Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reach Out and Friend Someone

So I spent the better part of yesterday tooling around on Facebook, at the behest of some writer friends. This? Was a mistake. Because once I started, I couldn't stop: it was like that poor girl in Silence of the Lambs trapped in that damn hole. That was me in Facebook. I desperately wanted to claw my way out but knew that it was to no avail.

So there went yesterday.

It got me thinking: I'm now on Facebook (friend me!), MySpace and LinkedIn. And honestly, though they sure are a hell of a way to procrastinate - tracking down old friends, spying on other ones - I dunno, are these honestly good marketing or writing tools? I dunno. You tell me. I'm genuinely curious to hear what, if anything, you guys have gotten out of them. MySpace - well, I can see that b/c I have hundreds of "friends," and I suppose if I had to blast something out about my book, then that would be cool. LinkedIn has been a superfun way to reconnect with old friends, and I suppose that Facebook is much the same. (I mean, seriously, if you're my friend in real life, do you have to now be my friend online? Because that's pretty much who makes up my "friend" list on Facebook!)

But other than that, what do you guys use these sites for? And if you're on Facebook, can you explain what your favorite parts of your profile are??? I feel like I spent the entire day trying to figure out how to add things, what things to add, etc, etc, etc, and it only made me more bananas than when I started!

Enlighten me on all of this, please!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breaking In

Question of the week: I have some steady work from my former employer and other smaller titles, but I'd like to build relationships with some Conde Nast, Time Inc, etc. titles. What's the best way to begin building these relationships? How do I best make those introductions and let them know I'm available and would like to serve them? Do I need to spend much of my time working on solid queries and sending those out? Or do such editors even regard unsolicited queries? Your thoughts would be appreciated!

I get similar questions a lot, and the first thing I always say is to search the archives of the blog...I offered a lot of advice on breaking in last year when I answered questions daily.

But, because I don't mind repeating myself (just ask my husband!), I'll say this again: there really isn't a secret formula to breaking into the national markets. It sounds like you already have some clips, which should put you on your way, and now, I'd spend some serious time crafting very detailed, well-researched pitches. Those are the only way to break in. Yes, editors read unsolicited pitches all the time, but if you pitch them crap - poorly researched or poorly written - ideas, they'll likely ignore any follow ups or future pitches. I don't mean to imply that you get one shot and you're out because that's certainly not the case, but you know that phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Yeah, well, keep that in mind as you pitch.

I realize that this might make the process sound daunting and fray your already fraying nerves. And I don't mean to at all. But what I'm trying to impart is that good and targeted queries are the only and the best way to break in (barring having worked a magazine previously and/or having really strong connections), so it would be wise to take your time with them. Dig around for new studies or new trends and pack your queries with information that might make an editor take five extra seconds from her already harried day and think, "Oh, wow, this is a writer and an idea that I should give some consideration too."

If she writes you back and says, "Good idea but not for us," take that as now open lines of communication. Keep pitching her. Keep following up with her. The ONLY way that you're going to nudge your way in the door is with persistence. I think I've said this on the blog before, but I once had to follow up to a pitch three times before I heard anything from the editor, and when I finally did, I landed my first feature at SELF.

As far as letters of introduction to the big nationals? Well, unless you have competitive and/or national clips - i.e. unless you write for their competitors - I think this is a waste of time. Too many people are willing to do the upfront work and craft good query letters, and if you were an editor, who would you rather assign to - someone who took the time to put together a query that demonstrated their skills or someone who sent off a generic introduction letter. (I don't mean to say that intro letters never work. They do, and I use them these days, but I do think that you have to be established in the industry for them to garner any attention or weight.)

've also said this before (search the archives), but FOBs are a fabulous place to break in. Editors are more willing to take a chance on a new writer when the assignment is only 250 words rather than 2000.

So, that's my breaking in advice. Anyone out there have other tips? Or disagree with me? (Hey, you can!)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why You Should Care

I already noted last week why I care about the strike, but I wanted to pass on this great blog entry from Erik Sherman on why, if you're a freelance writer, you should care too.

Smells Like Something's Burning

On one of my writers' boards, we've been chatting about burn out, and the thread has been so fascinating as writer after writer tip-toes forward, raising his or her figurative hand and says, "Um, yeah, me too."

think that people assume that freelance writing is a thrill-a-minute...after all, you get to pick and choose your assignments, you work for yourself, you set your own hours, etc. But the reality is far different. In fact, many full-time writers take on any and all assignments in order to sustain themselves, and while in theory, we should be setting our own hours, we're so overburdened with work (or stress) that we work nearly all the time. Not to mention develop a pesky problem with saying "no," even when we are overworked because we always fear that the famine is never too far from the feast.

I know of what I speak.

I hit my first serious bout of burn out when my son, now 3, was about five months old, so, I guess that was about two and half years ago. I didn't take that much time off when I had him, not because I couldn't do so financially, but because I found myself a little bit bored and looking for some stimulation when he was a newborn and all he did was sleep or nurse all day...and that left me with not a whole lot to do other than change his diaper, pop out a boob or watch TV. So I got back in the saddle pretty quickly, and then, bam! A few months later, I looked at all of my assignments with boat loads of resentment. So I downshifted a bit - started querying less and reevaluating what my long-term goals were - and that's when I started really honing my fiction, which I took to with passion that I had long lost for my magazine assignments.

And I discovered that I wasn't burned out on writing. I was burned out on the writing that I had done for the past five or so years. After I wrapped TDLF, I picked up the pace on magazine work again...I'm someone who likes to stay busy, and this seemed like the best way to fill that void. But now, several years later, once again, I'm facing a serious rash of burn out, so again, I'm trying to flex different muscles with the fiction thing and taking my magazine work in different directions: doing more celebrity interviews because I think they're a hoot, hand-picking assignments that really get my cerebral juices flowing, and yes, saying no to work that I know will render me brain-dead. (I should note, however, that I didn't make the same mistake twice: that after my daughter was born, I did make sure to take some necessary time off, even if it was just to hang around and nurse in front of the TV because I knew that this downtime would pay off, in terms of my level of interest in my work, in the future.)

It's a tricky balance: finding enough work to sustain me and finding the right work to do just that, but not taking on so much that I'm pissed off just thinking about my to-do list or am forced to spend my nights crouched over my computer when I should be snuggling up with my husband and watching 30 Rock. (Tangent: who saw last week's episode? Seriously? That post-Kenneth's party scene?? Was it not the funniest thing on TV in ages????)

Anyway, have any of you guys dealt with burn out? If so, how have you coped?