The #1 mistake you’re probably making in planning your trip to Holland

You can go to Amsterdam, just like everyone else. Or…

So, you’ve made your vacation plans: you’re headed for Europe, and on your list of things to see is Amsterdam.

Wait! Stop right there.


Now, don’t get me wrong – Amsterdam is a beautiful city with loads of historical and cultural influence, a fantastic night life, and exotic sites. But what about the rest of the Netherlands?

“Is there such a thing as ‘the rest of the Netherlands’” you ask.

You’d be surprised.

While I do encourage you to visit Amsterdam, I urge you not to pass the rest of the country by.

I know back when I was living in the US, the Netherlands was never referred to as ‘the Netherlands’. It was always just ‘Amsterdam’. When my then-boyfriend told me that he lived in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I was shocked.

There’s more than just Amsterdam? I thought.

Now that I live in the Netherlands, there is no doubt in my mind that there is so much more to the country than ‘just Amsterdam’. If I were to list all the things there are to do and see in this country (small though it may be) outside of Amsterdam, this would surely become the world’s longest blog post… Period.

Instead, I want to share with you some of the wonderful things you can see in Utrecht, the city I called home for the first three years after moving to the Netherlands.

Going back all the way to 97 AD, you could definitely say that Utrecht has a rich history. The city of Utrecht was officially declared a city in June 1122. And it has the architecture to prove it.

About a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam, Utrecht joins Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague to form the Randstad – the four largest and most influential cities in the Netherlands.

If you ever decide to visit Utrecht (which I highly recommend that you do) here are a few things you won’t want to miss: 

  • Every Saturday morning from 9am till noon in the city center is a huge textile market and an all-day flower market complete with bulbs, cut flowers, and indoor and outdoor plants of all shapes, sizes, and types. A regular market is held in the Vredenburg square every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
  • Be sure to grab a Broodje Mario to satiate your hunger as you shop and take in the sights. You can only get these amazingly delicious, super-Italian, über-filling sandwiches in the city of Utrecht. Amsterdammers come to Utrecht during the weekend specifically to indulge in a Broodje Mario.
  • Museums in the city include the Spoorweg Muesum (a super-cool train museum), Speelklok Muesum (clocks of all kinds, organs, organ grinders, you name it), Centraal Museum (modern art, Utrecht history, and various exhibitions), the home of famous Dutch architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld with some of his more popular works, the Dick Bruna House (Utrecht artist who created the little white bunny with a cross for a mouth called Nijntje – known in English as Miffy), and the Catherijneconvent Museum (former convent complete with ancient manuscripts, various artifacts, and Dutch art).
  • Hoog Catherijne is one of the only (as well as one of the largest) shopping malls in the Netherlands for those with holes in their pockets and Euros to spend.
  • The Dom Tower in Utrecht used to be joined to the beautiful Dom Church until turbulent weather destroyed the poorly-made passageway. After visiting the church and next-door cloister, head over for a tour of the tower. Tours are held in English and Dutch and the tower is a good 465-stair climb. But, if you make it all the way to the top and it happens to be a clear day, you can tell everyone that you’ve seen Amsterdam. In addition to being able to see Amsterdam from atop the tower, keep your eyes peeled for some of the rooftop decorations left for the benefit of tower visitors.
  • There are also some gorgeous castles nearby. Kasteel de Haar is a medieval castle and the largest castle in the Netherlands. It was restored from ruins in 1890 by Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt and is now open to visitors. Slot Zuylen is another medieval castle though much smaller. During the 18th century it was the home of writer Belle van Zuylen.

(Unfortunately, the Netherlands in general is not always so fantastic about providing information on their websites in English. Luckily, Yahoo! BabelFish does direct translations of websites!)

So how about adding Utrecht to your travel wish list? Or any other city in the Netherlands while you’re at it. Then you’ll be able to say that you did more than ‘just Amsterdam’. Happy travels!

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Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Fabio Tiriticco

Originally from Rome, it was a university exchange program in France in 2004 that led Fabio to write about his travel experiences. Now, Fabio’s living it up in Amsterdam! He shares his experiences on his blog Famsterdam Life. Find out a bit about him below before clicking over to check out his blog. Thanks, Fabio, for helping me resurrect the Tiptoe Through the Tulips interview series!

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here? 
I moved to the Netherlands from Italy in January 2007, but the story begins a few years before that. Down in Italy, the reputation of Holland (and especially Amsterdam) is all about drugs, prostitution and such. None of this ever really attracted me, therefore I grew up barely know where Holland was! Things changed when I spent some time in France for my studies. I met quite a few Dutch friends there and traveled with them to the flat land, finally discovering it through their own eyes and seeing what lies behind the prejudice. I fell in love with this place, so after graduation I immediately looked for jobs over here.

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else? 
I’m not sure I could live in Amsterdam forever, but to be honest I can’t see myself leaving it for good either! I like to see Amsterdam as a perfect headquarter to leave from and come back to. Every year or two I like to spend some time away from here. The current mid-term plan is a multi-month trip with my touring bike.

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom/dad, entrepreneur, student, etc)? 
I work as a Software Engineer for a Dutch company, but only four days a week. This is a great opportunity in this country-it definitely offers more choices when it comes down to balance work and personal time.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands? 
The flatness! 😀 There is an entirely different set of values and costumes. One thing that stands out is the way to enjoy time with friends. Most of the ‘people time’ in the Netherlands is ruled b alchool, which is totally not the case in Italy. The ubiquitous biertje is what makes people loose and glues them together at the same time. Rather than being a nice side thing while gathered with friends, its role here is being the central propellent of any fun night worthy of the name.

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
One really cool spot is Muiden, a little town outside of Amsterdam. I often ride my bike there, and it’s great from the very entrance – you reach a little fort just next to the little harbor filled with boats. The town vibe is similar to other old Dutch villages, but this one has a fantastic sluice and overlooks the Muiderslot, a magnificent castle. I definitely recommend going there for a day trip.

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe.
Love, there can only be one answer: its bike culture and infrastructure. I lately had my city bike fully ‘pimped’ by an artist! The bike has become an essential part of my lifestyle and I will do everything I can to keep it like this. One thing I loathe would be the Dutch accent when they pronounce the English word ‘that’! I’ve been sitting here for a bit but I can’t actually name any. Ain’t that good?

What’s one thing you’ve had to adjust to since coming to the Netherlands and how did you adjust (or are you still working on it)?
This has to be the lack of light in winter! I know it’s not specifically Dutch, but I’ve always been used to lower latitudes and the late light / early dark has a big impact on myself. On the other hand, the extra long days worked out beautifully. It gives me a previously unknown energy and it really brings you to make the most out of any day!

Do you have an embarrassing moment since you’ve moved that you would like to share with us (an unfortunate language blunder, or a funny getting-back-on-the-bike story)? 
One I can for sure remember is when a friend of mine and I enrolled at a local gym and went to one of the group lessons to try. We were confident enough about our Dutch and, in any case, “we’ll just copy what the guy does”. At some point he stopped moving and started giving verbal instructions only! Thanks to the music, we completely lost it, triggering that Dutch mixture between laughter and disapproval in all the other participants, until when the teacher came next to us to show us the moves!

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Be ready for a challenging environment, but be also assured that it can be very rewarding.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
The people at MixtUp ( are the best in both organizing little precious concerts (even in the vault of an old bank!) and keeping you up to date with what there’s to do around. They are good people who really put their heart into it.

Images courtesy of Famsterdam Life

Interested in doing an interview of your own? Send me an email at with ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

The opinions and content within this post are solely those of the guest poster and in no way reflect the views of  the Clogs and Hotdogs blog or its blogger.

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Reading List 2012

Let’s face it, I can’t keep my hands off a good book! And with so many hours spent by boat, plane, train, tram, metro and automobile, there’s plenty of time to devour a good read. Here’s what I’ve read this year…


  1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  2. The End of Illness, David B. Agus, MD
  3. Planet Germany: One British Family Bungles Being German, Cathy Dobson
  4. Confessions of a Karaoke Queen, Ella Kingsley
  5. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  6. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. Jacobs
  7. Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul, Jo Parfitt
  8. The Help: A Novel, Kathryn Stockett
  9. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. One Fifth Avenue: A Novel, Candace Bushnell
  11. The Writing Circle, Corinne Demas
  12. The Night Circus: A Novel, Erin Morgenstern
  13. Not All So Tall Tales, Martin C. Coy
  14. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, David Brooks
  15. Three Questions: because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, Meagan Adele Lopez
  16. The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel, Lauren Weisberger

This site contains affiliate links. When you buy something using those links, a portion of your purchase goes to helping update and maintain Clogs and Hotdogs. Thank you for your support!

Reading List 2011

Let’s face it, I can’t keep my hands off a good book! And with so many hours spent by boat, plane, train, tram, metro and automobile, there’s plenty of time to devour a good read. Here’s what I’ve read this year…


  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  2. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris
  3. Naked, David Sedaris
  4. Barrel Fever, David Sedaris
  5. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
  6. Borneo Tom: Stories & Sketches of Love, Travel & Jungle Family in Tropical Asia, Tom McLaughlin
  7. When You Are Englufed in Flames, David Sedaris
  8. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris
  9. Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
  10. The Love Verb, Jane Green
  11. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  12. The Beach House, Jane Green
  13. The Confession of Katherine Howard, Suzannah Dunn
  14. Girl Friday, Jane Green
  15. Tales from the Expat Harem…, Anastasia M. Ashman & Jennifer Eaton Gokmen
  16. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog, Dave Barry
  17. Percy Jackson en de Vloek van de Titaan, Rick Riordan (Dutch translation)
  18. Percy Jackson en de Zee van Monsters, Rick Riordan (Dutch translation)
  19. In Lucia’s Eyes,Arthur Japin
  20. The Singing Warrior, Niamh Ni Bhroin
  21. My ‘Dam Life, Sean Condon
  22. Mary’s Story, Tiffany Jarman Jansen
  23. Mary’s Holiday Story, Tiffany Jansen

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The Writer Trap Known as Content Mills

Quick! Get out of that content mill trap – FAST!

I don’t condemn content mills or the writers who write for them. In fact, as I’ve stated before on this blog, I think there is some merit to them.

They offer writers a way to make quick cash and polish their writing. They teach writers valuable skills like sticking to a word count, writing to a deadline, following guidelines, using SEO and keywords in their writing, and working with an editor.

It’s also a nice way to pick up some clips and credibility when you are just starting out.

At the same time, writers need to be extremely careful when it comes to writing for content mills as there are also a lot of negatives involved.

The revenue system is sketchy. There’s a lot of fine print that the content mills make almost impossible to find, only to pull out to stab the writer in the back with later on down the road.

Much of the writing produced by content mills is extremely unprofessional and many editors, publishers, and agents won’t take you seriously if they find out you write for content mills.

There are also a lot of “as long ases” involved.

Content mills are great for making money “as long as” they don’t sell the site to another company that will change the payment policy, guidelines, or decide to cut back on writers.

Your articles will continue to make you money “as long as” the content mill doesn’t decide to take your article(s) off the site or change its revenue or payment policies.

Money will continue to roll in “as long as” the content mill doesn’t go under or the owners don’t decide to abandon it for another project.

The other thing is that the payout is often only a small fraction of minimum wage. When you consider the hours that go into researching, writing, and editing the article and then the time that goes into promotion, you’ve done far more work than you’re actually getting paid for.

But writers get sucked into the content mills, making mere pennies per article and think that this is as high as they can reach. The big paying glossies and trade magazines, the small business clients and high paying blogging gigs are for the big-time writers.

Truth is, many content mill writers are actually just as good as, if not better than the top earning freelancers. The difference is that the top earners didn’t let themselves get sucked into the content mills.

Rather than writing $15 articles on watching paint dry, they sent out pitches and queries to national and trade magazines. They proposed columns and article ideas to the local newspaper. They entered writing contests and sent their manuscripts out to agents, and cold-called companies about hiring them as a writer. They searched the job boards for ghost writing, blogging, editing, and freelancing gigs.

And they got results.

When I was “accepted” to write for Demand Studios and, I was elated. I was going to be paid for my writing which meant that I had made the “big time.”

I took my initial assignments for both sites very seriously and spent quite a lot of time researching, interviewing, writing, editing and proofreading. Then I tweeted the articles, shared them on Facebook and LinkedIn, emailed the links to friends and family and blogged about it.

While I was guaranteed $15 per Demand Studios article, proved to be much less “profitable.”

I joined the site as the Netherlands Travel Examiner two years ago. In that time, I’ve written and promoted 26 articles. And earned $36.

Now, I say earned, because although I’ve earned the money, I have yet to have seen a penny of it. Which brings us back to the danger of “as long as.”

The way works is that you earn $0.01 for every “hit” your article gets. Your earnings can increase depending on how long visitors stay on each page, any comments left, advertisements clicked on, and how many times the article is shared via social networking sites.

What’s interesting is that, if you refer to your stats (which keep track of how many hits your pages have gotten and how much money you’ve earned), you’ll find that the earnings are quite a bit less than $0.01 per hit.

When I first signed up for, the policy was that writers would get paid on the 20th of the month, but only after they had accumulated $20 on their articles. It took me a year-and-a-half and 22 articles to earn $20.

At the same time I hit the $20 marker, changed it’s payment policy. Now, writers would only be paid if they accumulated $25 in one month. So, in order to get my $20, I would have to make an additional $25 on my articles in a month’s time. My articles were only making a little over $1 per month. In order to get that many hits, I would have to write over 500 articles.

My assumption is (and you know what they say happens when you assume…) that complaints arose from the community after this change was made. Because less than a month later, the policy was changed again.

This time, writers would have to earn $10 per month in order to see a payout. On top of that, you also have to produce at least one new article each month in order to get paid. And, should you go more than 60 days without posting, you lose all the money you earned prior to those 60 days.

For instance, in 2010, I earned $14.95. My last article for 2010 was written in September and I didn’t pick up writing for again until June 2010. Because more than 60 days passed, I am no longer eligible to receive the $14.95 I earned in 2010.

To earn $10 a month, I would have to have over 200 articles in my stable. As it was, with my 22 articles (assuming it took me one hour to research, write, proof and promote each one), I had made an average of $0.90 per hour.

Then it hit me. There was no reason I should be making less than $1 per hour when other freelancers were making $100 or more per hour.

If I had sold those same articles to travel magazines at a low price of $50 per article, I would have made $1,100. And I wouldn’t have had to promote them. In fact, I probably would have gotten a free copy of the publication they appeared in. I’d also have made connections with the editors at those publications, which could have brought me even more work in the future.

And that’s just at $50 per article. Imagine if I sold each one of those 22 articles for $100? Or $200? Even if I’d written the articles for Demand Studios at $15 apiece, my earnings would have been $330. Not as attractive a total, but still a far cry from $20.

The sad thing is, I’m not the only one who fell into the trap. “employs” hundreds of writers who punch out 22 articles in the span of a week or a month. Some Examiners have contributed hundreds and hundreds of articles to the site.

Yes, some of these writers make hundreds of dollars each month on articles they wrote long ago, but they still have to produce one new article each month and ensure they get enough hits in order to see that money. They can’t go longer than 60 days without posting or else they forfeit any earnings accumulated prior to their 60-day haitus.

And they have to hope that doesn’t decide to delete their content, or go out of business, or sell the site to another company, or change the payment policy again, or change the guidelines so that their previous articles are no longer up to standard, or decide to downsize.

I for one, am eager to leave behind. To delete all my content and rework it to be sold to other, better paying venues. To warn other writers about content mills who take advantage of their writers.

It’s just a shame that companies like feel that their writers and the content they produce are worth so little. And that writers continue to gravitate toward writing opportunities like this, not realizing that there is so much more and so much better out there.

Please tell all your writer friends and acquaintances not to make the same mistake I did and leave the content mills behind for venues that appreciate their work and pay well for it. Or at least to be sure to do their research and read all the fine print before signing up.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

Why recycling rocks

There! I can *finally* cross “hand-sew Barbie underpants” off my bucket list

My dad has always been an advocate for reusing, reducing and recycling.

He crushes cans and cartons before throwing them away, pops the bubble wrap, and breaks down cardboard boxes.

The man uses the backs of old receipts, old envelopes, and other scraps of paper to write notes and reminders on before recycling them.

He reuses boxes and plastic bags and even recently started a compost pile in the back yard.

It’s no surprise that I, his progeny, am also recycle-obsessed.

I reuse old clothes as fabric for crafting projects and hold onto the rest for use as costumes for my musical theater company. Like my father, I write all over scraps of paper before recycling them and break things down before throwing them away.

My husband and I recycle plastic, batteries, glass, paper, and compost. We borrow, acquire and buy used.

So, you can only imagine how thrilled I was when I realized that I could also recycle my writing.

How does that work? you ask.

When you write an article, you spend time interviewing and researching on a specific topic and then turn it into a piece to be used for a particular publication.

Instead of starting from scratch for the next writing assignment, take what you have and re-structure it to fit the needs of another publication.

For instance, I recently wrote an article on the use of the English language in the business world here in the Netherlands for an expat newspeper. I interviewed language specialists, language purists, and business people. The article earned me €50.

But I still had interview snippets and information that didn’t fit into the 700-word article. So, I rewrote the piece including new information and presenting the old information in a new way with new wording and sold it to an expat magazine for €160.

It took me perhaps 30 minutes to restructure, proofread, and edit that second article.

Instead of earning just €50 with the piece, I earned €210. Much better.

There are also a lot of pieces I wrote for non-paying sites and publications. Rather than letting them languish, making nothing, I can go back and re-write them for possible sale to other publications.

The same goes for my old blog posts. And any other article I’ve written in the past, am working on now, or may be writing in the future.

At the moment, I’m trying to resell an article on a fascinating topic that recently fell on my lap. A WWII bomber pilot shot down over Nazi occupied Holland was just reunited with the Jewish girl who lived with him in hiding 67 years later. All because the pilot’s son decided to record his father’s story in novel form.

I conducted the interviews, read the book, and did some research. The story has already been written up and published in one publication, but why leave it at that? I’ve done the work and the story deserves to be told in as many ways and for as many audiences as possible.

So, now the trick is to find other publications that might be interested and pitching the piece to them. Then I take a little time to tweak the information to make the story more specific to each publication and its audience and, voila, the article earns me more!

You take something old, re-work it and make it into something new that can be used again.

Yes, no matter how you look at it, recycling rocks.

Do you recycle your written work? How do you feel about recycling?

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Double Your Writing Income: Learn How

How I went from Demand Studios to better paying clients

This scene is a lot more satisfying when you’re making more than $15 an article

Hi, my name is Tiffany and I used to write for content mills. I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself.

However, while content mills have a dirtied reputation, I don’t regret my time spent writing for them. I learned a lot, and I would recommend that any beginning writer struggling to gather the nerve to get started hit content mills first.

Demand Studios was my first paying job, and though I see now that the pay was terrible, back then, it was such an ego boost to see my wallet fattening up on account of my writing. Through DS, I also learned about SEO, writing with a specific word count to set guidelines under a deadline, working with an editor, and matching relevant photos to my articles.

It also showed me that my writing was good enough to earn an income. With this new-found confidence, I began pitching other publications. And, thanks to DS, I had clips to pitch with.

I mixed my DS efforts with free writing for non-profits and eventually made my way to publication in magazines and newspapers, all of which pay more than three times what I got from DS. Then I discovered paid blogging and creating web content. Soon it became clear that I was wasting my time on content mills.

My main reason for holding onto my “job” at DS was because of my position. I’m an American living in the Netherlands. With that being the case, I run into a few problems most freelancers don’t have.

For one, my Dutch is not good enough that I can get work writing for Dutch companies. This means I’m stuck with English language publications, and there aren’t too many of those. I write for almost all of them and it’s simply not enough to make a living.

My Dutch is good enough for Dutch-to-English translations, though, so my next step was to try to captialize that skill.

Freelance powerhouse Carol Tice often recommends cold-calling small businesses to get work writing for them. But the majority of small businesses here are Dutch-speaking and don’t need or want English content. The larger companies hire professional translators and expat entrepreneurs don’t typically have the budget to pay writers for content, so my opportunities are slim.

As a result, I’ve found a market writing for magazines. I freelance for publications in the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.

When you’re a writer living overseas, you need to really market yourself and exhaust all your resources. My first step is to use my connections from publications I already write for. I always ask fellow contributors about their writing careers and they’ve been more than willing to share the other markets they dabbled in. Editors have been extremely helpful in passing along names of other editors and publications, often recommending me to them as a writer.

I also subscribe to newsletters like Funds for Writers, Writers Weekly, and European Writer, and do frequent job searches on MediaBistro. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published annually, also covers agents and publications in Australia, the UK, and the US.

Most of my work comes from interest generated via LinkedIn, Twitter, and my blogs. Social media networking is by far the best way to find writing opportunities no matter where you are based. A strong social media presence has gotten me and my writing noticed and I’ve forged very valuable relationships via each of those outlets.

The most valuable lesson I learned from Demand Studios is that I can get paid more for my writing than $15 per article. Much more.

These days, I don’t write for less than $50/€50. Have I been offered less? Sure. Lots less.

When those offers come, I make sure to be very clear as to what my rates are and that I will not settle for less. Typically, the inquirer will agree to my rates. And, if not, I move on to someone who does.

Because if I’m going to settle for low pay, I might as well go back to the content mills. But with so many markets paying such excellent money, why on earth would I do that?

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Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

How I met Chuck Palahniuk

Yup, it’s a book too.

Years ago, I saw the movie Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Normally that’s not my type of movie, but I really enjoyed it. I had no idea it was a book.

A few years later, a guy I was dating was deep into reading this book by an author I’d never heard of before. When I asked if it was any good, he said “Oh yeah! It was written by the guy who wrote Fight Club.” Well, I’ll be danged – you learn something new everyday!

I caught a glimpse of the author’s last name and, though I couldn’t even begin to guess how to pronounce it, the spelling of it seared itself in my brain.

Fast-forward 8 years and I’m at a Pub Quiz here in Utrecht. The question was “What book by Chuck Palahniuk was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton?” Of our 10-member team, I was the only one who knew the answer.

A few weeks after that, my husband and I were enjoying our weekend stroll through the city center of Utrecht when we passed the bookstore Selexyz. Selexyz often has author signings and I’ve made it a habit of checking the announcements to see if there are any I recognize. There never are.

This particular day, however, there was one name I did: Chuck Palahniuk. I pointed the notice out to my husband telling him it was the guy who wrote Fight Club. “I didn’t know that was a book,” my husband said. Nevertheless, we both agreed that we would do our best to make it to the book signing.

When we got home, I went to go write it on our calendar only to find out that we would be in the US that day for my 10-year high school reunion. Bummer.

As the time for our vacation drew nearer, we found ourselves with a buyer who wanted to move into our apartment by October 1st and no place to live once we’d moved out. We had our eye on a house and, when our bid was accepted, it was cutting it super close to departure day.

At the suggestion of friends and in-laws, we decided to have a technical inspection done on the house before signing a contract. Which meant that contract signing would have to be postponed until the technical report had been done and we’d gotten the results.

The technical report was scheduled at the earliest possible time: seven days before we were supposed to head State-side. Needless to say, we had to push our trip back by a week.

But this meant we could attend the birthday party of one of my husband’s dearest friends. This friend has a thing for books. Doesn’t matter what kind of book it is, he’ll buy it and read it. My kind of guy. So, the obvious place to shop for a birthday gift was a bookstore. And that’s exactly what we did.

We stepped over the threshold into Selexyz and stumbled right into a long line. People were waiting with books in hand for a nerdy guy in glasses standing at the other end of the store. A book signing of some sort. We walked right by and found the perfect book: the book of Genesis in graphic novel form.

On our way to the checkout, I decided to be nosey and see who this writer was. Wouldn’t you know it, we’d ended up at Chuck Palahniuk’s book signing!

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and grab a Chuck Palahniuk book for Hubs’ friend as well as a copy of Fight Club for ourselves and stand in line.

And that’s how I met Chuck Palahniuk. Not only can I now pronounce his last name, but we finally have a copy of that book we never knew existed with Palahniuk’s chicken scratch on the title page saying:

“Enjoy your fights.”

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On writing for free

I’ve heard valid arguments from both the Write-for-free and Don’t-write-for-free camps.

One side says that writing for free is good because it gives you exposure. You gain a wider audience, get more Google search results on your name, spread the word about your products and services, make connections and gain valuable experience.

Then, you have the people saying that writing for free is a waste of time. That no amount of exposure is worth the money you’re turning down by choosing a free assignment over a paying assignment. If you want to be taken seriously by clients, agents, publishers, and potential employers, writing for pay is the only way to go.

Having written for both free and paying markets, I see and understand the benefits of both and don’t necessarily think you should choose one over the other.

When I started out, it was with expat interviews and my own blog. Eventually I met more people and found out about more expat sites that don’t pay for content. Expatriatism was (and still is) something very close to me — something I enjoy writing about and hope that my writing can help and inspire others like me. I remember how much the expat blogs, websites, and magazines helped me and how grateful I was for them. It felt nice to do the same for others.

Not long after, I discovered Demand Studios. I applied, taking the process extremely seriously. I was elated when I was accepted as a writer and put far too much effort into writing my first article. But I got paid and that felt great. My name showed up on a popular site (eHow), I was proud of my efforts, and, best of all, I got paid. For the first time I realized that I could make money off of my writing.

Without the clips from articles for all those non-paying expat sites, I never would have been able to get the Demand Studios gig. And once I saw how easy it was with Demand Studios, I began to branch out.

My next move was print publications, and the first one I started with was a magazine for a non-profit organization. They didn’t pay, but they have a very professional looking product and a wide circulation. I worked my buns off for the piece and, even two years later it remains one of the articles I am most proud of.

Using a clip from that magazine, I got a gig writing for XM Magazine. Guess what? This one paid. I got €75 per article. Realizing that I could get way more than the measly $15 per article Demand Studios pays, I began seeking out other paying publications.

It was in this way, still using the clips from my free work, that I found The Holland Times. I now write for them once a month at €0.20 per word. That helped me get my foot in the door at Transitions Abroad, which pays even more per word.

Eventually I also got gigs with Insego Smart Expats and Amsterdam City Tours Blog. Both are paying — somewhere between the Demand Studios and The Holland Times pay, so it’s not much, but it adds to my income.

When I’m hard-pressed for quick cash, I’ll turn to Demand Studios, but for the most part, I’ve left that door closed.

I do still write for free though. Guest posts, interviews and articles. Writing for free has still done too much for me. As a rule, I only do free writing if I can link to my blogs either within the content or in a byline, and doing that has really given me a lot of traffic. Those people read my articles, buy items through my affiliate links, and click on the ads.

I don’t get much money, but I get some and most importantly, I gain loyal fans and readers. Those free articles also link back to my blogs, giving them better search engine results and more credibility. They’ve brought me Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

And writing for free is a great asset to getting word out about your book and driving sales.

For instance, with my Mary books, I can write articles on Twelfth Night, Henry VIII, children in the Renaissance, phrases and sayings we’ve borrowed from the Renaissance and Middle Ages, the castles Mary grew up in, and Renaissance education, art(ists), games, toys, clothing, food, etc.

I can find blogs as well as paying and non-paying publications interested in such information. Then it’s just a matter of writing the content and including information about myself and the book either within the article or in the byline.

Readers of these sites and publications are interested in the topic and are more likely to buy the book, increasing my sales. Those articles will be circulated to a much wider audience than I could reach on my own. They’ll pop up in search engines and link back to my site and my book.

And if you’re a writer in a certain niche, you want to have lots of experience writing in that niche in order to show your expertise. When people Google your name or your niche, you want to pop up on the first or second page. Free articles can help you establish authority and increase your Googlability just as well as paid articles can.

My advice, however, is this: use non-paying markets and content mills to give your writing career a jump-start. Then begin replacing them with paying gigs. Don’t forget the non-paying markets and content mills, because it may benefit you to revisit them once in a while. But once you begin getting paid for your work, your focus should be on getting other paid work.

What has worked for me is 1-3 pieces of non-paid content per month. I usually don’t do any more than one, but some months two or three will prove more beneficial. But the more time I spend on Demand Studios and non-paying publications, the less time I have to write for paid publications.

And, with the halt in my day job due to summer vacation, the money is more important. Plus, I’m looking to build my freelance writing income to last us through my upcoming maternity leave. I’m hoping what I build up can continue once I go back to work to supplement my income.

Perhaps once I’m where I’d like to be in my freelancing career I’ll do more in the way of Demand Studios and non-paid writing (I know I’ll concentrate more on it once I’m ready to market my next book). For right now, I’m setting them on the back burner. But I’m not giving up on them completely.

Do you write for free as well as for pay? Do you think this is a good idea for writers?

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Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

Deventer Boekenmarkt: Europe’s Largest Outdoor Book Market

VVV Deventer public domain publication photo

Considering that my last topic was my dream library, how appropriate is it that this weekend saw an event in the Netherlands that has become one of my ultimate favorite ways to add to my book collection.

Each year, on the first Sunday in August, the Dutch town of Deventer holds an outdoor book market. The Boekenmarkt (Dutch for book market) has been going on since 1989 and has been growing steadily each year ever since.

A market that started out that first year with 100 stalls now boasts 878, manned by book dealers and shops, antique stores and various organizations. The entire market spans six kilometers (3.72 miles) and is the largest outdoor book fair in Europe.

Deventer’s Boekenmarkt also has food, maps, art, records, and antique paper goods (think photos, postcards, posters, etc.) for sale. And there are also street acts and musicians, art, and special exhibitions. On the evening before the market there is a poetry festival held at Theater Bouwkunde, so you can easily make an entire weekend out of the event.

This is the second year we’ve gone, and let me just say that you simply can’t spend enough time there. You could be busy for days browsing all the titles.

Our first trip was last year and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. We did a whirlwind tour in the time we had allotted for our visit, the goal being to walk the whole distance of the book market and just take everything in. After a few hours it was time to leave and we hadn’t even seen half of it. But I did score some excellent titles for pretty decent prices.

This year, I had planned to spend more time browsing, but instead ended up hoofing it around the city trying to locate an ATM. I did eventually find one in just enough time to buy two books before we had to leave. But all was not lost: Deventer is a gorgeous, historical city that sits on the edge of a river, so just being able to walk around looking at the sites, the book stalls and the people made it worth the while.

It’s definitely a diverse crowd that fills the streets on Boekenmarkt day. Families, bookworms, intellectuals, geeks, couples, teens, foreigners, Dutch… Many come carrying large shopping bags on wheels or suitcases to hold their purchases. In 2008 there were 125,000 visitors to the Festival and, in 2009 when it poured rain the whole day long, 75,000 die-hards braved the torrential rains to attend.

The book sellers at the event are all professional, so the prices are higher than they’d be at your average used book store, but they’re all marked at decent prices and often times, you can talk the dealer into giving you an even better deal.

So the lesson I’ve learned for next year is to arrive as soon as the festival opens, complete with a large shopping bag and wads of cash. Because — as we have both agreed — we will be back next year. In the last two years, this has become an event we both look very much forward to.

If you’re ever in the Netherlands on the first Sunday of August, do stop by Deventer for the Boekenmarkt. You won’t regret it! The event is run by the Deventer Tourist Information office, in case you’d like some info (unfortunately the site’s in Dutch, but luckily there’s Google Translate).

Have you ever been to an outdoor book market or a book festival? Where is your favorite place to buy books?

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