From The Dishwasher Froths Success

By C.S. Paquin

Success as a freelance writer has come from the dishwasher— no, not via a lucrative commercial-copy gig bubbling with the attributes of a kitchen appliance, but from the old dishwasher installed in our new apartment.

The state of my kitchen defines my professional success and pre-dishwasher, chaos reigned! Last night’s dishes piled high don’t auger well for a productive morning, but once those counter tops sparkle, well, I’m free to tackle whatever chore is next. The only problem is, I hate dishpan hands, and in avoidance, it’s easy for me to waste an entire day—in fact, the task only takes on a sense of urgency when it’s time for dinner. This disorganization sounds the death knell for my writing career—haphazard working hours, staying up too late to make deadline after hours of procrastination, and working fitfully amidst the laundry, vacuuming, and errands—all impatiently demanding attention once I’m done in the kitchen.

But now, the delight of dealing with dirty dishes without delay, has sparked a catalyst. Each morning, after my daughter goes to school and the baby to the sitter, I tidy the apartment and throw in a load of laundry while the dishwasher sings its sloshy song. By 9 a.m., cappuccino time, I’m opening the mail, and with the rest of the place clutter-free, it’s prudent to keep my desk as pristine and file my papers and pay the bills. I’ve discovered, too, that if I balance the checkbook every few days, then it takes just a few minutes, and I even remember what I bought.

By 9.30 a.m., in disbelief at how early it still is, I switch on my computer and check for looming deadlines. I have regular editing jobs, a small column for a regional magazine, as well as sending out queries to new markets. The difference is, I’m really writing the queries and mailing them. Pre-dishwasher, I’d sit and dream about it, because with a brimming sink, I couldn’t possibly start the query process. So, with my attention not distracted by the chores, I set up and conduct interviews, write and edit what needs to be done, and send in work not only hours, but days before deadline. Ticking off the tasks on my list is addictive and the more I check off, the more inspired I am to find and complete new projects.

Within a few weeks, my flailing career takes new shape—more gigs appear, and checks trickle in. “Aha,” I think to myself, as I add regular banking to the task list: Self-discipline does pay!

This revelation chases away the nagging suspicion that haunted me—that I’m more in love with the idea of writing, than actually writing. These days, as I see my reflection in the shiny plates, I say to myself quite proudly: “I am a freelance writer!”

C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in a variety of genres—from news writing to humor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism, and dreams of being a best-selling author. Her first writing love, however, is creative nonfiction and personal essays.

Anatomy of a Newspaper Feature

By Ben Baker

As a newspaper editor for longer than I really want to think about, I’ve written, read, edited, and cursed more newspaper feature articles than anyone except another newspaper editor.

The cursing part comes in because most newspaper feature articles I read are one-person interviews which are almost monologues of the person being interviewed. Nothing exciting, some potentially interesting anecdotes, but it’s not the kind of writing that reaches out and grabs a reader by the eyeballs and drags him into a story.

The fault for this is twofold: most newspaper reporters are under serious deadline pressure to get something written and get it on a page. This leaves little time for getting seriously creative in the storytelling process and storytelling is what a solid feature should do. The second problem is newspaper reporters are taught to keep a professional distance from the story, which prevents them from getting inside the story and looking out.

I recently had the chance to write a feature story, which is rare for me. As the story involved the father of one of my friends, I got into deeper than I normally would have. The story turned out to be a killer piece. I have included it below with some story-construction notes embedded in parentheses to show the process of how I generated this award-winning story.

By Ben Baker Editor (Byline. Duh.)

His arm reaches as high as it can as the tall man waves vigorously at the Cessna plane taking off at the Turner County airport. (This lede is intentionally ambiguous because I had awesome art to go with the story—a hunched over man covered in gauze between two very tall men next to a small single-engine plane. The 80 pt kicker headline read “A Dying Wish.” I knew I had the reader hooked with these two visual elements, but I wanted to make some suspense. It was important to show this big man waving at the plane for reasons that will become more obvious later in the story.)

You can’t see the big man’s eyes tearing up because he’s got sunglasses on as he watches the plane soar off. It’s not a wave good-bye. Well, then again it sort of is a way good-bye. (Key #1—why the wave was important. Here we have a big man. Men, as the adage goes, are not supposed to cry. Yet, here a very large man, as evidenced by the artwork, is crying. There’s also another suspense set-up in the double-entrendre wave goodbye. Again, this will make sense later into the story. )

(These two ‘graphs are also a key place where most newspaper features fall down. I have not given the reader any information in the story that is useful so far as a plot line goes. But I have taken a line from fiction writers and I have built major character into this man in four short sentences. Character development is the number one area where newspaper feature stories fall down. A good feature writer doesn’t just interview. A good feature writer observes and reports on what is seen. Show the reader some details. )

The tall man in sunglasses is watching a lifelong dream happen as the plane disappears from sight. The airplane trip, piloted by Jay Leatherwood, is a ride sponsored by the Ashburn Pilot’s Association. Seated next to Mr. Leatherwood is a special passenger. A passenger who is stooped over, and has a head covered with gauze, a passenger who is getting a dream 80+ years in the making come true. (This paragraph sets the hook, to borrow a fishing term. I have grabbed the reader with a few key words: “Lifelong dream” speaks to everyone who has an unmet personal goal of any kind. We all have dreams. “Special passenger” lets the reader know this is not an ordinary event. The next sentence partially explains this, but builds more suspense. The “80+ years” is just more suspense and tightens the grip on the reader. These minor details are one of the instances where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Also, note my use of these descriptive details scattered throughout the story. Observe absolutely, but take your observations and shotgun them through the story. Keep feeding your reader bits and bites of information. Don’t lump all your observations into one sentence or one paragraph. It’s like butter and sour cream on a baked potato. Mix the condiments through the entire tater and it will taste good from the first bite to the last. )

The special passenger is James. J. Zabriskie. The gauze protects the skin-cancer ravaged skin on his skull from being damaged. (Now you know the man’s name. Critical information, but I delayed announcing it intentionally. I linked it to the cancer. Being in South Georgia, skin cancer here is extremely common. Everyone I know has had family members touched by cancer and every extended family down here has lost someone to cancer. Cancer, as with any dread disease, generates sympathy in a reader, especially when the disease is caused by external forces the victim had no control over. )

The internal cancer, well, it’s terminal. (Death. It’s the great equalizer. I wrote this sentence exactly like I would speak it to someone. In fact, before I wrote it, I spoke it aloud. The word “well” separated by commas generates a dramatic pause which lets the reader know something of major importance is coming up. Two simple words “it’s terminal” deliver an emotional blow like nothing else. )

James is Craig Zabriskie’s (call him Craig Z) dad. Craig Z is the tall man in sunglasses who watched the plane take off on the ride of a lifetime for his dad. (A simple wrap-up sentence to tie everything above together. Now the light goes off in the reader’s head. The suspense in ended, but a new suspense has been created. The old man went flying, which was his wish. So what was it like? This is where the interview with the feature subject is very important. I use Craig Z to ID the son because that is how Craig Z is known in our community. As he explains, no one can pronounce his last name. )

“I would have given my life to fly,” the elder Mr. Z says standing outside the plane. (Just me being a bit difficult and teasing the reader by dragging out the suspense. It’s very important that this kind of tease be short. Take it too long and you frustrate the average reader who will move on to a less annoying story, unless the reader likes mysteries in which case more teasing is a good thing. I also differentiate the two men by calling the father Mr. Z. )

After 83 years, Mr. Z got his wish to soar above the earth, shaking off the fetters of gravity that have kept him bound to the surface. (An almost hyperbolic statement. Pure and simple, it’s a case of me as a writer injecting imagery into a story. Instead of saying, “He got to fly.” I jazzed it up with extensive descriptive language. This too is another failing of many newspaper features. Instead of telling the reader Mr. Z flew, I give, as I count, nine separate images: Age, soar, earth, shaking off, fetters, gravity, kept, bound and surface. Again, a case of the whole is greater than sum of the parts. Egad, this is so hackneyed, but so true—show, don’t tell. )

As Mr. Leatherwood and Craig Z helped the elder Mr. Z into the front seat of the plane, Craig Z joked “This is the Turner County Make a Wish Foundation for old farts.” (Straight quote. No way I could improve on it. Sometimes you get a gem of an interview, sometimes you don’t. I got lucky with this one. )

The Zabriskies are carnival people. Craig Z runs a bigtop tent manufacturing and repair facility on Stanford Road. He moved up here from Florida and resumed operations in the old Industrial Park before moving to the Standford Road facility. He got into the business because of his Dad. (More background info. I could have dressed this up some, but the story is really about Mr. Z, so I left this pretty plain. But, it’s important information as the next ‘graph illustrates. )

“I could write you a serious story just about his life,” Craig Z said. “He grew up with his mother. His father left them. He went into the carnivals to try and impress his dad. He was a WWII prison camp guard.” (Luck of the draw, pure and simple. A great interview and a man with an interesting past. )

After that, Mr. Z went to a trade school and learned about the big diesel engines that power so many carnival rides. (More background, but as most people have been to a carnival, they probably never gave a thought to what goes on behind the scenes. Still, running away with the circus is often a childhood dream and still something adults joke about. Here’s one man who did it. This creates another emotional link between the reader and Mr. Z. More luck of the draw sort of. I say sort of, because everyone has a story—sometimes you just have to look harder to find it. I didn’t have to look long to find this one. )

Even through all this, he never let go of the dream of flight. (A setup line. Pure and simple. Short. Sweet. Alludes to hard times and still holding on to a dream—this is clearer in the next paragraph. Another emotional link forged in the chain connect the reader and Mr. Z. As a writer, you should look for ways to connect the feature subject to the reader. )

“When he was a little kid, he used to build model airplanes. That was his passion, to learn to fly,” Craig Z said of his dad. “He was born with one bad eye and never could go for his pilot’s license.” (More background, but presented in a killer quote. I got lucky again. )

The plane meanwhile, has warmed up and is taxiing out to the runway. (I draw the reader back to the story at hand. I wrote this story in present tense first, changed it to past tense and went back to present tense because in my mind present tense for the flight is more real and immediate to the reader. It brings the reader into the story with me. The sentence also announces the flight, mentioned in the lede, is about to begin.)

“I’ve got to get over here,” Craig Z said by way of excusing himself to the other side of his pickup. “I’m all busted up over this.” (More luck of the draw quotes, but also ones that show Craig Z has made his own emotional investment in the story. Parents will clearly identify with this as will people who’ve had to care for ailing parents. )

After a few minutes to recover his composure, he comes back around to the front of the truck. The plane is at the far end of the runway. Mr. Leatherwood is preparing for takeoff. (Straight observation. Keeps the reader involved in the here and now in the story. I could have expanded this to discuss the plane zipping down to the far end of the runway while Craig leaned on his truck, but I chose to leave this part unspoken and merely hint at it. This is a case of forbidden fruit is always sweeter. By leaving it to the reader’s imagination, they can create in their own mind what happened and thereby move even deeper into this feature. )

“It’s been his lifelong dream. Jay is fulfilling it for him,” Craig Z said. “He’s terminal with cancer. He came home here with me to spend his last days. I thank God for all the people here in Turner County. Y’all have been so great to all of us.” (It’s called Southern Hospitality. It’s what we do. It’s also luck of the draw on quotes. )

The plane is now rolling up the runway. Tina Zabriskie, Mr. Z’s granddaughter is filming the ride from the ground. Nicholas Zabriskie, Mr. Z’s grandson is riding in the plane’s back seat. The plane leaves the runway and Mr. Leatherwood pulls back on the yoke. The plane rises. Craig Z waves as hard as he can. (This wraps the plane ride, but not the story. )

THE NEXT MORNING (subhead break—announces a second part of the story. )

The next morning at the Zabriskie house, walking in the house from the shop out back, Craig Z said his dad had a wonderful time Thursday afternoon. (More setup. We know Craig Z has a giant tent shop. This is just stage dressing and fill-in material to build on later.)

“He was grinning from ear to ear,” he said. (So it’s trite. Believe me, the average newspaper reader doesn’t have a problem with trite quotes in a story like this. )

Inside, Mr. Z is laying back in a recliner at the Zabriskie home. His nurses are leaving the house, having prepared him for another day. (I remind the readers Mr. Z is terminal with cancer. At this point in the story, that detail is a bit fuzzy for some readers. The recliner is also one of those condiment issues. I could have said he was sitting, or just said Mr. Z was in the home. By mentioning recliner, I have made Mr. Z even more real as a person to the reader because the reader can identify with laying back in a recliner. Give the reader something to hang onto and identify with in your feature article. )

“It was good. He took me for a nice ride. We got a good view of what Ashburn, Ga., looks like from the air,” he said. (Not much of a quote, but it needs to be a quote. Mr. Z has to put it in his own words. He continues shortly. )

The first destination in the air was the Z family house and the shop. From there, they flew around the County. Mr. Z said he saw big drainage ponds—somewhere. (I chose to paraphrase this because Mr. Z’s quotes were not very good. Besides which, the county I live in is dotted with irrigation ponds. So, the reader could imagine Mr. Z flew over their house. This makes another connection. )

The afternoon ride was rescheduled from Thursday morning. Late Thursday morning the winds picked up. Mr. Leatherwood was concerned it would be too rough in the air for Mr. Z so the flight was rescheduled with hopes for calmer winds. (Creates tension. This is important in any good story. But, we already know what happened, so why is this important? “Mr. Leatherwood was concerned” is the central element of this paragraph. It puts a link between the pilot and Mr. Z and the reader. Also, this graph will become important with the next graph. )

“He was afraid of shaking me. He could have shaken me like a salt shaker and I would have gone,” Mr. Z said. (WHAM! Now you see why the turbulence graph was so important where it was place. Again, luck of the draw on quotes. )

He said the flight was more and better than he expected. (segue .)

“I got to get up and see everything. It looked real good,” he said. As for what was best, “Everything. I can’t put my finger on it,” he said. (His own words. Very important because this is an emotional statement, not a factual observation like what he saw from the air. )

There were no surprises either. (In interviews with someone achieving a goal or doing something new I find one of the most revealing questions I can ask is “Did anything surprise you?” Sometimes it’s a bust, sometimes not. This appears to be a bust, but isn’t as you’ll see. )

“I was well pleased with everything. It was a good takeoff and landing, not that I’m an authority,” he said. (This shows why no surprises is not a bust. Also, an emotional statement so it needs to be in his words ).

“I told him just don’t go kamikaze on us with a smile on your face,” Craig Z said. “We want you around a while longer.” (Luck of the quote draw. )

Mr. Z said he wouldn’t do that. He also wasn’t worried about the landing; he knew the plane was going to land. The important part was getting airborne. (Reinforces the dream realized. Also links kamikaze crash landing to walk away from it landing. )

Mr. Z retired from a lifetime of working the carnival routes. He plans to be cremated and wants his remains poured on Interstate 90 North and South. He wants that because he spent so much of his life on that road with the carnivals. (Segue. Background information with ZING! We know what Mr. Z did and cremation is a rarity down here. To have his ashes poured out of a plane, what an image. Again, I got lucky with this interview. )

“I said, will it be OK if we dust you out the airplane? He said ‘Hell yeah, that will be even better,'” Craig Z said. (Even more luck. Craig Z is just a great interview. Use of the word “fart” and “hell” did give me pause since my paper serves a VERY conservative Bible belt readership. But I made the decision to use the words for two reasons: It was a direct quote. It made a major emotional impact. )

But now, he’s somewhat changed his mind. He said he’d be happy to have his remains spread over Turner County, but do it from the air. (Errrr, WHAT?! is what the reader is now thinking. A sudden unexpected shift of direction which was the luck of the draw. )

“What the hell. It’s better than being shot from a cannon. That’s a one shot thing,” he said. “They sprinkle me everywhere. They’ll know Jim Zabriskie was there.” (Now some readers are horrified, which is good because I know this story has connected on a gut level. As much as I hate to admit it, again luck of the draw on quotes. )

Craig Z jokes that this year’s cotton crop should be a bumper one, growing off his Dad’s ashes. (More Z family humor. May be disturbing to some, but it is who they are. As a writer I have an obligation to present them as real as I can. )

Mr. Z will celebrate his birthday in April. If he’s able to, he’ll fly again on his birthday. (A promise to repeat the dream. Readers are now cheering Mr. Z on. )

Again, if he’s able, Mr. Leatherwood has promised to let Mr. Z take over the controls for a little while. As far as Mr. Z is concerned, that’s a promise Mr. Leatherwood will have to keep. (And the crowd goes wild! They storm the field! They tear down the goal post! They throw Mr. Z from one end zone to another! Sorry. Got a little carried away myself .)

“I’m going to make it,” he said. (More cheering! )

A SURPISING ATTITUDE (Another subhead break to announce a change in the story. This was also included at the request of the Z family. This being a feature about Mr Z, I felt it was important to put it in because it adds even more substance to the flesh of the man I have built to this point.)

The one thing about South Georgia which has surprised him is the reception he and the family have received.

“I didn’t realize we had so many good friends here,” Mr. Z said. “They didn’t do that when we went to Okechobee. We had to pay for everything. (Here) everyone cares.” (It’s called Southern Hospitality baybee! We like it when someone compliments us on it, which, combined with the next two comments, is the cement that binds the reader to the Z family in a very personal way. )

“Here, everybody took us in just like family,” Craig Z said.

“We thank you for the love and support in this community,” Mr. Z said.

Post-story note since I don’t wanna leave readers of Absolute Write hanging—Mr. Z died 11 days before his birthday. Pilot Jay Leatherwood said Mr. Z is going to get his plane ride anyway ride. Mr. Z did on Sunday, May 13. Mr. and Mrs. Z’s ashes were combined into one bag. The combined ashes were dumped over Craig Z tent plant and the surrounding fields. Working on this story now.

Ben Baker is a South Georgia newspaper editor, author and evangelist. He’s a member of the Southern Humorists and can be emailed at redneckgenius AT gmail.com>.

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.

10 Ways to Annoy a Newspaper Editor

By Joni Hubred-Golden

Almost 20 years ago, I broke into journalism by walking, wide-eyed with fear, into a tiny newspaper office and asking whether the editor would accept a freelance submission. Since I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to consider a topic, he gave me the name of an artist who made rugs. That’s just how he put it, too: “She makes rugs. Go talk to her.” As I left, he added, “And take a camera.”

A few weeks later, the article —in better shape than the lengthy piece I turned in—was published on the front page of my hometown newspaper. And I was (pardon the pun) hooked. It was only a matter of time before a trembling, shy woman walked into my office and said, “I’m a freelance writer.” What a difference a desk makes. Suddenly, it was my job to critically evaluate someone else’s writing to determine whether it deserved a spot in my newspaper.

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of freelance writers, and some have gone on to successful careers in community journalism. But for every success story, I’ve met someone who took a writing course and heard someone say, “Your hometown newspaper is a great place to build your clip file!”

Guess again, dear writer. Guess again.

Today’s newspapers aren’t the same wide-open playground of years gone by. Over the past 20 years, the Internet has pulled readers by the droves onto the information superhighway. Some newspapers have gone with the flow. Others struggle with significant losses in circulation and advertising revenues, and nationally, newspaper readership dropped 20 percent just in the past two years.

These days, the words, “I’m sorry, I just don’t have a freelance budget” aren’t necessarily a brush-off. Most editors—at least the ones I know—will make room for a well-written, targeted freelance article. And whether you get paid in dollars or copies, it’s well worth your time to make contact with the editor of any publication distributed in your area.

Now, when I say, “make contact,” I don’t mean “show up in her office on a deadline day.” A woman I’ll call Arlene (to protect us both) never quite understood how long five minutes can be when you’ve got a graphic artist waiting on a banner headline for your lead story.

Arlene is a classic Freelance Flop. She convinced people to publish her writing, but never more than once or twice. She made every mistake in the book. These mistakes will keep you from getting published— that’s a guarantee. Placing my tongue firmly in cheek, I offer them to you in no particular order:

  1. Call an editor any time of day, any day of the week. Be surprised and offended when she refuses to take your call.
  2. Drop by the office “for just a few minutes” and don’t leave until you’ve pitched at least three or four story ideas. Insist on seeing the editor in person, because you want to get started right away.
  3. Don’t let anyone—not an assistant, not a reporter —stand in your way, even if they claim the editor is on deadline. Editors are always on deadline. Be firm about your request.
  4. Don’t worry about subject matter, because newspapers will publish anything. Your recap of last Sunday’s guest sermon by a visiting pastor deserves a good placement, too.
  5. Likewise, length is a matter of personal preference. The newspaper pays by the column inch, after all.
  6. Using correction fluid to clean up your mistakes can be messy and completely re-typing takes too much time. Jot down needed corrections in the margins.
  7. Because the editor knows you so well, there’s really no need to clutter up your manuscript with contact information. Or page numbers. Just staple it together and add a little handwritten note about when you expect the piece to be published.
  8. Insist on payment for all submissions, with the exception of a short letter to the editor. You are a professional freelance writer, you have paid your dues, and you deserve compensation for your work.
  9. Follow up with the editor no later than 12 hours after submitting your work. Reiterate your understanding of payment terms and the publication date.
  10. In the event the article does not appear when the editor promised, call to remind her about the promise and let her know you will give your work to her competitor if it’s not promptly published.

Now, I realize most writers are smart enough to steer clear of these mistakes. Some might find the list insulting. Before you start writing hate mail, consider this:

Arlene never realized any of the mistakes she made were mistakes. She thought she was protecting herself and her work, and she lacked one of the most important qualities I’ve seen in every successful freelance writer I’ve ever known: humility.

If you don’t mind annoying an editor, go ahead and ignore her deadlines, invade her workspace and test her patience. If you want to see your writing published, or better yet develop a working relationship, ask when she might have time to chat with you. Come prepared with a few local story ideas. And it wouldn’t hurt to be a little wide-eyed, too.

Joni Hubred-Golden, a writer with 20 years of experience in community journalism, recently launched Michigan Women’s Forum, a news-based web-zine designed to inform and inspire Michigan women. In addition to writing most of the site’s content, she also dabbles in marketing and writes a regular column for the Farmington Observer, based in her hometown of Farmington, Michigan.

Analyze Your Writing Market for Optimum Success

By Annette Young

Check out the latest issue of the Writers & Artists Yearbook and you can find information on a multitude of magazines that accept submissions from freelance writers. But is the information they provide enough? The brief description can indicate whether the publication may be the type of magazine you wish to write for, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of writing, the word length or actual house style may be vastly different from your initial preconception.

There is no substitute for studying your chosen market; although this can be a costly procedure, you can limit your spending and purchase only a selected few of the publications so that you get a feel for the content. Look on these purchases as an investment for your freelance career. To keep your start-up costs down, it is possible to look at back copies of magazines initially, but remember that markets have to study reader trends and their requirements may well have changed since that issue. You also need to ensure that any article you may be working on has not already been previously published within your chosen magazine.

Before making any purchases, begin by working your way through the Yearbook and ascertain any potential publications, then narrow your choice until you have a few favorites and that’s when your research really begins. Choose your publications wisely; try to focus on magazines whose criteria suit your own specialist subjects or interests. Every market has their own needs and by compiling a file that can list specifics, this could undoubtedly increase your chance of success.

Many magazines will have their writers’ guidelines available on their website, but if not, send a written request asking for them. Always enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope and once you receive the guidelines, study them intently; there may be some useful advice which you can add to your file.

Taking time to do the relevant research now will save endless rejection letters flooding through the letterbox. Editors do not want to reject a well-written article or story; they have space to fill within the magazine and if your submission matches their criteria, then you have one foot in their publishing door.

Editors receive a great many submissions each month, many of which are completely unsuitable for that publication. If you have managed to pen a carefully crafted piece that is ideal for that market then you will be in with a chance.

An article that has far too many words or has not been targeted at a specific audience, however well written, will have little chance of success. But when researching, don’t just look at the main articles to get a good overview of the publication as a whole. It is vital that you study every part of the magazine and that means do not overlook the fillers or the advertisements. All of these provide great indications on desired subject matter and it also gives you an insight into the type of people who purchase the magazine.

Understanding the age group for each magazine is imperative. There is very little point writing a short story about teenage problems if your chosen market is aimed at the retirement sector. Whether stories or articles are your main consideration, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can read just one issue and then submit your work. Your comprehensive file will be invaluable so that you know which subjects have been covered, thus avoiding querying any previously published topics. This saves you wasting your time researching and then writing about the subject and it saves the Editor from having to discard it.

Take an average 20 stories or articles and see if you can find a general pattern contained within them. Try and visualize the type of person who would be reading this publication. Double-check the word count and whether it is written in the first or third person. This may sound like hard work but no one is going to hand you a writing opportunity on a platter. Opportunities within the publishing industry have to be grasped firmly in both hands and for most writers, golden opportunities have to be created.

It is worth checking to see if your chosen magazine uses the same writers on a continual basis, but don’t let that put you off. Your submission still has a chance, especially if you have done your homework. Remember to address your article to the right person. Sending your precious manuscript to someone who has not worked for the magazine for some time will only show that you have not researched the publication thoroughly enough. This will not show you in a favorable light.

With Internet access being so readily available to all, research for your article is now much easier, but remember to check and double check your facts. It is worth remembering that it is very easy to upload information onto the web and facts may not always be accurate.

Increase your chances of publishing success by careful research and before you know it, your byline will be appearing in magazines everywhere.

Based in the UK, Annette Young currently works as a freelance writer specializing in healthcare and relationship articles but also teaches creative writing and journalism both at college and for private students. She is currently Co-Editor of a new holistic website advocating the benefits of living a more natural lifestyle. Website: Your Life Naturally. You can email Annette Young at annettejyoung AT hotmail.co.uk.

10 Suggestions for Sticking with Writing

By Penny A. Zeller

I contemplated quitting early in my career as a writer. My reason? A rejection letter.

I received a request to see a bicycling article I had spent weeks perfecting. Excitedly, I sent the article and numerous photographs to the editor. Not a week later, I received the manuscript back in the mail with a note rejecting it. I was devastated. My heart and soul had been poured into those three pages of text. I am ashamed to say that I cried for days and thought seriously about giving up my newfound career.

I wondered if I really was cut out to be a writer. Sure, I’d had rejections before, but never had I worked so hard on an article as I had on this one. If you get stuck in a rut, as I did, here is some advice that has helped me along the way:

  1. Seek out family and friends. My husband was ultimately the one who told me not to let this one editor be the one to make me quit the career I had dreamed of since I was seven. I am grateful that he sat me down and gave me the “you listen here”speech, and I am grateful I listened.
  2. Join a local writing group. Years ago when I walked into my first writing group meeting with my four-month-old daughter on my hip, I never realized just how valuable the Range Writers would be. I have gained insights, confidence, and lasting friendships from this group of people with whom I share the same goal.
  3. Find an editor. Every writer has inborn antennae to “catch” things others may miss. When I heard that my new neighbor was a retired teacher who had once taught English, my antennae went on full alert. Now was the time to find out if I should be writing as a profession. With several manuscripts in hand, I walked over to her house and asked if she would be willing to edit my work. She was honored. Since that time, I have learned extensively about punctuation and have had many typos caught by this woman who I am proud to call my editor. She gives me honest and constructive criticism—and that’s what a good editor does.
  4. Discover your niche(s). So maybe writing about bicycling wasn’t my niche. What about other topics? I believe there are as many topics as there are writers to write about them. So, I found my niches. When I look back on the articles sold, I find that most of them fall under one or more of the following categories: they are geared toward teenagers, include some type of spirituality, or deal with health and fitness. Does that mean I can’t write about other topics? No, it just means that for now I am perfecting, focusing, and honing a few niches.
  5. Develop a “happy file.” I have never kept my rejections (there is a reason why my outdoor garbage can is next to my mailbox!) But I DO keep thank-you notes from people I have interviewed, congratulatory notes, newspaper write-ups about me, and “atta girl” letters from editors. I place all these in a file to resort to whenever I need that extra motivation.
  6. Examine your motives. There is a reason why a person wants to be a writer. For me, it was my dream before I could use a computer. The idea of dreaming up new things to write about and then proceeding with the written project is exciting and challenging to me. Examine why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Write down the three main reasons. File it away in your “happy file”and read it whenever you feel like giving up.
  7. Keep an “idea file.” Ideas always come to me while I am taking a shower or suffering from insomnia. I quickly write these ideas down and file them in my “idea file.” This is a highly motivational tool. If you don’t write those articles and stories, who will?
  8. Realize that opinions are subjective. I realized that everyone has his own opinion and what may not look good to one editor may look acceptable to another. Keep this in mind when you receive a rejection letter. That was one editor. Big deal! There are a million more and they all have different opinions. The chances are good that one of them could easily like the article you are proposing.
  9. Look back to the past. Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I look back at old query letters I wrote at the beginning of my career. I am amazed at how far I have come. Keep copies of the queries you send “this is a great way to track your progress in the future.”
  10. Do not give up. I am a firm believer in perseverance. Stick with your dream, and someday your dream will be realized.

Penny A. Zeller writes for national and regional publications across North America. Some of her recent credits include Women’s Health & Fitness, ePregnancy, Grit, Woman’s Touch, Hopscotch, and WREN Magazine.

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.

Six Steps to Getting Published

By Georganne Fiumara

Freelance writing is a rewarding way to work at home. As a writer, you have the special opportunity to influence what others think and do. You can touch emotions and possibly even change the course of a reader’s life. Each year, millions of men and women will attempt to have their words published in magazines, newspapers or books but only a very small percentage will be successful. Those who remain unpublished may secretly feel that the published writers have more talent than they do. Although some have more skill than others, talent is not the reason why most freelance writers achieve success. The following six steps can help you get started on the road to getting published:

  1. Now is the time to start. Ask yourself this question: Do I want to be a writer, or do I want to write? There is a difference. Becoming a writer is a fantasy: writing is hard work. If you are waiting for the right time and place to begin writing, you will never find out if you can do it. Don’t wait until the kids start school or until you can afford a computer. To become a writer, the first thing you have to do is write—right now. There is no better time to begin, and waiting is just an excuse to avoid failure.
  2. Learn your craft. There is not enough room here to give writing lessons, but I can tell you what you have to do to become the best writer you can be: Read and write. Read the type of writing that you want to do. Read all of the publications you want to write for. As you read, notice the best and worst traits of each writer. Write down phrases that you admire. You can even type out a good article to get a feel for how the sentences are structured. Then, read about writing. There are many excellent books about writing and most are available from Writer’s Digest Book Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. They also publish an excellent magazine called Writer’s Digest. The most important way to improve your writing is to write. Like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will get. Eventually you will develop your own style, your unique voice, which will make it a little easier to complete your assignment. But this won’t happen until you write as much as you can.
  3. Choose your topics carefully. What you write about is more important that your writing skill. Your topics must be marketable. Determine if your article is of interest to the readers of the magazine you are targeting. What makes you qualified to write such an article? Do you have expertise in this area, or will you interview those who do? Is your topic one that has not been covered recently, or do you have a fresh angle on the subject? Will you be teaching your readers a skill that they might have to pay to learn elsewhere? Will the information you provide empower your readers? If you cannot meet these guidelines, it is unlikely that a magazine would be interested in publishing your material.
  4. Do what successful writers do. You may have been blessed with some writing ability, but you will not become a published writer until you learn the methods used by working freelancers. Everyone has heard the expression “Write about what you know.” If you want to have your writing published, you also need to write for publications you know. Until you become a regular reader, there is no way you can know the “personality”of the magazine, the type of articles they buy, and which ideas have not yet been used. Just as you cannot draw a picture of someone you have never met, you cannot write an acceptable article for a publication you have never seen. If you read about a magazine that is not available in your area, send for a sample issue and ask for writer’s guidelines. Become as informed as possible but do not write the article until you contact the publication with a query. Experienced writers do not submit completed articles. They do not want to waste their time completing work that has not been assigned. Instead, learn how to demonstrate your writing ability and present your ideas in a focused proposal letter called a query. Splurge on good stationery with your name and address at the top. Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply. Appearance and professionalism does count.
  5. Effective marketing is as important as good writing. If you view your writing as your “product”; you will understand why it is so important to use marketing techniques to convince and editor to buy what you are selling. Writing is a business, and only those who realize this will have a chance of succeeding. Use your query to explain to the editor why the readers will be interested in your topic and how they can benefit from your words. Unpublished writers have the greatest difficulty selling their work. You can make it easier to become published if you don’t try for the national magazines right away. If you have to, write for the local shopper newspaper for free, but do the very best job you can do. No one will know that you were not paid for your writing and you will have published clips to show the editors of larger publications.
  6. Rejection is part of the process. No one likes to be told that their work is unacceptable, but it is especially difficult to have a creative endeavor rejected. The great majority of people who want to become writers submit one article, poem or short story. When the publication sends them a preprinted rejection slip, the writer feels that his or her worst fears have been confirmed. So, the manuscript goes into a drawer and never again sees the light of day. This is a very big mistake. Publications reject work for many reasons. Bad writing is only one of them. They may have covered a similar topic recently, or the publication does not use poetry, or the editor had a bad day and rejected everything that crossed her desk. Or, maybe this particular piece was not up to professional standards. The reason doesn’t really matter. It is important, however, to decide at the very beginning of your career that rejection is just one part of the acceptance process. Until you are willing to take the chance of being rejected over and over again, you will never have your work accepted. Even the best baseball players strike out more than they get hits. But, the strike-outs do not take one bit of the glory away from each home run. Instant success cannot be expected in any profession. Becoming a published writer is a process. Anyone with a little talent and a lot of focus and perseverance can succeed.

Georganne Fiumara is a writer specializing in home business topics. She has had more than 85 articles published in magazines and newspapers such as Family Circle, Women’s Day, American Baby, Income Opportunities, The New York Times and Newsday. In 1984, she founded Mothers’ Home Business Network, a national organization providing ideas, information and inspiration for mothers who choose to work at home, with a Web site at homeworkingmom.com.

Home Advantage

By Bill Harper

If you’re a seasoned freelancer, then you’ll have discovered the real benefit of working from home: being able to act like a complete slob while you’re writing.

Sure, you tell everyone else about the flexible hours, being your own boss, and not having to drive to work every day. But let’s face it: the best thing about the job is being able to sit at the computer in your underwear, eating ice-cream straight from the tub, and watching your dirty clothes crawl to the washing machine in a desperate attempt to get washed.

Trouble is, once you’ve been doing it for a while you start to think it’s perfectly normal behavior (what psychologists call “Not having a life”). Which is fine, until a client wants to meet you to talk about a possible assignment.

Suddenly your mind is filled with questions. “What do they want me to write about?” “How much are they paying?” “Where did I put my pants?”

Fortunately, you may find just the answer you’re looking for in this list of Frequently Amusing Questions. (Then again, you might not.)

Let’s start with the most obvious question (especially from where I’m standing):

Q. Is what I’m wearing important?

A. Yes, because in today’s business world clothes do more than just cover up your rude bits. They tell the world where you fit in the social structure (or, in your case, if you fit).

Q. So should I wear a suit and tie?

A. Not necessarily. What you’re trying to do is wear clothes of the same “rank” as your client so they feel as if you’re on their level. So you should either:

  • look at what they’re wearing through the peephole, yell out “Just a minute,” and quickly change into something similar, or
  • answer the door in your underwear and ask them to strip down to theirs.

Q. Should I offer them drinks?

A. Hey, why not? Maybe they enjoy a drink first thing in the morning too, although they’re probably used to it being poured from a bottle rather than a cask.

Q. I meant coffee.

A. Oh. Of course. Yes, a cup of coffee would probably be a good way to break the ice. Just remember to have a fresh carton of milk in the fridge. (The phrase “one lump or two?” is meant for the sugar.)

Q. What should I have in my office?

A. Apart from obvious things like a desk and a filing cabinet, there’s no hard and fast rule as to what should be in there. But here’s a table to get you started:

GOOD BAD
Published clips Toenail clippings
Pulitzer Prize Death threats
Your latest book The latest copy of Penthouse

Q. Not even if Penthouse published my article?

A. No one reads the articles.

Well, I’m afraid that’s all the advice I’ve got time for. I’ve got a client coming soon, which means I’ve got just enough time to get dressed before he arrives.

Assuming I can find some clean underwear.

Bill Harper is a mild-mannered public servant by day, and a very stroppy one by night (public transport does that to you). But when he’s not sitting in meetings (and quite often when he is), he’s thinking of something funny to write about for the next edition of Bill-Bored, his weekly humour column.

Check it out at Bill Harper’s humourwriter.com. “Because life’s too stupid to take seriously.”

Interview: Amy Gahran Part 2

Interview by Amy Brozio-Andrews

Amy Gahran is a self-proclaimed info-provacateur. She’s a writer, editor, trainer, content strategist, and consultant who;s been freelancing since the late 1990s. The author of Contentious, a weblog aimed at “how we communicate in the online age,” she’s just returned from the BlogHer conference this past weekend in Santa Clara, California. Here are excerpts from our conversation, when I got the opportunity to ask her about her work and her enthusiasm for communication and technology, and how other writers can use blogging tools to their advantage. For more information about some of the topics discussed here, check out Amy Gahran’s weblog. Here’s amy_gahran.htm”>part one of our conversation; read on for part two.

How-to articles for freelance writers often talk about re-slanting a piece and that sounds almost like what you’ve been talking about—re-slanting your work from writing the article to going out and doing whatever the project is. And you gain more credibility so it becomes easier to sell articles later on then if you want to. If you take the peon approach, if you’re constantly querying magazines and saying, “Please publish my article,” that’s not putting you in a strong position. That is not putting any power in your hands. Going out there and actually finding projects, making your own opportunities and having the guts to go after them is how you’re going to move your business forward and probably find more lucrative business opportunities. Let’s face it, most magazines and newspapers are very difficult to make a living with. Even if you’re staff, it’s difficult to make a living at that. It’s just the way that profession is, unfortunately.

You’ll also then build your credibility so that when you do go to magazines and newspapers or think about going to conferences you’ll have the credibility so that they might be coming to you.

A weblog is valuable because a weblog allows you to establish your credibility, show what you know, and also show your learning process. Prove that you can pick up quickly on things. A lot of people are afraid to admit that they’re just learning something but you know, the funny thing is, every time I’ve done a posting [along the lines of] “I’m just trying to learn this,” and “I’m confused by this,” and “I think I just figured it out,” I get a ton of traffic to it. Because that reflects the kinds of queries that people are putting into search engines: “How do I” or “what’s so important about.” The more you can put yourself in the shoes of your target audience—and a lot of that is thinking about what questions are foremost in their minds—the more likely they’re likely to find you. And then they’re likely to read you. And then they might link to you. And they might comment on you, and tell other people about you. It’s a slow build and it’s very diverse and very organic but it’s intense and that’s definitely one take-away I got from the BlogHer conference this past weekend, the first-ever conference for women bloggers: the power of just putting yourself out there and using that as a way to communicate who you are and what you do.

Almost everybody I spoke to there said that blogging has only been beneficial to their career.

I wouldn’t recommend that people start blogging before they take some time to actually read and comment on other people’s blogs; that makes a big difference. Its got its own rhythm and pace and flow. You’ll do a better job on your own blog if you spend some time reading blogs first. You don’t have to go out there and try to keep up with 500 blogs; find one or two that you like and see who they link to and follow those links and then gradually you’ll start to amass your own collection of blogs that are useful and interesting to you. That doesn’t just mean the things you’re already interested in; a lot of my favorite blogs are the ones that provide a lot of serendipity.

It’s very conversational. One thing that I’ve been thrilled about lately—and I’m actually going to write a book on this—is the incredible value of the public conversation. By that I mean not just people going back and forth about politics—one thing that annoys me about characterizations of blogs is that they’re either personal diaries or they’re diatribes about politics. I wrote an article a while back, “What’s a Blog? Bag the Stereotypes.” [In it] you’ll find my list of the major stereotypes of blogging and why they’re really stupid.

If you go and actually experience the diversity of blogs and other kinds of public forums– email discussion groups, online chats, just going to networking meetings or public meetings in your community, going to your church and getting involved in some of the discussions that happen there—it’s incredibly valuable to see how people construct value simply by putting ideas together. And that’s what the public conversation is all about.

By contributing a diverse perspective, weblogs are a very direct way to contribute to the public conversation. If you’re not comfortable with weblogs, I’d just encourage writers especially to find some key way to be involved in the public conversation on an on-going basis, to raise topics and to participate in discussions about topics, just because you learn so much from doing that. You can’t do it without listening a whole lot. And I think good writers first and foremost are observant, they’re good listeners, they figure out what’s going on around them, and they build on that.

There’s no such thing as an original idea, there’s just different ways of looking at things. Being part of a public conversation not only helps you gain confidence and credibility but is also has this magical way of bringing opportunities your way, all kinds of opportunities you never would have imagined. It’s just kind of a zen thing, I guess; there’s probably some sort of quantifiable mathematics or dynamics behind it but I just see it happening over and over. When people start speaking up—yes, you will face some criticism and dissent and that’s okay, you will also learn a lot, especially if you try to engage in a civil fashion people with whom you disagree. Opportunities will start coming your way just because you speak up and people know you exist. Most people never speak up. And that’s really sad. But it’s especially sad when writers try to limit their participation in the public conversation to selling articles. I think writers have a whole lot more to offer than that.

How do you keep up to date on trends in technology like blogs and podcasts? How would you advise writers who may not know much about them to inform themselves and to get started?

I constantly feel like I’m behind so it’s funny the illusion people have that I’m up to speed on these things.

The simplest thing I can say is learn how to use feeds. It’s basically a way for you to get instant notification anytime something has been published online—usually in a weblog but not only in a weblog—that is of interest to you. If there’s some topic that you want to learn about, say you’re a journalist and you cover the energy industry and you hear that there’s a bunch of stuff happening about distributed generation but you don’t really know what distributed generation is, you can go to a service like Feedster.com, BlogPulse.com, or Technorati.com and plug in that search term and generate a feed from it so it will let you know anytime something comes up that’s new about that topic. You don’t have to go out to the website to check it out, it all comes in to one place. It’s very fast to look at that information and see what might be most relevant to you. I do that all the time to keep up with new topics and trends.

Also, ask people. Don’t feel you have to do all this research yourself. If you see somebody doing something cool or talking about something cool or writing about something cool, say, “Hey, this sounds neat and I’d like to find out more about it. How can I find out more about it? What can you tell me about it?” Geeks love to talk, they really do, you can’t shut them up. They may not always talk in an understandable fashion but I find a useful point is to ask people, “Where can a total beginner start to learn about these things?” That’s how I learned about blogs, that’s how I learned about podcasting—just about anything that has moved my career forward has been by finding a way to get announcements about it and also to just ask people and they will tell you. It’s pretty cool.

So how do you keep up? That’s just how I do it; how do you keep up with new developments?

I read a lot of newspapers and magazines, which are what led me to blogs. Once it started showing up in there, I started looking at blogs myself to see what was out there, how they worked, who was commenting on them, and then working backwards. I’d read through the comments and when people included their own blogs’ urls, I started backtracking through them and through blogrolls (lists of links to other people’s blogs), too. I must have 20–25 blogs bookmarked on my computer and I’m always swapping them out and finding new ones.

Do you comment on blogs or publish your own blog?

I didn’t really comment on blogs very much—I recently started my own so now I comment a little bit more on blogs, just because I kind of feel like if you’re going to comment on someone’s blog—not that it’s necessary to have your own—it’s nice if you have your own, just being able to share. I feel more comfortable commenting on someone else’s blog because I have one I can point them back to.

That’s good to know. Most of the people who comment on my blog or other blogs either don’t have a blog or don’t do much with their own so it’s interesting—I’d never heard that perspective quite voiced that way before.

Like I said, writers are a natural to participate in public conversation so whatever way is comfortable for you and it feels like it furthers wherever you want to get to personally or professionally, do it. If weblogs are working for you, great. If there’s some other way to go about it, do it. The biggest mistake I see all kinds of people, but especially writers, make is to just keep their views to themselves. They’re afraid to get criticized or they’re just afraid to speak up and that impoverishes everybody.

Another thing I would encourage writers to do: Don’t just look at writing as a professional thing; yes, it is a professional thing but look at the rich texture of other kinds of writing that are happening out there. Blogs are really great for that because you get to see how that relates to specific people. It’s not just out there in the abstract. That’s made me look a lot more closely at the world around me and it’s blown a lot of assumptions I didn’t even know I had out of the water, which isn’t always fun but very important. Good writing comes from good observation and whatever you can use to observe and interact with people, your writing will be that much better for it and you’ll spot more opportunities because of it.

What would you say is probably one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made in terms of your freelance career? Something you would advise other writers to do or not do?

Two things: First of all, getting so wrapped up with my projects at hand that that I haven’t put as much energy into looking for new things—you always have to do that. Even if it’s just a matter of making sure you’re not forgetting about going and looking at sites that are good resources. MediaBistro, I try to check that out every week just because it’s such a rich source of ideas and leads. Even though I haven’t actually gotten a job through MediaBistro it gives me ideas of stuff that I want to look for and I’ll make my own opportunity.

Two: Getting so overwhelmed with communication that I sometimes fail to get back to people I really should get back to. I try to get back to everybody but I just get burned out sometimes. And I’m not even talking about e-mail with family and friends. I’m just talking about stuff related to my profession. When I get my fingers in as many pies as I do, I could really use a secretary. But then, you know, I think that if I had a secretary, I would have to invest a lot in training her as to how I do things and how I want things and—aw, I don’t want to do that. (laughs)

Those are the two things that continually trip me up. I regret that because I know sometimes people have felt dissed because I haven’t gotten back to them or there’s been times where I missed really big opportunities because I wasn’t looking for it because I was so wrapped up in meeting this one deadline that I just let everything else go. It’s not that you can be perfect about communication or about being vigilant all the time but sometimes I’m a lot better at it than others. And I need to learn how to recognize when I’m starting to get into a rut and get tunnel vision and have techniques to get out of it. That’s something I’m still working on.

A classic example: One of my projects right now is I, Reporter—it’s about citizen journalism. A colleague and I are putting together training in journalism skills for people who are not professional journalists and either want to do citizen journalism or who want to use utilize journalism skills in other types of activities. The London bombings happened right at a time when I was being hit with a couple of major crises in my personal life. I had e-mails and then phone calls from two major newspapers that were asking me to comment, and I was just so overwhelmed with what was going on in my life that I didn’t really get back to them on it. Doh! That would have been really good, but at the same time, I know other opportunities will come up. Even though that’s something I really should have been focusing on, I also had to give priority to what was going on in my personal life at that time. But you know, those kind of toss-ups’ you’re never going to get away from that sort of thing unscathed. There’s no way I was going to deal with that situation without beating myself up on it somehow.

What would you say is the proudest moment you’ve ever had as a freelancer?

I’ve had a lot of good ones’ the one that’s in my mind that just happened over this weekend was really cool. It was at the BlogHer conference. There’s a professor at NYU who writes a blog about journalism—PressThink—his name is Jay Rosen. I’ve been reading Jay for years and I have immense respect for this guy. I’ve never actually met him; I’ve commented on his blog a few times and he’s mentioned me once or twice but I just read it because I love the way this guy thinks. So he was at this BlogHer conference and he and I were sitting in on some of the same sessions and at one point he pulled me aside and he said, ‘Hey Amy, I like how you think!’ It was so cool—Jay Rosen likes how I think!

I guess a lot of the proudest moments have been when I have done something that ends up really helping someone, and sometimes I don’t find that out all in one fell swoop, it comes in in dribs and drabs.

I wrote a tutorial on what feeds are and why you should care; everyday it gets the most hits on my site. People are always writing me to say how much they appreciate that and how it’s really helped them get a handle on following things that had been difficult for them to keep up with before. Also when something I say really resonates with somebody else and gets another part of the public conversation going—if I can kick something into gear, that just feels really good.

I’ve had a lot of good gigs with interesting clients, but what matters to me is: What is the effect? Not what did I get to do, but what happened because of it? What kind of difference did it make? There have been a few times when things have made a big difference and I’ve found that out usually after the fact. I’m so glad because a lot of times that happens when I stick my neck out, which is scary. You’d think I wouldn’t be scared by it, I’ve been doing it my whole life. A lot of times when I stick my neck out, I’ll find out later that it was very useful for other people that I did that and that feels really good.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. Visit Amy Brozio-Andrews’ Web site.