Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Always remember

Flickr photo by StuckInCustoms

Friday, May 28, 2010

What Was Your First Big Assignment?

I've been freelancing for regional publications (mostly business journals and the local paper) since 2003. I learned a lot from those early assignments, but the whole time, I was itching to break into magazines. Like most newbie freelancers, I didn't know the first thing about how to pitch, who to pitch, how to come up with know, the sort of things that quickly become second nature!

Once I met my friend Jodi, a full-time freelancer, at one of our first writer's group meetings, things gradually started to fall into place. She helped me navigate the murky waters of pitching editors and writing a query. I remember one of my first emails--"I really want to break into magazines but I don't have any ideas". Her response back to me? "You must be joking". Turns out, she was right. I started having some luck with the queries, which naturally kept me motivated enough to keep sending them out.

My first big (unpaid) assignment was a first-person essay for Today's Caregiver , a niche publication, back in 2007. My first paid assignment was for History magazine, a pub I've written for several times since.

I think I'm still new enough in the freelancing biz to still have every pitch acceptance be a total thrill. I hope I always have the same enthusiasm for it.

What about you? What was your first big assignment? Are you still excited by editors' acceptances, or have you been there, done that?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Reading List

The end of the semester and a year-end breakfast at my day job are two surefire signs that summer is on its way. All I have to say is--THANK GOODNESS! This whole year has been one big rush to just get stuff done. Not that I mind being busy, but these past few months were a lot, even for me. I didn't get as much writing done as I would have liked, but the quality of assignments improved, even if the quantity wasn't quite there, so I can't really complain.

Anyway. My plan for the summer includes lots of readin', writin', and relaxin', so with that in mind, I'm including the books on the top of my list for summer reading:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

My Fair Lazy, Jen Lancaster. If you haven't read any of her books, shame on you! Get out to your nearest bookstore and buy them. I mean it. HI.LA.RI.OUS.
The Help, Katherine Stockett.

The Fixer Upper, Mary Kay Andrews.

Moon Shell Beach, Nancy Thayer.

The Department of Lost and Found, Allison Winn Scotch.

True Colors, Kristin Hannah.

The Secret of Joy, Melissa Senate.

The Worst Hard Time, Tim Egan. (Yep, still haven't gotten to this one yet.)

And a long list of others I'm hoping to squeeze in, as well.

I'm interested in feedback for any of these titles, although I'm finding that reviews are starting to sway me on certain books--I'm hoping to avoid a bias!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Branching Out

Congratulations to Wendy Wallach, winner of Stephenie Meyer's The Host, my first book giveaway!


I’m taking baby steps toward branching out and getting my name in front of (hopefully) prospective clients. I know it might take some time to build, but I’m trying to get the word out in a low-key way at first, so it’s out there but I’m still flying relatively low under the radar.

I've also hit a bit of a stride with queries—I sent out 8 in the past month, which might not seem like a lot, but it is for me. I have a few other ideas that I need to formulate into queries, as well. Which brings me to my dilemma—I have 2 ideas for 2…shall we say, edgy…markets. My ideas relate to the overall theme of each publication, but are fairly benign compared to some of the other articles I’ve read on these sites. But to be honest, I’m a little leery about sending either query. Not that I have a problem with the focus of either site, but others might.

Most of the pieces I’ve done have been pretty mild—business profiles, author interviews, historical pieces, etc. I’ve been querying a variety of markets over the past few weeks, but all have been fairly tame. These 2 may not be viewed as such, so now I’m not even sure if I should send my pitches. So do I just throw caution to the wind and send them, or stick to the cautious path and not send them?

What about you? Have you ever not pitched a market because of how it might reflect on you, or because you were concerned about how others might react?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Who Are You? What Are You?

Susan Johnston blogged about this topic recently on The Urban Muse, and I found it interesting because I’m struggling with this very thing right now.

I’m stepping up my marketing and trying to get the word out about the services I offer. One of the sticky spots I’m running into is what to call myself. Should I be a “Freelance Writer” (which, as someone commented, doesn’t always get the respect it should), “Writer”, “Copywriter”, “Freelance Copywriter”, “Word Magician”, “Word Wizard”….? OK, so I’m joking with those last two, but I’m seriously stuck. I have business cards that say “Freelance Writer”, but I’m wondering if I necessarily need to keep the “Freelance”? Would potential clients take me as seriously as they might if they just see “Copywriter”, which is a bit more specific?

The other challenge I’m facing is…okay, I’ll say it…many folks may not even know what a copywriter is. I already have to explain (a few times a week) that, as a writer, I haven’t written any books (yet), nor do I teach high school English (not that there’s anything wrong with that—I respect high school English teachers and don’t think I could ever be one!), nor am I a newspaper reporter. So how in the world do I explain what I do write?

So, I need a few suggestions. How do you market yourself? Who are you, and who should I be?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My First Book Giveaway!

Attention all you Twi-hards out there!

I'm giving away a free copy of Stephenie Meyer's latest release, The Host, to one lucky blog reader.

You're probably thinking, "Oh boy, oh boy, how do I win, Sara, how do I WIN?!?"

It's easy--simply leave a comment in the "comments" section about why you love Stephenie Meyers. Make a believer out of me. I'll randomly choose the lucky winner and the free book will be all yours! (Please note: I ship only to the US and Canada).

NOTE: The Host is not part of any Twilight or related series; it's an adult novel with some supernatural and superhuman (read, alien) elements.

Now get commenting--the contest closes on Friday, May 21!

As an added bonus for those who read Monday's post, check out this video of my guest blogger, author Lisa DeNikolits.

Learn more about Lisa on her website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guest Post: Balance, and the Pursuit Thereof

by Lisa DeNikolits

Seeking balance. Everything in moderation. Now where’s the fun in that? Or rather, where’s the adrenalin rush in that? Folks like me, we like to rush headlong into things, hunting down that flush of hyper energy. The concept of balance brings with it an uneasy sense of compromise, tedium and even lethargy. Balance. No thanks, I’d rather push myself to the extreme – neck strained, shoulders hunched, eyes focused, hands punishing the keyboard – I type as fast as I can.

It’s this kind of rush that had me pound out a 220,000 word novel in six weeks straight. And, hot on the heels of that, but with the same passion and single-mindedness, I edited and rewrote the manuscript, then edited it and rewrote it again.

Then… a weird thing happens.

So, backtrack for a moment and imagine there’s a video camera behind each of your eyeballs, and the right and left viewfinders are running in such perfect synch that you don’t even notice they’re there.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the right video feed twitches, just enough to jolt your view of the world in a continuous and horribly erratic fashion.

This is not good. It’s tough to write when your one eyeball’s gone manic. But you have to get to the end of the chapter, nay, you have to rewrite the entire book. You don’t have time for a neurotic eyeball. You console yourself with the thought that maybe this is simply a weird shadow thing, all you really need is a low-brimmed fedora. So you don a hat and pull it down low but to your dismay, the eyeball continues to fizz and pop. You try to ignore it and continue at fever pitch because who knows when you’ll get this beautiful undisturbed time again, you have to max it out, the eyeball will have to adjust.

But the frantic antics refuse to cease and desist, and I seek out my partner for help and advice.

“Maybe I should try sunglasses as well as the hat,” I offer by way of solution.

“Rest the eye, go for a walk, get some balance in your day,” he advises. “You can’t just sit there, hunched over, for days on end, writing and staring at your screen.”

Who says I can’t? I look at him. Or at least I try to. But my eye is twitching and I think maybe there is a hamster in my right eyeball, running on a wheel, snorting speed.

“I have to finish this first,” I say.

“But there is no end,” he reminds me.

I look at him in horror. Ah. Right. There is no end.

“In which case,” I say, and I return to my keyboard, “I had better work even faster.”

About Lisa: Lisa made a family road trip a little more interesting when she was 10 by announcing that she had decided on her pee-u-da-name. After a moment of silence her father asked if she meant pseudonym? Exactly! And the name she had spent endless miles mulling over was Elizabeth Deane. Although
Elizabeth Deane has no bylines, Lisa de Nikolits--the name Lisa's parents mulled over endlessly--has many.

At age 21 Lisa started out as a feature writer at a South African magazine. After a few months she was asked to pinch hit for the layout artist. She had found her true love--she enjoyed designing pages, it was fun! So much fun that she spent the next 20 years as art director for magazines including Vogue and Marie Claire.

But one of the best things about her job was that she got to meet remarkable women every day. Women who were crying out to be written about. So Lisa wrote. Late at night on borrowed typewriters and eventually a dinosaur of a PC. With orange type that flickered on a black screen she captured the stories of the women who populated her days.

Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies, her poetry received a bronze medal in Canada, and her book Single Girls Go Mad Sooner was published in 1995. Along
the way she's also dealt with the heartache of the book that went into final proofs before the publisher shut down because of financial troubles leaving Lisa's literary baby stranded. Despite setbacks, this writer/art director/photographer who calls Toronto home is still "fired up" with the help of her supportive parents, feisty sister, and companion and fellow photographer Bradford Dunlop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Writing Bucket List

I'm taking a cue from freelance writer Thursday Bram, who posted her bucket list last week and got me thinking about what I would put on my own list.

So I gave it some thought, and if I knew I was going to kick the bucket very very soon, these are the writing goals I would pursue, like, NOW:

1. Make my living as a full-time freelance writer. I’m working my fanny off at this one, but I’m still too chicken to make the leap and try it full-time. So instead, I send out queries and schedule interviews whenever possible, and fit in the actual writing whenever I get any free time whatsoever. Granted, it’s not the way I would choose to work, but having very little uninterrupted writing time has definitely helped me become more disciplined. Would this be the case if I did go full-time and had all day to complete articles and queries? I really can’t say for sure.

2. Break into larger consumer markets (particularly bridal). The wedding pubs are proving to be very difficult to break into. I finally sold an article to a regional wedding pub early last year, but I have a slew of other ideas I’d love to sell. I love weddings and writing about the wedding industry, so this would definitely be a dream market for me. But if I can’t crack the bridal pubs, I’d be happy to see my name in a well-known newsstand publication.

3. Land a book deal and get my first novel published. I did have a very encouraging agent appointment at one of my conferences this year, which went a long way toward boosting my confidence. Now to just get the editing done…I’d be one step closer to making a sale!

4. Teach creative writing. I’m getting there, since I’m teaching English already and trying to work in some assignments that take a little more creativity and imagination. I’d like to teach a straight-up creative writing or magazine writing course, though.

5. Promote the literary arts in my hometown. I’m working my fanny off at this one, too. My writer’s group is definitely gaining some good momentum, which is very exciting to experience. But for the most part, I don’t know how many of our members are actively writing, which goes to show that all of the education and resources in the world can’t make someone sit down and do it—that drive needs to come from within. But the growth has been awesome, so I’m just happy to be a part of the group and apply what I learn from our speakers and presentations to my own writing goals.

What about you? What would be on your writing bucket list?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Polishing Your Writing Skills

As writers, words are our business. We rely on them to bring in clients, wow editors, convey our messages, and pay our bills. But even the best writer gets a bit sluggish once in awhile, and many of us find familiar (but overused) words creeping into our work.

It's a challenge, and I think most writers would agree that part of the appeal of the actual work of writing is to keep our skills sharp and turn in work of the best possible quality. So that means cutting out those old, tired words that are easy to pop in but do nothing for the end result.

In other words? Passive voice = bad! Non-descriptive adjectives/adverbs? Get them outta here!

I'm guilty of this. I tend to use "very", "quickly", and "really" much more than I should. I let it slide a bit when I'm writing an informal email or blog post (though I try to watch my usage there, too), but I'm super-sensitive to it when I'm working on a paid assignment. The irony? I tell my students that these words (along with the word "unique") are "nondescriptive" or "empty" adjectives--they're way too general and still don't do an adequate job of describing what it is you're talking about. I was re-reading an article I'd had published recently and noticed a few "quickly"'s had found in the text, and had to kick myself for not catching them and editing them out. I'm challenging myself to eliminate the usage of these words as much as possible.

What about you? What words or phrases do you tend to overuse?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finding Your Niche

A new freelancing friend and I have been exchanging emails for the past few weeks, and the one topic that keeps coming up is finding your specialty as a freelancer. Interesting question. It wasn’t until a few months ago, when I was putting together a quick little brochure listing my services for an upcoming client meeting, that I really had to give this topic some thought.

It seems as though freelancers are of two minds on this one—on one hand, there are those freelancers who are completely focused on certain kinds of writing, whether it’s features, blogs, or full-time copywriting. And then there are those who are believers in dabbling, and trying out all kinds of projects. I think that it’s very difficult to know what other kinds of writing you can do (or like to do) without dabbling a little, just as I think it’s hard to be a freelance writer who sticks to strictly one type of writing (I could be wrong here—if I am, please call me on it). But it also seems as if finding a niche is important, too.

So how do we do it? How do we know what services we can comfortably offer possible clients? Here are a few ways to narrow it down:

Consider your interests. If I hear one more non-writer throw out the “Write what you know” saying, I really might puke, but in this case, it’s good advice. What are your hobbies? What do you read up on or do on the weekends? These interests could easily lead to ideas for features, blog topics, or paid projects for similarly-minded organizations. Your passion for and interest in your topic should be very clear, making it easier to land assignments.

Consider your skills. What do you already know how to do? Can you use desktop publishing programs like a pro? This is an invaluable skill for a graphic designer. Are you an expert at translating complicated technical computer jargon into easy-to-understand lingo? This is a must-have for a technical writer. Skills you take for granted every day could lead to some very lucrative freelance work.

What do you want to know more about? Are you learning to knit? Cook? Taking courses in wine tasting or ballroom dancing? Besides enjoying the experience when you’re in the moment, start looking at these things differently. Where’s the story? What have you learned that might be of interest to others?

Learn more about others’ interests. During one of the conferences I attended recently, one of the workshop facilitators said she’s branching out into a new niche because of her husband’s love of classic cars. She’s been tagging along to car shows and learning more about the industry, and in turn helping other “track widows” understand their husband’s hobby and making some money at it through her writing assignments.

How did you home in on your niche? What process did you follow, and how long did it take before you settled on your specialty?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Waiting Game

This past week flew by in a blur of preparations for a big work event coming up this week, query submissions, and wrapping up the end of the semester, which means a lot of last minute grading and tying up loose ends. I didn’t get much actual writing done, but I sort of planned to have a slower schedule until the semester is over. But since I like to have a few eggs in the basket, I used my time to query and hopefully line up some work for the next month or so.

I’m so impatient. I’m pretty persistent with follow-ups, as some of these editors can tell you :) One editor whom I’ve worked with a few times over the past few months is normally very quick to respond. Not this week. My follow-ups didn’t get me anywhere, either. Finally on Tuesday he responded and apologized—he’d taken a few days off to get married and leave for a quick honeymoon. Okay. I suppose that’s a valid reason for letting the emails slide :) I heard from my corporate client at the end of the week, as well--I have more work lined up. Bring it on!

How long do you typically wait to hear back from an editor before following up? If it’s an editor I’ve worked with before, I usually only wait a few days; a week, max. For new-to-me editors, I typically wait about 2 weeks. Surprisingly, all but 2 editors I’ve queried this week have gotten back to me within a few days. One asked for a different angle on the idea I’d submitted; I tried for a different approach and I’m hoping for the best. I may have to send a few other ideas just in case, though. If these other editors respond favorably, May could be a very busy month!

What’s your average wait time until you follow up? How’s May looking for you?