om Yoga & Lifestyle, Yoga Journal, Women’s Health, Fitness, and Whole Living. I flipped through the magazines, bookmarking the masthead, making note of the story layouts, and familiarizing myself with the various magazine sections. I asked myself: What story could I write to fit this publication?

If you’re considering a new market, you should do the same. Visit your local bookshop and browse the magazine racks. Check out mediabistro’s How To Pitch series, which allows you to search publications by category. Search sites like Alltop by subject matter, or scour the blog rolls on popular blogs. And of course, there’s always the good old Writer’s Market.

Step Two — Expand Your Network:

You have 1,981 followers on Twitter. The entire Internet knows about your experience with the Sexerciseball. At this point, all the “how to boost your libido” blog posts and mythology-based erotica essays are coming to you. But you know what’s not coming to you? Anything that’s not about your vagina. Obviously, you need to expand your circle in new directions.

Use sites like LinkedIn or Twitter to find contact info for the editors at your new dream magazines. (And while the mediabistro How To Pitch articles may not be up to date in terms of contact info, you can always use them to snag a magazine’s email format and then pop in the latest names on the magazine’s masthead.) Send these editors LOIs (letters of interest), or ask them if they’d be up for an informal chat about their experiences within a niche. Tell them you’d love to hear more about what they’re looking for. (I’ve landed many lunch invites this way.)

Or connect with other freelance writers who are active in a subject area you’d like to expand into. Having a strong freelance network is key for swapping tips, clips, stories, advice, and sometimes even important contacts. I never would have written about my cats for Petside, for example, without a tip from a fellow freelancer writer. The site just wasn’t on my radar.

Finally, attend networking or industry-specific events. As a sex writer, I’ve attended my share of dating blogger happy hours and dating site parties. Do your homework and see if the writers in your new niche are doing something similar. Or attend those professional conferences in order to make valuable industry contacts or gain inspiration for future stories. For example, if you’re looking to break into Psychology Today, check out Psychotherapy Networker to see what’s what in the world of the mind.

Step Three — Start Small:

Despite being a total sexpert, I once wrote the Ultimate New Jersey Wine Tour for a regional magazine based upon the strength of my pitch alone. And I’ve written a roundup on fitness classes that make you laugh for a newer, regional magazine. While it helped that my query letters were kick-ass (more on that in the next step), the fact that I was aiming for regional — rather than national — markets was probably also a factor. Oftentimes, the smaller publications are far more willing to take a chance on new writers.

So if you’re having a hard time getting in the door at the major glossies, pretend you’re building up your portfolio all over again and aim a bit lower.

Step Four — Wow Them With Your Letter:

I’ve raved about the importance of a strong letter in the past. And I’ll do it again. When you’re lacking clips in a certain niche, a strong query letter can showcase your writing ability, spotlight a brilliant idea, and act as proof that — despite the skimpy portfolio — you’re the best writer for the job, whether because of expert contacts, personal experience, or certified expertise.

Step Five — Don’t Discount Your Prior Experience:

This is where that pre-made crust comes in. (And I always cheat by using the pre-made crust though, in this case, I think you’ve earned it.)  Basically, even though you’re a newbie to the niche, you still have a leg up by being an established, professional writer. What does this mean? It means that you have a proven track record of producing  brilliant content under deadline. It means you know your way around an expert interview, and rock the house at research. It means you have an already-existing readership. It means that you’re worth those professional rates.

So please. For the love of god. Don’t shortchange yourself. Realize that if you did it before, you can do it again.

And p.s. Don’t be a wuss. Always negotiate for higher rates. You’re worth it.

Related: 10 Ways To Prove Experience… Without Any, Cornering the Market? Or Feeling Cornered?, Need New Material? Try Living Your Life

How To Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal

While it may seem that my life revolves around short-form magazine pieces about vibrators and low libido, what some of you may not know is that — once upon a time — I worked full-time for a book publisher, weeding through book proposals, drawing up author contracts, and developing marketing/publicity plans.

And so, while I’ve not yet courted traditional authorship myself, I do sometimes help clients with book proposal preparation and lit agent research.

In fact, as I’ve learned from working on several ebooks for Good in Bed, it’s a pretty short leap from being a short-form freelance writer to putting together an entire book. Which is why I thought some of you might be interested in 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected {and how to be sure it won’t happen again!}.

Because perhaps you have a book in you, too?

ANYway. After receiving a review copy of 77 Reasons and tweeting it up, a friend of mine (a published author who probably bristled at the admittedly provocative title) commented that I should give the book — and anyone who rejected me — “the Middle Finger, and then start looking for other smarter publishers/agents.”

I understood where he was coming from. After all, stories like the one surrounding The Help show that sheer determination, and an unwillingness to give up, can lead to authorial success.

But aspiring authors should be aware that some level of effort is still required on their part to increase their chances of getting a lit agent and/or a book publisher to sign on the dotted line. While writing an entire book is a daunting prospect to most of us, and we admire and envy those of you who can pull it off, that accomplishment does not, unfortunately, grant you a golden ticket to traditional publication.

Enter 77 Reasons.

Its author, literary agent and former acquisitions editor Mike Nappa, doesn’t leave much to chance. Throughout the book, he provides readers with the many reasons an editorial board, marketing department, or sales team might pass on your book, and then gives tips on how to avoid each of these pitfalls. He also gives aspiring authors an inside look at the book proposal consideration process, which may make readers amazed that any book has ever made it to publication.

Some of the pitfalls and pointers may seem common sense, but I feel confident that anyone in the midst of pulling together a book proposal will find value in this book. In fact, I suggest keeping it around on your reference shelf and using it as a checklist once you’ve pulled your proposal together.

It can only strengthen subsequent drafts.

Related: Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, How To Get Your Book Published Before the Age of 25, Breakneck Book Report: How To Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead

Need New Material? Try Living Your Life

About two and a half years ago, I blogged about feeling limited by the sex writing niche I’d found myself in. Since then, I’ve been an editor at a web magazine featuring content on love and sex, I’ve had my own sex column, I’ve co-written an ebook with Ian Kerner on spicing up your sex life, I’ve been interviewed as an expert on vibrators, and more. When all is said and done, I suppose the sex writing thing has been good to me.

Still, it’s tough to continue getting mileage out of that first sex party I attended five years ago, or that one time I posed nude for a portraitist. Plus, even sex gets boring!

Which is why, in this month’s edition of Word Nerd News, I urged readers to get the hell out of the house and live a little.

I even gave them some homework:

1. Step away from your laptop at least once a week, and try something new.

2. Develop at least three story ideas based upon that one experience, or that one nifty person you met.

3. Send out those queries, dammit.

4. Land some fabulous assignments.

5. Collect a ton of money and immediately spend it all on books and handbags.

The part about handbags is optional, but I’m dead serious about the rest of it. Which is why I’m giving you the exact same assignment.

And just so you don’t think I’m slacking (I may be wearing PJs and bunny slippers at 1:01 p.m., but I’m definitely not a slacker), I’ll take one of the experiences mentioned in my newsletter and do the assignment, too. Here. Let me start us off.

1. My Experience: I hung out at the Trojan Vibrations Truck to talk vibrators and promote sexual health awareness.

2. My Three, Related Story Ideas:

  • how to use toys to enhance foreplay
  • what else I wish I could buy at my local Stop & Shop (playing off the idea that Trojan wants to display their new line at the supermarket, right next to their condoms, as a means of normalizing discussions about sexual health)
  • required reading for your progressive sex ed curriculum (playing off the latest stories of the new sex ed mandates in NYC)

3. Sending out those queries. Dammit. I’ll have them out by tomorrow. I swear.

Okay. It’s your turn. Feel free to share your stories and brainstorm ideas in the comments section of this post!

And if you’re not yet signed up to receive Word Nerd News, get on that, yo!

Related: Cornering the Market? Or Feeling Cornered?

How Writing Got Me a Spot on the Trojan Vibrations Truck

Bringing good vibes to all the good boys and girls...

I don’t usually promote events here that don’t have a direct link to writing, freelancing, or entrepreneurship, but writing brought me to this odd spot, so I wanted to share.

This coming Friday, July 29, I will be a guest on Late Night with Logan, hosted by sex educator Logan Levkoff. The topic? Oh, the usual. Vibrators. Sex. That kinda thing. The venue? The Trojan Vibrations Truck.

Say what?

Basically, Trojan is going on a truck tour in the style of the city’s popular food trucks, dispensing free Trojan Her Pleasure condoms and Trojan Vibrating Rings while also promoting sexual health awareness. You can read more about it here. Each night, the truck will also become a destination for a late night web talk show, Late Night with Logan. During this talk show, Logan will interview “some of the industry’s greatest visionaries and experts who have helped pave the way for making the conversation around sex and vibrators positive, healthy, and open.” (I’m going to start telling my mom that I’m a visionary.)

I practically squeed when I was invited. I had already seen Logan tweet about the truck tour, and had thought it was a fantastic idea. I myself have been writing about sex for 10 years now, and my initial sex toy reviews have led to a fulfilling career in which I’m able to destigmatize sex issues for my peers using openness, honesty, and humor. I’m thrilled for the chance to participate in something that seems so closely aligned with what I try to do with my writing.

How did I get here? I’ve been doing a lot of work for Ian Kerner and his Good in Bed site lately, and my most recent project was to copyedit Logan’s latest Good in Bed manuscript: How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex with You. (Such a fun — and totally necessary! — book.) She must have found my notes to be helpful because, only a few hours after passing them along, I was contacted about being a guest on her traveling web talk show.

I love how opportunities pop up and surprise me like that!

(In fact, my Good in Bed work came about simply because I’d interviewed Ian for an article in Time Out New Yorkand he liked what he saw.)

This Friday’s Late Night with Logan taping will take place from 8 – 10 p.m., outside the Williamsburg Waterfront at 93 Kent Ave.

You should visit! Not only will I be there, but the truck will be stationed outside a free concert with guests They Might Be Giants, Patton Oswalt, and Kristen Schaal.

If you can’t make it, though, the show will also be broadcast on the Trojan Facebook page and website following the event.

So tell me: What’s the oddest opportunity your writing has brought you?

How to Rock the Ghostwriting Process

Last week — while in the midst of ghostwriting an ebook, and having just landed another, regular blog ghostwriting gig — I posted about my writerly motivations, and about how I slowly warmed up to ghostwriting as a viable career option.

Now, as a major deadline approaches (the first draft of this ebook is due on Friday), I thought I’d take a break (I’m such a procrastinator) and share how you can rock the ghostwriting process.

1. Familiarize yourself with the client. Your client may be a particular person or an entire company. Either way, it’s your responsibility to do your homework and research what your client’s biz is all about, and how they’ve communicated to their target audience in the past. Pay close attention to their mission, their goals, and their voice. You’re going to need to deliver copy in that very same voice, nailing every nuance and turn of phrase.

2. Ask lots of questions. Before signing on to the project, ask the client about those things you weren’t able to glean from your initial research… and ask them to confirm the things you already discovered. Some good questions to ask:

  • What are you hoping to accomplish with this particular project?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Should the voice match the voice in your other marketing materials?
  • Do you have examples of content you’d like me to emulate?
  • Tell me about your motivations… for the company, for the project, and for your service or product.

3. Make sure you’re on the same page. After agreeing on a flat fee for my most recent ebook project, I drew up a proposed TOC and worked with the client to get it to a place we were both happy with. Doing this not only earned me the first small chunk of my fee, but it ensured that I would have a previously-agreed-upon road map for a project that might otherwise have been overwhelming. Agreeing upon an outline with your clients is always a good idea.

4. Break up the project into eensy-weensy, bite-sized pieces. When my client first told me when he wanted a first draft of the ebook, I threw up in my mouth a little. Luckily, I was able to use our agreed-upon TOC as a guide for drawing up a weekly writing schedule. And this schedule wasn’t just for me. At the end of each week, I’ve sent my client the most recently completed sections of the ebook. This has made it easier for him, because he can make editing notes as we go along, rather than devouring the entire book all at once. And this has made it easier for me, as I can be reassured that he’s happy with my work, and I can easily change direction if necessary.

I also made sure that our contract included time spent on various rounds of edits. Because there’s nothing I hate more than scope creep (aside from a late paycheck).

5. Do a small sample before moving forward. It could also be a smart move to do a small sample before actually going forward with the project in the first place, stipulating that you will be paid for the work you do. That way, if the client suddenly decides you might not be the right fit for them, they’re only out a little bit of money, and you’re only out a little bit of time.

6. Remain in constant contact. When you’re working on a large-scale project, it can be disquieting to not have any feedback at all on what you’re doing. That’s why I like to be in constant email contact regarding edits, sidebar suggestions, interview plans, and more. Quasi-regular phone calls to talk about the project are also helpful… and extra-motivating.

7. Use tracked changes. It makes the editing process less headache-inducing, and more efficient. I will even go so far as to say that I heart tracked changes.

8. Gleefully send out your invoice. Hopefully, you’ll have agreed upon a payment schedule that allows you to invoice at various benchmarks throughout the project. That way, you won’t have to go for an extended period of time without a paycheck, subsisting on ramen noodles and that half-empty bag of frozen shrimp that’s been in your freezer for the past three months.

9. Roll around in your hard-earned money. Okay. So rolling around on top of a single check may be less fulfilling than rolling around in a pile of cash, but it amounts to the same thing.

10. Buy a pretty dress. Or buy some groceries. Or pay some bills. Or invest the money back into your business. Go on. You’ve earned it.

Of course, all of these tips could apply to most any freelance project you work on… not just ghostwriting projects. But I’ve found that the first few tips become even more important when you’ve signed on to become the voice of someone else. As a ghostwriter, you are representing your client in a very big way. You are becoming your client. Because of that, their satisfaction is your number one goal.

Pretty dresses can be number two.

Related: Do You Write for the Bucks or the Byline? How I Started Ghostwriting

Do You Write for the Bucks or the Byline? How I Started Ghostwriting

There was a time when seeing my name in the newspaper, or in a glossy magazine, was enough to make me squee.

I hated assignments that didn’t offer author credit, and generally avoided them. What’s in it for me? I thought, not even considering the possibility that a paycheck could be enough.

In fact, when I first began writing about sex and my editor brought up pen names, I shrugged off his suggestion. I wanted the credit, no matter how kinky the content.

(Which is why my Playgirl debut was particularly thrilling. They ran a cartoonified head shot of me next to my article… and directly below a drawing of what appeared to be an orgy. My mom made copies and handed them out to friends.)

So how did I end up ghostwriting ebooks and blog posts?

I’ve been working on a big ghostwriting project for the past month and, since I started, some people have asked me for advice on how to get into ghostwriting. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t seek out ghostwriting opportunities, and never even considered it an option for me. I mean, I was absolutely traumatized when I found out that Carolyn Keene was actually a collective of ghostwriters (Nancy Drew, you broke my heart). And I thought that getting the credit for something you didn’t write was totally cheating, and that the ghostwriter was only an accessory to the crime.

But since I started ghostwriting, I’ve come to two realizations:

1. I may have the writing talent but, sometimes, someone else has the fabulous idea and the background knowledge and experience. Putting the two of us together? Writing gold.

2. This ghostwriting stuff pays way better than the other stuff I’ve been doing.

I don’t know if I’ll seek out more work like this. This client came to me because he liked my style and wanted to work together. But if you’d like to take a more proactive approach to ghostwriting, there are some fabulous posts out there that can help you, like:

Stay tuned for a post on how to rock the ghostwriting process. But in the meantime… do you make money as a ghostwriter? If not, would it break your heart to give up your byline?

Related: Having Trouble Defining Your Specialty? How To Determine What Makes You an Original, How To Avoid Homelessness and Starvation When the Checks Aren’t Regular, Pinpointing Dream Job #328