Sunday, May 31, 2009

What I've Learned from the Blogathon

It’s the last day of MayBlog2. Here’s what I’ve learned:
  1. It's more difficult to post daily than I would have thought.
  2. To post on the weekends it's best to think several days in advance.
  3. Guest blog posts are great for two reasons. a) you get a fresh perspective on your blog to prompt conversation and thought. b) you reach a broader audience by trading posts.
  4. It's a good idea to keep a running list of blog topics for the days you are blank. Jot down the idea as soon as it comes - remembering it later is tricky.
  5. Encouragement from fellow bloggers helps the process.
  6. It's not necessary to post daily and (more importantly) I should feel bad when it just doesn't happen one day.
  7. Reading and commenting on other blogs helps build your own and encourages the other writer - two great things.
  8. I should post more regularly at a specific time every day. So far it's been totally random, although usually in the afternoon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Taking a Step Back Can Actually be Helpful

So I admit it, I am one of those writers who loves to push as close as possible to the deadline and then crank out an awesome piece under pressure. And to be honest, most of the time the articles are better written, clearer and more concise when I write in this manner. When I think too hard about it or start writing weeks or days in advance it will take me twice as long and usually ends up longer than need be.

But I'm learning that when it comes to novel writing the exact opposite may be true. I started my first official attempt at a young adult novel in August 2008. At the time I had grand plans of having it in the hands of agents by December. I completed the first draft in September and sent it to a number of close friends to read through. They sent back their thoughts, I added parts, changed character names, deleted a few scenes and went through a long editing process. By January I was at a point I thought appropriate to send off. Then I sent it to my mom...

She liked the story but went into teacher mode and highlighted every point she was confused about, every grammatical error, every incomplete sentence. At that point I started reading what exactly is required to get an agent - and discouragement set in.

I set the book aside and didn't look at it for almost two months. Then my early readers started hounding me about getting it completed and sent out. Just the thought - The fear. The anxiety, The likely rejection.

But I picked the book up again last week, printed all 280 pages out and pulled out the red pen to begin edits. This being the third time I've done edits I figured it would be a quick process. Um, Nope. I thought I'd have nothing else to add. Wrong again.

Letting it sit while I focused on other things - like this blog, twitter, securing freelance gigs - might have been the best thing for the book. I've realized in the editing process there are certain words I overuse. I use forms of to be way too often. I hate cliches and yet they littered my pages. And one of my characters is a little one-dimensional. I'm trying to change all of that now.

Is it good enough to get published? I have no idea. Do I hope it is? Heck yes. Will I bite the bullet and finally send it out after this round of edits. Yup, it's getting to a point where I'm proud to say I penned this.

Despite my insecurities about this, I've learned that at least giving the book a little space has given me a fresher approach and an unbiased eye.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Purdue Student: What I Learned in School about Writing

Written by Kristen Johnson

On May 15th, I graduated from Purdue University with a Liberal Arts degree in Professional Writing. While in school, I worked at our newspaper, the Purdue Exponent for two years, in addition to other journalism internships and my onslaught of writing courses. In hopes that I had gathered a plethora of useful writing knowledge, Katie asked me to compile some things I learned over my college career. Here’s what I came up with:

First, break the rules. Forget everything you learned in your high school English classes. Those old Elements of Writing books? Toss them. Writing is much more than simple sentence structures. Think outside of the box! Make non-existing words exist, use fragments when constructive, and be dangerously edgy when the risk is affordable.

…but never forget the basics. Ever. As a college senior in a 400-level writing class, my professor spent for first week assigning grammar exercises. Why? Because you can only be a rebel when you know what rules you’re breaking. No matter how long you’ve been writing, it’s still irresponsible to make spelling a mistake and it’s still inexcusable to be ambiguous when specifics are desperately needed.

Writing is like any sport. Practice truly makes perfect. Write, write, write…write!! Take any opportunity to write for any publishing venue, whether it be minimally paying, nonpaying, or your own personal blog. Any chance to have an outsider’s opinion is a great chance to grow as a writer.

Your mother has been preaching the truth - reading in invaluable. This lesson is one I’ve had to learn the hard way, growing up with only a strong fascination with the Harry Potter series. Beyond the wizarding community and my school assignments, it practically took a knife fight to get my mind focused on anything else bounded by a cover. Once college hit, I felt the burn. My overall knowledge of the world, let alone my vocabulary, poorly suffered. If you struggle to find intriguing material, use the internet! No matter what you’re interests include, I guarantee there is a blog and/or site devoted to your curiosities.

Master the internet, or at least research its limitless opportunities. Create a website and/or blog and update frequently. Learn the fundamentals of web design, even if it’s just a basic understanding of the how’s, what’s and why’s. For my non-tech savvy brethren, there are countless sites that offer shortcuts for these respected skills, such as web coding and photo editing. (Check out her site.)

Network. Network like it’s the air you breathe. Network with everyone in your life, both those you know in-person and those available online. Knowledge and mastery of social media has become a must-have skill for journalists. In a social networking class, my professor explained that every person should have at least 2-3 social sites they manage daily. An overall understanding of all the popular social medias will only assist in your career; MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube…if the names of any of these sites are unfamiliar, you’re behind.

The editing process of any piece is half the battle. After you edit something, edit it again. And again, and again. No piece is ever perfect.

• Try to find a way to say what you want to say with less words, in order to get your point across more clearly and faster, as in: Tighten your language.

You can never prepare all the right questions prior to an interview, no matter how much research you do, (and research is always expected and required). A good reporter enters an interview with ideas of where to lead his/her questions, but listens to the source for the perfect angle to lead the discussion and therefore the article. While interviewing, the article should be slowly unfolding in your head. Focus on the interview, but remember you’re not simply getting to know someone – you’re writing a piece that needs to have a central message.

This world is full of writers, but it’s lacking great writers. You’re going to fail, time and time again. You’re going to get torn apart, and people are going to tell you you’ll never make it. The greats learn and keep writing. The regulars never adapt, or retire all together. If writing is your passion, you have to keep fighting and be prepared for people who think you don’t have “it.”

(Kristen Johnson is a recent college graduate. Her expertise, so far, is the music industry. She can write a killer CD review and bio piece on upcoming artists. Since I encouraged her to pursue writing when she consulted me about it, I thought it would be interesting to see what she got out of school. (In 5 years we should do a follow-up and find out what she really learned.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Freelancing Will Always Be a Leap of Faith

Yesterday I lost mega sleep over the thought that a new client of mine wasn't as legit as I thought. Of course at night, as I began putting pieces together and talking about it to a close family member who also happened to be up and available to consult, things looked pretty crappy. In the light of day, and after 3 cups of coffee, I could honestly say it was going to be alright, even if legal action needs to be taken to receive my compensation.

But the whole mess got me thinking... As a freelancer (writer or editor) you are always going to be taking a leap of faith when you sign on with a new client. Sure there are ways to check if the person and company are legit. There are red flags that she tell you to run, not walk, in the opposite direction. But sometimes the red flags aren't as obvious. Sometimes the person is legit even if the gig is not.

While obviously not fail-proof here are some ways to tell if your next gig is the real thing or a very elaborate hoax.
  • Does the client have a business e-mail address rather than a yahoo/g-mail/hotmail account.
  • What does the website look like? Is it modern or does it look like an 8th grader put it together? There is no website? Can that be legit in today's world - doubtful.
  • Is this person 'stalkable' on the internet? Can you find their Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter accounts?
  • Beyond the basic Google search. Take the time to google blog search and google news search the company and person you're dealing with. You might unearth some really eye-opening info.
  • Are you being asked to jump through hoops before a relationship is even established? Companies (spammers) often tell you to enter your info into a website - don't. They'll claim it's to see if you're legit - well if they are legit can't they just pick up a phone?
  • Proving yourself is to be expected, but submitting three trial 'free' articles and a list of the 12 articles you'd like to write about is out of line.
  • Are all the papers legit? Have you signed a contract?
  • With everything done online, sometimes you never even talk to the person via phone. That doesn't mean you shouldn't call the listed numbers and confirm they are real.
  • Have any of your freelancing buddies heard of or written for this client? Referrals are a great way to expand business, but it can also be a way to find out about the real clients and the crooks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Things I Learned in J-School

I talked to a recent graduate yesterday and was reminded of J-school and what I learned there. The list just came to me. It's all true, although some of it is sarcastic - sorry.

Know all the rules of writing.

Know how to break those rules and do it.

Your AP style guides should never be more than an arm’s reach away.

Coffee is your friend - even when you think it’s not.

Sources and sources, friends are friends. Sources are not friends, friends are rarely ever sources.

Show don’t tell.

All the relevant information should be in the first graph. Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.

The inverted pyramid is the model for nearly every piece.

You’ll get more experience working at the school paper than in the classroom.

Emails and texts without punctuation drive me crazy.

Always ask, never assume.

Parents will never fully understand the need to write - do it anyway.

Not only is it OK to have a voice, it’s ludicrous not to.

While in school pimp yourself out to every and any publication that will take you on as an intern or part-time help.

Sleep is overrated.

To improve your craft practice every day, even if you don’t have an assignment or paper to pen.

Despite what the profs might say, all media types are integrating. Don’t integrate and be left behind.

Procrastination is in your blood - it’s not your fault.

Deadlines equate to high octane stress and that never really changes.

There is a proper way to quote a person. Follow that style.
Network from day one.

Never lift a sentence, phrase or story from anywhere. EVER.

Take a creative writing class to force you to think outside the strict journalism confines.

Late, late nights at the college paper is assumed - plan accordingly.

Other majors, especially math and nursing, will give you crap for not doing much. Remind them of their revulsion when it comes to term papers and the frequency with which you write.

That dream job is not going to be there when you graduate; but it’s not out of reach.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Freelance Failure - What I Learned

[Sidenote: Today I was drawing a blank on what to post, minus the rant. Tim Beyers (@milehighfool) blogger of The Social Writer sent me post suggestions. Special thanks to him for this idea.]

My first freelance attempt after college was a pitch to the New York Times real estate section. Sounds lofty, I know, but when I moved to New York I landed a job in the editorial department there and was encouraged to pitch the different sections in my free time. I sent ideas to the education, entertainment and real estate sections.

The real estate one was picked up and I got to write a feature on a new mutli-family residential building going up in TriBeCa, designed by Enrique Norten. The whole thing was simultaneously nerve-wrecking and exhilarating. From the experience I learned two invaluable lessons.

One - Always carry a map and contact information. I’m pretty good with directions, getting around new places and I’m a very punctual person. But this time I took the subway to a stop I’d never been to and by the time I hit street level I was so turned around I nearly gave up. Luckily I was early. I wandered around for nearly an hour - late by that point - and still couldn’t find the building under construction.

To make matters worse I had forgotten the cell phone number and work numbers of the people I was meeting to discuss the project. I asked the postman for directions, he’d never heard of the place. I asked a local drunk, a homeless man and a street vendor - nothing. (It was a new building after all so the address wasn’t exactly common knowledge yet.) I called 411, but they could not locate the site or the construction company. I called a friend and had her google it - nada. Defeated I went back down the subway steps stopped at the map for one last look and realized I was one block away from where I needed to be.

From then on I never went anywhere without all the contact information written down - almost to an OCD level.

Two - “Once you know the rules, know how to break them.” When I got the interview, transcribed the notes and wrote the story I had lofty ideas of writing in a style that was worthy of the Gray Lady. I followed all the journalism rules - all but one; the one about breaking the rules.

When I turned the story in to the editor she sent it back within 30 minutes saying it was boring and lifeless. ‘But it’s news,’ I thought. She suggested I liven it up. Add some flare to the piece, not make it so cut and dry. I inserted more descriptive words and sent it back to her proud of the progress. She sent it back.

The piece sounded better, but where was my personality? Where was my voice? She wasn’t telling me to add my personal editorializing, but what she did want me to do has been helpful ever since. A news piece, an article, a research paper doesn’t have to be boring and lifeless. You’ve got to make the reader want to get to the second paragraph.

When the piece follows all the journalism rules, lays out all the facts but has no soul it’s not going anywhere.

Lies, More Lies and the Freelancers Who Tell Them

This is not a post... This is a rant...

Earlier today I was contacted by a PR rep that I have been dealing with for some time now. She's got great connections, perfect for the publication. She gets the message, the theme, the types of people we look to profile and most importantly she is prompt and easy to work with. Almost two months ago she pitched a new artist and I immediately assigned the story out to a freelancer who had been basically begging for better stories, more exposure, etc...

Probably three weeks ago this PR rep contacted me and asked where we stood with arranging the interview. I thought the interview had already taken place since the freelancer told me she had the appointment set-up for the beginning of the week. Not wanting to interfere I asked the PR rep to refer to the writer directly about the interview time. (I tend to over-manage so I was trying to step back a little.) A week went by. I didn't hear anything.

I contacted the writer and asked when the article would be in, since we were now two weeks past deadline. She said I'd have it by Friday. But guess what... Friday came and went without an article appearing in my inbox. Then yesterday I got an e-mail from this great PR rep asking what the deal was with the interview and why it still hadn't happened. Um... WHAT???!!!!

Obviously, I've pulled the article from the writer, reassigned it to a new trustworthy, deadline-focused, polite freelancer and had to beg forgiveness to the PR rep, her firm and of course her client.

This whole scenario just goes right along with my earlier post about Freelancers Flaking Out. Sure, we're not all like this. In fact the large majority of freelancers are hard working, focused, non-flightly workaholics. But for those few who are just cruising through you're giving the rest of us a bad name!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Helium is a Training Ground - Nothing More

Oh course I’ve been following the Helium debate on Word Count. It started yesterday when Tim Beyers posted an article against freelancers using content aggregators to post their work. Then Barbara Whitlock, a member outreach manager, refuted his points and lauded the benefits of Helium. All the discussion has got me thinking about Helium and my use of the site.

When I was first starting out as a freelancer, I started writing articles for Helium. I posted about 16 articles over a couple months. But once I lined up real freelancing gigs I stopped visiting the site and posting articles to it. I can’t imagine utilizing the site now, but at its time it was great. Starting freelancers might want to consider this as a training ground - but be careful not to spend too much time ‘training’ instead of seeking out paying gigs. Because even if Helium tells you it pays, the amount you’ll make is less than one well-lined up article.

What I got out of Helium:

Writing practice. I’d been out of the ‘official’ writing arena for nearly two years when I decided freelancing was the way to go. While I never stopped writing short stories and an occasional article, I hadn’t been writing in the journalistic style in a while.

Writing confidence. You do get feedback from your posts. Some times people write you after reading an article with comments, suggestions, etc... Plus to watch your article rise in the rankings is exciting.

Marketing tips. To see any income from Helium you need to be a huge self-promoter of your work. Write and article and seconds late you should be jumping on digg, del.i.cious, reddit, etc... and posting the article. The more you do that, the more pennies you’ll see. While the money is low, it does teach you how to promote your work - a helpful skill when it comes to keeping your blog, freelancing articles and working to get your name out there.

Pride in your work. With sites like Helium you are forced to rate other articles. As an editor first and a writer second, I was appalled at the number of poorly written articles. Even more shocking was the number of articles written under a specific topic that do not deal specifically with the subject matter.

Realization of a passion. At the time I wrote for Helium the majority of my articles were penned in the fashion section. This is an area that I had never delved into before, but had always loved. I used a clip from Helium to land a guest blogging position at SparkleShelf and have since started my own humble attempt at a fashion blog.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Overcome Rejection The BIKE Lady’s Way

By Jackie Dishner

Since 2005, when I began publicly sharing my bike story—how I dealt with a three-year divorce from the seat of my bicycle—I’ve been known as The BIKE Lady. I developed what I call a "spiritual navigation tool," transforming what was once a metal bike into the mental one.

My bike became an acronym for finding your Best self, Inner strength, Killer instinct, and Expressive voice—what I believe to be the four elements of who you are at your very core. I believe once you know what you’re all about deep inside, you can overcome any obstacle. In fact, you can turn that obstacle into an opportunity.

My special brand of BIKE revealed itself to me because of the rejection I dealt with during a marriage gone bad. But I was able to put that rejection—and how I dealt with it—to good use in my writing career. I learned rejection is not necessarily a two-letter-word. That NO can be turned into a YES.

We’ll take it one letter at a time:

Best self

So you pitched that really great idea to a really great publication that pays really great money. But this really great everything soured when you received this editor's response: "Sorry, this doesn’t fit our needs." Do you take that personally? Do you let the rejection sting you into paralysis? How about letting the reply mean what it says. Your idea, this time, doesn’t fit this magazine’s needs.

So what now? Since you already have the editor’s attention, have a second idea ready to pitch back. Or, have another market or idea to pitch in its place. But first, run the mental checklist:

_Have you really read a few back issues of the magazine?
_In which department might the idea fit best?
_Is the idea geared toward the demographic?
_Can you, suggest graphics, sidebars, audios, etc., that might make
the idea more attractive?

If you do all of this, you will be approaching your work in the best way possible—with your Best self in charge, the one who is prepared and knows where to go, what to do, how to respond in a way that moves you forward.

Inner strength
What if you don’t hear back? Not a word. You don’t even know if the editor received your pitch! Do you complain? Well, yes, maybe to other writer friends, if that helps. Do you cry? You do if you’ve sent out 100 pitches in a year and haven’t sold a single story. That would make me cry. Seriously. If you haven’t yet followed up (after a week or two), just call. Pick up the phone, hide your jitters behind a script you’ve prepared, and dial the editor’s number. Ask for a moment to make your pitch. Dig deep for the confidence needed to sell. If it’s not there, fake it this time, because freelancing isn’t a business for wimps.

iller instinct
Don’t just pitch ideas you think will work, pitch ideas you know will work. Trust in your ability to find them. Pay attention to what you’re reading in the magazines you want to write for. And become aware of who’s buying what.

Awareness is key if you want to overcome this obstacle called rejection. Without it, you’re doomed. Fine tune your instincts with practice. The more you pitch, the better you’ll get at it. Yes, it’s hard to hear an editor say no to your ideas. But ideas are a dime a dozen. You’ll never be without ideas. The best way to turn those ideas into published stories is to know what you’re good at writing (your specialty) and to target your ideas accordingly.

Which brings me to the final letter…

Expressive voice
An editor rejects your idea? Ask for clarification. She won’t respond? Ask a writer you know who writes for that magazine what might work better. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Those of us who repeatedly pitch articles that don’t sell, yet don’t make the attempt to find out why, won’t get anywhere. If you want to move forward, be willing to ask for help.

Agree? Disagree? Post your comments here.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jackie Dishner, aka, The BIKE Lady, writes and rides from Phoenix, Ariz., specializing mainly in business, travel, and self-help. She's most recently sold stories to AAA Living, Arizona Highways, Chile Pepper,, Highroads, Out Traveler, The Writer, This Old House, US Airways and others. Her first book, Backroads & Byways of Arizona (Countryman Press) hits the shelves this fall. She's also a public speaker at meetings, conventions and other group settings.

You can find my post for the day over at The BIKE Lady blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So You Want to Start a Blog?

I’ve had a couple friends and professional acquaintances in the last week ask me about starting a blog. They wanted tips and tricks of the trade. I’m no blogging pro - I’ve started half a dozen blogs over the past five years and ditched most of them because they were silly, pointless, or boring. But I do keep this professional blog and a fashion blog over on tumblr.

So here’s what I’d say:

Pick a topic. I think some of the best blogs are the ones that are focused. Trying to talk about too many things you are going to lose the interest of your readers or never grab readers in the first place.

Post regularly. You don’t necessarily have to post daily, nor do you need to post each day of the work week, but your blog should never go dark for several days in a row. You want readers to stay interested, to keep coming back.

Encourage discussion. Allow comments on your blog, respond to the notes people leave you. Ask questions to your readers.

Read other blogs. To be a good blogger you need to be up on the topics being covered by others, especially those with a similar subject matter. And more than just read the blogs, comment on them, share thoughts, etc.. This will build audience and expand your knowledge.

Funk it up. Add pictures, links, colorful or bold words. It’s got to be more than just text.

Give your info. Give a short bio. Don’t forget to add ways they can contact you, your e-mail address, twitter name, linkedin address, etc...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Launched a new blog

Since this is my 'professional' blog in which I talk about the things that relate specifically to the freelancing profession and the field of journalism I thought it was best not to bore my readers with random bits of information on other topics that I am interested in. And since fashion is one of my HUGE obsessions, I decided to break down and start a fashion-related blog on tumblr.

I've been working on pulling together Modly Chic for a couple days now and finally pushed the whole thing live today. (Hence the sorta cop-out on my blog entry today for Write Beyond the Cubicle.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Journalism School Should Offer

I read an article today written by Mark Coughlan, a fellow freelance journalist based our of Dublin, Ireland, entitled ‘Giving Journalism Education a Kick in the Arse.’ And I have to say I laughed and then felt the need to give my own two sense. The gist of his post was that there are some things Journalism schools should keep when training the next generation, and there are somethings that need to be revised. As my earlier post would suggest, I concur.

What to add:

Intro to Web Writing. No journalism student should leave a four-year university and not know how to write for the web. And no, it is not the same as writing for a print publication, sorry.

Advanced Web Writing. Once the basics are learned in an advanced course should be at least offered, if not required, to help students understand how to pen timely stories for the web. News breaks and a site needs the story up that same day - again unlike the print side.

Intro to Social Media. This should walk the students through the biggest social media sites. They should learn how to use the sites both to cultivate sources as well as to build a recognizable ‘brand’ around his/her name. Also teach what not to do (like no drunken half-clothed party shots from the weekend), what to do (yes have your clips accessible on LinkedIn) and what’s optional (website - semi-optional, blog - a must.)

Basic Web Design. Students shouldn’t just graduate with the knowledge of how to lay a page out in InDesign. They need to be able to create pages, make their own website, and sorry but it’s got to look better than the sites from the 90s.

Integration 101. As a journalism major, there is something lacking from the education if you don’t know how to take and mildly edit a picture, film and edit video, etc... Even without any desire to go into TV or photography, more and more writers are being asked to cross over.

New Media Ethics. Now that the content sharing lines tend to blur thanks to blogs, home-made sites and social media, what’s ethical when it come to using pictures, video, art, etc... It’s not as black and white as print.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Just Stop

It's 11pm on Sunday, which means I technically have one hour left to post a blog entry for today in order to be on my game for the #MayBlog2. I'm not going to bore you with fluff.

The life of a freelancer, as I am sure is true of anyone who owns his/her own business, is never on pause. There are weekends, sure - times when things enter a slightly different mode. But I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't scribbled out at least 500 words on something since I started this full-time freelancer 'thing.' And while my mind runs constantly along new articles to pitch, new areas to cover, new stories to assign, new ways to market, etc... there are days when it's necessary to walk away.

That's what I did today. I got up, did my normal Sunday routine and then instead of jumping on the computer by 10am, I spent time with friends, went to the gym for a longer workout, walked outside in the glorious spring weather and had dinner with a friend. Sure it means I was writing an article at 10pm that must be live by 5am tomorrow, but the time away helps to ground me in what really matters and realize there is more to life than words on a computer screen.

Every once in a while - Just Stop. Get Out. Live.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Writer Rejected an Assignment - I Smiled

After I got a lot of responses via e-mail, twitter and a comment to yesterday's post on Writer's Worth Day I realized something. We need to help others realize their worth. As Jackie, from the blog Bike with Jackie, commented she's got a friend who pitches pubs lower than she needs to and Jackie is working to help her go beyond this self-imposed low worth idea.

True story: I've got a writer who writes for the two publications I edit. She's a good solid reporter. She understands a deadline, is a great communicator and sources like her work ethic. I appreciate it too. (sidenote: one of these publications pays nothing for submissions - trust me I am working to change this model as quickly as possible.) I sent this stellar writer two assignments, one each for the pubs. She responded that she will take the paid one but she needs to focus on articles that will help her get by as a writer, so she'll decline the second non-paying assignment.

I'll be honest - I read her e-mail and smiled. Finally!! I'm sure it took a lot of courage to take the one assignment and reject the other. She probably debated whether to respond in that way. She probably worried I'd pull the paid assignment or never assign her another one. But I'm not in the least bit upset with her. Sure, I'd love to have her as a writer for the non-paying pub and now I'll have to find someone else to replace her, but this is a smart move for her at this point in her freelancing career. I wrote her back and told her so.

Bottomline: We need to help boost up fellow writers and editors. We need to help them see that they are talented and can demand to be compensated for their skill.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Writer’s Worth Day

Thanks to Lori Widmer today has been declared Writer’s Worth Day. I’d have to say as a freelancer making sure I’m compensated appropriately is one of the hardest parts and a never ending battle.

I wish it were as easy as a simple site that tells you how much you should be paid per article, press release, one-sheet, book edit, etc.. but it can never be boiled down to something that simple. Each area of the country, type of publication, person writing, is different and as a result the pay scale is going to be different.

But it’s important to be paid what you are worth, for your own self-esteem but also to send a message to clients that your product really is THAT good.

Here’s what I’ve learned from past experience:

Acknowledge your worth. Don’t put yourself or your writing down. Hopefully you never do this to a client, but don’t do it to family and friends either. You’re in the profession, you’re making money - you must be good at it. Editors aren’t going to pay those who aren’t.

Always pitch slightly higher than you think a client would be willing to pay. Chances are you are mentally diminishing your worth as a writer and the client planned to pay more.

Carefully think through each opportunity. There may be some jobs that come along that pay pittance but the clip is something you want or the free marketing it is going to give you is just too great to pass up. Other times a low-paying (or no-paying) job isn’t going to add anything to your career - pass on those.

Stretch your comfort zone. Try for the gigs you’d love but think you don’t stand a chance. Contact a favorite publication with a pitch. Try writing for a different medium.

Set your standards. Have a general idea of what your rate-per-word is for writing, your pay-per-hour for edits. Do a little research online to find some going rates. Make yours competitive in the market you’re in. This isn’t set in stone, but it’ll give you an idea of where to start from.

Ask for more. Sometimes we find ourselves in a gig that requires more work than we expected and the pay is not up to par for the time we’re putting in. If it’s a long-term project, don’t be afraid to ask for more money. Point out how you are benefiting the client and what you think is fair. They might say, sorry we don’t have more to offer. Or they might say you’re right. As long as you’re polite and respectful - it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

#editorchat in Brief (5/13)

If you missed #editorchat last night or had to tune out - no worries. I culled some of the best tweets and have them below. Hope this helps.

LydiaBreakfast Q #1 Editors: Are you to trying to find new ways to generate more content, even with mandates to cut staff ?

JaneFriedman Q1. Rather than generate all-new content, big push to re-purpose existing content in different ways, in different media.

JMegonigal Q1- Absolutely. Do more with less. Lots of interns, lots of work for editor.

JMegonigal Q1- Necessary to give readers MORE and MORE to stay above the noise and keep from fading out like other pubs/papers...

deegospel q1: there is a need for more content, spesh content that can translate to digital in order to keep up

LydiaBreakfast Seems like we are going back to Dickensian serial publishing ;-)

rjreports Q1 As a freelance journo, I'm seeing that folks want A) more content for B) much less.

JMegonigal From an editor's POV, we are doing much more for far less,'s not just the writers. Goes all the way through.

shortformernie Q1: I think blog content should be repurposed in print, big time. Sometimes, good editing is a matter of knowing what to steal.

JJtweets Q1-As a freelance journo, I've seen rising demand for coverage 'depth' rather than 'breadth'. Spending more time researching now

shortformernie Q1: And being able to find content from blogs is killer – it's one of those work smarter not harder things you can do.

travelswithjenn as a writer, I'm also noticing I have more time on stories because editors are aggregating a lot more

LydiaBreakfast The fact is some pubs are doing well with fewer resources, does that mean we should always operate this way?

JaneFriedman It's frustrating to experience tight resources when you know superior content is key to pushing thru the noise.

@milehighfool You could argue that, in the age of the Web, SM skills are crucial for writing and reader engagement

retheauditors I've re-blogged w/update some posts. My audience is growing like crazy and most don't lok back to earlier posts.

LydiaBreakfast The Times is one of the few papers left to really invest in long form, I think there is room for both

milehighfool Right. The best blogs read like a good magazine -- quick hits mixed with strong features.

TimOBrienNYT we'll NEVER lose good storytelling. we just have to be judicious about when and how we deploy narrative.

LydiaBreakfast Let's move to Q2 Writers: Are editors asking you to produce more? What’s changed in your output routine?

KatPowers Q2 I don't think as an editor I'm asking for more. I think what I ask for is more focused and more targeted

littlebrownpen Q2. I'm being asked to write more, but the more popular request is to loop in social media contacts.

jennipps q2 So I got used to doing articles & then had to learn to find/take pictures that would go w/articles w/o violating copyright.

hotspringer Q2: Editors asking for same story in multiple formats. Next month, I write for print; rewrite for web; Tweet live from festival.

JMegonigal Q2 - I make my writers jump through hoops. 30 minute turnarounds and such. And they LOVE me for it. LOL

BeckyDMBR Favorite phrase of the day: "...sexing up my prostate cancer story." :)

LydiaBreakfast I have issues with that - remember my schtick about writers who work for a pittance are no better than piece workers

retheauditors Speak for yourself. :) Guilty re images @BeckyDMBR Many successful blogs couldn't do what they do without STEALING content

AuldHouse The joker says, "If you are good at something, never do it for free.

JMegonigal On 1 side (writer, journ advocate) I'm with you. On other (editor) if I can find cheap and good, I'm taking it.

LydiaBreakfast cheap and good does not make for a fair playing field

cursingeditor I'm all for training, but shouldn't journos interested in having a future be learning new media skills themselves?

LydiaBreakfast Let's go to Q3 Editors: What have you tried that’s worked in bridging the content divide?

luckychica seems so difficult these days 4 qualified journ 2 earn fair $$. Editors/pubs think we should b satisfied w/ "glory" of writing

KatPowers Q3 I have experts in my community who want to write what they know, instead of being interviewed. That's huge

deegospel q3: podcasting long form, supplying short with player, readers can listen to the article, read it later. my Editors love it

KatPowers I've had trouble with young ladies saying they don't "do video" or "do blogs" They're out of the biz

Dark_Faust Collaboration with other pubs/editors helps too. As long as not seen as competitive.

Dark_Faust As EiC, I make sure my editors write stories that can run in at least one other pub (print or online). Efficient coverage helps.

KatPowers No, I mean after 6 months of being passed over for assignments and promotions because they can't video, they left

JMegonigal Most of our interns have to be RE-introduced to SM as a tool/resource instead of a personal party album

SpecialDee Q3 I've conversed w/writers & bloggers via SM and so far one has been published in a Spec Sec ( @TobyDiva)

luckychica there are only a handful of OUTLETS that matter in terms of clips. Everyone else has to pay $.

SpecialDee Q3 Had a slew of freelance queries last fall. Important to know if they can conduct an interview.

LydiaBreakfast Q4: Writers (and Editors) Do you see the content divide as a threat or an opportunity?

jennipps q4 but also opportunity for same reason *and* I'm not grounded in any particular way of doing things, for the most part.

JMegonigal Q4 - If you see it as a threat, you're out sooner or later. Only those who see the opportunity will adapt, survive and thrive.

deegospel q4: an opportunity. a lemon situation for me 8 years ago is starting to taste like lemonade. i welcome the changes

anti9to5guide Q4: In some ways I hate changes to publishing biz, but as freelancers we've mastered flexibility & adapation...

LydiaBreakfast I agree with @milehighfool, I'm not competitive, just want to write well and tell the best story - quality always in style

DavidRozansky Q4: Since we will be moving to SM as our only line of finding quality authors, I would think SM is opportunity for writers.

JaneFriedman Editors/pubs/writers must work collaboratively to bridge divide. Be unconventional. Take Shatzkin's advice:

littlebrownpen Q4. A big challenge is connecting the right editors and writers.

SuburbNews Let's face it - would any outlet RATHER have back a bigger staff? Yes.But smaller makes you hungry, scrappy. Wish could have all

Single_Shot Just say no to PIE! Agreeeeed!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

E-mail Etiquette

With the rapid fire communication world that we live in I think people sometimes forget there is such a thing as e-mail etiquette. After spending hours a day sending tweets, texts and facebook messages it’s easy to fall into the same brief, abrupt, person-less messages in e-mail.

And sure, shooting your best friend a two-line e-mail without a signature is no big deal. She won’t be offended. She probably won’t even notice you didn’t sign your name. But sending that same style e-mail to a potential employer or editor/writer you are working with is a problem.

Last week I gave a new freelancer an assignment for one of the publications I work for. I asked her to please confirm the deadline and topic worked for her and of course not to hesitate if she had any questions. My e-mail was brief and to the point, but it did contained my name at the end and a ‘Hi TK’ at the start. In response I received, ‘Got It.’

I stared at the e-mail for a moment and immediately questioned giving this writer one of the longer feature pieces. The response to this assignment that will pay her a couple hundred dollars was not even worth a signature?

After overcoming my initial annoyance, I shot back a similarly short ‘Great Thanks’ and, yes, I did sign my name.

A day later, this same writer shot me another e-mail. It read ‘How much you paying me for this?’ Sometimes I think it’s good that I sit in my own office, Others don’t have to listen to my verbal outbursts. Needless to say, this really ticked me off. First, because we had discussed the pay in depth several weeks before. Second, it’s just so unprofessional to ask this question in such a manner.

OK, this is an extreme case, but abrupt short e-mails are not something specific to this clueless freelancer. I get them all the time. Some are more annoying than others.

I think we all need to remember that while things like Twitter and texting make us brief and to the point, there is a person waiting on the other end to receive your e-mail. And when it comes to people there are just some basic rules of etiquette that should not be overlooked even if you are in a hurry.

To me the basics are:
  • Always put some kind of address. Hi John. Dear Jane. Good Morning Sarah. Happy Friday Bill. - Whatever but address the person specifically.
  • Short is not bad. But a two word sentence is pathetic. Give the e-mail a little more thought.
  • Set up an automatic name, title, contact information to go at the bottom of all your e-mails. This makes it easier for people to get back to you and is professional.
  • Sign your name at the end. And I’m not just talking the automatic name. Take the time to type the couple letters needed to sign your name.
  • Skip the emoticons. Unless you know the person really well, and have developed that kind of relationship, a winking smiley face is immature and unprofessional.
  • Respond to e-mails in a timely manner. Nothing professional should sit in your inbox for more than 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Network Like You Mean It (Part 3)

You’ve gone to several informational interviews, you’ve cold called people and you’ve sat down to more informational interviews. Great. But don’t forget the art of the follow-up.

Sure you probably remember to send a thank you e-mail or hand written note, immediately following the meeting. You might keep it short and polite, while rehashing at least one piece of helpful information the person shared. But there is more to following up than a few lines scribbled on a page.

When I started job searching here in St. Louis, before going full-time freelance, I went on once informational interview that offered one surprising tidbit of information. The woman, who worked in PR for a major company in the city, said she was surprised at the lack of follow-up with people she has sat down with. She told me, “If I say, ‘update me in a few weeks to let me know how the search is going,’ I’m not just being nice. I’d like to know how you’ve progressed.”

According to this person, many people she has met with tend to drop off the planet entirely, or may resurrect only to ask if they have any leads six months down the line. Not good!

If a contact tells you to keep them informed, do so. Shoot them a short note after you’ve met with a contact they gave you. E-mail when you have an interview lined up with a company they are familiar with and ask for a piece of advice. Or if you have nothing significant to report write that.

This is not to say badger the person. But you want to put yourself in the forefront of their mind every once in a while. They might never respond to you or they might shoot back one line. But there is that off chance that they heard of an opening that day and because you sent an e-mail the contact has now submitted your name to the applicant pool.

You’ll be able to judge how often to contact a source by the words they write and the way they respond. If you simply get a ‘nice to hear from you’ response without signature, don’t spend your time write that contact often. If several lines of encouragement and advice, make sure to go back to that person.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Fall of Traditional Journalism - Get Over It

Every day some newspaper columnist or blogger writes about the great tragedy in traditional journalism falling by the wayside. J schools are at wits end. The administrators don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to impart traditional journalism values on the social media age.

I have a suggest. Get over it and figure out how to tweak the current model.

Whether we like to admit it or not. Journalism has changed in the last 10 years. But unfortunately most J schools have not. I graduated from college only a few years ago and my journalism degree is the perfect example of an ‘epic fail.’

Ok, well maybe not epic. I learned a lot in the four years I spent at Marquette. The teachers were dedicated to the students. I landed internships and jobs as a result of the connections the school had. I figured out how to write quality content in a short time frame. And honestly, my writing improved exponentially in those four years.

Then I hit the work force and I realized there were a number of things missing in my education. I never learned how to write an article for the web - fail! No one told me to start a blog or website to showcase my writing - fail! And social media? It was a thing that ‘the kids’ did to procrastinate, not a writing tool.

We learned just how small the journalism community is, with numerous stories from our professors about that one person who plagiarized and ruined a career in the field forever. (Saw it first hand too.) But no one told us that as a writer we needed to establish our presence.

So instead of bemoaning how everything is so different now and the loss of traditional journalism, schools need to tweak the system. Teach the current students the importance of ethical, fair and balanced reporting. Teach them the importance of meeting deadlines. Teach them how to craft short witty sentences, catchy headlines and where to place quotes. And teach them about web writing, blogging, tweeting, rss feeds, etc...

If these traditional values are going to last through this high tech era we need to teach writers how to incorporate the new with the old. We still need the old-school values; but they can fit with the new journalism model.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Feature: Fashion Bloggers

I’ve spent the morning looking at different fashion blogs - a secret obsession of mine.

To be honest, some of them are ridiculous. They exist to show off the bloggers hugely overfilled wardrobe, for which the probably paid thousands of dollars and have huge credit card bills. But there are a couple sites out there that are a real inspiration.

I interviewed Othalia, founder of the LookBook, a couple months ago for SparkleShelf. This amazing blogger finds the cheap version of the expensive styles we all love. She puts the price and a link to the site of where to find the item. Plus she doesn’t just slap the images up on the site, she artfully places them on the page.

Jessica writes the blog What I Wore. As the title suggests, she documents what she wears daily. So it is a little depressing to see all the clothes she has, but this girl is an inspiration for mixing, matching and coordinating outfits. I love her use of bold colors and the occasional eccentric accent piece.

Karla of Karla’s Closet is similar to What I Wore, only she dresses like a runway model on a daily basis. As a fan of black clothing, I love how she uses black as the basis to nearly every outfit.

These blogs make me want to start my own fashion-centered site. Ha. Well, maybe someday.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When Freelancers Flake Out We All Suffer

I need to cultivate a list of talented freelance writers for two of the publications I edit. Finding freelancers who think they can do the job, usually no matter their background or writing experience, is easy. Finding real writers who understand the freelancing world is more challenging.

Last week for probably the 10th time since I started editing these pubs I had a writer disappear off the face of the planet. She got an assignment from me, confirmed it worked for her and the deadline wasn’t too tight. I marked it on the white board as an article in the works and forgot about it till the deadline date.

But the day came and went. I gave the writer the benefit of the doubt, waited a day and shot her an e-mail asking about the status of the article. In response I got NOTHING. I waited another week, prodded again stressing the need to get the article as it was supposed to go in the mag that will print in a couple weeks. Still not a thing.

Now you might say why not call her, badger the writer until I get a response and the article? But it’s not worth it. I’ll fill the space with something else I’ve got sitting around and assign the story out to someone else. I’m not going to waste my time tracking down a freelancer.

But now that this has happened several times it got me thinking about freelancers. There are many of us who are serious, hard-working individuals. We pitch ideas, stick to deadlines and work our tails off to meet an editors requirements. Then there are others who give all of us a bad name. Sure, my work ethic proves that I’m a damn good writer/editor. But once a pub has been burned by a freelancer they will automatically be hesitant in using another freelancer.

And to those freelancers who are either too embarrassed to say they didn’t get the story finished or they didn’t want it in the first place - you are just messing up your own writing career. Maybe you don’t think ignoring me is a big deal. And I’m not that big of a deal to think so. But I do write and edit for a number of publications. I control who writes what for three publications. So now that is three publications you won’t be able to write for in the future. And since journalism really is such a small industry, my fellow editors in the industry may also know your name too, from my concerned rants about missing copy. You’re burning bridges before you can even finish building them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Network Like You Mean It (Part 2)

So you’ve contacted the people that you know and sat down with them for a brief chat about the state of the job market, where to find leads and who to contact. Now you’ve got a list of new contacts. (If you met with 5 people, you should have between 15 and 20 new contacts.)

Now comes the hard part. You need to do a little cold-calling or cold-e-mailing. Contact the person and tell them who your connection was, what you are doing and would they have 10 minutes to spare you. Try something like this:

Hi TKTK my name’s KT and ABC suggested I give you a call. I’m a recent graduate and am trying to touch base with professionals in the industry who can offer me advice for my job search and the current market.

Again, keep it short and to the point. If e-mailing, do not send along your resume, clips, etc... That’s what the meeting is for. You don’t want to inundate them with information and lengthly messages.

When you have the informational interview with these people approach it as you did with the first group. Also, don’t leave until you get 3 more contacts from this new person. That way each informational interview you have will add to your list of names and, more importantly, it will get your name out into the market place.

Sidenote: I forgot to mention this in the first post, but when you get home from one of these meetings, write down anything important/useful that was said on the looseleaf page with your contact’s name at the top.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Wordcount Experiment.

I know this is kind of a silly experiment to do. It accomplishes nothing of any worth other than to satisfy my curiosity. But still, yesterday I counted every word I typed for the articles, e-mails, blog entries, twitter, facebook and a short story I’m writing for my sister. (I did not go so far as to count google searches, e-mail subject lines or blackberry e-mails/texts.)

I hit 3,000 words by noon, which is one of the deadlines I work with on a daily basis for the real estate publication. But then I needed to leave my computer from 1:30 till 8:00pm, so work sat till the end of the night and I started the writing again. As a result I did not get to every assignment I had planned to work on, so the number might have been higher if I hadn’t left.

In total yesterday I typed 7,301 words. This total surprised me especially after the 6 hour hiatus. Before I started the experiment, I thought for sure I’d be nearer 4,500 words for the entire day.

The break down:
E-mail: 3,346 words
Short Story: 2,077 words
Articles: 793 words
Twitter: 556 words
Blog: 320 words
Facebook: 209 words

Writers, do you have any idea how much you type in an average day? I bet the total will surprise you.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Network Like You Mean It (Part 1)

All you recent grads, job searchers, or freelancers looking for your next gig - you’ve got to network like it’s your job. Because, to be honest, it kinda is.

You are NOT going to get hired through all those job sites. Monster, HotJobs, CareerBuilder - they are all the same. Does that mean they are useless? No. I’ll explain why in a couple days.

For now, the first step to networking is compiling your list of contacts.

I suggest you get a binder and a pack of loose leaf. On each page write the name of a contact you have personally in the business. (Every name gets a different page.) These should be people you know. Think professors, internship coordinators, summer job bosses, etc...

Below each name add the contact information. The person’s phone number (work, cell, home) and his/her e-mail address.

Then take the dive and call up each person on your list. Ask for an in-person informational interview. Tell him/her that you are looking for a job and you’d like to pick his/her brain about the job market and the industry. Make it sound like you believe he/she is the expert. Ask for just 10 minutes.

Go to the informational interview, as if it were a real interview. Prepare questions ahead of time. Do not show up in your jeans and scrubby t-shirt. Take your resume, clips, business card, etc... Thank your contact for the time, ask your questions and listen to the advice given. Keep it to the promised 10 minutes!

At the end - and this is the MOST important part - ask the person for 3 new contacts. When you get home add the new connections to a fresh sheet of loose leaf. Note the person’s contact information and add the person’s name who connected you.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Word Count

A couple of the people that I follow on Twitter - mostly fellow novel-writer wannabes - post daily updates of how many words they have written. The first couple times I say the tweets (things like 'The muse is working overtime I've written 2,329 words today,") I was impressed with their ability to write so much in a given day.

I worked a little on a short story over the weekend and charted 3,000 words on Saturday evening. When it comes to writing a book 2,000 or 3,000 words in a single sitting can be impressive, especially if you aren't feeling very creative.

But then I got to thinking about my normal day. How many words do I write on any random Monday? Most days I pen: 2 or 3 real estate articles, 1 Write Beyond the Cubicle entry, 1 beauty blog entry, 3 to 5 articles for the teen publication, endless tweets for my personal account (@hinder) and two different work accounts, dozens of e-mails from 4 different accounts, and of course the short stories I pen for fun and the novel I'm writing for real.

How much does all that amount to? Stay tuned! I'm going to be counting every word I write tomorrow and then blogging (tuesday morning) what the total word count is for the day.

Have any of you counted to words you type in a given day? What's your estimate?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May's Blogathon - I'm In

I added my name to the list of writers who are going to try and blog every day in May for the second annual WordCount blogathon. The writing experiment is being hosted by Michelle Rafter on her blog.

As much as I write - not a day goes by where I don't type out at least 1,000 words - I think this is going to be a challenge. During the work week there are a lot of things I contemplate writing about for the blog and since I am 'forced' to sit in front of the computer working on assignments, it's easy to find a couple minutes to create a post. But the weekends... Now that's a whole other story.

But just like anything in our world - to improve you've got to keep working on it. So here's to the May experiment... if I can make it through the weekends I'm golden.

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Open Letter to the PR Community

Dear PR Professionals,

Thank you for all you do. You help to make the life of a journalist a little less stressful - most of the time. I just have one small favor to ask of you. Could you be more aware of who you are sending your releases to?

I appreciate the news you send, but when an e-mail from you pops into my inbox about a topic I don’t cover I begin to wonder. And when you do this repeatedly I know that you don’t care enough to take the time.

For example, let’s say I cover commercial real estate news (which I do). I don’t need your releases on how to avoid swine flu, the latest fight dads are undergoing for child custody or the newest technology tool for the car stereo. These are so far from what I write about I don’t even bother to read your text. I delete immediately.

There are other times when your release appears to be more on track - although it is still missing the point. I also do not need to talk to a lawyer about the single-family home market. I also don’t want to read the latest book on 100 easy ways to get your house ready to sell. In case you didn’t know homes are not considered commercial real estate.

And for the record it is not just the real estate PR professionals that do this. For the teen magazine I work for I get e-mail releases on the latest toilets, the places to go on your honeymoon, and the how-to book for raising a teenager. While it is true, someday the audience will be having kids and going on vacation. And yes, they do use the bathroom daily - it is not something we would ever cover in the magazine.

If you’d be so kind as to refrain from sending me the releases that make no sense, I am sure we could work together better on the ones that are right up my alley.

And thanks again for all you do. It really does help and the journalists are grateful.