Academic Writing: Guidelines for tracking readings to prepare for comprehensive exams

Tracking and Organizing Academic Readings

Guidelines for tracking readings to prepare for comprehensive exams

  • Organize and keep track of your readings so that you can synthesize and recall key information and guiding theories.
  • Discover a logical order for yourself, perhaps sorted chronologically and by topic.
  • Maintain a logical filing system for the actual articles, whether you keep hard copies or electronic documents.
  • An Excel spreadsheet or even a Word table will allow you to sort by author, date, and topic.
  • Consider using citation software to keep track of notes and index articles by author and/or topic. These applications can download citations directly from research databases. Endnote and Procite are two popular options.
    For a ridiculous list of choices, see
  • Ask your professors and colleagues for tips and tricks to manage information organization.
  • Librarians, who are experts in information management, can serve as invaluable resources throughout your academic journey.
  • Start this process early in your program of study; waiting until a few weeks before Comprehensive Exams to organize and synthesize your readings causes unnecessary stress, and the key theories may not stay in your career-informing long-term memory.

Example organization; yours may vary.

Author(s) Date Article/
Book Full citation
Topic Key Theories/
Main points
Significance to my area of study













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The Mercenary Writer’s Guide to Conference Attendance

From Notes to Self… Take what you like, leave the rest!

  • Use your powers for GOOD. Practice random acts of usefulness. Don’t do this to get noticed being useful, but to further the good work of others.
  • Say thank you to people YOU notice being useful; suddenly, they will appear everywhere. They are mostly unnoticed, and rarely thanked.
  • Do mindless tasks mindfully, and enjoy them. This is part of the creative process, and it will help you balance potential overload.
  • Treat someone to dinner. At the end of a shared meal, pick up the whole tab and the tip. If your new friends object, say it’s good karma, and ask them to pay it forward.
  • Draw out the introverts—gently. They have amazing stories to tell.
  • Smile as a default setting.
  • Listen actively.
  • Take notes.
  • Sit in the PERFECT seat. Sit in the front row—just don’t take MY seat. J If you’re just not a front row sitter, find your ideal seat. Consider moving around between presentations for a new perspective.
  • Ask if it’s wanted before you offer a critique.
  • When you present, have paper notes. Paper doesn’t crash, or upload at an intolerably slow pace, or get displayed to the whole audience while your PowerPoint is getting set up.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Take the stairs. Get enough exercise. Every time you take the stairs, you’re saying “I love you” to your body.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Pack light on the way there. Bring an extra bag to fill with swag.
  • Be discerning about swag.
  • At the end of an exhibit hall trick or treat session, dump the take on your bed and sort it for stuff you really want to take home. Return the rest to the exhibitor to reuse. That stuff costs someone some money.
  • Consider the cost of extra checked baggage or shipping. Is this REALLY stuff you want in your home or workspace?
  • Don’t eat all those free carbs. Pick fruit or yogurt.
  • Don’t get over-caffeinated.
  • Don’t drink too much.
  • Carry enough business cards. Bring three times more than you think you will need. They’re small and they’ll go back home with you if you don’t use them.
  • If you get business cards, do not assume that you have permission to add people to your email list. Ask first. Write an email to invite them to opt in, not have to take action to opt out of your list. You can do this by using a personalized message to remind people where and when you met, and use a template for a short, sweet invitation to stay in touch via your list.
  • Have fun. Take some time to enjoy your surroundings. It’s okay to take a break from sessions to enjoy the venue and host city.

What are your nuggets of wisdom to get the most of conference attendance? Please share in the comments section below!

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Business Expenses for Freelancers: Overview

Freelancers tend to guard their finances like trade secrets, and that’s appropriate. The margins we are able to maintain help us determine how much to charge, how many hours to work, and what kinds of purchases to make to best support our business. Theoretically, you could set up a business with a computer and a comfortable place to sit, with occasional internet access. Unfortunately, the reality of a successful business is a little more complicated.

In the interests of transparency, and to contribute real data to the dialogue about this sensitive topic, I’m going to reveal some of my business expenses and my justification for them. This post should serve as a general overview and conversation starter. I’ll share my numbers in a subsequent post. I invite dialogue, not diatribe, about my choices. I keep learning, but I don’t need to be schooled, if you know what I mean.

Business expenses tend to vary from year to year for each individual. The value I place on a particular product or service may differ greatly from the next freelancer who is willing to do this kind of assessment. Some successful freelancers may scoff at some of my biggest expenditures, while others might say, “Are you crazy? You ONLY spend $x on y?!”

Business finance is an ever-evolving work in progress for me. The concept of trial and error (after error) is not lost on this writer, to be sure. While the numbers may be informative to new or aspiring freelancers, the process is what is most important. Deliberation, justification, rationalization, whatever you call it–you need to have a financial plan, and you need to assess its efficacy on a regular basis.

[tweetthis]#Freelancers: you need to have a financial plan, and you need to assess it on a regular basis.[/tweetthis] Being too busy is no excuse for this key aspect of running a business, as your expenses can make or break your business over the short or long term.

There are tons of tools out there for crunching the numbers. I’ll list some of those later in the post; you simply have to select the one you like best. Choose something that is fast, easy, and comfortable, whether that is your own customized spreadsheet, full-service business accounting software, or a paper ledger. If you use it regularly and consistently, the tool doesn’t matter. The tracking and account reconciliation is the easy part. You can’t skip it, but it’s not the most important aspect of your financial system.

I have a column in my custom spreadsheets for Essential Business Expenses, and a column for Regular Business Expenses. In lean times, when bring in less than optimal income, the regular expenses can be postponed, but the essential expenses need to be covered, even if I have to loan money to my business to pay for them. I also have a Wish List of products, services, training, or conferences I would like to pay for when my business is thriving. That’s a separate document, and there are some pretty firm conditions that have to be met before I can make those investments. Just like with my personal financial tracking, it’s good to have goals and dreams.

[tweetthis]Just like with my personal financial tracking, it’s good to have goals and dreams for my business. #freelance[/tweetthis]

The IRS 1040 Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, is the best place to start if you are setting up your financial tracking categories. Here they are for you to cut and paste into your own document if you want. Just make sure you are using the most up-to-date version available. This may not be that version.

Schedule C Business Tax Categories

Expenses Line Description
Advertising (8) Advertising and promotional costs
Car/Truck expense (9) Mileage cost for your vehicle (figured on part II of Schedule C) OR Form 4562: gas, oil, repairs, insurance, depreciation, license tags
Commissions/Fees (10) Any fee which must paid in the course of opening your business
Contract Labor (11) Landscaper, Electrician, Remodeler, Cleaning service.
Depletion (12) n/a: exhaustible natural resource (mining, wood, quarry)
Depreciation and section 179 expense deduction (13) When you buy a large ticket item for your business, whether it is a car or a computer, there is a table that will tell how long it should last. Each year, write of a portion of that cost so that at the end of the item’s life, you have effectively written the whole thing off.
Employee Benefits (14) For employees only – health, accident, life insurance premiums; also, dependent care, education or adoption assistance, achievement awards for long service, any benefits that you supply to your employees.
Insurance (15) Insurance for business and for operation of business. (liability, fire, theft, robbery, flood, etc.)
Interest (16) Interest on loans to finance your business, on credit card charges for business expenses, and interest on a vehicle loan for car or truck used in business (if car used 1/2 time in business, deduct 1/2 interest here, 1/2 on Schedule A)
Legal/Professional Services (17) Fees for tax advice and tax preparation. Other business professional services (accounting, payroll, reference firms) could go under contract labor on line 11, or here.
Office Expenses (18) Office Supplies – Ink, paper, toner, pens, staplers and staples, paper clips, folders, etc.
Pensions/profit-sharing Plans (19) Cost of any contributions made to pensions or profit sharing plans for your employees.
Rent or Lease (20)
20a Leasing a vehicle, machinery or some equipment.
20b Payments of office rental or rental of other spaces for storage and any real property leases that didn’t fit onto 20a
Repairs and Maintenance (21) Cost of labor, supplies and any other items that do not increase the value or life of the property.
Supplies (22) Supplies for producing a product. Put the cost of them here. Do not include inventory.
Taxes (23) Any tax not included elsewhere. Real estate and personal property taxes on business assets, employer’s share of FICA taxes, federal & state unemployment tax aid, Federal highway use tax, business permits, and licenses and taxes on a car or truck used in business (if car used 1/2 time in business, deduct 1/2 taxes here, 1/2 on Schedule A)
Travel, Meals, Entertainment (24) Overnight travel. Expenses have to be business related. There is a portion of the Schedule C to enter these expenses and then you will get to deduct either 30 or 50% of the total allowable. Entertainment: Biz owner and client need to be doing business.
Utilities (25) Costs directly related to business. Telephone, lights, gas, etc. Separate office away from home: deduct 100%. If you have a pager or cell that is business only, 100%. Part of your home: Find out the percentage of the house’s total square footage of the home that is used for work only. Take that percentage of utilities, etc.
Wages (26) Wages, salary, and bonuses. Medicare and social security paid for employees.
Other Expenses (27) Business costs used only for the business; would not need it except for business use. Include explanation.

Speaking of taxes, you need to become familiar with key differences between regular ol’ workaday employee taxes and independent proprietor business taxes. You will learn about quarterly estimated tax filings, how much extra you have to pay that isn’t covered by an employer, and why you should put aside about 30% of all your client payments to send to the government. Don’t let this be a rude awakening. There are a lot of little facts you need to know. For example, you have to pay self-employment tax if you have a profit of $400 or more. Consult a professional accountant; his or her services are essential. I’m not an accountant, and I hire a good one. That service is one of my Essential Business Expenses. Worth every penny.

[tweetthis]Become familiar with key differences between regular ol’ workaday employee taxes & independent proprietor biz taxes. #freelance[/tweetthis]

Tools for Number Crunching

As promised, here’s a list of financial tracking resources for freelancers. I use QuickBooks and my own Numbers spreadsheets, so I can’t speak to the efficacy of anything else. If you do a web search, you’ll find tons of annotated and evaluated freelance financial tools. These are just a few of the ones I’ve heard of. Remember, Quicken and other PERSONAL financial tracking systems are not sufficiently robust for tracking business expenses, even for a sole proprietor/freelancer. Step up and invest in the good tools; they will save time, money and aggravation in the long run, believe me. PERSONAL financial tracking systems are not sufficiently robust for tracking business expenses, even for a sole proprietor/freelancer.

[tweetthis]PERSONAL financial tracking systems are not sufficiently robust for tracking business expenses, even for sole proprietor/freelancer.[/tweetthis]

Stay tuned; in a future post, I’ll reveal my own numbers for your consideration, evaluation, and comparison.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD.

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The Importance of Service and Contribution for Freelancers

Sometimes we freelancers get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to look up and around at the world around us. We get so busy switching hats and roles in running our business that it’s easy to forget the importance of service and contribution. But taking some time to do an audit of our practices in work and living can help us determine how and where some service hours might be best applied for the greater good.

As a Mercenary Writer, I am always looking for an angle. Is this a good topic to write about? Is that a potential client, mentor, or referral partner? How much does it really cost me in terms of money and time to go to lunch with that new connection? If I’m not careful, my focus can get locked on me, me, me–what’s in it for me?

On the other had, I tend to get weary of all the requests for free work. I try to frame it positively; people must think I’m a nice person with mad skills if they think I might be willing and able to help them out. Even my handle, Mercenary Writer (@MercenaryScribe on Twitter) doesn’t seem to do much to head off requests for free application of my skills. I suspect people think that if ANYONE can do it (i.e. write), then that particular skill loses the essential awe that helps would-be pro bono clients establish the actual value of that skill.

Over time, I am refining a system to prevent suffocating levels of selfishness while establishing boundaries around my free labor. Every few months, I get out my journal and do a little audit of my business and personal life. It starts with the general guiding principles and priorities of my life. It leads to a deliberate plan of action to support the causes and purposes that align most closely with my top priorities. Yes, I will work for free, but only under a constrained set of circumstances. This makes it easier to say no to the requests that don’t fit my chief values, and feel great about making a difference in ways that matter to me.

Questions for Reflection

1. What are my current priorities? I force myself to rank them, and simplify them, and limit them. I can hold up to three MAJOR priorities. The specific projects that support those three priorities must be limited to the number of fingers I have on one hand. That means I can’t tuck two or three into one; I tried that for a number of years and it defeated the purpose of prioritization. (If you’re curious, my top three priorities are Self-Care, Family, and Writing. My five projects include current clients and my own books and blogs.) I find it excruciating to set these limits, but it’s the only way to have a sustainable and happy life. It’s worth it.

2. Am I on target in terms of how much time and energy are going towards the things I claim are THE MOST IMPORTANT things in my life? I look over my OfficeTime tracking application, using the handy and sometimes sobering pie charts.

3. How do I feel about the reality of where my time goes? If I don’t feel so great, what do I need to do to get in alignment with my goals?

4. How much time do I have available in the next six to twelve months for service and contribution? I aim for ten percent of my total time to go to service, but sometimes other commitments reduce that amount while I focus on professional or personal goals.

The next step is to make the plan concrete.

1. Schedule x hours per month for service. Make dates on the calendar for that time, allowing some flexibility.

2. Track that time just as I do for client project work.

3. When my allotted time is finished for the period, I have to either do another audit, or say no until the next chunk of time.

4. Write a variety of scripts to help myself say no with grace. Having practiced the words, they flow more easily if pressed by a persistent person who wants my work for free, and has a dozen good reasons why he or she deserves it. They also work on me, when I get all excited about a new opportunity.

5. Write a thoughtful justification for my contribution of time and energy. Why is this important to me at this time? What grand result am I working towards? What do I gain from my efforts? How can I measure my return on investment, for the cause and for myself?

Here are the results of my latest audit; here is where I am dedicating my service efforts for the coming year:

1. Serve as Council Treasurer for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Until December 2015, I will take on this role, though in some ways it makes me supremely uncomfortable. If math teachers from my school days knew that I was the treasurer of ANYTHING, they would either laugh along with me, or tell me they knew I had it in me all along; it was just a matter of applying myself. If you check out the work of the council, and the ubercool members, you’ll be able to see why I think this work is important to the world. What’s in it for me? A massive professional development opportunity. I will come away from this job with budget management experience far beyond the work I do to run my own business. I’ll keep track of what I learn to make the most of the opportunity for my CV and my personal growth.

2. Serve as Professional Development Coordinator for the Arizona Chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Our chapter is transitioning to a group leadership role; it takes about seven of us to fill the shoes of the founding coordinator (hat tip to Erin Wilcox for establishing a vibrant community). If you follow my blog, it won’t be hard for you to sense that I value professional development, peer mentoring, and collaboration. Rising tide floats all boats, etc. What’s in it for me? A writer needs access to experienced editors. A busy freelance writer needs access to exceptionally skilled writers for subcontracting and collaboration. I’ve met some of my favorite people because of my involvement with EFA. It’s fun. It’s a no-brainer; active engagement in my professional organization fulfills the purpose of my membership.

3. Cultivate a broader community of creative professionals. I founded Mercenary Creatives of Southern Arizona. We’re an informal, but organized, group of freelance creatives. We have a website, a LinkedIn Discussion Group, a Twitter handle (@TucsonCreatives), and a SignUpGenius scheduling page to coordinate our randomly-scheduled monthly meetings. It’s fun to meet creative people beyond the writers and editors I know. Every time we gather, I listen to the conversations around me, and know it’s worth the time and money I put in. People refer clients to one another, offer practical suggestions for problem solving, and get out of their home offices for social time with new friends who “get it.” If it helps me build my own professional platform along the way, all the better. If you live in the area or visit, join us! If not, you could do the same thing in your town or region. Start your own platform, like I did, or use MeetUp or other existing tools to gather your peers.

Now it’s your turn. How do you fit in volunteer work with a busy freelance schedule? I know there are many good ideas about how to approach this, because I’ve had lots of great conversations about it recently. Chime in using the comments section below.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

Posted in business practice, contribution, creativity, find work, life/work balance, marketing/promotion, networking, professional development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Do You Have to Give Up to Attend to Your Writing?

I tend to thrive on busyness. It’s an ongoing struggle for me to identify and apply limits that allow me to have a sustainable and happy work and personal life. Despite my regularly articulated priorities, I seem to allow urgency and novelty to sidetrack my ultimate goals. I claim that writing is among the top three priorities in my life at this time, but that is the area that suffers the most when something new and shiny or loud and demanding comes along.

NaNoWriMo is a brilliant reminder to GET TO THE WRITING. The whole month, cafes and libraries and all the social networks are buzzing with people who are getting down to work. As a year-round writer, I tend to bend the rules to my professional purposes, while riding the wave. I don’t always work on fiction, I don’t always start a new project, and I celebrate if I get any number of NEW WORDS written for any of my ongoing writing projects. I don’t post my progress when I break the rules, but I lurk in the corners and get a writing productivity buzz from all the fun.

The best part of all my years of full or partial participation in NaNoWriMo has been the opportunity to learn best practices for writing. Write-ins are fun, but count more for social time than writing time, because I do too much Writer Watching. Word sprints are great for my competitive speed typing skills, but the product is subpar compared to the daily grind of my professional writing practices. Too much caffeine is fatal to a quality/quantity ratio. Write Or Die is a great application to help defeat writer’s block or sludge brain for first draft writing. But the best practices for my writing productivity are word count goals and scheduling time to reach them. Period. Making a commitment, setting a deadline, and measuring progress are the three essential tasks of the writer who wants to write. The revisions and editing are easy to contend with once the writer has words to work with.

Even as a professional writer, I struggle to find enough time to write. I’m trying this new thing, writing first thing. I can write for a total of 5 good hours in any given day. Theoretically that could result in upwards of 2,500 words.

What if I busted those out before I even checked my email, or wandered over to check in with my social networks? What if I could go to bed knowing that as soon as I get up the next day, and the kids are off to school, it’s just me and my writing for the first five hours? What if I scheduled those sacrosanct hours, and insisted on dealing with other people’s email emergencies later? What if all my appointments took place after the writing was done?

Yeah, it’s a no-brainer. Yeah, I should have been doing this all along. Yeah, yeah. Well, the experiment begins today, and I’ve already finished two blog posts for my poor neglected blog, with two hours left of my allotted writing time. If I honor this practice even a few times a week, I might be able to post to my blog once a week, as intended. I might be able to finish my works in progress so my words can get out there in the world to do their work for me.

Here are some activities that I plan to cut down or eliminate in order to have more time for creative work.

  • Television. We don’t own one, so in a way this is cheating. We use Netflix to watch our movies and shows when we want. I could cut down on the new release binge-watching, though. 
  • Internet surfing. “Research” needs its own scheduled time, AFTER the writing.
  • Non-strategic social networking. Twitter, I’m talking to you. You’ll just have to wait until my words are done. And put up with some bragging if I can’t restrain myself until the novelty wears off, or NaNoWriMo comes to an end.
  • Formatting and color-coding my Master To Do List. That’s supposed to be a tool, not the product. You wouldn’t know it by the information architecture and document design that goes into it, though. Yes, tracking progress is essential. No, it doesn’t have to be so pretty.
  • Non-essential meetings and phone calls. Schedule each appointment, set an end time, and stick to it.
  • Don’t worry about throwing in that load of laundry first thing in the morning. It will still be the same lump of clothes that needs to be moved along its process if I start it at 3:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. Same with the dishes and all that other housework that summons the home-working writer. Just say no until the afternoon.
  • Give up on the ideal writing time, which has historically been late at night for me. That isn’t remotely feasible anymore, now that I’m a single mom. Sleep is even more sacred and inviolable than writing time.

Now it’s your turn. What are your best practices for writing? Please add them in the comments section below. Let’s crowdsource this wisdom thing!

If you want to connect to cheer one another on toward that elusive November word count, here’s my NaNoWriMo profile. Let’s be friends! But let’s write first.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD.

Posted in administrative routine, business practice, creativity, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mercenary Writer’s List of Essential Reading for Professional Authors

Here is a list of my most highly recommended people to follow for the best professional development for authors.

Check out my Twitter Lists for an ever-growing compendium of experts and learners involved in great conversations about the things that matter most to me.

Posted in business practice, professional development | 1 Comment

Join The Mercenary Writer for AIGA Arizona’s November Creative Spark

Title: Creative Spark: Setting Rates and Fees for Freelancers
Date: Thursday, November 20, 2014
Time: 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Connect Coworking, 33 S 5th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701
Admission: Free for AIGA, Affiliate and Connect Coworking members, $5 for non-members
RSVP fast; only 25 spots available:

AIGA Arizona and StudioGraphia present a workshop and networking opportunity: The Mercenary Writer’s Guide to Setting Fees: Creative Professionals Getting Paid What They’re Worth. 

This will be a working meeting, so come prepared with a notebook and pen and/or laptop computer, a calculator, a list of all business expenses, and goals for financial prosperity. We will create reference charts so we will never again spend hours calculating project bids. We will address pragmatic concerns involved in supporting ourselves as creative professionals in the freelance market.

Heather Severson will facilitate the workshop. Heather runs StudioGraphia, LLC, a freelance writers’ cooperative that provides services in writing, editing, instruction, research and design. She writes the blog, The Mercenary Writer’s Guide to the Universe ( to encourage freelance writers and authors toward fair pay for good writing.

AIGA advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force. As the largest community of design advocates, they bring together practitioners, enthusiasts, and patrons to amplify the voice of design and create the vision for a collective future. They define global standards and ethical practices, guide design education, enhance professional development, and make powerful tools and resources accessible to all.

Posted in business practice, design, finance, networking, professional development, rates and fees | Leave a comment

October’s 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge

Join Heather Severson and over 1000 journal writers as we try writing in a digital journal for 30 days. We’ll provide tools, tips and motivation. Heather and the other sponsors offer free daily prompts, and give prizes daily for participation. Join the vibrant discussion in the associated  Facebook Discussion Group, and get to know the sponsors and your fellow participants. Make new friends while diving into your journal writing!

Sign up to participate here:

Listen to Ruth Folit discuss her best practices for digital journaling in the IAJW telechat on Thursday, October 9, 2014, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific. Sign up to listen to The Secrets of a Longtime Digital Journal Writer Revealed: How to Make the Most of Your Digital Journal here:

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Celebrate Journal Writing with IAJW! October 1-3, 2014

Journal Luminaries Speak and We Do, Too: Converse, Consider, and Connect

Please Converse, Consider, and Connect with the journal writing community on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific. Join our panel of long-time journal writers –Lynda Monk, Nathan Ohren, and Heather Severson–- as we discuss what we learned from listening to nine journal luminaries discuss their journal writing practices. There will be time for participants to comment and ask questions as well. Sign up for the FREE discussion at the IAJW website:

Order your own copy of the Celebrate Journal Writing interviews!

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Extend Your Author’s Platform: Build a Web & Social Networking Presence

I. Set up your very own website.
1. Purchase a domain name.

2. Purchase web hosting service that supports WordPress.

Full disclosure: I use iPage for four websites because they offer sustainable, wind-powered services. If you use this referral link, I receive a treat; a discount on my fees or another incentive for sharing. There are plenty of other options out there; select the best one for your needs.

3. Download WordPress:

4. Follow instructions for setting up your website:

II. Post useful, interesting information on your new website.
1. Author biography

2. Information about your book(s)

3. Links to all the places your book can be purchased.

Note: I have a firm bias towards independent booksellers. My suggestion is that you put your favorite bookseller first, as the preferred source for your books. For more information about the benefits of this practice, see

Also list all the other options for purchase. Don’t leave anything out. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, whatever market you can discover where readers can find your book.

4. All social networking, business cards, email signatures, and other promotional information should lead back to this website. This is your home base in the land of the Internet.

5. Keep your page updated with current information about where to purchase books, author appearances, contact information for media, and social media links. Don’t just build it and neglect it. Even if you don’t choose to have a blog, update your web content as needed.

III. Establish an author page on each of the market sources.
1. Amazon:

2. Barnes and Noble:

3. Kobo Writing Life:

IV. Establish an author page on a popular social network built around books.
1. Goodreads:

2. Library Thing

V. Establish a social networking presence.
1. Play around with several of the social networking options available. Experiment before linking your favorite space to your author page.

3. Find a social networking platform that resonates with you, one that you will use regularly as a part of the community.

4. Best options for authors right now:

There are more social networks out there. As you become a more sophisticated user, you may find something else that works for your audience and purpose.

VI. Create bookmarks, postcards, and business cards to promote your book(s).
1. Always include a link to your website so that readers can learn more about you and your work, connect with you on social media, and purchase your books.

Here’s a free, no-strings-attached 1-page PDF download of this information.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

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Digital Book World 2014: An Author’s Perspective

I’m here in New York City, attending Digital Book World 2014. This is my second year. This is one of those essential professional development opportunities for anyone in the publishing industry. DBW attendees include “over 1,300 publishing professionals focused on developing, building and transforming their organizations to compete in the new digital publishing environment.” Attendees include “presidents, CEOs, editors, marketers and publicists of large and small houses as well as agents, authors, booksellers, librarians and technologists. (Conference website.)”

I’ll be Tweeting, Facebooking, Google+ing, and LinkedIn-ing about my experiences, taking in and curating the content from an author’s perspective. Please follow me on Twitter @MercenaryScribe to ask real-time questions, and I’ll try to get you an answer for instant response or a more distilled, thoughtful, lengthy response later on this blog. In the meantime, follow @DigiBookWorld and the hashtag #DBW14 for all the action.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

Belated update:

Yeah, I still haven’t gotten to this post. Busy busy.

So here are some other blog posts compiled by DBW organizers to point you in the right direction. I hope to be back with MY insights soon.

DBW compiled a list of some of the most retweeted posts and articles related to the topics of conversation at DBW:

Who Can Compete with Amazon? by Joseph Esposito
Is Amazon Bad for Books? by George Packer, from The New Yorker
Is the “Publishers’ Monopoly” Broken? by Porter Anderson
This Used to be a Book by Alice Ryan
Have You Ever Been in the Yonkers B&N? And A Few Other Take-Aways from DBW 14 by Jack Perry of 38Senso.
A Winner’s Tale, My Experiences at DBW 14 by Maggie Hunt
Digital Book World 2014 by IPG Vice Chair Rebecca Smart
5 Things we Learned at Digital Book World by Ed Nawotka, Publishing Perspectives

Posted in business practice, professional development, publishing, resource, writing | Leave a comment

Ask the Mercenary Writer: Aspiring Sci Fi Author Questions

M. L. Alcides describes himself as an amateur writer seeking to get into the publishing business. “I would love to pick the brain of a successful writer. More specifically I’m looking to learn the ropes of self-publishing.” Here are some answers to his recent questions.

Q: What is better: self-publishing or publishing with a publishing company?

A: It depends. I’m aiming to be a “hybrid” author, one who publishes with a traditional publishing house, AND self-publishes. The stigma is going away from self-publishing, but there are still major benefits to getting published, distributed, and promoted by one of the big guys. Either way, get ready to do a lot of work to market and promote your book(s).

There are great stories about breakout self-published authors, but the vast majority of self-publishers don’t sell more than 100 books. Write your book, make it as good as you can, and do research about your readers. Query some literary agents, and see what happens. If you get impatient, consider making the investment in self-publishing. It’s not an easy road, but if you work hard and hire professionals to help with editing, proofreading, and cover design, you can have a published book in your hands faster than you would if you had to wait for a traditional book deal.

Q: Are you aware of any book company majoring in fantasy or science fiction?

A: My go-to source for this kind of information is Writer’s Market (see You can go to the library to look at the thick volumes in various genres, or you can get an online subscription. It’s worth the investment.

Costs as listed at their website:  A 6-month subscription the complete Writer’s Market database costs $24.99 (renews automatically until you cancel) and a one-year subscription costs $39.99. Monthly subscriptions are $5.99 per month (renews automatically until you cancel).

Here’s how their website describes the service: is the Internet’s most comprehensive guide to getting published. Since 1921, Writer’s Market has been the “freelance writer’s bible”, providing contact information for thousands of editors and agents, tips on manuscripts formatting, query letter clinics and more. And now it’s all available online, in a searchable database of information that can be personalized to meet your specific market needs. You can search through the thousands of markets in seconds, easily eliminating those that don’t fit your criteria. You also get daily market spotlights, a guide to Web resources for writers, tips on getting published, news from the publishing world, our online submission-tracking tools, and more. And, is continually updated, so you can be sure you’re getting the latest information available.

Q: Some writers post unused material or chapter snippets for advertising on their blogs and websites. If providing teaser chapters or unused material on a blog or website (to draw potential audiences in) what can I do to make sure the stuff I post online will not be copied or stolen?

A: There’s no real way to protect your stuff. If you want to write for an audience, the best thing to do is get your words out there and see how readers respond. You can do web searches for your stuff, or use to detect plagiarism, but I wouldn’t spend much time worrying about this sort of thing.

Q: Some writers say it’s best to build an audience by writing/submitting to magazines. Do you know any magazines specializing to fantasy and sci-fi that cater to new writers?

A: See the Writer’s Market link above.

Q: How do you avoid burnout?

A: Have fun. Write regularly, but not obsessively. Get plenty of exercise. Read. Go see a movie. Hang out with friends. Enjoy your life.

Q: How do you switch genres when writing (all I’ve written is fantasy)?

A: Easy. Just start writing something else. Follow your pen. Branch out, experiment. Write first, edit later. Let your stuff sit for a while before revising, then revise again. And again. When you feel that it’s good, invite friends to read and respond to your work. Apply useful suggestions, ignore the ones that don’t resonate with you. When you’re ready to publish, hire a good editor, apply her suggestions, then hire a proofreader for the final copy.

Blog Readers, what other advice and answers can you provide? Please use the comments section below to advise this new writer.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

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Ask the Mercenary Writer: What is Your Process for Writing?

At HOWLive Creative Freelancers Conference, I met Richard Medina, a 14-year-old graphic design student. He emailed me to ask, “What is your process for writing?”

This question is so much fun; I have long been interested in other writers’ process, myself. So here’s what it comes down to for me.


  • Cherish creativity.
  • Cultivate curiosity.
  • Savor and enjoy the creative process.
  • Celebrate success.
  • Value the process of revising.
  • Appreciate good writing.


  • Always have ACCESS to writing materials.
  • Carry something to write on and with EVERYWHERE.
  • Always have lots of pens on hand. I love smooth writing pens of all colors. Vivid color and sparkles make me happy. I savor the idea and the reality of writing with these cool tools. It’s FUN.
  • Cultivate a writing HABIT. Consistency creates comfort for my muse. Establish a ROUTINE.
  • Follow a method, or adapt bits and pieces into your own method.
  • Journals are the key component to my writing process and practice.
  • Clustering or mind-mapping frees my ideas and brings me to a place to begin writing.
  • Have a system to keep writing organized. Index journals and writers’ notebooks. Have a workable file name convention for digital files. Keep loose pages in labeled, thematic binders.
  • Just start writing. Don’t edit until later. It comes together after a bunch of ink has been spent. You can’t edit what ain’t writ yet.
  • Keep a Work in Progress file at the top level of the computer directory.
  • Keep writing project binders close at hand, so they are seen every day in passing.
  • Label document files with evocative names so they don’t get lost and forgotten.
  • Read Julia Cameron’s books and try out some of her practices, like Morning Pages and Artist’s Dates.
  • Reading as much as possible in all areas feeds creativity and curiosity.
  • Road trips are inspiration machines.
  • Walking or other exercise is part of a creative writing practice.
  • What I used to call procrastination is part of the mindless work I must do to get the ideas out. Household chores, scrubbing hard scale off pool tiles, taking Q-tips to household crevasses to unearth dust, washing dishes, and the like are part of the process.
  • When I’m getting sufficient sleep, I naturally wake up for a short period of time each night. That Night Watch is good for scrawling down Dream Wisdom.
  • When life is going pretty well, I keep a Dream Journal consistently.
  • Write in spare moments. Show up early for appointments.
  • Write in the margins of books to have conversations with the authors and their ideas.
  • Writing by hand seems to let my ideas flow much more freely. Writing on paper is easier. It also forces me into the essential task of rewriting as I transcribe my notes into digital format. Typing on the computer seems fine for education writing and other straightforward paid work.
  • Writing retreats exist for a reason: they work.
  • Save editing until last, but never, ever skip it.

What is YOUR writing process? What recommendations would you make for young writers? Please share your process in the comments section below. Let’s give young Richard an astounding plethora of processes to choose from as he establishes his own practice!


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How Can You Fit Creativity into the Crevasses?

How can you fit creativity into the crevasses of your busy life?

  • Have a Carry-Along Journal. 
  • Keep project binders to put in snippets written on the road.
  • Keep organized computer files.
  • Stay organized, in general.
  • Periodically transcribe your notes into computer documents, and keep them filed in a way that allows you to keep track of them.
  • Carry a small, portable art-making kit wherever you go.
  • Keep your art supplies close at hand. If your tools are accessible and in view in your daily life, you will be more likely to grab them for spontaneous creation.
  • Listen to CraftLit podcasts so you can “read” while your hands are free to create.
  • Carry a camera at all times. Keep a folder for inspirational images.
  • Make appointments for creative work. Write in pen, use a highlighter, or use the same digital tools you use to schedule other essential appointments.
  • Make an Artist’s Date, ala Julia Cameron.
  • When you have an appointment for creative work, do something, even if you’re not in the mood. Thirty minutes of idle doodling counts. Try it, you’ll see! It’s like a juicy orange on a boat out at sea to prevent scurvy.
  • Establish a routine. Use pleasant rituals to begin and end your creative time.
  • Give up your television. I haven’t had one in the house for most of my life and I’m all the better for it. You can catch up on TV shows on your schedule, without ads, on Netflix or another online source.
  • Take a sabbatical from all electronic devices.
  • Sit in silence on occasion. Music is wonderful and inspirational, but silence is meditative and cleansing and opens you up to ideas.
  • Visit museums, browse in libraries and bookstores, window shop at your town’s creative district.
  • Take a class at your local community college, art school, parks and recreation, or other community resource for creativity. Students get access to sophisticated darkrooms, pottery kilns, glass-blowing equipment, and the like.
  • Learn to dance in a year, like this inspiring young woman.
  • Rethink social outings. Instead of happy hour with friends at a bar, try a pottery class, glass blowing, wandering in a museum, and the like.

What suggestions do you have for fitting creativity into a busy life? Add them to the comments section below. Please feel free to link to good articles and blog posts about the topic.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

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An Exercise for Writers To Complete BEFORE Getting a Critique

Critique Guidelines

The National Writing Project E-Anthology uses this model: Bless, Press or Address. Which approach do you prefer?

Bless: This author would like to hear what works in his or her piece.

Press: This usually means the author is ready to hear responses that may be challenging.

Address: The author specifies questions he or she has for the reader to address. This can be very useful to the writer.

Items Addressed in All Types of Writing

1. General impression of the work

2. Opening

3. Pacing

4. Continuity

5. Show versus tell

6. Style

7. Clarity

8. Grammar and spelling

9. Format of the text

10. Accuracy/Fact check

Items Addressed in Fiction:

1. Character development

2. Conflict

3. Descriptive passages

4. Dialogue

5. Plot

6. Point of View

7. Setting

Items Addressed in Non-Fiction:

1. What is the author’s main claim or thesis statement? If no such statement exists, what serves as the focus of the work?

2. How clearly does the author present the problem or thesis statement?

3. What is the particular evidence used to support the author’s claim? How well does the author describe methods or supporting evidence?

4. Does the author logically support his/her argument with an organized structure and coherent development?

5. Do the sections make sense as presented? Why or why not?

6. How does the author achieve the goal of the work? Does he/she do so effectively? Why or why not?

How can an author use this critique to improve his or her writing?

Consider carefully what the responders have to say about your writing. Remember, as the author, you are the final authority on your work. The critique should offer several suggestions for improvement. You are free to apply the feedback, adjust it to your own purposes, or disregard it entirely. Does the critique confirm some things you suspected about your writing? Does the critique help you see your writing in a different light? Does the critique say anything that surprised you? Is anything in your writing misunderstood? What do you need to do for this piece of writing to create a stronger draft?

Author Name: 

Author Contact Information: 

Working Title of the Book: 


Audience (age range, interests, etc.):

Manuscript word count:

Page count:

Industry standard: Word document, in standard publication format: 12-point type, Times New Roman, double-spaced, 1-inch margins.

Editing Budget: $____  

(Feel free to enter a range, but please don’t skip this essential question. For information about editorial rates and fees, see the Editorial Freelancers Association Editorial Rates resource:

Total Production Budget (Including Promotion & Self-Publication if applicable): $____

Progress Check. Describe the state of your current draft:

_____ First Draft

_____ First Reader Draft

_____ Second Draft, after addressing First Reader/Beta Reader issues

_____ Writer’s Group Draft

_____ Third Draft, incorporating Writer’s Group feedback

_____ Agent/Editor Submission Draft

_____ Publication Draft, incorporating Editor feedback

_____ Galleys

_____ Revision/update of published work for later edition

_____ Other (describe):

Publication goals for this project:

_____ Small-scale publication (for myself and a small circle of friends and family)

_____ Self-Publication and Promotion

_____ My own blog

_____ Guest blog

_____ Literary magazine

_____ Trade magazine

_____ EBook

_____ Trade paperback book

_____ Hardcover book

_____ Web publication

_____ Traditional Publication

_____ Other (describe):

How would you describe the value this project holds for you?

How will you measure the project’s success?

How will you determine your return on investment of time, energy, money, etc?

Describe your publication timeline for the project.

Describe your promotional plan.

Describe your questions about the process of writing, revising, editing, publishing and promoting your book.

Please describe the specific feedback you need to take this manuscript to the next level.

Your turn: Use the comments section to point out any Critique considerations I might have missed.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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Professional Organizations for Writers

Here is a list of professional organizations for writers. My professional associations are in bold text. Obviously I can recommend those, but the others look interesting and valuable, too. This is not an exhaustive list.

Please feel free to add any recommendations and resources in the comments section below.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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The Mercenary Writer’s Featured Resources for Bloggers

These 10 links will lead you down the rabbit hole in your professional development in blogging. I’ve limited the list to ten because you can do a web search on “best resources for bloggers” all by yourself. These posts may not be the absolute best of what’s out there, but if you visit these sites, follow the authors, and click on appealing hyperlinks, you will get more information on successful blogging than you can implement in a year.

Have fun!

Please share your most highly recommended blogging resources in the comments section below.

Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!

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What Self-Care Practices Do You Need to Engage in to Support Your Writing?

Self-care is essential to achieve satisfactory quality of life.  Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What practices, routines, and habits help you support your creativity, happiness, and fulfillment?

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Good hygiene
  • Family time
  • Solitude
  • Social support networks
  • Exploration, satisfaction of curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Rest and recreation
  • Play time
  • Social time with friends
  • Clear communication with friends, family, colleagues
  • Meaningful work
  • Doing absolutely nothing
  • Self-respect; positive self-regard
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Appropriate outlet for stress
  • Self-soothing for difficult emotion and sensation
  • Organized, tidy, clean, comfortable surroundings
  • Ability to relax regularly
  • Regular attention to health and well-being
  • Positive relationships
  • Intellectual challenge
  • Frequent laughter
  • Optimism and positive attitude
  • Spirituality
  • Self-efficacy
  • Restoration after illness or injury
  • Healthy, enthusiastic aging
  • Financial/economic serenity: living within one’s means, saving for the future, contribution to valued causes
  • Perceived value to community and society
  • Alignment with core values
  • FUN!

Please add your thoughts, suggestions and links to resources in the comments section below.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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Got Writer’s Block?

Got writer’s block? Here are some quick and dirty solutions.

  • Read.
  • Apply structure. Look closely. Pick a form: sonnet, haiku, 500-word blog post, write responses to a grant application.
  • Set a deadline. Write.
  • Let it flow. Do a timed writing exercise.
  • Use a writing prompt. There are gazzillions of writing exercises in books and on the web. Don’t analyze. Take the first ones you encounter. Searching for the perfect prompt can be a symptom of Procrastination Sickness.
  • Disdain perfection. Take imperfect action.
  • Cultivate an addiction to writing though regularity of practice.
  • Take a 30-day writing challenge. Try NaNoWriMo, even if it’s not November. Do a web search for “30-day writing challenge.” There are lots of them out there.
  • Use a calendar to cross off days of writing. Don’t break the chain.
  • Take a lap. Move it. Get some exercise. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Go dancing.
  • Take a nap.
  • Practice self-care. Ascend the triangle. See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Do a Brain Dump. Write a list of all the things you have to do, all the distractions clouding your attention, all the excuses you have for not writing. Then WRITE.
  • Compile a list of other writers’ solutions for writer’s block.
  • Attend a conference.
  • When you experience that feeling of panicked disinspiration, your writing is saying, “FEED ME!” What feeds your creativity? Brainstorm. Go on an Artist’s Date.

What suggestions do you have to combat writer’s block? Share them below in the comments section. Please include links to good blog posts and articles about this topic.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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Vote for The Mercenary Writer (StudioGraphia) in the 4th Annual Arizona’s Greenest Workplace Challenge!

The Mercenary Writer is dedicated to making her company, StudioGraphia, as environmentally sustainable as possible. Our friend, Mrs. Green, is sharing the stories of Arizona businesses that make efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, and provide a healthy environment for employees in the workplace.

You may vote for your favorite business once per day beginning at midnight on September 23rd through noon on Friday, September 27th, 2013. (Please, only one vote per person per day. Mrs. Green’s World will discount any votes that appear to violate their contest voting rules.)  The winner will receive the People’s Choice Award.

Please peruse the nominees, and if you are so moved, vote for StudioGraphia as one of Arizona’s greenest workplaces. While you’re at it, check out Heather’s list of sustainability strategies you can use in your own home-based business!

Here’s the link to the voting page:


Be well, and use your powers for good!

Heather (aka The Mercenary Writer)


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StudioGraphia: One of Arizona’s Greenest Workspaces

StudioGraphia: One of Arizona's Greenest Workspaces

Vote for StudioGraphia as one of Arizona’s Greenest Workspaces, between Sept. 23-27, 2013!

How does this company exemplify the concept of “reducing”?

StudioGraphia is The Mercenary Writer’s freelance writing and editing business. StudioGraphia’s sustainability practices focus primarily on reducing our negative impact on the planet in work and household life. We proudly supply 100% of our energy needs with solar photovoltaic panels and solar water heating. We harvest 1,000 gallons of water per inch of rainfall, significantly reducing our reliance on community water supplies for landscaping. Our guiding Action Items are adapted from the Arizona Green Business Certification Program Sustainability Actions Checklist (See We have determined that 75% of our specific actions involve reducing the use of resources, preventing resources from having to enter a cycle of reuse and recycling in the first place.

How does this company exemplify the concept of “reusing”?

Fifteen percent of our sustainable business practices involve reuse/recycling. If we can’t do without a product, resource, or service, we seek out locally sourced, respectfully used, planet-friendly options. When we’re done with items, we donate them to Tucson’s local Habitat for Humanity, Youth on Their Own, Disabled American Veterans, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. We take advantage of community recycling services, including Waste Management, The Fairfax Companies Green Waste Recycling, plastic bag recycling at grocery stores, and other resources recommended by Tucson Clean and Beautiful. We avoid using disposable products like paper towels, napkins, plastic bags, and other items that can be replaced by washable cloth or durable storage materials.

What is this company’s recycling policy and practice?

  • Compost organic food waste.
  • Donate, sell, or exchange unwanted usable items.
  • Purchase used or refurbished equipment and/or furniture.
  • Recycle batteries and toner.
  • Reuse file folders, binders, envelopes and other office supplies.
  • Use recycling bins; recycle plastic bags at grocery stores.
  • Use letterhead, envelopes, business cards, toilet paper and tissues with a minimum 30% post-consumer material.
  • Use pool filter backwash for landscape watering.
  • Use recycled content, refurbished, or salvaged materials for property improvement or remodeling.
  • Used printer paper is repurposed for scratch paper, notes, or printing draft documents.
  • StudioGraphia has plans to install a system to use laundry water and other grey water for landscape watering.

How is this company engaging and informing consumers and employees about the 3 “Rs” and other sustainable practices?

Measuring progress is an essential element of determining success. 10% of our efforts involve monitoring and education. Our solar photovoltaic data monitoring system helps us make better decisions to reduce energy use. We are featured in the Technicians for Sustainability residential portfolio: We log vehicle and air miles traveled for annual review. We stay informed about water efficiency practices, proper waste reduction, composting, irrigation, landscaping and recycling practices. We have completed 33% of our action items, 49% involve ongoing practices, and 18% are in planning stages. We will continually refine our efforts as we discover new opportunities to support sustainability in our community.

What else would you like us to know about this company?

We invite others to join us in making sustainability a way of life in their home-based businesses. Small changes add up to big results with consistent practice.

  • Do business with other “Green” vendors/services. See the Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce for like-minded business people:
  • Install improved insulation for roof, hot water pipes, hot water heaters and storage tanks, and exposed HVAC ductwork.
  • Replace inefficient windows and doors with double pane energy-efficient models.
  • Landscape with native, drought tolerant plants. Use irrigation/faucet timers, adjusted seasonally. Regularly inspect irrigation system for leaks. Use passive and active rainwater harvesting.
  • Monitor/adjust driving practices. Accomplish multiple tasks per trip. Avoid heavy traffic commutes. Patronize services and businesses in the neighborhood.
  • Install a solar water heater. Upgrade to high-efficiency showers, toilets, and faucets.
  • Run dishwashers and washing machines with full loads.
  • Sweep instead of washing/mopping, especially outdoors.
  • Shade sun-exposed windows/walls to mitigate the effect of direct sunlight, using sunscreens, shade trees and shrubbery. Weather stripping seals windows and doors to close air gaps.
  • Turn off equipment and lights when not in use.
  • Upgrade HVAC and/or evaporative cooling systems, maintain them regularly.
  • Use programmable thermostat for central air conditioning and heating systems. Set thermostat at 78 deg. F. for cooling and 70 deg. F. for heating.
  • Use daylight to reduce the need for task lighting. Use ceiling fans to promote air circulation and reduce need for air conditioning.
  • Use flat-screen LED monitors, and hardware programs that automatically turn off idle monitors, computers, and printers.
  • Use electronic rather than paper files, electronic forms/contracts and online billing/banking transactions.
  • Take advantage of telecommuting. Hold meetings virtually, even if clients live in the same town.
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Work Life Balance: Don’t Work on Weekends

This is so basic, so simple, but so difficult for a freelancer to implement. At least THIS freelancer.

As a single mother and freelancer, I sometimes feel like Sisyphus. I have to start my monumental parenting and working tasks again each day. Taking regular, consistent breaks from work helps me do it better when I come back. Turning off my computer and locking my office door at the end of the day helps me be a better parent.

My youngest child learned how to turn off the power strip under my desk before he could walk. Eight years later, I get the point, but I don’t always practice the skills he has been trying to teach me all this time. I still tend to sneak in “just a few more minutes of work” after the kids get off the bus. Weekend mornings seem like golden opportunities to work before the kids wake up, but I tend to keep working even after they are done foraging for breakfast. It’s a problem.

I discussed the topic of work/life balance at length with Tom Tumbusch at the 2013 HOWLive Creative Freelancers Conference. He lets potential clients know up front that he doesn’t work weekends. Perhaps putting it in writing, and making a public testament to my commitment to achieving and sustaining balance, will help me do better.

What does this look like in your life? Please share your advice and strategies for work/life balance in the comments section. Remember, sometimes even the obvious needs to be said.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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Ask the Mercenary Writer: Is There Anything I Should Be Doing to Get Myself Out There as an Author?

One of my LinkedIn connections asks, “Is there anything I should be doing to get myself out there as an author?”

Here is a list of considerations in developing a writing career. Most of these activities require dedicated practice, in-depth learning, and/or financial investment. I could write a blog post or even a book on each one. If you are serious about a writing career, you are probably engaging in many of these endeavors already.

1. Write.

  • Reflect on plot lines in post office lines.
  • Keep a writer’s notebook or journal.
  • Carry a notebook and pen everywhere.
  • Schedule time. A little bit every day adds up.
  • Establish a habit so that you itch if you miss your writing time.

2. Read.

  • Read for enjoyment, the first time you read a book, article or blog post.
  • Study the good stuff. Use a second reading to study the craft of the piece.
  • Read writers’ stories about their craft.
  • Read everything.
  • Buy books. It’s good karma for writers.
  • Use libraries.

3. Explore

  • Research your topics of interest. Keep notes in journals, file folders, binders, folders on your computer, Evernote… whatever works for you. 
  • Treat yourself to regular Artist’s Dates as recommended by Julia Cameron.
  • Professional development: learn about your topic, the craft of writing, and the business of publishing.
  • Take risks. Submit your work. Try new things.
  • Cultivate curiosity as a lifestyle.
  • Seek out relevant courses, books, workshops, mentors, coaches.

4. Community

  • Spend good time with friends and family.
  • Investigate writers’ groups. Can you find one that fits?
  • Seek beta readers to offer authentic critique of your work. Trade reading, feed them, or otherwise bestow generosity upon these crucial friends to your writing career.
  • Hire a professional editor.
  • Share good work. Promote good writers. Write book reviews on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Amazon, or the online book community that resonates best for you.
  • Attend conferences for writers, in your niche, for your profession.
  • Always have business cards on hand to make connections.

5. Platform

  • See Dan Blank’s work. Tell him I sent you.
  • Establish an online presence. Have a website as a home base.
  • Social networking: pick the ones you like and will actually engage with. You don’t have to be everywhere. Have fun. Be generous with your community.
  • The Golden Rule should apply to social networking, newsletters and communications. What kind of contact and engagement would YOU want?
  • Video: see Steven Washer’s work. Tell him I sent you.

6. Publishing

  • Write a Blog. Write guest posts for other bloggers.
  • Investigate publication in trade magazines, literary magazines.
  • Judiciously enter writing contests.
  • Learn about your options for self-publishing versus traditional publishing
  • Learn about publishing ebooks.
  • Research agents who might be interested in representing your book(s).
  • Find a really good editor and proofreader to help you polish your work.
  • Find a talented cover/jacket designer.
  • Learn about the challenges and opportunities in book distribution.
  • Study book marketing strategies. Start immediately.
  • Craft effective book proposals.
  • Consider creating a book video trailer.
  • Ask for book reviews from friends, family, bloggers, professional reviewers.
  • Conduct a blog tour to promote your book on blogs that reach your target audience.
  • Hold readings and signings.
  • Look into speaking opportunities.
  • Conduct workshops, if relevant to your topic.
  • Consider using appropriate promotional products and swag to support your marketing efforts.

What am I missing in this attempt at a comprehensive list of things that writers deal with as they establish and maintain their careers? Please add comments!

Be well, and use your powers for good.

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Ask the Mercenary Writer: Talk About Revisions Over Coffee For Free or For Fee?

Hi Heather,

Here’s a good question for your blog, should you have time for blogging again. A client hired me to do his cover design. I sent him the first version of his full cover last night.  He says he has a few minor changes for me, and he wants to get together at a coffee shop to talk about them. Should I charge for the time?

(Pricing and Ethical Guidelines covers consulting fees, but I don’t think this counts as a consultation, since we’re talking about work I’ve done.)


My quick answer is that you could give him two options; $__ for telephone conference to go over revisions, or $___ for an hour at a coffee shop. After an hour if you linger to socialize, that’s on your dime.

At least that is the theory. I almost always do social time, even around work projects, for free… One reason I don’t get out much anymore these days. Sigh…


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Cultivating Writers’ Karma

Do you have good karma as a writer? Do you do what you can to promote reading and writing in the way that you hope others will do to help you achieve writing success? This may be a misuse of the term Karma, but in our Western understanding of the concept, I think you’ll see what I mean.

  • Buy books. Read them.
  • Share books you love. Talk about them, lend them, give them away. One of my recent favorites: Dr. Dog by Babette Cole. Check it out.
  • Write to your favorite writers to express appreciation.
  • Attend readings and signings.
  • Attend conferences. Make friends.
  • Treat your writer friends to food and drinks.
  • Improve your life based on what you have read.
  • Let books make you a better human being.
  • Practice empathy.
  • Use inspirational quotes and cite the author and book. Remember how Amelie quoted the writer Hipolito with graffiti in the eponymous movie?
  • Make artwork inspired by something you have read. Call it fan art and post it on the web, if you like.
  • Emulate, imitate a writer’s style as a practice to improve your craft.
  • Read books in public places with the cover showing. Engage in conversation about what you’re reading.
  • Sign up for author and publisher newsletters.
  • Make astute comments on writers’ blogs.
  • Hire an editor to improve your own work.
  • Patronize indie bookstores. Check out staff recommendations.
  • Patronize your local library. Check out librarian recommendations.
  • Offer to write Reader Recommendations for books you love if your bookstore or library has this feature.
  • Write book reviews on Goodreads, LibaryThing, Amazon, or other bookish communities.
  • Ask your friends and colleagues, “What are you reading right now? What would you recommend?”
  • Buy books as children’s gifts.
  • Subscribe to literary and poetry journals.
  • Requests libraries to supplement their local offerings if they don’t have a book you want to read.
  • Listen to author interviews.
  • Read book reviews.
  • Read to your children.
  • Preorder books from beloved authors.
  • If you have a blog, hyperlink to the best writers’ resources.
  • Join writers’ associations.
  • Go to book festivals. Volunteer.
  • Practice copyright respect. Don’t engage in piracy or approve when others gloat about it.
  • Be an unabashed lover of books.
  • Be a patron of the written arts.
  • Be a muse.

What else helps cultivate good karma for writers? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

Be well, and use your powers for good.

Posted in business practice, creativity, life/work balance, marketing/promotion, professional development, resource, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Mercenary Writer Goes Green

The Mercenary Writer and Her Earth HelpersWe want to make a positive difference to our local communities and to the planet. Our business practices are built around the intention to minimize our footprint, leave things better than we found them, create order out of chaos, and defeat entropy.

Our ideal clients share our sustainability ethic. Do our earth-helping practices help us gain more clients? Who knows. We’re doing all of these things, anyway. Each investment of time, energy and money is one part of our effort to practice the Buddhist precept of Right Livelihood. It’s more about quality of life and lifestyle choices than business practices, though in our book, work and life are intertwined.

The Mercenary Writer’s Headquarters use solar power, solar hot water and rainwater harvesting systems installed by Technicians for Sustainability.

Read more about The Mercenary Writer and her Earth Helpers at the TFS website.

Solar Photovoltaic Panels

System Size: 9.64 kW
Estimated Monthly Production: 1429 kWh
Module No. & Type: 18 Schott 175 Watt and 20 SunPower 327 Watt
Inverter Type: 1 GT3.0 and 1 Power-One-PVI-6000-OUTD-US
Mounting & Pitch: Roof mount, 32° and 25° pitch
Monthly Environmental Savings: 1430 lbs of Coal, 3,180 lbs of CO2, 5.4 lbs of NOx, 9 lbs of SO2, 714 gal of H2O
Output URL: Click here for live stats (We may be able to supply  enough extra power to source an electric or hybrid car someday soon!)

Solar Hot Water

System Type: Glycol Sunearth Solaray TE32P-80-1
Mounting & Pitch: Roof mount, 65° pitch
Closed loop system produces approximately 400 KWH/month.

Rainwater Catchment

4×8 corrugated culvert/cistern holds approximately 650 gallons of water, and receives about 520 gallons per inch of rainfall.
5×8 corrugated culvert/cistern holds approximately 1,000 gallons of water, and receives about 480 gallons per inch of rainfall.

Water Recirculation Pump

Metlund D’Mand System, Model # STS 70. At the push of a button, the STS-Series pumps cold water sitting in the hot water line into the cold water line and back to the water heater. The “temperature sensor” automatically shuts off the pump allowing the pump’s IFC (Intergral Flow Control) Valve to close when hot water arrives at the fixture. Now you have hot water within seconds at the fixture and anywhere else plumbed off of the main line. No more water wasted, waiting for hot water to arrive at the faucet! Gallons and gallons saved.

The Mercenary Writer is pursuing Green Business Certification. Stay tuned!

The Mercenary Writer’s websites are hosted by iPage sustainable web hosting services. The servers, offices and data centers supporting this website are powered by 100% wind energy. The company’s energy efficiency is equivalent to planting 2,390 acres of trees or removing 510 cars from the road.

The Mercenary Writer, her associates, and subcontractors telecommute from their homes in various locations across the US and abroad, using internet technology to support project work, meetings and correpondence. Most of our clients are based in New York City, but we do business all over the world.

The Mercenary Writer makes every effort to recycle paper, printer ink cartridges, shipping materials, manuscript/galley pages, electronic devices like cell phones and computers, and everything else we use in the process of doing business. Purchasing preference is always given to sustainable products where available.

The Mercenary Writer’s associates and subcontractors support and promote local businesses in our various communities. Company policy is to use independent, local service providers wherever possible. We follow the Go Local model, even where formal cooperatives do not exist–yet.

The Mercenary Writer is a member of Local First Arizona. See our directory listing here:

Every year, The Mercenary Writer takes part in Earth Hour, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). For more information, see:

If you have suggestions for ways we can better meet this mission, contact us and share your insights. We are all in this together, after all. We take our responsibility seriously.

Posted in business practice, clients, life/work balance, sustainability | 1 Comment

Sign Up to be a Government Vendor

Your city, county, state and federal government may need your services.

Every city, county and state may have different government vendor requirements, but here is a list of some of the information you will most likely need in order to register as a vendor.

  • The official name of your business, and your DBA (doing business as) name as registered with your state.
  • The Tax ID Number of your business.
  • The official date your business was established.
  • Your business bank: name, address, routing number, ABA number, and account number.
  • The commodity codes used by the government entity that classifies your services. Do a web search for your city, county or state and the term “commodity codes” and you will find a directory listing types of products and services and their associated codes. There doesn’t seem to be any standard; my commodity codes for  my county and state are different numbers, but similar descriptions.
  • Your NAICS Classification. The one I use: 711510 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers. This industry comprises independent (i.e., freelance) individuals primarily engaged in performing in artistic productions, in creating artistic and cultural works or productions, or in providing technical expertise necessary for these productions. This industry also includes athletes and other celebrities exclusively engaged in endorsing products and making speeches or public appearances for which they receive a fee. For more information:
  • Obtain a D-U-N-S Number.

How to Get Government Business

  • The Small Business Administration has a helpful guide to registering to be a government vendor:
  • Do a search for your city, county, or state and the terms “procurement” or “vendor registration.” This will help you find the website where you can register your business to provide services and sign up to be notified of procurement bids.

More Information

  • You may want to consider the certification process for Small Business Enterprise Programs, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Programs, Minority Owned Business Certification, Woman Owned Business Certification, Green Business Certification, or other local, county, state, and federal programs. Do a web search with those terms and your locality and see what’s available and whether or not it seems to be worth your time to fill out a bunch of applications. It’s something to do when business is slow, anyway.
  • The IRS has a list of resources to help you do business with the government:,,id=125244,00.html
  • Texas A&M University’s Cornette Library has a guide to doing business with the government:

Have I left anything out? Do you have experience as a government vendor? Tips, tricks, cautions, celebrations? Use the comment section below!

Bill Munch, an executive director of procurement who consults with Local First AZ, has provided a handy list of questions to ask when meeting with procurement agencies.

1. How do I register to receive opportunities to bid?

2. Once I register, which procurements will I be notified of and how will I be notified?

3. For the product or service I provide, who is my first best contact at your entity?

4. Do you currently purchase my product or service?

5. If you currently purchase what I supply, what is the status of the contract you use and when is it due to expire?

6. Can I review your bid files so I can adequately address your needs for future purchases?

7. What can my company do to support the mission of your organization?

Posted in business practice, clients, find work | Tagged | Leave a comment

Establishing a Web Presence if You’re Not Tech-Savvy

By Chris Zelek, Guest Writer

So you’re a writer or other creative professional or you’ve decided to give working creatively a try. You know it would be in your best interest to hang out your shingle somewhere on the net, but you’re not entirely sure how to best go about it.

The best approach when just getting started is to establish a presence on a couple of the most popular social media sites. Spend some time learning how to use them to your greatest advantage. I will list three of the biggest players a bit later.

In addition to social media, you might choose to create your own web site. This requires more time and effort than just getting set up on social media, but it doesn’t have to be as big a project as you might think.

The first step is to decide on the name for your site (called a domain name). The domain name for this website is What short, sweet domain name captures the essence of your work?

Next, you need to find a company that will host your web site. Finding a web host is a lot like finding a good hamburger. The number of companies offering web-hosting services rivals the number of places you can go to get a burger. There are some that are just bad, but the majority is just fine and usually one company doesn’t differ greatly from another. Choosing one over the other is often just a matter of personal preference. (The Mercenary Writer uses iPage for their sustainable web hosting. If you use this link to investigate their offerings and decide to use their services, The Mercenary Writer gets a treat.)


WordPress is best for someone without a heavy technical background. It’s the best hosting site for people who wish to create an initial presence on the Internet without the need for technical expertise or a significant financial investment in web design software.

You can familiarize yourself with WordPress services here:

You can build a rather customizable site with good options for free. More choices such as additional design templates and a greater range of services are available as premium options. When you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to predict how your needs may grow and change over time. The ease of use, low cost, and flexibility of WordPress is hard to beat.

WordPress will register your domain name for $18 per year. If you already have your own domain, they charge $13 per year to map it to their site. There are good registrars that cost less than $18 per year for a domain, but since that is only $5 more than it would cost to map an existing domain from another registrar, it makes more sense to register your domain with them if you don’t already have one.

The three best places to stake your claim in the social media world are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. There are many other sites that range from large to a very niche user base that you will discover in time.

The main strength of a social media site is that it requires just a small amount of time and effort to create an account and get set up to reach a potentially huge audience.

If you have a web domain and a web host, and would like to use WordPress, it’s possible to access WordPress templates from your web host’s control panel (CPanel). For more about minimum requirements for your web host and other interesting information, see:

Facebook — This site provides a brief intro and video clip explaining how to create your account. It also includes additional sections covering many of the main features and step-by-step instructions on how to use them. It’s not a perfect list since Facebook is always changing things and adding new features and options, but it will give you a good start. Facebook is free. You can purchase advertising for your page or group. One additional thing to keep in mind is that there seems to be a not-insignificant number of sites that purport to offer information on how to use Facebook that are actually spam and spyware sites, so if you decide to go scouting, be careful. Try the Facebook help files first.

Twitter — This is a good article that will tell you how to register on Twitter and begin using it. It’s a much more stripped-down service than Facebook, and can be a little less intuitive to use. It’s really nothing more than phone texting or using an instant messenger program on a computer, with a little more functionality. Twitter is a free service.

LinkedIn — LinkedIn is a career-focused social network that is geared toward professional networking between people and organizations. This link will take you to the beginning of their introduction and help area for new users. There’s a lot of information here, but everything is explained very clearly and broken up into sections by feature, so it doesn’t overwhelm you with information and you can focus on what areas are of greatest interest to you. LinkedIn is free, with premium options available.

If you are at the very earliest stages of getting set up on the Internet, hopefully some of this information will be helpful. Stay on the lookout for future posts that will explore particular aspects of using the Internet to your advantage in more detail, and if you have any questions or suggestions, you are welcome to leave them in the comments section below!

Stay connected with The Mercenary Writer!

Chris Zelek
Tech Wizard and Literary Alchemist at StudioGraphia

Chris has spent over 20 years working in the field of Information Technology, following it from the early days of local area networks and desktop computers to the present-day omnipresence of the Internet.

He has worked for companies and organizations of very diverse backgrounds, ranging from reinsurance, aerospace and early childhood educational assessment to the U.S. government and Internet start-ups.

He is currently leveraging his technical skills and other professional experience as a business owner to step out from behind the computer server and become more involved in the world of the written word.

Posted in business practice, marketing/promotion, networking, resource | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Mercenary Writer’s Take on Testimonials

I have a policy: I don’t solicit testimonials, but I try to make use of the genuine compliments that come my way from the goodness and authenticity of my clients and workshop participants.

Not only do I file them away for those dark days when I need a boost, but I use them to support my business.

The best work and the best clients come from referrals, and the testimonial page is one way to reinforce that.

It’s best to ask people for permission before you post their compliments. Send them a message that shows them what their words will look like, and the context in which the compliment will be used. They might want to edit their words a little or even decline to have them posted publicly.

Thoughts about testimonials and best practices for using them? Use the comment box below!

Posted in business practice, clients, find work, marketing/promotion, networking | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Importance of Professional Development

Professional development is an essential constant for any person doing any kind of job. My dentist stays on the cutting edge of new technology and patient care. That makes me feel confident entrusting him with my dental care. My doctor often cites new research when we discuss my health care. My plumber sometimes has a new gadget or technique to show off. He knows I appreciate that sort of thing. Perhaps he also knows that his interest in the newest and best tools keeps him at the top of my list to call if I have a pipe problem.

Freelance creative professionals need to develop skills in several different areas. Running an entire business as just one person, they need to know about business practices, marketing strategies, billing and contracts, all aspects of business financials, as well as the core services they offer–writing, design, web site development– the reason they are in business in the first place.

Here are some people and organizations who provide professional development for freelancers, writers, bloggers and small business owners.

I’ve been following these folks for a while, and I’m impressed with the FREE information they provide. I’m betting that their one-on-one services or paid workshops have high-quality content.

Professional Development Resources to Help with the Business of Freelancing

Can you recommend some great professional development resources for creative professionals? Add them to the comments section below.

Posted in business practice, professional development, resource | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Creative Down Time

The pace of life these days (and maybe in all days; can you actually remember when it wasn’t so hectic?) drives us to work, work, work. This is especially true for freelance professionals, who may feel compelled to work all the time. After all, we are running a business, and the bottom line depends on our efforts.

It’s hard to justify time off, even if that was one of the reasons we decided to pursue the freelance lifestyle. For many of us, the flexibility of freelancing just means we’re free to work from the time we wake up until we fall into bed at night. We sneak work in at our kids’ soccer games or read professional journals while we’re on the treadmill at the gym.

The wisest among us quietly but resolutely remind us of the importance of down time. They refer us to the concept of the sabbath, or of agricultural fields lying fallow. Maybe we nod and smile and resolve to put REST on our To Do list.

Then we get sick or face some kind of crisis that forces us to take down time whether we want to our not. As inconvenient as those times are, they might remind us that we REALLY, REALLY need to rest more often and more regularly. Perhaps if we did so more consistently, we wouldn’t get sick, or wouldn’t fall into crisis.

Right now, make a list of some things YOU can do to fit more creative down time into your life. Then go do one of them, even for a few minutes. See if you feel recharged and more enthusiastic about getting back to work, or if the lovely feeling of the activity (or non-activity) woos you away for a long, rejuvinating day of play.

How can you get some down time?

  • Take a month-long digital break.
  • If you can’t take the whole month for a digital break, try one whole day with all the electronic and digital devices powered OFF.
  • Take Julia Cameron’s advise and make an Artist’s Date with yourself.
  • Watch birds.
  • Read a real book, with paper pages.
  • Sway in a hammock.
  • Take an afternoon nap.
  • Bake cookies, a pie, or a cake.
  • Make homemade soup.
  • Visit a museum.
  • Go outside and PLAY!
  • Lie around and do nothing.
  • Paint with watercolors.
  • Arrange fresh flowers to put around your home for no occasion whatsoever.
  • Take a whimsical, creative approach to your business plan. Make a collage or a poem about it. Make it into a piece of art.
  • Browse in a used bookstore.
  • Go to a playground and swing on the swingset.
  • Go to a coffee house and drink a tasty beverage and people-watch. Eavesdrop on conversations.

What ideas can you add? Put ’em in the comments section below.

Posted in administrative routine, business practice, contribution, creativity, life/work balance, professional development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

StudioGraphia Seeking Writers’ Assistant

See more information at

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Seeking Education Writers with Allied Health Care Background

StudioGraphia is seeking education writers with allied health care expertise to provide assessment and remediation content.

The project is paid per item, but aims for $30-$50/hour.

Please see the StudioGraphia Projects web page for more details, including how to apply for this opportunity.



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StudioGraphia Seeks Education Writers

StudioGraphia is seeking education writers with experience in English Language, Literature and Composition to join our team.

We are writing Advanced Placement English Language practice questions for a prominent education publisher.

Phase I Deadline: August 19th, 2012 

35 essays, 8-12 multiple-choice questions each

Phase II Monthly deadlines through February 14, 2013

222 essays, 8-12 multiple-choice questions each

Compensation: $175 per essay (Approx. $30/hour)


  • Experience teaching Advanced Placement English Language and Composition and/or Literature preparation courses
  • Experience writing for educational publishers
  • Ability to meet deadlines and work in a team
  • Familiarity with DropBox, or willingness to learn about it


Contact Heather at project managers (at) studiographia (dot) net to introduce yourself. Include your resume/cv and a summary of your experience teaching and writing Advanced Placement test preparation.

Posted in business practice, find work | Leave a comment

Freelancers: Take this Survey to Inform an Updated Freelancers Industry Report

This message is from Ed Gandia. Follow the link below to take the survey.

Fellow freelancer,

According to some estimates, one-third of the U.S. workforce is self-employed, contingent or freelance. The percentage is even higher in other countries.

Yet there’s very little published information about who we are … what we do … how we land work … what we earn … and why we do what we do.

And politicians and the mainstream media are absolutely clueless about independent workers like us!

I’m on a mission to change that.

Last year, I commissioned the first-ever Freelance Industry Report. More than 1,200 freelancers and self-employed pros participated in the survey, which yielded some fascinating insights.

I’ll be publishing an updated industry report in September, and I need your help by participating in the survey that will drive the results of this study. You can complete the survey here:

This survey is completely anonymous and will take you 5 minutes or less. Plus, as a “thank you” for taking the time to complete it, I’ll send you a free copy of the detailed industry report as soon as it’s ready.


Note: The survey closes Friday, June 29th. So please go there as soon as possible. And feel free to forward the link to your colleagues. Or share the following message on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn:

Take the 2012 #Freelance Industry Survey (participants get free copy) via @edgandia

Thanks in advance for your help with this effort!

Faithfully yours,

Ed Gandia

Co-founder, International Freelancers Academy
Co-author, The Wealthy Freelancer

2550 Sandy Plains Rd. #225, PMB 193, Marietta, GA 30066, USA

Posted in business practice | 1 Comment

Ask the Mercenary Writer: Books on How to Teach Writing

Someone asked me for recommendations about books on teaching people to write. I had to laugh a little bit about this. I have a Master’s degree in writing education, I’ve taught writing for over 15 years, and I have a whole bookcase on books about writing (that I’ve read and annotated). I’m STILL on the lookout for good books about how to teach people how to write.

I’ll put on my Gypsy Scholar hat and offer my favorite titles and resources for teaching writing. When I’m done, I’ll post the list on my Resources page. Check that out; I’ll keep adding items to the list as I discover them.

Happy Writing,


aka Mercenary Writer, Gypsy Scholar

Books about Teaching Writing

Posted in freelance teaching, professional development, resource, writing, writing workshop | Tagged , | Leave a comment

For Your Enjoyment: The Best Spammy Comments on The Mercenary Writer’s Guide to the Universe

The more exposure this blog gets, the more crazy comments I get. It has become a regular part of my blog administration to mark several comments per day as spam. Every once in a while, one stands out and makes me laugh.

Here, for your enjoyment, are the Best Spammy Comments from the Mercenary Writer’s Guide to the Universe.

April 2012:

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May 2012

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Don’t Let Your Work Become a Commodity: Value of Product or Service

After you get your basic hourly rates established, it’s time to create ways to go beyond commodity thinking to professional thinking.

First of all, describe your Unique Selling Proposition. What makes you different from your competitors? What is special about you and the services and/or products you offer? What is your distinctive talent? How much experience do you have? What is your education level, including formal academic training and the school of life?

Second, brainstorm ways that you can discover what value the client puts on the project you are bidding on. What questions can you ask to elicit this information?

Here’s an example:
A client approaches a graphic designer to create a logo. What value does a logo have compared to a more ephemeral image used on a quarterly newsletter or annual report? The logo may take just as much hands-on time to create, as a one-use image. However, the value to the client is much different.

A logo is a big part of the client’s branding, his image in the world. He will use that logo on every piece of marketing or outreach material he puts out in the world: business cards, website, letterhead, promotional items, etc. The logo will ideally be used for the life of the business.

A good designer understands the importance of the logo as a fundamental part of his client’s business. The designer will probably engage in a good deal of market research, discussion with the client about values and image, and many other subtle factors involved in creating the best possible logo for the client.

Given those considerations, the logo designer ought to be compensated for more than his hourly rate to create the image. THIS is the sort of thing a creative professional must consider when pricing a product or service.

What comparable situations exist for you in your profession?

Here are some resources that articulate this issue:

Rita Lewis’s excellent blog post for Freelance Switch: Are Freelancers a Commodity or a Profession?

Johnny B. Truant puts it a bit more bluntly in his blog post: You’re Worth More Than You Think.

Posted in administrative routine, business practice, clients, competition, concept, crisis management, evaluation, finance, life/work balance, pace of work, rates and fees | Leave a comment

2012 Design Salaries Comparison

Design Salaries
Find design jobs and careers at HOW Design.

Posted in business practice, design, rates and fees | Leave a comment

Consider Rush (or CRISIS!) Fees: Worksheet

Don’t overbook yourself. Being too busy is miserable after the initial rush wears off. Leave room in your schedule for illness or opportunity.

  1. How many hours per day can you realistically and comfortably work on close editing or writing work? __________
  1. How many days a week can you realistically and comfortably work on close editing or writing? __________
  1. This yields __________ hours per week available for concentrated work, leaving __________ hours per week available for administrative tasks, research, light reading, correspondence, marketing, networking, and professional development.
  1. How many clients or projects do you typically have at one time? What are your deadlines? How much time per week do you need to allocate to each client? If you get a rush job, which clients’ work would be set aside, or how much of your non-work time would be subsumed by the rushed deadline?
  1. Make a simple tool to prevent overbooking.                         Example: 40-hour work week. 5 work days, 5 hours of concentrated work per day.
Week # Project #1 Project #2 Project #3 Project #4 Project #5 TOTAL billed Admin Prof Dev TOTAL unpaid
Example 5 hours 5 hours 5 hours 5 hours 5 hours 25 hours 10 hours 5 hours 15 hours
  1. Make a reference table to indicate your maximum weekly capacity for the types of work you do.
Task Type

Regular Rate: 1-20 hours/project

Rush Rate: 21-30 hours/project

Crisis Rate: 31-? Hrs/project

Edit/Write Complex

10,000 words/week

15,000 words/week

Layout, Complex

15,000 words/week

22,500 words/week

Edit/Write Medium

25,000 words/week

37,500 words/week

Edit/Proofread Simple

25,000 words/week

75,000 words/week

Layout, Medium

30,000 words/week

45,000 words/week

Layout, Simple

45,000 words/week

67,500 words/week

Posted in administrative routine, business practice, clients, crisis management, evaluation, finance, life/work balance, pace of work, rates and fees, worksheet | Tagged | Leave a comment

How Much Do You Have to Work in Order to Meet Your Financial Goals?

This is part of a series of posts leading freelancers through a process to set their rates and fees. See previous posts to catch up with us if this is your first time visiting The Mercenary Writer’s Guide to the Universe!


Example 1


GROSS Income



Health insurance


10% of gross

Business expenses


20% of gross

NET Income


70% of gross

Retirement savings 25% of net income


25% net; 17.5% gross

*Social Security/Medicare tax (13.3% of net)


9% net; 9% gross

Income tax 15% or 25%


15% net; 10.5% gross



33% of gross

940 Billable hours (50% admin, full-time)


$4167 month

1410 Billable hours (25% admin, full-time)




Example 2


GROSS Income



Health insurance


6.5% of gross

Business expenses


15.5% of gross

NET Income


78% of gross

Retirement savings 25% of net income


25% net; 19.5% gross

*Social Security/Medicare tax (13.3% of net)


10% net; 10% gross

Income tax 15% or 25%


19.5% net; 19.5% gross



29% of gross

940 Billable hours (50% admin, full-time)



1410 Billable hours (25% admin, full-time)




Example 3


GROSS Income



Health insurance


5% of gross

Business expenses


12% of gross

NET Income


83% of gross

Retirement savings 25% of net income


25% net; 21% gross

*Social Security/Medicare tax (13.3% of net)


13% net; 11% gross

Income tax 15% or 25%


25% net; 21% gross



30.5% of gross

940 Billable hours (50% admin, full-time)



1410 Billable hours (25% admin, full-time)


*The self-employment tax rate for self-employment income earned in calendar year 2011 is 13.3% (10.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare).

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Estimating Pace of YOUR Work: A Worksheet

  1. Billable Work: List all the products and services that you currently produce or perform for clients (or would like to) in the table below. Next, estimate how long each of these tasks takes. Use the EFA’s estimated pace if you don’t have information on your own process and pacing.
Freelance Task
Some examples:
How long does it take?
Per Word or Per Page
Chapter edit: academic
Chapter edit: general non-fiction, fiction
Copy edit 250-word page
Line edit 250-word page
Proofread 250-word page
Newsletter created from scratch
Newsletter content applied to existing template
 Add your tasks here


Freelance Task
Some examples:
How long does it take?
Per Page or Per Item
Layout art book
Layout prose or poetry book
Web design, complex
Web design, simple
 Add your tasks here  
  1. Administration & Professional Development:

List all the administrative tasks and professional development you do for your business that are NOT paid for by clients (non-billable). Then estimate how long each of these tasks takes.

Administrative Tasks/ Professional Development.
Some examples:
How long does it take?
Paying bills
Computer back-up and updates
Professional development: Association meetings, webinars, courses, consultation, reading
Mentoring colleagues
Marketing and promotion: cold calls, writing blog content, etc.
Travel Time
 Add your tasks here
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Setting Rates & Fees: Worksheet

  1. What is your income goal? After taxes, retirement savings, health insurance, and business expenses, how much do you need to pay for non-business bills and lifestyle expenses? $____________________ NET INCOME.
  • What is the dollar amount or percentage of your net income that you would like to save for retirement? $____________________ OR ____________________% of NET INCOME for SAVINGS (Aim for AT LEAST 10%. SEP IRA rules allow investing 25% of earned income).
  • How many hours per week would you like to freelance? _______ How many hours per year? _________

A typical US corporation offers 7-10 paid holidays per year (56 – 80 hours), 2 weeks vacation (80 hours), and 1 week sick time (40 hours). Multiply hours per day times days per week times weeks per year to get Total Hours per Year. Subtract out the hours for weekends, paid holidays, vacation, and sick time to get Workable Hours per Year (~1880).

Total Work Weeks

Hours per Week

Hours per Year

Work Days

47 weeks

 x 40 hours

= 1880 hours/year.

235 8-hour days.

47 weeks

x 30 hours

= 1410 hours/year

235 6-hour work days

47 weeks

 x 20 hours

= 940 hours/year.

188 5-hour days.

47 weeks

 x 15 hours

= 705 hours/year.

141 5-hour days.

47 weeks

 x 10 hours

= 470 hours/year.

94 5-hour days.

47 weeks

 x 5 hours

= 235 hours/year.

47 5-hour days.

  • How many hours do you spend on billable client/project work per week? ________ Per year? _______
  • What percentage of your time includes billable hours? ____________________%
  • How many hours do you spend on unpaid administrative work and professional development per week? ________ Per year? ________
  • What percentage of your total time is taken up in administrative tasks and professional development? ___________%
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Ask the Mercenary Writer: Contracts

Occasionally, I get a question that begs to be answered on the blog. (Which is different from the logical fallacy,  “begging the question,” but I’ll get into my rant about the misuse of the phrase another time.)

When someone asks me a question, I’ll post the answer right away, departing from my Editorial Calendar for the Blog. So ask away… I’ll do my best to get an answer to you as soon as I can.

Feel free to use the comments form below any post, whether or not your question relates to the post at hand.

So… on to the question.

On 5/1/12 10:01 PM, someone asked:

When you take a project that has multiple stages, and different tasks at each stage, do you write up a contract for the entire thing, or a separate contract for each bit?

My latest prospective client wants to get started in a couple of weeks. Assuming it goes as discussed, it will involve copyediting, cover design, illustration (woo, subcontractor), interior layout, and back cover copyedit. My guess is that I should lump it all together into one contract, but should I ask for half of everything up front, or maybe all of the copyediting part first, then all of the cover design, etc.?

It probably doesn’t matter that much, but you might know of potential pitfalls of one method or the other. 🙂

The Mercenary Writer replied:


I am going to refer you to The 13th Edition of The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. I have a copy and I believe it would be a worthwhile investment for you. I take a lot from it for my writing and editing work, and it informs how I work with illustrators and designers.

You can find it directly at:

But if you click on the My Design Shop link on the sidebar of my blog, and purchase the Handbook from that source, I get a little bit of money because that’s an affiliate link. I’d be much obliged if you used that link if you decide to purchase the book.

It might be available at the public library in the meantime. If you’re like me, once you get your hands on it, you’ll want your own copy. Then you can highlight sections and put in sticky notes and really USE it. There are some resources, like The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook and  The Chicago Manual of Style, that are good to own and refer to often.


aka The Mercenary Writer

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Cost of Doing Business: Worksheet

Business Expenses (See IRS Schedule C)

Last year:

Historical expenses

This year:

Estimated expenses

Automobile expense: _______ miles @ $0.55/mile
Bank fees
Cell phone
Computer equipment
Computer software
Contract labor
Database fees
Depreciation and section 179 expense deduction (ask accountant)
Employee benefits
Legal/Professional services
Office expenses
Pensions/profit-sharing plans
PO box
Rent or lease a. vehicle, machinery, equipment
Rent or lease b. office rental, storage, real property lease
Research materials
Safe deposit box
Taxes and license
Travel a. Transportation costs: airfare, etc.
Travel b. Meals, entertainment
Web presence: domain name, host, designer
Deductible mortgage interest
Depreciation of home (ask accountant)
Real estate taxes
Repairs and maintenance
Health insurance premiums    

*Do you claim a home office deduction? __________% of household total for utilities, maintenance, cleaning services.

(See IRS rules for Home Office deductions.)

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Types of Editing Services


The editor goes over the text for basic grammatical and spelling errors. This is typically the final step before publication where the editor compares two versions of the manuscript to make sure all corrections have been made properly.

Line Editing

The editor points out plot holes, limited characterization, factual errors, or syntactical problems so the author can fix them. This service can be a line-by-line or word-for-word manuscript review.


The depth of copyediting is often described in light, medium, or heavy levels. Copyeditors correct mechanical, syntax, style, and usage errors while preserving the voice and intent of the author. Copyeditors may also query the author or correct ambiguous references, awkward sentence structure, wordiness, or inconsistencies. This type of editor reads from the point of view of the intended audience to make sure that the piece has clarity and makes sense.

Substantive Editing

A substantive edit involves the rearranging, deleting, adding, and rewording of entire pages and chapters to clarify/reorganize the manuscript for improved content and structure. Some editors call substantive editing a “Ghostwriting/Editing Blend” as the result typically will not be the whole ability of the author.

Developmental Editing

This type of editor manages a project from the rough draft to the final manuscript, which can involve hiring or gathering input from authors, setting budgets, and supervising the design. Developmental editors may also analyze competing works and the overall market and suggest changes to content, organization, and presentation based on the research.

Fact Checking

A fact checker verifies facts or quotes in a document or conducts research to correct the facts.


An indexer creates a detailed list of names, places, phrases, and subjects in a printed work. This list contains the pages on which each item is mentioned and is usually placed at the back of a non-fiction manuscript.


Translators take a completed work and change it into another language allowing for idiomatic phrases and ideological transfers so the work makes the same sense in the new language as it does in the original.

Ghost Writer

A writer or editor takes an idea from “Person N” and writes the manuscript to make it appear to the reading public that N wrote the book.


A formatter will take a completed manuscript and change the formatting to fit that required by a particular publisher. This activity includes changing page size, margins, page numbering, adding titles or styles to headings, and making tables fit into the text.

Graphic Design

Graphic designers are visual artists who will sometimes format manuscripts but mainly work with the author to create pictures for cover art or internal images to help the reader make sense of some written material.

–Written by Mary Ann Marazzi, Seshat Editorial, LLC 

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Editors: How Do Your Rates and Pace of Work Compare with Others?

The Editorial Freelancers Association: Editorial Rates (stay tuned for updated rates)

“Common editorial rates — regardless of whether a project is flat rate or hourly — tend to fall within the ranges indicated below. These should be used only as a rough guideline; rates vary considerably depending on the nature of the work, the time frame of the assignment, the degree of special expertise required, and other factors. The industry standard for a manuscript page, however, is a firm 250 words.” — Editorial Freelancers Association.

Type of Work EFA Estimated Pace YOUR Pace EFA Fee Range YOUR Fees
Copyediting, basic 5–10 ms pgs/hr $30–40/hr
Copyediting, heavy 2–5 ms pgs/hr $40–50/hr
Substantive | line editing 1–6 ms pgs/hr $50–60/hr
Developmental editing 1–5 pgs/hr $60–80/hr
Layout | newsletters 1–4 pgs/hr $40–100/prn pg
Layout | books 6–10 pgs/hr $45–85/hr
Indexing 8–20 prn pgs/hr $35–65/hour$3.50–12/indexable prn pg
Project management NA $9.00–30.00/prn pg$40–90/hr
Proofreading 9–13 ms pgs/hr $30–35/hr
Researching NA $40–75/hr
Translating 300–500 wds/hr 20–50¢/wd
Writing 1–3 ms pgs/hr $50–100/hr$.50–$2/wd
Transcribing variable $3–$5/pg
NOTE ms = manuscript, prn = printed, pg = page, hr = hour, wd = word

Editorial Freelancers Association

71 West 23rd Street, 4th Floor New York, NY 10010-4102

Tel: 212-929-5400
Tel toll-free: 866-929-5425

Fax: 212-929-5439
Fax toll-free: 866-929-5439

For more information on estimating pace of work, see this excellent and still timely article by David W. McClintock of WordSupplyBenchmarks for Estimating Editing Speed. Published in Corrigo: Newsletter of the STC’s Technical Editing SIG (June 2002), pp. 1, 3.

Posted in business practice, competition, evaluation, finance, pace of work, rates and fees, resource | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Estimating Pace of Work

A colleague recently told me about an editing project she had just finished. “It’s a good thing I didn’t set my hourly rate too low.  The project ended up taking more than twice as long as I’d estimated, so I actually ended up making about $25/hour. If I’d lowballed myself, I would’ve been working for less than minimum wage.”

I responded, “I’m so glad you raised your rates at least to be able to earn that minimum. It’s a step in the right direction!”

I invariably undercut myself, sometimes severely, when I take on a new kind of writing or editing project. I figure that is part of my learning curve. Sometimes the most valuable thing I get out of a particular project is the authentic time tracking that gets done. That information helps me bid the next project much more accurately. Of course, I tend to learn the ropes and get the work done somewhat faster in subsequent projects, but even a certain expertise doesn’t speed me up THAT much. It still takes as long as it takes, you know?

I was talking to another editor recently about her work with a company that offers editorial services. They farm out the work to freelancers. She said they offer authors a $35 critique on ten pages. I forget how much the freelance editor actually gets out of that amount. She laments that she is very slow, so her compensation is negligible for those critiques.

She gets some significant benefits from being part of the team of editors, so perhaps it works out in the end, but the low payment makes me cringe. I suppose it’s something to be sucked up in the name of marketing and promotion, but it still stings. That part I have to let go.

However, I keep telling her to stop criticizing herself for being “slow,” and stop comparing her pace of work with other people because:

a.) You never know what the REAL truth is about a person’s pace of work, or all the factors they consider when they measure it. Or if they actually measure it versus making wild assumptions.

b.) It’s not speed you’re selling, really– you’re guaranteeing quality results. At least that’s what I expect when I engage an editor’s service.

c.) It takes as long as it takes to do a quality job, whether creating a design, writing a chunk of web copy, writing a critique, or editing a manuscript.

d.) You deserve to be PAID for every minute you spend on a project. Period.

I’ve done some significant research on how writers, editors and designers figure out how to measure their pace of work. It’s an art and a science. I maintain that while the ranges posted in various places like the Editorial Freelancers Association rates and fees chart can serve as guides, what really matters is YOUR pace of work. THAT is what must be measured so that you don’t undercut your value.

(By the way, I’ll be presenting that information at the Second Annual Freelance Rates and Fees Discussion Forum  for the Arizona Chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association. This free workshop takes place in Tucson on April 17th, 2012. Come on down, if you’re in the neighborhood!)

Here are some sources of information to help nail down a system to accurately predict pace of work.

See the Resources Page for more information on freelance rates and fees.

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The Mercenary Writer’s Business Plan

The term “business plan” makes some freelance entrepreneurs quake. It sounds scary and time-consuming. It’s possible to talk yourself into believing it’s irrelevant for your purposes.

However, a business plan can be a work in progress, a method for you to measure your success. At the very least, a bit of low-pressure journal-writing to answer these questions will help guide you.

It’s a good idea to explore the following questions as you contemplate taking up a freelancer’s lifestyle:

1. Goals:

What do you want your business to achieve?

2. Customers:

Who are your customers?

What do they want/need?

3. Products/Services:

What products/services do you provide to meet customer needs?

4. Markets:

Where are your customers?

What do you know about them as a group?

5. Marketing style:

How do you reach customers?

6. Competitors:

Competitors’ price, market, services.

7. Unique selling proposition

Unique way your product/service meets customer needs.

8. Abilities:

What skills do you have?

Where do you need help?

 9. External Resources:

People/technology/services support available to you.

People/technology/services support needed.

10. Lifestyle:

Income needed to support your lifestyle, pay for all business expenses, save for retirement, etc.

Time commitment you are willing to make to the business.

Work environment: work at home? Work in an office?

The answers to these questions will help you create a more formal business plan. The formal document may be necessary for obtaining funding from small business grants and loans, small business preference programs in city, county, state and federal government, or other purposes.

Even if you don’t intend to pursue these opportunities, creating a formal business plan can help you focus your efforts on what really matters to you as you go about your work.

1. Executive Summary.

Brief overview of the business plan: Approach, business offerings, key staff, financial expectations

2. Introduction.

Brief description of business, policies, mission, vision, purpose and objectives

3. Marketing analysis.

Assess marketing challenges

4. Marketing plan.

Marketing strategy to benefit from opportunities, overcome challenges

5. Operations plan.

Business structure, location, rules, regulations, key operational processes, etc.

6. Management plan.

Business management including key personnel, qualifications, experiences, relevant business credentials

7. Financial plan.

Financial projections.

Include adequate consultation, gather relevant input, discuss strategies, review and validate information

 Give it a try. Scrawl down some answers to these questions. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You might find that articulating the answers changes how you do business.

Be well, and use your powers for good.


aka Mercenary Writer

Posted in business practice, concept, contribution, creativity, evaluation, finance, life/work balance | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Mercenary Writer’s Critique and Grammar Rx (free download)

Here is a link to a free download to accompany my post about manuscript critiques:

The Mercenary Writer’s Critique and Grammar Rx (pdf)

There’s no catch; you don’t even have to give me your email address. All I ask is that if you use my work, you give me credit by using the citation information included on each document. If you adapt the work for your own purposes, include a footer that says:

Adapted from: Severson, Heather. 2012. The Mercenary Writer’s Guides: [title]. StudioGraphia: Tucson, AZ. http:/

Comments and feedback welcome! Please use the comments section of this page to share your opinions and suggestions for improvement.

Pay it forward, and use your powers for good!

(If you value this resource and would like to make a voluntary contribution to reward and support this work, I will very happily accept donations via PayPal.)

Posted in clients, evaluation, free download, freelance teaching, writing, writing workshop | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Providing an HONEST Critique/Helpful Advice to Writers about a Work in Progress

A colleague of mine recently asked me some hard questions about how to handle a manuscript critique for a book that doesn’t quite meet the standards of a publication-quality work. My colleague points out that often, “developmental edits tend to take highly flawed books to the next level — maybe even two or three levels up — but it isn’t enough. The resulting work still reads like it needs a new developmental edit. Certain elements still need a lot of help.”

My colleague is doing a critique for this kind of work. “The manuscript has a number of flaws. The critique points them out, explains why they’re problematic, and offers some suggestions for how to fix them. The author will give the rewrites his all, improving things here and there, but he won’t have mastered the new techniques he’s learning, so there will be a need for further refinement. He’s talented enough to improve his work a great deal. He’ll probably make new mistakes in the process. Further, his vast improvement of the elements outlined in the critique will make other flaws more obvious… things the critique missed.”

My colleague says, “My question is, do I warn him about this? I don’t want to mislead him through silence into believing that the next draft is going to be perfect. He’s already going to be disheartened about the vast amount of rewriting he’ll need to do just for the next draft. Also, telling him this may make it sound like I’m just trying to drum up new business for myself. Which I’m not sure if I should do anyway. I’d be happy to keep working with him on this, but maybe he’d benefit more from a fresh pair of eyes.”

There is no easy way to let an author down. However, I believe that honesty is essential, for my own sense of integrity, for the general quality of published work, and for the author’s sake. A critique that points out the strengths AND weaknesses of a piece of writing helps the writer improve.

The Mercenary Writer’s Critique

  • Start with praising what is good about the work. What does the writer do well?
  • Include specific, actionable suggestions to improve the writing, offering examples from the writing. I use a Grammar Rx to diagnose issues in the writing and prescribe treatment.
  • Provide solid resources to guide the writer towards those improvements, including local writing classes, writing groups, online professional development for writers, and books about writing, grammar and style.
  • Help the writer identify where the work falls in the spectrum from conception through revision to completion.
  • Offer encouragement for the long journey.
  • Suggest a second opinion.

General Recommendations for Writers

Additionally, I have several general recommendations for writers who are passionate about their work, committed to getting published, but haven’t quite gotten there. It’s true that there is a great deal of subjectivity involved in appreciation of the literary arts, but there are also many elements involved in meeting a minimum standard of quality. It is possible to learn the craft of writing. Like any art or science, practice is essential.


I like to refer to the concept of 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, as discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers. He contends that people don’t become “masters” at complex things until they have accrued 10,000 hours of practice. Writing is a complex skill that demands complex practice.

Writing Classes

There are thousands of opportunities for continued education in the art of writing. Community colleges often have hidden treasures for a writer. Ask around. You’ll start to hear the same names come up when you ask, “Who is the best writing teacher?” Take classes from those writing teachers. Distant education means that you can find a great writing teacher from afar.

Reading and Self-Study

A writer reads. Read books about the writing process. Read books in your genre to see what works. Read critically to improve your craft, and read for fun.


Naturally, most writers are eager to get published. The long and convoluted timelines involved in publishing (one to two years to final release after being taken up by a traditional publisher) make authors anxious to get started as soon as possible. I can’t blame them; I’m guilty of this, myself!

There is one essential process that many writers are too impatient, or perhaps too timid, to invest in: gathering feedback from informed readers. Writers MUST get feedback on their work at several stages in the process from creation to publication.

The First Reader

I recommend that writers do their best work, and get to a point where they feel comfortable sharing the manuscript with a First Reader. The First Reader is a very special person, with a number of important qualities.

  • The First Reader cares for the author, and wants the best for him and for the book project.
  • He knows how to be gentle and honest.
  • He can offer insightful, useful suggestions for improvement.


The writer brings the manuscript to the First Reader accompanied by a specific list of questions about what the manuscript does right, and what could be improved. After receiving the First Reader’s feedback, the writer often has great deal of work to do. Enormous revisions can take place after the First Reader has responded to the manuscript.

Writer’s Group

After this major revision phase, the author brings the manuscript to his or her writer’s group for a second round of feedback. A writer’s group can be formal or informal. Paid editors can offer valuable critiques at this stage, or the writer can join a committed group of writers who take turns offering feedback on each other’s work. Again, specific questions and guidelines for the readers are necessary in order to get the most valuable, precise suggestions to improve the work.


The writer’s group will provide a great deal of fodder for the author’s next revision phase. There is no way around it. Writing for publication requires careful revision. A high quality book may go through nine or ten revision stages before reaching its audience.


After significant revision, the author may receive encouragement from his readers to take the manuscript to the next step. This nearly-final draft needs to get into the hands of a good editor to polish the text, point out inconsistencies, and otherwise whip the work into place.


A good editor will provide feedback that might result in yet another (!) revision phase. That’s okay. That is NORMAL. That is expected. That is helpful. That makes the book better.

Submission to Agents and Editors

Eventually, a book with a committed author can get to the point where it’s ready to submit for consideration by agents and editors. The author would do well to consider any feedback from these professionals for yes… sigh… MORE revision.


An author can expect to encounter rejection. Maybe repeated rejection. Some rejection letters are general, while some offer golden advice. If an agent or editor rejects the work but takes the time to offer helpful feedback, the author is fortunate and a gesture of gratitude is appropriate. This is yet another opportunity to make the work the best it can be. But it’s not a reason to give up entirely.

There are often several more steps involved in the process, and I won’t elaborate. You get the picture.

  • Acceptance for Representation
  • Revision
  • Acceptance for Publication
  • Revision
  • And finally… PUBLICATION

So. My short answer to my colleague’s inquiry is this: Be gentle, honest, and helpful. Guide your client to some resources to improve his work. Suggest writing books, grammar books, style guides, writing classes, writing groups and exercises particular to your client’s needs. Emphasize the importance of repeated revision. Offer encouragement for the long process ahead. Suggest a second opinion. Sometimes we need to hear difficult advice from a variety of voices before it sinks in.

See the Resources page for books and web sites to suggest to your clients.

YOUR TURN: A Call for Comments

Editors, writing teachers, writing group participants: What is your take on the issue? What is the best advice you can offer to a writer in this situation? What is your best advice for other critical readers to help such writers?

Posted in clients, creativity, evaluation, writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Maybe I’m an April Fool. But I’m Not Worried. How a Mercenary Writer Handles the Unexpected

I fully expected to launch this blog on April Fools’ Day, but the joke was on me. Friday, at the end of the workday, my laptop computer shut down and wouldn’t boot up again despite all trouble-shooting efforts. (Happily, I just needed a new battery.) Aside from missing my self-selected deadline for the blog post–and going in a completely different direction than I had planned, I’m not worried.

Why I’m Not Worried.

  • I back up my work to 2 external hard drives every day, so any lost work is minimal.
  • Files that other members of my work team relied on for a weekend meeting exist on the Cloud (in this case, DropBox.)
  • I managed to make final content submission to a client before the computer stopped working, and I cc:ed myself on those email messages so that I have access to that work.
  • I can treat the lost computer availability as an opportunity to do some non-web-based reading.
  • The requisite visit to the computer store fits into my weekly allowance of unpaid administrative work. It’s a normal work week.
  • The expense isn’t really unexpected; I just didn’t know WHEN I’d have to spend the money. I keep a comfortable financial cushion for this sort of thing.

Here’s what I’ll do to prepare for the next computer malfunction:

  • Back up as I work while in the midst of intensive content creation.
  • Make use of a WordPress feature that allows me to post blog content and reserve it for publication on a specific date.
  • Export web bookmarks from my main computer on a regular basis to a second computer or web-based bookmark file. I can add this to my end-of-month backup process.
  • Consider using cloud computing applications even more than I have to this point.

More Ways to Handle the Unexpected with Ease

  • Make sure to have access information available for essential websites: URLs, user names, passwords.
  • Build in a time cushion prior to deadlines to allow for a flat tire enroute to your destination.
  • Have a Plan B for effective use of your time.
  • When in doubt, DON’T PANIC. Take the ride, learn the lesson, and keep going.

Best wishes for a stress-free ride through your next wannabe crisis.

~Heather, aka Mercenary Writer


What best practices do you recommend for dealing with the unexpected?

Posted in administrative routine, business practice, crisis management, life/work balance, Plan B | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Mercenary Writer Blog.

Welcome, creative colleagues!

April 1st, 2012 will be the Official Launch Date of the Mercenary Writer Blog, a randomly organized tutorial on all aspects of setting up a thriving creative services business.

The purpose of this blog is threefold:
1. Provide valuable information to peers.
2. Meet interesting professional colleagues.
3. Market and promote my products and services.

My target audience includes creative people considering freelancing as a sideline or career, new freelancers, and experienced freelancers keeping up on the field.

Posting frequency will be bi-weekly to start with, then weekly, if called to fulfill a demand.

Here are some of the topics I’m considering. If you have a preference for which topics to address first, please let me know in the comments section below. This is meant to be a tool for YOU, my reader, so please speak up. How can I help you make the most of your profession?

  • Right Livelihood for the Mercenary Writer
  • The importance of service and contribution
  • Professional organizations
  • The importance of time tracking
  • Professional development
  • Record-keeping and organization
  • Rates and fees
  • Pace of work
  • Work/Life balance
  • Specific, Measurable Results
  • Taxes for the independent creative professional
  • Best Practices for the independent creative professional
  • Feedback and evaluation of your work
  • Testimonials: how to make best use of the positive feedback you receive
  • Featured resources for writers
  • Featured resources for editors
  • Featured resources for designers
  • Freelance teaching, i.e. adjunct instruction
  • Business practice: Doing business locally
  • Publishing, traditional
  • Publishing, self
  • Information architecture
  • Sign up to be a government vendor
  • Business expenses for the independent creative professional
  • Job boards
  • Content mills
  • The importance of creative down time
  • Document design
  • Marketing and promotion for independent creative professionals
  • Professional mentoring: giving and getting
  • The Mercenary Writer’s Business Plan
  • Networking (Facebook Linked In person-to-person Pinterest Twitter etc.)
  • Business structure: LLC? S-Corp?
  • The Care and Feeding of Happy Clients
  • To freelance or not? What does it take? What does it give?
  • Featured resources for teachers
  • Writing Contests
  • Design Contests

I’ll be seeing you on April Fools’ Day.

–The Mercenary Writer

Posted in concept, welcome | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment