Friday, September 22, 2006

Words Fail Me

And it take a lot for that to happen. But I'm so elated/emotionally-gutted at the double-return of The Office and Grey's, I'm speechless. Yes, dear readers, this is what rocks my world: the return of fall TV. I don't want to post anything too spoiler-y for those of you who are Tivo-ing, so I'll just say this. Yummy, teary McDreamy! And please, more JAM!!

Alas, since I'm out of words, I'm turning the blog over to you folks today. Here's a question to which I have no answer...other than MediaBistro, which seems so obvious that it's embarrassing because it just demonstrates that I have no answer.

Question: Can you recommend any job boards?

If you guys can kindly help out the reader who is looking for a few good online resources, I'm sure that she would appreciate it!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

12 Hours and Counting...

Until my two favorite shows kick off the season! I cannot WAIT for some JAM-ily goodness, not to mention a dose of McDreamy medicine, but in the meantime, I'll settle for these. If you haven't seen them (um, not that I've watched either more than once...or twice), and you're a fan of either The Office or of Grey's Anatomy, I suggest you check 'em out!

The Office: Jim and Pam Forevah!

Grey's: The Fray video

Enjoy! (And for writing stuff, keep reading below....)

And I'd Like to Thank...

I was hoping you could cover something I haven't seen anywhere else: Expert/source etiquette. a) How do you thank them? b) Do they get copies of what you've written from the magazine itself, or should you as a courtesy provide them a copy? c) If you decide to spin your original interview material in a different direction for different articles, do you need to seek their permission? Any help would be appreciated.

a) I usually simply thank them profusely (and often) both at the beginning of the phone call and at the end. Letting them know that I know their time is valuable, and I appreciate what they're doing for me. I often send a similar note of thanks via email after the interview or after we've swapped emails with my follow-up questions. I do know some writers who, I think, send out hand-written thank you notes, but I'll be honest: I wish I had the time to do something like that, but alas, I don't. And I don't think that these experts expect it either. I think you employ common graciousness (and then some), and you're fine. I really do go out of my way to let them know how appreciative I am of their assistance, and that's that.

b) Depends. Some magazines ask for an expert's address to send him a contributor's copy (or in some cases, I can provide the addy and my editor will send out a copy), and some don't. Hell, some don't even send me a copy, much less my source. What I most often do, and I'll admit to the fact that when I'm super-swamped, this sometimes gets sidelined (which I feel terribly about), is send the expert a link to the article, either from my website or when available, from the magazine's website. Most seem plenty happy with this: they just want to be alerted that the story has been published. If they do then request a hard copy, I'll make a color xerox of the copy that I have (one that I've bought or has been sent to me), and drop it in the mail. Everyone seems fairly satisfied with this method.

c) I'm not sure that you NEED to seek their permission to use it again, but just as a courtesy, I like to give them a heads-up. Frankly, they're almost always thrilled: they get more bang for their buck, and on the off-chance (okay, is that hyphenated? now I'm all paranoid since someone posted in the comments section that I use too many hyphens!) that they're not thrilled or if say, they're on an advisory board of a competing magazine, you'll be forewarned before you write the piece. But again, I've never had anyone balk at the chance of getting more publicity, so most time, it's not a problem.

How do you guys notify your sources of upcoming articles? Do you stay 100% on top of it or can you make me feel a little less guilty and admit that this sometimes falls by the wayside.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Putting the Interview Cart Before the Query Horse

I do mostly corporate work, but I am trying to break into magazines. My questions are do I approach my sources before I do my query letter or do I wait until my query is accepted before approaching potential sources? I have a magazine in mind, but I feel that I should speak to the sources first. I think it would make my query stronger; however, I donĂ‚’t have the assignment yet. Any clarification you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

This can go either way. Obviously, the stronger your initiall query and the better researched it is, the more likely you are to catch an editor's eye. So certainly, it doesn't hurt to do some pre-query research. When you set up these pre-interviews, however, you do need to make it clear that this isn't yet an assigned piece, and you need to respect that your sources might not want to give you their time until it is. Most often, they do anyway, but sometimes, they don't. C'est la vie.

When I'm scheduling pre-query interviews, I usually just say something like, "This is for a potential article for Magazine X. Right now, I'm just looking for some initial information, so I don't expect this to take up too much of your time. Should the story get the green light, I will, of course, cite you as a source and circle back to set up a longer, more in-depth interview." This assures people that they won't be stuck on the phone with you for an hour, and that you'll be happy to give them the publicity when the article is approved. When I do opt for a pre-query interview, it's also almost always with an expert I've used in the past - a Ph.D, M.D, etc, who knows that I am indeed reliable, and that should this fall through, that I'll try to make it up to him or her in the future. I dunno, it just makes me feel better about taking up his/her time on something that might not fly.

If you're not comfortable with pre-interviews, you can (and should) still provide the editor with a list of potential experts/sources. After you've spelled out the idea and why it would work for him/her, you should merely include a sentence that says, "Potential experts for this piece include, X, Y, and Z." True, they might not all pan out, but some will, and perhaps more importantly, you're demonstrating to your editor that a) you know how to sniff out the right resources for the article and that b) the proposed topic is indeed newsworthy/worth exploring.

How often do you guys do pre-query interviews? Any other tips for the person who asked?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Yesterday's post on writing for free garned a lot of insightful comments. Thanks to everyone who chimed in! For more on writing for peanuts, check out Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell's blog this week: she's holding a contest on the best response to people who ask you to pen something for a smile. Check it out here:

Okay, on with the questions.

Thanks for sharing your story on how you left your first agent. I'm curious: how did you have the guts to do it? I'm contemplating doing the same thing, but I can't seem to work up the nerve to do so. What was your deal-breaker?

Well, I'll start by saying that I'm not the type of person who likes to linger in murky situations (actually, who does?), so I'm usually pretty proactive about resolving them. But even if you're NOT this type of person, it would serve you well to strap on an alter ego and have a frank conversation with your agent. I don't know the specifics of your particular situation, but I can share the specifics of mine, and maybe that will help.

As I've mentioned before, my first ms failed to sell. We got a lot of positive feedback and some requests for rewrites, but my agent thought it would be more prudent to ditch book #1 and just write #2. So I did: in a matter of months, I wrote what would become TDLF. When I handed in the first draft, she didn't love it, and we had our first "where is this relationship going" conversation. In that conversation, we agreed that I'd revise the ms, and if she still wasn't happy with it (or if I disagreed with her assessment), we'd amicably part ways. But looking back, it seems clear that even at this stage, the bloom was slightly off her rose, in terms of where I now fell on her client priority list. (And I don't say this blamefully: maybe it's a natural reaction, I dunno, I'm not an agent. But if you can't sell someone's work, it's entirely possible that you're just not as gung-ho on them anymore.)

So I got busy revising and handed in a second draft pretty quickly. It took her a really long time to read this version (and respond to my emails), but she finally emailed that she liked this draft much more, or so she told me. I made a few other tweaks, but basically, we were both satisfied - she just wanted to get one last opinion from someone else at her firm. Well, I have no idea what that other person said, but she obviously didn't like the book, because my agent hemmed and hawed until I finally emailed her saying, "I need to know where I stand with you b/c I feel like I'm getting the shaft and being ignored." (Though I said it in much nicer terms.) She responded and apologized, and we agreed to talk the next day.

And in that talk, she admitted that she still wasn't passionate about TDLF, and gave me several options: revise book #1 and go back out with it, write an entirely new book, or try to find new representation for TDLF. We all know which option I chose.

So why did I walk away? My agent was perfectly nice, but the bottom line was that I think, to quote
Kristin Nelson's blog from last week, "she'd lost that loving feeling." She was trigger-shy after not selling my first book, and now doubted my writing and perhaps her ability to sell my writing. She didn't say any of this, but it seemed obvious: my emails and phone calls got shelved, she took longer to read my revisions, and her enthusiasm in general just seemed to wane. (For example, she made it clear that TDLF wasn't, in her opinion, a hardcover book...which was sort of her way of saying that she didn't think it was as strong as book #1, which she did deem hardcover-worthy.) Now, I harbor no ill will toward her, and I wish her much success. This was just a case of two people reaching a crossroads and recognizing that we'd gone as far as we could go with each other.

So I'd urge you to consider this when deciding whether or not to leave your current agent. Is she still a champion of your work? Will she push just as hard for you and your writing as she would have in the past? Have you had any previous success with her? Is she still giving you the attention you feel like you deserve? (And yes, you do deserve it. She might be the agent, but she works for you. Period.)

In my case, the answers to all of the above questions were resounding "nos," and it was clear that I needed to move on, scary as it was. Mostly, I found it exhilarating. I knew that my agent had lost enthusiasm, and I really looked forward to finding someone who believed in my work as much as I did. And I'm fortunate that I did. Let's put it this way: if my current agent told me that she didn't love my WIP or didn't think she could sell it, I'd never consider leaving her. I'd either work with her to revamp the WIP or I'd start something fresh. That's how much I trust her. And that's how much I know she's in my corner. If you don't get the sense that your agent is 100% in your corner, you're going into the ring without proper protection, and you're likely to get pummeled. It's time to get out.

Anyone else out there ditched their agent? Or repaired a potentially broken agent-client relationship and had it work out positively?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Can You Spare Some Change?

I've been offered the chance to write a story on spec, so I'd like to hear what you think about spec or writing for free. I feel like it's the only chance I have to write anything that might be published, so is it a totally bad thing to do?

Hmmm, this is a tricky question, and I'd certainly love for other writers to weigh in with their responses. Tricky because I have a pretty hard line about writing for free: namely, I don't do it. (Charity and non-profit work that I support is, of course, an exception.) Why don't I do it? For several reasons.

1) I think that writers have a hard enough time proving that they are professionals. Too many people perceive us to be broke, lazy couch-potatoes, and these are often the same people who figure that we should be grateful to them for offering us work, even if they can't toss a bit of compensation our way.

2) Along those same lines, there are very few other professions in which people work for free. You don't ask your doctor to comp your check-up, and you don't ask your plumber to unclog your drain for a smile. Writers provide a service, and if that service were so easy for others to duplicate, there wouldn't be a demand for us. But guess what? I'd bet dollars to donuts that just as my obgyn is an expert in her field, she can't write a magazine article for crap. That's because she's good at what she does, and I'm good at what I do. And just as she should be paid for my pap smear, I should be paid for my services too.

3) When you agree to work for free, you undercut your own value and self-worth. You're telling the editor (or whomever is asking) that your skills/services aren't worth even five bucks. And that will signal something not just to the editor ("Hey! what a great deal I have going here! No need to ever pay her in the future either!), but also to yourself. ("Sure, I got something published, but it's not as if I were paid for it, so maybe I'm not so good at this.")

Okay, before you go all bananas on me and say, "Well, then how the hell am I supposed to build my clips??," let me acknowledge that I know that I'm in a position to say all of these things because I don't have to work for free. I get it, I do. You need clips, so if you have to write a few things for free, then isn't the payoff worth the sacrifice? The hazy answer is that I really don't know, and that's something that only you can sort out for yourself. BUT. There are very few publications or organizations who can't afford to offer you something in return. I don't care if it's $20 or a gift certificate to a restaurant or even free membership to their website. The point is that the deal should be a business exchange: you're providing a service, and they're giving you something for that service. They don't have to know (or care) that this might be your first published clip - the only thing that should matter to them is that you are providing a service that they need. So don't even for one second think that they're the ones doing you the favor. They're not. There are no favors in a business exchange. They want something from you, and you want something from them. Period. Demand it. (See point #3 above as to why.)

I will say, however, that I'm more in support of writing for free than I am of writing on spec. (Which isn't saying much, I know.) With spec, you're likely to do a ton of work and still have the story quashed, whereas if you've been contracted for a story, even if you're not paid, at the very least, you'll get a clip.

So...other writers out there, how do you feel about writing for free? Agree? Disagree?