Friday, August 28, 2009

Blogging About Blogging

Our speaker at the September meeting of my writer's group did a presentation on blogging, particularly on how starting a blog can help writers. We had a pretty lively discussion, both on the basics of blogging (best providers, designing the layout, cost, etc.) and content. I'm fairly new to the blogging scene, but I was able to share some of what I've learned throughout the course of blogging fairly regularly.

Another writer friend and I have had an ongoing discussion (debate?) on what to put in a blog post. She argued that anything you put in a blog post is considered to be a published work and therefore, the blog could keep the first-time rights of your work. I couldn't dispute that, but I then argued that you shouldn't post anything in a blog that could be a potential money-making idea elsewhere--i.e. a possible article or short story idea. If you blog long enough, you'll learn to identify when a post sounds like it could be more of an article idea.

In my opinion, blogging is especially effective for writers in the following ways:

Helps you become disciplined. Since I made the commitment to start a blog, I aimed to post 3 days a week. It's become part of my routine, like going to the gym and working on other assignments. I feel guilty if I don't have a few posts in the works or ideas for future posts. I love the "Post Options" function in Blogger, because I can save what I've already done, then go back and make changes. I can also schedule the posts ahead of time, so they'll be up without my having to worry about it. I've also found that having to think of a constant stream of blog ideas dovetails nicely into coming up with article ideas or speaker topics for my writers' group.

A way to share your knowledge and learn from others. My blog is about the "trials and triumphs of the writing life", so I can share my successes, rejections, and lessons I learned throughout the process of both. I also enjoy reading other writers' blogs to see how they may have handled the same issue.

Vent about issues. Same as above. It's nice to know that there are other writers out there grappling with some of the same concerns.

What are some other ways that blogging can help writers?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guest Post: Soothing the Writer by Ana Rios

Ana V. Rios is a Human Resources professional with a passion for writing. She is a person who enjoys helping people and enjoys sharing what she knows and learns. Her writing journey began almost a year ago and her aspiration is to become a published author of a romantic suspense novel. In her blog, The Writer Today, she writes about her experiences, ideas, writing resources and anything that is relevant to writing or that she connects with.

“To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul, to do this , you need to experience solitude…because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solution.” – Deepak Chopra

Getting “in touch with your soul”, through solitude, is one of the best ways a writer can “recharge” the muse within. We are the main character in our own lives, with all its plot twists and turns. It is in our power to make and change our own path, to write and rewrite our direction and go somewhere new. We need to be our biggest fan. “I write because I can” is my new motto. I feel that writers are so busy taking care of other people and things that they do not take the time to take care of themselves and this causes burn out, writer’s block and a lack of purpose. In order to avoid this, I made a list of some things that can be soothing to the writer and allow for more energy, more of an open mind, and of course, more writing.

Find a place for solitude – and use it for reflection, relaxation and inner peace

Get as much rest as possible

Destress with meditation and/or Yoga

Surround yourself with people that give you comfort when you need it

Seek inspirational and motivational resources

Simplify your life whereever and whenever possible

Let your writing place have everything you need to create

Have things soothing to the senses: aromatherapy lotions, candles, music

Be good to yourself – you deserve it

“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance. Then, whenever doubts, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal-and soon they forget my number.” – Edith Armstrong

What else can you think of that would be soothing to a writer?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sara's Picks for Best Books of the Summer

Since summer is more or less behind us (where I live in the Northeast, it seems like it didn't get here until a few weeks ago, but I digress), I thought I'd write a quick post on the best books I read this summer. People are always asking me for recommendations, so I thought I'd beat them to it!

Again, these are not paid endorsements--simply good reads that I enjoyed over the past few months:

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. This collection of essays was funny, but in a dry, sardonic, cynical way--in other words, exactly my humor. Though I smiled throughout many of the essays, my personal favorite was "You on a Stick"--Sloane's retelling of being guilted into being in a long-forgotten best friend's wedding. Hilarious!

How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo. I just finished this book last week and really enjoyed it. Julie, a writer, tired of her life and her demanding job, convinces her boss to write a book about how single women handle their singlehood across the world. Her adventures are interspersed with the antics of Julie's friends, all with very different personalities who grow much closer by the end of the book. This has a very Sex and the City feel to it, which is probably because the author used to be a writer for the show. The idea of Julie writing a book gets a bit lost in the shuffle and some of the threads in the story never get tied up, but overall, this was a good read. There was no sunny, "everything is beautiful" ending, which I kind of liked--a very true glimpse of life.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs. I read her first book, The Friday Night Knitting Club, and enjoyed that, as well. I didn't think Jacobs broke any new ground here or anything--she simply wrote a solid, well-crafted book with nicely developed characters and a storyline that kept me interested.

Testimony by Anita Shreve. I find that her books are hit or miss, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I love her elegant writing style, which served this particular book very well. A sex scandal at a private New England school causes a ripple effect of damage throughout the community--to the students involved, the school's headmaster, and the students' families. She alternates narrators, which I think added another layer of depth, and it shows that even the most private of moments or most impulsive of decisions can have serious repercussions for years.

There are a few precious days of summer left, so it's not too late to check a few titles off your reaidng list!

Friday, August 21, 2009

When Should You Give Up on an Assignment?

I've been doing my best to follow my own advice and do just about everything I listed in Monday's post. I've had a fairly productive summer, considering the economy and belt-tightening that most markets seem to be doing. I've also hit a personal best as far as the amount of queries I've been sending out. I've even been rigorous with sending out follow-up emails to editors.

The problem is that even some of my follow-ups aren't getting me anywhere. I can name at least three editors who have gotten at least two follow-up emails from me about specific queries, and I've received exactly zilch in reply.

So should I just give up, or hope that the editor responds eventually?

I should say that two of the publications are regional, so I wouldn't be able to retool the query and sell the idea somewhere else. The third was for a trade publication--also specialized--so again, it would be difficult to try and sell the idea to a market with a broader readership. I did send an earlier query to one of the editors. She rejected my idea but asked if I would be interested in covering something else for them. The wording confused me a bit--did this mean she'd assign me something, or would I have to come up with the idea? I responded as such, but just to cover myself, I included a few story ideas. This was early July, and again, there's been nothing from her--a formal query with the new ideas and 2 follow up emails later!

It's been my experience that if the editor wants your article, they respond within a week at the absolute latest. Since it's literally been months since some of these queries were sent, should I continue to pursue these markets or put it on the editors?

How do you handle unresponsive editors?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Guest Post: It's Summertime And the Living is Easy... by Jodi M. Webb

When she isn’t sending out queries, Jodi Webb has spent this summer getting her oldest daughter ready for her first year of college and playing lifeguard for her younger daughter and son. She’s also found time for a trivia book, a book for writers and arranging WOW! Blog Tours( ).

Photo by Pink Sherbert Photography

"It’s summertime and the Living Is easy…"

…but not if you’re a freelance writer. While the rest of the world is sprawling by the pool, enjoying long weekends, and generally taking it easy, many freelancers are frantically sending out queries. Why? Because the rest of the world (including many writers) are enjoying summer. Haven’t you been paying attention?

What types of people do freelance writing? OK, there are those who depend on freelance writing as their sole income. But most use freelance writing as a boost to their primary income—heading IT departments, writing advertising jingles, remodeling bathrooms, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-job. Another large group is parents: stay at home parents, work at home parents, work at work and write at home parents.

The first group is counting the days to their treasured annual vacation and savoring those early Fridays and three day holidays that break up the summer months. They plan to use that time to write and query but somehow…they don’t. The second group is suddenly surrounded by invaders who have escaped from school. Those hours of guaranteed quiet writing time have been replaced by trips to the playground, marathon viewings of Spongebob, and those sad cries of “I’m bored.” They have been sucked into the black hole that writers call summertime.

Don’t make the mistake of abandoning your writing for summer fun. Remember that lots of freelancers make that mistake and, whether freelancers feel like writing or not, editors still need articles to fill their pages. Jump into the void left by vacationing writers by filling editors’ empty inboxes with your fabulous queries. Now is the perfect time to get noticed by a new editor. Your competition is all at the beach!

If you failed to use June, July and August to your advantage don’t worry—November and December are fast approaching. Writers will be stuffing turkeys, attending parties, doing some holiday shopping. Once again editors’ inboxes will be emptying. Fill them! And not just with holiday greetings!

Monday, August 17, 2009

5 Tips to Stay Productive

This week's posts will focus on staying productive during slower times--namely, the summer months and the holidays. Wednesday's guest blogger, Jodi Webb, will offer some great tips on keeping that output strong even when you feel like spending the last few weeks of summer lounging poolside.

However, to get you ready for Wednesday's post, here are a few of my own tips for staying productive:

1.) Do a little at a time. If you're working on a lengthy or complicated piece, do as much as you can handle at one sitting. Set up a timeline so you can keep yourself on track, but don't feel as though you need to tackle the whole thing in one day.

2.) Work on a variety of projects. I'm lucky to be working on a few different projects, between my own assignments and things I've taken on through my involvement in my writer's group. If I get bored with one of my columns, I can go back to the children's book I'm helping to write for the group, or develop a query or two. If you have a few different things to work on, you'll get bored less quickly.

3.) Get caught up. Do you have some half-finished essays sitting around that you've been meaning to tackle "when I have time", or a query that's been percolating in the back of your mind for months? If the rest of your workload is dwindling, create some assignments of your own and get back to those long-forgotten projects.

4.) Re-visit old story ideas. Perhaps you hit a stride with some of the ideas you pitched, and were busy developing the articles. Now they're wrapped up, so it's time to send out a few more queries. Check out your old notebooks, emails, lists, or wherever you jotted down your next money-making idea and see if there's any interest with editors.

5.) Follow up with editors. Don't be too quick to write off the summer as non-productive! You may still have some work waiting out there if you follow up with the editors you've queried. If you had no response to your initial query, send a follow-up and ask them what the status might be for your article. Editors have a long list of demands on their time, and it's possible that they haven't had a chance to reply to you. Help them out. I'll usually cut and paste my original query into my follow up email so they're not scrambling to find it in their inbox.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Finding Freelance Jobs Online

Whether you're a full-time, most-of-the time, or fledgling freelancer, you're always on the lookout for new places to submit your work, whether it's a new publication or some other kind of writing outlet. Luckily, the Internet holds no shortage of possible freelance opportunities.

Below is just a sampling of the many sites dedicated to posting freelance jobs:

FreelanceSwitch. Everything you've ever wanted to know about freelancing--not just writing--can be found on this site. There is a whole host of freelance jobs, blogs, articles, and other resources available to make your freelance career easier!

Media Bistro. A job board for job seekers and job posters alike. MediaBistro often posts opportunities for Fortune 500 companies and high-paying markets. One of the most informative and comprehensive writing publications out there, is a free e-newsletter that lists paying markets and freelance writing/editing opportunities.

Freelance Daily. There is a minimal cost to subscribe to this site, but the variety of jobs that are sent to your inbox every day are well worth the cost. Some of the opportunities look a bit iffy at times (I'm generally wary of any Craiglist posting), but the majority are legit. If you think your niche is a bit too specialized, fear not--there is someone out there looking for your specific brand of writing expertise!

Any that I missed? What other sites are dedicated to posting freelance job opportunities?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guest Post: 4 Resources to Help You Get Started in Writing for Children by Priscilla Y. Huff

Priscilla Y. Huff has written children's nonfiction for Highlights Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, and the Indoor and Outdoor Cooperative Game Book for Scholastic Professional Books.

Becoming a children’s writer is not a step-down from serious writing. Even before J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series’ phenomenal success, many children’s authors have written moving, complex, and/or simple and beautiful books for children (including teens and young adults). Think of those books that had an impact on your own growing years and how they stimulated your imagination or invited you into a world where you could relate to the hero or heroine; or showed and informed you of the real, non-fiction wonders of this world and beyond. Those writers were as excellent or even better than many authors of mainstream books for adults. If you have always wanted to write stories and books for children, here are four excellent resources that can get you started in your professional children’s writing career:

1) Children’s Writer & Illustrator’s Market - published by Writer’s Digest Books - -. This annual directory lists agents and artists’ representatives; U. S. and international publishers; publications; contests, awards, and grants; helpful resources and more. Find a current copy in the writing section of most chain bookstores or the reference sections of public and college libraries.

2) Children’s Writer - - 95 Long Ridge Rd., West Redding, CT 06896-1124; An excellent monthly print newsletter with articles, publishers looking for writers, and more. Yearly subscription.

3) Children’s Book Insider - - Monthly online newsletter for beginning, intermediate, and experienced children’s writers. Yearly subscription.

4) Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators - - THE most important professional organization for a children’s writer and/or illustrator to join. Its 22,000 worldwide members consist of writers, illustrators, and others working in film, television and multimedia. Membership includes participation in regional chapters; conferences; newsletter. Yearly membership dues.

Review-read copies of these publications or talk to subscribers/members to see if one or all of these resources are best for your writing endeavors. They will provide you with all of the information and markets you need to get started today as a children’s author, no matter what your present age or educational background.

Monday, August 10, 2009

To Market, To Market...Finding Markets for Your Work

In honor of Wednesday's guest blogger, who will be talking about markets for children's writing, I thought I would make "markets" sort of the theme for this week.

Most writers know that having an idea is one thing, but finding an appropriate market for that idea is another triumph all its own. I've gotten plenty of rejections because my idea "wasn't quite right" for the publication, they recently ran a similar story, or they have a similar one in progress. I've also had to tweak queries because the idea was rejected by more than one editor. It happens.

If you're just getting started in the wonderful world of freelancing and you're looking for markets for your work, below is a brief list of the ones I typically use: This free weekly newsletter includes Success Stories, feature articles, and an extensive list of paying markets and freelance jobs. The markets are indexed, so you can scroll through their listings whenever you want.

Wooden Horse Publishing. You must subscribe to the service in order to access their complete markets database, but you can sign up to receive their free weekly newsletter that includes new markets, industry news, and other info of interest to freelancers.

Absolute Write. This is a free site that includes extensive market listings (including a few greeting card companies), screenwriting markets, and other paying freelance jobs.

If there is a publication you're interested in writing for and you can't locate it on any of the above sites, do a Google search and see if the publication has contributor guidelines available. They can sometimes be difficult to locate, but I've had luck with the "About Us" or "Contact Us" pages if there's no tab specifically for writers or submission guidelines.

Happy Writing!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Madness of Creativity

I just finished reading Nancy Milford's biography about Zelda Fitzgerald (titled, appropriately, Zelda) for an article I'm working on. When I finished the book and gave myself some time to think about it, I was struck again by the often delicate line between manic depression and creativity. I used an article called "That Fine Madness" from an old issue of Discover Magazine about this very topic for a paper in high school, and I've held on to it for all these years--something about it just stayed with me.

What is the connection between creative genius and psychological disorders? If I can psychoanalyze for just a bit, in the case of Zelda (and her husband), it seemed obvious that they were co-dependent on each other, yet couldn't stand to see the other one have even a small amount of professional literary success. Their egos were just too fragile.

They're not alone. Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath are just a few of the other literary voices whose depression got the better of them and they committed suicide. Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace are just two more modern examples. So what's that all about? Is the pressure to produce (both internally and from the wider publishing world and critics, not to mention readers) simply too much? Why don't more creative types succumb? Besides those who went to the extreme, there are those writers too numerous to mention who have battled some type of addiction--Stephen King has been very candid about his alcohol and drug abuse, not to mention the others I'm surely forgetting.

So what's worse--the burden of producing one or two great works, and the pressure to keep producing works that meet those same standards, or hitting huge stretches of no productivity at all?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guest Post: 10 Steps to a Successful Query Email by Susan Johnston

[A Note from Sara: Every Wednesday in August, I'll be turning over the floor to a guest blogger who can share additional tips and thoughts on the writing life. I'm very lucky to have Susan Johnston, a Boston-based lifestyle/business writer and blogger, do the first post! Enjoy!]

Whether you want to write for glossy magazines or independent websites, you'll usually need to send a query selling the editor on 1) why their readers will want to read about a given topic and 2) why you are the perfect person to write the article. These days, most editors accepts accept queries via email, which means you that you'll sometimes hear a yay or nay very quickly. Just don't let the fast pace and informal nature of email ruin your chances of making a good impression.
Here are ten steps to ensure that your query is polished and professional.

1. Read the writer’s guidelines if they are available (you’ll usually find them under “About Us,” “FAQ,” or “Site map” on the website), but don’t limit yourself to publications that have guidelines posted online. If you can’t find guidelines online, you can email the editor or contact person listed to find out if they work with freelance writers.

2. Do a quick search to make sure that the publication hasn’t covered the topic recently. Many sites have a built in search function. You can also search within any domain using Google. Type in “article topic” and Google will pull up any pages on that site that include your article topic anywhere on the page. Try a few different variations of your topic’s keywords to cover your bases. If it's a magazine that isn't available online, many libraries have databases with extensive magazine archives.

3. Research the publication and read previous articles. Know what types of topics they cover and where your idea might fit in. For instance, in a query to Self magazine, you might write "let me know if this idea is a fit for 15 Minutes to Your Best Self." That way you’ve tipped off your editor that you know the publication and can (presumably) write in their format and style.

4. Write an eye-catching intro. “I’d like to write an article about X” probably won’t excite an editor. Craft your lede as if you were writing the actual article and want to grab the reader’s attention. Then explain why the topic is relevant those readers now.

5. Play up your expertise relating to your topic. If you don’t have any writing clips yet, don’t mention it in your query. You can find other ways to play up your background without admitting that you’re a newbie. For instance, “as a former science teacher, I am well versed in ...” Or, “Potty training is a topic that I’m intimately familiar with thanks to my three children.”

6. Use links to your writing samples instead of sending them as attachments (unless the guidelines specifically request attachments). Sometimes attachments get caught in spam filters, and many editors are leery of getting a virus from a writer they don’t know.

7. Always, always proofread before you hit send. Some editors will overlook a typo here or there if it’s an otherwise well-written, well thought out query, but major mistakes could send the message that you’re a sloppy writer (especially if you misspell the editor’s name!). Don’t rely on spell check.

8. Use an interesting subject line, but leave out words that scream SPAM! (For instance, “free” is a tip-off to a lot of spam filters and “I love you” was the subject line for a notorious email virus.) I often use this formula - Query: Name of Proposed Article. Then when I follow-up, I replace “query” with “follow-up.”

9. Follow-up. The timing of your follow-up will depend on the nature of the publication. If the writer’s guidelines say you should wait six weeks, then wait six weeks. If it’s a time-sensitive topic, you could follow-up sooner. When in doubt, I usually wait about three or four weeks, then resend with a short note reiterating my interest and including the original query as a forward.
10. Send another pitch right away if the editor rejects your idea but encourages you to send more pitches. Persistence pays.

SusanJohnston is a Boston-based freelance writer and blogger who has covered business and lifestyle topics for The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Yahoo! HotJobs, and many other publications. Want to know more? Check out The Urban Muse or follow her on Twitter.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Your Motivation?

All writers have our own reasons for why we pursue the craft. Some of us have discovered that writing articles, columns, and copy can be handy extra income. Others are working on a manuscript and hope to see their work on bookshelves someday. And others have their own myriad reasons for why they show up at the keyboard every day and pound out text.
There are a lot of reasons for why I continue to work at it. I'm interested in a lot of different things, and writing has given me a way to learn more about those things. Many of the people that I've gotten to interview and the things that I've gotten to do keep me coming back for more, as well. It is also a great outlet for me to share what I know with others. And yet another reason is that writing has been an incredible way to relieve stress and make sense of a few otherwise very difficult moments in my life. Writing has always been one of the few constants in my life, and I always feel challenged to make each piece better. And yes, okay, I admit that the income is nice, too.
What's your motivation? Why do you keep writing?