The ABCs of Freelance Writing: J is for Jalopy

J is for jalopy: n., what you’ll be driving if you don’t learn how to set competitive rates and manage your freelance income.

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I’m no financial expert. But thanks to the magic of the Internet, I don’t have to be. Browse these resources at your leisure and learn more about setting competitive rates, managing your freelance income, and preparing for retirement.

Setting Freelance Rates

  • How to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates by Brian Scott
  • The Pay Rate Chart (requires subscription)
  • Setting a Freelance Writing Rate Equal to the Task by Deborah Ng
  • Talking Money With Clients: Increasing Your Freelance Writing Rates by Jennifer Mattern

Freelance Spending & Budgets

Retirement for Freelancers

There is a wealth of information out there to help freelancers manage their income and expenses and plan for the future. Keep digging!

What are you doing to manage your freelance money wisely? J is for jalopy.

The Liberal Freelance Editor's Creed by Emily Suess

Freelance editing can be challenging if both parties aren’t on the same page*. This creed is basically just my personal philosophy spelled out so that potential clients can make an informed decision about hiring me.  If you have questions about this post or want to discuss rates, please use my contact page or email me directly.

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The Liberal Freelance Editor’s Creed by Emily Suess

  1. For a fee I am willing to edit or proofread your documents.
  2. As an editor, you’ll find me opinionated and judgy**.  I might even hurt your feelings, but I promise that’s an unintended consequence. In this capacity, I might suggest you stop using triple exclamation points at the end of every sentence. Not because a person can’t use triple exclamation points if she wants to***, but because I personally think your writing is better without them.
  3. As a proofreader, I am not going to judge the content or style of your writing. I’m just going to try to catch the things you would change yourself if you had the time to look them up and your eyes weren’t already bleeding from your first thousand readings. I’ll let you keep your triple exclamation points and will promise not to touch any part of your writing that is clearly part of your voice, no matter how much it pains me.
  4. Regardless of what you may have learned in middle school, there isn’t just one way to write. Take the serial comma, for instance. The AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style don’t agree on its use****. Assuming you’re not obligated to follow AP or Chicago or whatever, just pick your favorite and enjoy the opportunity you have to call the shots. I’ll go along with it.
  5. My editor’s marks are not insults; they are suggestions. You are – at all times – free to ignore them.  It’s always your piece.
  6. I don’t like red ink either, but blue ink doesn’t offer enough contrast and no one is taking my glitter pens***** seriously.

* Ha! I’m such a hoot.
**It’s a word now. I’m a liberal freelance editor, remember?
*** I believe in breaking the so-called rules, particularly if you have a good reason to do it.
**** A quick note on stylebooks: If you’re writing in an industry that requires you to adhere to one particular style, you should tell me that before I start working on your document.
***** I don’t really have glitter pens. I was just trying to be funny.

ABCs of Freelance Writing: I is for Imbibe

I is for imbibe: v., the act of consuming liquids

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People tend to assume I’m a coffee drinker. I suppose the profile picture I use here and on Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Facebook kind of perpetuates that notion. But I promise there was no coffee in that E mug.

Writers, and freelance writers especially, are somewhat notorious for being coffee drinkers. And I suppose as vices go, it’s almost a non-vice. Plus it contains lots of caffeine, and it’s acceptable to drink at 6:00 a.m. Still, it’s not for me. Occasionally I’ll drink a Frappuccino or some other non-coffee coffee beverage. But it’s rare, because those things are way overpriced. And, well, I don’t do my own coffee chemistry in the morning. I wake up with just enough time to shower, grab my lunch and drive to work. No time for mixing and measuring things like cream and sugar.

I’ve mentioned before that my preferred vehicle for caffeine is Throwback Mountain Dew. (Regular Mountain Dew comes in a close second, but I’m sufficiently creeped out by the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup and so I avoid it when it’s convenient to avoid it.) And so, on Dew I imbibe. I get some strange looks when I crack open a can before 10:00 a.m., but at 31 I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. I do what I want.

And what I want is to drink the favorite beverage of teenagers and stoners everywhere.

What do you drink and what does it say about you?


ABCs of Freelance Writing: H is for Haters

H is for haters…as in haters gonna hate.

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I have reason to believe that the following tweets were directed (very passive-aggressively I must add) at me and my blog. And even if they weren’t, I am going to pretend like they were so the readers I have left can still be entertained. Who doesn’t love a good personal conflict aired out on the interwebz, after all?

Before I launch into my defense, how about an object lesson? With things like screenshots and cached websites, when you write on the internet you might as well be using a Sharpie. If you’re going to put something out there, I hope you’re committed to it.

Are the Rumors True?

I am sort of guilty as accused. I used to write a blog called emcogneato! and go by the Twitter handle @emcogneato, like, forever ago. But then something happened. I started freelancing in earnest. Priorities changed, my need to vent about my ex-husband subsided (somewhat!) and I started connecting with other writers.

I announced to the world that I was changing my Twitter handle to my real name, closing emcogneato!, and opening Suess’s Pieces. For the record, though, I still write posts here that are unrelated to my freelance writing business and all of my posts from the old days came with me. I also completed a full 30 Days of personal posts at the beginning of the year. (By the way, I caught flak for writing those too.)

Social Skills Still Required

(Alternative subheading: Dude, I never asked you to follow me.)

I know this is the internet, but social skills are still required. If you want to stop reading my blog and unfollow my Twitter account, what’s wrong with doing it quietly? If you have a concern or a disagreement with how I’m doing things over here, why not comment on my blog like a grown up or send me a private email?

Sometimes Business IS Personal

This blog is my own creation and it’s about my life…as a freaking writer. So (go figure!) it’s going to contain posts about what I do for a living. I wouldn’t say that my career defines me, but it’s a huge part of who I am. I’m proud of it. The name of my business is Emily Suess, Freelance Writer for the love of God!

To All the Haters

Long live internet civility! Down with your anti-social networking!

However, if discord is still your thing, there’s a picture of my middle finger around here somewhere that I’d be glad to send you. Privately.

So, yeah, h is for haters.

The ABCs of Freelance Writing: G is for Green

Unfortunately, today’s word won’t help you expand your vocabulary. However, its importance pretty much trumps everything for freelancers, so I don’t think you’ll mind me reaching into the vernacular for this one. G is for green.

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No, this isn’t a post about reducing the size of your carbon footprint (as admirable as that might be); it’s a post about money.

Moolah. Dough. Relish. Bread. Loot. Plaster. Clams.

I consider myself somewhat established in the world of freelance writing. No, I’m not independently wealthy yet. (That is, I have bills, a car payment, and a  mortgage payment like the rest of the working world.) But I’m not doing too bad for myself. (That is, I can actually pay those bills, car payments, and mortgage payments.) Therefore I deem myself qualified to give the following advice:

If you want to make more money, try charging less.

You’re going to hate this one. Hell, I hate this one. But it works.

No matter how long you’ve been at it, there will be times when you have to woo new clients. And I’m here to tell you, it ain’t always easy. People who are looking to hire freelance writers for the first time don’t always understand what goes into a professionally written web page or a blog post. When they balk at your initial quote, it’s usually because they hadn’t prepared themselves for the reality of hiring a professional. It’s not a personal assault on your intelligence, I swear.

So instead of turning someone away, why not try offering an introductory rate? For instance, I recently picked up a new client on a job site whose stated budget was about half of my standard rate. Despite the below normal wages, I gave the client my best work. He loved it (of course!) and promptly paid me. Then he asked me if I would like more work in the future.

When you’ve proven you’ve got what it takes, be clear about what you need in the future.

I gave it to him straight, letting him know that it was great to work with him, but that my standard wages were considerably higher. If my schedule permitted, I might be open to working with him again at this lower wage. But as a rule, it just wouldn’t be sustainable.

You know what he did? He asked me what I would normally charge.

You know what I did? I told him.

Then he remarked that those rates were not unreasonable considering the quality of my work, and he told me he looked forward to doing business with me again in the future. And any freelancer will tell you that clients with long-term projects and repeat business are the best clients to have.

Have you ever done something that seemed counter-intuitive in order to make more green?

ABCs of Freelance Writing: F is for Fustian

F is for fustian adj., pretentious

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Aren’t you glad I didn’t pick floccinaucinihilipilification for this installment? Me too.


It would have worked well for this little post on pretentious writing!

As a freelance writer, you probably already know the gist of the rule here: Unless you have a darn good reason, don’t use a word people need to look up in the dictionary when one they already know will suffice.

They way I see it, it’s a courtesy to your readers to cut out the esoteric obscure junk. Imagine your magazine article or blog post is a path. If you write well, the path is free and easy and helpful. If you don’t write well, the path becomes riddled with irritants and obstacles.

A missing comma slows the traveler down. A misspelled word causes the traveler to loser her balance.

A pretentious word? Well, that’s worse. That’s not just some unwitting hiccup in the textual landscape; that’s stringing some invisible fishing line across the path with the intention of watching the reader trip and land nose-first in the dirt.

I can see their metaphorical eyes pleading why?

And you? You just point, laugh, and talk about how you learned that word in fifth grade, duh!

Pretentious writing is off-putting. So people who want readers should shy away from it.

In his post “Seven Easy Steps to Pretentious Writing,” Michale Offut pokes a little fun at snobbish writing in general, turning a simple favorite into a laughable monstrosity of a poem.

It’s a brilliant way to drive the point home, isn’t it? I think we should all give it a go! In the comments write your own example or take a moment to turn the following sentence into something absurdly pretentious:

Jeremy went to the store to buy a loaf of bread, but the cashier said they were out.


image credit

ABCs of Freelance Writing: E is for Experientialism

E is for experientialism n., the doctrine that we learn by experience

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You could say I’m a bit of an experientialist. I mean, learning how to skydive without actually skydiving? Don’t think so.

I remember how my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Potter, used to tell us stories of all the jobs he’d had and all the things he’d done in his life. At nine or ten years old, any time an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I got the distinct impression I was expected to pick just one thing. So I wondered why Mr. Potter got to do so much before settling on teaching, and I wondered if I’d get the chance to go on similar occupational expeditions.

The reason I’ve been thinking about all this lately is that I resigned my day job at the synagogue on Friday. In the next few weeks, I will wrap up that chapter of my life and move on to a new job at a new company doing writing and editing things. Although my freelancing remains a constant, this will be a big change for me. I’m eager to learn more, but I’m also prone to pondering about how I made it to this point.

At 31, I’ve already done quite a bit:

Photography Studio Assistant

My first real job. Got my first ass-chewing from a disgruntled customer. Learned how to crop negatives, paint the high-key background, and track accounts receivable. My favorite part of the job was sorting proofs for duds after they were developed. Even in the digital age your photographer has photos of you that you hope never see the light of day.

City Hall Receptionist

My first job with health insurance and a 401(k). Punched a clock, balanced a cash drawer, collected taxes, and answered the switchboard. Not the worst job I’ve ever had. I learned that in the real world, people sometimes take jobs that don’t suit them.

City Parks, Recreation, and Cemeteries Office Administrative Assistant

I was promoted to this position about a year and a half at city hall. The part where the office was located on the cemetery grounds was weird, but I was young and invincible. Death was still something that happened to other people, and that actually made it easier to deal with the bereaved.

Community College Administrative Assistant

My first job in Indianapolis after making the big move. I was only there 6 months, but I learned what I had suspected was true: I would never be satisfied as a clerical worker.

Elementary School Attendance Secretary

Definitely the worst job I’ve ever had. But every once in a while one of the kids would hug me for fixing her glasses or finding the homework she dropped in the hallway, making it possible to hold out until I found a full-ride scholarship and went back to college full-time. I learned it’s not the will that makes the way, it’s the desperation.

Editorial Assistant

Part-time job I held while going to IUPUI. One of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. My favorite part was working in the archives and reading old issues of The Post. Kurt Vonnegut shorts and those crazy retro ads about how 4 out of  doctors recommend Chesterfields made me feel like a time traveler. I learned sometimes your job will require you to dig through the trash.

Author’s Assistant

Another fun part-time job I held during college. Got to read a lot, and the fact that I can still recommend Paper Towns to friends after reading it four or five times for work should say something. I learned that writing books for a living isn’t as glamorous as one would hope, but it sure beats being a school secretary.

Medical Receptionist at Psychiatric Clinic

Third and last part-time position I worked during college. This job was very stressful because the doctor was consistently overbooked and usually late. I learned to respect how delicate the human mind can be. A patient also taught me how to sanitize the hand sanitizer bottle.

Synagogue Administrative Assistant

One of the best jobs I’ve had to date. I started this job at such a turbulent time in my life. I had just graduated college, filed for divorced, and was struggling to get even one foot planted firmly on the ground. I gained a lot here: friendships, perspective, an appreciation for and understanding of Judaism, and rest from that constant struggling at home while waiting for the ex to finally move out. I learned that 2 years, 7 months and 15 days can fly by when you work with good people.

What have your jobs taught you?

ABCs of Freelance Writing: D is for Dapatical

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D is for dapatical adj., lavish or costly

Don’t you just love that scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian (Julia Roberts) returns to the boutique on Rodeo Drive after being snubbed by the judgmental sales staff? She lets those commission-motivated sales girls know what a big mistake they made, and somehow the whole world feels satisfied watching them deflate as they realize just how much money they won’t be making.

There is a lesson here, and it doesn’t just apply to commissioned sales people. Today’s blog post is a reminder to all freelancers and small business owners. Don’t be rude, snobbish, or otherwise condescending to potential clients. Also don’t be rude, snobbish, or otherwise condescending to people who can’t afford you.

Why I won’t work with a certain local web design boutique. Ever.

Although I’ve had a blog for years, I’ve only had my freelance writing website for a few months.

I started shopping for a web designer by typing “Indianapolis web design” into a search box on Google. When I did, I found several sites and decided to fill out the contact form for one company in particular. On the page, I typed in my name, business, email address, phone number, and a description of what I needed. All was well until I clicked the response field for the next question— a question about my budget. When I clicked, some text popped up next to my cursor telling me that if my budget wasn’t at least  X dollars I shouldn’t waste their time or mine.

I was immediately offended. I might have been a little bitter, in all honesty. My business was fledgling and my budget was tight.

Now, I know that small business owners and freelancers work hard to find their niche, and that wealthy people and wealthy businesses make for a good client base. But here’s the thing I think Dapatical Web Company™ failed to consider: some of those people they offend now will be able to afford them later.

The damage might be permanent.

Things I couldn’t afford six months ago? Well, I can afford some of them now. Too bad my first impression of that company was a lasting one. Although I won’t return to them and rub their noses in it like Vivian did, I have made a mental note to look elsewhere when it’s time to get quotes for a custom WordPress blog theme in the next 6-12 months.

How to cater to rich clients without being an ass to everyone else.

It just takes a little foresight to stand your financial ground without being disrespectful. Here’s what I would suggest:

  • Clearly state your minimum project budget without offending your potential client. Realize that there is a difference between saying “Don’t waste our time if your budget is under $1,000,” and “Our project minimum is $1,000.”
  • Try to be helpful. Do you know a freelancer or other small business in your network that specializes in smaller projects? You can refer the client and avoid looking like a jerk.
  • Limit budget options with a dropdown menu. In the case of Dapatical Web Company™, a dropdown menu that listed price ranges—starting with their minimum—would send all the appropriate signals to a prospect without being condescending.


A Novel Way to Read a Novel: Chapter by Chapter on The Huff Post

A Guest Post By Claudia Ricci

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Last month, my new novel, Seeing Red, became the first novel ever to be serialized on the Huffington Post. It’s an exciting experiment in digital publishing, and like any experiment, it remains to be seen if it will succeed.

Serializing novels isn’t new. Way back in the 19th century, many authors – Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain among them — serialized their books in weekly or monthly magazines, and readers would line up to buy the next installments of the stories.

But that was the old days, when there wasn’t much to read. Today, readers are swamped with reading options. Do they really need one more? It’s not clear. But as I’ve been hearing from readers who are writing in with comments, serial installments spark interest in a book. Serialization also appeals to writers who are trying to get their work out into the world for others to see.

Reader reaction to Seeing Red – in both print and on-line formats — has been very favorable, and recently, a couple of newspaper articles have helped to focus attention on my online experiment.

Interviewing me for one of those articles, Amanda Korman of The Berkshire Eagle, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, posed a question that got me thinking.

“How will you know if it is successful?” she asked. Great question!

I thought for a moment and then I told her that the logical answer would be that readership of the novel would be gigantic and that I’d sell a million copies of the book.


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