Friday, September 15, 2006

Guess What? I'm a Comedienne!

I am working on getting published for the first time, but I'm having difficulty in figuring out how to query articles that are humorous. Some of my articles would be both informative and humorous, while others are basically humorous essays. Do you have any suggestions? I know that the query process will be the same as for non-humorous articles, but how do I pitch ideas for articles and say "hey, this is funny"? This seems to be a special case, to me.

Here's the thing: it's not really a special case, not if you've done your homework.

First off, if you're querying a humor piece, I'll assume that you're querying the right editor. And by that I mean the editor who oversees the humor column or whatever column it is that you think your idea is right for. So if you're querying the right editor/column, he'll already know that this is supposed to be a chuckle-a-minute story.

Second of all, you convey that it's a humor piece by the tone of your query. I've said this in the past, but pitches aren't there just to impart information on the potential article to the editor, they're there to give the editor a sense of your writing style and voice. And this is particularly important with a humor piece. After all, humor is totally subjective (i.e, my husband loves Ali G, while I've never sat through a more grating 22-minutes in my lifetime), and the editor is going to want to assess whether or not he finds you funny, not just take your word for it that you find yourself hilarious. Make sense? Therefore, I'd write your query in the same voice that you'd write the piece itself in. Let the editor see how you'll bust his gut, and you won't have to sound the alarm that "this is a humor piece."

That said, after your initial paragraph or two, you certainly can sum up the proposed story and mention that it's for a humor column. For example, you might want to say, "Tickling My Funny Bone would be a light-hearted, poignant yet funny essay on how my doctor operated on the wrong side of my brain." Or whatever. The editor will get the point.

Any humor experts out there want to weigh in?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Source Hunting

I have trouble sometimes getting anecdotal sources for the articles I'm assigned (writing for an on-line mag). I belong to several writers groups where I do post asking for article help, but sometimes that's just not enough, especially if I'm assigned kind of an uncommon topic. So, where do I get these real-life sources? Any hints for us relative newbies??

Ah yes, the eternal source troll. I feel your pain. It seems like I email every friend/acquaintance/family member at least once a week saying, "If you know a red-headed, half-Asian, half-Ethiopian 33 year-old who has not only suffered from infertility but also battled cancer and MS, and has subsequently given birth to triplets and is a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, please let me know!"

I hate finding sources; I just do. But that doesn't mean that it's not possible.

As noted above, I always start with my email list - sending out a blast to as many people as I can, and asking them to forward it on to anyone who might fit my criteria. From there, like you, I also post to my writers' groups. After that, you have to start to get creative. One excellent resource would be any associations that are affiliated with the subject you're covering: if you're looking for breast cancer survivors, for example, there are dozens of non-profits who are happy to help you find interview subjects, or if you need to find people who have quit smoking, try the American Heart Association or one of the national quit lines. Another great place is to check Yahoo or other message boards. For example, I recently needed to find some new parenting sources (I've quoted all of my friends, and all of their friends by now!), so I put up a note on one of the Yahoo toddler boards and got a few replies. The only caveat with doing this is that, if possible, you should ask the moderator for permission first so they don't think that you're a horrible spammer or whatever.

Along those same lines, many websites will allow you to post a message to their members, even if the site isn't set up specifically as a message board. For example, once you've asked permission, you can often post a note to members, and has a page for journalists to post their call for interviews. (I realize that these examples are catering to specific markets, but I'm sure that there are other examples for every subject, whether it's autos or skin care or whatever.)

Other possibilities: send a note out on Profnet. Yes, Profnet is most often used to track down experts such as M.Ds, Ph.Ds, etc, but if you send something out just looking for regular people, you'll likely get a lot of answers. I did this for a Glamour article I wrote on what changes after marriage and was totally inundated with replies. True, most of them came from PR folks (to whom the queries are blasted), but it didn't matter to me. I got good quotes, and my editor was happy.

Those are the ones that spring to mind immediately. Who else wants to share where he or she tracks down those elusive sources?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How Much Can I Earn Anyway?

You've mention in the past that you shouldn't expect to earn much when you write for newspapers. How much can I expect a magazine to pay? Do they pay by article, word, column?

The amount that magazines pay will vary wildly, contingent on the publisher, the circulation, the budget, etc. Most of the national magazines that I write for, however, pay from about $1-2 dollars a word...usually not less, occasionally (very occasionally), a little more. But don't believe the Carrie Bradshaw-hype...remember when she landed a column at Vogue for $4 a word? Reallly, reallly doesn't happen. (I think Reader's Digest might be the sole exception.) I mean, sure, maybe if you're, like, the most coveted author in America, and Vanity Fair is beating down your door (though God, let's hope they don't use that same sycophantic imbecile who interviewed Tom Cruise this month), then you'll garner that rate, but let's put it this way: I don't know anyone who has.

Regional and local publications, which have smaller budgets than the huge publishing companies, will probably pay less...who knows - anywhere from 25-50 cents a word. Ditto those mags that come from smaller or independent presses.

For the most part, nearly all magazine stories pay per word. What this means - at least most often - is that your editor will give you a word count for an assignment, say 1000 words, and even if you write 1150 words, she'll pay you for the $1000. It's unusual that they pay you for what they end up publishing, and in my opinion, you're better off getting paid for the agreed-upon word count anyway. Too often, a mag might slash your piece in half or thirds or quarters (happens ALL the time), and if they were only going to pay you for what they ran, you'd take a big financial hit.

One arena that often pays for a project fee, rather than a word count fee (at least in my experience) is the online market. Often times, an editor will just say, "$500 for this article," because websites aren't constricted by page layouts in the same way that magazines are. So you have the luxury of writing long (or short), as long as you satisfy the requirements that your editor requested.

But all of this per-word talk can really throw you off the larger picture, and that's really what you earn per hour on a project. Most writers I know use their per-hour rate as the barometer of whether or not a story is worth their time. For example, I used to do a lot of writing for a big online portal. They paid me, I think, something like $400-500 an article. Which means I'd have to write a gajillion of these articles to make a decent living.'s the catch. Those articles usually took me no more than two hours to write and almost never had any revisions. Thus, really, I was pocketing $200+ an hour. Not bad, right? The flip side of this might be a particularly gruesome consumer magazine article that requires lots of source interviews and several rounds of rewrites. Sure, I might be making $4k+ or whatever, but my hourly rate probably won't be nearly as high. So these bigger feature articles aren't always worth it, which is one reason that several writers I know, writers who have made very good livings working exclusively in the consumer magazine field, are eliminating their consumer magazine clients and taking on more custom publishing work or trade magazine work. It really comes down to the per-hour rate. And while it's a total thrill to see your byline in your favorite magazine, it's not necessarily the most lucrative gig out there.

Does that clarify any money questions? Or open up others? If you have 'em, ask 'em!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Breaking Up With Your Editor, Part Two

To continue with Friday's post about sticky situations with editors, I thought I'd offer this story.

I received an email from an editor at a huge magazine, one that I'd never written for, and though I wasn't such an avid reader of the mag, I was flattered that they'd thought of and approached me for a story.

The editor laid out what she needed pretty clearly: this wasn't rocket science, rather a dating piece that I could handle without much of a problem. (I think it was on ways to spice up those first few dates or something like that.) She asked, however, that I submit a list of 20 or so scenarios for the story, which they would then whittle down to five to ten. Oookay. Whatever, I did it. I called top dating/relationship experts, got their opinions, came up with a list, and fired it off to my editor.

I got a note back a few days later saying that they'd changed the angle of the story (the story idea that they had come up with in the first place!), and could I come up with a new set of 20 asap, which meant, literally, within a day. I gritted my teeth and made another round of calls, to the previously-used experts, as well as some new ones too.

Guess what? After 40 scenarios - all supplied by experts - my editor still wasn't satisfied. She asked me to scratch all of the already interviewed experts/authors and find new ones who might present different ideas/situations/scenarios. Think I was annoyed yet? They were only paying me about $1.50 per word, and already, the money wasn't worth my time. But, because this was my first time working with this publication AND because they had approached ME, so I didn't want to mar their good impression of my reputation, I kept going.

I made frantic last-minute calls, prodded busy experts, and finally resubmitted some ideas to my editor. Now, keep in mind that at this point, she had well over FIFTY different situations from which to choose - all of which came from or were, at times, pried out of, Ph.Ds and other experts, who seemed to know what they were talking about. So after all of this, my editor gets back to me with a list of ten or so dating scenarios that SHE and HER OTHER EDITORS have come up with - screw my research or what the experts had to say - and she then wanted me to get the experts to agree with what the editors thought.

For example, "Making Yourself Seem Less Intelligent On a Date Will Turn a Guy On."

Ahem. I'm not kidding.

Well, needless to say, I couldn't get the experts to back up most of the editors' ideas. Hell, I was mortified calling these people back for what was now the third or fourth time and saying, "um, is there ever a time when you might advise a patient to tone down her intelligence?" When I explained to my editor that none of the experts were willing to corroborate her (and her other editors') opinions/examples, she told me that I must be a shoddy reporter. Seriously. And then she told me to continue hunting down other experts until I found some who DID agree with her ideas.


So I tried...I think we went through three drafts in which the experts' opinions still weren't emphatic enough for my editor. Could it be because, hmmm, her ideas/scenarios were inane and no reasonable expert could support them? You think??

After yet another snarky note by her with yet another last minute revision/request for additional interviews, I'd had it. So, rather than continue on this fruitless quest, what I did instead was send her a note requesting a kill fee, explaining that I couldn't possibly continue with a story that I so strongly disagreed with, and asking that my byline be removed from anything that they might publish in relation to my research. I said it all very politely and professionally, and kept my swearing and vitriol for the ears of my husband and a few writer friends.

In retrospect, I've spoken with another editor at this magazine who said this was a common problem with said editor, and I've spoken with dozens of writers who claim this is status-quo for the mag in general.

All I know is that I'll never write for them again. I have no problem writing fluffy, fun dating pieces. I *do* have a problem with degrading messages, ridiculous editorial demands and condescending editors who ask you to pull a rabbit out of a hat when there isn't a hat there to begin with. (In other words, ask you to invent a story and theories that no reasonably intelligent expert can agree with.)

-Loss of lifetime income from burning the bridge at this magazine: at least several thousand
-Kill fee: $500
-Maintaining both my professional and personal integrity: priceless

Monday, September 11, 2006

Writing Challenge: How's it Going?'d you do this week? Come on, guys, we only have a few more weeks until we're done! (We're going through the end of Sept.) So get motivated! Since my WIP is currently in with my agent, I devoted my fiction time this week to my copy-edits for TDLF. Oof. NOT FUN. For those who don't know, after you've sold your book and before it goes to the printer, you get a copy of your ms back in which every last error or potential grammatically-incorrect phrase (like slang or creatively used adjectives or whatever) has been red-lined. You then have to go through it and approve or deny each change. Yay, that sounds like a lot of run, right? Only not. Oh well. Means to an end and all of that.

Okay, we had a nutso weekend, so I'm limiting this post to writing challenge updates. I'll be back tomorrow with more on breaking up with an editor and all of that good stuff. In the meantime, can I just say that I finally finished my Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview, and my crush on Patrick Dempsey is back in full-force? Wow. If you haven't picked up a copy, do so stat and check out his photo spread. Wow once again. In fact, one of the characters in TDLF is based on him, and it's my wildest dream that he'll play the character in the (potential!) movie. Damn, if that man isn't a picture of aging well, I don't know who is.


I also want to say, on a heavier note, that today marks the 5-year anniversary of what was the most gruesome day in the lives of many NYC-ers, myself included. It's hard to live here and not think of the attacks in some capacity nearly every day, like when my husband rides the subway during rush hour or when you hear a perilously low-flying plane. However you do it, please take a moment today to honor the memory of those who had the horrid misfortune of standing in the paths of men who seem to equate ruthless, mindless murder with their quest for righteousness and martyrdom.

Anyway. How'd you do this week?