Thursday, December 11, 2008

Doing It Kinda Wrong

OK – I haven’t been doing it write lately. But I’ll cut myself a bit of slack – I’m visiting my mom with my 16-month old. When we arrived three and a half weeks ago, my son would not be separated from me for a second. Literally. I would go to the bathroom and he would stand outside the door, sobbing and flinging himself against it while crying “Mama! Mama!” as if just he’d seen the Gestapo drag me away. Even while in the same room, I had to be within a five-foot radius – and visible. If I leaned over to look in the refrigerator and the door blocked his view of me? Panic and hysteria. If needed to leave the room for a second to get a pen? He was right on my heels. This fevered attachment lasted….oh, say… two and a half weeks. Which means that it has only been in the last week that I’ve had some breathing space and, ostensibly, time to write.

But here, I run out of excuses. I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been. But I did manage to follow-up on another query and send out a recently rejected query to another magazine. On that recently rejected query – can I say that I’m proud of this rejection as it was my first “nice” one from an unknown editor? I sent it to a national bridal magazine and when I followed-up the editor actually apologized for having not responded earlier (I laughed – most editors I’ve sent queries either respond affirmatively or don’t respond at all!) She rejected my idea for not meeting “their editorial needs at this time,” but said she’d welcome more ideas from me in the future! This might not seem like much to a newbie or someone not in the business, but in the freelance world, a response like that is a really good thing. It means that while my query didn’t meet their needs, it still hit the mark in some way. I’m on the editor’s radar – maybe way at the periphery, but I’m there. I need to send another query soon so that I can stay there.

Now, here’s a question for any readers out there: at what point do you give up on a "query in the wild" (to borrow a term from the estimable Jenna Glatzer )? The query that I followed-up on a few days ago was for a national pregnancy magazine that I would love to write for…but I don’t want to wait forever for their response. It’s been a month since I sent it out and – despite it being a totally kick-ass, thoroughly researched and excellently written query – I’m now seriously doubting that I’m going to hear back from them. Should I give up now? Hold out another few weeks? I think it’s a great idea that some mag would nab, even if not this magazine. And if I do give up, should I formally withdraw it from consideration? (i.e., send yet another email withdrawing it, even though I haven’t heard peep from them). Or would that be perceived as a kind of haughty or wounded act? I’m not sure. Hmm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where the Real People Are

Before I got into freelancing, I would read a magazine article about people who cheat, or gamble too much, or have some sexual dysfunction and wonder idly how the writers found these “real people” to talk about such intimate or obscure subjects. Then, when I began to freelance, I wondered the same thing with a kind of desperation: who are these people and where can I find them?

Well, now I have the answer: HARO -Help A Reporter Out. This très cool service, started by Peter Shankman, allows journalists searching for sources to funnel their specific queries through him to send out to the more than 37,000 people in the HARO network. It’s pretty amazing that he’s pulled this all together, and that it works so efficiently. Last night I submitted a query to Shankman, this afternoon the email was sent out to the network, and by this evening I had about a dozen responses, most of them quite on-target and helpful. If have an urgent request, Shankman will send out a special flash email notifying the network of your need.

This is such an invaluable service. Previously (like, um, two days ago), I’d post on appropriate online forums to find sources and just cross my fingers that my post wouldn’t get deleted as “spam.” And even if the post survived, the response rate often wasn’t very good. But this HARO….well, I’m impressed. At least so far. I’ll keep you posted.

You can check HARO out for yourself at Even if you’re not a journalist, you can sign up to be a source. You’ll get up to 3 emails a day with a list of queries, and you simply respond to any one for which you have an appropriate answer. Go ahead and do it! How else will the writers for Cosmo find out “101 sex tricks that will make your man beg for more!”?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When At First You Don't Succeed...

As I touched on in my last post, the worst part of being a novice freelancer is that you often feel as if you’re working in vain. Queries get rejected or ignored by editors. Articles written on spec get turned down. Some kick-ass idea you labored over and researched suddenly turns up in your targeted magazine just as you were about to hit send.

But just today I got a little reminder that a writer’s work is never necessarily a waste of time. Last May, I pitched an idea to a small niche national magazine and was duly rejected. Apparently, the rejection had nothing to with my proposed topic – the editor said that she was so backlogged, she was not accepting any new writers at the time. I was disappointed, of course. It was always sucks to get dinged no matter the reason. Plus, I had spent a substantial amount of time researching the subject while on vacation in the U.S., squeezing library time in between breastfeeding the baby and visiting family and friends that I hardly ever see. And because the idea was for a niche magazine I had no clue who else I could pitch it to.

About a month ago, however, I read that the editor of this magazine had changed. I decided to resend my pitch – who knows? Maybe this editor would have things more under control. I hit send and waited. And waited and waited and waited. Nothing. Yesterday, I decided to send a follow-up email before dropping the idea forever. This time, I got an instant response from the editor saying he liked my idea and could I have the proposed article ready by mid-January?

Um, hells yeah.

How cool is that? Good thing I kept an eye on this magazine and followed-up on my query! Two valuable lessons, I think, on how to make sure your work isn’t in vain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Am I really a writer?

Since I've restarted my career, I'm astonished at how little time I spend actually writing. I have about 12 hours of "writing" time a week, but I spend probably a good 7-8 hours simply researching. Researching topics to write about, researching publications to write for, researching the best experts for a story, or researching the most interesting angle on a subject. And when I'm not researching, I'm not writing articles or essays, but query letters!

Can this be good? Am I doing this write? (sorry) Perhaps it would be smarter to adhere to a more rigid writing schedule? Say, 40% research, 40% query letter, 20% writing. If there are any freelancers reading, I would love to hear about the percentage of time you spend researching vs. the time the spend you spend writing, and whether and why you're satisfied with that.

I have to admit, a great part of me is rankled by the small amount of writing I do, not just because I love to write and want to do it, but because I have so little to show for all the work I do. For example, last week my great accomplishment was to finish a kick-ass pitch letter for a national pregnancy magzine. I was quite pleased with myself because it contained a great quote from an expert, three quotes from "real life" women, and promised quotes and advice from four other experts whom I had already contacted and requested interviews. (I signed up with - a fantastic resource for finding experts!) I even had the query vetted by the very excellent Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli through her phone mentoring program. But now, almost a week has passed without hearing anything from the pregnancy magazine (normal, I know) and with every day that slips by, I feel more and more like I didn't actually accomplish anything at all last week. Sigh.

Anyway, onward and upward. I'm off to the U.S. for the next month, so my biggest challenge will be continuing to "write" while away.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not Usually So Punny

Really, I'm not. But I couldn't help it. "I'm Doing it Write Now" summed up everything I wanted to say about my writing career at this point. And "Not Usually So Punny"...well, goofy as it is, it makes me smile.

So, with the assurance that I'm now done with the puns, let me introduce myself.

My name is Lola. Or Cleopatra Jones. Or Imani, depending on where you know me from. For the past three years, I have dabbled in freelancing, which is to say, I've been a lousy freelancer. I just wanted to write, you see. Just write about anything that caught my fancy or crossed my mind. And hey - I was doing what I loved, so the money would come, right? Right?

Um, no. At least not in any appreciable amounts. It's taken me awhile, but I've finally wised up to the fact that freelancing is a business, and must be treated as such. It sucks that one can't just focus one's art without thinking of the business side, but unless you're independently wealthy, summoning your inner Mary Kay Ash is essential.

So, here I go, taking a deep breath and restarting my freelance career. But I'm doing it right this time, starting