My Rights Reversion Odyssey, or, How I Jumped through More Hoops than a Circus Poodle

By Alice Loweecey

In a perfect world, self-publishing would come with a bottle of wine per book. I picture a shining, fluffy cloud appearing above my desk. With an ethereal sound of angelic voices it would open and a chilled bottle of Chenin blanc would come to rest next to my keyboard.

Still waiting for this to happen, by the way.

My first series ended in 2013 after its initial three-book contract. Because I had a new contract with a new publisher I let the old books hang. Not a smart plan, so a few years later I requested via a formal letter for my rights to be reverted to me.

The letter arrived about a month later, returning all rights, e and paper. Now that I owned my books again, I got to work.

Wine bottle #1: Commissioning covers. I decided to issue ebooks only. I’m no artist, plus I know ebook covers have to be formatted to certain specs. I got estimates from a few artists whose work I liked and fit the tone of the books. When the right artist and I agreed and I had the new covers in hand, I moved on to . . .

Wine bottle #2: Formatting. If anyone heard a primal scream from the east coast of the US at the end of summer, it was me. To make my books available on all platforms (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.) I used the Smashwords style guide.

Full disclosure: I opened the style guide, scrolled through, and closed it again. Twice. Only the money I’d already spent on covers and the knowledge that it would be a shortsighted business decision not to have my books out there made me open the guide a third time. Adulting FTW.

There are no shortcuts when formatting. Every chapter needs to be formatting separately. I kept three docs open on my screen at the same time: The final Word doc, the edited PDF, and the new Word doc for self-publishing.

Every chapter. Every book. Night after night (after the Day Job). Rechecking each book after I thought I was finished. Changing certain elements. Updating others. Editing and more editing. The copyeditor in me would not be silenced.

Wine bottle #3: Uploading. So many hoops to jump through. The carrot that kept me jumping was inclusion in the Smashwords Premium Catalog. Again, it would have been short-sighted to skip steps and cut myself off from free marketing to potential readers.

I chose to price my books at $1.99. This way I can run a half-price sale in conjunction with my next new book release. Marketing. Promotion. Getting my work out to new readers. I am so happy my current ten-book contract (!) comes with my publisher’s marketing clout and contacts. Because all that is on the self-publisher. Constant work in addition to writing a new book, because readers want a new book and authors want readers coming back for more.

I tip my fascinator to all writers going it alone. Now to work on clouds that deliver wine. In  between writing, promotion, conferences, the Day Job, laundry, cooking . . .

And maybe a short nap.

Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she’s not creating trouble for her sleuth Giulia Driscoll or inspiring nightmares as her alter-ego Kate Morgan, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year).

Force of Habit is the first of three Falcone and Driscoll mysteries, followed by Back in the Habit and Veiled threat. You can read more sleuthing from Alice Loweecey’s character Giulia Driscoll in Alice Loweecey’s latest from Henery Press The Clock Strikes Nun.

Alice Loweecey has a Website. She also writes horror as Kate Morgan.

Four Scary Things Writers Must Learn to Embrace!

Guest post by Francesca Nicasio

When I first started out, there were some things that I tried to avoid as much as possible because they were uncomfortable scared the crap out of me. It didn’t take long though before I realized that my avoidance was getting me nowhere and if I really wanted to succeed in freelance writing, I had to not only face my fears, I had to embrace them.

Below is a list of those fears. I’ve also included the things that I learned from facing them, and what you can do if you share the same fears or apprehensions.

monsterEdits or Criticism

Getting edits and constructive criticism is a good thing. Those red marks on your article may not look pretty, but they will make you a better writer. They can improve your style and develop your attention to detail. As writers, we are often too close to our creations to see flaws or errors. Having someone scrutinize your work will make it sharper and more compelling.

How to deal with constructive criticism: First of all, don’t take it personally. The person scrutinizing your work is just doing their job. Also remember that having your work edited or criticized doesn’t make you a bad writer. It only means that there’s some room for improvement and growth.

When you get the edited piece back, thank the person and revise your work. If you don’t agree with the way they edited your article, say so. Tell them (in a polite way, of course) why you wrote it the way you did and hear out their response. This opens up constructive discourse between the two of you, and you’ll likely pick up helpful insights in the process.

Rejection

The path to freelance writing success is littered with rejection letters. It’s just part of the territory. As writers we must learn to accept–nay–embrace rejection because each “no” that we get brings us closer to that coveted “yes.”

Rejection can teach you some valuable lessons in persistence and resilience. It also tests just how badly you want success. More importantly, rejection enables you to develop a thicker hide–an attribute that you must possess when putting yourself out there.

How to deal with rejection: There’s no shortcut or sugar-coated way to handle rejection. You just have to dust yourself off, learn from the mistakes that got you rejected (if any), and keep going.

You can also think of it this way: If you get rejected by a prospective client or publication, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that you and the other party aren’t a good fit for each other. They’re not the right client or they simply aren’t looking for someone like you at the moment. It’s nothing personal and it’s not anything against you, it’s just the way it is.

Haters

Okay, maybe “haters” is too strong of a word. Let’s call them “negative commenters”.

Unpleasant as it may be though, receiving negative comments should be taken as a compliment. Why? Because it means that what you wrote sparked enough emotion to compel people to leave a comment.

Don’t feel bad when you get negative comments, be upset when you don’t get any.

How to deal with negative comments: If you choose to dignify their comments with a response, always be calm and respectful. Recognize that each person is entitled to their own opinions. Additionally, do not respond from a place of defensiveness or emotion. Instead, state the facts and be cool. And be sure to thank the person for taking the time to comment.

PS: This doesn’t apply to trolls.

Outreach

This is for all the shy ones (myself included). Reaching out to other people may be out of your comfort zone, but it’s absolutely necessary. Reaching success is not something that you can do alone, so get out there and network away. Growing your contact list is essential especially when you’re looking to promote your work or collaborate with others.

Reaching out to others is also something that you must do again and again throughout your career because it’s the only way to find new audiences and/or clients.

How to reach out: Do your research on the person that you’re touching base with. To be effective, reach out with their needs in mind, not just yours. For instance, if you’re contacting them to start a joint venture, tell them why a JV would benefit them and their audience. Remember, they’ll be asking the question of what’s in it for them, so be sure to answer it when you first get in touch.

Your Turn

Have you ever avoided any of the things mentioned in this blog post? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 Francesca Nicasio (formerly Francesca StaAna) is the founder of CredibleCopywriting.net and is currently developing Copywriter2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring freelance writers the ins and outs of the biz.

Download her free eBook, 25 Types of Writing Gigs that Pay Well (and How to Find Them) here.

 

Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda

Reading Between The Lines: An Interview with Kathie Fong Yoneda
By Christina Hamlett

What is Hollywood looking for? Ms. Kathie Fong Yoneda has seen it all in 25+ years of story analysis and development at Paramount, MGM, Columbia, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Filmways, Inc. and Universal Pictures. An accomplished speaker, author, and international teacher, she shares her views on today’s entertainment industry . . . and what makes a winning script.

Being a script development consultant has to rank as one of life’s “dream jobs!” How did you get from the halls of C.K. McClatchy High to the bright lights of Paramount Studios?

Well, back in high school I worked on the school paper so I was basically in Journalism and Art.  Although I majored in English in college, my original plan was to go to California Fashion Institute.  It didn’t take too long to flounder around and discover that fashion design wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but I still knew I wanted to do something very creative.  I know my parents, especially my mother, really preferred that I pursue something more stable and conservative like being a teacher or a pharmacist or a secretary.  I actually granted their wish by becoming a secretary but as a secretary in the motion picture industry.  As a matter of fact, I was the first Asian female hired on a full-time basis at Universal back in 1969; that was when less than one tenth of one percent of the people who were in the industry were minorities.

Was it even more of an ol’ boys club than it is now?

Oh yes. Very, very traditionally ol’ boys. One of the people who really helped me out, though, was my boss, Dick Shepherd, who was the head of production at MGM. He was a production executive at Warner Brothers when we met and I became his assistant. In between that, he became a producer and when he was away on location, the scripts would really start to pile up. I was just so hungry for knowledge about things and I was also very organized, both of which led to my reading all of these scripts. When he came back, he’d start looking over the mail and I’d say, “Oh, you don’t have to read that one. It’s really not very good.”

Never underestimate the power of a good assistant!

Anyway, I’d proceed to tell him what it was about and why I didn’t like it, and he said, “Well, can you do me a favor?  Can you write up a couple paragraphs about the story?” To his surprise—and mine, too, I was very good at it. After all, book reports were one of my favorite things in school, and reading scripts is essentially the same thing.

It’s not just about commenting on the story, though, is it?

It’s a lot of different factors, actually. It’s the characters and the structure, it’s the production value, the dialogue—it’s the whole picture, literally. I tell people that structure is merely a beginning, a middle, and an end and trying to make the whole thing interesting. If you go back to our common ancestors—cave people sitting around a campfire telling stories—what those stories have in common with what’s being written today is that they all had to have an intriguing set-up. They had to have complications and challenges and you had to have a satisfying ending that entertained everyone and wrapped up all the loose ends.

So how did you transition from secretary to studio reader?

Well, by the time my boss went to MGM and became head of production, I was really hooked on doing script coverage and he made me a deal.  Basically he said that if I set up the office and trained a new secretary—my replacement—he’d do whatever he could to get me into the Story Analysts Guild.

And what’s that?

It’s a very closed union shop and all the studios have to hire union story analysts.  The main distinction is that story analysts read material only for the studios.  Then there’s a group of freelance readers who read and do coverages for agencies and independent production companies.  The freelancers don’t belong to the union and make considerably less money.

But back to your career path—

Well, I made it into the Guild on my first try and started to move around, building on what I had already learned.  One of those moves, in fact, led me to become a development executive for Disney for 8 years during the time when Eisner and Katzenberg first moved over there and wanted to get a lot of new movies going.

What are you doing now?

I’ve worked for 9 years now for Paramount in their longform division and evaluate books and scripts for TV, cable movies and occasionally mini-series.  A lot of the movies you see on Showtime, for instance, are things that Paramount may have done.  I’ve also been doing a number of speaking engagements and workshops around the world and even have a book coming out in the summer of 2002 (Michael Wiese, Publisher).

There’s a lot to be said about how technology is shrinking the globe.  Is it inversely expanding the opportunities for new writers?

Absolutely! What I find really encouraging is that because there is so much technology, there are so many different ways to pursue storytelling. Unlike some of my associates, I don’t view technology as a foe or feel as if it will spell the end of motion pictures because kids are glued to the Internet.  What I see is that there are a lot more websites available for people to express themselves and to get critiques of their work. A lot of the studios now, for instance, have people who are assigned to surf the Net and to take a look at some of the projects that are out there. Aspiring filmmakers can get very industrious with their digital camcorders and are producing “mini-trailers” that are getting the attention of these studio execs.  Thanks to the Internet, no longer is Hollywood like that big black monolith that no one could figure out in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Based on your experience as a reader and a movie-goer, are films today getting better or worse?

Well, I do think that movies which have a lot of special effects or action or sci-fi/fantasy are a lot more eye-catching.  And, of course, the largest movie-going audiences today are the young adult males. That’s probably not going to change. In fact, it’s been that way for at least the 30 years I’ve been in the industry!  Remember how every other movie in the 80’s and early 90’s was some kind of an action film?  Well, it seems as if the public—and even all those male adults—finally got a little tired of it and then came the trend of doing scary movies.  Horror movies in a way, but still sort of campy.  Finally, the trend in the late 90’s and into 2001 are movies along the order of Something About Mary and American Pie.  What you notice, though, about scary movies and the latest crop of teen movies is that there aren’t a lot of special effects; in both cases, they’re mostly about the anticipation of something big happening.  That’s the irony of these films which, coincidentally is what one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock, used to do; it was the anticipation that you knew what was happening or what the danger or risk was, and yet you still couldn’t keep your eyes off the screen!  But back to the question, I think that audiences have gotten a lot smarter and they’re expecting more than just special effects. They watch things because they’re different.

What about the copycat syndrome, that insatiable quest for writers to imitate what is currently “hot”?
I think what happens is that people see a film that’s different and that they really like and their reaction is, “Wow! I can write something just like that!” What doesn’t sink in their heads, though, is that by the time they write this thing and give it to someone—even if gets snatched up right away—it’s going to take at least another 18 months before it gets made and comes out.  By the time that happens, you’re going to be the third or fourth or eighth person to that theme and it’s already old news!  By the way, the top grossing movies of all time—the top 10—are almost always family movies.  And the one thing that sets them Cover of Kathie Fong Yoneda's The Script Selling Gameapart is the fact that they all have in common a look at the human condition as told through characters that audiences instantly related to and could believe in. It’s something that writers tend to forget because they’re concentrating on the high-tech aspects of telling the best possible story instead of looking at how to simply touch the audience in some way and make them say, “Oh my God, I’ve been there, too!”  Whether it’s getting them to realize that they have the same fears or the same phobia or the same dream, a movie needs to say something to you and you need to respond to it in such a way—through the heart or through the soul—that you just don’t want to leave your theater seat even when the usher says, “Okay, bud, move along.  The next group is coming through.”

As a studio reader, what are some of the major turn-offs when a new script falls into your lap?

What overall is really bad is when people try to cram too much into a story—or too little.  It’s about not having a clear-cut view of what your story is and changing back and forth as far as what the goal is going to be.  The second thing is not fully developing the characters.  Some people know how a story should start and how it should end but they just don’t know how to have the characters carry the story all the way through.  Character and dialogue are actually the two most important things for me, probably even more important than the story.  Most of the stories that readers at studios read are actually variations of things we’ve all heard before—but with a twist.  What makes those twists unique always has something to do with the characters and how they look at life and, accordingly, react to it.

So what kinds of things really make you sit up and take notice?

I’d have to say that it’s what I just mentioned, only put them in reverse!  I also have to add that I like it when I can tell that there’s a real sense of passion behind the writing. Sometimes when I feel that level of passion coming through in the words—a story that’s personal and really means everything to the person who wrote it—this is something that comes from such an honest place, I can’t help but be attracted to it and be interested in how it’s going to turn out!

Kathie Fong Yoneda is the author of The Script Selling Game: A Hollywood Insider’s Look at Getting Your Script Sold and Produced. You can find her Website kathiefongyoneda.com.

Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is the author of 17 books, 98 plays and musicals, and over 250 magazine and newspaper articles on the performing arts, humor, travel, health, and how-tos for aspiring authors. You can find her at authorhamlett.com</em>

Is Your Writing a Business or a Hobby?

By Kelly James-Enger

Chances are you began writing because you loved to capture your words on the page. Then, as you continued to write, you may have decided to pursue publication. What could be better than seeing your work in print? Why, discovering that you could get paid—sometimes well—for your writing.

Whether you write for love, or for money, or for both isn’t simply a rhetorical question. The answer may have a significant impact on whether you can deduct your writing-related expenses under U.S. law. Read on to learn what you need to know to determine whether your writing is a business or a hobby— and why that distinction is a critical one.

Let’s start with the basics. As a U.S. citizen, the money you make from your writing counts as ‘reportable income.’ Legally, you’re required to report the amount as income on your taxes, regardless of whether your writing is considered a business or a hobby.

But if you’re operating your writing as a business, instead of a hobby, you can deduct legitimate business deductions from that income. That reduces the amount you pay taxes on at the end of the year. On the other hand, if you’re pursuing writing as a hobby, you still have to report the income you make but you can’t take advantage of any business deductions (because you have a hobby, not a business.) Get it?

Let’s say your first year of freelancing, you sell several articles for $800 and win a writing contest which awards you $500. Your writing-related expenses including postage, office supplies, telephone charges, books, and other materials total $200. If you’re operating as a business, you’re allowed to deduct $200 from $1,300 and pay taxes only on the $1,100. If, however, you’re operating as a hobby, you’ll pay taxes on the entire $1,300.

So what’s the difference between a business and a hobby? After all, even if you’re writing to make money, you probably enjoy your craft, right? The key for the Internal Revenue Service comes down to something called ‘profit motive.’ Profit motive essentially means that you’re writing with the intention of making money from your writing—not simply pursuing a pleasurable activity.

How can you convince the IRS you’re writing with a profit motive—to make money, in other words—if you ever are audited? The IRS considers a number of factors, but some of the things you can do to prove this include:

  • Submitting your work only to markets that pay. You’re writing for money, not for exposure.
  • Dedicating significant time and effort to your freelancing career—not approaching it in a sporadic or haphazard fashion.
  • Setting annual financial goals for your writing business, and aiming to maintain or exceed them over time. (Making a profit doesn’t absolutely prove that your writing is a business, not a hobby, but it certainly helps.)
  • Keeping records of your submissions, assignments, income, and expenses like you would with any other business.

The Bonus of a Writing Business

Once you pass the ‘writing as a business’ test, you’re entitled to deduct all ordinary, necessary, and reasonable expenses related to trying to make a profit in your business. According to IRS regulations, those expenses are the ones that are common, accepted, helpful, and appropriate for your writing business. For most freelancers, those expenses would include:

  • Computer and software purchased and used for your business;
  • Paper, letterhead, pens, printing cartridges, and other offices supplies; Postage and mailing expenses (and these can add up fast!);
  • Telephone expenses including long-distance charges (while you can’t deduct your primary phone line, a second one used solely for business is deductible); Travel and entertainment related to your business, such as lunch with an editor or trip to attend a writing conference (note that you can only deduct half of your meals); and
  • Writing-related classes and events.

You may also be entitled to a home office deduction if you use a section of your house or apartment solely and exclusively as your place of business, and to deduct the cost of traveling from your home office to other locations for business reasons— such as mailing manuscripts, conducting face-to-face interviews, meeting with clients at their offices, and attending a networking event. With automotive expenses, you can choose between the actual expense method or the more commonly used standard mileage deduction to write off allowable operating costs.

The bottom line is that if you’re writing with the intention to make money, keeping good business records and maintaining expense receipts can support your ‘profit motive’ position and reduce your tax liability. As a smart, savvy writer, you want to make as much money as possible—but pay as little tax on it as you legally can.

Freelance journalist and speaker Kelly James-Enger is the author of books including Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House, April, 2005) and Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003). She can be reached through BodyWise Consulting.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Freelance Writing

Guest Post by Francesca StaAna

Wondering why your articles aren’t getting a lot of views or clicks? Stressing about the fact that you’re not getting enough repeat clients?  You might be committing these deadly freelance writing mistakes:

Silence (Not following up) – Contrary to what some might think, just because a prospect doesn’t immediately respond to your first call or email, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested. Yes, most of them probably don’t need your services, but there ARE some potential clients who are simply too busy to respond. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. People are bombarded with emails on a daily basis, so you can’t really blame them if they overlook yours.

Always follow up. Don’t let fear, pride, or laziness stop you from doing it. Whether you’re cold-emailing a potential customer or reaching out to blogs to see if they’re willing to publish your guest post, make it a point to reach out in about a  week or so after you’ve first made contact to see if they’re interested.

Ignorance (Not reading enough) – Reading should be a necessity for writers. Doing so on a regular basis allows you to appreciate the beauty of the written word, gives you inspiration, and more importantly, makes you a better writer. It opens you up to different styles of writing and helps you develop your own.

On a more pragmatic level, reading can give you new material to write about. Can’t think of anything new to jot down on your blog? Pick up a recent issue of an industry magazine and see what’s happening in the world. Check out the latest posts on your favorite websites and get different points of view on issues. I guarantee you’ll find something to write about.

Carelessness (Failing to catch typographical and grammatical errors) – Committing typos is unavoidable. Publishing them on the other hand, is a different story.

Typographical and grammatical errors are embarrassing at best, and misleading at worst. One misplaced letter or punctuation mark can shift the meaning of a statement, so make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing especially when it’s supposed to go out to the public.

Have a second set of eyes read through your work before sending it in. If you’re on your own, step out of the room for a few minutes or do something else for a while then go back and re-read what you’ve written. Personally, I’ve found that changing the font and color of the text, as well as reading aloud makes proofreading so much easier.

Self-Absorption (Focusing on yourself rather than the audience) – Whether you’re pitching to clients or writing a blog post, always remember one thing: It’s about THEM, not you. Think about it. When you’re out on a date, wouldn’t you be turned off by someone who only talks about himself or herself without bothering to ask you about your life?

Similarly, one of the quickest ways to get readers to lose interest is by failing to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (Trust me, they’re all asking that question.)

Unoriginality (Failing to use your own unique voice) One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer (and as a person in general) is trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s perfectly acceptable to admire and be inspired by other people’s writing styles, it’s another thing to try and copy them. Instead, study the writing styles of others to develop your own unique flavor. You’ll be a much better writer and have more fun while you’re at it.

Also avoid using words or phrases that are not “you” in an effort to sound smart and important. In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.

Close Mindedness (Refusing to try other things) – So you’re set in your ways. I get it. I can be the same way too. However, not going out there to try new things can seriously hinder your growth.

For instance, I know some writers who were reluctant to market using Pinterest because it was too “image based” and they assumed that it wouldn’t be an effective medium to promote their work. I paid no attention to those claims and tried it anyway. I used tools such as  PicMonkey and   Share As Image to make my words “pinnable”, and guess what? The Pinterest community took notice. My site got more clicks and I even got a few client calls because of it.

The takeaway? Don’t automatically turn your back on ideas or tools just because you’re not familiar with them. Keep an open mind at all times and try new things—even if you’re not used to them. After all, you never know how effective (or ineffective) something is until you try it out for yourself.

Social Aversion (Refusing to network or collaborate with others) Don’t treat all your fellow writers as the competition. Instead, see them as teachers, peers, or even friends. Similar to being closed minded, not opening up your professional circle can stop you from growing and learning new things.

You can pick up a lot of new ideas and connections by attending conferences and networking mixers, so try to be present at these events whenever you can. If you’re more of an introvert, start by networking online. Comment on blogs and connect with people via social media

Your Turn

Are you guilty of any of these sins? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

______________________________________

Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and specializes in writing blog posts, web content and press releases for startups, Internet companies, and mobile app developers. She’s currently developing Copywriting 2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring copywriters the ins and outs of the biz. Sign up here and get notified when the course launches.

Submitomancy!

ETA: Submitomancy fell short of the funding goal, unfortunately, so isn’t going to happen. (Thank you, Zac, for your suggestion that we add a note about the project’s status.)

Guest Post by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I first experienced the magical power of recent responses on Absolute Write. I had just started sending out my first novel (now wrapped in lavender-scented tissue paper and trunked) and I discovered the treasure trove of agent information here on the forums. It was like I’d gained entry into a secret club. Suddenly I knew that this agent was a quick responder and that one often gave personal responses and how long the previous person had been waiting for a response. I got great insight on what specific agents were looking for and the type of novels that were getting full requests. And most importantly, I didn’t feel so alone.

When I shifted to short stories, I looked for similar resources. I discovered tracking short stories was a bit more complicated than novel submissions. I ended up with a combination solution: I had a spreadsheet, a website and a piece of software called Sonar3 in order to try to track all of the information that was important to me. When the admins of that website changed their system, I suddenly realised, you know what? I can do better than this.

I started a list of everything I wanted: manuscript data, submission history, market listings, recent responses, contract and payment information for every sale, exclusivity clauses, reprint options… it was a long list. And before I knew it, I was writing a detailed design specification for my perfect system: Submitomancy.

The project needed two things: development funds and a critical mass of users. And yet, I wanted to keep it free. It was an easy decision to start with the crowd-funding model, which would defray development costs and also gain a commitment from a starter group who wanted the service.

If the campaign succeeds, then the core development is out of the way before we start. The free services will encourage users to enter their data in return for a basic tracking service. This will include a basic search of the market listings, submission tracking and average response times per market.

But if you subscribe, you get access to the fun stuff! Lots of reports and data, of course: expanded manuscript tracking, power search, recent responses, market alerts and personalised notifications. But you also get access to social options like profile pages, status updates and badges! Badges might not seem an obvious feature for a submission tracker, I know.  But having been a part of such a powerful community, I wanted to make it easy to share the our successes and struggles with each other.

If there’s enough interest in Submitomancy then I’ll be refining the details with the Early Access subscribers. But the reports and the support can only be as good as the people who take part. That’s why I’m exploring this with you as a no-risk project right now. If you think you’d enjoy being a part of Submitomancy, then please support the campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

Building a Better Biography

By Ami Hendrickson

Whether you are a beginning writer or an established byline, it behooves you to construct a biography as a means of introducing yourself to those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your work.

Bios are more important than you might think. They give the reader a quick overview of your qualifications to write whatever it is you have to say. They offer a bit of your writing history. And they provide an opportunity to connect with your readers on a personal level.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a string of best-sellers to list on your bio. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have few (if any) credits to your name. The biography is a fluid piece. As you start accumulating credits, you can easily add them and allow some of the less impressive things to fall by the wayside.

Bio Building Guidelines

Writing your bio doesn’t have to be a chore. Some simple suggestions:

Write in the third person. Use your full name in the first sentence. Afterward, refer to yourself either by your first name only, your last name only, or the pronoun “she” or “he.”

Say you are a writer in the very first sentence. If you specialize in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or screenwriting, say so. If you have a niche area that you are especially known for, say so. (“Jane Smith is a freelance writer specializing in worsted yarn and the humor of Albert Einstein.”)

Brag. Tell people what you’ve done. This is no time to be shy. If your writing has ever won any sort of recognition or contest, use the term “award-winning.” If you have written a best-seller, say so. If you have published ten, 20 or 100 articles, mention it. If your mother thinks you’re brilliant—keep it to yourself.

It’s okay to be eclectic. If your credits are all over the map—if you’ve done a little of everything, that’s fine. Something like “Smith has written greeting cards, warning labels, and street signs. She has also provided copy for breakfast cereal boxes,” would be appropriate to highlight your range.

No experience is necessary. If you don’t have many (any?) writing credits to include in your bio, don’t panic. Identify areas in which you specialize, or that you know more about than the average person. Write those down and don’t worry about perceived shortcomings in the byline department. (“Smith has climbed Mt. Everest twice, walked on the moon, and appeared as a Playboy Playmate. She is a double black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys knitting potholders in her spare time.”)

Location, location, location. If you wish, include a short sentence about where you live. Don’t be so specific that the loonies out there can find you and stalk you. But a reference to your family members, your pets, and your hometown can help make you more accessible to your reader.

If writing about yourself in the third person, or “bragging” about your abilities is difficult, write some sample bios for famous people, or for people you know well. Once you get a feel for the exercise, then apply it to yourself.

If you don’t have a bio, I urge you to spend some time creating one. Make it as lengthy and as packed with information as you wish. Then leave it for a few days, come back to it and edit it.

When you’re done, ask yourself if you would read something written by the person the text describes. Work at your bio until the answer to that question is “Yes!”

Bringing Your Bio on Board

Once you have drafted your bio, you will discover that opportunities to use it are plentiful. For instance:

Websites, weblogs, book jackets, and brochures are useful places to include such information.

A short space at the end of magazine articles is often devoted to the author’s biographical information.

If you ever teach or speak publicly, a short bio allows someone to easily introduce you to your audience.

You can also include your bio in a short paragraph in letters introducing yourself or your work to a potential publisher, editor, agent, or manager.

When you use your bio, tailor it for the situation. Use the whole thing on a resume of writing credentials. Shorten it to a single paragraph for inclusion in introductory letters. For speaking introductions, you may wish to shorten it still further. And for “about the author” blurbs, condense it to one or two sentences.

The point, however, is that you cannot utilize something you do not have. So spend some time thinking of how best to introduce you and your writing to the world. Then have fun looking for creative ways to make your bio work for you.

Ami Hendrickson is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, educator, editor, and consultant. She has written for some of the leading horsemen in the world including Clinton Anderson, of Downunder Horsemanship, and hunter trainer and judge Geoff Teall. Find out about her latest projects Website, or visit her blog at Museinks.

So — You Think You Want to Be a Freelance Proofreader?

By Jan K., The Proofer

How many times have you thought to yourself that you would be a good proofreader? You have a decent working vocabulary, you are able to construct a well-turned phrase, and you know when to hyphenate a compound noun (or maybe you don’t, but you could take a good guess!). You’ve always wanted to work at home, and you’ve thought about becoming a freelance proofreader. But just how do you become a freelance proofreader who works at home?

You know who you are. You are the person who picks up the newspaper, a magazine, or a book and shakes your head every time your brain stumbles over a typo, incorrect punctuation, a poorly worded sentence, or lousy page layout and design. Your eye wanders down the right-hand margin taking note of the excessive word breaks and you turn the page only to find an orphaned line perched at the top of the page, sitting there all by its lonesome. “Didn’t anybody proofread this?” you lament. You start thinking that maybe you could be freelance proofreader. You’d really love to “be your own boss” and make your own schedule. What you don’t know, however, is how do you go about making this dream a reality.

I have to be honest — being a freelance proofreader was not my “dream.” My dream was, and still is, to buy the winning lottery ticket. In the meantime, it seems that I enjoy eating on a regular basis. My father had the audacity to be born into Middle Class Working America, so unfortunately, I do not have a family fortune to cover the checks I write at the grocery store. Therefore, I was left with one option: I had to work for a living.

Even so, it was still not my dream. In fact, I was a corporate accountant weenie for almost 20 years. How far removed is that from having my own at-home job as a proofreader? It was more luck and opportunity than anything else that brought me to where I am today — successfully earning a living while working at home, providing a service that I never thought to provide. I happened upon this career through a temporary job that I took several years ago when a lifestyle change had been prompted by a switch in my husband’s careers. That change made it impractical for me to work full time. The temp agency with which I signed was contacted by a company that needed someone who could proofread accounting-based, research-journal articles (some combination, huh?). Given my strong accounting background and the fact that I’d mentioned that I was writing my own novel, my temp recruiter thought I just might be a good match for the job.

It turned out that the recruiter didn’t know how right she was. I temped for that firm for almost a year and when it was time for my husband to relocate (as we had to do from time to time for job purposes), I proposed to the company that I continue to proofread for them off-site. Voila! “Jan K., The Proofer” was born.

I don’t recommend this way of starting out, although you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of checking with temporary agencies in your area. It may be that they get requests for proofreaders; the old axiom “You won’t know until you ask” might come into play here. However, temp agencies needn’t be your only resource. You need only to look at yourself, your interests, and your own work experience and education to provide the fertile soil from which you can cultivate and grow your own at-home proofreading business.

What is it that you do for a living? What trade journals or newsletters are there that pertain to and are published for people in your profession? What literature do you read that relates to what you do? Someone wrote it, someone did the page layout, and someone probably proofread it. That proofreader could be someone like you.

What around-the-town publications do you encounter other than the daily newspaper? Does your town produce a monthly magazine? Are there any graphic design businesses in town that produce brochures, meeting materials, or advertising catalogs? Are there local organizations that put out newsletters? Is there a college or university in or near your area where there are students writing research papers? Does the company for whom you presently work have an in-house newsletter?

Does your church or your kids’ school hand out flyers or news bulletins? Who does the newspaper inserts? When the local stores advertise, who does the advertisements?

If you think about it, printed text surrounds you. You encounter printed matter for almost everything you do. What you need to do now is narrow the field and determine where to find a likely starting place.

It is probable that you are not going to get an at-home proofreading job by simply showing up at a printing shop and announcing “I am a freelance proofreader, give me work.” You might, but my guess is that this particular method of self-advertising is not going to score you enough work to allow you quit your day job. What you need is experience and exposure.

First, if you don’t already know them (and why would you if you’ve been checking gas meters for your local utility company for the last ten years?), you will definitely need to learn the standard proofreading/editing “marks.” These are the little glyphs and squiggles that indicate to the typesetter or page layout artist what corrections need to be made to the printed material and where. Some marks are self-explanatory, while others look like an Ancient Egyptian. There’s no secret-organization ban on you learning the marks. Go to any library and check out a book about editing or proofreading, or go to a bookstore and purchase The Chicago Manual of Style. In it you will find several pages that list all of the standard proofreading marks, what they look like, and what they mean. Practice on any text that you have on hand. Chicago will even provide an example for how the marks are placed in and around the text.

Second, consider taking on some volunteer proofreading work. Try your church, the school, or a local charity group — any organization that puts out something in print. Offer to do it for free in exchange for an acknowledgment: “Proofreading for this newsletter has been provided by Wilomena the Word Wizard.” The acknowledgment does not suggest that it was done for free, but rather who “provided” the service. Work on getting a couple of assignments. Build up a small clientele and ask them if they are willing to act as a reference for you.

Third, do some self-advertising. You can spend less than $50 and produce professional-looking brochures, business cards, and handout flyers with your own computer and printer. Walk through your handy yellow pages and jot down some target markets: graphics design shops, print shops that do typesetting, colleges or universities, and/or publishing firms. Spend some time taking your brochures to these places. Tack up flyers in library, stores that have public bulletin boards, at your neighborhood community center, and storefront shops like Mail Boxes, Etc.

Get a web page! There are dozens of domains that will allow you to create a free web site if you can not afford a dot-com site. Most domains even provide web page design templates for those of you who may be a Web Yutz-bo like me. I now have two regular clients who found me on the Web (they found me, I didn’t have to spend a minute trying to find them — ain’t technology great?).

Get a plain-paper fax machine! You can get them now for $100 or less. I can honestly say that I recouped the cost of my fax machine within the first two months that I had it. I can’t begin to count the number of small jobs I’ve gotten because I was able to receive a three- or four-page project, proof it, and fax it back within the hour or same day. I’ve even gotten jobs that were hundreds of pages long that needed to be faxed back, page by page, as I finished it. I have one regular client for whom I can work only because I have a fax machine.

Fourth, be prepared for this to take a while. Unless Lady Luck plops the perfect client in your lap tomorrow, it is probably going to take you quite a while to build up a clientele. It literally took me four years (and a very supportive husband) to establish myself to the point where I have work almost every day. I do have dry spells, and once a year my primary client has nothing for me for an entire month. So, I’m still working on self-advertising, keeping my web site updated, and schlepping brochures and flyers around town.

Once you actually begin to work, be prepared to do the work and not see the check for a couple of weeks. Not everyone is going to hand over a check when you hand over the completed project, especially if you land any large-firm clients that have Accounts Payable departments where the policy is to pay everything at 30 days, period. Although I do establish up front that my invoices are presented “Due Upon Receipt,” I have had to accept the fact that some companies reply “That’s great, but we’re going to pay you Net 30.” Fortunately, in almost five years of working freelance, I’ve only ever had one client stiff me, and even then it was only for about an hour’s work. Lesson learned: it’s gonna happen.

As with any work-at-home job, it is not for everyone. You have to be self-disciplined and able to devote quality time and concentration to the job at hand. If you can not deliver quality work, and on time, then you will never be successfully self-employed. If you don’t have the skills or education, then you need to get some. If you don’t have any experience, create some through volunteer work. No job contacts? Find them! Don’t know how to design your own brochures or business cards and can’t afford to have them done professionally? Look to your own friends; who do you know who can do that sort of thing and what can you swap or barter with them for the service? (That’s how I got mine done, and my brochures, business cards, and flyers look GREAT!)

If you are determined to work at home, and you are determined to be a proofreader, then you can make it happen. I did. And if I can do it — me, who couldn’t sell game software to a Play Station junkie — you can, too.

For a list of reference books related to proofreading, copyediting, and the publishing industry, please see my recommended book list.

Jan K., The Proofer is a full-time freelance proofreader and copyeditor. In business since 1995, she has enjoyed working for a diverse world-wide clientele, covering subject matter including academic research, medical law, consumer surveys, and self-help materials. See Jan K.’ website for more information.

© Copyright 2001 All rights reserved.

Interview: Screenwriter Madeline DiMaggio

Follow Your Dream: An Interview with Madeline DiMaggio
By Christina Hamlett

(Excerpted from “ScreenTEENwriters”)

Former actress and published author Ms. Madeline DiMaggio is a successful author and television screenwriter whose trademark wit and imagination have been stamped on such shows as Bob Newhart, Kojak, Three’s Company, as well as documentaries, soaps, animation and movies of the week. Her work as a creative consultant and story editor for Paramount Studios and NBC has given her insight on virtually every aspect of writing for the industry. Back when she was in high school, though, her plan for her life was much different.

So what was the dream when you were 17?

DiMaggio_how_to_write_for_televisionWell, I was a drama major and saw myself as an actress. I was starring in all the school plays, I did summer stock, I went to New York, I got my degree in Drama. It was an incredible major for writing because the strength of my writing has always been my dialogue. But had I known that I would one day become a writer, I would have learned how to type. And how to spell! I never studied writing but every time I was in a three-act play, I was actually studying structure and character development and how people talked. A lot of actors end up being very good writers just for that reason. It was a good background to come from.

Suppose you attend a rural high school that doesn’t offer theater or film classes for learning the creative side of the craft.

Well, the first thing I’d do is to take a class at a college or even a weekend workshop where someone such as myself or Michael Hauge will come in and teach a seminar. High school students, by the way, get an incredible break in the cost of these workshops. These kinds of things are really good for an introductory, crash course in the basics. It also doesn’t cost them a dime to go on the Internet and download screenplays just to get a sense of structure and dialogue and what the formatting looks like.

Speaking of the Internet, do you think it has helped or hurt the newcomers’ accessibility to Hollywood?

It has helped terrifically! It has changed the face of the industry, which I think really needs to be changed. There are young filmmakers, for instance, who are already getting deals as a result of 15-minute movies they’re making. It’s an incredible way to market yourself because people now have access to your work who normally wouldn’t.

So what’s this going to do long-term to the careers of Hollywood agents? After all, if you can access script sites and get yourself known electronically, are you going to need a rep?

The fact is that if you’re recognized on the Internet and you get a movie deal as a result, the first thing you’ll need is an agent. You may not need an agent to sell but you do need one to have a career. And as far as getting an agent, it’s just not something that happens overnight. Agents today only want to represent screenplays that they think they can sell very fast. It used to be that they’d take on a new screenwriter because they thought they were very good and that they could build a long relationship together. What they do now is take on a project that they can sell.

Do you need a degree in film to have a film career? Or is it better to major in something that will pay the bills?

That’s a hard one to call. For one thing, film school is incredibly hard to get into, but what’s marvelous about film school is that you’re meeting all the future filmmakers of Hollywood . . . and the world! What you’re making is a bunch of incredible contacts, plus part of the curriculum is that they put you at the studios where you can make even more contacts and get a nuts-and-bolts, hands-on internship in the very business you want to work in. If you’re absolutely, definitely, passionately certain that you want to do this for a living, then you really do need to make it your focus in college. If you aren’t 100% certain, I think that you should take some classes but also find something that you can make money at while you’re pursuing writing as your second job. It just depends on how focused you are and how confident you are about what you want to do with your life.

What about books? There’s certainly no shortage of them on today’s market. How do you decide which ones to add to your bookshelf?

That’s a very personal thing and as subjective as going to movies themselves. For instance, I can be emotionally struck by a movie that’s may not be great and may not affect someone else at all. The important thing is that there was something about it that really stayed with me. What you do in the case of looking for a book to teach you about screenwriting is find someone whose tone and style and message you resonate with, the one who says it to you in a way that you can really grasp. Personally, I think the best book and the best self-taught instruction you can get is a screenplay written by a writer who has sold. That’s because the greatest teacher a student will ever have comes from reading actual scripts and seeing the writer’s vision in its most pure form, minus all the visuals and the Horner score and how good Brad Pitt looks on a horse . . .

How about screenwriting contests?

Unequivocably, there is not one single thing I know of that gives better access or bigger breaks to new screenwriters than screenwriting competitions and fellowships. The people who are reading the entries are people who are in the industry and will be reviewing your work if you get into the finals. I have an agent, for instance, who once agreed to be a judge in a contest only because it meant a trip to Hawaii and being put up in the Hilton Hawaiian Village for a week. “I’m not going to sign up any new clients,” she insisted. On the way back, she told me on the airplane that from the ten scripts she had judged, she was signing one of the writers. She may not have been looking but she certainly knew what she wanted as soon as she found it.

With all the contests to choose from, though, how do you know which ones are legitimate and which ones are just a scam to make money?

The first thing is that you need to do your homework. Find out what writers have won the contest before, what the parameters are, how many people usually enter, who the judges are. Don’t be afraid to just call up and ask questions. I also don’t think any of them should have excessively expensive fees to enter. The Nicholls, for instance, isn’t that expensive but attracts a lot of attention. The Monterey Film Competition, the Disney, the Columbus Discovery Awards—these are all very legitimate and provide tremendous exposure.

Well, let’s say that someone likes my script and I get invited to a pitch session. Once I get there, though, they seem to have changed their minds. Should I try to convince them that they’re wrong?

No. If you see them not responding—or responding negatively to what you have to say—what you do is move on to another idea. Trust me—they get really mad if you try to change their minds! You need to remember that the whole point of a pitch session isn’t that you’re going in to sell anything; it’s that you’re going in there to get information. That’s what’s absolutely crucial about pitching. It’s most likely that they won’t take anything that you originally went in with but that you’ll come away with a better understanding of what they are looking for. You then use that information as an opportunity to come back with an idea that fits in with their agenda.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

The best advice I think they give anyone in Hollywood is what William Goldman said, and that’s “No one knows anything.” For me personally, one that stands out in my mind—and because I write a lot of comedy—was that you should never try to be funny. Hearing that from two well known producers when I was doing Bob Newhart took this incredible weight off my shoulders and I’ve been writing comedy ever since!

You recently co-wrote a script called If the Shoe FIts with Pam Wallace (Witness). Any plug you’d like to give for it?

No. It’s a terrible movie.

What?

It’s a horrible film but a wonderful script. And that’s a good lesson for everyone to learn because it’s an amazing lesson about what can happen between a script and a movie. Sometimes it can be improved and other times—like this—it can just be the worst thing you’ve ever seen! The fact is that Pam and I were paid, we got the money, we got the credit, the movie was made in France on a very low budget, and everything that we spent an incredible amount of time in writing was all taken out. If you read the script and then rent The Stroke of Midnight, which they renamed it, you wouldn’t recognize it.

So you have no control over it once you sell?

That’s true. It’s the luck of the draw—who gets cast, what’s the budget, who directs it, a lot of different factors that can make it better or make it worse. But the end result is that we still got work as a result of that script.

Even if it was a bad film?

Exactly. The point is that in Hollywood, when you sell a film, they don’t ask to see the video; they ask to read the script. Bottom line is that having a bad movie made is better than having no movie made. It doesn’t matter how it turns out as long as the writer gets the money, gets the credit, and can move on to something else. What happens is that you’re marketed on the merit that you sold a script, which they all know is no easy feat to begin with.

What if you just go with a pseudonym for the ones that look like they’re going south

A lot of people do that.

Was that an option for you and Pam?

We actually had the choice of taking our names off of If the Shoe Fits and we chose not to do that. The credits were more important to us.

What do you think is the most valuable thing that the next generation of screenwriters needs to know to be successful?

You have to detach your ego from your material and recognize that the goal is to make that material better. You may not agree with what people are telling you but you still have to listen to it and try to apply what fits the situation. The other thing is that if you’re really passionate, it usually takes about seven scripts before you finally sell something. Consequently, the earlier you start writing, the better. Starting at 17 or 18 puts you right in the ballpark, given the emphasis on youth in Hollywood.

If you were 17 again, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now about this business?

I would have paid more attention in school!

Writing Web Copy

Copywriting for the Web for a wide audience

by James Guill

More and more freelance writing opportunities occur in the digital realm, as more print publications seem to be closing their doors every year.

Providing copy for an online resource is obviously not as simple as it seems. If it were, there would be many more writers on the Web making a living. Many writers tend to be very focused in the specific topics they cover, and as such tend to have difficulty finding and retaining work. So let’s talk a bit about writing Web copy for a wide audience.

When writing Web copy, your writing needs to reflect that you have in-depth knowledge of the subject and you understand current trends in the area you are covering. For example, up until around 2007 anyone that wrote copy for poker sites could get away with just being knowledgeable in Texas Hold’em and the popular players of that game.

However, trends changed around that time and other poker games began to make a comeback. It was no longer enough for a Hold’em specialist to write content on Hold’em. Readers would begin to go elsewhere and look for content on Stud, Omaha, and other games. As such, those that have a broad range of knowledge and kept on top of the pulse of the industry were the ones that prospered.

Web copywriters need to get away from the notion that frequent posting and quantity is what matters. Going back again to the poker industry, several sites have proven that quality reporting and informative articles will draw just as well as regular updates.

Subject: Poker was a website that gained a large following after the events of April 15th of last year when the major online sites were indicted. Their objective was to bring hard hitting and informative reporting regarding the issues surrounding what was known as the Black Friday poker indictments.

There were periods of time where the site did not update for days or even weeks at a time. However, when they did update, their content was among the best in the industry and they quickly became the main source of news and legal information surrounding online poker in the United States.

While I don’t recommend going for a week or more at a time without posting, there is no need to update numerous times a day with every little piece of fluff news or information. After a while, viewers get tired of having to sort through the fluff and will go elsewhere. Remember: quality over quantity.

Every Website has its own approach when it comes to web content writing. Some Websites do things better than others. However, those that keep their fingers on the pulse of their industry and provide quality content are the ones that tend to survive over the long term.

James Guill is an online content writer who writes almost everything under the sun. He publishes numerous articles for travel, food and gaming sites as a freelance writer. As a freelance reporter, James has covered the poker world for the past five years.