Friday, March 16, 2007

Finding the Right Balance

Random thought of the day: my husband has the flu. The knock-you-on-your-ass type of flu. I feel sorry for him, I do, and I've been playing nurse maid in an effort to get him back to health. But let me ask you...why is it that men are such whiners when they're sick??? I mean, again, I realize that he's sick, but is all of the melodrama necessary?? Must he act like he is at death's literal door? If I had the flu, life would go on: I'd still have to make my son dinner and I'd still have to make sure that the dog got out for his two poops a day and I'd still have to nurse my daughter, etc, etc, etc. And frankly, I'd probably do it without much complaining. So, dear readers, let me ask you...why are men incapable of this? (She said, all the while truly taking a tad bit of pity on her husband whose complexion right now is the color of my walls.)

Question of the day: When you were writing magazine articles (at your busiest), how many articles did you have "in the works" at one time? I'm in a position now where I have 4 articles that I'm working on and possibly a 5th (still for the trade magazine, but they keep upping my pay, so I can't complain). I'm allowing about a week per article, which includes research, interviews, writing. Is this about right or am I allowing too much time per article?

I think this is an "it all depends" answer. When I was at my busiest, I was also often really stressed and too harried for my own good...there were times when I'd have three deadlines a week, feature deadlines, I should note, and I felt like you could tug a string, and I'd come completely undone.

So, what I think you need to do is figure out what pace works best for both you and your bottom line. For example, writing four FOBs a month probably isn't going to tax you but it also might not pay the bills. Writing four features might. These days (when I'm not working on fiction), I like to have about one feature deadline a week - that's a good pace for me because I always have something in the works, but I'm not so harried that I feel like I can't get my errands done or make it to the gym. It also assures a steady flow of decent-sized checks.

Another factor to consider: even if you're writing FOBs OR features, how much time does each article take you? Some editors might require 5 sources for an FOB, which means that your per-hour rate for this story might be next to nothing, while you could write a feature on a subject for which you're well-versed in a few hours. One thing that I did learn along the way is that I had to stop taking on subjects about which I knew nothing. The learning curve was just too high, and that cost me both time and money. So what I'd suggest is that you figure out what you think you should be earning per hour, then pitch and select assignments accordingly.

Does that help? How many stories do you guys like to be working on at one time?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Considering Credentials

You seem to be a freelancer at heart. I'm sorry I'm new to your blog, I feel as if I missed a lot. What led you do write a novel? Is freelancing and having clips a prerequisite to getting published?

Having clips and freelancing are definitely NOT prerequisites to getting your novel published. While I don't have stats or anything concrete to reference, I'm certain that there are a good deal of debut authors out there who have never been published in the magazine world at all. The only prerequisite to being published is that you write a good book. As we've chatted about before on the blog, I'm sure that my magazine experience did help me land the deal that I did, for sure. No doubt about it. It showed publishing houses that I was a pro and could handle deadlines, revisions and all of the craziness that might come my way. But was it the reason that my book sold? Nah. Because if that were the case, my first book would have sold too. And it didn't. :)

Funny that you mention that I'm a freelancer at heart because while this has definitely been true in the past, I'm now more interested in focusing on fiction. I'm paring back my freelance assignments to really hone my second book, and I'd like to reach a place where I continue to selectively choose my mag assignments but also produce on novel a year (or so).

What led me to write a novel? A few things: one, it provided a really cathartic outlet for my grief in losing one of my best friends to breast cancer, but two, and this speaks to the above point, I was ready for a break from the monotony of magazine writing. Don't get me wrong: I adore my editors and really dig a lot of the assignments that come my way, but if you speak to a lot of long-term mag writers, many of them will tell you the same thing - that after a while, you run out of subjects that really hold your interest because you feel like you've covered just about everything. The stories I still enjoy are those in which I'm learning something, and if it's just the same-old, same-old, it gets dull, as with any job. Fiction allowed me to explore new skills and new writing territory, and I found it - and continue to find it - really exhilarating.

So readers, why do you write fiction? And is being published prior to writing a novel imperative?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Aiming for the Stars

I was encouraged by an editor who liked my writing style to pitch a department piece to break into the mag (I don't have many clips beyond the small pubs for which I'm on staff as an editor). Assuming all goes well and I dazzle her (which I plan to!), I will definitely follow up with additional story ideas. My question is should I prepare 3-5 more FOB pitches, or go for the big one and pitch a feature or two (she handles both)? In other words, is nailing one short assignment enough to prove myself worthy of feature consideration? And if I decide to pitch another section of the mag, will it help to name-drop that I recently worked with this editor even if the piece hasn't run yet?

Two good questions here. For the first, I'm inclined to say that it doesn't matter: you should pitch the ideas that you think are strongest, or hell, why not pitch them all? If you're dying to break into features asap and have a great story idea, go for it; once she knows your name, you'll at least get a more attentive answer. Will she assign it? I'd say that if it's a good fit for her, she probably would. That said, there's really no way to know, so I wouldn't consider this an either/or thing: pitch everything because proving yourself to an editor is an on-going process, and just because you'd rather write features doesn't mean that you shouldn't (or can't) be writing FOBs along the way. Does that make sense?

As far as writing for another section of the mag, this is how I handle things. I usually ask the editor I'm working with if she is the appropriate editor to pitch X to. If she's not, she almost always gives me the name of the editor who is, and I can then say to this editor, "So-and-so suggested that I contact you about TK story idea." It gives me an in without being presumptuous. Of course, if your experience with your current editor is positive, I don't think it will harm you to name-drop, but it's always nice to have said editor's permission to do so. (But again, I really don't think it's that big of a deal.) Besides, your current editor might just put in a good word for you with the new editor, which is always a good thing.

So, how do you guys handle moving from FOBs to features? Is one story enough to make the transition?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to Find a Good Editor

I’m ready to send queries to agents for my first novel. The novel is as tight as I can make it but I need someone v. cheap to correct the grammar, punctuation etc… (English isn’t my first language.) Would you have suggestions on how to go about this?

The only way to find a reputable editor is to ask around. Which is why I'm posting this for you! :)

If folks out there have worked with a good editor, please let this reader know.

That said, while I'm certainly not advocating that you send in your ms with errors, I do think that agents will give you the benefit of the doubt if they find an errant comma or misspelling. Just so you don't have a total heart attack if you find a period out of place after sending it in. Hell, even after my ms was bought and read (and corrected) by dozens of people, we still found errors in the galley. So yes, get it as tight as you possibly can, but most importantly, get the writing as tight as you possibly can. That's really what an agent will look for.

Know a good editor? Pass it along here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hey Editor - Where the Hell Are You??

WIP update: I'm thrilled to report that I hit page 150 on Friday. Not just thrilled to hit that page, but because I've really pulled together the first half of the book and think it's all really clicking now. This week, I'm going to revise these pages again - I have a few sections that I still want to strengthen - and get it in shape to pass to my agent when she's back in town on Friday. How goes your work?

Question of the day: What do you make of editors who express interest in an essay or query and then go MIA? I had an editor commission a piece last fall with a fairly short turn-around time. I beat the deadline, then never heard from her. I keep following up every month or so asking about getting a kill fee or getting it published, but she always says she'll check with the other editors and that she'd love to get more queries from me, but I never get a definitive answer when I query with other projects or ask about the status on my old article. When is it time to write her off and submit the article elsewhere?

Ugh, isn't this the worst?? Okay, here's what I'd do.

First of all, it's important to remember that editors do not hold all the power. It's easy to be intimidated by them because yes, they are the gate-keepers and do ultimately determine whether or not you're published, but at the end of the day, they're people, just like us. Really. When I first started out, I, too, was cowed by their presence, but now that many of these editors have become friends, I really can state with authority that while I love 'em, they're certainly not on a higher plane than we are.

So remember that.

With that in mind, I'd send this editor an email saying, "I'm so glad that you expressed interested in my story, however, since I haven't yet been paid and since you haven't yet confirmed that you'll be running it, please let me know if you intend to use said story, as it's a timely piece, and I'd like to place it elsewhere if not. Please let me know by X date." This gives both of you a deadline - her, to make a decision, and you, to move on.

Now, if she had already paid you, it would be a different situation. Once you've been paid, they've fulfilled their end of the contract...they're not under any obligation to actually publish the piece. I can recall several time when I've actually been paid in full and never had the article run. That's just what happens in the magazine world when hot topics suddenly become cold and vice versa.

Good luck. I hope you get both paid and a published story!

So readers, what would you do in this position? And what have you done when you've found yourself in this position?