Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Curious Exercise

March 11, 2008
I started putting together a bibliography of all my published works. Since I was first published in about 1990 (and got my first paid piece in 1993), you might wonder why I waited 18 years to do this.

I'm not really sure. I've kept everything I've had published in 3-ring binders in those acetate files, but I thought it might be worthwhile for a variety of reasons, to put together a bibliography. Curiosity mostly, but also, as time goes by I can't always remember what I wrote, and there are things I've done that aren't attributed or that are parts of larger works where I'm a contributing editor. It may also be useful for certain future projects to be able to hand a publisher or editor or client a list of publications.

It's an interesting thing, though, going back through your work like this. I see trends sometimes. Here's an example:

“What Is Esoteric Testing?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, November 20, 2006

 “HIV Testing For Everyone?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, October 23, 2006

 “Writing Columns For Local Newspapers.”—Podiatry Online, October 9, 2006

 “What Exactly Is Molecular Diagnostics?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, September 25, 2006

What I noticed here was just how often my headline was a question. That makes senses, doesn't it? Everyone then knows what the article is about and you can presumably answer the question in the context of the piece. It's a neat trick, and I don't think I was doing it intentionally. It just sort of happens. Plus, titles don't really come all that naturally to me. A lot of times they're changed by my editors. I think I wrote all those, although I know the Podiatry Online article was assigned by my editor.

The other thing that comes to mind, since I'm currently working my way through 2006 published articles, was how my writing career has changed and evolved.

2006 was the last year I wrote a lot of articles. Probably over 100. In 2007 I wrote probably 25 or 30, but spent most of my time writing business reports. 2008 seems to be much more of that as well. Also, instead of writing a ton of articles for amounts from $150 to $1000, I seem more likely to mostly be writing reports for $7,000 to $20,000. There are both positive and negative aspects of that, but I can honestly tell you one of the pluses is not having three deadlines every week. On the other hand, big projects typically pay once or twice, sometimes three times depending on how the money breaks down, and it takes some getting used to and some money management skills. It's also one thing if a check for $250 runs 6 weeks late and another thing entirely if a check for $10,000 runs 6 weeks (or 12 weeks) late.

Another thing I'm seeing is how few of my earlier clients I still write for. Just taking those four articles above, three were columns (Molecular Milestones) that I used to write for ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals. The column used to be called Genetics Jargon. Anyway, although I had an article in them this January that I wrote back in the fall, I no longer regularly write for ADVANCE. The reasons are numerous, but mostly it comes down to money and a shift in expertise. First, I've sort of grown out of their relatively low pay range, and second, I was writing a column about molecular diagnostics and/or clinical genetics for med techs and lab professionals. But after being out of the field for a couple years, I began to feel very, very remote from the topics I was writing about. Probably if they'd paid three or four times better I would have gotten over that, but they didn't, so I didn't.

Thirdly, as I allude to, I see many of the things I write about have shifted. Not all of them. I've got this odd little sideline where I write about practice management issues for podiatrists, and although Podiatry Online no longer works with freelancers, Podiatry Management does and I write about half a dozen articles a year for them. I also write some personal finance pieces for, although this year I seem to be writing more about insurance issues for them.

But a bigger thing is that I used to write about biotechnical issues a lot. The actual science of medicine and genetics and molecular diagnostics. Now I'm much more likely to write about the business side of all of those.

I didn't set out to move in that direction. I followed the work and I followed the money. In that respect, there's a kind of Darwinian natural selection going. I have a hard time competing head-to-head for tech articles with writers with Masters, PhDs, and MD degrees. (Sometimes I do simply by being competent). You could argue that business writers would have an easier time writing about the business matters than I would, but what seems to be the case is that my understanding of the technical aspects of medicine and labs and technology give me an edge in terms of reporting and analyzing the business aspects of things. It may be as simple as the fact I'm skeptical of a lot of what companies indicate are trends in the area because I can see potential technical pitfalls, which informs my business thinking. Either that, or, as I've commented before, I like to learn new things, and learning about business is, for me, a new thing.

There's also the little fact of the 80/20 rule. If you haven't heard of this, it's been around for a couple hundred years. It's an economic observation that over time, businesses typically make 80% of their income form 20% of their clients. And it's probably true.


Mark TErry


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right now I'm working exclusively on fewer but longer projects. It is kind of dangerous because lose a few and the income dries up. On the other hand, working on small projects that don't pay rates you can live on is even more dangerous.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Exactly, Eric.
But even I recognize that 130 invoices in a year for a one-man show is a lot of work. I probably averaged 3 deadlines a week, but some weeks I'd have 7 deadlines and that was nuts.

8:45 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I listed all the fiction I'd ever sold, last year. I'd been walking around saying I'd written over fifteen novellas and twenty short stories, and I figured I'd better count, since I'd been spouting the same numbers for several years. (Turns out, I was just shy of fifteen, and closer to fifty shorts. I think. I've lost count again.)

It was an ego thing. I perpetually feel like I know nothing about writing. And I've got the million word mark stuck in my head. It made me feel better. Kind of ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I've passed it now, though.

Btw, Sophie Kinsella's CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? was her breakout (up?) book. Questions make great headlines. And titles.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Fifty short stories!!!!?????

Holy shit, Spy! That's amazing!

I've published two!

9:58 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Good lord, Mark. What are you talking about, Mr. 150+ Articles a Year? I wrote those short stories over six years!

And you've got three short stories listed on your website, not two. :-) They were the first things I read by you. (Loved them, btw.)

12:31 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, well, the third hasn't been published anywhere but the website.

Still, 50 short stories. They're totally impossible for me.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

What happens if you go for a freelance job, write the piece, and they hate it? Do they just ditch you and move on?
Scared to try.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Depends on the publisher, I suppose. I haven't had that happen. Generally speaking they'll try to get it fixed. They'll keep coming back to you to tweak it. Or, the editor might rewrite it.

Better publishers have what are called "kill fees," which means that if the piece doesn't work out, they will pay you a portion of what they agreed to pay you--25% or 50%, for example; often it's in a contract--and everybody goes away. I've never had a kill fee.

I recently wrote a piece for a client that went through 4 rewrites. Maddening and that's the worst I've ever had. A lot of the problem was that the original topic, pitched to me by the editor, was too broad. I immediately cut out a third of it, which he was okay with, then wrote a general article on the topic. He came back with wanting an entirely different angle on the subject. So I went back and did some more interviews, rewrote it and came back to him with it. He hacked it to pieces and came back with more questions. I answered them and conducted another interview and turned it in. He came back with yet more questions, which I answered through some of the other interviews I had done.

I hope we'll continue to work together. Yes, I was getting very frustrated and thought more than once about telling him to stick it and just walking. But the fact is, nobody was yelling at each other, we were just trying to work to get the article into whatever condition the editor thought it should be in. Although I've written for this publication a fair amount over the last 3 years, I've only worked with this particular editor twice before. Those occasions were reasonably trouble-free. In this case, I worked to make what I thought was a bad situation better by being as professional and accomodating as I could.

Sometimes, just like on any job, things don't go the way you want them to.

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