Friday, December 29, 2006

The Year that Was

I thought I'd take this last post of 2006 to offer a few ruminations on the past year and some aspirations for the year ahead.

2006 was probably the year that ushered in more milestones in my life than any other before. Not only did I have my second child, I sold my first novel and achieved a new income high. What's interesting about these, or at least the professional aspect of them (I won't bore you with the baby stuff), is that in 2005, they were nothing more than goals, things I'd hoped to achieve, but really wasn't sure if I could or would. Hell, until about May '05, I didn't even know that I was capable of writing a novel like TDLF. As I've mentioned before, my first novel took me years to write and ultimately didn't sell. And while my income had steadily increased over the years, and I was doing very well by nearly all freelancer definitions, catapulting to a new level was (and continues to be) a goal that I was actually a little surprised to achieve.

So why am I blogging about this? Because I really think it speaks to the importance of goal-setting. Especially because you're the only one steering the ship of your career. Studies have shown that people who set specific goals are much more likely to achieve them than people who sort of float along in life, hoping that they'll come into good things, even if they know what these good things are and how to find them.

My goal for the past year was to sell my novel - in hardcover - to a house that would fully support it. Thanks to my fabulous agent, I met this goal. My goal for the previous year (2005) was to land an agent who would place the novel at a house that was a perfect match and push for said hardcover in the sale of the book. See how setting one goal led to achieving the next? Ditto increasing my income. Sure, my advance really helped my bottom line, but in terms of magazine work, in 2005, I ditched pitching FOBs because I realized they weren't generating a high time-money ratio. I also abandoned any toxic editors who sucked me dry, both emotionally and time-wise. And these two things allowed me to spend more time crafting feature pitches, writing those stories and developing strong relationships in 2006. All of which led to more money. goal for 2007? Well, I'll be spending a lot of the spring generating publicity and spreading the word for TDLF, so in that sense, I'd like to be as proactive as possible, even when it might feel awkward or self-promoting or whatever. I'd also like to complete novel #2, ideally by the end of the summer, so my agent can then shop it around before the close of the year.

We set goals for our weight, our exercise routine, our smoking habits. But this year, forget those extra ten pounds and try setting career-related goals. I guarantee they'll pay off...and you won't have to give up chocolate to see results!

So what are your goals for 2007? And have a happy and safe New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

MySpace Musings

I noticed that you have a MySpace page. I was wondering what you've gotten out of it and if you think it's necessary for a writer to have one.

Once upon a time, I thought that MySpace was solely for sixteen year-olds who wanted to display various naked body parts to complete strangers and potential predators. Then, I heard from some author friends, particularly YA authors, that it was a fabulous marketing tool and way to reach new readers.

So I checked it out.

And I was amazed how many authors have pages on the site, and how many of their names I recognized, either as a fan or as a fellow writer. So I signed up. After the initial frenzy of wanting to spend every waking second tracking down old acquaintances and adding friends so I didn't feel like a total loser (admit it, you do this too!), I've settled into a nice rhythm with the site. I add a few friends every day, check out some fun profiles, and listen to some cool music that I might not be able to find elsewhere. it worth it? Sure. I've definitely reached some readers, particularly, say those who support breast cancer causes or BC survivors, who might not have heard of me without the page. I've also connected with some authors who have become emailing pals. As I approach the launch date for TDLF, I imagine that I'll amp up my efforts and become more proactive in adding friends and spreading the word about the book. But for now, I do trust that I've reached a new audience...not to mention had some fun doing it. (Though it's definitely a time-suck. Be forewarned.)

Does every writer need to have a page? Um, I'd say no. I mean, sure, you can have a page and network that way, but is it necessary? Probably not. Editors aren't going to be cruising through MySpace looking for new writers, nor are publishers. If you have a product, i.e. a book, to market, then the site can be really useful, but other than that - and other than having fun with it - I don't think there's so much value.

That said, I know that a lot of blog readers are also MySpacers, so what say you? Has your MySpace page garnered you oodles of business and writing work? Or is it more of a promotional tool or time-waster?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Introducing Essays

My question is, what is the best way to pitch a personal essay? I was told one sentence was enough to introduce the essay (something catchy, of course) and then just include the essay in the email. Would that suffice, or should there be more of a real pitch, something more comprehensive to introduce (and sell) the personal essay?

Caveat: Essays aren't my area of expertise, BUT I have recently landed a few that will be published around the time my novel comes out, so I do think I can adequately answer this. That said, if others disagree with my response, feel free to chime in and correct me.

I have to say that unless it's the most brilliantly written sentence ever crafted, I can't imagine how one sentence would be enough to lure in an editor. I mean, I'm all for masterful writing, but one sentence? It would have to be mysterious, engaging, alluring, potentially funny/sad/emotive/heart-wrenching and intelligent all in one. And yes, every sentence you write should, of course, have elements of these characteristics in them (just so you don't accuse me of advocating useless or filler sentences), but all in one? I dunno...I think it's risky to pin all of your essay hopes in one sentence.

Instead, I can offer what has worked for me. And that's been opening the pitch with the first few sentences of the essay, and then segueing into a summary of the essay. This gives the editor a taste for your voice - which, other than subject matter, is the most critical factor in selling an essay - and also gives them an idea of the direction that the piece will take. I can't imagine how you could accomplish both of these factors in a single sentence alone. It also still leaves room for an element of surprise: you've told the editor the general gist of the essay, but haven't laid out every detail.

So...that's my best shot at answering your question. Essay specialists - how wrong did I get it, or in other words, what would you do?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cooking Up Cooking Light

I noticed on your website that you've written for Cooking Light. That is one of the publications I'd like to target, so do you have any suggestions or anything not to do?

Funny - I don't normally devote entire posts to specific magazines, but for some reason, I've received a lot of personal emails about Cooking Light, so I thought I'd just make this answer public and share what I know.

First of all, let me say that my advice stems solely from my experience - this isn't a market guide in which I've interviewed editors or anything like that. So don't use my post as golden verse. That said, I do write for CL fairly often - at least 3-4 times a year - and the magazine is one of my favorites to work for. Also, I should note that the editor with whom I work did chime in on the Editor's Dos and Don'ts (scroll down) post from back in August, so you night want to review that post to glean some more insights.

I think the best way to break into CL is in their First Light section. Nearly every FOB on these pages is written by a freelancer, which makes this mag particularly freelancer-friendly. It's also the place that I broke in, and the place where I see many bylines of friends who have told me that this is where they broke in too.

Take a look at the section, and you'll see that there's a wide variety of subjects you can propose. When I was pitching, I tended to stick to new health/diet/fitness studies or research that I'd read about. But there are blurbs on food and restaurant trends and general lifestyle info too. When pitching, I'd suggest sending in more than one idea - I used to send in 4 or 5 in one blast. As I've mentioned before, you simply up your odds of landing a story in doing so, and the editors can pick and choose what might work for them.

I think it's pretty unusual to land a feature straight out of the box at CL, unless, of course, you're a well-established writer with strong clips. In addition to health and food features, they also do a travel round-up each month, so if you're a travel writer, this might be a good place to explore. They also usually include a Q/A with a food expert - a chef, an organic grocer, etc - so again, if you have inside access to these folks, you might try pitching.

I'm hesitant to offer specific names of editors to pitch, but I've worked with several folks there, and they're all gracious, savvy, and most importantly, smart. In fact, the editor I work with most often is in my top 3 faves of all-time. If you're aiming to break into First Light, however, I do believe that the associate editor (whomever that is on the masthead, I'm not sure) is the right person to contact.

I hope that helps! I'm happy to answer further questions if you have them.

Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday - whichever one you celebrate! - and spend some wonderful and cozy time with your friends and family this weekend!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Finding Time for Fiction

How do you balance working on your novel with freelancing? I'm having trouble carving out time for fiction writing--it seems that paying work always gets the priority, and I can't figure out how to change that.

Excellent question. First, in the spirit of full disclosure (because I know you guys value my honesty!), I'm going to say that I'm not the primary breadwinner in my household. This doesn't affect how hard I work or how many assignments I take on, but I'm sure that it does affect my stress level when it comes to devoting time to fiction. So...I wanted to put that out there because I'd hate for someone to read about what worked for me, and think, well, "I can't pay my bills if I follow her example." I'd never, ever advocate that. That said, even though my bills will get paid, I still struggle with finding this balance - for me, it's more about my inability to turn down work and my need to stay constantly busy. (See: me blogging on my maternity leave!) So, I do relate, and hopefully, I have some good suggestions.

The first thing to know (or to do) is that if you're going to try to juggle paying work with fiction writing, it is absolutely imperative that you get yourself organized. Incredibly organized. If you're going to devote, say, two hours a day to time that you'd otherwise spend on your magazine assignments or other work, you need to find a way to be more efficient when you devote yourself to this other work. For me, it's all about making lists. If I have a list in front of me, I absolutely can't ignore what I need to get done and instead surf the web for a mindless hour or two. My to-dos eat away at me until I've crossed them off. So each night, I jot down a list of what I need to get done the next day, and more often than not, I'll hit my desk and tackle these tasks first thing in the morning. But if they're not written down, who knows when I'll get around to them?

Second, for me, it really helps to understand my schedule and know when I'm most productive. Given my two kids, my dog, my need to go to the gym, and my daily errands, I usually have two good writing blocks in my day: one, from about 10-1, and another from about 2:30-5:30. I can also always head back to my computer once my son goes to sleep, but frankly, I'd rather spend that time with my husband. But it is a fallback. So, knowing these time chunks, I tackle my paying work first: those deadlines are requirements, and since I have people counting on me, they get first dibs. Once those are out of the way (whatever I have on my to-do list for the paying work), I can then devote my energy to my fiction during the second chunk of my day. Often times, this might mean an hour or an hour and half in the later afternoon, but if you're focused, that's easily 1000+ words a day on your novel. It also helps if I spend the time I'm not writing (walking the dog, working out, whatever) thinking about the novel, so when it comes time to sit down and write, I'm not staring at the computer screen. All I have to do is literally type.

Finally, I think it's important to sit down and review all of your past assignments/work over say, the previous six months to a year. Assess which assignments are really meeting your desired hourly rate, whatever that might be. And for the ones that don't? Stop pitching or working for those markets. A scary leap, yes. But one that will pay off in the long run. By ditching these markets, you'll not only open up time for your fiction, you'll also be forced to aim for better paying opportunities, and they will come. I made a decision a few years back to stop pitching FOBs. I write them when an editor brings them to me, but compiling ideas, researching them and finally drafting them was taking far too long to bring in my desired hourly rate. And once I've never regretted this decision: I freed up time in my schedule to pitch (and write) longer stories, and to get back to the crux of this question, I also freed up time to devote to my fiction. do you guys manage to squeeze in paying and non-paying work?

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Persistence Payoff

Let's say you've done enough research on a certain publication to get the sense that your writing style and skill level is a good fit. Then let's say that you pitch an editor and get rejected. You'll obviously want to keep trying because you've done the research and set the goal of getting into that publication, so would you keep pitching different ideas to the same editor and hope that your persistence pays off? Or would you try a different editor and hope that maybe you'll have better luck with someone else? The media outlet that I'm targeting is general enough to publish a range of different voices, and it's possible that my youth or feminine perspective just didn't strike a chord with a fortysomething male editor. Or am I just fooling myself?

All very good questions. The short answer is that persistence sometimes does pay off, and sometimes it doesn't. But that doesn't really help you now, does it? :)

To begin with, I'd never suggest that you ditch an editor based on one rejection. One rejection is nothing! In fact, if you hit a home run on your first pitch, you'd be the rare exception, not the rule. So by all means, keep trying. How long you should try really depends on the responses that you're receiving from this editor. If, as you mentioned, you suspect that your tone and voice might not mesh with the editor you've selected to pitch, then yeah, try someone else. If, however, you're getting relatively positive feedback from the editor, i.e, "we just ran something similar," or "this isn't quite right, but feel free to pitch me again," then keep plugging away. I've mentioned this before on the blog, but I was once approached by an editor at Glamour. She asked me to send in ideas, so I did. And I did. And I did. For FOUR YEARS. Nothing took. But she eventually left Glamour and when she landed at a new magazine, she promptly assigned me three pieces. So if you have good ideas, and you're meshing with the editor, by all means, keep at it! Just because she's not assigning something to you immediately doesn't mean that she's not taking note of your writing and researching skills.

At the same time, I've also thrown in the towel on editors who were unresponsive or who clearly weren't interested in what I was selling. And yes, you can certainly try someone's not as if you're black-balled from a magazine simply because of one editor. So regardless, you can keep at it.

One thing to keep in mind, which again, I've mentioned before but I think it's worth noting. You mentioned in your email that you're still getting your freelancing sea legs. If you don't have a slew of feature-length clips, you might have better luck breaking into these national mags in the FOB section. Editors take less risk when they assign a 200 word piece to a new-to-them writer, so they're more likely to give you the green light. They also need more FOBs each month than features, so you up your odds of landing one.

So...have you guys ever had luck many pitches later? Or ditched one editor only to find success with a different one?

Friday, December 15, 2006


So, a few weeks ago we had a discussion as to when and why you should abandon a WIP or a ms. I confessed that after completing half of my WIP, I was ditching it...just wasn't feeling the vibe and getting the sense that it was the best work that I could put out there. Don't get me wrong: when I reread it, it wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good even, but something about it wasn't gelling for me - I didn't feel that necessary tug to write each day and I wasn't fully connecting with my characters. Stymied, I threw in the towel.

Fortunately, I'd also made the wise decision to send the 150 pages to my even more wise agent. She read them, said she really liked them, and then we both got busy and forgot about the project entirely. (And I decided to forget it permanently!) Well, she emailed me a few days ago saying that she definitely wanted to keep moving forward with it, but had a suggestion. And this suggestion was brilliant, so I wanted to pass it along to all of you who are equally stuck. It was so simple, but really breathes new life into the book and its characters.

And all she said was, "Why not make the heroine a few years older? I feel like her personal life makes this more chick lit than it should be, and by making her older, you can add other dimensions to her life." And damn, I mean, it seems like SUCH a simple suggestion, but she's SO on point! By putting her in her early-thirties rather than her late-twenties, I open up the possibility of making her married, maybe unhappily, maybe with kids, maybe considering cheating, maybe her husband is cheating, maybe they're just unhappy with no solution, maybe she has mommy guilt, maybe they can't conceive, maybe they got married too young, maybe, maybe, maybe. There are so many different paths that this character can now go down...instead, she was sort of stuck in this single-gal in the city mode, which I just wasn't feeling.

So...what's the point of this post? If you're stymied, consider playing around with tweaking certain characteristics of your main characters. Make them older, younger, in a different city, unemployed, single, married, etc, etc, etc. Just play around with them in your head - you might find that you're newly inspired or find a better way to tell your story. It's not always easy. I realize that I'm going to have to reconstruct part of the plot to accommodate these changes, but I think this might be what the ms needs. It really allows me to give the character much more depth than I'd given her before, which means that her evolution from the beginning of the book to the end (always a critical part of ANY book) will not only be more thorough, it will also be more honest.

What do you think? Could any of your characters use a little tweaking?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Loving LexisNexis?

In renewing my AvantGuild membership today, I discovered one of the benefits was a significant discount to access LexisNexis. It's still not inexpensive, but I've heard such great things about this search engine to be tempted. Do you or have you ever used it? Is it worth even the discounted price?

I don't use LN, not because it's not a wondertool - it is- but because, as you mentioned, it's incredibly pricey and given the cost, it simply doesn't seem worth it. That said, I just checked out the AvantGuild discount, and you can now gain access to Nexis for $59 a month. Which wouldn't break the budget, but, I'll argue, still probably isn't worth it. But I'm posting this question because I'm open to being swayed, and I'd love to hear from you guys whether or not you use LN and if so, why you pay for it.

Here's why I still won't be forking over my $$: LN is definitely an incredible search tool. No doubt about it. BUT, given how exhaustive the free online search engines are, I've really never found a need for it. Between google, Yahoo, pubmed, etc, you can truly track down just about anything you're looking for. I dunno - maybe LN makes it quicker (I really don't know), so if time is really money for you, then LN might be a worthwhile investment. But unless you're doing painstaking research and doing a lot of it at that, I can't imagine why you'd need it. I report on dozens of studies and track down dozens more experts and authors each month, and google, etc, have never failed me. So why shell out $708 dollars a year (granted, they're deductible) when my system is working perfectly well?

So those are my thoughts on it. But again, since I'm not a LN user, I'd definitely love to hear from others. I really could be wrong on this...maybe LN is the tool I didn't know I'd been missing all of my life!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blurbing Etiquette

Admin note: my computer broke last night, one day before my new one gets here! Sigh. So I'm working off my husband's laptop. Thus...I don't have access to my pics of our new peanut. But once I do (once the old one is repaired and I upload all of my data to the new one), I'll post 'em. Or I'll try to grab some from my husband's files in the next day or so...but the pics are on his computer at work, so it's all a little convoluted. And another random thought: I was watching Field of Dreams this morning (nursing gives you A LOT of TV time), and is it really possible that the movie was made 17 years ago??? Am I seriously that old??? Anyhoo...moving on to business.

Question of the day: When looking for blurbs, do you send the manuscript along with the letter asking for a blurb, or do you wait until they commit to checking it out and possibly blurbing you first?

Funny, it never, ever, would have occurred to me to simply send a manuscript without asking. I mean, isn't this like telling someone that they have to do you a favor rather than hoping that he will? But what's odd is that this discussion recently came up on one of my writer's boards, and yes, some people had indeed received advice in the past to just go ahead and send the ms without previously contacting an author. And I have to say, I think this is just so wrong. For several reasons. Here's why:

1) If a ms or galley showed up at my doorstep, and I had no previous knowledge of its arrival, to be honest, I'd probably either overlook it, put it aside for when I got around to it, or disregard it altogether. In other words: ms meet trash can.

2) It operates on the assumption that this person is happy and ready to accommodate you, when, in fact, many authors don't or can't give blurbs due to a variety of factors.

3) It takes the personal relationship out of it. Most authors whom I contacted were happy to read the ms, but what many of them responded to (or so they told me), was how appreciative I was of their time, how I let them know that I was a fan of their writing, and how I also made the effort to reach out to them, not just as a writer, but as a potential contact, friend and reciprocal future blurber. To simply toss a galley in the mail and then include a note removes this critical step, in my mind.

A better approach, in my opinion, is to email the author beforehand, explaining why you'd love for him to take a look at your ms (i.e you adore his books, you have crossover readers, etc), assuring him that there is certainly no obligation to offer a blurb, and then thank him in advance for any time he can offer. Period. If he says no, it's not personal. Thank him anyway. If he says yes, drop the ms in the mail. Don't expect a blurb...and if he then offers one, be gushingly appreciative. have you guys approached getting blurbs? Have any of you ever been sent an unsolicited ms?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wow, Things Got Busy Fast

Okay, juggling two kiddos is a lot more chaotic than juggling one! Before I delve into anything domestically-related, I just wanted to add in a quick admin note. I know that there are a lot of new readers to the blog (welcome!) thanks to the Writing White Papers. What a fabulous honor to come home to!'s how things work: you have a question? Send it to me at or post it in the comments section. Given that things are a wee nuts around here right now, I'm probably not going to post every day, but will update the blog a few times a week (starting this week, around midweek or so...I'll just see how crazed I am), so I'm happy to keep taking questions and answer them if and when I can. Do note that I get A LOT of spam, so please try to indicate that it's a blog question or something like that in the header so I don't ding it.

With that out of the way, THANK YOU all so much for your well-wishes!! You guys rock. We're settling in and she's a great sleeper and nurser, so I feel very lucky. Not to mention that her big brother is obsessed with her and not at all thrown off or jealous. (Of course, the presents that "she" brought him probably helped!) :)

I'm going to post some pictures, but have to sit down and figure out how the hell to do it...Once my brain can wrap itself around that seemingly ridiculously complicated task, they'll be up.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm Home!

Just dropping in to say "thank you!!" to everyone for your kind and lovely wishes! You guys are the best, and I really do so sincerely appreciate all the warm thoughts.

Yes, I'm home and settling in after giving birth to a beautiful little peanut, whom we named Amelia Miller Scotch.

I'll post more tomorrow...must hit the sack for now. But thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Today's the Day!

Yo, guys! So...I have to check in to the hospital at 5:30 AM (you'd think they could give you one last night of sleep!) to squeeze out this child of I won't be blogging for a few days. But I promise to log back in and let you know all of the fabulous details once I'm home!

Until then...have a great week! And send any questions my way for future answers. Thanks to all both on the blog and off who have sent in early congrats and support!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mastering the Masthead

How do I make sense of a magazine's masthead? I understand what beauty and fashion editors are but I don't have a clue about what the other titles actually mean. I'd like to understand for those cases where I can't contact the magazine for the appropriate editor to query, as has happened recently with a major women's magazine. A dozen phone calls and several messages left for the editorial department netted me nothing.

Okay, well, I have a masthead of a women's mag open right now, and I'll go through the different positions and try to explain them to the best of my ability and knowledge. Keep in mind that I've never worked at a magazine, so this is my best understanding, not my hands-on info, and to be honest, some of these titles mean different things at different magazines. But this should give you an idea of which eds to pitch, at the very least.

Editor-in-chief: Think of this person as the president or CEO - she drives the vision, the tone and content of the magazine as a whole. In fact, when an EIC is ousted or chooses to leave, the overall shape of the magazine often shifts entirely. That's how much sway she has. Don't pitch her.

Deputy Editor (might also be called Executive Editor): The EIC's #2 and collaborator. Again, not someone you'd pitch. She primarily top-edits, meaning she'll take a look at all of the stories that are being written for a particular issue, might weigh in with some comments and general thoughts, but really is more responsible for pulling together the complete vision of the magazine and making sure it's all cohesive and in sync with the mag's overall message.

Managing Editor: This can widely vary from magazine to magazine, but I guess in general, the ME handles a variety of business aspects of running a magazine such as overseeing production, closing (wrapping up the mag each month), budgets, invoices, etc. Definitely not someone you'd pitch.

Fashion Director/Editor: Responsible for the fashion layouts/spreads in the magazine. Doesn't deal with copy, so not someone you'd pitch. If they *do* deal with copy, they usually have go-to writers that they'd tap - writers who really focus on fashion, style and trends.

Contributing Editor: Generally a freelance writer, like me, who is commissioned for a certain amount of stories per year at perhaps a slightly higher rate than the going freelance rate. The CEs might also be prohibited from writing for competitors in exchange for these guaranteed assignments.

Copy Editor: Responsible for ensuring that there are no typos, grammatically incorrect sentences or other glaring mistakes in the copy. Not someone you'd pitch.

Features Editor: The person who doles out the assignments for the stories in the well of the magazine - the juicy, longer features that most writers aspire to. Yes, this is someone you'd pitch if you had a 1200+ word story.

Senior Editor: More or less the same as the features editor, though perhaps *slightly* lower on the just depends on the magazine, and how they assign titles.

Associate Editor: Another person to pitch. Again, their areas of assigning can vary, but if the features or senior editors handle the longer stories, these guys probably handle certain sections of the magazine that have shorter bits or FOBs - like, maybe three pages of Sex and Relationships or the Food and Nutrition pages.

Assistant Editor: Likely the most junior person on the masthead, other than interns. Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't be gracious and lovely to them: assistants move up and eventually become senior editors. They usually don't handle assigning, however, though they might serve as a filter to the higher-ups: weeding through ideas and picking out the winners. Still though, since they have to send the idea so far up the ladder, you'd probably have better success pitching an associate or senior ed.

Did I miss anyone? (Probably?) Are my explanations decently accurate? If not, feel free to correct me!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Taking Time Off

I know that you're about to give birth any second now, so I was wondering if you could address how freelancers handle maternity leave - how long you take, what you tell your editors, if you worry about money. All of that stuff.

Maternity leave for freelancers is a tricky thing, I think. Not least because for many of us, it's incredibly hard to tear ourselves away from the computer and recognize that it's okay not to be working. We're like Pavlovian rats: we hear our email ding or get an assignment from an editor and rush to our desks to nab that tempting piece of cheese. And I'm totally, totally guilty of this.

Which is part of what makes this whole thing tricky. The other part, of course, is that unlike salaried employees, your income stems solely from actual work you produce, and there's that lingering fear that if you take time off, your editors will forget about you.

All of these factors played into my mindset when I had my son a few years back. After two weeks off, I actually got really restless - I was so used to doing 100 things at a time that I really had a tough time NOT doing anything. So after about two weeks, I emailed some of my editors - the ones with whom I had really strong relationships - and said, "Hey, if you have any less complicated assignments or need me for anything, I'm here." And thus, I was back. Which was great for a while. Until about three months later, when burnout of epic proportions hit. I kept working through it, but really struggled with motivation and any enjoyment of my work.

So this time, I'm planning on taking the full month of December off, with the exception of some necessary PR work for my book, and then easing back in during January. This is a perfect compromise for me: it's not too long that my editors can't do without me, and I know that I'll be ready to come back after a month off.

So how did I deal with this with my editors? Every writer is different: I know some who never breathed a word of their impending arrival to their editors out of fear of losing the business. But that's not my style: hey, if they ding me because I need some time to recover or because they think I can't juggle motherhood with a thriving career, then screw them. So I started giving my editors a heads-up a few months ago - really, just sharing the news with them (which was met with enthusiasm by all), and then eventually discussing logistics. Many of my editors are moms or work with moms, so they get the deal. Basically, I just said, "hey, kid #2 is coming along; I'll be taking Dec off, which shouldn't be an issue given the holiday scheduling, but I can't wait to get going on things for you in January."

Of course, there are a few who abuse the fact that you work from home and sort of disregard the fact that you've said, "I'm out of commission for these dates." How do you deal with them? Last time, I would have jumped through hoops to please them. This time, I realize that they're A-holes for bothering me during this time, and they'll get my out-of-office message. (Btw, I'm not referring to editors who email me to ask me if I'm back working or if I'm interested doing in a story or those to whom I've already said, "I'll get this done during my time off." Which, yes, I have said because I'm happy to get some things done for editors whom I value and who I know value me. I'm talking about editors who have long known about my due date and still nag me for revisions, niggly questions, etc.) The bottom line is that if I worked in an office, I wouldn't be reachable, and I need to realize that, as do they. And if I lose an assignment here or there, well, I'm gaining a daughter...and really, not to be entirely cheesy, but is there any comparison?

So...moms out there, how have you handled maternity leave?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Write What You Know

I'd like to break into parenting magazines, but I don't have kids. Is this an automatic strike against me?

Good question, one that I wondered about too before I produced my first spawn. The answer is no, it's not an automatic strike, but frankly, it's probably easier to write for these types of mags if you do have kids. I'll explain.

First of all, do know that the editors aren't going to perform a background check or anything like that on you, so it's not as if they'll be able to assess whether or not you're a parent by your initial query. In fact, I have one writer prolific writer friend who also happens to be a registered dietitian who frequently writes about kids' diets and such.

BUT, as I've mentioned in the past, I think that having access or familiarity with kids helps generate story ideas, as well as assists in writing the stories themselves: I can't tell you how much I've learned in penning parenting pieces, and on the flip side, how easily I can spot bogus or unhelpful expert advice that I choose not to include in the piece. But just because it's easier doesn't mean that a non-parent can't do it. I think you probably have to simply dig deeper for story ideas and prove in your queries that you have as much knowledge and hands-on experience as a parent does. (Again, you wouldn't say, "hey, I don't have kids, but I'm super-duper with my nieces." I just mean you prove yourself by crafting a top-notch query.)

To this end, do know that most magazines aren't exclusionary. (Did I just make that word up?) I've written for a slew of men's magazines, despite the fact that yes, I'm a woman, and if you flip through Glamour and the like, you'll also see male bylines popping up. In fact, I just read a hilarious piece in Women's Health about why men love to cook that was penned by yep, a person with male genitalia. If you're a capable researcher and a savvy writer, you should be able to cover nearly any topic, regardless of your gender, marital or parenting status, etc. you write for magazine at which you don't fit the mold? Want to share how you broke in or why you write for 'em?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tackling the Trades

Admin note of the day: I'm getting down to the wire with this whole pregnancy thing...if I haven't popped by Tuesday, I'm getting induced. SO...if you've been holding off sending in a question, do it now - I'm trying to stock up on blog entries and answer questions this week so I can still offer advice while taking some time off. Got a question? Send it to me at or post it in the comments section.

Question of the day: I have no published clips. I do believe in querying till I'm blue in the face, and I have read a lot about querying consumer publications. I have sent a couple queries to them, but I want to target trade pubs, as a lot of books on freelancing suggest when you are starting out. I would like to know if you have any advice on how to come up with saleable ideas for trade pubs when you can't get your hands on a copy of the magazine. I am also getting the impression that they want writers who are experts in that area, or they just use staff writers. Am I missing something in this equation? Right now, my focus is solely on getting clips I can use, but I feel a little paralyzed on how to query the small and trade pubs. With all the advice I've read, I feel like it would be easier to query a national mag like Self than a trade pub--this can't be right!

I'm not an expert on writing for trades, as I've never done it. So I surveyed a few writer friends and here's what they had to say. Hope this helps!

-I've had good luck sending a letter of intro to trade magazines. At the end of the letter I ask if I can send the editor clips; for some reason I think that non-threatening question results in more yeses than nos. Several years ago I sent intro letters to 24 magazines, and within a few
weeks I had assignments from eight of them. Sometimes editors just hand me an assignment, and sometimes they encourage me to pitch ideas.
If I don't have direct experience in the topic the magazine focuses on, I list a wide variety of magazines I've written for so the editor sees that I can handle many topics; for example, I might say, "I've written for a wide variety of trade and consumer magazines, including Pizza
Today, Parenting, Modern Reprographics, Entrepreneur's Business Start-Ups, Redbook, Fitness, and The Federal Credit Union. Also, many trades run general business articles, so don't sweat it too much if you've written on business but not on the particular industry the magazine targets. For example, I've written on absenteeism for a couple of trades, and on general marketing topics for many of them. You just need to find expert sources in the right industry.
You can find trade magazines at And here's a secret: Most trades are published by companies that produce a LOT of trade magazines. Find out who published the trade you're interested in, Google their website address, and check out their list of magazines. For example, if you discover (say in Writer's Market) that Wide-Format Imaging is published by Cygnus and surf to their website, you'll see that they publish 40 or 50 other trades, including InkMaker, Modern Jeweler, and Airport Business. Sleuth out the publisher of Target Marketing, and you'll see that they publish 14 other magazines, including Publishing Executive and Book Business. So where before you had two magazines to pitch, now you have closer to 60! -Linda Formichelli,; blog:, Co-Author of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock! (Marion Street Press, November 2006)

-From my experience trade editors look for writers with expertise. My editors employ writers they hear speaking at trade food conferences or are marketing professors who may have been quoted in stories or have been covering the beat in some fashion. My example is that I used to be a metro food editor. However, that didn't quality me to write about trade stuff, so I had to scramble to find a whole other set of sources different from consumer food pieces.I've probably mentioned this before but my best advice is to get to trade conferences in your area of expertise. Unfortunately this is a catch-22 because it's hard to get press credentials unless you're already on the beat. A resourceful writer can do it, I'm sure. When you get to the trade conference, introduce yourself to everyone in the press room and grab every trade magazine you can. I'd pitch to the softer ones first. It's easier to write for say Food Products for Children than Microbes in the Food Chain (I'm making up these titles). - A food trade writer who asked to stay anonymous

-I wrote for trades in the urban planning field regularly. My advice is to be very familiar with the field so you can speak the language of the editor and of your sources. That requires a certain level of knowledge and immersion in the subject. You've got to be able to use the buzzwords correctly, or at least recognize them if someone else uses them. You need a passing acquaintance with major organizations and major names. (In the urban planning world, if someone mentions "Duany" or "CNU" I need to know who/what they mean.)
Things that aren't well known in the wider world can be old news within the trade. If I pitched a story to Planning about transit-oriented development as if it were a new phenomenon, I'd be ignored as a complete newbie. If I pitched a story about cities where transit-oriented development has been tried and failed and here's why, I'm presenting something of value that demonstrates I'm familiar with the field.
Gaining this level of knowledge is hard. I worked for an architecture firm for years, so I was able to go to magazines armed with that knowledge. If anything, my experience has made me hesitant to try to break into a trade magazine where I don't know the trade. The good news is that most people have some knowledge of at least some trade market and can educate themselves to learn more. I also think some editors are more willing to work with editors unfamiliar with their market than others. Urban design has enough writers floating around that editors can pick and choose those with some knowledge of the subject. -Elizabeth Lunday,

-I write for a lot of trades. My suggestion would be to pick your specialty and then target those markets that cover it. In my case, I was a lawyer before I became a writer. (I've been freelancing for 13 years.) Even that field is highly specialized, so I broke in by becoming the freelance editor of a publication on environmental law. (I'd been an environmental
lawyer.) From there I grew my business. I branched out into covering product liability (which was sort of related to environmental law in that there's a fair amount of monster litigation, and I covered toxic torts in the environmental field), and then I started covering marketing for lawyers (I began by covering a slowdown in the environmental field, and then broadened
my horizons to getting more legal business generally), and now I write about pretty much anything having to do with law.
I've never been a big querier (if that's even a word!). I got business by sending out lots of letters of introduction. That's still largely how I get more business. If I write about a particular topic for one publication, I try to spin a related topic that might be appropriate for other publications. For instance, right now I'm the editor of Gaming Law Review, which covers the law of gambling. After I got that gig, I wrote an article for Of Counsel (which covers law firm management) about law firms with gaming law practices. That way, momentum builds. - Lori Tripoli,

-I write for trades and I love it. The money can range from paltry to princely, but the real pay dirt is the amount of time it takes to put together a story.
The cons: Pay can be low. Not as much status as consumer magazines. ("You write for Toilet Paper Manufacturers Reports? Who the heck reads that?") The pros: You up the pay by your per hour rate, which in most trades works out to be as higher or, in some cases, higher, than consumer pubs. Factor in the PITA involved in revisions and your hourly rate can be much lower. Since I can't pay my bills with status, I don't really care about that. However, it is good to have some national clips so you can say, "I wrote for this, that and the other."
The easiest way to break in to trades is to have some degree of expertise in the field. So if you've worked in a grocery store or a bakery, find trades that cater to those industries. Trade editors love good writers who have a knowledge of their focus business (or audience). And revisions and edits are almost nonexistent. I can't remember the last time I had to rewrite a trade piece. I have a criminal justice background and write a monthly management column for Law Enforcement Technology and often write stories for them. It helps my credentials when I write criminal justice-related stories for other publications. I am also a CE there (website is: Find trade magazines either through professional associations or running a search on the Internet with writers guidelines and the type of trade (pipefitters writers guidelines). Might have to mix it around a bit to find everything, but it's worked for me. You can also use your expertise to write for other trades -- like I write employee theft pieces for other industries. Sometimes those are one-offs, but a lot of the time you can turn those into regulars, too. - Carole Moore, writer for Writer's Digest, FC, WaPo, Fox News, Harvard Magazine, CSM, Prevention,, Weekly Reader publications, as well as customs, trades and for the Net

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How To Not Be a Sell-Out

After years of being primarily a fiction writer, in the last few years I've shifted over towards creative nonfiction. I spent 8 years writing a novel that didn't get an agent--though I got glowing rejections and had a number of agents say they would be delighted to see my next manuscript. I'm not doubting my writing abilities, but it was quite demoralizing and not a process I can go through again. In the last 8 or 9 months, I've started to send out essays and have had some small success--they've been taken by a number of big newspapers and an anthology. I am also in the very beginning stages of a nonfiction book (part memoir and part something else).

My questions, I guess, are two. One is money. While I am glad for the clips, selling essays to newspapers is not a way to make any money, clearly. I would definitely like to break into magazines. At the moment, I have a part-time job, some fairly steady freelance work for a non-profit, and then the essays. I would like to start shifting the balance a bit and getting
paid more for the writing I'd like to do. I don't have illusions that this will happen instantly, but that's what I'm working towards. And then there's the book. I'm not particularly interested in writing more typical magazine articles, though I wouldn't be opposed to selectively pitching things I'm interested in writing about. I guess I'm trying to figure out how to prioritize. My goals are, simultaneously, to make more money writing what I want to write, to get more clips and start to make more of a name for myself, and to build a base for the book. I have written magazine articles in the past, so I know I can do it, but I think I'm probably stronger at writing essays and creative nonfiction. (Maybe that comes from having a background in fiction writing.) I realize that I won't make a living writing what I love immediately, but I want to take what steps I can towards that, from the beginning. Any advice?

Whew! Okay, I had to read this a few times to gestate what you're saying. Basically, and I want to be sure that I'm getting this right: you used to focus on fiction, but now you're moving toward creative non-fiction, and you've had some small successes. You now want to a) know how to make more money via this genre and b) how to take steps toward making a name for yourself and generating more clips? Is that right? If so, I'll try to answer.

Actually, your two questions are fairly connected: as you land bigger assignments and bigger outlets, you're likely going to make more money. For example, I think that most newspapers pay peanuts for essays...correct? Well, several of the women's magazines I know of off the top of my head pay 1k+ for them. So...there's that.

However, and do keep in mind that this is only my opinion, I think that limiting yourself to creative non-fiction essays, is, well, limiting. There are thousands of writers out there who try to place essays for months and years, and truly, there simply aren't enough outlets for these essays. They're also very difficult to place: not just because of supply and demand but because editors have *very* specific ideas of what they're looking for...and even if you've read the NY Times Lives column every Sunday since you were 18, that still doesn't mean that you'll nail what they're looking for. (Speaking from personal, as well as anecdotal, experience.) Further, (and really, I'm not trying to drive a nail into your dream), many of these outlets, including the Lives column and many of the essays in women's mags, are reserved for "name" authors or writers who have published a book. I was really fortunate to land one such essay in a major women's mag a few weeks ago - it will be published around the time of my book - and I know that this opportunity would never have come about if I hadn't written a novel. In fact, the editors even specified that they really reserved this slot for writers with upcoming novels. So...there's that.

BUT, I actually think you're making great strides and are already on the right track for doing what you want to do. As I've said here in the past, establishing a writing career has a snowballing effect: smaller outlets lead to bigger ones, and these bigger outlets then lead to major ones. It sounds like you've already accumulated some excellent clips, and from here, you just need to keep pitching and pitching. And pitching. In the meantime, as you insinuated, if you really want to shift the balance of your work, you might consider pitching fewer essay-focused pieces and more service-focused pieces, which are a hell of a lot easier to land, since, as anyone can see when she opens a magazine, 99% of the stories inside have a service angle. I don't think you're selling out by doing this: you're building a network and platform to do what you really want to do. Did the fact that I already knew some of the editors at the mag at which I landed this essay help? Without a doubt. Did I write stories for them that weren't about resolving world peace? Well...yes. But that's what I do to have a career, not a selective career, as a writer. Sometimes, you have to write pieces that are fun and fluffy and aren't life-changing because they're stepping stone to something better.

Now. I'm sure that there are people reading this and saying, "Nope, not me, I'd never compromise and write an insipid piece on orgasms." Okay, well, that's fine too. But I'm telling you that most magazine writers whose bylines you recognize did indeed, at one point in their careers, write stories that didn't shatter the earth. They did it because a) they earned income, b) they proved themselves to editors and c) they became better writers along the way. Yes, you can still learn something about being a journalist or a writer while penning a story on orgasms. (Or whatever.)

So...those are my thoughts. Keep doing what you're doing. You have a great start. But do consider pitching non-essay stories, especially if you have a subject (as you alluded to) that really grabs your interest. You'll build name recognition, earn respect from editors, and will be well on your way to establishing a platform for your book and reaping more dough.

Any essayists out there? Do you focus exclusively on essays? If so or if not, care to chime in on why?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Who helps generate buzz?

Status: still pregnant. Ready to explode at any moment.

Question of the day: I'm in the process of shopping for an agent, and one of the things I think I have going for me is the fact that my book could get a lot of publicity. I was wondering if you could explain who handles the publicity for a book - me, my agent, the publisher - and how the process works.

A very timely question because I've spent the past few weeks brainstorming with my in-house publicist, editor, agent and marketing manager. A few things you should know right off the bat: a) it's fabulous that you think there's a wide audience for your book, but that b) every author probably thinks this or else he might not write his book to begin with, and c) the only opinions who really matter here are the agents you're shopping to and the houses he or she will pitch.

But let's just say that yes, you land an agent and then proceed to sell the book asap. What happens next? (Well, next is pushing it because there are a ton of steps in between selling the book and doing PR, but you get my point.) At some point, most houses/imprints will send you an author questionnaire - an elaborate Q/A asking for any and all of your media contacts, whom you think this book will appeal to, which cities might be good book tour stops, etc, etc, etc. This questionnaire will be passed to the PR dept, and you'll be assigned a publicist. USUALLY. I say usually because there are a ton of factors that go into this process...

Such as: 1) almost inevitably, hardcover books get more reviews and more PR, so if you've sold a hardcover, you're likely to get more attn from the publicity dept. 2) What genre you write in. I have friends who write paranormal romances, for example, and all but acknowledge that getting reviews, coverage, etc, is an uphill battle. 3) The size of your advance. The more money a house pours into your book upfront, the more effort they're likely to put in to recoup it. This isn't a hard and fast rule, to be sure, but in general, it seems to apply. I think I've read other authors say something along the lines of, "If your advance was under 50k, you're not going to get a whole hell of a lot of in-house publicity attention." FWIW. Note that I say, "in-house," which doesn't mean that you can't generate attn on your own.

Okay, but I've digressed. From here, I'll tell you about my own process because I can't speak for others. My publicist (who is a rock star) and I have worked together closely to target a list of magazines. newspapers and eventually TV/radio outlets, put together press releases, blurbs and a q/a with moi, and sent these materials out last week along with the galleys. I feel very lucky: my publicist really loves my book and is smart, sharp and hard-working. For every author who says this, you'll hear of five others who feel like their publicist is overworked (to no fault of her own) and doesn't have the time to devote to said author's book. Our next step is to collaborate with the marketing manager (who is also a rock star) who has been assigned to the book. She'll help come up with different marketing ideas - in my case, perhaps working with a breast cancer charity, etc, a few tour stops, as well as dealing with in-store placement (yes, publishers PAY for those front tables and cool signs that you see at Barnes and Noble, etc), all of which are contingent on a budget. The PR stuff you do for free; the marketing stuff all requires cold, hard cash.

At the end of the day, however, it should be said that the only person who is guaranteed to work hard to generate publicity and press for your book is YOU. Which is why I've hustled my ass off to try to finagle articles, essays and reviews for TDLF. Because at a certain point, my publicist and mktg manager will be handed another book, and they'll have to refocus. And I'll be left holding nearly all of the balls. So, my advice, and I've heard this echoed from every author I've ever spoken with, is not to rely on anyone else to get the job done. You want publicity? Go out there and generate some yourself.

So, authors, what has your experience been with getting press for your book?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Figuring Out FOBs

Yo, peeps. I'm taking the rest of the week off to chill with my family. Assuming that I don't pop before next Monday, I'll see you all back here then. And yes, I know that I still have some of your questions in the queue. I promise to get to them! I haven't forgotten. In the meantime, if you want to send me others, feel free to do so - Until then, enjoy your turkey, go easy on the stuffing and try not to watch too much football.

Question of the day: I would like to try to break into consumer pubs with FOB pieces, so I would like your advice on finding ideas that are new enough that a million other freelancers haven't already submitted them. Do you pour over press releases on PR newswire? Where do you go for info on recent studies (I've tried pubmed)? Do you usually get a source to quote for these queries? Are there other ways that you find sources? I want to avoid looking like an amateur when I query for FOBs and when I contact sources.

The best place I've found for the latest, breaking news is a site called Newswise. You might have to present a few credentials to subscribe (I can't remember), but you can sign up to get newsletters delivered daily. And, depending on which ones you subscribe to, the newsletters contain all of the newest research, news and pop-culture info. For example, one of the ones I receive is called, Medwire, and essentially, it contains snippets of just-released studies, along with links to more info.

I actually never use PR Newswire...I always thought that this was a place where PR firms pay to post press releases, though I might be wrong. And honestly, I know that publicists are just doing their jobs, but I rarely get story ideas from their releases. (Unfortuantely, plenty of them email me directly, and I almost inevitably hit "delete.") Which isn't to say that you can't find a nugget from a release, it's just that I often don't.

PubMed is a GREAT resource, though a lot of their studies are still fairly heavy in medical-speak, so if you're not good at deciphering that language, you might feel a bit lost., and Yahoo Health are all favorite stops for me too. They're not solely focused on medical/health stuff, so you can generate some good ideas from their headlines.

I rarely do a pre-interview for an FOB. As I've mentioned in the past on the blog, FOB pitches are usually short and concise, and to put that much time and effort into a short query just isn't worth it for me. What you can do, however, is cull stats from a study or paraphrase a study author in the query, noting that he/she would serve as an expert should the story get approved. If this were a feature pitch, then yes, I'd say go ahead and do some preliminary research, but again, for an FOB, I probably wouldn't. Not because you'd look bad for doing so, but because the time-effort-payoff just isn't worthwhile. (Again, to me.)

And don't worry: if you're citing reputable studies, coming up with creative angles, and crafting savvy sentences, you won't look like an amateur at all.

Where do you guys find your ideas for FOBs?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Seeking Out Sources

Shameless self-promotion of the day: I've updated my website to include some of the newest press materials for The Department of Lost and Found, including a Q/A that gives you some insight into the inspiration behind the book. If you have a sec, check it out!

Random book rec of the day: So I FINALLY had some time to plow through some pleasure reading this weekend, and I wrapped up Jancee Dunn's But Enough About Me. If you're a fan at all of pop culture and a winning heroine who occasionally wonders, "How the hell did I end up in this life?," then run over to Barnes or Amazon and nab it. I stayed up far too late to dig into all of the juicy dirt she was spilling and really rooted for her to land on both feet. Dunn's a longtime writer for Rolling Stone, FYI, and though I don't always love the voices in memoirs, I really did dig hers a lot. Next up? Lauren Lipton's It's About Your Husband. Lauren is a kick-ass editor of mine, and I'm so thrilled to finally get to her book!

Question of the day: Often freelance writers (especially the ones who seem to be doing very well) mention using message boards and ProfNet to locate sources for their articles. Can you tell us how to locate and use these message boards, as well as use ProfNet?

Sure. The message boards aren't really a big secret - there are tons of them out there. And a simple google search can often yield what you need. For example, if you're writing a story on how to get pregnant, just type in, say, "fertility message boards," and hundreds of hits come up. Yahoo also has a HUGE network of message boards, which they classify as "groups." So you just click on the "groups" link on Yahoo's main page and navigate or search from there. Once you find the board you're interested in, do try to seek out the guidelines or rules for each group...some really frown upon posting source searches, while others are happy to accommodate you. If you can't find the rules, you might be able to email the head of the group to request permission. And if that fails, simply post your request with the caveat that if it is in anyway uncool or unkosher, to please let you know, and you'll be happy to take it down.

While message boards and such are great places to find real-life sources, Profnet is a better option for finding professional sources. If you're not familiar with the site, here's the deal. Profnet is essentially a holding pen to which publicists, authors, experts, universities, etc, pay a fee to receive notices when a journalist (or other media outlet) requires a source. So...for example, this week, I needed an M.D. who could discuss healthy fats, so I posted a query with my exact specifications (ideally a book author, must be associated with a large hospital or university, etc), and Profnet shot it out to all of the places (PR firms, academic institutions, etc) that I requested. The downside to Profnet is that you can be overwhelmed with responses and often times, these responses have nothing to do with your query...which is really irritating. But the pros far outweigh the cons.

Profnet usually isn't my first stop when searching for sources, if only because you do tend to hear from the same people over and over again (which isn't a bad thing - they're just doing their jobs). I'll often try Amazon to see if there's a perfect match with a book author or google or try to track down the author of a study that I'm using in the piece. (Honestly, I really can't even FATHOM how journalists did their jobs in the pre-internet age.) But when I'm in a bind, Profnet is almost always a lifesaver.

By the way, don't discount mass emails to all of your friends and contacts when you're looking for real-life sources. While my friends are totally bored with being quoted and probably dread my trolling emails, a lot of people love to see their names in print and are happy to shoot back a few thoughts on your request.

What are your favorite message boards? And do you find Profnet as helpful as I do?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Snarking on the Snarkstress?

I don't know if you'll answer this, but I'd love to hear your take on Miss Snark. She scares me, and I have some questions I'd like to send her, but I'm worried she'll rip me to shreds.

Ah, I smell a challenge - dare I take on Miss Snark? Well, anyone who knows me knows that, ahem, I rarely shy away from competition (another reason, barring the fact that I can't deal with sleep deprivation in any way at all, that I'd make an excellent Amazing Race candidate), so I'll rise to your challenge.

But here's the thing: I'm not going to take her down. Miss Snark has a style that is It's not my style or at least not the style in which I choose to write my blog. (Though strangely, in real life, I'm actually very, very snarky, probably too much so.) It works for Miss Snark, and she's never hidden the fact that if you send her a question that she deems idiotic, she'll let you know that indeed, she finds it idiotic.

My take on this is that newbie writers (and even established writers) have enough anxiety and paranoia, they don't need to send me a question only to be snarked upon. There are so many seemingly basic questions that litter the minds of aspiring writers, and yes, they're basic, but that doesn't mean that they aren't valid. (I'm not trying to intimate that Miss Snark thinks they're not valid either- not at all. I've seen her answer plenty of questions that I've rolled my internal eyes at.) But I guess that as a writer, I've been in the position of not knowing what the proper etiquette is for following up to a query or sweating over my agent search or whatever, and God knows that the last thing I needed at the time was someone who made me feel like a moron. (Again, this isn't to say that Miss Snark makes people feel like morons! Really. I'm more addressing your question of why you don't want to send a question into her blog. Though I will say that I read far too many industry blogs these days that insinuate that writers are idiots. If people in the industry find us to be such imbeciles, perhaps they should consider switching industries...just a thought.)

Here's the thing: I think that Miss Snark is a fabulous resource for writers. She clearly takes a lot of time in answering questions, and she does it because at the end of the day, snarky or not, she cares about helping writers. Thus, I read her most days of the week. And honestly, I have no idea how she has the time or patience to deal with something like the crap-o-meter, but she does, and again, the folks who benefit are the readers.

That said, when I get questions from you guys, I just choose to answer them in a different tone, but that certainly doesn't mean that her answers aren't valid, wise or on-target. Often, I agree with her sentiments. Sometimes, I don't. Which brings up another point entirely: I think it's very dangerous to place too much weight on anyone's opinion or advice on how to go about navigating this industry. Hell, sometimes, I'm sure that my advice isn't universally applicable and won't work for everyone.

Miss Snark is one agent. That's it. She dishes the straight skinny on how she likes to conduct business, and she's never claimed to do anything other than that. In fact, just knowing her likes and dislikes, I can confidently say that she'd hate having me as a client, and I can pretty much return the feeling. So remember when you're reading her blog or quivering at the thought of sending her a question, that truly, she's one opinion - often a good one - in a sea of many. She'd probably be the first to tell you that.

But one thing she and I WOULD agree on is that this industry requires a very, very thick skin, and if the thought of getting called a nitwit by an anonymous agent shakes you to the core, you might not be cut out for a long-term career in publishing. Because you're likely to hear a lot more of this as non-anonymous rejections pour in, and if you don't bolster your armor now, you're as good as history.

So...have you guys sent questions into Miss Snark? And have you been deemed a nitwit? :)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Throwing in the Towel

Random shout-out of the day: Whoohoo! Supersized Office episode tonight! Is it sad that this might be the highlight of my week? Reviewers who have seen the epi say it's the best of the season. I'm SO there. You?

Question of the day: I've been slaving over my manuscript for several years now, and after a few revisions and some critiques from a writing group, I'm stuck. I *think* it can get better, but I don't know if it really can. I guess what I'm asking is, have you ever given up on a manuscript and if so, how did you know to abandon it?

What a timely question for me because I've recently more or less conceded that my current WIP is a washout. As in, I've written 40k words but I think that's as far as I'm going. Here are my reasons why:

1) The actual writing process felt like an absolute chore. Look, I was really spoiled when I wrote TDLF: it was so effortless that words flew from my brain to my fingers without hesitation, and I wrapped the entire ms in just a few months. I don't really expect to repeat that process. BUT, I'd almost come to dread my daily work on the WIP - I'd set a goal for myself of 1000 words a day, and while I was meeting that goal, I was also constantly checking my word count to see how many more I had to squeeze out. That's not what I consider fun.

2) I put down the first half of the ms and have had NO desire to pick it back up. I'm someone who needs to be inspired in order to pull out her best work. Clearly, I'm lacking inspiration.

3) I haven't once thought about the characters or their problems since I've put it down. When I was drafting TDLF, I was constantly mulling over my heroine and her entanglements. I mean, seriously, they would wake me up at night. With my WIP, not only have I not thought about my heroine, when I do, I'm not even sure where I should take her for her next step...which is a big problem. If you don't know where your characters need to go or where you want them to end up, you can take them down a very rambling path that can lead to nowhere. From the get-go, I knew where and how TDLF was going to end, even though I couldn't predict all of the stops along the way.

4) I know that I can do better. This is probably the most important reason for setting the WIP aside. When I reread it, it's actually very good, and my agent agrees. But, as I said above, I don't think that it's inspired: it's a well-written, smart 1/2 book, but it's not on the same level as TDLF (in my and her opinion), simply in terms of passion and enthusiasm, which definitely shine through in the writing. So...maybe one day I'll muster up a brilliant idea for the second half, and idea that will push me through and create a truly compelling read, but for now, I'm not willing to settle for a decent book when I know that I'm capable of a fabulous one.

So, I can't speak to whether or not you should set your WIP aside, but those are my reasons for doing so. If you're stuck and don't know where else to go with it, yes, I'd try something new. It's not as if you can't return to this one or you're abandoning it forever. You might even find that working on a new project allows you to figure out where you were going wrong with this one...

Anyone else ever abandoned a WIP? Why'd you do so?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When a Source Gets the Ax

Have you ever had an editor cut someone you interviewed out of an article? If so, how do handle letting that person know?

The answer to this is a resounding, yes! It happens all the time, too often, in fact. And I hate it every time. But how do I handle it? Well, the flat-out honest answer is that sometimes, I don't always notice because I don't always read my stories after they've come out (I just quickly scan them onto my site) or they've come out soooo long after I've submitted them that I barely remember the subject matter, much less whom I interviewed. (Sad but true. In fact, I was just handed back a revision that I hadn't seen in so long I couldn't even remember what I'd written on.)

But, if, for example, I get passed the piece during the galley process and I see that a source has been cut out entirely, I often ask my editor if he or she can find a way to incorporate said source, especially if a source has really given me a lot of time. And many times, this works. If it doesn't, or if I notice that an expert isn't in the final version of the published article, I'll email him or her an apology and sincerely say that I really have no control over the editing process and that unfortunately, his quotes didn't make the piece. Which is the complete truth. I've never had anyone work himself into a tizzy over it: experts usually understand that while you try your very, very best to use them, it's not a slam-dunk...that's why it's PR, not advertising. Still though, I hate the thought that someone gave me their time, and I delivered buptkiss, so I usually tell them that they'll be my first call for my next story in which I can use them. And they are.

The other situation is, of course, when you interview a source and he or she has been entirely unhelpful. Which happened to me within the past week when an expert told me to call him, then literally had no more than two minutes to conduct the interview. Gee...thanks...I can really get great info in that timeframe! When this occurs, I wrap up the call by thanking them for their time, saying they've been helpful, and that I'll certainly do my best to try to use their advice in the piece. I think you can still be polite without letting them know that they were a complete washout. But yeah, if they really haven't made much of an effort with me, I often won't make much of an effort to track them down when the story runs. Frankly, the two-minute phone call probably won't register with them six months later when the story is published...and they won't have any idea or recollection that they were once contacted for an interview.

So how do you handle sources getting cut?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Art of Giving

It's that time of year where I'm struggling to come up with something other than a Starbucks gift card to send to a few select editors. Sigh. I hate shopping for my own family, let alone editors whom I've never met in person. Do you have any idea what editors want? (Yes, I know, you don't have to send them anything, but....) What are some of their fave gifts? Least favorites? What do they want us writers to know?

Okay, I wish that I had time to survey my editors, but with looming deadlines and a looming uterus, I'm going to stick to my own advice here. If I find myself with some extra time once I wrap up my work but before the baby arrives, I'll definitely take a survey. That said, I think they'd be embarrassed to 'fess up because all of them say (and I believe them) that this is a very nice but unnecessary step in keeping up writer-editor relations, so I don't know if they'd want to gloat over their favorite loot.

I'm sure that there are plenty of you guys reading this question and panicking, thinking, "Holy F, I'm supposed to send my editors a gift??? WTF?? How did I not know this and do I look bad for never having sent one?" So first of all, stop sweating it. As I mentioned above, gifts are a nice cherry on top, but certainly not required, and you'll hardly be blackballed if you don't give one.

That said, do I send them? Yes. They're my way of saying, "I realize you have a choice of airlines to fly, and thanks so much for choosing ours." Only swap out "airlines" for "writers," and swap out "ours" for "me." The thing of it is, that I AM truly grateful every single damn time that an editor sends work my way. I'm flattered and surprised and just really appreciative (and no, I'm not just saying this - I mean it 1000 times over), and while I always thank them when they do send me an assignment, this is my small way of saying "thanks once again."

What do I send? It depends on how well I know the editor, but generally, I keep it pretty simple since the holidays are crazy enough to begin with. Yes, the Starbucks card is a good stand-by. You might be sick of it, but I do know that editors appreciate it. I had one editor tell a colleague (who then told me) that every time she went to Starbucks and used the card, she thought of me. So clearly, in that sense, it's not only getting good use, but it's also a smart marketing tool. I'm also a big fan of Sephora gift cards: I've gotten a lot of raving thank-you notes from editors who enjoy being able to essentially treat themselves to a freebie lipstick. Amazon gift cards are also a smart route: you can buy anything on Amazon these days, so you know your editor will find something to suit his or her tastes. Of course, there are more personal gifts too: something for a pregnant mom, a hat for a rabid sports fan, etc. Truthfully, I think that in all of these cases, it really is the thought that counts - simply taking a second to acknowledge your editor, whether it's with a more generic gift card or with a personalized present, is what matters.

By the way, I have had a few editors return gifts in the past because their company's policy dictated that they had to. Don't be offended if this happens.

How much should you spend? I'm pretty sure that a lot of companies have requirements as to how expensive a gift can be in order for an editor to accept it (or regretfully turn it down), and I very vaguely recall that there's an IRS write-off limit that mandates you spend less than approx $25 (or in that ballpark), so I usually spend about $20 per editor. Can it add up? YES. But is it an investment that almost always pays off? Double yes. Not only do I often receive assignments from them (again, which isn't the point but isn't a bad result either), I really do believe that little things like these can bolster a relationship.

Finally, if you don't have the money to spend, don't worry about it! A nice holiday card with a "thank you for thinking of me this past year" is equally effective. Again, it's about the message, not the money. As every writer knows, sometimes it's just nice to feel appreciated, and editors are no different.

So...what have you guys given in the past? Favorite gifts to give?

Monday, November 13, 2006

But Enough About Me

(I just realized that the title of this post is also the title of a book I just started and am totally loving. I didn't mean to steal Jancee Dunn's thunder! Sorry, Jancee! Once I'm done the book, I'll give you my thoughts, but so far, I adore it. Laugh out loud good.)

So...many moons ago, I got tagged by Manic Mommy, which means that I have to spill five sordid details about my life, things that you guys would otherwise not know. So, she asked, I'm answering!

And while I'm sharing, check out Larramie's blog for today, where she kindly discusses moi. I'm so, so flattered! But check out her blog anyway because she's a smart, fun writer with savvy things to say about the world and pop culture.

1) Many people have seen me nekkid. Okay, get your minds out of the gutter, you pervs. No, I'm not a big old ho-bag. What I'm actually referring to is that in college, back when I was active in a lot of theater productions, I appeared in Hair, and yes, we did the nude scene. Wow, let me tell you, there is nothing so terrifying as stripping down and walking on stage in front of hundreds of people whom you would see the next day in class or at a fraternity party. Do note that I opted to skip the scene the night that my parents and brother attended. TMI, indeed.

2) I'm a picker. Not my skin, rather my food. I have some weird eating habits that my husband has come to mock over the years. Case in point: I only like the crusts of rolls, so weed out the insides and place them on his bread plate. I buy pints of Ben N Jerry's Half-Baked Frozen Yogurt, then spoon the actual ice cream onto the lid or down the drain or to my dog, while pretty much eating only the cookie dough chunks or brownie bits. (I know - why not just eat a cookie or brownie? I dunno.) I adore pizza, but cheese makes me sick, so I'll pick off almost all of the cheese and leave it sitting in a congealed mound on my plate. (Yes, it's pretty gross.) I also love raw oatmeal. I know, seriously, what's wrong with me?

3) I dated a celebrity. Ha! That got your interest, right? Okay, he's really more of a B-lister, but still, it's sort of a fun thing to spill. Truth be told, he was a very good friend for many years, and I had no idea that he was interested, probably because he was SO different from my type and it never occurred to me to entertain anything romantic. Anyhoo, long story short, he finally wooed me and things went sour. No hard feelings here (really - we were friendly for a long time afterward and then just drifted out of touch), though my husband mocks me endlessly for it. (And no, I shan't reveal said celeb's name! I don't smooch and tell. But I will say that he has a new show that's debuting this month on a major network. So there's a clue.)

4) What do Angelina Jolie, Madonna and I all have in common? Yes, I am the adoptive mother of an African child! Okay, well, not as literally as them, but I was so inspired by that One concert (I can't remember the official name) a few years ago that I went all Sally Struthers and adopted a boy named Duncan (yes, really!) in Uganda. I send him occasional letters and toys and presents, and I like to think that my $20 a month is helping him in some small way. (And yes, my husband also laughs at me for this one too.) I adopted him through PlanUSA, a very reputable charity, if anyone is interested.

5) Ricky Schroeder was my first celebrity crush. Thereby setting off a looooong string of celebrity crushes. Seriously, I remember fawning over his picture in Dynamite magazine and putting up "The Ricker" in my fifth grade locker. Other celebrity crushes over the years have included, but certainly aren't limited to: Tom Cruise (pre-crazy, pre-gay, during his Top Gun phase...I know, I know, I'm ashamed to even admit it, but 'fess up, you had a crush on him too), Kevin Costner (during his Untouchables through No Way Out period), Ethan Hawke (ew, I know, but it was during the whole Reality Bites slacker-chic era), Scott Wolf (Party of Five did it for me), Michael Vartan, Scott Speedman, Hugh Grant, a certain Office actor (ahem, I believe that I've mentioned him a time or two before), and I'm adding a new one as of this weekend: Leonardo DiCaprio. I just saw The Departed and holy sexiness, I'm on that train!

So...who were your celebrity crushes? Anything else you want to share, now that I've done my own spilling?