Friday, December 22, 2006

Cooking Up Cooking Light

I noticed on your website that you've written for Cooking Light. That is one of the publications I'd like to target, so do you have any suggestions or anything not to do?

Funny - I don't normally devote entire posts to specific magazines, but for some reason, I've received a lot of personal emails about Cooking Light, so I thought I'd just make this answer public and share what I know.

First of all, let me say that my advice stems solely from my experience - this isn't a market guide in which I've interviewed editors or anything like that. So don't use my post as golden verse. That said, I do write for CL fairly often - at least 3-4 times a year - and the magazine is one of my favorites to work for. Also, I should note that the editor with whom I work did chime in on the Editor's Dos and Don'ts (scroll down) post from back in August, so you night want to review that post to glean some more insights.

I think the best way to break into CL is in their First Light section. Nearly every FOB on these pages is written by a freelancer, which makes this mag particularly freelancer-friendly. It's also the place that I broke in, and the place where I see many bylines of friends who have told me that this is where they broke in too.

Take a look at the section, and you'll see that there's a wide variety of subjects you can propose. When I was pitching, I tended to stick to new health/diet/fitness studies or research that I'd read about. But there are blurbs on food and restaurant trends and general lifestyle info too. When pitching, I'd suggest sending in more than one idea - I used to send in 4 or 5 in one blast. As I've mentioned before, you simply up your odds of landing a story in doing so, and the editors can pick and choose what might work for them.

I think it's pretty unusual to land a feature straight out of the box at CL, unless, of course, you're a well-established writer with strong clips. In addition to health and food features, they also do a travel round-up each month, so if you're a travel writer, this might be a good place to explore. They also usually include a Q/A with a food expert - a chef, an organic grocer, etc - so again, if you have inside access to these folks, you might try pitching.

I'm hesitant to offer specific names of editors to pitch, but I've worked with several folks there, and they're all gracious, savvy, and most importantly, smart. In fact, the editor I work with most often is in my top 3 faves of all-time. If you're aiming to break into First Light, however, I do believe that the associate editor (whomever that is on the masthead, I'm not sure) is the right person to contact.

I hope that helps! I'm happy to answer further questions if you have them.

Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday - whichever one you celebrate! - and spend some wonderful and cozy time with your friends and family this weekend!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Finding Time for Fiction

How do you balance working on your novel with freelancing? I'm having trouble carving out time for fiction writing--it seems that paying work always gets the priority, and I can't figure out how to change that.

Excellent question. First, in the spirit of full disclosure (because I know you guys value my honesty!), I'm going to say that I'm not the primary breadwinner in my household. This doesn't affect how hard I work or how many assignments I take on, but I'm sure that it does affect my stress level when it comes to devoting time to fiction. So...I wanted to put that out there because I'd hate for someone to read about what worked for me, and think, well, "I can't pay my bills if I follow her example." I'd never, ever advocate that. That said, even though my bills will get paid, I still struggle with finding this balance - for me, it's more about my inability to turn down work and my need to stay constantly busy. (See: me blogging on my maternity leave!) So, I do relate, and hopefully, I have some good suggestions.

The first thing to know (or to do) is that if you're going to try to juggle paying work with fiction writing, it is absolutely imperative that you get yourself organized. Incredibly organized. If you're going to devote, say, two hours a day to time that you'd otherwise spend on your magazine assignments or other work, you need to find a way to be more efficient when you devote yourself to this other work. For me, it's all about making lists. If I have a list in front of me, I absolutely can't ignore what I need to get done and instead surf the web for a mindless hour or two. My to-dos eat away at me until I've crossed them off. So each night, I jot down a list of what I need to get done the next day, and more often than not, I'll hit my desk and tackle these tasks first thing in the morning. But if they're not written down, who knows when I'll get around to them?

Second, for me, it really helps to understand my schedule and know when I'm most productive. Given my two kids, my dog, my need to go to the gym, and my daily errands, I usually have two good writing blocks in my day: one, from about 10-1, and another from about 2:30-5:30. I can also always head back to my computer once my son goes to sleep, but frankly, I'd rather spend that time with my husband. But it is a fallback. So, knowing these time chunks, I tackle my paying work first: those deadlines are requirements, and since I have people counting on me, they get first dibs. Once those are out of the way (whatever I have on my to-do list for the paying work), I can then devote my energy to my fiction during the second chunk of my day. Often times, this might mean an hour or an hour and half in the later afternoon, but if you're focused, that's easily 1000+ words a day on your novel. It also helps if I spend the time I'm not writing (walking the dog, working out, whatever) thinking about the novel, so when it comes time to sit down and write, I'm not staring at the computer screen. All I have to do is literally type.

Finally, I think it's important to sit down and review all of your past assignments/work over say, the previous six months to a year. Assess which assignments are really meeting your desired hourly rate, whatever that might be. And for the ones that don't? Stop pitching or working for those markets. A scary leap, yes. But one that will pay off in the long run. By ditching these markets, you'll not only open up time for your fiction, you'll also be forced to aim for better paying opportunities, and they will come. I made a decision a few years back to stop pitching FOBs. I write them when an editor brings them to me, but compiling ideas, researching them and finally drafting them was taking far too long to bring in my desired hourly rate. And once I've never regretted this decision: I freed up time in my schedule to pitch (and write) longer stories, and to get back to the crux of this question, I also freed up time to devote to my fiction. do you guys manage to squeeze in paying and non-paying work?

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Persistence Payoff

Let's say you've done enough research on a certain publication to get the sense that your writing style and skill level is a good fit. Then let's say that you pitch an editor and get rejected. You'll obviously want to keep trying because you've done the research and set the goal of getting into that publication, so would you keep pitching different ideas to the same editor and hope that your persistence pays off? Or would you try a different editor and hope that maybe you'll have better luck with someone else? The media outlet that I'm targeting is general enough to publish a range of different voices, and it's possible that my youth or feminine perspective just didn't strike a chord with a fortysomething male editor. Or am I just fooling myself?

All very good questions. The short answer is that persistence sometimes does pay off, and sometimes it doesn't. But that doesn't really help you now, does it? :)

To begin with, I'd never suggest that you ditch an editor based on one rejection. One rejection is nothing! In fact, if you hit a home run on your first pitch, you'd be the rare exception, not the rule. So by all means, keep trying. How long you should try really depends on the responses that you're receiving from this editor. If, as you mentioned, you suspect that your tone and voice might not mesh with the editor you've selected to pitch, then yeah, try someone else. If, however, you're getting relatively positive feedback from the editor, i.e, "we just ran something similar," or "this isn't quite right, but feel free to pitch me again," then keep plugging away. I've mentioned this before on the blog, but I was once approached by an editor at Glamour. She asked me to send in ideas, so I did. And I did. And I did. For FOUR YEARS. Nothing took. But she eventually left Glamour and when she landed at a new magazine, she promptly assigned me three pieces. So if you have good ideas, and you're meshing with the editor, by all means, keep at it! Just because she's not assigning something to you immediately doesn't mean that she's not taking note of your writing and researching skills.

At the same time, I've also thrown in the towel on editors who were unresponsive or who clearly weren't interested in what I was selling. And yes, you can certainly try someone's not as if you're black-balled from a magazine simply because of one editor. So regardless, you can keep at it.

One thing to keep in mind, which again, I've mentioned before but I think it's worth noting. You mentioned in your email that you're still getting your freelancing sea legs. If you don't have a slew of feature-length clips, you might have better luck breaking into these national mags in the FOB section. Editors take less risk when they assign a 200 word piece to a new-to-them writer, so they're more likely to give you the green light. They also need more FOBs each month than features, so you up your odds of landing one.

So...have you guys ever had luck many pitches later? Or ditched one editor only to find success with a different one?