Thursday, March 19, 2009

Finding the Right Match

Question of the day:
Can you explain more about how I can find a good writing group (preferably online)-- i.e., one that can help me develop writing as profession, not just a hobby-- and how exactly writing groups work? I'm not really sure, for example, about at what stage you might share your writing with a group. Can groups help with brainstorming/developing ideas as well? How would you know if you trust a group enough to give honest, good feedback? Would you ever be worried about a group stealing ideas? I'm not sure if you've ever worked with a fiction group, but I know you say that freelancer groups helped you as you were breaking into that business.

The freelancer groups that helped me when I was breaking in were more geared to magazines. Specifically, I found an incredibly supportive group of folks over at, who, even now, are part of my network of support, and I've become dear friends with many of them. These are folks who often share the same writing philosophies that I do: that there is more than enough work to go around, that collaboration is a GOOD thing, that sharing contacts, etc, is good karma.

Unfortunately, I've never been in an a fiction writing group, but I wanted to post this anyway because I KNOW that there are readers out there who have been and who currently are, so if you are one of them, will you please share your insights as to how you found your group and how they help you? I imagine, though this is just a guess, than a writing class is a good place to start: you'll meet like-minded adults and can see who gels when you read your stories and give critiques.

Anyone want to weigh in to help this reader?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Package Deal

Question of the day: You did a great blog a while back about how you packaged a story with a "Why You Resist/Why We Insist" theme and I wondered how a big a part of the process that is -- coming up with the catchy concept and headline.

I think that coming up with this complete package is one of the most critical parts of landing a pitch. Here's why. Let's be honest: virtually every idea under the sun has been covered by a magazine before. There are only so many subjects, frankly, that we can write about: diet, sex, relationships, fitness, mental health, etc. So what editors are looking for are catchy new plays on these same topics. The particular story referenced above was a play on breaking bad habits: namely, why you resist breaking them, and why we (the magazine) insist that you do. This isn't a rocket science of an idea, but it is a fun spin on the same old advice. You could just as easily send a pitch that says, "I'm pitching a story on breaking bad habits." But is that really going to garner an editor's attention? They get a million of those queries a week. Instead, by coming up with a catchy idea AROUND THAT VERY SAME SUBJECT, you're likely to get your editor thinking, "Ooh, I can totally see this tag line on the cover of the magazine!"

Another example of this is this piece I wrote for InStyle Weddings that I remember very clearly pitching. It's called Weddings A to Z, and basically, I knew that my editor was looking for an evergreen article that covered a wide scope of wedding planning. Well, how could I come up with a fairly creative way to encompass that? I pitched the A to Z idea, complete with a few examples like, S is for Stephanotis or D is for Destination Wedding, or what not, and she got a very clear idea of just how the article would play out. Bam, I got the assignment.

I'm not claiming that these ideas crack the genius shield. But they're clever ways of reinventing the same-old, same-old wheel, and in this tough market, you have to find ways to stand out. Period.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How High is the Magazine Ceiling?

Question of the day: How hard is it to break into magazines? How much tougher is it in this economy?

Piggy-backing this onto last week's magazine post. The answer to this question is going to inevitably vary from writer to writer. As I said, in my case, I broke in relatively easily by pure fluke, but then, even once I had a few credits, it took a really, really long time to establish myself as a go-to writer and/or a writer to whom editors brought ideas rather than having to pitch them myself. But I think my experience is pretty unique in terms of ease of breaking-in, and from friends' anecdotes, I think it can truly be all over the board: right away or years later.

I'm hesitant to say that breaking in to major magazines is difficult because I think it's a very doable goal, but the truth is that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and I think you need to keep this difference in mind if you're aspiring to break in to magazines. I think that if you have the stomach for a hell of a lot of rejection and the fortitude to ignore said rejection and the tenacity to keep pitching, pitching, pitching, AND an ego-less personality in which you don't mind taking smaller, less prestigious jobs, AND you're a good writer, then by all means, I think this is a very viable goal. And I don't mean that sarcastically at all. I think to make it in this business, you really need to have a personality that can endure the peaks and valleys, and if yours meets the above criteria, yeah, then certainly, over the long run, I do think you'll break in. But you have to KNOW that it's not going to be easy, and you have to be okay (and not whine about it when things aren't okay) with all of this.

Has the economy made it tougher? I'd say so. Editors simply aren't assigning in the way that they were before, so even long-time writers are seeing their regular pieces drop off. For a newbie to crack this force field will undoubtedly be tougher, but again, not impossible. It really depends on how much you're willing to hustle and how wide you're willing to cast your net and how many rejections (or silences, as often the case may be) you can stomach.

I really, really hope this doesn't come off as a negative post. It's not meant to be. At all! Remember again, that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and if you don't shy away from a challenge, this one is certainly within reach.

Thoughts? Am I a negative Nelly or just a realist?