ABCs of Freelance Writing: H is for Haters

…as in haters gonna hate.

I have reason to believe that the following tweets were directed (very passive-aggressively I must add) at me and my blog. And even if they weren’t, I am going to pretend like they were so the readers I have left can still be entertained. Who doesn’t love a good personal conflict aired out on the interwebz, after all?

Before I launch into my defense, how about an object lesson? With things like screenshots and cached websites, when you write on the internet you might as well be using a Sharpie. If you’re going to put something out there, I hope you’re committed to it.

Are the Rumors True?

I am sort of guilty as accused. I used to write a blog called emcogneato! and go by the Twitter handle @emcogneato, like, forever ago. But then something happened. I started freelancing in earnest. Priorities changed, my need to vent about my ex-husband subsided (somewhat!) and I started connecting with other writers.

I announced to the world that I was changing my Twitter handle to my real name, closing emcogneato!, and opening Suess’s Pieces. For the record, though, I still write posts here that are unrelated to my freelance writing business and all of my posts from the old days came with me. I also completed a full 30 Days of personal posts at the beginning of the year. (By the way, I caught flak for writing those too.)

Social Skills Still Required

(Alternative subheading: Dude, I never asked you to follow me.)

I know this is the internet, but social skills are still required. If you want to stop reading my blog and unfollow my Twitter account, what’s wrong with doing it quietly? If you have a concern or a disagreement with how I’m doing things over here, why not comment on my blog like a grown up or send me a private email?

Sometimes Business IS Personal

This blog is my own creation and it’s about my life…as a freaking writer. So (go figure!) it’s going to contain posts about what I do for a living. I wouldn’t say that my career defines me, but it’s a huge part of who I am. I’m proud of it. The name of my business is Emily Suess, Freelance Writer for the love of God!

To All the Haters

Long live internet civility! Down with your anti-social networking!

However, if discord is still your thing, there’s a picture of my middle finger around here somewhere that I’d be glad to send you. Privately.


The ABCs of Freelance Writing: G is for Green

Unfortunately, today’s word won’t help you expand your vocabulary. However, its importance pretty much trumps everything for freelancers, so I don’t think you’ll mind me reaching into the vernacular for this one. Let’s talk green.

No, this isn’t a post about reducing the size of your carbon footprint (as admirable as that might be); it’s a post about money.

Moolah. Dough. Relish. Bread. Loot. Plaster. Clams.

I consider myself somewhat established in the world of freelance writing. No, I’m not independently wealthy yet. (That is, I have bills, a car payment, and a  mortgage payment like the rest of the working world.) But I’m not doing too bad for myself. (That is, I can actually pay those bills, car payments, and mortgage payments.) Therefore I deem myself qualified to give the following advice:

If you want to make more money, try charging less.

You’re going to hate this one. Hell, I hate this one. But it works.

No matter how long you’ve been at it, there will be times when you have to woo new clients. And I’m here to tell you, it ain’t always easy. People who are looking to hire freelance writers for the first time don’t always understand what goes into a professionally written web page or a blog post. When they balk at your initial quote, it’s usually because they hadn’t prepared themselves for the reality of hiring a professional. It’s not a personal assault on your intelligence, I swear.

So instead of turning someone away, why not try offering an introductory rate? For instance, I recently picked up a new client on a job site whose stated budget was about half of my standard rate. Despite the below normal wages, I gave the client my best work. He loved it (of course!) and promptly paid me. Then he asked me if I would like more work in the future.

When you’ve proven you’ve got what it takes, be clear about what you need in the future.

I gave it to him straight, letting him know that it was great to work with him, but that my standard wages were considerably higher. If my schedule permitted, I might be open to working with him again at this lower wage. But as a rule, it just wouldn’t be sustainable.

You know what he did? He asked me what I would normally charge.

You know what I did? I told him.

Then he remarked that those rates were not unreasonable considering the quality of my work, and he told me he looked forward to doing business with me again in the future. And any freelancer will tell you that clients with long-term projects and repeat business are the best clients to have.

Have you ever done something that seemed counter-intuitive in order to make more green?


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ABCs of Freelance Writing: F is for Fustian

fustian adj., pretentious

Aren’t you glad I didn’t pick floccinaucinihilipilification for this installment? Me too.


It would have worked well for this little post on pretentious writing!

As a freelance writer, you probably already know the gist of the rule here: Unless you have a darn good reason, don’t use a word people need to look up in the dictionary when one they already know will suffice.

They way I see it, it’s a courtesy to your readers to cut out the esoteric obscure junk. Imagine your magazine article or blog post is a path. If you write well, the path is free and easy and helpful. If you don’t write well, the path becomes riddled with irritants and obstacles.

A missing comma slows the traveler down. A misspelled word causes the traveler to loser her balance.

A pretentious word? Well, that’s worse. That’s not just some unwitting hiccup in the textual landscape; that’s stringing some invisible fishing line across the path with the intention of watching the reader trip and land nose-first in the dirt.

I can see their metaphorical eyes pleading why?

And you? You just point, laugh, and talk about how you learned that word in fifth grade, duh!

Pretentious writing is off-putting. So people who want readers should shy away from it.

In his post “Seven Easy Steps to Pretentious Writing,” Michale Offut pokes a little fun at snobbish writing in general, turning a simple favorite into a laughable monstrosity of a poem.

It’s a brilliant way to drive the point home, isn’t it? I think we should all give it a go! In the comments write your own example or take a moment to turn the following sentence into something absurdly pretentious:

Jeremy went to the store to buy a loaf of bread, but the cashier said they were out.


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ABCs of Freelance Writing: E is for Experientialism

experientialism n., the doctrine that we learn by experience

You could say I’m a bit of an experientialist. I mean, learning how to skydive without actually skydiving? Don’t think so.

I remember how my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Potter, used to tell us stories of all the jobs he’d had and all the things he’d done in his life. At nine or ten years old, any time an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I got the distinct impression I was expected to pick just one thing. So I wondered why Mr. Potter got to do so much before settling on teaching, and I wondered if I’d get the chance to go on similar occupational expeditions.

The reason I’ve been thinking about all this lately is that I resigned my day job at the synagogue on Friday. In the next few weeks, I will wrap up that chapter of my life and move on to a new job at a new company doing writing and editing things. Although my freelancing remains a constant, this will be a big change for me. I’m eager to learn more, but I’m also prone to pondering about how I made it to this point.

At 31, I’ve already done quite a bit:

Photography Studio Assistant

My first real job. Got my first ass-chewing from a disgruntled customer. Learned how to crop negatives, paint the high-key background, and track accounts receivable. My favorite part of the job was sorting proofs for duds after they were developed. Even in the digital age your photographer has photos of you that you hope never see the light of day.

City Hall Receptionist

My first job with health insurance and a 401(k). Punched a clock, balanced a cash drawer, collected taxes, and answered the switchboard. Not the worst job I’ve ever had. I learned that in the real world, people sometimes take jobs that don’t suit them.

City Parks, Recreation, and Cemeteries Office Administrative Assistant

I was promoted to this position about a year and a half at city hall. The part where the office was located on the cemetery grounds was weird, but I was young and invincible. Death was still something that happened to other people, and that actually made it easier to deal with the bereaved.

Community College Administrative Assistant

My first job in Indianapolis after making the big move. I was only there 6 months, but I learned what I had suspected was true: I would never be satisfied as a clerical worker.

Elementary School Attendance Secretary

Definitely the worst job I’ve ever had. But every once in a while one of the kids would hug me for fixing her glasses or finding the homework she dropped in the hallway, making it possible to hold out until I found a full-ride scholarship and went back to college full-time. I learned it’s not the will that makes the way, it’s the desperation.

Editorial Assistant

Part-time job I held while going to IUPUI. One of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. My favorite part was working in the archives and reading old issues of The Post. Kurt Vonnegut shorts and those crazy retro ads about how 4 out of  doctors recommend Chesterfields made me feel like a time traveler. I learned sometimes your job will require you to dig through the trash.

Author’s Assistant

Another fun part-time job I held during college. Got to read a lot, and the fact that I can still recommend Paper Towns to friends after reading it four or five times for work should say something. I learned that writing books for a living isn’t as glamorous as one would hope, but it sure beats being a school secretary.

Medical Receptionist at Psychiatric Clinic

Third and last part-time position I worked during college. This job was very stressful because the doctor was consistently overbooked and usually late. I learned to respect how delicate the human mind can be. A patient also taught me how to sanitize the hand sanitizer bottle.

Synagogue Administrative Assistant

One of the best jobs I’ve had to date. I started this job at such a turbulent time in my life. I had just graduated college, filed for divorced, and was struggling to get even one foot planted firmly on the ground. I gained a lot here: friendships, perspective, an appreciation for and understanding of Judaism, and rest from that constant struggling at home while waiting for the ex to finally move out. I learned that 2 years, 7 months and 15 days can fly by when you work with good people.

What have your jobs taught you?

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ABCs of Freelance Writing: D is for Dapatical

dapatical adj., lavish or costly


moneyDon’t you just love that scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian (Julia Roberts) returns to the boutique on Rodeo Drive after being snubbed by the judgmental sales staff? She lets those commission-motivated sales girls know what a big mistake they made, and somehow the whole world feels satisfied watching them deflate as they realize just how much money they won’t be making.

There is a lesson here, and it doesn’t just apply to commissioned sales people. Today’s blog post is a reminder to all freelancers and small business owners. Don’t be rude, snobbish, or otherwise condescending to potential clients. Also don’t be rude, snobbish, or otherwise condescending to people who can’t afford you.

Why I won’t work with a certain local web design boutique. Ever.

Although I’ve had a blog for years, I’ve only had my freelance writing website for a few months.

I started shopping for a web designer by typing “Indianapolis web design” into a search box on Google. When I did, I found several sites and decided to fill out the contact form for one company in particular. On the page, I typed in my name, business, email address, phone number, and a description of what I needed. All was well until I clicked the response field for the next question— a question about my budget. When I clicked, some text popped up next to my cursor telling me that if my budget wasn’t at least  X dollars I shouldn’t waste their time or mine.

I was immediately offended. I might have been a little bitter, in all honesty. My business was fledgling and my budget was tight.

Now, I know that small business owners and freelancers work hard to find their niche, and that wealthy people and wealthy businesses make for a good client base. But here’s the thing I think Dapatical Web Company™ failed to consider: some of those people they offend now will be able to afford them later.

The damage might be permanent.

Things I couldn’t afford six months ago? Well, I can afford some of them now. Too bad my first impression of that company was a lasting one. Although I won’t return to them and rub their noses in it like Vivian did, I have made a mental note to look elsewhere when it’s time to get quotes for a custom WordPress blog theme in the next 6-12 months.

How to cater to rich clients without being an ass to everyone else.

It just takes a little foresight to stand your financial ground without being disrespectful. Here’s what I would suggest:

  • Clearly state your minimum project budget without offending your potential client. Realize that there is a difference between saying “Don’t waste our time if your budget is under $1,000,” and “Our project minimum is $1,000.”

  • Try to be helpful. Do you know a freelancer or other small business in your network that specializes in smaller projects? You can refer the client and avoid looking like a jerk.

  • Limit budget options with a dropdown menu. In the case of Dapatical Web Company™, a dropdown menu that listed price ranges—starting with their minimum—would send all the appropriate signals to a prospect without being condescending.


A Novel Way to Read a Novel: Chapter by Chapter on The Huff Post

A Guest Post By Claudia Ricci

seeing red claudia ricciLast month, my new novel, Seeing Red, became the first novel ever to be serialized on the Huffington Post. It’s an exciting experiment in digital publishing, and like any experiment, it remains to be seen if it will succeed.

Serializing novels isn’t new. Way back in the 19th century, many authors – Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain among them — serialized their books in weekly or monthly magazines, and readers would line up to buy the next installments of the stories.

But that was the old days, when there wasn’t much to read. Today, readers are swamped with reading options. Do they really need one more? It’s not clear. But as I’ve been hearing from readers who are writing in with comments, serial installments spark interest in a book. Serialization also appeals to writers who are trying to get their work out into the world for others to see.

Reader reaction to Seeing Red – in both print and on-line formats — has been very favorable, and recently, a couple of newspaper articles have helped to focus attention on my online experiment.

Interviewing me for one of those articles, Amanda Korman of The Berkshire Eagle, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, posed a question that got me thinking.

“How will you know if it is successful?” she asked. Great question!

I thought for a moment and then I told her that the logical answer would be that readership of the novel would be gigantic and that I’d sell a million copies of the book. Continue reading

Join Me on Small Business Bonfire

I’m now a contributing writer over at Small Business Bonfire.

While I’ve already shared this link on Twitter and Facebook, I want to direct the rest of you to a post I wrote especially for small business owners over at Small Business Bonfire.

You can read my article, 7 Ways to Enhance Your Direct Mail Campaign, on the site’s blog. I hope you find the information useful.

I also encourage you to join the Small Business Bonfire community, whether you are a small business owner or a small business owner wannabe.

The ABCs of Freelance Writing: B is for Bathophobia

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs

bathophobia n., fear of falling from a high place

When I was young, maybe four, my family took a trip to South Dakota. We were headed out for a Suess family reunion, but along the way we did some sightseeing. We saw the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, and at one point I remember climbing a tower. The view from hundreds of feet must have been spectacular, but I don’t recall it now. I only remember the climb. And though the open stairs showed me just how far from earth I had ascended, I was always confident the metal rails and platforms would hold me.

Emily nearing the top of the first set of stairs at Seven Falls.

Twenty-five years later, I went on another vacation. Last summer when Dan and I headed west to see the Grand Canyon and Pike’s Peak and Seven Falls, I realized something. I’d become more appropriately unnerved by heights. To make it up the 224 steps at Seven Falls, I had to talk myself down from my crazy and focus my gaze upward. In the years following 1984, it seems I had lost my confidence in the strength of  railings and steps, probably because I had packed on another hundred pounds and learned about a little thing called gravity.

When I did make it to the top of Seven Falls, I was overcome by the feeling that I had truly accomplished something. That is, until I realized I had to come back down the steps. Of course the climb was easier! I could look at the summit, ignoring my absolute elevation in favor of my relative elevation. On the way back to earth, however, there would be no denying reality. To make sure I didn’t trip over my own feet, I had to gaze downward.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably a 5.7 bathophobe. While my first instinct is PANIC!, I can always steer my thoughts to a more productive end. And that’s why, despite my scaredy-cat potential, I found my high-elevation vacation to be so enjoyable last June.

Writing in a new genre or taking on a huge client can sometimes inspire those same feelings of panic, making bathophobia the metaphorical cousin of atychiphobia. To survive in the freelance world, it helps to be of sound mind.

Do you ever have to talk yourself down or placate your own crazy?

The ABCs of Freelance Writing: A is for Abapical

kids at schoolabapical adj., away from or opposite of the apex

Otherwise referred to as rock-freakin’-bottom.

It was one of life’s low points that actually propelled me into my freelance writing career. Some years ago I was the attendance secretary at a nearby elementary school, the daytime home of more than 700 Indianapolis children in grades K through 6. It was a horrible, miserable, thankless job.

The teachers were cranky and verbally abusive. (I’m not saying their crankiness wasn’t justified, just that I resented being their punching bag.)

The principals didn’t seem to mind at all that the children awaiting discipline sat down on a bench directly in front of my desk. And so they would leave them there to chatter or cause trouble for whole eternities.

The parents were largely uninvolved, and the ones that were involved weren’t so much there for their children as they were there to make my life a living hell. It was my fault her son got detention and there was no one home to meet her kindergartner when the bus dropped her off. It was also my fault that his daughter’s skirt was too short, and how dare I make him turn off Judge Judy and walk half a block to school to bring in an article of clothing that actually covered his daughter’s 11-year-old butt cheeks.

I cried. Literally. Went to the ladies’ room and crammed sheets of scratchy, institutional, single-ply toilet paper into my leaky eyeballs.

But you know what? Thanks for the miserable year, parents, children, and co-workers. Had it not been for you, I might’ve been so comfortable that I would have never gone back to college and landed here, happy, doing things I love.

A is also for agathism.

“ABCs of…” idea nicked from Paul at Aurora Walking Vacation. Follow along with future posts to learn some new words and, you know, be entertained.