----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: October 2008

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Being Proactive

Since I am one of many, many people seeking employment right now, and since prospects seem grim, I am instead focusing on increasing my base of freelance clients. I've put together a marketing letter and a list of clients I've worked with in the past, and I've ordered shiny new business cards. Now, I'm developing a contact database. I hope to get my letters in the mail next week.

It's tough to stay positive in this environment, especially when the bills just keep pouring in, but the income doesn't. Mr. Pink and I are trying to cut back any way we can, so we've stopped going out to dinner, and we're always on the lookout for free entertainment. Last weekend, for instance, we went to an art gallery for a free exhibit and free wine. The one thing I don't want to cut out is my martial arts training. It gets me out of the house, for one thing. Plus, the strenuous exercise releases endorphins, which make me feel a little bit better, at least temporarily. And I'm focused on a goal. I'm training for my yellow belt. Besides, kicking and punching in class is an excellent way to reduce stress and frustration!

Do you have any job-seeking or money-saving tips? If so, please share!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fait Accompli

It is done. My query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters are on their way to a literary agent in New York. Now, the waiting game begins. And as Tom Petty said, "The waiting is the hardest part."

I started writing my novel a little more than a year ago. I've written, re-written, read, re-read, edited, proofread, cut and pasted. I'm sure I'll continue to tweak it, but for the most part, it's done. And now, I don't know what to do next.

I researched my agent choice carefully. I selected someone that I met briefly at a writer's conference, who expressed enthusiasm for my 30-second pitch. She's said in interviews that she's interested in material that will make her cry, and she accepts submissions from unpublished novelists, so I think I have a decent shot. She's also said that she has trouble keeping up with her mail, so the wait could be a long one. I'm glad I sent my package out, but I'm also a little nervous, because one person told me I shouldn't even be thinking about contacting an agent without having first hired a professional editor to read over my work. I'm sure a pro could have helped, but I didn't have an extra $1,000 to spend on that. I did take a workshop and two classes, though, and I got a lot of feedback from friends and a published author, so I'm hoping that will stand me in good stead. Fingers crossed!

Mr. Pink is encouraging me to start work on my next book, but although I have a few ideas, I don't really know what I want to write about next. What I really need to do, as mentioned in my last post, is find a source of reliable income. So far, my job applications have been unsuccessful. I'll keep trying, and I'll keep trying to drum up freelance business and tutoring clients, too, but I kind of feel like I'm in limbo.

Any suggestions on what to do next?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Once again, I am looking for a job. Once again, I am not having much luck.

I understand that this is at least in part a problem of my own making. I don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to employment. I have a tendency to quit my jobs after about six months. Or eight months. Or a year. Or in one ill-fated case, five days. In many ways, I know I am better suited to the freelance lifestyle. I have no problems meeting my deadlines and turning in copy that makes my clients happy. The problem is, I've never quite been able to make enough money as a freelancer. And now that I've taken a few months off to finish my novel, money is a pressing concern.

The good news is that I just finished a freelance assignment for a new client, and the team was "real pleased" with my work. The client didn't balk at my hourly rate and is likely to assign me another project. It was pretty interesting work, and not a bad way to make a few hundred dollars. But a few hundred dollars is not going to pay the bills.

The other good news is that I'm nearly done editing my novel and will be sending out my package to an agent next week. The bad news is that I may not receive a response until the new year, and the response may be, "Thanks, but no thanks." In the meantime, I need to make some cash.

So, I am back where I started, looking for steady paying work. I've gotten a couple of bites on my resume, which is posted on Monster, but most of the responses have been from people who think I would make an excellent financial services consultant. They are sadly mistaken. I barely have a grasp on my own finances, as evidenced by my credit card bills, so I am in no position to tell others how to invest or spend their money.

I did get an email today about an opportunity that is more in line with my skills, but the pay is far too low to make financial sense. It's a Web copywriting position, in which I would interview clients and write copy for their Web sites. I would need to contact the client for an interview and determine their content needs. I'd then write the information, submit it to the client for approval, and then complete a rewrite "should it be required." The final content would be due within five business days of the assignment. For this, I'd be paid 5 cents a word, plus $10 per interview. Also, I'd have to complete a sample writing assignment (for free!) of no more than 1200 words. And what's to stop the company from using my "writing sample" as actual content? Nothing, I'm sure. But let me do the math for you--if I were to be paid for those 1200 words, I'd get $60. I'm guessing the interview would take at least an hour, and the writing would take several more hours, not including any rewrites. So, I'd probably wind up grossing about $12 an hour. That's nearly five times less than my new client has agreed to pay me. But the sad fact is that most people are unwilling to pay for well-written, compelling copy. They pay what the market will bear. And although I need the money, I'm not going to sell my writing skills on the cheap.

Instead, I plan to continue to prospect for freelance clients, and I also hope to pick up some tutoring clients. In addition, I am looking for administrative and executive assistant jobs. Many of those jobs pay $15 an hour, and I definitely have the organizational skills and can-do attitude necessary to succeed. The only problem is that I don't have a lot of specific admin experience, although I can type 60 words per minute, I have a pleasing and professional phone voice, I am an excellent filer, and I am a terrific multi-tasker who thrives in fast-paced environments.

So what do you think I should do? Should I dig deep into my checkered career history and include on my resume my experience as a receptionist for the Sports Club/LA? Sure, it was seven years ago, but I did answer multiple phone lines, schedule personal training appointments, and handle class sign-ups, all for a very demanding clientele. (You do not want to get between wealthy people and their Spin class sign-up sheet!) Should I throw myself into freelancing and just be prepared to live off credit cards for awhile? (Been there, done that--not a smart strategy.) Should I donate plasma? (I'm scared of needles!)

Realistically, I know that my best bet is to be entrepreneurial and create my own opportunities. There are some people out there who appreciate good writing and are willing to pay for it. I am also an excellent copy editor and proofreader. But in reality, I need a steady paycheck.

Things will work out, as they usually do--fingers crossed. I suppose all I can really do is persevere and explore every option. And hope that my first novel becomes a raging success!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Although my Mediterranean cruise has ended and I am back on terra firma, I keep dreaming that I'm on a ship. Every night since my return, my dreams have taken me back to the high seas. Last night I even dreamed that my family and I jumped on a cruise to Alaska, even though we hadn't bought tickets. We saw glaciers and polar bears and managed to avoid the ship's security team, which, let me tell you, cannot be done in real life.

Mr. Pink and I were among the youngest adult cruisers on board. There were a few honeymooners, but for the most part, retirees make up most of a cruise's population. No big surprise...cruising is an expensive proposition. When you look at the per-night cost of taking a cruise versus staying in a hotel, cruising looks like a deal, especially in Europe, where the dollar remains weak against the euro. After all, room and board are included in the price! But cruises get you in two ways...the shore excursions and the alcohol. We only took one shore excursion, or organized tour. The rest of the time, we struck out on our own.

The shore excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus was definitely worth the price, but some other excursions seemed overly expensive. For instance, a "Tour Athens on Your Own" package cost $55 per person. But you were touring on your own, so all that really got you was a bus trip back and forth from Piraeus. "Pshaw!" we thought. "Who needs that?" After all, we were with my family, and the Pater Familias speaks Greek. We walked to the train station and took the train to the Acropolis for only a few euros apiece. Of course, as we were boarding the train for the return trip, my mom had her purse snatched, and despite the heroic pursuit of Mr. Pink, the thief escaped. My mom lost about $250, so we were out about the same amount we would have paid for the bus trip. Plus, Mr. Pink injured his already-fragile ankle and had to be doped up with pain pills, so in retrospect, the bus might have been a smarter choice. But how could we have known?

The alcohol was another story. My brothers, the Pater Familias, Mr. Pink and I all enjoy a good cocktail. And on the cruise, we enjoyed several each day. Even my mom indulged in a frozen margarita or a pina colada on occasion. Let me tell you, that adds up fast! And the waiters are all so attentive, arriving ever so discreetly at your elbow to offer you another refreshment just as you've finished the last few drops of your previous beverage. No wonder the cruise lines don't allow you to bring your own alcohol on board...it would cut into their profit margins! I tried to stick to the special "drink of the day," which was $5.50 instead of $7, $8, or even $9, but the costs still mounted. The best deal was wine by the glass, because the waiters and bartenders gave a very generous pour. You know how in a restaurant you order a glass of wine and it's maybe half full? Not so on this cruise. Every time any of us ordered a glass of wine, it came filled almost to the rim. I enjoyed a very pleasant rose for $6.50 a glass. And there's just something about sitting out on the ship's deck, watching the sun set and the land recede as we left port while sipping a glass of rose. Quite civilized. Quite.

There was one other surprising expense that was perhaps not so civilized: bingo. It may sound strange, but I love me some bingo. I have ever since my family spent time up in a ramshackle cabin in Lake County, where a couple of swimming pools, a snack shack, a tiny general store, and nighttime bingo were the amusements on offer. I even went up during high school with some friends, and we amused ourselves to no end by yelling out "And after!" when B-4 was announced. We also sometimes shouted out "And malignant!" after B-9, but not as many people seemed to get that joke.

But I digress. The point is, when I played bingo in my youth, the cards cost maybe a dollar apiece, or maybe five dollars for blackout, when the jackpot was higher. Do you know how much it costs to play bingo on a cruise? Twenty-nine dollars, my friends. That's right...twenty-nine dollars for four measly games. And they didn't even have the good cards with the little windows that you slide shut to cover the numbers! No, the choices were paper punch cards, or an electronic bingo machine (which cost more) that kept track of all the numbers for you. Now, what's the fun of bingo if you don't actually cover up the numbers yourself? Anyway, none of us hit the jackpot, but I did win a lovely Celebrity Cruises visor in a drawing, and my brother Esquire won a very fetching T-shirt (retail price $27.99 in the gift shop).

More about our cruising adventures later. For now, the bottom line is that if you're considering a cruise, go for it. You'll probably have a lot of fun. Just make sure you budget for all the little cruise "extras." My next credit card bill is not going to be pretty. And now that my novel is finished, I need to find a J-O-B. Sigh. No wonder I keep dreaming about being on a cruise.