Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets

I’ve been a loyal follower of Susan Johnston and her Urban Muse blog, which is jam-packed with terrific advice for both new and established freelancers, blogging tips, author interviews, and (my favorite) several open threads where readers can comment and swap tales of their writing triumphs and tribulations, for well over a year.

So I was very excited to learn of the release of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets, an e-book that offers pointers for writers looking to break into online publications. With the future of the traditional magazine industry looking bleaker every day, it’s important for freelancers to be familiar with other outlets for their ideas. Susan knows her stuff—she has a variety of clips from both print and online pubs (I’ve dropped her a few emails with various questions, and she’s always been super helpful, so I’ve experienced her web writing savvy firsthand!), and certainly seems to have mastered the online writing game.

I’ve been scanning through this book all weekend, and I can already see that it was money well-spent. Besides the general information that Susan includes for newbie freelancers, the book includes sample queries that snared assignments, markets to avoid (such as content mills), and—the best part—a directory of over 40 paying online markets. Some of these were familiar, others were totally new, but they’re a handy index of markets, editors, and payment guidelines that cover a wide range of subject areas. I was inspired to re-tool a story idea that’s been hanging out on my PC but that I never submitted anywhere, and I came up with a few new ideas and sent out queries for those, too. All in all, this book is a great tool for any writer who is looking to expand beyond traditional magazine markets!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Post-Conference Reflections

I have an article due tomorrow, so of course right now I’m doing everything but that. I’m still a little frazzled from our writer’s conference yesterday, but in the best possible way! What a huge success! Everywhere I looked, I heard great comments, saw lots of networking, and had this overall sense of excitement and accomplishment coming from our attendees. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? I got the feeling that some of the folks were actually quite impressed with the event—perhaps “pleasantly surprised” is a better expression? As I said, we live in a very rural area, and I know there is tons of literary talent lurking out there—we just needed a forum to let it out!

I was just excited by some of the folks I met. Unfortunately, I missed most of the sessions (“president” seems like such a glamorous title, but yesterday it meant “the help”), so I spent most of my day rearranging chairs and tables, tending to the lunch, making sure our moderators had their instructions, and restocking the freebie table. I really wanted to sit in on the afternoon sessions—one led by our keynote speaker—but alas, someone had to play moving (wo)man. Next year. Definitely next year.

The conference capped off a very rewarding week of satisfied clients and editors, all of whom were pleased with the work I turned in to them. Maybe fitting in writing sessions in between running in 10 directions is my most effective way of writing. I’m hoping to wrap up some long, long lingering projects (this is why I need a deadline!) over the next few weeks, but my plan is to give my queries and pitches a rest until the end of the semester so I can focus on teaching for the next few weeks. It’s so hard to juggle it all!

Back to the grind tomorrow. What’s on your agenda for this week?

Monday, April 12, 2010

6 Days to the Conference!

My blogging will probably be sporadic this week. I have an article due on Friday, more client work due by next Monday, and on top of everything else, my writer's group's first conference is this Saturday!

Our planning committee is very excited--we've been hard at work organizing the event for the past few months. We have over 40 people registered, which is thrilling, considering this is our first large-scale event and we live in a rather rural area (but perhaps this is a good thing, as we're providing something that more folks would like to attend but nothing of this sort is offered locally.) We're expecting a few walk-in registrations, as well.

I may post more during the week, but if not, I'll be back on Monday with a full report of the first annual Write It Right conference!

Friday, April 9, 2010

5 Lessons from my Agent Appointment

I had my very first agent appointment at the GLVWG conference at the end of March. I scored time with Michelle Humphreys, an agent with the Martha Kaplan Agency. Since this was a little bit different than most professional meetings I’m used to, I had to get a little bit of a game plan together before I went in for my appointment.

Be professional, but friendly and upbeat. My appointment was the last item on my schedule for the day, so this meant I was Michelle’s last appointment of the day, as well. It didn’t matter—I’ve gone into enough business meetings to know that no matter what time you’re scheduled, you have to act like this is the first thing you’ve done all day. I can’t imagine how jam-packed Michelle’s schedule must have been (there were nearly 200 attendees and only about 4-5 agents), but she was upbeat, as nice as could be, and most importantly, interested in what I had to say, which was a great sign. I tried to match her friendly, easygoing tone and hoped my nerves didn’t show (but just in case, I told her flat out that I was really nervous!)

Keep it short. I was only given a 10 minute slot for my pitch, so I had to keep it short and sweet. No problem there. I saw many folks with note cards and even heard a few practicing their pitch. Not a bad idea, especially for a manuscript with several characters or plot twists.

Talk about yourself (a little). I just reminded myself that Michelle was a professional, yes, but if things went well, we might be working a bit closely together, so I saw no harm in talking about myself a bit. She asked me about my other writing projects and we talked a little bit about the area where I live. She was super sweet and friendly, which went a long way toward putting me at ease.

Have more to pitch. Once I got through my initial spiel, I was encouraged when she asked me if I’m working on anything else. Unfortunately, the first response that came out of my mouth was a project I’d just been talking about with my friend Jodi on the way to the conference—a bit of an experimental work that I know would probably not be a huge bestseller. I completely blanked on any information about another idea that’s been stewing in my mind for a few weeks—an idea that would probably be much more marketable and successful and would no doubt have held her interest, giving me two projects to send her way. Oh well—I’ll have to remember to include that in my query.

Leave the manuscript at home. To be honest, the agents don’t feel like lugging around dozens of manuscripts even more than the authors don’t feel like lugging them to the conference in the first place. So make it easier on everyone and stick to emailing what the agent suggests—leave the 700 pages at home and just work on polishing a stellar pitch that will make the agent immediately excited about your project!

Any other advice for meeting with industry pros?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are You a Writer or an Author?

At the conference I attended a few weeks ago (my, I'm getting a lot of mileage out of this experience, aren't I?), my friend and I sat at a table to get organized and work out a game plan for the day. One of the best things about writers' conferences is the sheer variety of people you see there--writers of all walks of life, writing in every genre I'd heard of (and some, I'm sure, that I haven't!) Tihs year did not disappoint.

A woman sitting at our table was talking to a fellow writer, and I saw them exchange business cards. I noticed that her card included her name, and below it where the job title normally goes, it said "Novelist." I have business cards, too, and mine have my name with "Freelance Writer" underneath.


So, is there a difference?

My first instinct is to say yes. I didn't interrupt the conversation to add my own $.02, but just listening to them, I could tell that we come from totally different worlds. My focus has mostly been on nonfiction as of late, so my main challenges are coming up with story ideas, finding markets to query, identifying sources, and doing research. I've also branched out a bit into corporate writing, which for me has meant writing case studies and interviewing a company's clients and basically shaping them into glowing reviews of the company's product. When I think "novelist" I think "fiction", and fiction is basically a blank slate--although article ideas can literally come from anywhere, you do have some foundation to work with, where fiction is completely wide open. As a person who generally doesn't do well with too many choices, I find fiction a bit overwhelming (although many novelists tell me that their books and characters literally take on lives of their own, so making "choices" isn't always the case for everyone.) I did NaNo as a challenge in 2008 and got further than I'd ever dreamed, but I still find nonfiction to be much easier.

I'm slowly working my way back into fiction, and I'm using some of the methods that work for me with nonfiction--namely, an outline--so that I can have some idea of where the story might go and I can feel less overwhelmed. It's been nice to get back into fiction and flex those muscles again. But do I consider myself a novelist? No, not yet. Had I gotten involved in the conversation with the card-carrying "novelist", I would've absolutely felt like an intruder.

What's your take? Are you a writer or an author, and what would you consider to be differences between the two?

Monday, April 5, 2010

How's Your April Shaping Up?

I'm borrowing an idea from freelancer and blogger Lori Widmer (whose Words on the Page blog is FABULOUS!) and breaking down the work I have going on this month--since Lori does a monthly wrap-up and I'm itemizing my projects at the start of the month, it's not exactly the same, right? But I like the idea of keeping track of projects this way--makes it easier to see what's working, what's not, and what might need to be adjusted.

Here's how April is looking for me:

Ongoing Projects. I have my weekly workplace column that’s still going strong, and I have ongoing work from a client—just received two more installments last week. Completed one interview so far, must work on the second. The nice thing about this type of project is that a.) It’s work that can be done around my regular work schedule (so far it’s worked out where I’ve been able to speak to their clients in different time zones), b.) I can get it done fairly quickly, so there’s a regular flow of work, c.) They’re prompt with payment, which is always nice!

Articles. I’m working on one article due next week and am hoping to carve out some time to spend on a long overdue rewrite (no deadline was given, so the other work that had deadlines got pushed to the front of the line). An editor asked for an outline of a proposed article, which I sent in on Friday—I’m hoping to hear back from her this week. She’s usually great with getting right back to me, so I’m not worried—I’m chalking it up to a hectic holiday weekend.

Queries. Unfortunately I’ve had a fair share of rejections lately. My conference gave me a new rush of ideas, so I’m working on those queries and hopefully they’ll be accepted. I just sent one out last Sunday that I’m waiting on.

How’s your April shaping up?