Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Today marks 5 months since I left my FT job and dove, basically headfirst, into freelancing.

What a learning experience it's been!

It's been pretty quiet on the blog lately, but that's because I have been literally up to my eyeballs with work. I thought I'd resurface briefly just to say hello, then I'm diving right back in. September was a little slower than I would've liked, but then something happened in October and it seemed like I was getting a new project every time I turned around! One week I got an email literally every day asking about my interest/availability for different projects--some that are moving forward, others which are on hold for now.

But I'm not complaining.

You know, since leaving my job (and I'm sure I'm not alone here), I think many folks wonder what I do all day. Since I'm not dressing up and heading out to the office every morning, let alone getting a regular paycheck (which I do miss, I have to admit), to some I'm basically one step above a slug on the couch. That annoys me. I can say with all honesty that I've never worked harder in my life. Back in my office days, I admit that I, well, could've used my time more productively, let's say, on occasion. But I definitely can't say that now. Between my paying work and the towering pile of grad school work that's due in a few very short weeks, I feel overwhelmed regularly! I'm trying to get better about organizing my day and smarter about time management (and curb that pesky, pesky social media addiction).

So--I thought it would be good to take stock of what I've been working on lately and what's on my plate for November.

October: I finished 5 articles--1 for a regional pub, 3 for trades, and 1 for a college alumni publication. Additionally, I have my ongoing content writing gig and I reconnected with a friend of a friend whom I did some work for earlier this year, and I'm back to writing some blog posts for her (with a larger potential project in the pipeline). I also edit a local magazine for the 50+ set, so the 2nd issue went out. Besides editing the content, I also wrote 2 articles for this issue.

November: I have 5 articles due--4 of them next week! Gulp. Of the 5, 1 is for a trade, 1 is for another (different) college alumni pub, 1 is for a regional pub, and the 5th is for a new-to-me online consumer Canada! The magazine I edit is also putting together a year-end directory of services, I have my content writing gig and blog posts (which I expect to continue through November), and oh yeah...this pesky thing called my graduation capstone project, which I realized (yesterday) I have been on the complete wrong track with. Guess I'll be typing like never before.

December: 2 articles lined up so far--1 for a trade, 1 for a custom publisher that I worked with earlier this year and am thrilled to be working with again. They pay well and the topics have been interesting. Also hoping another project comes to fruition, but until then, I think I have enough to keep me occupied.

So, that's what I've been up to, in a nutshell. How has everyone been? What fun/interesting projects have you been working on?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"It Doesn't Hurt to Ask"

I’ve adopted the title of this post as my personal motto over the course of the past few weeks. This simple adage (and following through on it) has netted me considerable work throughout October and likely for the rest of the year. Who knew?!?

I’ve always been pretty persistent at approaching editors and suggesting story ideas, but obviously I’ve stepped up my efforts over these past few months. But as I’ve heard “our budgets are tight” and “we aren’t assigning anything to freelancers at the moment” and “Please send us your resume and if something becomes available we’ll contact you”, that’s just made me get creative with the types of folks I approach.

This belief has helped me to branch out. Much of my workload for October consists of assignments for new-to-me markets (including 2 trade publications)—places I hadn’t heard of six months ago, but now have me on their radar and I’m happily accepting work from them. Three of my four assignments for this month are for publications I’ve never written for before, and I’m also in discussion with a nearby college to do some work for their alumni magazine (depending on how that pans out, that might be another blog post in itself!) I do the occasional piece for the local newspaper, but am not doing as much work as I’d like, so I approached another local paper and asked if they need stringers. Yep, they do. Now I’m on three of their editors’ radar and hope to be covering events for them soon.

So I’m keeping up a steady stream of new work, besides the ongoing assignments and projects from the regular clients. All because I bit the bullet and powered through past the “Sorry, we don’t need people” and the “Sorry, we aren’t hiring freelancers right now” responses. Luckily, I have found places that need people and are looking for new writers, even if those discoveries came in some unexpected places. Nearly all of the projects I’m working on now came about through LOI’s. I’ve sent out an unusually high (for me) number of queries lately, but they haven’t landed me any assignments yet. So I’ll stick with the LOI’s for the immediate future. They’re working for me.

What about you? Have you approached an editor outside of your usual niche and received a good response? Do you have more luck with queries or LOI's?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Synopsis: Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “The years are passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm, and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

Review/Thoughts: One of my biggest goals for this period of transition in my life is to get back to my authentic self…but even better, so really, I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this book. Rubin picks twelve broad areas of her life and focuses on one per month, setting resolutions that she tracks on a chart. Any resolutions she doesn’t keep in their respective months gets moved to the next month, and so on.

This book drives home the fact that really, it is the little things in life that can make a big difference. Although I enjoyed this whole book immensely, the part that really struck a chord with me was when she talked about True Rules, which she calls “an idiosyncratic collection of principles…for making decisions and setting priorities.” It turns out that I have my own list of True Rules, although I’ve never heard them called by that name before, and I’m sure if you thought about it, you could come up with your own list. So, in the spirit of reading the book and wanting to make small but significant changes in my life, here’s my list:

· Make the effort
· Keep moving forward
· It’s not usually about you (me)
· Books are my salvation
· Be here now
· Trust the process
· Details matter
· Don’t judge—you don’t know the whole story
· Speak up
· Don’t commit if you won’t follow through

For more information on the author and The Happiness Project (or to find tools to start your own), visit

What about you? What small areas of your life could you change in order to be happier? What “True Rules” set the tone for your life?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What FT Freelancing Has Taught Me

I can hardly believe that Labor Day has come and gone, so yes, friends, this means we can officially wish summer a fond farewell. Temps are in the 60’s here today, too, which drives the point home even more.

September 2 marked three months since I bid my job farewell, too, and decided to pursue freelancing for awhile, just to see if I could make a go of it. I realize that it’s an incredibly crummy time to give up the security of a regular job, but as I’ve said here before, I felt it was time to go for a long list of reasons. But still—the reality of making the leap and trying to make a go of it was a little too much for me. However, since writing was my only income over the summer, I didn’t have much choice but to work at it. Work really, really hard at it.

And I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and also about the worlds of freelance writing and self-employment. But what have I learned? Glad you asked:

· You simply won’t like every project. I’m not thrilled about covering local school board meetings, but I realize I’m paying my dues and it’s all money in my pocket. (But I’ll be covering some shows at our local concert venue, which I do enjoy, so it’s a bit of a trade off). I also wrote an article about stinkbugs for my local business journal and an article on pet stain and odor removers for a trade magazine. Are they subjects I would normally embrace? Probably not. But these pieces showed that I can write about virtually any topic. And anyway, I don’t have to find the finished piece compelling—as long as the editor and reader likes it, I’m happy.

· Follow up, follow up, follow up. Most of the work I received this summer came about through follow up emails to editors and potential clients (or to ask about invoices). I’ve always been pretty persistent when it comes to following up, but I’ve gotten even more strict about it since my bank account depends on it.

· I have more ideas than I thought... I’ve never had that much success with queries, but I’ve been trying to develop my ideas a bit more and take more time with them than perhaps I’ve done in the past. I’ve been sending out more queries in general, but I like to think they’re better crafted ideas, too.

· …but not every editor will like them as much as I do. But I realize many of them will never see the light of day, and I have to be OK with that and hopefully find a new angle on the story or a new market for it altogether.

· Writing is hard work. I can’t afford to not sit at the keyboard for a good portion of the day. I realize that a major perk to the freelancing life is the ability to set your own hours, so I do give myself a break now and then, but from 9-4 (and sometimes during the evening hours), I’m here in the chair, working on assigned pieces or trying to land new work. There are some days when I quite frankly don’t feel like writing, and they are obviously not my best writing days, so I’ll focus on other business instead—updating my query spreadsheet, emailing sources, following up with editors, or working on materials for the class I’m teaching.

· Details matter. It’s important to get sources’ names and job titles correct, as well as spellings, dates, and finer points of each story. Those little details may not mean much to the writer, but readers and editors will certainly notice. I’m particularly sensitive to getting people’s names right since so many folks spell mine incorrectly (if you can even imagine), but all of those little seemingly insignificant points matter.

What about you? What has the freelancing life brought to your life?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do You Ever Reconnect With Sources?

Forgive me for my erratic posting schedule this week—I’ve had a lot of non-writing related issues to tend to and the days have been getting away on me!

I just sent a link of a recent article to a gentleman who was a tremendously helpful and gracious source. The article was two-fold—the longer piece was about a farmer who grows some niche crops; the source in question was the main focus of the longer piece’s sidebar. But all the same, this gentleman sent me literally hundreds of photos (and I basically forwarded them all to the editor and said, “Here you go! Pick your favorites!”) and he and the farmer gave up an entire afternoon to speak with me and show me the farming operation.

So I figured the least I could do was send the finished piece.

I do try to send my finished articles to my sources as much as possible. Surprisingly, I haven’t spoken with too many folks who want to see the rough draft ahead of time, although I do get those requests from time to time and I respond by politely dodging the question. Sources are taking time out of their day to speak with us writers, so the least we can do is send them a link so they can use the article for their own publicity kits or what have you. I like to stay on my sources’ good side—after all, I never know when I may need to speak with them again, whether it’s to clarify a point they made over the course of our conversation, or for an entirely different article. It’s a quick but meaningful way to thank them for their time.

And—while this is never my intention—I’ve actually had a source for an article become a writing client. No harm in hoping lightning will strike twice, right?

What about you? Do you reconnect with your sources? Have you ever landed a source as a client?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How's Your Fall Calendar Shaping Up?

It’s August, but here in Pennsylvania, we’ve had temperatures in the low 70’s all week. After a few heat waves that overstayed their welcomes, I’ll take the cooler temps.

Of course, the cooler temps (and the leaves that I’ve noticed have started to change color already) is making me think back to school, fall, and a much busier schedule. My “busier schedule” will look considerably different than it did even 3 months ago, when I was squeezing grad school, freelancing, and teaching gigs around my full-time job. Despite my best efforts and a fair number of interviews, the job hunt continues, as well as sending out LOI’s and queries to editors. My calendar is lightening up considerably after next week, but I’m hoping to fill it with more deadlines before too long.

Let’s see. I’ve had more luck with sending LOI’s lately than I ever have before. Last week I contacted editors at 2 respective “niche” career trade publications, and I received encouraging responses. It sounded as though one of the editors was definitely interested in what I have to offer—the other one left the response a bit more “open”, so I sent a nice follow-up with the standard “Please keep me in mind for any future assignments” line. So, here’s hoping he will. I also made contact with 2 local colleges about their alumni magazines, so I’m hoping to land some work from them, too.

I’m doing a bit more querying and idea pitching, but nothing’s come through on those yet. Earlier this summer I got an email from an editor I’d contacted last year. She apologized for never getting back to me and asked if I had any other ideas for their publication. I was going through my rough patch and not in much condition to form a coherent thought, but I did send her a few ideas. This was at the beginning of July. Since then—nothing. No responses to my “friendly” (but increasingly persistent) follow-ups, either. Thinking I should cut bait on this one, but I hate doing that.

Anyway, at the moment my freelancing schedule has a lot of feelers out there, but the assignment calendar still has a lot of openings. In between writing projects, I’m teaching again, taking my LAST grad class and tackling my grad capstone project, and teaching 2 short-term writing workshops, so I’m thinking I’ll be busier than I anticipate!

What about you? How’s your fall schedule coming together?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ode to the Library Used Book Sale

If you’re like me, you love a good bargain. I love nothing more than finding a high-quality item at 40% off or more. I’m not such a fan of the cheaper stores because in most cases, you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes, but I love getting brand-name items at low, low prices (I figured I already sounded like a commercial, so I just went with it.)

One of my favorite places to shop for bargains is my local library. That’s right. Of course you know the library is an excellent community resource and a great place to check out the latest releases, hook up your wi-fi, or read periodicals without committing to a purchase, but most libraries also have ongoing book sales with titles at unbelievable prices.

I checked out 2 sales over the weekend, and I walked away with 6 new-to-me titles and spent less than $10. I got 5 hardcover books in excellent shape, and a paperback I’d had my eye on but was less than thrilled with the price on the bookshelf. But finding it for $1.00? I couldn’t resist! These sales are also a treasure trove of hard-to-find and unique books that can help you in your writing—one library had a nice selection of writing guides—or just look interesting. (Case in point—a few years ago I found a copy of Hope Edelman’s book Motherless Daughters, which I’d been shopping for online but debating about purchasing. But again, I couldn’t pass up the library’s $1.00 price sticker!) So check out your local library—chances are you can score some great bargains there, too. Also, with so many libraries feeling the pinch from budget cuts, most of them will happily accept any books you’re looking to part with. If they don’t put them right on their shelves, they’ll put them out for sale and make some money. These sales are a great way to help a worthy cause, check out those titles you’ve been hoping to read, and find some bargains along the way!

What about you? Have you discovered the joy that is a library used book sale? Tell us about it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Favorite Reads of the Summer--So Far

I know, there are still a few precious weeks of summer left, but I'm starting to see school supplies displayed front and center in the stores, and for most of us, that's a telltale sign that fall is just around the corner.

So I wanted to post a list of my favorite reads from the summer up to this point. I admit, I haven't read as much as I normally do this time of year--I'm blaming that on several weeks' worth of anxiety and not being able to do much of anything. But once I got myself more on track and picked up a book, I could feel my version of "normal" quickly return. I still got horribly behind on the reading list I'd put together for myself, though.

Anyway, out of what I did manage to get through, here's a list of the titles I particularly enjoyed:
House Rules by Jodi Picoult. I admit, I'm biased--there aren't too many of Picoult's novels that I haven't liked. This book focuses on a teenager living with Asperger's syndrome who is accused of murder. I learned a lot about Asperger's syndrome--I think she could have included a bit less about this condition and focused a little more on the crime, personally. But part of what I love about her books is her attention to detail and compelling, "what happens next?" pacing. The story kept me interested, even if some of the detail did get a little long-winded (and repetitive) in places.

Ladies of the Lake by Haywood Smith. Sibling rivalry never truly goes away--even when the siblings in question hit middle age. That's the crux of this funny and heart-warming novel by Haywood Smith. Four middle-aged sisters are forced to spend the summer in their grandmother's rundown lake house in order to receive their inheritance. Along the way, they reconnect and work out some old hard feelings--grudgingly. (After all, there's no TV in the cabin--what else is there to do? :) )

Queen of Broken Hearts by Cassandra King. I loved her earlier novel The Same Sweet Girls, and this novel didn't disappoint, either. Clare Ballenger is a divorce therapist healing some pretty serious heartache of her own (though she's the first to downplay this fact, of course). Thanks to some wise, if quirky, friends and family, Clare owns up to her pain and begins to let go of the past in order to move on.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani. Like Picoult, Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors, so I expected to love this book as much as I've loved her Big Stone Gap trilogy and Very Valentine. (I have 2 other books on my pile to get to, as well!) Lucia, Lucia includes all of my favorite elements--an independent, beautiful (yet still flawed) title character and a plot set in Greenwich Village in the 1950's. What's not to like? The title character, Lucia Sartori, is a seamstress in one of New York's high-end department stores, and Trigiani goes to great length to describe many of the clothes Lucia makes. I enjoy her books because she does a great job of transporting the reader to a completely different place. I can't wait to read her other books, including the second in her newest trilogy, Brava Valentine.

What about you? What summer reads would you recommend?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What's the Worst Writing Advice You've Ever Received?

Just a short and sweet post today.

Based on some of the buzz I'm reading on a few colleagues' blogs, it sounds like there will be a few new folks joining the ranks of the full-time freelancers within a few weeks. So this got me thinking.

Luckily, freelancers are among some of the nicest folks I've ever had the pleasure to know. I can't tell you how many useful tips I've picked up, between websites, blogs, resources, or just emailing folks directly. But for all of the great and helpful tips that are out there, writers can dish out some pretty crummy advice, too. Unfortunately, freelancing is a lot of trial and error, but that doesn't mean you can't protect yourself from the outset as much as possible.

So, fellow writers, I ask you--"What's the worst writing advice you've ever received?"

I guess my response is pretty standard--"write what you know". I hear that and I roll my eyes. I'm a pretty voracious reader and I like to think that I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I also like learning for learning's sake, so if I find something that piques my interest, you'd better believe I want to learn all I can about it, and then share some of that knowledge with others. If I only wrote what I knew, I'd have to take down my writer's shingle already, because my well of knowledge has been exhausted several times over.

This advice would be closely followed by writing in one genre, or for one type of client. In today's business world particularly, businesses of all stripes are finding that diversifying might prove to be their saving grace. And anyway, if you stick to one type of writing project, wouldn't that get boring pretty quickly? Part of the beauty of freelancing is that we have the freedom to pick and choose, and dabble in different types of projects. We won't like everything that comes across our desks, of course, but I personally like the variety and diversity of the projects I take on.

What about you? What advice should "newbie" freelancers take with a grain of salt?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara

I have to admit, when I first saw the title of this book on Susan Johnston's Urban Muse blog (and later on Steph Auteri's Freelancedom), it certainly grabbed my attention.

So I was excited to pick up my very own copy at a writers' conference I attended in March. And I was even more excited when I realized that I'm teaching a memoir writing workshop and a college writing class (focusing largely on personal essays) this fall and hey, maybe I should read it and get a few pointers!

"Read" is a bit too gentle of a word. I've basically inhaled this book and can't wait to share the tips I've picked up with my students!

In this fun, easy-to-digest book, essayist, columnist, and author Adair Lara offers scads of helpful tips on getting your personal work published. She says that writing about your own life and putting yourself out there is definitely not easy, but it's sometimes necessary in order to be truthful. And, as I tell my own writing students, only you can talk about your own experience. The three other people that were in the room with you will all have their own take on the evening, but you need to write about what you remember.

Lara breaks down the pieces of an essay, discusses the importance of writing compelling scenes and bringing the reader right into the action, and expands on these tips to fit a personal memoir. She explains that a memoir is simply talking about something that happened to you and how you overcame it. And as you write, you need to ask yourself questions--What did I want?, How did I get around that obstacle?, and to keep asking those questions as you go along to keep yourself honest.

This is one of the few books I've read "for fun" and tabbed, underlined, and made notations in the margin so I remember what I want to include in my writing classes this fall. Don't let the somewhat suggestive title put you off--in the book she explains that the title refers to the feeling you get of exposing your innermost thoughts and feelings (a bit like being naked on the school bus) and the woozy, drunk feeling you get when you say the first thing that comes to mind.

What books on the craft of writing have impressed you lately?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"What Are You Writing?"

I'm piggybacking off of a recent post from Linda Formichelli's fabulous Renegade Writer blog that talks about how writers can find paying gigs. I love her blog and highly recommend it to any new (and established!) freelancer out there--I never fail to find some useful tips!

As I read the post (and others like it that I've seen on various blogs lately), it got me thinking. Most freelancers I know aren't super picky when it comes to accepting work--if it pays a semi-decent wage (that's comparable to the time we'll have to invest), we're almost always up for it. That seems to be the key to surviving as a freelancer. As more and more magazines and newspapers are folding, writers have had to get creative with the types of projects we're willing to take on.

So I thought about my own projects. I tend to go in spurts--first, I targeted the traditional consumer markets for years. Then I moved on to blogs. Then online magazines. Then copywriting. I certainly wouldn't turn down any of these clients if they came calling, and I have had some luck finding projects for all of the above, but I don't consider myself to be just a magazine writer, or just a blogger, or just a copywriter.

Lately, most of the work I've been lining up has been for trade publications, our local business journal (newspaper), one local market whose editor has been gracious enough to offer me at least one assignment for every issue within the past year, a custom publication (I did one article for them which recently ran, and I touched base with the editor last week and I expect to be getting another assignment), an ongoing content-writing project, and, my most recent serendipitous path--college alumni magazines. I connected with one college in a very roundabout way (I think they misunderstood my LOI, but the editor liked my clips so it turned out to be a positive...), so it hit me--Duh! You're in grad school...why don't you ask the editor of that school's mag if he needs writers? So I contacted him yesterday and sure enough, he was receptive. Just goes to show that sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious! I haven't given up on the consumer markets altogether, but unless I get that aha! brilliant idea, I'm happy to take on the assignments that I know editors will definitely run. I think it goes back to my appreciation for stability and security!

How about you? What kinds of projects make up your workload these days?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

I know, I know--I've been woefully absent from the blogosphere again. My apologies. These last few weeks have been very eye-opening and a little scary, but luckily, I think my worst days are behind me.

I am happy to report that I've gotten a bit of my writing mojo back. I've landed a few more assignments and am reaching out to editors (both those I've worked with in the past and a few new markets) with gusto. See what happens when you finally get out of your own way and just decide to push forward?

I've also been scarce because it's simply been too hot to sit in front of the PC longer than necessary! (And no, I'm probably one of the few people on this planet who does not have a laptop. Yet.) Like most of the country, we here in the Northeast have been at the mercy of temps that have pushed 100 degrees for the past few days. (Last Wednesday and Thursday it was over 100 here, which is highly unusual). On Friday I wrapped up a short little project, sent it off, and skedaddled for the comforting chill of the A/C in various places (had a lot of errands to run). Let me tell you, being able to take the afternoon for myself really does not suck! However, it left a nice long "to do" list for me to tackle this week. Luckily, the temps are supposed to be a little more tolerable this week, so I have no doubt that I'll get my various items crossed off in no time.

How about you? Have the steamy temperatures affected your productivity at all lately?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Psych Yourself Out in 30 Days or Less

I've been really quiet on this blog lately, but life has taken a lot of ups, downs, and twists in the last few weeks.

To put it simply, I've spent most of the last month freaking myself out about life. Based on the advice from other freelancers that I've read (on blogs and elsewhere), I've already fallen into every freelancer pitfall there is. And I'm barely a month into it!

And as an added curveball, last week I started with full-blown anxiety attacks, so that's been zapping a lot of my energy. I pulled myself together long enough to complete the articles I had to do, but there has been a lot, LOT of downtime just to get myself together.

I'm psyching myself out over everything. Luckily (and don't think I don't count my lucky stars EVERY SINGLE DAY these days) my boyfriend has been absolutely wonderful, and has been helping me to see things a little more clearly. I'm doing my best to both focus and not put so much pressure on myself, because that's when the chest tightens and all hell breaks loose.

Basically, I'm just trying to get out of my own way with this, and see where it takes me. I realize I might be at this for awhile, so I have to cut the nonsense and commit to it. But still, this is a lot harder than I ever imagined.

I'll try to be better with the blogging, even if only to post progress reports on here for awhile.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life as a Freelancer: Week #1

Today officially wraps up my first full week as a FT freelancer. Spoiler alert, however—I am still looking for a full-time, non-freelancing job. I certainly hope my writing projects will come flooding in, and I have a few articles on tap (plus I’ve been sending out LOI’s like a crazy lady), but I have to face facts that a writing business can take some time to build, and I really like my cable TV and electricity, so I might have to head back to the grind sooner than I’d expected.

BUT—I’m happy to say that my first week has gone pretty well. My fellow work-at-homers were right: it is hard to establish a schedule and stick to it…not to mention getting others to respect it, too. I’ve had to run out due to various appointments, but I was able to wrap up a long-lingering article and sidebar today, and I’m planning to start lining up some interviews for a few other articles I’ve just been assigned.

Last night my business partner and I attended a networking event and handed out a lot of business cards. We made some pretty good connections, so we’re both hoping this leads to some projects.

I had a rough few weeks leading up to my last day at the job, and I’m definitely still grappling with moments of pure panic, but I’m trying to power through my fear. I’m trying to focus on my writing projects and see every day as a new opportunity, but it’s hard to break my usual habits of worrying and over-thinking everything.

How is everything in your writing world?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

So This Is What Changing Your Life Looks/Feels Like

OK guys--big announcement time!

The first time I said these words, they didn't quite have the excitement I thought they would. They came out more with a definite tone of uncertainty (or was it fear?) But, here goes:



Ah. There. Finally--I put it out there in a BIG way, as I'd hoped to do at the office.

For many reasons, for many months (years?), I've been toying with this idea. Then a few things happened a few weeks ago that definitely got me thinking. And once I decided that I couldn't turn back, well...I didn't turn back!

But I have to admit, it's not the sweet relief I expected. I'm feeling a bit of everything right now. Excitement. Relief. Overwhelmed. And yes, still a healthy dose of white-knuckled fear, which has been keeping me glued to the keyboard these past few days.

And let me tell you, the stress has been working better than any diet plan ever could!

I'm also finished with my job NEXT WEEK. Once I decided to get out, I've wanted OUT! It's weird to still have one toe in that world, trying to finish up whatever needs finishing, and frantically trying to line up some writing work for After I Leave. It's surreal and great and I don't know what else!

So I'm not sure if this will be short-term or long-term, but this will be my life for awhile. I've contacted editors I haven't worked for in years, and my sudden freedom is forcing me to get creative. I'm dreaming up writing courses for all sorts of folks, and saying "yes" to work I wouldn't normally consider. I need some sort of income stream until the bigger things start coming in.

They will come in, won't they?

I'm also using this time to give my copywriting venture a much-needed, long-delayed jumpstart and working on my capstone project for my Master's program. I'm also willing to teach virtually any class that has an "ENG" prefix at 3 community colleges.

So that's the good word. I've jumped. Stay tuned for how I make out over the next few weeks!

What's happening in your world lately? Have you jolted yourself into doing something completely unlike you (just as this is for me) recently?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Guest Post: I Smell a Great Journal Topic

by Mari L. McCarthy

I recommend that all writers should keep a personal journal, for the self-knowledge, understanding, and creative riches that journaling offers. While my work is mainly in the area of Journaling for the Health of It ™, I also consider myself a writer and artist. I definitely use journaling to inform my artistic creations.

Here are a few ways I've found that journal writing supports other kinds of writing, even though the two disciplines are very different.

1. Clear out mental clutter
The more clear your mind, the more easily your writing flows, isn't it true? A clear mind lends to success in any endeavor. Journaling lets you do a regular 'data dump,' clearing out your mental cobwebs so that your alertness and concentration can increase.

2. Become more observant
The more you journal, the more skilled you become at remembering and arranging the details. As you write about your experiences, they become more specific in your mind. Moreover, when going about your life you begin to collect details that you want to write about: morning bird songs, shadow patterns on the floor, that strawberry you ate this afternoon, the way your shoes are pinching your feet, the intoxicating smell of fresh dark chocolate.

3. Realize the bottomless depth of your creativity
The more you journal, the more you realize that you have an endless supply of ideas, thoughts, impressions. You realize that you never run out of ideas, even if sometimes you may lack the will to access them. You see that writer's block is about your willingness, and not about an actual dearth of ideas.

4. Practice storytelling

The more you journal, the better you become at telling stories. The ability develops without much trying on your part. That is, you don't necessarily concentrate on telling a good story in your journal; your aim is just to get your body-mind responses to things on paper as fast as possible. But, over time, you'll naturally improve. You can prove this to yourself by reading over entries from six months or a year ago, and comparing them to newer posts. Does your ability to articulate clearly improve over time?

5. Practice free expression
Usually when you write, you expect that one or more other people will read it. Not so with journaling. Your journal is where you are allowed completely free expression. Journaling is where you can write for many pages about the rapture that overcomes you when you smell dark chocolate.

In sum, journaling is an essential tool for sharpening and enhancing your creative instincts for any purpose.

By Mari L. McCarthy - The Journaling Therapy Specialist, founder of Journaling for the Health of It™. Please visit Mari's blog at In 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness (, Mari walks you through an easy process for accessing your natural inner strengths. Mari's latest publication is titled Who Are You? How to Use Journaling Therapy to Know and Grow Your Life. See for details.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Would You Trade In the Freelance Life?

Besides the deadlines I’ve been scrambling to meet and the papers I’ve been frantically trying to finish, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past few weeks and I’m in a real period of transition—perhaps the biggest of my adult life. I think it’s finally time to claim what I truly want to do, and stop making apologies for it. More on that in the next few posts.

So it’s gotten me thinking—with all of the instability that comes with the freelancing life, have you ever regretted your decision to pursue it, whether full time or part time? It seems to be one of the few career paths that’s virtually recession-proof…there will always be some kind of writing work somewhere if you’re willing to search for it (and put enough “feelers” out there). But do you ever regret giving up stability (whatever that looked like for you) for the admittedly unpredictable freelance life?

I can definitely see where the benefits would far outweigh the bummers—flexibility, the chance to work on a variety of projects that challenge you (rather than leave you feeling burned out, overworked, and generally stuck in a rut), not to mention saying “no” to those persnickety clients that often turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth. So why are so many of us reluctant to claim the life that we’ve dreamed of?

I guess fear is the biggest motivator to just stick it out, wherever you are. Fear of not having regular income. Fear of never finding work again. Fear of giving up the safety net (benefits, etc.) But think about it—wouldn’t you regret the fact that you didn’t take the chance to see if you really could do it? That maybe you could live life on your own terms? It would probably be the most terrifying—and exhilarating, satisfying—thing you would ever do. It’s good to really scare yourself once in awhile. It shows what you’re truly made of.

So, fellow freelancers, I ask you—would you ever trade in the freelance life for something a little more predictable?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Anatomy of a Freelancer's Resume

As I said in Monday's post, I landed a slew of new assignments since the beginning of April, and these projects have more than restored my faith in sending LOI's to editors.

Some of these editors asked for my resume, so I had no choice but to seriously take a look at putting one together. I had a version that I've been using, but I wasn't happy with it, as I wasn't clear on format or how much/little information to include. So I was thrilled when I came across this post that explains how to write a resume as a freelancer.

Needless to say, I followed the suggestions in the post and now have a working resume that I'm very happy with. Hopefully the post will be useful to you, too.

What about you? What helpful tips have you picked up lately?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is Too Much Networking a Bad Thing?

There are more business networking organizations in my area than I realized. A few weeks ago I received an invitation to yet another new group that’s starting with the purpose of generating leads and connecting business owners. The meetings don’t work with my schedule, so I can’t attend anyway, but I sighed when I saw the notice. I believe 100% that networking and face-to-face relationship building is one of the surefire ways to build business, but I’m not sure that all networking events are truly worthwhile.

I’m also realizing that for the writing business to grow, we may need to focus on landing larger clients rather than focusing so much on small businesses. The small business may need more help, but their budgets are stretched thin and these business owners may simply not be able to afford our services. So we’re aiming a bit higher, and we’re being more selective about the networking events we attend and organizations we might join. I’m sure business owners have landed a fair share of work from these types of events, but, as I did with my writing projects awhile back, I had to trim some of the things I was taking on. I don’t want to accept more just for the sake of doing more. I’d like to focus on fewer, but more lucrative and satisfying efforts.

What about you? Have you had much luck with events focused on lead generation?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's New?

The past few weeks have flown by in a blur of landing new projects, interviewing, writing, and meeting deadlines; wrapping up an extremely demanding semester of grad school, holding a successful writers’ conference for a 2nd year (more on that in a minute), and basically trying to keep up with the general demands of life. It hasn’t helped that my day job has exploded into a nonstop schedule, which hasn’t left much time to squeeze in any writing-related tasks during the day, so I’ve had to literally do everything either via email or at night or on weekends.

I think the worst of the rush is behind me. Seeing the end of the semester was a huge relief. Not that it’s translated into more time, necessarily, but I have fewer projects weighing on me at the moment.

So here’s a little more specific info on what I’ve been up to lately:

  • All 3 of my non-magazine clients have had projects in the last month, which meant more juggling for me, but also some nice added income, which is always appreciated! If my little windfall (and a lot of what I’m reading on others’ blogs), it’s a very good time to be a freelancer, as business seems to be picking up across most sectors.

  • Thanks to reading some older posts on Linda Formichelli’s fabulous Renegade Writer blog, I was able to find several assignments for a number of under-the-radar trade and specialty publications. I also connected with a new editor thanks to a “tweep” connection, which restored my faith in social media. (I know that several freelancers have landed work through social media channels—personally, I haven’t gotten a ton of work in this way, but I keep trying and keep my information updated)

  • My writers’ group held our 2nd Annual Write It Right Conference in mid-April. Although I was a bit disappointed by the registration numbers initially, it turned out to be a positive thing, as smaller attendance was more conducive to meaningful networking and relationship building. I know there were a lot of emails exchanged between attendees, which is always great to see. We got a lot of compliments on our presenters and the day itself, so we really can’t ask for more than that. Unfortunately, we had torrential downpours that day, and some of our attendees had to drive over an hour to get to the event, so that was a little worrisome. Also, our keynote speaker had been in Texas for the week prior, and he flight was delayed coming back to PA. She arrived in Harrisburg at 3 a.m. and made it to our conference (approximately 2 hours away) in time. Talk about follow through and professionalism!

  • This fall I’ll be completing my last semester in the Master’s of English program at Kutztown University. I’m spending my summer reading and researching for my capstone portfolio project. I wish I could just finish the program without having to do anything extra, but I suppose grad school doesn’t exactly work that way (ha ha). I’m really looking forward to getting my degree and seeing what other possibilities in the field might be out there for me.

What about you? What’s new and exciting in your respective worlds?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I Learned at the GLVWG Conference, or, 5 Timeless Writing Tactics from Horror Master Jonathan Maberry

This past Saturday a few gals from my writers’ group and I had the great pleasure of attending the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers’ Group’s annual Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA. I look forward to this event every year and always pick up some useful nuggets of info. This year was no exception. I attended a fabulous morning workshop led by literary agent/keynote speaker Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel) and, appropriately, had to fight off writer’s cramp on and off throughout the day because I was taking so many notes (unlike past years, where I was content to merely listen or jot down a gem or two, this time I was determined to retain as much info as possible so I took copious notes). But my favorite session was the last one of the day—“Making a Living as a Writer” with Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry (Rot and Ruin, The Wolfman, Cryptopedia, among others). I’ve heard him speak at this event a few times before, and I get such a boost from his presentations. Maberry is a writer’s writer—he’s had numerous books, over 1200 articles, and countless poems published, among projects in many other genres—so I knew I’d get the same jolt of inspiration that I had from past sessions. Over the course of his talk, I picked up 5 tactics that he mentioned for sustaining a writing career. This isn’t new advice, exactly, just tried-and-true writerly wisdom that works:

  • Persistence pays off. Maberry said that when he was starting out as a writer, he had no idea how to write a query. “If there were 25 things that editors didn’t want in a query, I had all 25 plus a few more thrown in,” he’d said. The first editor he pitched thought the query had been a joke. Maberry called to explain that no, he was serious about his writing, he just didn’t know what a query looked like. The editor sent him a few examples, Maberry followed the format, and landed quite a bit of work from the editor over the years. He was also relentless about querying editors when he was a magazine writer, proving once again that you shouldn't take no for an answer.

  • Don’t limit yourself—try new things. Maberry has written greeting cards, instructions on seed packets, song lyrics, magazine articles, novels, and—most recently—comic books. He said, “Did I know how to write (insert project-out-of-left-field here)? No! But I didn’t tell them that.” Staying diverse and open to new challenges helps to build your skills and confidence as a writer. It also keeps things interesting.

  • Stick to a schedule. Keeping to a self-imposed deadline or target keeps you accountable to yourself. Maberry said that he’s taken 3 days off in the past 25+ years, and now spends 10 hours a day on his writing projects (which also includes reviewing contracts, giving interviews, etc.) He writes something like 3,000 words a day, no matter what. If he comes up short one day, he’ll do double the next.

  • Reward yourself. Maberry puts $1 in a jar every time he reaches his word count for the day. When the project is finished, the money in the jar must go toward something fun. That could be something as small as a massage or as extravagant as a vacation. You’ve worked hard—now treat yourself.

  • Bring your “A” game to each project. You may not love every single thing you’re writing about (lawn fertilizer, home heating systems, and projects that involve techie-speak come to mind), but he suggests falling in love with some aspect of the project and bringing your very best writing to it. Editors and clients don’t have to know that you burned the midnight oil wrapping up the project because it bored you to tears; they do have to know that you delivered what they hired you for and would happily do it again if they asked.

What about you? What useful advice have you gotten lately?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surprise of the Day

I'm generally not a big fan of surprises. For myself, anyway. Oh, I like the occasional unexpected low-pressure surprise--a free coupon, a free book, or an invite to someplace cool/interesting. But those big, full-on, "it-took-weeks-of-planning-to-get-it-right" kind of surprises just make me very anxious and self-conscious.

I do, however, love surprising other people.

Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, babies...all perfectly acceptable reasons to celebrate. No, all occasions that should be celebrated. These occasions remind us all that we're alive, that we're loved, and that our happiness means something--not only to us, but to our friends and family, as well.

I love the planning that goes into a good surprise. Sure, it's stressful, but the look on the person's face when they arrive makes it totally worth it. I love being a part of something that's going to make someone else happy. And I, of course, love to share in that happiness. It's nice to be reminded of all of the fun and joy in the world still!

Life is definitely one big surprise after another. Every day brings its share of them. Some are good, some are bad, but we learn a lesson from every single one.

So think about it--how will you handle the next surprise that comes your way?

NOTE: I wrote today's post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Letter from Home by Kristina McMorris . This debut novel is the story of three young women during World War II and the identity misunderstandings they and the men in their lives have. Ask yourself: Can a soldier fall in love with a woman through letters? and What happens if the woman writing the letters is different from the woman he met the might before he shipped out, the woman he thought was writing the letters? Is it still love or just a lie? Like many authors, Kristina has had a wild selection of "real jobs" everything from wedding planner to actress to publicist. She finally added novelist to the list after Kristina got a peek at the letters her grandfather wrote to his sweetheart(a.k.a. Grandma Jean)while he was serving in the Navy during World War II. That got her wondering how much two people could truly know each other just from letter writing and became the nugget of her novel. In honor of her grandparents, and all the other families kept apart by military service, Kristina is donating a portion of her book's profits to United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories to their children. You can learn more about the program at

Friday, March 11, 2011

For Those Fiction Writers at Heart

My writer's group is split into two very distinct camps: fiction and nonfiction. (A third, smaller percentage, are in the "undecided"/"still too nervous to get started" camp). There are four of us who pursue articles, blogs, copywriting, and the like either full- or part-time. The rest are pursuing children's/YA, etc.

I admit I'm biased. I've made some nice supplemental income as a freelancer. I've come to a place where I can't understand why a writer would work so hard at polishing and shopping around a manuscript that may never get published when there are so many other ways to make money from writing. I'm all for creative outlets for creativity's sake, but it's also nice to have something to show for your efforts after all of that hard work. I love, love, love reading fiction, but I think that's because the work is already done for me. I don't have to worry about creating a compelling opening, sagging middles, or crafting characters with distinct personalities. I find it all a bit overwhelming, actually, although I have the utmost appreciation for those writers who can do it well.

I also know a few freelancers who are uncomfortable calling themselves a "writer" when they haven't had a book published. In my mind, you're a writer if you put in the time every day/week to find new (paid) outlets for your work and complete said work on deadline. If you obsess over tracking down a particular source and find yourself jotting down even more ideas or angles on a particular topic, that makes you legit in my book.

I haven't completely shut the door on pursuing fiction a little more aggressively one day, but for now, I'm focusing my energies on articles, blogs, and copywriting. I've had a few ideas for novels lingering in the back of my mind for years, but I find that when I sit down to get started, I get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. That little nagging voice in my head taunts me as I write: Is this too boring?, Is this character likable?, Is this something a lawyer/doctor/sommelier would actually say?, Does this sound like something I've read before?, so the project stalls. I find it easier to control that voice with nonfiction. I think the creative freedom of fiction is liberating, but if you pursue the right avenues, nonfiction can satisfy that outlet, as well ("creative nonfiction" is a whole sub-genre in itself). But for now, I'm happy to stand back and tell others' stories until I feel more prepared to tell one of my own.

What about you? Are you happy as a primarily nonfiction writer? Or does the nonfiction pay the bills while you secretly toil away at your real passion--fiction? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Are Some Favorite Writing Assignments?

If you’ve been at the freelancing game for awhile, you’ve had your share of good and bad writing assignments. Sometimes even a topic we pitch to editors turns out to be much more work than we’d originally thought, or simply not as interesting as we’d first imagined.

But this post isn’t about the stinkers. It’s about those good/great assignments that make this crazy freelancing life worthwhile. For every migraine-inducing article or client project comes a few more that almost don’t seem like work because they are about topics we care about, or want to know more about, or focus on a fascinating person, place, or cause. They’re the types of projects that keep us going. So what are some of your favorite assignments?

I’ll go first. One of my earliest assignments was a profile on an “outsider” artist who worked in found objects—bottlecaps, shovels, broken or discarded items…basically the junk that most of us would throw away without a second thought. This was my first in-depth article, and I was interviewing sources from all over the country, including museum and gallery curators, a VIP from the Smithsonian, and a college professor who had the funkiest home office I think I’ve ever seen. I also had the opportunity to visit this artist’s home, which also served as his studio and a gallery of sorts. He even carved a small piece for me, which I still have and proudly display. Sadly, his house and most of his art (!) perished in a fire a few years back, which makes this experience even more memorable and special for me.

Another favorite assignment was my most recent article for’s magazine, which talks about the evolution of dating customs. I can’t take all of the credit—the story was my b.f.’s idea—but I had a lot of fun doing the research. I had some difficulty finding experts for this one, so I had to do some detective work (all in the name of journalism, of course) to find the historian I wound up interviewing for the story. I’ve had some other great projects, but these two immediately leapt to mind.

What about you? What are some of your favorite writing assignments—whether articles or client projects?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Giving Clients That “Little Something Extra”

Reports. E-books. E-newsletters.

This is just a sampling of some of the free products I’ve seen freelancers offer as a way to retain existing clients and entice new business. It’s a great idea—with so many freelancers out there, clients are going to look to hire someone who has a clear knowledge of their field. More importantly, they'll want to hire someone who will clearly go above and beyond for their business and deliver the results the client is looking for.

My business partner and I are in the process of developing a number of these products that we’re using in our information packets and as a “draw” on our website. We’re using a few different angles with each product:

1. Why a business needs a copywriter (not us, necessarily, though of course we hope they’ll want more information!)

2. What a copywriter is/does (we’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether we can help someone legally protect—i.e. copyright©—their manuscript)

3. How we, specifically, can help their business. We’ll be featuring e-newsletters and the like in the not-too-distant future, but are working on building our client base and getting our name established first.

For new freelancers, these extras can go a long way toward establishing credibility in a particular field. Veteran freelancers can use these products to add a new element to their website or existing offerings. We need to stand out from our competitors just like any other business, so if you provide that little something extra to clients, that’s a pretty good indicator of what a client can expect if they hire you for a larger project.

What about you? Do you provide free “extras” like downloadable reports or other similar offerings to entice clients? Have they worked?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Should Freelancers Get Advanced Degrees?

As I've said before, I'm in the home stretch of my Master's in English (I should be wrapped up in December! Clearly the longest home stretch of my life...!)

I seem to be an anomaly in the freelance writing world. I know several highly successful freelancers who haven't gone beyond a Bachelor's; others haven't gone on to higher education at all. You certainly don't need an advanced degree to build a successful writing career, but it can certainly add another level of credibility to your portfolio. I'm a bit of a nerd and like learning for learning's sake (for the most part), but I find myself anxiously looking forward to wrapping up this program!

So why did I pursue a Master's degree? Well, mainly, it stemmed from a deep dislike for my job (that's gotten stronger since...), and the realization that I needed to figure something out fast if I didn't want to stay where I was forever. Of course, this was post-recession, and the job market isn't looking much more promising now. Unless something really amazing happens, it probably won't be much better in December, either. But I'm trying to stay positive--recession or not, I'll still have my degree and that should be impressive to someone. The main game plan is to use it to land part-time teaching jobs to supplement my freelancing gigs.

Much like freelancing, I've pursued topics and classes that I normally wouldn't have otherwise, so I think it's definitely helped to broaden my scope of knowledge. It has also helped me become more disciplined and sophisticated in my thinking, which I hope will help me with client projects.

What about you? Have you pursued an advanced degree? Why did you decide to do so? How has it helped your career?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Playing the Waiting Game

We're officially in business. We have a business name. We have a website. We have letterhead and business cards, for goodness' sake!

My business partner and I have been doing some networking. I've been strategically spreading the word via social media, and this week I started sending out some sales letters, which have helped many commercial freelancers land business.

Now, we wait.

I wanted to take this opportunity to pick some of your brains.

Freelancers, how long did it take you to build your initial client base?

What methods did you use to land business?

How did you get the word out among your existing contacts? Plenty of people know I write, but I'm not sure they got the memo that I'm part of a real business venture now.

So, what advice can you offer? How did you get your business off the ground?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Freelancers, Do You Ever Use a Resume?

It’s pretty common for editors to request clips from new-to-them writers. Many freelancers don’t wait to be asked—some automatically send samples along with queries and most almost always send them along with LOI’s. I’ve done the same many times. But twice in the last few months I was asked for something new for me—a resume.

I have a professional, non-writing-focused resume, but it never dawned on me to have one for freelancing. Awhile back I started a comprehensive CV where I list all of my clips, which now amounts to about 5 pages and is a little too lengthy to send to every editor that requests it (since most resumes are a page, 2 pages max.) But I update the CV as needed because it helps me to keep track of my clips and, should anyone ever want to see the beast, well, it’s right there if I need it.

I did some reading and, as usual, found mixed views on using a straightforward, traditional resume. Some freelancers use them and others rely more on their websites and samples to land work. It didn't seem like a bad idea to have one on hand, so I started from scratch and put something together for this particular editor. Instead of listing everything I’ve done from A-Z, I grouped my links by category and tried to include as many relevant clips as possible. Then a second editor requested the resume, so I just made some adjustments to what I had. I’m just wrapping up my first assignment for the second editor (still going back and forth with the first one), so I’d say it was worth it.

What about you? Do you have a freelancing resume? Has it helped to secure work? What tips or advice would you offer?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tricks of the Trade (Pubs)

I wanted to break into the trades, and boy, have I! My writing has slowed down some (my workload this semester is crazy!), but of course, that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing additional assignments! I’m currently actively working on an article for a trade pub, I have a second due later this spring, and I’m waiting on a response from an editor for a third. In a few short months, I've learned a thing or two about writing for trades and what makes them a bit different from the consumer markets:
  • Trades are a little harder to pitch. Let’s face it—it’s the job of a trade publication to be on top (or ahead) of every new trend in the field. Most trade pubs have been there, covered that, so as a new writer, one of the biggest challenges is selling the editor on a new idea. It’s not impossible, of course, but it’s a good idea to read up on new trends or challenges in the industry and slant your pitch accordingly. Most experienced freelancers recommend breaking in with LOI’s, since many trade pub editors prefer to assign stories rather than accept queries. This has worked for 2 of the 3 articles I’m currently working on, so there is some truth to that.
  • Sources are both easier and harder to locate. You’ll likely have to locate some industry experts who can speak on your topic. This is the easy part if you know where to look. Professional associations, database programs like ProfNet, and good old Google are all effective ways of finding sources. In my experience, the hardest part is establishing contact with these folks and setting up interviews. If this is the case, ask your editor or the expert sources for names of potential contacts. I’m working on one piece for a marching band publication, and I had a lot of trouble finding the types of sources I needed. After emailing the editor, she suggested I speak with the experts and see if they could refer me to the types of folks I needed. I took her advice, and I have a nice list of people to contact. Problem solved.
  • The possibilities are endless! On her Renegade Writer blog, veteran freelancer Linda Formichelli offered a great tip for finding trade pubs in the Writer’s Market. Most trade publishers produce more than one publication, often for a wide variety of industries. If you find a market you may want to pitch, but aren’t sure if you’re all that comfortable with the industry, look up the publisher. Chances are, they have additional publications that might be a better fit for your knowledge and expertise. I never took note of the publishers in the Writer’s Market, but after reading Linda’s tip, I looked up a number of pubs from a wide range of fields, and she was right! So even if the primary listing may not appeal to you, do some research—there might be a sister publication whose editor is looking for some new writers.

What about you? Do you finding writing for trades easier or more challenging than mainstream consumer pubs?

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Networking Can Work for Writers

Most people, regardless of their business, feel more comfortable working with people they know. Whether it’s a home improvement project, a wedding or other big event, or finding a web designer, one little referral can go a long way.

The problem with referrals is that if people don’t know you, or what you do, they can’t push business your way. You could be the greatest, most reliable writer in the world, but if you haven’t gotten your name and face out there at least a little bit, people won’t know you exist.
I’ve worked for business organizations for most of my professional life, so this is one philosophy that’s been burned into my thinking. But if you think about it, it makes sense. If you’re looking for a contractor, you ask around and see who other people have used. Are they reliable? Do they stick to the quoted price? Are they upfront and honest? Most people ask this of anyone they want to do business with.

Same goes for writers. Once you get your name out in front of people, another freelancer may pass an article on to you that they’re not able to do, or share the name of a new market that may be of interest to you. I’m trying to get to as many networking functions as possible just to start getting the business name out there. In the very small area where I live, “who you know” is the key to just about everything. Here, people don’t just who you are and what you do. They want to know where you live, where you went to school, who you may be related to. It’s not just people being nosy, either—it really is part of our culture here. But I digress.

I attended my first writing-related networking “event” this past week. I say “event” because I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find my ideal atmosphere—small business owners sitting around a table and giving a brief summary of their business and services. No stuffy business wear, no huge gathering of people who break into their own groups and leave the “newbies” alone by the food table. Obviously I was a tiny bit nervous, but sitting around a table? Sure, I can do that. The whole purpose of this informal networking group is to provide leads to the other business owners. I was the new kid on the block and I left with 4—the most out of everyone! Best of all, I connected with a marketing consultant who is interested in meeting with us to discuss outsourcing some of her work and other projects (we're meeting this week). Considering the whole thing was free, I’d call that a highly successful evening. We’re planning to branch out and attend other events, both larger and more sophisticated and these smaller, intimate gatherings, but for my first venture out, I felt very comfortable and excited about the opportunities out there!

What about you? Do you attend networking events? Have you received any business leads from them?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tracking Your Progress

Editors are notoriously busy folks, so when I’m lucky enough to score an assignment—whether it’s for a new-to-me market or one I write for regularly—I try to get my questions out of the way early on so I can move forward with any necessary interviews and then the writing. I don’t want to bug the editor with a lot of questions as I work on the piece. If everything goes according to plan, once the piece is accepted or assigned and I’m clear on the direction, the editor won’t hear from me until the story’s finished. Of course, there have been some instances where I was having a lot of trouble contacting a particular source or I needed an extension on a deadline, but as long as I gave them a some notice (as opposed to not turning anything in), it’s never been a problem. Every editor is different, obviously—some may want to be kept informed of how the story is progressing, for better or worse—but in most cases, I’m pretty invisible until the deadline rolls around.

I’m taking a different approach with my business clients already, however.

With an article, the editor typically sets the deadline and it’s up to me to deliver on time. A businessperson, however, isn’t as familiar with editorial timelines—I may have a rough idea of how long a project will take, and it could seem like forever to a businessperson (most of whom need things yesterday if not sooner). So out of courtesy to my client, I’ll provide them with progress reports as I complete various steps of the project. Some request this up front; others may not. But for my last project—which admittedly took much longer than I’d anticipated—I included the client on various emails and would just keep him informed as I moved along. I don’t want anyone to think that work isn’t being done, or that it’ll be rushed at the eleventh hour. He didn’t respond to all of my emails, but I think he appreciated being kept in the loop. Since our client base is still building, it’s more important than ever to make a good impression.

What about you? Do you maintain contact with clients and editors as you work on your various projects, or do you disappear until deadline day?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Amazing Discoveries

Thanks to Google, I just picked up this cool little trick. I have the worst luck finding actual names of editors and appropriate contact people at different publications, so I tried a new approach—I simply did a Google search for “editor [publication name]” and had more luck tracking down a real person that way than on most pubs’ websites. I still had to do some digging since some of the results were pretty old, but it was still quicker to track down the right person doing it this way than scanning some of these websites. I spent a better portion of an afternoon re-sending queries and LOI’s to various markets—mainly those that only had the generic “info@” or “editorial@” address that I hate. I even managed to land a few responses on the same day—with mixed results, but still!

Along those same lines, some of the responses I received were the “Thanks, but…” kind. “Thanks, but we aren’t paying freelancers right now.” “Thanks, but we’ve gone in-house.” “Thanks, but we’re cutting back on content at the moment.” So maybe these are some of the reasons why I never heard back from any of these places? I guess the magazine industry is still feeling the crunch.

Also, again thanks to Google, I did contact a few “under the radar” markets (mostly trade pubs). I recently did an article for a food trade pub, and really enjoyed the assignment, so I wanted to try my luck at breaking into similar markets. One of my biggest frustrations with freelancing is that most of us are one-hit wonders—we can try to break into a market for months, finally pitch something that’s accepted, and are never able to score another assignment. But persistence sometimes pays off, and I do have something to show for my efforts—I found one market that looked interesting (a food market focused on spice/pepper/smoke), so I sent an LOI and the editor got back to me a few hours later and invited me to send some clips. A few days and one follow-up email later, I landed an assignment! They strike me as very easygoing folks, and this assignment will also give me the chance to work some humor into the piece, which I unfortunately don’t get to do very often. (I tend to be funnier in person than I am on paper). In any case, I’m looking forward to it and hope I can do other pieces for them.

What about you? What interesting/useful tricks have you tried lately?