Three Important Lessons Learned from Freelance Writing


      When I tell people that I’m a freelance writer, they immediately have a bunch of questions for me. Where do I work? What do I write? What kind of money do I make? Can I get them a job? Everyone (from cab drivers to business owners to drunk tourists) wants to know.

      I see the light in their eyes as they imagine putting words to paper, seeing their books in stores, and receiving praise while the money rolls in. Every time, that bright light turns into careful consideration when I explain the reality of a freelance writing career.

1. It’s not you, it’s them. But it’s on you.

      This is something I didn’t figure out until I began my freelance writing career: your ideas are only half of writing. Whenever you are writing with the intent to publish, you are writing for other people. These mysterious and faceless people determine the success of your work. They must be able to understand your writing.

      Reader comprehension trumps personal expression. Do I hate it when my carefully constructed sentences are deleted or shortened or ripped apart? Of course I do. But I just shrug and move onto the next assignment. It’s nothing personal. 


2. Being your own boss means kicking your own ass.

      My income comes entirely from freelance writing and copy editing. I literally cannot afford to take it easy. Sure, there are mornings when I want to lie in bed and watch TV, and days when I want to ditch work and go to the zoo. That’s the worker side of me. The boss side doesn’t allow it.

My boss is like a separate character in my head who tells me what to do. If there are a ton of deadlines coming up, she tells me I need to stay in and work late. An article I really don’t want to write? The Writer can whine and cry and sulk at the keyboard, but the Boss stands over her shoulder with a grim smile and says, “Write.” She’s not mean, though. I do get vacation time and days off, but I have to earn them. Just like time off from any other job.

3. Panning for gold means throwing out a lot of dirt.

      It doesn’t matter what I write: I throw out material every time I create something. If I’m lucky, I’ll just ditch an introduction and a few sentences, then write new material. If I’m having an off day, I end up throwing out more words than I use.

      Right now, I’m writing in WordPad. I put the good material at the top. If I don’t think a paragraph fits here, but it might work somewhere else, I put it at the bottom of the document in a sort of writing graveyard. This article has 378 words in the graveyard, not counting the few paragraphs I scribbled by hand and the sentences deleted forever.

      When I’m writing for myself, I don’t mind a big graveyard: I can work the material into another post. If I’m writing for someone else, it’s time-consuming and counterproductive to have a graveyard bigger than the finished document. However, I have no hesitation about killing off paragraphs. The more you write, the less attached you are to individual sentences.

Ready to be professional about your writing? Grab a free copy of The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by our friends at Duolit by tweeting about it or signing up for email updates. Toni has graciously allowed PopularSoda to provide an exclusive preview of the book’s contents. Take a look!

Preview from The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover by Duolit


Superheroes and Landmines: How (Not) to Respond to Critiques


     There are dozens of articles on finding a critique partner and loads of suggestions on how to critique, but there isn’t much information about responding to critiques of your writing. In this post, we’ll outline the most common bad behaviors and personality types of critique receivers and show you how to gracefully handle both compliments and criticism.

The Playground Superhero

     Did you ever pretend to be a superhero when you were little? There always seemed to be one kid who didn’t understand how to play the game. If he picked super strength and you hit him with lightning, he decided he was also invisible. If you tried to freeze him, then he could teleport even when frozen.
     The writing equivalent is an author who apparently already knows his own mistakes, but doesn’t bother to fix them. If you point out an inconsistency in character names, he says it’s just a typo. If you comment on a major plot hole, he says he was going to rewrite that part anyway. If you wonder when the main character got a talking dog, he says he already plans to put something about that in the beginning.
     The playground superhero usually ended up playing by himself. If you copy his bad behaviors with your critique partners, you might end up alone, too.

Avoid Being A Playground Superhero:

  • Fix all mistakes and problem areas before submitting your work for critiquing.
  • Let critiquers know about any major problems before they review (“I know I need to introduce the talking dog in the beginning. Right now, I’m looking for suggestions on making the dog a likable character.”).
  • Say “Thank you!” if someone points out an obvious typo.

The Invisible Author

     This writer is most commonly seen on forums, message boards, and anywhere online where posts can be deleted. The author doesn’t start as invisible. She posts a large text sample for critique and asks for helpful hints. All feedback is welcome! She is really looking forward to improving her writing.
     However, when she actually gets useful suggestions and reasoned criticism, she deletes her post and often vanishes from the forum. She might resurface later, claiming she was driven away by grammar nazis, elitist editors, or trolls. The real reason? She didn’t want concrete criticism, just soft-focus praise.
      Let’s be clear here: there is a difference between abusive messages (“Your writing makes me want to stab my eyes out”) and helpful– yet non-praising– messages (“The imagery in the first paragraph is contradictory and jarring”). Harassment should be reported, and legitimate help should be rewarded.

Avoid Being an Invisible Author:

  • Identify what you really want. It is absolutely okay to simply want praise, but critique circles are not the place for it.
  • Postpone posting your work in a public forum if you don’t feel comfortable opening yourself up to specific, potentially painful feedback.
  • Do not delete your post! Bookmark it and come back in a few months (or few years) to see if maybe those trolls were right.


Why You Should Pay for Duotrope (and How You Can Win a Subscription!)


      If you haven’t heard the news, Duotrope, a popular site for tracking literary submissions, is moving to a paid model in January. Under the new pay structure, you can buy a year-long membership for $50, or purchase individual months at $5 each.

      Naturally, people were not pleased with the news. Who wants to pay for something if you’ve gotten it for free for years? Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie and Duotrope can no longer survive on donations alone. Duotrope must start charging for membership, or it will disappear entirely.

      It’s not all bad news, though. There are good reasons to pay for Duotrope, and the new model might actually benefit you.

The Price

      First, let’s take a look at the price. Once the sticker shock fades away, you’re left with the hard numbers. You can pay $5 a month, or $50 a year, which works out to $4.17 per month.

      That’s less than the price of a large frappucino, and unlike the frappucino, you can enjoy a Duotrope membership for more than fifteen minutes. Put another way: if you saved a quarter during each weekday in 2013, you would be able to pay for a year’s membership and 1/3 of next year’s membership.

      Fifty dollars a year breaks down to fourteen cents a day. Though there are people who cannot afford that, it is well within the reach of many aspiring authors. The new price model also allows for gift subscriptions, which means friends and family can help support your writing (without writing those suspicious-sounding reviews). 

The Statistics

      Some writers are concerned that Duotrope’s statistics will become less useful when the data pool shrinks. Duotrope itself addressed these concerns, and they expect their statistics to become more accurate. It turns out that the people who submit frequent, valid reports are also likely to be donators to and active users of the site.
      Though the number of total Duotrope users will drop, Duotrope will retain the most helpful contributors. This isn’t an unfounded assumption: by tracking membership pre-orders, Duotrope has already accounted for 51,000 submission reports and seen a decrease of 92% in unreliable data.

      Unlike scientific studies where a bigger sample size is almost always better, reliable data is the heart of Duotrope. To an extent, there are right and wrong answers. Claiming a one-day wait before reporting a submission as “never responded” is not helpful for anyone. The new subscription model discourages erroneous reporting from single-submission users.

Your Writing Career

      We’ve said before: if you want to make money from your writing, you have to treat it like a business. Duotrope now joins the ranks of Scrivener, writing magazine subscriptions, nice pens, and notebooks as useful writer tools. You certainly don’t need any fancy extras to be a writer, but these tools increase your productivity and open your eyes to new markets.

      The new membership structure could gel well with your personal style. Month-to-month memberships can light a fire under procrastinators. If you know you only have a week left to use the site, you might enjoy scrambling to submit before the deadline. If you’re hesitant to pay for the service, that might work in your favor, too. You might end up submitting more stories to justify the price and feel like you got your money’s worth.

      Whether submitting under deadline or submitting due to buyer’s remorse, increased queries in targeted markets can only help your writing career.

      You might examine all the angles and still decide that Duotrope isn’t right for you. That’s fine, too. We’re not demanding that every writer must get a subscription. We’re just asking you to consider things besides cost.

Do you want to win a six-month subscription to Duotrope?

Share this post, then comment below explaining how you would use your subscription, why you would like the subscription, or how Duotrope has helped you in the past. Be sure to use the same name for both the share and the comment. The contest will run until January 10th, 2013. A random winner will be selected from all valid entries and the winner will be notified by January 15th, 2013. This is a PopularSoda contest and not affiliated with Duotrope.

Ebook Basics Class Handouts

1 Comment

      Last weekend, Lila went out into the “real” world to educate the public about ebooks at the OCH Art Market. If you couldn’t make it to New Orleans for the class, don’t worry! Here are the class handouts for you to download and share. 

Editors and Designers

Payment FAQ

Why Self Publishing

Got more ebook questions? Ask us on Twitter @popular_soda or email admin@popularsoda.com 

How to Save Your Writing (and Your Sanity)


Q: How many writers have lost months or years of work due to computer problems?

A: Too many.

     This isn’t a joke– it’s a scary possibility (or reality) for anyone who depends on their computer to store their work. All writers should back up their work in multiple places. We’ve put together a list of the most common ways to save and store your writing. Ideally, you’d use each method. Please, for your sake, use at least one.


Note:  This article focuses on backing up text files and writing work, not videos or photos for personal use.


      Both Dropbox and Google Drive have a free, basic plan that allows you to back up your work. These services let you access your work from any computer or supported mobile device. Here’s a handy chart for a quick overview of their different features.

      You can sign up for both services and use them for different purposes. Lila uses Google Drive for sharing and editing while Dropbox runs in the background to save any late-night ramblings or half-finished work.

PS: If you sign up for Dropbox through our referral link, we’ll both get an extra 500MB of storage.



      External harddrives and USB flash drives can keep your work safe in a different way. They provide a separate physical location (other than your main computer) for the storage of your work. The main problem with these items is that they’re susceptible to everything that kills computers: water, power surges, equipment malfunction, dropping, fire, bullets, lightning strikes, etc. And unlike Dropbox and Google Drive, these devices won’t automatically update. You’ll have to manually copy files to these external storage sources.

      USB flash drives and external harddrives can be useful if you want to back up your work but lack internet access (or visit somewhere that doesn’t have internet access). Also, USB sticks are cheap: you can usually find 8GB sticks for less than $10, and you might even find USB flash drives for two or three dollars during a sale.

      Of course, there’s always one last offline option: hard copies. If you want to feel like a spy, print out your manuscript and keep it in a safe deposit box. For a more realistic (and cheaper) alternative, print out a few copies. Keep one at your place and ask friends or family members to hold the others. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a fire- and water-proof safe. You’ll be able to securely store any writing work as well as delicate or important personal objects.

      The cost of printing hard copies can be prohibitively expensive for prolific (or graphomanic) writers. You can try to minimize cost by printing out only specific documents or using tricks to fit more words on a single page, like decreasing the font size, using a thin font like Arial Narrow, widening the margins, and putting poems into column. It’s a lot of work, but remember: hard copies are always compatible, no matter what happens to computer software.

Got ebook questions? Send them to admin@popularsoda.com. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it!

How to Write a Book Review Like a Human (Cheat Sheet Included)


      Our post on scam reviews led to some great conversations and questions. However, there was one question that stood out above the rest. Over and over, we heard, “I think I sound like a scammer! How can I write a review like a human?”

      Well, you asked and we delivered. Here are our tips to writing reputable, honest, and real reviews.

If you bought the book, show it.

      Several ebookstores will distinguish your review if you purchase and review the book on the same site. This is the first step to setting yourself apart from the scammers.  Amazon has Amazon Verified Purchase: “Customers reading an Amazon Verified Purchase review can use this information to help them decide which reviews are most helpful in their purchasing decisions.” On Amazon, the Amazon Verified Purchase tag will appear below the name of the reviewer.

      Smashwords goes even further with its review system. Besides tagging reviews by Smashwords customers, the site adds additional information. For example, you can see if the book was “reviewed day of purchase”, “reviewed within month of purchase”, or if it was reviewed before the author started charging (“review of free ebook”). Same-day reviews of extremely lengthy books can throw up red flags. However, if you buy the book, take time to read the book, and use some of our other tips, you’ll create a strong and trustworthy review.


Terms of Service: Vanity Publishing, e-publishing, and Self-Publishing


      Recent conversations about vanity publishing, e-publishing, and self-publishing got our heads spinning as we tried to advocate for self-publishing, only to find our points dismissed by someone who confused it with vanity publishing. So let’s go back to basics here.

None of us in the ebook sphere can have productive, progressive, and sometimes painful conversation about self-publishing if we don’t define self-publishing in the same way.

      We posted a comment on this blog about our view on the differences between the terms. Here’s the fleshed-out version of our view on self-publishing, vanity publishing, traditional publishing, and e-publishing.

Traditional Publishing

      For many years, this was the only way to be published. Stick with us for this history lesson:

      An author would write a book, polish the manuscript, and then send out query letters to agents. Any interested agents would contact the author for more information and a full manuscript. Then, it became the agent’s responsibility to send the manuscript to publishing houses and work out a deal. The publishing house took care of editing, cover design, and marketing for no money upfront: they took their cut from the sale of each book. The agent wasn’t paid upfront either, but only after the publishing deal went through.

      The process wasn’t totally transparent, and it was up to the individual author to choose a reputable agent who would best represent his interests. In addition, the process could take years and it was hit-or-miss. Some of the best-selling books of our time were repeatedly rejected for publication. It was nothing to do with the quality of the work; rather, the demands of the market, the views of the individual editor, and simple human error all contributed to this imperfect process.


      e-publishing is an umbrella term. It simply refers to things which were published electronically. Sometimes they have a corresponding print version. Sometimes they don’t. The New York Times has an electronic edition available for ereaders and tablets. So does The Onion, Star Trek Magazine, and Cowboys and Indians. JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has an ebook version, and the Harry Potter ebooks are available through Pottermore.

     e-publishing is not disreputable in and of itself.

However, there is a very low barrier to entry in this marketplace. A major media corporation can spend millions of dollars on a beautiful electronic edition with corresponding app. Or someone sitting at home in front of his computer can blast his poorly written ebook across the internetscape. e-publishing is all of these things. In our eyes, e-publishing isn’t inherently bad, but there’s e-publishing done well and e-publishing that’s not.


Older Entries