Review: The Progress Principle

Officially, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work is geared towards bigger businesses. Its authors, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, focused their research on creative teams within much bigger organizations — the guys who do R and D work for a big corporation, for instance.

But while the teams studied didn’t have as much on their plates as any good entrepreneur is juggling, there are still a lot of relevant concepts in this book for someone with a significantly smaller team. We may not be in a position where we need to motivate employees right this instant, but we need to motivate ourselves and anyone else that winds up working with us (even if they aren’t employees). That’s even more true when we’re talking about creative ventures.

The Research Behind the Book

Amabile and Kramer are, first and foremost, researchers. They’ve both done some pretty intense study of business and creativity. The Progress Principle is no different. Before writing the book, they collected more than 12,000 diary entries from individuals who work on creative teams and they did an incredibly in-depth analysis of all of those entries.

The Short Version

There are certain things that seem like common sense when it comes to working with a team. Little things, like treating your team consistently and not changing up the schedule underneath them, make a team work better. But Amabile and Kramer’s research demonstrates that isn’t quite as common a perspective as we’d like. Within their case studies, they identify some fairly depressing examples, like companies that don’t even give employees the necessary resources to do their work or that change projects with no warning. These may be signs of a bad corporate culture to begin with, but it also highlights how easy it is to skip over facets of working with real live human beings that should be second nature.

The name of the book, The Progress Principle, comes from a noteworthy find in the duo’s research: when a team member feels like she’s making progress, she feels much better about her work. Day in and day out support are nice, an environment in which a team member feels valued is lovely — but the real motivation comes in to play when someone is able to see that she’s moving forward.

It’s worth your time and effort to cultivate an awareness of the progress being made on any given project, whether it’s your own progress or someone else’s. Sure, there’s plenty of other really useful information in this book, but that’s a great starting point.

A Final Note

I’ll be honest with you: this book is dense. If you ignore the introduction, the appendices and everything else that isn’t the meat of the book, you’re only reading 182 pages — yes, I counted. But there’s nothing extraneous in there. It’s the results of an exhaustive research project. If you’re the type to geek out on big data sets, there’s a really interesting breakdown of Amabile and Kramer’s data collection in the appendix.

It took me longer than usual to make it through this book. I can normally pound through a business book, but for The Progress Principle I had to slow way down, reading just a section at a time and thinking through what it means. I do recommend the book, but not as light reading.

Review: The Wealthy Freelancer

When I first received a review copy of The Wealthy Freelancer, by Ed Gandia, Pete Savage and Steve Slaunwhite, I have to admit that I could have been a little more excited. I’ve seen plenty of ‘get rich quick’ schemes targeted at freelance writers and the book’s cover made me wonder a little bit: it’s got an expensive car on the front, along with the subtitle, ’12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle.’

I was wrong — very wrong — to think that The Wealthy Freelancer could have any relation to a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, though. There’s plenty of hard work ahead for any writer who reads the book and takes its advice to heart, but there’s also very savvy business strategies that really are effective for freelancers.

The Approach to Success

In The Wealthy Freelancer, Gandia, Savage and Slaunwhite focus on giving freelancers a way to build a path that lead directly to our goals. The problem that many freelancers (especially freelance writers) face is that it seems like once we get started freelancing, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to move forward. We all know that we want higher paying clients and more business — but how do we get it?

The path outlined in this book is a more traditional business approach than many freelancers start out with. Considering how many of us start out freelancing on the side and have to pick up the business aspects along the way, having this sort of approach outlined is very good. Among other things, The Wealthy Freelancer will show you how to treat your freelance career as a business.

Sales for Freelancers

I don’t know how many times a freelancer has told me that he or she is a very creative person and just isn’t good with sales. The problem is that, if you want to be a successful freelancer, you have to be very good at sales — you have to be able to win over clients left and right. The Wealthy Freelancer lays out the details of making sales in a way that not all freelancers will be comfortable with right off the bat, but that can make a world of difference for your income if you can get comfortable with them.

Gandia, Savage and Slaunwhite describe who to locate high probability prospects, nurture prospective clients and build buzz about your work. They don’t just tell you how to do it, either. They provide sample emails and even conversations you can use to approach the sort of people you want to have as clients. This book will quickly become a key resource if you ever struggle with sales.

If the business side of freelance writing ever gives you problems, if you aren’t sure about how to keep your career moving forward or if you just want to see how these three freelancers upped their income, I recommend The Wealthy Freelancer (affiliate link).

Review: The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets

When Susan Johnston offered me a review copy of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets, I got pretty excited. Part of the reason was that Susan is a phenomenal freelancer, with bylines all over the place. But there’s another reason — she was writing specifically about online markets. I like print markets as well as the next freelancer, but more and more, I’ve found that the opportunities I find online are proving to be far more helpful than those that are offline. In the past, the problem has been, though, that every guide to landing gigs or writing query letters focuses primarily on print markets. Few show tips for getting more work online.

In The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets, Susan breaks down not only the benefits of writing for the web — faster turn around, shorter pieces, different writing styles — but also the tools that a freelance writer will need to land web only gigs. She even dips into her own files and pulls out queries that she used to land her own writing gigs. In case you’re wondering about the success of the query emails Susan has included, she also links to the articles they lead to, live on clients’ sites. In this ebook, you can get an inside look that just isn’t possible elsewhere.

Just as it can be intimidating to try to break into writing for print publications without know the jargon, it can be tough to translate from editor to English. Susan has broken down a glossary that can help you through the emails you’ll be swapping with editors as you query them.

There’s a true gold mine hidden in the second half of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets. Not only does Susan tell you how to go about landing online writing opportunities, but she gives you pages of markets you can query and, quite likely, write for. I even saw a few markets that I regularly write for in there — they’re good folks. Susan even breaks down those markets by pay rates, so you can start at the top.

If you’d like to increase the number of good online writing gigs — and we’re not talking about writing for pennies here — The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets is an excellent resource that I thoroughly recommend. You can pick up a copy of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets for $15.99, and that includes emailed updates to the markets directory.

Review: The Winning Proposal

The number of clients that turn to bid sites to find freelance writers is huge — and it continues to grow. Freelance writers have to know how to handle bid sites, even if they don’t depend such websites for the majority of their work. The sites aren’t difficult to understand. You just put in a bid on those projects that interest you. However, putting in a bid and winning a project can be two very different situations. That’s what lead Juliet du Preez to write The Winning Proposal. This ebook offers a guided tour to creating a winning bid.

Juliet explores each aspect of submitting a bid or proposal through the various job sites. From the details of setting up a professional profile that conveys your abilities to actually writing a proposal to building a solid reputation, Juliet goes through everything you’ll need to know. Particularly valuable, in my opinion, are the many examples she provides. In addition to full templates that you can model your bids on, the ebook has examples for practically every section. I’m one of those writers who simply telling how to do something isn’t enough, so actually being able to see these suggestions in action is incredibly helpful. There are even some examples of what not to do, making it easier to avoid problems in the long run.

Overall, this ebook is a good resource. With information on every aspect of the proposal process, down to determining whether you actually want to win a particular job, it’s a solid starting point for anyone interested in finding work through bidding sites but not entirely sure how to actually win projects.

The Winning Proposal is available for purchase through Juliet’s site, FreelanceWise. It’s priced at $12.

Personally, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of bid sites. I try to focus my work on finding clients that want to work with one freelancer for the long term, while most bid sites seem to focus on short-term projects. However, I know plenty of writers who earn good income primarily through work they’ve found through such sites. Bid sites do make finding work significantly easier: rather than having to search out job listings on a variety of sites or pitch potential clients, you can look through a list of new opportunities every day. Newer freelancers can also often build up clips through bid sites faster than they might otherwise. If you’re not sure what you think you bid sites, go ahead and try them out. There’s no requirement that you keep using bid sites if you decide you aren’t comfortable.

Note: Juliet du Preez provided me with a review copy of her ebook. Thanks, Juliet!

Review: Market This

As you might have figured out last month, I’m very interested in marketing — especially when it comes to the opportunities available for freelancers and small businesses. In part, that’s because I think that marketing such a business has to be different from marketing a larger business. Market This!: An Effective 90-Day Marketing Tool, by Sherry Prescott-Willis, provides a tool that addresses the needs of a smaller business.

Market This brings together information on building a marketing plan — but it’s not a dry textbook meant to help you crank out a plan an inch thick. Instead, it’s a short guide (less than 200 pages), broken down for someone who’s already busy running a business. I read this book a section at a time and still quickly got through it: it’s written so that you can actually do something to improve your marketing before you finish bringing an entire plan together and, when you do complete that plan, you’ve got clear action steps. With Market This‘ guidance, you can create a marketing plan that actually reflects what’s going on in your business, rather than trying to generate pages of numbers and analysis — that may work in a company where an entire department is devoted to marketing, but if it’s just you, that analysis isn’t likely to happen.

The book is somewhat general: it’s meant to guide just about any kind of small business or startup. But it does offer a clear primer on marketing, no matter what business you’re in. If you need a little help with the basics, I encourage you to check Market This out.

As usual, I’m giving away my review copy. You can enter to win by leaving a comment with a question about marketing yourself as a freelance writer before Friday — and I’ll answer those questions on Saturday, as well as randomly selecting the winner. I’ll pay postage anywhere within the U.S. If you win and are based outside of the U.S, I’ll ask you to cover the difference between domestic and international postage.

Review: Fearless Confessions — A Writer’s Guide to Memoir

In general, I don’t review a lot of books on writing techniques, preferring to focus on business techniques. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t read them — and that they aren’t valuable to freelance writers. I think it’s important to have a wide variety of writing skills at are disposal, beyond the standard copy writing and article writing that seem to go with our job descriptions.

I started Sue William Silverman’s book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir with that approach in mind. I found a wealth of information about writing memoirs inside, including more than few techniques I’ll be able to take to other styles of writing. But I found more: the book is only partially a guide to writing memoir. It is, in part a memoir of writing memoir: Silverman chronicles her experiences in writing and publishing two memoirs of her own.

Those stories are motivating. For many writers — even those who have been making a living from their work for years — branching out can be difficult. Telling one’s own story, rather than reporting on an event or pulling together a business’ story for a brochure, is even harder. Silverman’s story provides a reminder to long-term writers that it is necessary to try new forms — and that writing about yourself is not always the negative we’ve been trained to believe.

Fearless Confessions is structured for a fast read. Each chapter contains guidance on developing your memoir, from tying your memories into a central theme and building a plot structure from what really happened. A great deal goes into shaping a readable story from personal experience — many of the events that we think of as crucial in our own lives have absolutely nothing to do with the overall story of who we are. Just the same, the smallest details can transform a boring recitation of facts into a memoir worth reading. Silverman helps drive these points home in the many examples she provides: each chapter has a short memoir piece that has been published to help guide writers new to memoir writing. There are also several longer pieces in an appendix at the back of the book.

There are also quite a few writing exercises to guide you through the process. Since some writers may struggle with such a major shift in style, subject matter and approach, such exercises may make a major difference in their ability to learn the skills of memoir writing. Such skills do relate quite clearly to writing other pieces, as well: I’ve already found myself focusing on adding more experiential details to my articles — even if I have to extend an interview to get them.

As per usual, I’m offering up my review copy as a giveaway. Leave a comment on this post with a question about memoir writing and, on Friday, I’ll pick a winner randomly. I’ll cover postage within the U.S.

Review: Get Known Before the Book Deal

I’ve been working on a review of Get Known Before The Book Deal for a couple of days now. Normally, when I’m reviewing a book, I tear through it, write down my review and post it. With Christina Katz’s new book, however, I wound up taking longer than I expected to read 263 pages. That’s because I wound up reading quite slowly — and taking plenty of notes!

Essentially, the book is an overview of how to create a platform — to make yourself visible as a writer not only to sell books but to get a book deal in the first place. While the book is geared towards relative beginners, it has a lot of value even for writers who have already been published. Christina goes far beyond the standard advice about platforms (which often amounts to “You need a platform,” with no explanation of just what that means. The book is divided into 36 chapters: each one is a bite-sized chunk perfect for reading and doing. Each chapter has concrete tasks that really are universal for writers today and, where necessary, Christina has broken them down into steps that even a novice writer can handle smoothly.

Christina’s advice is incredibly valuable: I’ve been in the writing game for a while now and I kept finding ideas in the book that I can use for my own career. She’s not talking about novel concepts either. There’s barely a mention of social networking. Blogging gets its own chapter, but most of the chapters focus on steps a writer could take with no technical expertise.

If you’re not familiar with Christina Katz, I’d definitely recommend checking out her blog, The Writer Mama Riffs, as well as her Writer Mama website. (Her first book was Writer Mama.) I consider Christina a phenomenal resource for freelance writers — her blog is in the ‘must read’ file on my RSS reader.

I don’t just recommend this book for those folks looking for a book deal. If you’re looking to do anything beyond the occasional freelance article, a platform is key. Whether your goal is to be a syndicated columnist, a full-time blogger or another type of writing big wig, your platform is what will convince readers to pay for your work. Heck, a platform can even help you land freelance assignments faster — editors like writers who can clearly demonstrate why they’re the best choice for a particular project. Get Known Before The Book Deal is $11.55 on Amazon — and I’m sure a friend or relative needs a suggestion for the holidays.

Writers Shouldn’t Eat Alone

I finished reading Never Eat Alone a few weeks ago. I haven’t reviewed it until now because I’ve been trying to implement some of the suggestions made in the book.

My immediate response to Keith Ferrazzi’s book was complete enthusiasm. I do think this is a book that every writer needs to read — we seem to have a tendency to do well in fairly solitary work environments where we only see our families for long stretches of time. Many of us, myself included need a reminder that there are plenty of people out there who not only can help our careers along but can help us stay happy in our lives.

One of the best points I can make about this book is that it focuses on creating real friendships and relationships with people you meet throughout your life. While there is an underlying theme about how contacts may make your life easier, Ferrazzi is careful to make it clear that he’s not suggesting that readers aim for the biggest address book in the world. Instead, he suggests that cultivating friendships, and making a point to strengthen them over time, is a far more helpful technique than picking up business card after business card.

I’m not going to regurgitate the whole book — I’ll leave it at the fact that I think it’s a great resource and I’ll be picking up a copy to refer back to (I borrowed it from the library initially). But there is one quote that I think will get the attention of most writers: Ferrazzi thinks journalists, freelance or no, are the one of the best contacts that other people can cultivate:

Journalists are powerful (the right exposure can make a company or turn a nobody into a somebody), needy (they’re always looking for a story), and relatively unknown (few have achieved enough celebrity to make them inaccessible).

Those three points also make it easy for us to find new people and get to know them, and to stay connected. Think about it, and read Never Eat Alone.