took Wendy years, but eventually she huddled down and finished her novel. After multiple rounds of workshopping and revisions, she eventually found an agent who was eager to rep her, and the resulting deal with a boutique publisher was celebrated with rounds of champagne and a sigh of relief from her family.
But she still had more work to do.
Wendy had no idea as to the multitude of tasks and to-dos that awaited her after her labor of love went to print. As with many small (and even large) publishers, much of the marketing and pavement-pounding fell into her lap, much to her husband’s chagrin.
“He thought that the process of publishing meant no more nights of hunchback typing and surfing. We were both completely floored by the long list of tasks, and the novel hadn’t even begun to sell yet!”
Wendy and her husband solved some of their time crunch by outsourcing associated tasks like travel plans and bookkeeping work to a virtual assistant.
Authors, self-published or traditionally published, aren’t the only ones facing a long list of non-writing tasks. Often freelance writers are on the receiving end of outsourcing. Creative agencies, publishers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, who become fired up after reading The Four-Hour Work Week, turn to freelancers for content creation, snappy headlines, or a little handholding—and that can be profitable for freelancers. But the business end of freelancing brings with it a hundred little tasks that can easily wear down even the most enthusiastic writer, leaving them mired in paperwork and with little content to show for their troubles.
“The business end of freelancing brings with it a hundred little tasks that can easily wear down even the most enthusiastic writer . . .”
The question therefore becomes not should a writer outsource—obviously, it’s a practice that’s still in its heyday—but what does a writer outsource? How does a writer know when it’s their turn to slough off work to the next available web designer and virtual assistant? When is it time for the writer to take matters into her own hands, and when is it time to outsource? Let’s take a look at some of the DIY pros and cons for a few of the most common writer’s tasks.
Editing and Proofreading
Rewriting and revision is an integral part of any writer’s development. The process of tearing up and even tearing down your own work leads to discernment and the development of an ear toward language and flow. Also, learning your most common mistakes is the best way to avoid repeating them.
Often, even the most eagle-eyed writer is so entranced by her own work that mistakes slip past her, despite following cardinal rules such as “wait a day” and “read it aloud.” Hiring a second pair of eyes guarantees a freshness that can’t be duplicated.
Consider hiring an editor or proofreader for that last read in order to catch any fussy mistakes or grammar issues, but take responsibility for the first several passes of your article or novel. In addition, freelancers and those publishing shorter works should make it a habit to compare the work you turned in to a publication with the product that was eventually made public. Seeing the mark of an editor’s hand on your article or short story can go a long way in your learning process—no matter who did the actual edits.
“Freelancers and those publishing shorter works should make it a habit to compare the work you turned in to a publication with the product that was eventually made public.”
Bookkeeping and Taxes
Authors, freelancers, and casual writers are all similarly encouraged by the financial acknowledgment of their work. However, Uncle Sam’s going to come knocking whether this is your first paycheck or your fiftieth. Those who manage the bookkeeping, taxes, and associated financials of their writing work not only reap the reward of seeing a material pay off for their hard work, but also stay in control of their endeavors. Often, freelancers who make a living and pay the mortgage with those checks have a very personal stake in the financial solvency and direction of their business. A hands-on approach means you are never blind to the success (or lack of) that your freelancing is generating.
The United States tax code is 3.8 million words long. Enough said.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but keep a tax accountant on your speed dial. Most writing income—whether from a published book, magazine articles, or freelance-based copywriting—can be managed with special software and a couple hours per month. However, confounding factors like expenses, home office deductions, and itemizing are best handled by someone who is trained in the field. Manage things at home, but plan time for the annual trek to a tax accountant.
Freelance writers who place work in magazines, especially trade outlets, are no stranger to the phone interview. Editors want sound bites, relatable vignettes, and profiles; and the best way to procure these things is usually by conducting a quick phone interview and taping the conversation with a digital recorder. After the pleasantries are exchanged, transcribing the conversations is one of the best ways to get your writing brain going. Listening to your subjects a second time, without the pressure of keeping up your end of the conversation, can often clue you into some tangents or clips that you didn’t notice before. In addition, many computers have built in audio programs that allow you to slow down recordings, making sure your flying fingers can stay caught up as you transcribe the exchange.
Despite the software available and the potential stories and flavors that a conversation can net you, the truth is that transcription takes time—sometimes a lot of time. The dictates of modern conversation often means that your polite banter and small talk goes on for interminable minutes, and you have to relive it while transcribing, instead of working on the actual article.
Outsource it! The truth is that virtual assistants that offer transcription services are actually quite affordable—sometimes lower than a dollar per minute. And what takes you an hour to transcribe may take a transcriptionist thirty minutes. In many cases, you may be saving yourself time and money to outsource administrative tasks at this level.
“What takes you an hour to transcribe may take a transcriptionist thirty minutes.”
Submissions and Queries
Freelancers often earn both their bread and butter by pitching stories to magazines, trade journals, and newspapers. Authors, particularly those in the nonfiction genre, can co-opt this practice by placing articles in well-targeted publications in order to market their work and build their platform. At the same time, placing short stories and poetry or pitching agents and publishers all involve the similar (and equally time-consuming) process of submitting letters and work, and then sitting back and hoping. However, these repeated queries often help writers to hone both their writing and selling skills. I’ve often counseled new freelance writers to start pitching magazines right off the bat. If they don’t know what they’re selling and why the publication should print it, odds are that they will figure it out quite quickly. Submissions and queries are the old-school way of learning: by doing.
Just like any other task on this list, submissions and queries take time away from writing. Queries and submissions are often a numbers game, and finding the right editor, agent, or publisher for your work can be a time-consuming process. However, within the last couple years, services for writers have sprung up to relieve some of that pressure, providing pitching and querying services for a fee. Trusting someone else to the task might just shake free the couple of hours you need to pen your masterpiece.
Try out a submissions/query service to see how it works for you. Since such services are often a package deal or a time-limited arrangement, writers can try them out without a long-term commitment or an exorbitant initial investment. One such service is Writer’s Relief. The organization’s president, Ronnie Smith, thinks the extra advantages and insider information will keep you on and provide a boon to many writers. “We cross-check multiple sources. We’ve been tracking the comments that editors and agents send to our clients since 1994. If an agent writes, ‘I’m not really into first person,’ on a rejection letter, we track it. You can’t find that kind of up-to-date detail in a market book.” Writer’s Relief spends hours on your submission, meaning you can spend hours on your craft.
Marketing, Website, and Social Media
This is the place that would-be readers and/or clients get to hear your voice and try out your persona. Whether that’s snarky little quips via social media or well thought-out and even-paced copy in blog postings, the marketing and socializing you do online serves as an aperitif to your work.
The elements of the online world often confound even the most tech-savvy among us. Just when you master Twitter, a fellow writer or some “pro” will convince you that another platform is “where it’s at.” Throw in the umpteen updates that you have to make to your website in order to keep it current, and you might be ready to throw in the towel. Really, is learning HTML coding or Cascading Style Sheets really the way you want to spend that time when you could be writing?
This is a definite DIY! Despite the intricacies of the Internet world, your online persona and unique marketing voice are your responsibility. There are ways around lack of tech savvy, and learning those ways is one of the few time investments that can return you a big payoff down the road. Many writers pay an expert to set up an initial site or blog, but then take over the maintenance themselves. And platforms like Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn are deliberately kept simple and boast gads of online help and support.
“Don’t spend time on perfection or fail to admit when you’re in over your head.”
Once you’ve made the call and decided to either DIY or outsource your multiple tasks, the next step is to do so in a purposeful, well-planned way. Don’t take on everything at once. For example, as noted last month, it’s best to find one or two social media platforms that work for you, instead of spreading yourself too thin on umpteen profiles. Remember: you’re a writer, first. Don’t spend time on perfection or fail to admit when you’re in over your head.
Outsourcing requires a more measured approach. Bringing someone on to help with your work will necessitate careful background or reference checks. Make sure that tax accountant is not only competent, but also licensed and insured. Consider using contracts with contractors so that all parties are on the same page about things like pay schedule and turnaround times. Careful adherence to these kinds of practices ensure that your first foray into outsourcing is not your last.
With thorough consideration and careful planning, those non-writing tasks can be crossed off your list—one way or another!
Allena Tapia specializes in writing for the education market and Latino topics. She also provides editing and translation services. Find her at GardenWall Publications (www.gardenwallpublications.com) and About.com Freelance Writing (www.freelancewrite.about.com).
Last month’s column:
Smart, Not Saturated: Social Media Solutions for Writers