Bottom Line: Make your Writing Resolutions

By Kelly James-Enger

For most of us, the beginning of a new year also brings with it New Year's resolutions. Deciding to lose 20 pounds, finally get in shape, or spend more time with your family are all worthy goals. But don't forget to use this time of year to evaluate your freelance career and set writing-related goals as well.

Get the Lay of the Land

To look forward, however, you first must look back. At the end of each year, I review what types of writing work I performed, for whom, and how much money I made as a result. I also break out my income so I can determine who my biggest clients are—these are the editors I want to pay special attention to in the future. I also add up the amount I made from selling reprints and from speaking engagements so I know how much I'm making from both activities.

Freelancer Polly Campbell of Beaverton, Oregon, also takes a hard look at her income at the end of each year. "Instead of going by the annual revenues, I go month by month and I try to identify the patterns and what's happening when," says Campbell. "When was I was slow? What was I doing for whom in January and so forth? I figure out where the drops in income occurred and look at what I can do during those months during the coming year to have more balance."

Another issue to explore is how you spent your time last year. Look at when projects were assigned and when you turned them in. Are you turning around your profiles quickly but spending too much time on shorter, lower-paying pieces? Are those heavily-researched business articles really worth spending so much energy on? Remember that it's not how much you make for a particular project—it's what your hourly rate turns out to be. (For more on this issue, see Bottom Line, Dollar Dynamics, August 2002 issue).

Finally, how diversified were you this year? Were you working for only a handful of clients or for dozens? Did you have lots of short, lower-paying assignments or did you focus more on bigger projects or feature stories? Does your income come from a variety of sources or only a few?

Consider the Future

So, now you know where your money came from. The next question is how much you want to make this year—and what kind of work you want to perform to make it. Should you focus your efforts in a particular area or would you rather try something new? Are you feeling burned out and want to switch gears—and try writing fiction, for example, instead of essays?

Bob Bittner, a freelancer from Charlotte Michigan, has a standing lunch date with a friend and fellow writer each December where they recap the prior year's progress and discuss their goals for the coming year. "I look at my annual income, the number of queries I'd like to circulate (either per week or per month), the editorial relationships I'd like to build on, and new markets I'd like to crack," says Bittner. "First, I want to develop the good markets I currently write for. That may mean increasing the number of ideas I pitch, pitching longer (and, so, more profitable) stories, or negotiating a better rate."

Bittner also considers which new markets he wants to pursue in the coming year. "I then look at my changing interests, take stock of the current marketplace, and try to come up with about six to twelve primary target markets; these will be the new-to-me publications that always have queries from me," he says. "Then I add in my current markets, which will also receive a hopefully unbroken string of article ideas. Finally, I like to have twelve to twenty or so secondary markets."

Campbell also considers what direction she wants to take her writing career in, and sets a new financial standard each year. "I'd like to increase my bottom line from year to year but my goal is more to make sure that I have a variety of projects coming in that I want," she says. "When I do that, I think the money will be there and so far that's been right."

Create a Strategy

So, you've decided how much you'd like to make. Now, determine how you'll get there. How many hours must you write to earn that income? If you're freelancing fulltime, the answer may be as many as necessary. Having a daily financial goal can help keep you on track. If your goal is to make $30,000 a year from freelancing, that averages to $2,500 a month or $125 a day (with four weeks off during the year.) In other words, if you can average that amount of income 240 days a year, you can make $30,000 this year.

After Campbell sets her annual goal, she breaks it down to a monthly figure. "I set a base salary for myself every month so I know that's the minimum I have to make based on what my annual expenditures look like," she says. "It might be $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000 a month, depending on the year. Then I pay myself monthly, so I know I have to reach that bar. I check at the end of each month to see how I'm doing."

By setting monthly, weekly or daily financial targets, you'll be on your way to achieving your overall financial goal this year. But remember that your writing career isn't only about the money. Your goals may also include non-monetary ones like spending more time writing fiction, finishing a book proposal, or sending out your screenplay.

Build writing time into your schedule for projects that don't produce income (at least not yet) but are important to you for other reasons. If you only focus on the bottom line and continually take work that bores or frustrates you, you'll be likely to become bored and frustrated with your career as well. Instead, strive for a balance between the money you want to make and the work you want to do—and both you and your bank account will be better off this year.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at:

© 2007 Kelly James-Enger All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

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