Mar 222013

I hold in my hand the last excerpt (applause from the audience) … the last excerpt from my forthcoming ebook, Will Work For Exposure. Again, this is my first draft so the standard warnings apply. Anyway, I hope to have the first draft completed in early April, and hope to launch on May 1. That’s the idea, anyway.

* * *

Chapter 1: You’re working for clips

If you’re a new writer, you’ll probably notice you’ll need clips when you try to find some work. It’s kind of like the old conundrum that you can’t find work if you have no experience, but the only way to get experience is to work.

Publishers want to see that you can write and will ask to see some published samples of your work. A club owner may want to hear a demo CD of your band before agreeing to hire you. But what if you don’t have those things?

I probably did this the wrong way. My newspaper clips, if they still exist, are 15 years old. When I restarted my writing career, I needed something to show potential clients. That’s when I started writing a few stories for a startup tech blog based in Great Britain. For free, yes. I needed the clips.

Here’s the deal, though. To get work for a client, most often you need just one clip. Maybe two if they’re really demanding.

I think I ended up writing five pieces for this client, all gratis. If I was half smart, I would have quit at two. That’s all I needed to find clients. Anything more than that is extraneous, and I’m working for nothing.

I was willing to overlook payment this time, because I knew it would help my career. But then, keeping a blog will also give you the clips you need most of the time. I’ve picked up work on the strength of my blog. I’ll admit, the writing was good and let the publisher know what he needed – that I could write.

Just one clip. Maybe two. After you get a client or two, you’ll have paid stuff to show.

My first newspaper job came from two clips I showed from my college newspaper. Again, working for free, but it was an actual class with college credit and everything. Again, in a situation that would help my career.

I’ve found the best vehicle for finding work as a writer is to keep your own blog. Even one of the free ones, such as or will work as long as you’re doing good work. The beauty here is that, even though blogging is usually a labor of love, you still own every word you write.

If you’re pitching a piece for a magazine, the publisher will most likely look at your query letter and decide from that whether you can write. He’ll look at the idea you’re proposing, and make his decision from those two things.

But do you need clips? Certainly. One good one should do the job. But make it a barnburner.

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Mar 212013

As promised, here’s Part 2 of the sneak preview from my upcoming ebook, “Will Work For Exposure.) I already warned you, this is a first draft, so any real readability is by pure luck. But the message is valid.

* * *

(Last seen: A fallen body at Pete’s transmission shop. Let’s pick it up from there:)

Transmissions are one thing. They’re tangible objects, and you can put a price tag on them pretty easily. Even the labor costs, which are figured out per hour, are tangible. Besides, Pete’s still got that wrench, matted over with hair and blood, so he’s used to getting his price.

Other people get asked to work for free all the time. You’ve heard of doctors being stopped in the grocery store, asked to diagnose some mysterious pain by the rutabagas. It’s almost a joke. Lawyers get uninvited guests at the coffee shop asking about some legal opinion. And if you’re somebody in your field, you know someone will ask you out for coffee (he might even buy, but don’t bet on it) and “pick your brains” a little bit.

Consulting for free. Wonderful.

But most doctors and lawyers and industry chiefs will resist such overtures, knowing there’s nothing in it for them but the bonhomie.

Artists of all kinds, though, get those same non-offers. Unlike doctors and lawyers, many will jump at the chance. They’ll take it, drooling.

Ever been asked to work for exposure?

How about for a chance to prove yourself?

Maybe it’s on a Web site that will pay you if enough people view the page, or if enough people click on the ads on your page?

They’ll swear they’re doing you a favor.

Or even say it’s all a part of paying your dues.

Or even if a job actually pays, it’ll be at some laughable rate that’s a fraction of what it once was. Or the job will suddenly grow while the pay remains the same.

There are a lot of cheap essobees out there, looking to get something for nothing. That’s a fact of life. But many writers, musicians and artists would gladly take such a generous offer. Thank you, may I have another?

If you write, you may have noticed how much the rates have softened over the past decade. Industry standard used to be $1 per word. Even my first newspaper job, as a stringer for a struggling weekly that would be sold a year later, paid a little more than $1 per column inch, which was about 35 words. But that was 30 years ago, and that stacks up to about two cents per word. Many online companies pay less than that (and say they’re being extremely generous in doing so). Even the biggest Web content provider pays the princely sum of about a nickel a word, and they vet their writers thoroughly. Obviously something’s wrong with this picture.

I’m a fulltime writer and sometime musician, and 100% professional at both. I’ve paid my dues, I’ve stupidly taken such offers. Playing a whole weekend for free. Writing at rock-bottom rates. Even wrote for clips and exposure, as if writing for that particular forum would actually help my career or something.

Here’s my challenge. Read this ebook. Enjoy the war stories. Perhaps learn something. Find out your own true value, and stick to it.

My reasons are somewhat selfish. If people get used to paying you professional rates, it’ll help me. As long as writers are willing to write for nothing, it weakens my own push for honest payment.

In the meantime, learn something about the games people will play to avoid paying you. Some sound good on the surface, but they’re traps. I’ll walk you through a few minefields, and let’s hope they’re not too familiar to you.


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Mar 202013
Wrench-wielding maniac

“Mr. Pete, sir, please put that wrench down.” You know this is going to end badly.

This week I’m going to do something different. I’m going to cheat a bit.

Instead of the usual 3 graffs during the week and a longer post on Friday, let’s shake this thing up a bit.

I’m working on my next ebook, Will Work For Exposure. I’m probably halfway done with the first draft, and I should have the draft comppleted early next month (with a break for a week-long hiking trip).

This week, I’m going to post some excerpts.

I must warn you, they’ll stink out the joint. These are first drafts, and first drafts always reek. If these are anything like the final product, it means I’m not much of an editor. Most of writing is rewriting.

So here’s the first of three excerpts, errors intact, no editing, written in a high-octane espresso-fueled manic frenzy, in all its tainted glory.

Still, there’s some meat there. Enjoy. Comment if you like; let me know if I’m on the right track.

Just don’t look too closely.

* * *

A bitter argument broke up my old band, and I was the chief provocateur. Someone had to do it.

We had an offer to play once a week in a local bar, a visible gig in a beach town’s most sought-after venue. If not a captive audience, this place had a lot of foot traffic anyway. It was in the bar of the nicest hotel in town. What’s not to love about it?

We fell apart at the price.

“It’s for exposure,” our lead vocalist told us. The other guitarists and our young fiddle player nodded. Exposure, yes. That’s fine.

Then I opened my mouth. “Count me out, guys.”

They wanted to know what my problem was. We’ve played freebies in veterans’ halls, at benefits and at a senior center. But to me, this was a whole different animal.

“This isn’t like playing a benefit,” I said. “This hotel isn’t a nonprofit. This is the real deal, and I expect to get paid.”

Too bad. My hardline stance opened some cracks in a very solid band. We played together a few times since, but it just wasn’t the same. All of a sudden I was some flinty-eyed guy with a dollar sign stamped on his heart. We eventually fell apart.

* * *

Let’s segue here, and I’ll tell a parable. It’s a goofy one, but you’ll get the idea pretty quickly:

You just blew up your transmission. You can hear it. It started whining like you’d just run over an animal or something, then it got louder. About a half mile later you felt something let go.

Coasting now, you manage to limp your rolling wreck into Pete’s Transmission Shop. You’re nervous. You don’t know this Pete guy and you’ve never been to his shop. Shoot, you’ve never even heard of his shop. There’s a small garage there, and a couple of lifts, so you figure this is at least a step above a shade tree operation. You don’t know how much, though. All you know is that this transmission work is going to wear out the magnetic stripe on your Visa card.

Then this burly guy, who you decide is Pete because his name is on his stained khaki workshirt, listens to what’s left of your transmission. You hear him mumble something about overhauling it and he throws out a quote. Your innards clench. There’s no way you can pay the man. Your paycheck doesn’t come in until next week, and times are tight right now.

Time to negotiate. People still do that, don’t they?

“How about, you get paid when I get paid,” you offer with false bravado. Is it your imagination, or did Pete’s balding head just change color?

“You’ll do this because you love it,” you suggest again, throwing out a counter offer.

This fetches nothing but a stony look from Pete, so you try again.

“For exposure, then,” you suggest. You’re talking fast right now. “People will see your work and they’ll come in flocks.” Herds, whatever. Pete’s head is now a deep red, and you can see a vein throbbing.

“I’m just giving you a chance to prove yourself,” you suggest. “Mr. Pete, sir, please put that wrench down. Pretty please?”

(Fade to black.)

* * *

OK. That’s a stupid tale, right? there’s no such person as Pete, and if there was, no one would be dumb enough to play that kind of game with him.

Transmissions are one thing. They’re tangible objects, and you can put a price tag on them pretty easily. Even the labor costs, which are figured out per hour, are tangible. Besides, Pete’s still got that wrench, matted over with hair and blood, so he’s used to getting his price.


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Mar 152013

Rather than the usual Friday post, I’m scraping. Kinda sorta. This is a piece I ran in my companion blog, The Column, about some tragic news in the online world — especially for news junkies:

RSS icon

News junkies know what this means. It’s like Jack Daniels to an alcoholic.

… I think I cried in my coffee when I heard the news. I think. I know my mind went utterly blank. What am I gonna do now?

But the news: Google Reader is shutting down!

It’s all part of search giant/Internet gadfly Google’s spring cleaning. In the past that company scrapped Google Buzz (which needed killing because it was a total cluster), Google Wave (did anybody use it?) and iGoogle (which I kinda liked). Usually they cut products hardly anybody uses. There was speculation it might kill Feedburner, but that hasn’t happened yet. But that forced me to make a few adjustments and I’m glad I did.

But Google Reader. That one hurts. According to plan, its execution date is July 1 …

Kind of timely, considering this happened right about when I ran my post here about being such an irresolute news junkie. Prescience, anyone?

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Late add: Hey, might help if I include a link to the post, right? Here it is: D’oh!



Mar 142013

It’s so easy to get sidetracked these days, what with all this cool stuff online. Facebook. Twitter. Google Plus. Building a platform. WordPress. RSS news feeds (my favorite online time-waster). Email. The list goes on and on.

I’ve taken steps to limit my dependence on these online trinkets. I shut off all push notifications and email alerts on my phone, forcing me to check maybe twice a day. I don’t mess with Facebook much, though I’m hot and heavy with Twitter. About the only thing I waste a lot of time with is that infernal news feed. Hate it. Hate it. Love it.

I don’t want to miss anything. But in doing so, I miss a lot of opportunities to actually get to work and get stuff done.

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Mar 132013

I’ve been called a computer geek, and maybe I am. Always looking for the perfect word processor, the perfect text editor, the right mindmapping tool. Plus several Web browsers. Productivity tools up the wazoo. All of this software is the latest version, and most of it is still in beta.

My love for tools isn’t restricted to the computer, either. On my desk I have several fountain pens (my favorite; you can’t beat them for smooth writing), plenty of ink cartridges, pencils, a stock of legal pads in two sizes, and enough blank index cards to last me through the decade.

I laugh when people tell me they can’t write until they have the proper tools, but it turns out I’m guilty of the same thing. Shoot, Ernest Hemingway got by with his old typewriter and seven pencils, which he methodically sharpened every day. But being a tool geek becomes a handy substitute for doing something important and letting my voice be heard.

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Mar 122013

I’m a planner. I love all the tricks to come up with a better plan. I love David Allen’s Getting Things Done (check the sidebar of this blog if you want to get your very own copy.) My life is condensed to regular to-do lists, @next-actions and long-term plans.

Here’s the thing, though. Looking at my to-do lists makes my head hurt. It’s just plain overwhelming. Even if I choose three priorities for the day, this list of to-dos always hang in the background begging for my attention. My @next-actions list has 31 items on it, and another 23 @active projects. Don’t even ask about my @someday list. 

Planning is good, and I’ve made it a point to live intentionally instead of using my old M.O. of impulsive actions and wild hairs. But again, all that great planning is no substitute for actually getting something significant done and shipping it.

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Mar 112013

[Backgrounder: I never seem to have enough time, which is stupid when I think about it. Everyone gets the same 168 hours per week to get stuff done. Or look at it this way, that’s 336 Gilligan’s Islands. But how I use that time is critical. Although I don’t watch TV — probably the biggest time-suck of them all — there are plenty of ways I fritter away that valuable time. Might as well use it for something, like creating something significant, right? This week, let’s explore my favorite ways of squandering time. If this cuts a little too close to the bone, welcome to the club.]

When working my main job of content creation, I’m expected to do some research. That’s fine. I kinda need to know a little something about a subject before I can write about it.

But I have this bad habit. I tend to do a lot more research than I need. Like, a lot! To give you an idea, for my next ebook I have a list of 38 references to check. That’s insane! At which point does all this research become too much? Probably at the point where I’m so busy researching I don’t get around to doing the job, yes?

For me, research becomes a dodge. It’s much easier than actually doing something amazing, of creating something awesome. It’s a form of procrastination, of being an incurable perfectionist. Busy work without getting down to business. To get anywhere, I have to ship my work sometime.

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Mar 082013
nuclear blast

Sometimes I fail, and sometimes it’s spectacular.

If I haven’t failed enough at my craft, maybe I should do it more often.

It sure doesn’t look like it at first, but failure is a good thing. It’s practice, it’s paying my dues. It’s a whole lot cheaper than going to college and racking up a pantload of student loans.

If I’m not failing, I’m not trying. However, these days I’m making up for lost time.

I’d already mentioned my collection of rejection slips. They hang from the ceiling directly above my work station. It’s a goodish collection right now. After a while I had to swap binder clips, going with a larger one to accommodate the growing volume. When I cast my eyes toward the ceiling — which I usually do when I’m in deep thought at the terminal, there they are laughing at me.

I’ve earned every one of them. I learn from every one of them; especially those that have some useful feedback.

I also have email archives of further rejections, from small and large publishers. I keep every one of them.

Early and late failure

When I started college in 1983, I realized I had to take a bonehead English class. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a challenge exam, so I took it. Rather than sit through a class covering the same old ground, I wanted to get to the meaty courses right away.

So I took the exam, which was an essay. And tanked it. Badly. I got some feedback via form letter, saying I might be teachable if I applied myself and forgot everything I ever learned. Or something. Stuck in a semester of bonehead English, I held my mud and did my assignments. It was an 8:00 a.m. class, and my attendance was spotty at best. Finally the teacher pulled me aside.

After giving me a friendly chomp on the leg about my attendance, he asked:

“What are you doing in this class anyway?”

I knew what he meant. Despite my frequent absences, I stayed caught up in the class and my work was good. Better than good, and the teacher knew it.

About a year later I was published for the first time and got paid for it.


Whoops! But hopefully I learned something from that epic fail.

Since then I’ve had a good time in journalism. Got fired once or twice, got screamed at by editor Verne Peyser (who screamed at everybody; he probably screamed at his own reflection in the mirror every morning for practice). Gambled a few times on stories and failed a few times. Learned from all of them.

Looking back at my old career, most of my failures were those I brought on myself — mostly career moves that blew up on me. Those don’t count. Quitting the business didn’t count. Trying to move on to a larger paper or bigger assignments, however, does count.

I’m highly suspicious of so-called prodigies, those who came out of the womb fully formed at their art. Those really don’t exist, and if they did exist they’d be in trouble. An overabundance of natural talent often means the person would coast through life, never growing, never learning new things. Never failing.

A history of whoops

Ever have one of those days?

There’s that fine old story about Thomas Edison’s development of the light bulb. Supposedly he tried about 10,000 different things before finally coming up with something that lit without lighting his lab on fire. When asked about his failures, he said he found out 10,000 things that don’t work.

Rumor has it that if you put a thousand monkeys at typewriters, one of them might come up with a bestselling novel. That’s pure hyperbole, but you get the idea.

Those who are old enough to remember the early days of the space program know the first few years were fraught with failure. Rockets kept blowing up. Others deposited the payload — like a satellite — on the beach a few hundred feet from the launch site. It really became a national joke. So these engineers came up with new ways to blow up stuff, big deal.

Be safe, obey the signs

He, y’all, watch this!

So the engineers put together their failures, found out what didn’t work, actually found seven people crazy enough to ride a rocket that was known to explode, and in 1961 put the first man in space. The glory days of the space program culminated with man’s first footprints on the moon, but it took a few more failures to get there.

In his book “Failing Forward, John Maxwell said this: “If at first you do succeed, try harder.” Which means stretching myself. Trying new stuff. If I go through a life without failure, it probably means I’m sitting in a state of mediocrity. I may experiment with something — trying a different genre of writing, playing a particularly complicated piece of music, and failing spectacularly. I’m talking flames here. But eventually I’ll get the idea.

I don’t like failing at anything. It’s too humbling. It reminds me that I’m not such hot stuff after all; sometimes I’m pure stuff. Failure takes a lot of time, beats the crap out of my already messed-up psyche, sets me back at several levels. It’s just not fun.

But it’s education. I may be slow, but if I fail enough I just might learn something.

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Mar 072013

After writing my first ebook, I spent a lot of time monitoring the sales figures and reviews. Crickets. Wha’ happened?

Of course, I started feeling badly. Maybe I didn’t do this right. Maybe the whole thing sucked. Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I need a real job at a cubicle farm.

It’s so easy for me to look at something after the fact and give myself a few swift kicks. I tend to do that anyway. Better to learn from any mistakes, apply them to my next project, and go at it again. I’ll eventually see growth, which is what I’m after anyway.

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