Friday, December 01, 2006
Taking Time Off
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
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.
So....do 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
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 http://www.tradepubs.com/. 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, http://www.lindaformichelli.com; blog: http://www.therenegadewriter.com, Co-Author of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock! (Marion Street Press, November 2006)
-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, http://www.lunday.com/
-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, www.mediabistro.com/LoriTripoli
-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: www.officer.com). 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, Scholastic.com, Weekly Reader publications, as well as customs, trades and for the Net
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
How To Not Be a Sell-Out
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?
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?