Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Should Writers Brand Themselves?

At recent writing events and online, I've witnessed several writers claim that the future of making money writing will be through writing a lot of thin slices of content covering everything. These writers claim that the way for freelancers to move ahead is by spreading themselves out horizontally writing on several different topics, making them as much an expert on cooking as on the automotive industry or (insert subject here). I may be in the minority on this, but I don't think becoming a generalist is the way to freelancing success.

First, freelancing is a business, and the most successful businesses specialize. Law firms specialize in particular fields of law. Top shelf restaurants specialize in certain dishes. Why should writers be any different? Sure, I think it's fine for writers to offer multiple services, but they should really try to focus on those few niches to make themselves "go to" writers on those topics.

Second, freelancers who write on any and every thing run the risk of turning their finished products into a fast food or Wal-Mart type product. The writing could be great, but since you're offering everything and are an expert in nothing, your chief weapon of choice will be to offer lower prices. This means the generalist writer is spending more time working for less money, while the "go to" writer has more room to negotiate better rates and terms.

At the end of the day, I feel writers should brand themselves as experts. It's important for freelancers to know who they are trying to be and what their target audience wants. If you're chasing after everything, you might make some money, but you're going to work yourself to death in the process. There's a lot of work involved in branding yourself, but eventually, the work will come to you, and you may even find yourself turning down assignments that aren't "right for you."


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


While it's not specifically geared toward freelance writers, Seth Godin wrote a great book on this topic called Linchpin, in which Godin speaks to the importance of making yourself indispensable.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tomorrow I Diet

Confession time. I have been an unstoppable force of weight gain this past winter. In October 2010, my weight was down to 190. Earlier this week, I tipped the scales at 235. That's more than 40 pounds in just 5 months!

Tammy thinks I'm just putting on sympathy weight because of her pregnancy, which started around the same time that my I started packing on the pounds. Maybe, but I'm not conscious of it. I have three theories of my own:
  1. My competitive nature. Maybe instead of the "sympathy" weight, I'm just trying to remain the alpha weight gainer in the house. Okay, if this is the case, I'm not conscious of it either. Sooooo, could it be...
  2. Hibernation weight. You know, my primitive instincts are telling me to eat-eat-eat and sleep-sleep-sleep. Only two problems with this theory. First, I haven't been sleep-sleep-sleeping. Second, winters in the Atlanta-area feel like springs and autumns in Ohio (where I spent the first 30 years of my life). With a double-wide shadow cast on my first two theories, the real reason is probably...
  3. My utter lack of self control. I don't have to eat, but I do. I could put that fourth hot dog down, but I don't. Do I need to drink calories every day? I do not. It's my fault.
I claim responsibility, and I'm putting an end to the gaining trend beginning tomorrow morning. As I mentioned, I weighed 190 in October, and I'm going to get there again with the same diet that got me there in the first place. And then, I'm going to run my fourth straight Peachtree Road Race on July 4th. Stay tuned for updates.

After 2008 Peachtree Road Race (my first!) with Tammy, Reese, Ben, Jonah, and my brother-in-law.


Speaking of staying tuned, tomorrow I should be able to make a big announcement related to my upcoming poetry chapbook.


And yes, my NCAA bracket is busting. Pitt was one of my Final Four teams, and Butler knocked 'em off earlier tonight. I picked St. John's to make the Elite 8, and they didn't even win their first round game. Oh well. Theres' always next year for the perfect bracket.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Want to know what the most amazing diet that has worked wonders for me in the past and should do so again? Then, check out Dr. Sandra Cabot's The Liver Cleansing Diet, which may not have the most appealing name, but it does have very appealing results. I know, because I've successfully followed it in the past with great results.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

After losing an hour of sleep...

...last night, I have to say that I'm thrilled that the sun stayed up in the evening an extra hour today. I'm pretty tired, even though it was only 9:30 at this point yesterday evening. But that's the price we pay for Daylight Savings Time, which I'm totally in favor of scrapping.


In the coming weeks, I may be in favor of scrapping something else: My NCAA tournament bracket. The field and seedings were announced today, and I've already made my selections for my "bragging rights" league in which I participate every year--with a bunch of old high school buddies.

Since Dayton lost their A-10 championship game against Richmond, I didn't have to worry about putting the Flyers in the Final Four. Instead, my Final Four consists of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh. It's a little Big East heavy, but I think they had the dominant teams this year.

That said, Pittsburgh almost always lets me down, and I'm not sure I completely trust Notre Dame either. In fact, the whole field this year seems pretty even. I wouldn't be surprised if a team like Old Dominion or Richmond were to crash the party.

Who do you have going to the Final Four?


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LinkedIn Tips for Writers

If Twitter and Facebook are the social networks where writers can just "hang out," then LinkedIn is the one where writers can "network" and make meaningful connections. Some writers may even be able to make connections with editors (like myself) and agents.

Many writers may not use LinkedIn anywhere near as much as they use Facebook or Twitter, but I believe in making yourself easy to find. Having a completed and optimized LinkedIn profile could lead to connections with editors, event coordinators, and other writers.

Here are a few tips I've picked up over time on how to use LinkedIn:
  1. Use your own head shot for your avatar. I recommend this on all social networks, because people want to make "real" connections on these sites. It's hard to take a picture of a family pet or cartoon character seriously.
  2. Complete your profile. There are many steps to completing your profile, including completing your resume and getting a few recommendations from connections, which leads to the next tip...
  3. Give thoughtful recommendations to receive them. Have you read my golden rule post yet? Give if you wish to receive. The recommendations you write will make you feel and look better, but the recommendations you receive in return will truly rock your solar system. Of course, to make and receive recommendations, you'll need to...
  4. Search for connections you already have. These could be "real world" connections and/or connections from other social networks. The ones who are (or have been) most valuable to you are the best to make at first. Then...
  5. Make meaningful connections with others. Search for other writers, editors, agents, or whoever you think might benefit your writing career. But don't ever spam. Look for meaningful connections and include a note about why you're contacting them through LinkedIn. Remember: Social networking is about who you know, not how many.
  6. Accept invitations. While I think it's a good rule of thumb to be selective about who you invite to connect with you, I also don't see any harm in accepting invitations with abandon--unless they are obviously not a good fit. My reasoning here is that you never know why someone is contacting you. Of course, you can always kill the connection later if it's not working.
  7. Make your profile easy to find. If possible, work your name into your LinkedIn url. For instance, you can view my LinkedIn profile at Also, connect to your profile in blog posts (like this one) and on other social networks.
  8. Tailor your profile to the visitor. It's easy to make me-centric profiles on social networks, because they're asking questions about you. However, remember that these descriptions are more beneficial to you if you're filling them out for the prospective connections you can make on social networking sites. As such...
  9. Update your profile regularly with useful content. You can feed blog posts into your profile easily, and that will keep your profile active. You can also update your status by feeding in tweets or Facebook updates, but I refrain from doing that myself. My reasoning is that my updates are slightly different for each place. However, I can make meaningful tweets and LinkedIn status updates simultaneously by simply adding an #in hashtag to the tweet in question.
  10. Join (and participate) in groups. Heck, start your own group if you feel so inclined. Of course, participating in groups will require an extra level of engagement with the site, so this last tip is more an extra credit assignment for those who want to unlock the full potential of LinkedIn.

Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

Or connect with me on LinkedIn at

Or even connect with me on Facebook at


For more on social networking, check these out:

For more specifically on LinkedIn, check out:

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Protect Your Writing From Natural Disasters, Computer Crashes, and Other Unexpected Events

Flashback: I'm working furiously to finish a short fiction piece for my college creative writing course. The words are flowing. The characters are coming to life. The power suddenly cuts off.


And, of course, the entire perfect story (which surely would've gone on to find a publication home in The Atlantic or The New Yorker) disappeared, because I did not hit save once before one of my roommates thought it would be a good idea to mess around with our dorm room's fuse box. I ended up pulling an all-nighter to try and re-create the magic while sleepy and upset.


In my actual (and factual) flashback, I lost one short story (and a first draft at that), but the emotional blow was great at the time. Also, I could've avoided losing most of the story by just hitting save every so often. Now imagine losing everything on your hard drive today. It can and does happen to people every day, and there are things you can do to protect yourself now.

Here are some ways to protect your writing:
  1. Save as you work. My flashback above should give you plenty of incentive to save as you work. It's hard to get back into "THE ZONE" when you're recreating a scene (or set of scenes).
  2. Save files on an online site. For instance, my wife prefers using Google docs for all her poetry and Flickr for her images. These sites are good, because your computer could crash, but your files won't be affected. 
  3. Use external hard drive. This is a good way to save important files, but if you do this, I would suggest keeping the external hard drive in a separate location than your actual hard drive. After all, the external hard drive won't help out much when a fire, tornado or flood damages your home if it gets destroyed along with the regular hard drive.
  4. Find an online backup service. There are many companies that offer online backup services for reasonable rates. For instance, Carbonite offers unlimited data storage for $54.95 per year; Mozy has rates as low as $5.99 per month.
  5. Keep copy offsite. I know I recommended this in step 3, but I think it's advice worth repeating and bolding. A copy only helps in unexpected disasters if it's separated from the original.
  6. Print copies. This is old school, but you could always have a paper copy of writing just in case all the data storage in the world is wiped out by an electromagnetic pulse or intense solar flare. Of course, if that happens, the last thing you might be worried about is whether you have a copy of your unpublished manuscript.
While these are all good strategies separately, I would advise using a combination of strategies. When we're talking about our writing, it really is better to be safe than sorry.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Check out these other Tips for Writers:

Protect yourself with these tools:

Friday, March 4, 2011

e-Book Pricing: Are You Chasing Readers or Money?

Of course, writers who publish books probably would like both more money and readers. However, some recent pieces I've read online has me wondering about what the best pricing strategy might be for e-Books.

The first piece was brought to my attention by @JaneFriedman: "The rise of the 99-cent Kindle e-book," by David Carnoy. In the article, Carnoy looks at some case studies of how some authors have lowered their e-book prices to 99 cents, despite the fact that the optimal royalty from Amazon is for books that are priced at $2.99 or higher.

The lower price points sell better, but they also de-value the product. But if that's what a writer needs to do to sell books, then that might be the only way to build a readership. More on that below.


The second piece was brought to my attention by @ChuckWendig: "The $0.99 Sale: Results Are In," which is a post by Chuck on his Terrible Minds blog. In the post, Chuck breaks down the results of lowering the price point on one of his novels. Basically, the book was selling 40 copies per week. Then, Chuck dropped the price to 99 cents, and the sales jumped to 124 copies in 4 days (on pace to sell 200+ copies in one week).

Chuck's post also tackles some questions that I think are rather interesting concerning how to price e-books: Are you chasing readers or money?


In both the first piece and the second piece, case studies indicate that sales jump when the price is lowered from $2.99 to 99 cents. However, is the lower price actually benefitting the writer? That's a more difficult question to untangle. Let's look at some numbers.

From the first piece, it sounds like a writer receives 35 cents per sale for a 99-cent e-book; the same writer would receive $2 per $2.99 e-book. At the same time, Chuck's numbers indicate that he sold roughly 5 times as many 99-cent e-books as $2.99 e-books.

So, let's say that an author sells 1,000 copies at $2.99. That would equal $2,000.

If the same author could sell 5 times as many copies at 99 cents, they might sell 5,000 copies at the 99-cent price point. That would equal $1,750.

Less money, but more readers. But there are other strategies a writer could try. For instance...

Start high, then discount
An author could decide to take advantage of the initial excitement for a release to use the higher $2.99 price point. Maybe 600 copies of the 1,000 copies sell over the first 6 months of a year. At $2.99, that would equal $1,200.

After that initial explosion of sales, the author could drop the price to 99 cents and collect the other 4,400 readers that rounds out the 5,000 at the lower price point. This would equal an additional $1,540.

Total take: $2,740.

Plus, the author still has the opportunity to reach 5,000 readers. Of course, this is all hypothetical. Would 5,000 people still pay 99 cents for a discounted $2.99 book? It starts to feel like the author is trying to time the stock market. But there are other strategies...

Sell low for new books, high for backlist
Maybe an author decides that he or she just wants to build readership with new books, especially if the author is writing a series of novels. The author just wants readership numbers to increase for the new books. As a hypothetical, let's say that the author's sales numbers increase 100% with each new book and that interest in the previous books (at the higher price point) increases by a smaller percentage.

Book 1 sells 5,000 copies at 99 cents = $1,750

Book 2 sells 10,000 copies at 99 cents = $3,500
+ Book 1 sells 1,000 copies at $2.99 = $2,000
Grand Total = $5,500

Book 3 sells 20,000 copies at 99 cents = $7,000
+ Book 2 sells 2,000 copies at $2.99 = $4,000
+ Book 1 sells 2,000 copies at $2.99 = $4,000
Grand Total = $15,000


After a while, such a hypothetical situation makes it so that you're generating more volume on new sales, but more revenue from those back list titles at the higher price points. And then, maybe you hit a point at which...

The new titles are at a higher price point
Maybe you write books that readers can't wait to read. And you're moving from 20,000 readers to 40,000 readers, and you decide it's time to start charging $2.99 per book, which really isn't a bad price for readers who are frothing at the mouth for your latest work. Maybe 25% of your estimated readers are scared away by the higher price point. That still means 30,000 stick around to pay $2.99, and you receive $60,000 in sales. Woo-hoo!

But do you need to be pinched? Or have water splashed in your face? Is this type of reader-money ratio scenario just a pipe dream? I'll be honest: I don't know.

However, these are some pricing strategies to consider, especially when it appears that 99 cents may be the best way to build a readership this side of free. At the end of the day, e-book authors and publishers will need to make a decision, stick with it, hope for the best, and be willing to change if they're not seeing the results they wanted.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


By coincidence, I posted on chasing numbers or readers earlier this week in relation to platform building for writers. Click here to check out that post.


Speaking of e-Books, check out the top e-readers for writers on the market:
  • Kindle from Amazon (the top dog for book e-readers)
  • Nook from Barnes and Noble (which I hear will soon be the 2nd best e-reader for books)
  • iPad from Apple (which is kind of targeting magazines more than books, it seems)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Platform Building for Writers: Are You Chasing Numbers or Readers?

One of the real benefits of online marketing for any business, including those of the freelance variety, is the ability to track results in real time. Online marketers can track click throughs, conversions and more. However, these numbers can sometimes create misleading pictures without context.

Numbers without context
For instance, I work on a weekly (and free) newsletter that covers developments in the publishing industry, submission tips, career advice, etc., in addition to promoting helpful Writer's Digest products and services. There are times when certain targeted newsletters produce huge results in sales, but they produce less than stellar open rates. If we just chased the money, the strategy might work in the short-term, but our newsletter audience would shrink significantly over time.

On the other end of the spectrum, the newsletter needs to remain profitable. So while I want the newsletter to appeal to (and help) as many writers as possible, I know that I have to convert buyers. Complicating things is the fact that I want the newsletter to be useful for both writers who subscribe to and those who do not.

Anyway, I love to analyze the numbers, but I always try to view them as part of the bigger picture.

Are you chasing numbers?
If you don't make profits off online sales conversions, you may be wondering what all this numbers talk has to do with you. If you're trying to build an online platform through social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, you may already know.

The strength of your online platform is not the number of friends you have on Facebook, the number of connections you have on LinkedIn, or even the number of followers you have on Twitter. Instead, the strength of your online platform is the number of people paying attention to you AND the number of people spreading your message (through RTs, recommendations, etc.).

Anyone can follow 2,000 people on Twitter and hope to receive 1,500-1,800 "follow backs," but is that audience engaged with that Tweep? Probably not.

Conversely, a writer on Facebook could wield a really big stick with only 200 friends if most of those friends are engaged in that writer's message. If 20 people out of 200 are consistenly spreading the word about you, that's much better numbers than one or two out of 5,000.

Are you chasing readers?
Readers want real-time solutions, but they can turn into career-long advocates. Writers who chase readers need to realize they're not in a short-term business of tricking people into friending them or buying their books. No, writers who chase readers should be in the long-term business of helping and developing relationships. They should also be in the business of working on their craft.

Many writers get discouraged when they start a blog, and they only receive comments from one or two people. Don't be. Those one or two people are the beginning of your audience. Use them as the foundation of great things to come.


Earlier this year, @JaneFriedman shared the evolution of how she uses Twitter (click her to read her post). While it is specific to her use of Twitter, this evolution is also natural for any writer building a readership. Jane used a consistent strategy that involved communicating with her top advocates and delivering helpful information. She didn't get into the business of chasing friend numbers or pushing products and services (without delivering truly helpful information).


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


This is the perfect opportunity to mention Christina Katz's excellent Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. It's the best book on this subject; Christina has more than enough engaged advocates to prove it.