The Best Freelance Advice I’ve Ever Been Given

by Marian Schembari on March 19, 2010

I recently wrote an article for Digital Book World about freelancer jobs in publishing. (Take my post, Freelance Jobs in Publishing: taking advantage of publisher outsourcing, from a few months back and put it on steroids.) In order to add more content and actually provide advice,  I put out a HARO request looking to get quotes from freelancers and those who hire them. (I am the sneakiest/most awesomest person ever. I now have about a dozen names of publishing execs who hire freelancers on a regular basis. Genius? Hells yeah.)

Anyhoozey, lots of people responded, but I got a fabulous book of an email from editor Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, of KOK Edit, with a list of the most amazing advice for any freelancer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use all her tips in my article, so she is graciously letting me reprint some of them here.

So for your reading pleasure, soak up this woman’s ridiculous knowledge:

1. Hand out your business cards absolutely everywhere you go, including such places as banks and office-supply stores; you never know who’ll need your services.

2. Maintain a professional-looking web site: It’s your calling card on the Internet.

3. Keep in constant contact: Find reasons to periodically contact all of your clients so that they remember you. Frequently, the freelancer who gets the call or e-mail for a project is the one whose name is freshest in the client’s mind. Consider producing a very small periodic newsletter that you e-mail or snail-mail to clients.

4. Advertise judiciously: I advertise in the special edition of a Long Island newspaper that’s produced annually for a book fair here, and I have an ad on the web site of the Council of Science Editors.

5. Send out small gifts to regular clients: Once I’ve had a project or two with a particular contact, I send him or her a coffee mug or tote bag or other item with my company name and logo and contact info on it as a thank-you.

6. Put your name and contact info on everything you touch: Develop a signature that you can pop into place easily in each e-mail you send; it should contain at least your name, your company’s name (if you have one), your phone number, your e-mail address, and your web site URL. Every style sheet I produce (those unfamiliar with book editing should take a look at the “Style Sheet” section of this page of my web site) has my logo and contact info on it. If you do hard-copy editing, tape a business card onto the back of the last page of each ms. you edit. For onscreen edits, place your contact info in the document’s properties.

7. Investigate new clients constantly: Absolutely every single time a potential client’s name comes up on an e-mail list, in a news story, in a magazine feature, or anywhere else, search for the company’s web site online. Bookmark it. Find out everything you can about that company. And then set aside a bit of time each week to e-mail or snail-mail or call the companies you’ve checked up on. Let them know you’d like to be of service to them; never ask if they can give you work. In other words, always approach them from the perspective of their needs, not yours.

8. Buy the EFA bookletResumes for Freelancers.” Use it to structure your resume as that of a consultant rather than that of an employee.

There you have it. There’s advice all over the web for freelancers, but Katharine has hit the nail on the head with these little gems of knowledge. Hopefully you’ll find them as useful as I have! (And if you have any other tips, or things you wish you knew at my age… by all means, share away!)


I’m pretty sure (about 97%) that I’m moving to Portland. Oregon.

As in, not New York.

Which makes both parents want to murder me (if only to keep me here I suppose). Doesn’t matter that I lived abroad for a year and saw them a grand total of 3 times. No, apparently there aren’t as many “opportunities” in the Pacific Northwest. Wtf?

Here’s the thing: I’ve always assumed I would “end up” in New York. I mean, it’s New-effing-York. The Big Apple/city that never sleeps/land of good and plenty, blady blah blah blah. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an NYC suburb or because all the women in my family are crazy successful awesome ladies and New York is apparently the place to be if you’re going to be an independent woman with a snazzy career and briefcase to match.

U.S.A. vs Everywhere Else

I’ve seen more of the world than the United States. While I was living abroad in 2007 and 2008 I realized this weird and crazy fact, that is also mildly depressing. How could I not know anything about my own country? My globetrotter parents were adamant their kids would see the world and we totes went on road trips in big cars with fold down seats. I hated them (the road trips, not the seats. The seats were cool). Meaning that my memories of Yellowstone and the Southeast and Canada are not my fondest – apparently I have sleep tourettes. But only when I sleep in a tent with 5 other people, three of whom are smelly boys. I really wish I was kidding.

With that in mind, I thought the world revolved around New York. Both my parents (who I love and adore and ardently respect) worked here at big important jobs meeting big important people. New York was really my first experience with a big city. Then I moved to London and fell head over hells in love. A year later and I vacationed with my bestest friends in San Diego and fell in love again. And I’m starting to realize I don’t actually like New York, never mind love.

Things I Will Not Miss and Things I Currently Do

I miss nature and greenery not confined to a park. I’d be more than happy to get rid of the crowded streets, noise, the smell of urine, the smell of “meat”, dirty/run-down/rat-infested public transportation, scowls, feeling like a bitch all the time, being surrounded by bitches all the time and did I mention noise? I know I can’t do country living as I get bored quite easily but I need a city that’s a little more hippy and outdoorsy than the Big A. New York does indeed have everything and I know there are groups here that drive up to the Catskills but I need it to not be such a trek. I need something slower. Let’s brash and painfully obvious (i.e. pretentious).

Over the past six months I’ve learned to seriously rely on myself and trust my instincts but I’m nevertheless letting the doubts of my parents influence how I think. Will moving out of the Center of the Universe ruin all my hard work? Can I handle leaving all of my greatest and oldest friends and start off brand-spanking new? Can I even afford a move across the country?

Can I Do It Anywhere?

The beauty of freelance and social media work is that you can do it in New York or in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse about 10 miles south of Tikrit. It can’t be that difficult to find clients in Portland, right?

I interviewed Jane Friedman (based in Ohio) for a Digital Book World post and wrote: “She says her Midwestern location makes her feel a little removed and makes it much harder to keep up with the rapid changes happening in the industry. On the other hand, that distance also gives her a great perspective which, coupled with the job itself, means she’s not biased about which direction publishing goes in.”

So as of right now the plan is to head over there in March or April to scope the place out. Meet with people in publishing and social media, check out the bakeries, maybe tour a culinary school… If I love it, then hopefully I’ll be able to move out there in 2011. We’ll just have to see. If anyone has any advice, knows people in Oregon and/or has done something similar, pleasepleaseplease, advise away.


The New Farm System: Scouting Blogs and (Not) Sharing Secrets

by Marian Schembari on February 12, 2010

By most accounts, the 2010 Digital Book World Conference delivered on its promise of “practicality, not punditry”, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. One notable misstep was “The New Farm System: Scouting Blogs and Self-Publishers for Commercial Books” session. With panelists representing ICM, Simon & Schuster and Gotham Books, expectations were high, but by the end, those expectations weren’t met and attendees were left with incomplete and unsatisfactory answers to many of their questions.

Most attendees went into the session already knowing that popular blogs get book deals; Julie and Julia was even referenced in the session’s description. With so many amazing blogs out there, though, finding one that can be successful offline is as much an art as it is science.

One of the major challenges publishers face in the digital age is that every piece of information you could possibly want is available somewhere online. Many have decided to see this as an opportunity, and according to Gotham Books Editor Patrick Mulligan, more than 50 blogs received book deals in 2009.

ForeWord Reviews publisher, Victoria Sutherland, moderating the panel, noted: “The problem with this session is that these guys don’t want to give away too many of their secrets.”

They were so intent on hoarding those secrets, in fact, that most of their discussion revolved around a few pretty obvious points:

  • Blogs most likely to get a publishing deal have great traffic, are highly regarded in their industry/niche, are linked to frequently, and are well written.

Okay, well…

It’s pretty easy to find a popular blog and give the blogger a book deal. What I was hoping to learn was what some of these blogs were doing that had generated so much traffic; what insights had their writers offered that made them so highly regarded; who was linking to them and why?

“If you’re funny & your voice is unique,” Mulligan offered, “people will come to it.”

“It was a lot easier a few years ago when there were fewer people on the web and fewer people looking,” offered ICM’s Kate Lee, choosing not to discuss her methodology in a room of publishing gurus looking for tips on finding the next bestseller.

I was hoping to learn how the panelists find the little-known gems, like design*sponge, the little blog that could, with its cult following and a forthcoming book (Fall/Winter 2010 – Artisan Books). How do those bloggers get discovered and get book deals?

During the Q&A, the audience had some great questions for the panelists, though many weren’t satisfactorily answered:

Is there a magic number for viewership when looking at blogs?

Mulligan said he usually sees viewership in the millions, but he also talked a lot about working with novelty blogs powered by user-generated-content (eg: Lolcats, Chuck Norris Facts). No one else gave numbers, though. Mulligan also mentioned that it’s hard to determine what the blog will look like when it becomes a book; you “have to judge the staying power.”

How do you make sure a book is not an exact replica of the site?

Simon & Schuster’s Sulay Hernandez noted that, with Smart Bitches Trashy Books, it’s not just the blog in book form, but also the author’s thoughts on the romance industry.

“No publisher wants to reproduce what is available for free online,” said Lee.

How much extra material can a blogger provide?

While the panelists all emphasized that added value is really important, Mulligan warned that you can’t go so far in the editing that it no longer resembles the blog.

When a blog is user submitted, how do you get permission?

For sites featuring user-generated-content, it can be difficult to get permissions, especially with photos where the person who submitted them isn’t the actual photographer. Some sites are easier than others, though; on Texts from Last Night, users give permission before submitting anything. Contractually speaking however, Lee says that it’s the author’s responsibility and that, in terms of plagiarism, it’s not something she’s really had a problem with.

What’s the process for finding blogs and what kind of advances are we looking at?

** Silence. **

I get why editors and agents would want to keep their numbers and sources close, but to be perfectly honest, this kind of attitude is a little disconcerting. Why agree to be a panelist if you’re just going to censor yourself?

According to the DBW website, the conference focused “specifically on the challenges and opportunities facing consumer book publishers… presenting strategies that can be implemented immediately.” With panels on everything from agents to eBooks to social media, I personally feel the conference more than delivered on its promise.

The New Farm System session, though, was an exception. The attendees came to hear how these talented editors and agents scouted new writers and interesting book ideas; what they, too, could do to take advantage of this great opportunity – but as Sutherland noted, the panelists weren’t looking “to give away too many of their secrets.”

Remember folks, we’re all supposed to be in this together.


A few days ago I wrote a post for the DBW blog, “A Gen Y Reaction to Macmillan’s Piracy Plan“. I obviously can’t condone piracy. But I can’t pretend that it’s not tempting and, in the words of one commenter, “tells you what your (potential) customers want.” Reaction was surprisingly around 50/50. Many (older) people felt that I was praising thieves and questioned how I would feel if people just expected me to work for free. Um… internships anyone?

However, I have a plea: pretty please will you people stop fighting change? This gets me every time. How do people not see this already? It’s not just publishing, it’s the world. As humans we hate change. Fine. I get it. But just because we don’t like something doesn’t stop it from happening. What, are you five? Covering your eyes doesn’t mean you’re invisible, kid. I wrote this comment in response to the HarperStudio blog where Debbie Stier Tumbled my post:

Napack’s plan is like abstinence only education. Making condoms inaccessible doesn’t mean people are going to stop having sex. They’re just going to do it secretly and unsafely. It’s the same with pirates: just because we make it hard for them doesn’t mean they’ll stop. They’ll just find a way around it – a way that might be the less safe, less desirable route.”

There you go, food for thought my friends. Just don’t shoot me.


First DBW post – “Don’t Be a Publishing Stereotype”

by Marian Schembari on January 27, 2010

Up now is my first post as the new Contributing Editor for Digital Book World. Check it out here.