freelancingI’ve written about the pros and cons of freelance writing from the writer’s perspective in other blogs. That all still holds true if you are considering writing on a freelance basis. However, the person paying the bill needs to find benefit in using freelance writers, too.  Employers don’t care that you can select your own projects or have a flexible schedule. They want quality work at a good price with as little hassle as possible.    

Part of being successful as a freelancer is understanding what role you as a freelance writer play for with an employer. How you help them? Knowing that, you can fulfill their needs better and improve their satisfaction. This allows you to more easily retain those businesses as clients and get more work from them.

Magazines like to use freelancers because they provide new sources of ideas and perspectives. If a magazine uses full-time writers, it might only be able to hire a handful, but if it uses freelance writers, the number of potential writers is limitless. The editor can pick and choose the most-promising stories from a large pool of possibilities. So not only does the magazine get more new ideas, the editors can choose from the best of new ideas.

I used to do a lot of stories for a now-defunct magazine called Maryland Life. As the name suggests, the magazine’s coverage area was the entire state of Maryland. If the magazine had had to hire full-time writers to cover the entire state, it would have been too expensive. By using freelance writers, they don’t have to pay benefits, which can account for around 30 percent more above a full-time employee’s salary.

It can be simpler to hire a freelance writer. The company pays the writer a set fee for the article and the writer is responsible for dealing with paying the employment taxes on that amount.

In general, a freelance writer would charge less than an agency a company might hire for public relations or advertising. They can also get a higher level of expertise if they search for a freelance writer with the skills they want.

These are just a few things to keep in mind. While you become a freelance writer because of the way it benefits you, the only way you can stay a freelance writer over the long run is if you find ways to benefit your clients.

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CanawlersFor just today and tomorrow, Canawlers (Canawlers Series, #1) will be a featured book on KindleNationDaily.com and Bookgorilla.com. As such, it will be available on Kindle for just 99 cents. You can start your journey on the bestselling series with a great deal.

This was my first historical novel and it continues to be my favorite. It also continues to be a reader favorite when I am out a festivals.

At a time of war, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was caught in the crossfire between two nations.

Hugh Fitzgerald proudly calls himself a “canawler.” He works on the C&O Canal transporting coal nearly 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland, and Georgetown. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. The Civil War was in full swing and the canal, which runs along the Potomac River, marked the border between the Union and Confederacy. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Here are some other canal stories that you might like:

Remember, Canawlers is 99 cents just today and tomorrow so don’t miss this great deal!

Logans Fire

My first novel. It’s out of print now, but I hope to one day bring it back in print the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.

My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.

Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!

Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.

I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.

So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.

As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.

Canawlers

My first indie-published novel.

I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.

I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.

I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!

About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).

Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.

You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.

thSome writers say that staring at the blank page and having to fill it with a story is the hardest part of writing. It’s the getting starting and gaining some momentum that is hard.

I have run into that problem when I write fiction. My efforts tend to go nowhere until I write that first page and get the first scene right. Even if I have other later scenes written, I need to get that first scene written before the story starts to move forward.

I guess my mind is treating me like a reader as well as a writer. I’ve got to hook myself into the story before I can see what happens next. My fiction writing tends to be very linear. I start at the beginning and write through to the end.

My non-fiction is a different story. It’s not the intimidation of the first page that causes a slow start. It’s that I have too much information that I can’t set parameters for the story and find where it starts.

Getting a non-fiction project started is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all in place, one of them jumps out of the corral.

A similar thing happens when I start a non-fiction project. I spend a lot of time and energy collecting my research and interviews. Then I have to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be.

When you are writing non-fiction history, you are writing about life and a very small part of life in the grand scheme of things. Your non-fiction history is a link in a very long chain of events that happened to cause what you are writing about and continued afterwards influenced by what you wrote about.

Your job is to cut out a section of that chain and write about it, but finding where to cut is hard sometimes because everything is connected. There may be something interesting, funny, or tragic that happened that you discover in your research. You have to decide whether it is pertinent enough to the larger story to be included, and if you do include it, does it change the scope of the story.

When I’m still in the process of herding all those cats at the beginning of a new project, it can seem overwhelming because everything seems to be in motion. Once I decide on the scope of the story and look at things through that perspective, I can start to make sense of all that motion that is my research.

At that point, I can start to get scenes down on paper. Writing things down also helps me further define the scope of my story. Oddly, I don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning when I write non-fiction. I write the vivid scenes that are in my mind. Once they are on paper, it allows my mind to focus on other things.

No matter how you start your story, it will probably be slower going than how you write much of the rest of the book. It’s all part of the process, though. Work through it, knowing that it does eventually get easier.

These articles may help you get started on your book:

 

 

 

The_Sum_of_All_MenI originally read the fantasy novel, The Runelords, when it came out years ago. It caught my attention and I went on to become a fan of David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton). I’ve also gone on to read the other books in the series.

I recently downloaded the e-book for my Kindle and re-read it. I am happy to say that I still like it.

It starts out like a typical fantasy novel, but then you quickly discover a unique magic system where traits can be transferred from one person to another using rune brands made of blood metal. The traits are called endowments and the rich and knights use the runes to increase their strength, speed, sight, beauty, etc. and become runelords.

The catch with endowments is that the giver of the trait (a dedicate) loses it. So someone giving their sight will be left blind. The care of the dedicate is then the responsibility of the recipient of the trait. It’s a moral responsibility, but also the trait only last as long dedicate lives.

Prince Gaborn Orden is a runelord who is also starts to realize that he is being endowed with another type of magic. Earth magic. He has traveled to a foreign land to try and convince Princess Iome Sylvarresta to marry him.

However, he is caught up in political intrique and a power struggle at the kingdom is invaded and taken by Raj Ahten. Ahten says that he wants to protect mankind from invasion from the reavers, huge monstrous creatures. While his goal is admirable, his method is to take thousands of endowments by whatever means necessary. This had turned him into a force of nature.

Gaborn finds himself on the run, trying to avoid capture by Ahten and save Iome whose has been forced to become a dedicate to Ahten.

Meanwhile, King Orden, Gaborn’s father rushes to try and help his friend, King Sylvarresta. Facing an opponent like Ahten, who can use his endowments of voice to convince enemies to surrender without a fight, forces Orden to make some risky decisions.

What I liked about the book was the characters who were deep and complex. The good guys don’t always win and when sacrifices are made, you feel them deeply because Farland has created characters you can identify with.

There are eight books in the series so far, but the series takes a radical change midway through. It should have probably been called a different series. The second half of the series is good, but not nearly as good as the first four books.

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Lots and lost of offset signatures ready to be folded, cut, and bound into pages.

My writer’s group had the opportunity to tour Sheridan Press in Hanover, Pa., last week. One member had printed her book with them and another member had worked for them previous.

This particular location can do offset as well as digital printing. It began as a small company in 1915 that printed a single poultry publication that went out to 100,000 people. Today, it had multiple locations and prints magazines and journals as well as books.

There is definitely a lot more work that goes into printing offset and although our guide said that she could tell the difference, I can’t see it.

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Polybagged journals getting shipping labels.

I was also surprised that with all of the automation involved in printing, how much still needs to be done by hand. The more your project has something that needs to be done by hand, the more expensive the project will be.

Walking through the plant gave me a much better understanding of what happens to a manuscript when it goes to the printer. It gave me an appreciation for what I’m paying for. This is a double-edged sword.

While I now understand better why offset can give you a price break that print-on-demand can’t when you order more books, I also see that the cost many printers charge for print-on-demand corrections is ridiculous.

And anything that helps me better understand the industry is a good thing.

Here are some additional shots that I took during the tour.

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The high-speed print-on-demand machine sends the paper in a continuous line through printing on one side and then the other before the paper is cut into individual pages.

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Checking the signatures coming off the press to make sure everything looks good.

I facilitated my first writer’s workshop this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what to call it until I started writing this post. It wasn’t a traditional writer’s conference where there are lots of speakers and classes that an attendee can choose from. It also wasn’t a writer’s retreat where a writer’s goes off to some inspiring locale for a week to write and critique writing.

The Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute conferences are a series of three themed weekends. The weekend that I facilitated was for history and historical fiction. The institute is part of Garrett College in Garrett County, Maryland, which is a beautiful place to visit.

Friday night was an ice breaker for me, my fellow facilitator Neil Brooks, and the attendees to get to know each other.

Saturday, we traveled to the Evergreen Heritage Center in Mount Savage, Maryland. This is a historic homestead as well as a nature and ecological study site. The students got a tour of the grounds and were told about the history of the place. Then we settled down outside in a pavilion next to an old sawmill to start talking history. It was a good back and forth discussion, which helped me keep focused on making sure I was meeting the needs of the students. I also had certain points that I wanted to make sure that I hit.

There were supposed to be three different sessions that I taught on Saturday, each with a different topic, but they all seemed to get rolled into one long discussion about how to write history and historical fiction.

That evening, there was another session that was a Q&A with the facilitators about how and why we became writers.

Sunday morning was a half day of meetings. We traveled to Oakland, Maryland, to the Garrett County Historical Society to tour the facility and see the research aides that the historical society has. I talked with them about how to find the facts for a story and how to use them in their writing. We also toured the B&O Railroad Historical Museum to talk more about the value of historical sites for research purposes.

This was different than any writers’ conference that I’ve either spoken at or attended. I liked it and I especially liked not being stuck in classrooms all day. We were out and about enjoying the sun and perfect weather. I feel like the historic sites helped the writers envision the past better and I hoped they found value in what Neil and I had to say.

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A train approaching the B&O Station in Oakland, Maryland, while the Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute was there.

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1500x1000xBoeing-B-52D-60-BO-Stratofortress-55-0100.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ggBxPxC9RMEver since I finished my last book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy, I’ve been looking for my next project. Usually, I know what I want to work on next by the time my last project is finished. It didn’t happen that way this time.

So I looked at my list of previously started projects and ideas for future projects. Nothing jumped out at me as something that I wanted to spend a year or more working on.

I’m a big believer in enthusiasm. A writer should be excited about whatever he or she is working on because that enthusiasm will translate in some way onto the page. If the enthusiasm isn’t there, it will be detectable in your writing.

I picked out two projects from my list – one historical fiction and one non-fiction history – and started reviewing them. I had previously done work on both (outlining, research, a couple rough draft chapters). I read through the previous work and started adding to it. I wasn’t feeling excitement for either project. That’s not to say that I won’t ever feel excitement. It’s just that whatever my subconscious wanted me working on now, it wasn’t either of these projects.

That wouldn’t stop me from moving them forward, though. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting past a mental road block in the story to get excited about. Even if I wrote entire draft without getting excited about the book, I could put the draft aside until I do feel excited about it and then go back and edit it.

52d17a1cdf5da.preview-500I didn’t have to go that route this time because a reader of my columns sent me an e-mail asking me if I had ever considered writing a book about the crash of a B-52 in Western Maryland that had been carrying two thermonuclear warheads. I had written a column about years ago. I had also considered writing a longer article about it. I even have the idea for a Cold War thriller based on the story.

Surprisingly, I had never thought about writing a book about the event. I e-mailed him back saying that I wondered if there was enough “meat” to write a book about it. He said that he had talked to family of the crew members who had died and crew members and that he believed there was. He said that there was information and pictures that had never been published.

I started getting the feeling that I get about all my new project, curiosity. I reviewed my column and some other information I had about the incident. Suddenly, I was seeing a way to write about it as a book.b526

There’s still a few ways that the story can wind up going. A lot will depend on what the interviews and research reveals. I will be starting on that next week after I meet with the person who wrote to me to get a list of contacts he has. Hopefully, the project will also push me to improve my research and writing skills. I think it will because I see some possible research possibilities are outside of my comfort zone.

One thing is definite. I am excited about the project. I even have a working title. In the future, watch for more information about Buzz One Four: The Day Nuclear Bombs Fell on Maryland.

 

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Me, Chuck Caldwell, and Bernadette the book store owner.

I had a book signing recently that went really well. I sold a lot of books and the book store owner was delighted. However, I can’t say that I was the reason for the big turnout. Sure, I had written the book everyone was buying, but they came to meet the subject of the book.

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is a biography of a man named Chuck Caldwell. Chuck lives in Gettysburg and is well known there from his years of running an shop where he made miniature figures. In fact, the store where we were doing the book signing was literally next door to where his shop used to be.

People were coming into the bookstore and purchasing two, four, ten copies of the book, and they all wanted Chuck to sign them. I was an afterthought. I guess I should be grateful that they even had me sign them. I went to the unit of the Marine Corps League that Chuck is a member of last month with the book. Again, plenty of books sold, but there no one even had me sign one. They were all chasing after Chuck to get him to sign them.

Besides keeping me humble, the lesson I learned from this is:

  • It’s all about the story not the storyteller.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well.
  • A good storyteller doesn’t draw attention to him or herself, but keeps the reader lost in the story.
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Chuck signing a book for one of his fans.

I hope that’s what I’ve done with Clay Soldiers. I know I had plenty of good material to work with and I found myself getting swept up in certain parts of the book as I wrote it.

I think that readers can identify with Chuck. His story is not that of a general, a high-level politician or a multi-millionaire. It’s about an ordinary guy. He was a private at Guadalcanal and charged into machine gun fire when told to do so. That’s more interesting than being the general who gave the order to charge. During the above ground atomic bomb tests in the 1950s, he went in with minimal protection to find the balls of fissionable material, sometimes even as the mushroom cloud was rising from the explosion. Meanwhile, the scientists who examined that material were safe in bunkers miles away.

Chuck is just an ordinary guy who played the cards life dealt him and did his best to be a good husband and father.

Another reason I didn’t mind being the center of attention at these events is that I got to watch Chuck’s face light up when someone he knew from years ago came in to get his book. I got to listen to him talk to people about stories in the book. Most of all, I got to see him smile.

That tells me that I got things right.

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Chuck sees someone he knows come into the book store.

 

My newspaper column, Looking Back, will start appearing in its fifth newspaper this month when the York Dispatch begins publishing it. Looking Back is a local history column that tends to look at the history stories you won’t read about in textbooks.

I have a lot of fun writing about these stories that I find. I’ve been writing these columns since 2004, although I only began trying to get the column into other newspapers a few years ago. Unlike a syndicated column in which the same story is run in all of the newspapers that pick up the column, Looking Back is unique content targeted for that newspapers readership. Sometimes I may write about the same topic, such as the Spanish Flu, but I always focus on how that topic affected each newspaper’s readership.

The other newspapers currently running my Looking Back column are:

Newspapers like the column because as one editor put it, “It’s value-added content.” Readers like it because it’s local and about people and places they may know. They also seem to like the topics, by and large, so I guess I’m a pretty good judge of what makes a good story. The column in the Cumberland Times-News won an MDDC Press Association award this year for best local column.

I’m still trying to get the column into a couple more newspapers. I know that it adds to my workload not to truly syndicate the columns, but it’s the fact that the columns aren’t syndicated that makes them valued by newspapers and readers.

I’d like to think that because of my extra effort to make history interesting to readers is paying off by getting people more interested in history in general. That seems to be the consensus from people who talk to me about the columns.

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