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?