Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shameless Plug

Many many moons ago, I wrote a quick article for Writing for Dollars called The Rule of 13. I'd heard that having 13 queries or submissions out at a time is a sure way to get an acceptance.

I know now there is no real magic number. Thirteen, however, is a better odds than six, not as good as 25. Thirteen, for most beginning writers, is manageable. The important thing is making sure your letters, your name, is in front of editors. The more you market, the greater the chance of getting a YES.

Anyway, I found out this week that our articles archived on WFD will now be drawing income depending on the readership. I was already paid when I printed the piece, so this is a nice little bonus.

An even nicer bonus, when I sent an email to the editor to update my bio info, he wrote back to tell me that he always liked that piece and recommended it frequently. It was a nice boost to an otherwise crappy day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What is news?

As a writer, I'm technically a member of the media. I report on things that my editors think are important to their readers. But everyone I write for is writing for a specific audience. The things I report on is valuable news for them.

But what about the stuff that I see reported on CNN, Yahoo!, and other news sites?

Surely, I'm not the only person who looks at a "news" story and wonder why the whole world needs to know it. I'm not talking about sports stories (although there are some that are ridiculous) and celebrity stories. These folks, like it or not, are public figures, and just like technical publications have an audience, so do these entities.

No, I'm talking about stories like the one that is crossing the wires now, the administrator's wife who left a nasty voice mail. Or the mom who sold her (adult) son's car with the detailed ad about her being mean. Or any of a million stories like that.

Are these stories really news? Is the media doing a disservice by sensationalizing the foibles of ordinary people, as opposed to focusing on information that should matter? Or is the media doing its job by promoting slightly extreme but otherwise ordinary acts of ordinary people?

Honestly, as a writer, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable reporting that stuff. Which, I guess, is why I don't work for CNN, et. al.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stumbling into a Niche

When I tell one particular friend of mine that I scored an interesting assignment, he always asks, "So what are you an expert on this time?" I used that story when I gave a talk to the local writers group about writing for trades. Someone at that talk raised a hand and asked, "I'm interested in writing for trades, but I'm not an expert on a particular subject. What do I do?"

I think one of the great misperceptions is that the writer needs to be an expert on a topic in order to write about it.

The reality is, while it is helpful to have some familiarity on the industry you want to write about, in the end, your skill as a writer is most important. A good, engaged writer will learn and develop a handy working knowledge, but will never upstage the real experts. If you can show you can handle a topic deftly, editors will hire you.

When I first started freelancing, I looked at the subjects that interested me most, the things that were part of my every day life: parenting, fitness, marriage, women's issues, sports. Parenting and women's magazines are among the most difficult to break into because the competition is fierce. Now, I have published in smaller markets in those topics, but I haven't broken into any of the major ones yet.

Someone suggested I try the construction magazines because I worked with construction people in one of my jobs. I never lifted a hammer, but I did learn to make conversation with people in the industry. I mentioned that job in the letters I sent out, and it landed me assignments. I tried the same thing with engineering. Heck, I live with an engineer. I know lots of engineers as friends. So I targeted engineering publications.

Engineering took me in the direction writing on technology. Construction steered me toward sustainable living. Now I've moved toward science writing.

If you knew me well, you'd think these are the least likely of topics that would be my writing niche. But I found that writing topics that go against my personality make me a better writer and reporter. When I write on a topic I'm passionate about, I struggle to avoid throwing my opinions into the piece.

Writing what you know can be good. Taking advantage of your life experiences can lead to a rewarding career.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where I Find Potential Jobs

One question I get asked a lot is where I find the magazines I write for.

The answer: Everywhere!

I scope out the job boards like most every other writer. The job boards can be a crap shoot though. While I've managed to pick up a couple very good clients and steady assignments from those postings, there have been more than my fair share of postings that sounded good in the ad only to be less than good when the offer came. Or I'd be one of thousands to respond.

So where else do I find publication leads?

* Your own magazine subscriptions. Not every magazine I read is open to freelancers, but because I read these magazines weekly or monthly, I'm familiar with them. I know the content, style, audience. When I have an actual idea to query, I look to my private magazine rack for ideas.

* Wander around the library or book store. My local library allows anyone with a library card to read magazines on-line, so I can do solid research without ever leaving my desk chair.

* Google. I write for trades more than consumer, so I will Google the type of trade publication I'm interested in and see what comes up. I discovered one of my best clients when I was researching a query. I took a few minutes, pitched the editor with a letter of introduction, and boom, had an assignment the next day.

* In the News. Whenever I interview someone, I check out that person's company website. Smaller companies especially like to post articles in which they've been featured. Chances are these magazines are similar to publications you already work with. I check them out any publication that is new to me.

* Network. I'll give my writing friends leads to publications, and they do the same for me. I've gotten a few jobs that way. I don't hesitate to tell people that I'm a freelance writer, either. A few jobs have been tossed my way simply because I made sure someone knew this was what I did for a living.

The job boards are really a great place to start, but there are lots of ways to build on that beginning.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Surprises in Email

I think most writers are like me -- it's always a happy day when work comes to you. An editor likes your work and sends you assignments.

And then there is the ultimate happy surprise. When you get an email from someone who says, "Mr. Editor gave me your name and recommended I contact you. I have assignments if you want them."

I got that happy surprise the other day. Then, when I emailed Mr. Editor to say thank you -- someone I used to work with years ago but haven't worked with since the late 90s -- he wrote back to say he might have work for me, too.

That's a nice start to 2008.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Let's Get It Started

Presents are opened. Traveled and came home. Finished all the work on my desk for 2007. Now it is time to move on to 2008.

For the first time, I decided to write up a business plan. It's not that I never had goals or plans in the past, but this year was fairly successful, and I want to build on that success. In November, I wrote out a fairly detailed list of what I accomplished. From there, I was able to define where I'd like my career to go this year.

First and foremost, I want to increase my income by at least $20,000. I did that this past year, so I don't see why I can strive to do that again. I want to be a six-figure writer eventually.

Second, I want to break into more consumer markets this year, so I've written that into my business plan.

Third, I want to grow my client list.

Fourth, I intend to travel to conferences and/or to meet editors this year.

That means a busy, focused year of marketing and querying and research. That means every day, I'll have time dedicated specifically to making my business grow.

I do have some personal goals, too. I am looking how to fit little bursts of fitness into my work day, to complement my evening work outs. This is especially important on days I can't get to the gym. I want to try and read a book a week, or at least read 40 books this year. I've been averaging around 2 per month for several years, and I'd like to increase that. I also plan to be a better blogger and stay in touch with friends and family. I want to improve my networking this year.

I'd love to hear from anybody else who has pulled together a business plan or set up goals for 2008 and how you plan to reach them.