Friday, January 26, 2007

More Cool News of the Week

Just found out that HarperCollins sold the Spanish rights to my book! Whoohoo! So if you're in Spain and dying to get your hands on the book (erm, in which case, you're probably fluent in spanish and not reading this blog), it will be yours!

Happy weekend all! I'm off to take the little gal for her 7-week check-up!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Juggling Corporate and Editorial Work

I am also trying to divide my time between getting corporate clients (I have a background in marketing writing) and pitching to consumer magazines(no clips yet). I was wondering if you ever had editors question you about conflicts of interest because you were pitching stories and representing PR clients. I would never mix the two, but i don't want any perceived conflicts either. This is most relevant in terms of how I should set up my website. Should I have 2 separate sites for corporate writing services and freelancing? Should I link between the two? How do you toe the line, so to speak?

I've never had editors question my conflicts of interest, but then again, I've never had editors question anything other than something related to the article at hand really. (Other than, say, shooting the shit and just gabbing when we're on the phone.) Honestly, I don't think that editors have the time to worry about this sort of thing. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't give it a thought, because, in fact, these conflicts can definitely arise...there was a very recent example of a writer for the NY Times, I believe, who was publicly reprimanded for writing a story on a company for which she'd done PR. (I might be screwing up some of these details - this is from memory - and I do remember that it wasn't as clear-cut as what I'm laying out here, and the writer might have not done any of this intentionally, but you get my point.)

I'm really not an ethics expert or the ethics police, but really, I do think you have to exercise some common sense here. As you know, you simply can't write a story on a client who is paying you. That's not objective journalism, and yeah, then editors would give you the justifiable stink eye. But as long as you're able to compartmentalize your various jobs, it shouldn't be a problem.

As far as the website, most writers I know have both their editorial and their corporate clips on one. Because, as I noted above, I don't think editors care, and really, just because you're a magazine writer doesn't mean that you're not any other type of writer. I no longer do PR writing, but when I did, I certainly had it up on my site and never ran into any trouble.

So...what am I saying here? Don't sweat it! :) Just write as much as you can for whomever you can, and police yourself as you go.

How do folks out there sell themselves as both journalists and corporate writers?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Do "Sponsored" Clips Count?

Some of my clips are from "sponsored sections" of magazines and are labeled "sponsored section." Are these okay to send to national consumer magazines like Parents when the editors request clips? (They are usually funded by corporations like Target for causes such as kids and nutrition or promoting reading.) I research and report them the same way as other stories I do. In other words, there are no obligations to interview sources that are sponsoring the section. But I have always felt funny about that little label on the front.

Great question! I gave this one a good deal of thought, and this is where I came out. I'd send them if you didn't have other clips to offer, but if you did, I'd probably leave the "sponsored section" ones out. Here's why.

I've written these things too. I totally agree with you: I report them exactly as I would any other story, and other than the fact that they're "sponsored," they're no different than any other contracted piece. In my eyes. But I've heard from another writer or two that editors don't always agree - that, if you've written for the promotional part of the mag (which is assigned by different folks than the editorial side), editors aren't likely to take you seriously and assign you stories for their depts. Now, I'm not really sure that I agree with this, but I am passing on the rumors that have been whispered down the lane, so if you could avoid putting yourself in this situation, you probably should.

That said, if these really are your best clips and demonstrate excellent writing and reporting, I'd suggest sending them along with the exact same caveat that you wrote to me: that you know they're from "sponsored sections," but you're still certain that they're shining examples of your work, and they'd be lucky to have you produce the same quality material for them.

Anyone have better advice or a different opinion? I think this is a really good question, and I'm truly not sure of the answer.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cool News of the Day!

Okay, I have had a spectacularly crapola day, I mean, we're talking really crappy, thanks to a ridiculous edit on a story that I filed almost nine months ago. (See, even the experienced among us can find themselves mired in nightmarish situations.) I was just about to throw myself out the window when my agent called.

Turns out that the Literary Guild, as part of Bookspan, has selected The Department of Lost and Found, as their alternate book club pick for the month of May!! I don't really know how this all works or the process behind it or really, what it means in the end (feel free to explain it to me if you know more!), but it seems to me that they recommend a pick of the month to all of their members, and if the members don't like that one, the Guild says, "also consider picking up TDLF too." (Does anyone get the Bookspan emails? Is this how it works?)

Holy moly! Out of all the books coming out in May, they chose mine! (Well, first they chose someone else's, but then they chose mine. I'll take a silver medal any day, especially when I didn't even know I was in the competition!)


(For those of you not interested in my horn toots, I'll be back tomorrow with a question of the day.) :)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Finding Financial Success

My question today is regarding pay rates. I have freelanced for the past two years (part time) for a trade magazine and have been getting steady increases with every article that I write for them. My problem is that I am currently freelancing full-time now, and trying to get my feet off the ground by sending queries to other magazines, but the bulk of my writing (about four articles per month) is still for the trade magazine. At $450 per article, that's only $1800 per month. When I read the other day that your first year you made around $35,000, I was wondering how you managed to do that. Obviously you were either writing more articles per month than I am or getting paid more for the ones you were writing.

So now the question...If I'm going to be able to make the kind of money I'm hoping to, how many articles per month should I be writing? How many queries should I be sending out each week? How fast should I be able to finish an article of say around 2000 words? Should I be concentrating on FOBs and not so much on feature articles at this time?

Obviously I'm not going to quit writing for the trade magazine right now, since I have steady income (though paltry), but I would like to know what I need to do (in your opinion) to get "up to speed" to see an income of about $35,000 this year.

Good - and complicated -questions. To answer your first one, during my first year freelancing, I took on a variety of work, and certainly, the bulk of the 35k that I brought in was NOT from magazine work. As I've mentioned in the past, to really earn a living at freelancing, most writers expand their business beyond the mags. So that year, and for about two or three years that followed it, I also did a lot of PR and marketing work for small businesses, as well as worked on retainer for one of the larger PR firms in the city. This supplied me with a steady stream of checks and also gave me time to keep pitching mags, which was what I really wanted to do.

How do you get to your desired income level? Well, in addition to expanding your client list with some corporate work (if possible), I'm going to suggest something scary. But it has worked for SO many writer friends I know. And that's to pare back on the trade writing. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of writers who are tied to lower-paying jobs finally saying, "This isn't my end goal, and I need to focus on that end goal, and in order to do that, I need to ditch the ball and chain that's tying me down." And once they do this, their careers really soar. The problem with these trade assignments is, I assume, that they're cutting into the time that you'd spend pitching other places, AND they might lull you into a sense of complacency...after all, you have this steady stream of work coming in, do you really need to get your ass out there and find new markets? In your case, I don't know that you need to cut ties entirely, but maybe take on one or two less stories a month. Or, better yet, only pitch (or accept) those stories that already cater to your area of expertise and thus will take less time to write. I started doing this a few years ago: these days, I rarely tackle a story for which I know squat. It simply takes too long for me to research. Instead, I pitch (and accept) articles for which I already have a list of contacts, am already familiar with the general research, and already have a relatively good idea of the tips that need to be provided. And this saves an enormous amount of time.

Which gets back to one of your questions: how long should it take you to write a 2000 word story? Really, there's no concrete measure of this. What I think is a better question to ask is: how much per hour should I be making so that this story is worth my time? When I was doing PR, I got paid about $100-150 an hour for my time. (Keep in mind that I live in NYC, so these rates are probably higher than standard.) So this set the bar for what I needed to earn with my magazine work as well. If a $300 dollar FOB took me 4 hours, it simply wasn't worth it. But if a $2000 feature took me ten hours, then it was. See where I'm going with this? If that 2000 word story takes you weeks on end to write, it's probably not earning you enough to be worthwhile, even if it seems lucrative upon accepting it.

Your final question deals with FOBs vs. features. I've advocated pitching FOBs in the past because I think they're an excellent way to break into the major markets. So sure, definitely devote some time to those pitches. But again, I think it's really about being able to juggle a variety of things: pitching FOBs, writing a few trade articles that won't suck up all of your time, drumming up some well-paying corporate work, and networking with editors and other writers. Freelancing is really about being a master juggler - you need to have a lot of balls in the air in order to be successful. It sounds like you're well on your way - getting those crucial first clips are key, and congrats on that! Now, just brainstorm ways to expand your business and make better use of your time, and you'll be hitting your target income in no time. did some of you guys make that leap from fledgling writer to being able to pay the bills? I know there are a lot of successful freelancers out there...chime in!