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« Chess Boxing (part 1) | Main | The Bet (part 2) »

Useful online tools for freelance writers (Part 1)

Thanks to my friend Rand Bellavia for his help with this week's strip. Rand knows more trivia than anyone else in the universe, so I knew he'd come up with something interesting when I asked him for an unusual hobby that Eliza could write about. There really IS such a thing as chess boxing, by the way...check out this article, especially the photo at the top.

Today's column focuses on online tools for freelance writers who work from home. One of the many blessings that the Internet has brought to freelance writers is the convenience of tools that save them time, money and desk space. This hit home recently when I was working in a coffee shop and was able to exchange several faxes with an interviewee for an article, e-mail my editor, look up a word in an online dictionary and do some research for another project...all in the space of the hour I spent in the coffee shop, with no physical paper or books; all I needed was a WiFi connection and my laptop.

Listed below are some of the online tools and services I've found invaluable in my freelance writing life. I'd be very interested in hearing about other online tools you've found useful; please do list them below and I'll post them in Part 2. For the next column, I'm more interested in tools of interest to freelance writers in general (which online dictionary do YOU use, for example?) rather than genre-specific research sites and tools. I'll save the latter for a future column.

The perfect home office

I was skeptical about this service at seemed too good to be true because of the huge storage limits. I wish the mail storage had hierarchical folders and a more sophisticated filtering system, but I've still found Gmail to be reliable. I use Gmail as my public e-mail address and have also found it useful when I need to receive large attachments.
An online service which allows you to send and receive faxes by e-mail. I switched from MaxEmail after a great deal of research because I found that MaxEmail could not send faxes to some 800 numbers. The user interface is poorly designed and takes some getting used to, but so far I've had no trouble with the service itself. I like the fact that I have my own 866 number, so clients and editors can send faxes to me for no charge. I also like the fact that I don't need to keep a physical fax machine, and can send and receive faxes from anywhere.

Canadian postal rates and U.S. postal rates:
Though I prefer electronic correspondence, there are still many freelance writing markets whose editors prefer surface mail queries and submissions.
Currency conversion. As a Canadian freelance writer who writes mainly for non-Canadian markets, I find this free online tool extremely useful.
Long distance phone service. This has greatly reduced our phone bills. How it works: You stick whatever amount of money into your account. Before you call a particular long distance number, you call your Goldline number first. The recorded voice tells you how much money is left in your account, and you dial your number. You can use this service from any phone, including pay phones (there is a small fee for a payphone call).

Office Depot (or Canadian Office Depot):
I confess I'm an office supply junkie and can spend waaaaay too much time browsing an office supply store. Now I can feed my addiction online! Plus it's nice having someone deliver my reams of printer paper instead of having to lug it home myself; in Canada, delivery is free if you spend at least $50.

Vistaprint (or Canadian Vistaprint):
If you're looking for relatively inexpensive business cards and other promotional materials, this is a great service. Be sure to sign up for their special deals and news mailing list to get the best'll get a lot of mail, BUT some of their short-term promotions are very good. I once ordered a set of 250 business cards for about $7 through one of their 24-hour promotions, and that included postage and handling. I was getting tired of the somewhat tacky-looking perforated edges on my own self-printed business cards.

Online organizer. I liked this system so much that I opted for the paid service. I use this for keeping notes on projects and reminder notes as well as hooking up some of my Backpack pages to Writeboards which enable me to collaborate on book and article projects with other people online.

Do you use any other useful online services or tools for freelance writers? Feel free to suggest them below and I'll post them in my next column.

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