Tag: freelance writer

nhwriting torquay torbay commercial freelance copywriter

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

A week or two ago I received an email from a web design company I work with regularly. I write copy for their clients on a regular basis and usually my feedback is very positive (I have to blow my own trumpet a little you understand, in case someone reading this is looking to hire me!)

However, on this occasion the appraisal from the client was less than glowing which promoted the usual self-reflection that all professionals – no matter what their field – commit themselves to.

I’ve been in this game long enough not to be upset by criticism; when you’ve had work published in national newspapers and international magazines and had a blog post referenced by the New York Times you must be half-decent. But disappointing clients is something I never take lightly, so I went through everything: my notes, my drafts, my final article, with a fine toothcomb to see what insights I could draw from the comments.

I also decided to blog my ideas about the best process to follow when responding to negative feedback; and here it is:

1. Always Offer a Free Redraft

I offer two. The vast majority of your clients will not bother you for a redraft if they are only making the odd tweak, but if your hammer has missed the nail I think you owe it to them to try again – in your own time. This is also good customer relationship management and may turn a bad experience into a positive review (more about that later).

If you have done your preparation properly, and had an in-depth meeting with your client about their preferred style, amount of copy, audience etc. then you should never be so far off course that a redraft is too time consuming. Of course, if your client has had a complete change of heart – which does sometimes happen – you might want to introduce a contract clause that underlines that any free redraft has to be ‘within the scope’ of the original brief. You do want to maintain a good impression where possible but you also need to protect yourself from those clients who will never be satisfied with anything.

2. Read and Re-read your Feedback

You need to understand exactly what it was about your work that your client didn’t like. If they haven’t provided you with any reasons, I suggest asking them for clarification (along with your offer of a redraft). I would hope that a commercial writer isn’t going to be hauled up on the basic points of spelling and grammar, but you will often find that it is your style or audience that is the sticking point (which are really two sides of the same coin).

Of course, a professional writer should adapt their style to fit the client and their audience, but there is also a natural author’s voice that will shine through. If that voice tends to be patronising, sentimental, snarky or formal you might want to spend some time deliberately writing in an unfamiliar style. If you tend to write long, descriptive sentences practise writing some short, sharp, punchy copy. If you are always critical of a subject you are writing about, try to write a review that focuses only on what you really liked. This will help you to overcome your natural tendencies and become a more flexible writer.

3. Read and Re-Read the Brief

If your work is at odds with your customer’s expectations then it is nearly always your fault – not theirs. When you receive your project brief it is your responsibility to seek any clarification that’s needed. If my clients live or work within 50 miles or so of Torquay (Torbay) I make a point of offering to meet with them – at no extra cost – but everyone gets a telephone conversation if they want onw, wherever they are situated.

Of course, some briefs will be more demanding than others. For example, you may have a client who is trying to be all things to all people. It can help to ask them to list two or three words that describe the style they want to convey (for example, formal, professional and trustworthy or young, hip and chic). Make sure that you are both singing from the same hymn sheet before you start work – perhaps by summarising the brief in your return email.

The two questions you really have to ask every time are: ‘Who are your audience/customers?’ and ‘What do you want them to do after reading your ad/brochure/article/webpage.’

When you receive negative feedback, try to pinpoint where in the preparation process things went awry – and then work on changing that in the future.

4. Prevention and CPD

My partner is a nurse and she is expected to carry out a certain amount of continuous professional development each year to comply with her registration. I don’t see why this should be any different for a professional writer.

Preferred styles change, grammar evolves and writing for the internet becomes more of a specialism, tied in as it is with marketing and PR. Be aware when new stylebooks are released and get hold of a copy; familiarise yourself with Google updates so you know how to write for the search engines as well as for people; find out which new words have been added to the dictionary. Try to allocate time each week (or even each day if you’re keen) to improving yourself, both as a writer and a marketable business.

5. Make the Most of your Reputation

Reputation management is big right now, largely because the search engines are prioritising businesses and organisations that attract good reviews. They are reacting to the fact that customers tend to act on ‘social proof’ before buying a product or trying out a service, reading and trusting what their peers say. It makes absolute business sense for the search engines, who work on matching customer desires with those who are likely to satisfy them, to highlight those who are already making their customers happy.

As a commercial writer, you can maximise the chance of positive reviews by prompting happy customers to visit your Facebook or LinkedIn profile and wax lyrical about you. Perhaps you could put a link or note on your invoice or as a part of your email signature.

And what about bad reviews, I hear you ask?

Simple; you include a prompt to get in touch with you to remedy the situation. Remind them of your redraft promise or even offer a refund if you feel this is deserved. The odd negative review will not destroy you, but it is better to prevent them if you can.

And Finally

As a caveat to much of the above, there is one situation that most freelance writers hate and dread – the client who also employs a freelance editor or reviewer as a ‘quality check.’ Unless they pay really well, the quicker you can excuse yourself from that kind of set up the better.

Why?

If you were a paid editor or reviewer do you think you would be employed for long if everything you reviewed was passed without comment? Exactly. In this scenario, you are doomed to be asked to redraft copy for the most ambiguous and illogical of reasons. Your sentences are too long; now they’re too short; this point needs elaboration; this one labours the point…etc.

Of course, it’s only right that the client’s team or even a trusted friend gets to have a look over the final copy before approval, but the client really should be able to decide for themselves whether you have fulfilled the brief or not.

 

Image Copyright: convisum / 123RF Stock Photo

nhwriting torquay freelance copywriter neil hocking feedaread

Quality Self-Publishing for Free: FeedARead

It sounded too good to be true when I first heard about them, but when the first author’s copy of my first self-published book arrived through the letterbox, I knew I had made a good decision.

Now, if anyone asks me who to use if they want a bookshop-quality paperback book created for a minimum of fuss and expense, I always suggest FeedARead.

Here is what I like about FeedARead:

It’s free to publish your book. That means you can create a paperback book which can then be ordered from the FeedARead website. Whether you sell one copy to your mum or a million copies to your global fanbase it will not cost you a single penny. Even if you never sell a copy ever you won’t have lost out financially.

Now I can think of three circumstances where you may want to spend some cash.

First, unless you are selling to a very specific audience or are confident in your own marketing abilities you might be tempted to pay FeedARead the £88 (or $140 for US authors) to distribute your work to their network of outlets which include Amazon, the Book Depository and Barnes & Noble.

Second, if you ever need to amend anything once your book has been published, however minor that change is, you will need to create a second version of your book which will incur an admin fee of around £20-£30.

Third, you can order any number of author’s copies of your book for which you pay a reduced rate.

Another thing that I like about FeedARead is that they don’t suck you in with the free publishing offer and then try and hard sell you the extra distribution service.

 

Great quality paper. FeedARead do not scrimp on the paper weight and finish. The result is a classy, off-white finish which will not look out of place alongside any of your traditional bookstore-purchased books. I was particularly impressed at how good the black and white images we included looked (just make sure you aim for as close to 300dpi resolution as you can).

 

Decent royalty rates. FeedARead offer attractive royalty rates, particularly when ordering through their site (as this means there is no ‘bookseller discount’ to pay). As of June 2015, one sale of a book retailing at £7.99 (the minimum price allowed for a 200-page paperback) will net the author £3.27.

 

Ease of use and support. With a wealth of onsite information, handy templates and an intuitive publishing workflow, it is relatively simple to upload a book for publication. If you do have an issue, the support team are there to provide assistance. For example, the sheer number of high-res images in our book made our file to big for the system to handle. However, a quick email to support was all it took to find a convenient and effective workaround.

 

Of course no service is perfect, so in the interest of balance, here are two areas where I think there is some room for improvement:

 

No colour images inside. As things stand, the only colour you will see in your finished work is on the cover. Any coloured images included in your document will be converted into greyscale although, as said above, they do reproduce very well. I hope FeedARead will work on this area, even if they can just include the option for a number of colour plates on the inside (as in those old-fashioned paperbacks).

 

Cover template is quite basic. I may have been spoilt by using InDesign and Photoshop, but I found the limited options for designing a cover on the FeedARead site quite frustrating. Having said that, they are a publishing company and not a design suite so perhaps I am being a bit unfair. The best route is to get a professional graphic designer in, give them your brief and the FeedARead cover specifications and get them to send you (or to upload directly) the final result as a high quality JPEG image file. Just make sure they are on call for assistance; there is nothing worse than having to clumsily resize and crop a cover image because the lettering won’t quite fit within the guide lines.

 

And finally, one big thing to note is:

 

You are responsible for all content! FeedARead are not an editorial service and have no responsibility for the accuracy or presentation of your book. If your manuscript is littered with typos and grammatical faux pax then so will your book be! Likewise, if your text is poorly aligned, the point size is too big or you accidentally changed font halfway through, this will be replicated in print (although you can always pay the admin fee and create a new version if you can’t live with any errors).

So on that note, I will signpost you to my Book Services page. I can also recommend some graphic designers with experience in cover design. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Image copyright: ra2studio / 123RF Stock Photo

A Freelancer Doesn’t Have a Boss: He Has Lots of Bosses!

Image from ménage a mois, supplied under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

One of the first things I have had to get used to as a commercial freelance writer is that the idea of not working for anyone else is a bit of a myth.

The rosy view of complete creative freedom can come crashing down in an instant when your latest employer, the one who seemed totally sold on your concepts in the initial meeting, turns around and politely lets you know that your hours of hard work hasn’t cut it with them. It’s then that you realise that your livelihood depends very much on how your work is evaluated by he (or she) who is paying the bill.

If (or should I say when) you find yourself in this kind of situation, I would advise to treat it as a learning experience. First of all, if you have been a clever clogs and secured the money up front, you will probably find your employer more than happy to spell out exactly what they didn’t like so you can improve your revision. Even if you have lost the gig, try to get the unhappy client to be specific in their critique. Was it the tone they didn’t like? Did you not address their customers’ concerns? The more information you get, the wiser you will become.

And, if you really end up clashing with a picky and unpleasant client remind yourself that one of your many bosses is you – and your the one who has the ultimate power to decide when enough is enough.

Does this experience strike a chord with other writers? If so, please let me know your philosophy.

And remember, if you’re a writer or not but have any questions to ask or advice to give, please don’t be shy. Make a comment!