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Posts Tagged ‘American Society of Journalists and Authors’

The writer’s week: 131-yr-old magazine killed and a last-minute TV gig

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on April 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Sunday

Into Manhattan to see a fantastic play, The Junket, written by Mike Albo, a fellow freelance journalist who used to write a popular shopping column in The New York Times Styles section — earning him $1,800 a month — until he went to Jamaica on an ill-advised press trip. The Times fired him for a breach of its ethics code, (which is a long, detailed and fairly intrusive document for people not on their staff), and Albo wrote a funny, tart one-man show about it.

I meet an editor from a local paper, who comes out for dinner with us after the show; she mentions, halfway through the meal, she has a story to assign and needs a writer. I mention I’m available and win an assignment in the middle of our meal.

Monday

I have to find sources for a story so I turn to my two usual places: HARO, which stands for Help A Reporter Out, and my large network on LinkedIn.

Tuesday

Chasing down pitches made to a few editors, invoicing for work completed last week, getting ready to two days at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’m really looking forward to seeing dear old friends from all across the country and from my own country, Canada.

Freelancing is lonely and isolating, working alone at home all day every day, and while writers talk often by Facebook, Twitter and private listservs, there’s nothing better than a huge hug and a chance to cheer each other face to face.

Jose’s 30-year-old duffel bag, which I took with me to Nicaragua and shredded by dragging it on the ground, comes back freshly repaired by manufacturer Mountainsmith, in Boulder, Colorado. Between us, as two travel-hungry journo’s, Jose and I have a lot of luggage!

photo(46)

 

Wednesday

I head into Manhattan to meet Linda Marsa, an award-winning science writer whose latest book” Fevered” is amazing. I have no specific interest in climate change, (other than trying to adapt to it), so I agreed to review and write about her book as a gesture of friendship. But it’s so well-written, deeply-reported and compelling that I couldn’t put it down — and when the NYT finally reviewed it, was thrilled for her.

I just returned a few weeks ago from Nicaragua and she had just returned from Belize, so — even though we’d only met once before, at last year’s conference — we had plenty in common to talk about.

It’s comforting and fun to talk to a woman as passionate and driven as I am, even after decades in this crazy business. I tell her I hope to retire in a decade and she laughs, kindly.

“You love this business,” she says. “I do?”

“You just have to get rid of the bullshit.”

And she’s right.

We go to a trendy West Village Italian restaurant for lunch and order the chicken — JW chicken. Who the hell is JW? The waiter points proudly to a man sitting two tables away; the chicken is named for him. It’s delicious and juicy, but it’s just chicken! We order a side order of potatoes for $9. Nine bucks! They’re delicious and crunchy but it’s a small portion of…potatoes.

New York sometimes feels like a wallet-thinning machine.

Thursday

Day one of the conference and I’m on the 7:22 train from our suburban town. I normally don’t even get out of bed before 8:00! But it’s good to get dressed up and meet my peers.

The very first person I see — of the hundreds who have arrived — is an old friend who is another science writer, Dan Drollette, who’s had a terrific career, winning a Fulbright and then working for four years in Geneva at CERN. I tell him I’m eager for more international assignments and he offers a fantastic lead.

Like every conference, some panels are better than others. Linda’s, on long-form narrative journalism, assembled three extraordinary writers who talk about the many challenges of reporting their books, including fear of personal injury, even death. It’s exciting to sit a few feet away from some of the best in our business and hear them speak.

Huge news — the death of Ladies Home Journal, a 131-year-old women’s magazine, one of the “seven sisters” of American mass-market women’s magazines, costing 32 editorial jobs — people who will now enter a crummy job market for journalists and/or compete for freelance work.

My husband, photo editor for The New York Times business section, runs photos with a fun story about companies whose products have sassy names, like this cereal, made in the same small British Columbia town where my mother lived for years.

photo(47)

Friday

At the conference, I run into a writer from Montreal I met there in February 2013 who introduces me to a blogger from North Carolina I’ve been following for months, who offers to help me with some questions. The Montreal writer also mentions a potentially useful conference in Toronto in June — it’s $1,300 though, a fairly huge sum for me.

The two days here cost me $358; unlike others, all I have to do is take the commuter train in ($20) and walk two blocks, saving me probably $1,000 in additional airfare, meals and hotel costs.

Saturday

Having a horrible time lining up a final source for another story due two days after that one. I keep finding people and they keep refusing to participate. That’s unusual and stressful. I can’t write without sources!

At 11:15 a.m. — I’m fried from a busy week and ready to chill out — the phone rings.

It’s Al Jazeera America, doing a segment on American gun culture, seeking an expert to speak on television today at 4:00 p.m.  We arrange for car service to come and get me, (normal when TV needs you, and it’s an hour’s drive door to door from my home), and discuss their questions in advance.

I rush to a local hair salon to get my hair looking TV-ready; they will do my make-up. Good thing I have a few clean dresses always ready to go.

I’m given 3:30 to speak — a long time in television — but the host of the show asks me none of the questions I’ve discussed with the producer. I give it my best anyway, buy a bag of sugared peanuts from a street vendor, then slip back into the waiting car.

Time to go home and eat Jose’s fried chicken.

 

My tribe

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on April 26, 2013 at 4:51 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I spent yesterday at the annual conference in New York City of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a 1,400-member group founded in 1947. There were writers there with Pulitzer prizes and best-selling books and HBO series and made-for-TV movies and options and…

A girl could feel mighty small in that crowd!

The New Yorker

The New Yorker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to mention editors from publications like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New Yorker, four of the — arguably — most desirable markets for magazine writers in the U.S. (Only one of whom, from VF, was female.)

Instead, it was a terrific day of fierce hugs and nostalgia and excited shrieks over new books, and books currently being looked at by Major Publishers, and awards and pregnancies and a friend’s daughter accepted to a good (if costly!) college.

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolat...

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was Greg, who writes great stuff about nature and the outdoors, and Maryn, whose book Superbug, about MRSA (flesh eating bacteria) is absolutely riveting and terrifying, and Dan, with his new book about endangered wildlife of Vietnam.

In the hallway, I bumped into a woman with a suitcase and recognized Helaine Olen, whose fantastic book about how we’ve all been conned by the financial services industry I gave a rave review a few months ago in The New York Times.

Helaine Olen

Helaine Olen (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

I served on the ASJA board for six years and still volunteer as a trustee of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can write a check of up to $4,000 — a grant — to a needy non-fiction writer within a week. (If you can ever spare even $20 for the cause of decent journalism and the freelancers who produce so much of it, I’d be thrilled if you’d donate to WEAF.)

So I know lots of people through that, and have given back some of my time and talents to the industry I’ve been working in since 1978.

I went out for dinner that night with Maryn and three new-to-me women writers, all crazy accomplished and of course the conversation quickly turned to — female serial killers. That’s what happens when you get a bunch of newshounds at the same table; four of us had worked for major dailies and all miss the adrenaline rush of working a Big Story. So we do it now for magazines and books and newspapers and websites.

It was, in the most satisfying and nurturing way, a gathering of the tribe — people who had come from Geneva and Paris and San Diego and Toronto and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all hungry to be in some small, crowded stuffy meeting rooms to talk about what it is we do and how to do it better.

We write. We tell stories. We wake up bursting to share the cool, moving, sad, powerful, holy-shit-can-you-believe-it? richness of the world, all the untold tales that surround us every day, just there, waiting for us to capture, pitch, sell and tell them.

That’s my tribe.

What’s yours?

Want The Writer’s Life? Here’s My Week…

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, work on January 25, 2012 at 12:36 am
English: Scout at Ship's Wheel by Norman Rockw...

Image via Wikipedia

So you want to be a freelance writer?

For many people, it’s a cherished dream: work at home, no commute, wear PJs til noon, no crazy boss or office politics!

I’ve been writing for a living for 30+ years, and have been freelancing, this time, since 2006. Here’s what my week this week — typical in some ways, very unusual in a few others — looks like:

Sunday

I normally don’t work on weekends but I’m facing multiple deadlines and have to interview people this afternoon — including boys ages 8 to 11 for a story for Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts, for whom I’ve been happily writing for years. With no kids of my own or nephews, I need some great quotes from these boys, one of whom has a shrieking sibling in the background during our conversation. I email several clients to track down late payments and invoice a few others.

I check in with the Hollywood scriptwriter who’s been writing a pilot script for “Malled” for CBS for months. It’s now, finally, with the network executives who can give it a green light — or not. How weird it might be to have a television character based on…me.

Monday

Eight hours at the hospital getting every bit of my body tested for upcoming hip surgery.

I’m home by 4:00 p.m., worn out from listening carefully to so much complex information. Terms like “blood loss” don’t help my nerves.

I still have to finish up my Boy Scout story; invoice Reuters.com for an op-ed I wrote last week; try to find out the status of two stories I pitched to The New York Times (for whom I’ve been writing since 1990.)

Working freelance means wearing a dozen hats at once: marketing, coming up with ideas, finding editors to buy them (at the right price!), billing, pitching, researching, interviewing, reading, writing, finding sources and — the worst! — chasing down late payments. One client screwed up so badly I still haven’t been paid for a story that ran in November.

So, like every freelancer I know, I hustle for work constantly — and use a line of credit to pay every bill promptly. My bank charges 19 % APR (!) and $12 every time I use the overdraft protection, which these late payments force me into.

I can only afford, finally, to get this surgery because I’ve saved enough to take 4-6 weeks off entirely for my recovery. Freelancers have no paid sick days!

The anesthesiologists’ office warn me that a typical bill for my two-hour operation is $3,800, of which our health insurance will pay, at most, $1,000. I’m in no mood to wake up facing a $2,800 bill. One more thing to try not to worry about.

Tuesday

Into New York City for a haircut. Next week my husband, (a professional photographer and editor), will take my new headshot, which I need for my websites, blog, book events, speaking engagements and other professional gigs. I get asked for it a lot, and everyone who runs their own business should have a good, recent, flattering one.

I’ve tried to clear the decks of work almost completely, so I can go into this major operation without worrying I will disappoint someone or miss a deadline. I still have two paid blog posts left and five days to get them done. I’ve been trying to sell a story about the surgery, but no one has bitten. (Yet!)

Wednesday

I fly to New Orleans, where I’ll attend a cocktail party at a conference of retail business owners. I’m excited but nervous. I hate turbulence and my last flight (home from Chicago in November) was horrible. I enjoy doing public speaking, but writers generally like to have our words speak for us, and giving a great speech isn’t a natural or obvious talent. Last year I hired a terrific speaking coach whose advice and tips made me much more confident.

Thursday

At 1pm eastern time, I join an hour-long conference call of 15 fellow writers all across the U.S. who serve on the board of the American Society of Journalists And Authors, a 1,400-member group that advocates for writers’ rights, improved working conditions and pay. I’ve served on the board for five years and am leaving it in July. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m pooped. At 3:30, I’m speaking on the topic of how to hire, manage and motivate low-wage employees, something I learned firsthand when I worked for 27 months as an associate at The North Face, an outdoor clothing company, and which formed the basis of my latest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

Friday

Play day! New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit. I’ve been there twice before, once in the spring of 2002 to interview men and women for my first book, about American women and guns. It makes a city a very different place when you’re there to work and try to get to know even a little of the political and economic structure and whose opinions matter most there.

Want To Write A Book? You Sure?

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  As the pushpushpushpushpush of book promotion and marketing for “Malled’ My Unintentional Career in Retail” continues — today offering interviews with two Canadian newspapers, a photo for my local newspaper and a radio interview — time for a reality check on the reality of book-writing.

Yes, this photo is of me, summer 2010 — mid-revisions!

Writing a book, for me, is a tremendous joy. I love having months to think long and hard about what I am trying to say and how. I love doing interviews for background and a better understanding of my subject, and reading entire books — ten for this one, on low-wage labor, retail and management — to make sure my individual impressions aren’t overly personal and limited.

But, having just attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in Manhattan, I also appreciated listening to the comfort and wisdom of more experienced friends who have published five or six or eight books.

They all know the giddy excitement of signing that contract with your publisher, getting the manuscript in and accepted, publication date — and the anxiety over reviews. Will you get any? How will you handle the savage ones?

Writing and promoting your book(s) is an extraordinary process. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster.

At a dinner table after the conference, four of us — who had never before met — brainstormed how one of us, a fellow Canadian, might best introduce his non-fiction book, The Erotic Engine, into the American market.

Three of us: a education specialist from Vermont, a home decor writer from Florida and I all gave it our best efforts, all while eating some great Italian food.

I love and live for this sort of generosity and camaraderie. At the conference, when I went up to panelist Kathleen Flinn, whose memoir of attending cooking school in Paris, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” was one of my favorites, she was excited to meet me. (!) She’d heard about Malled, as had many people at the conference.

Becoming a published author and climbing the many necessary steps along the way: finding an agent, writing a proposal, finding a publisher, writing, revising and then tirelessly marketing and promoting it, is a little like joining the military.

Really want to write and sell your book? Drop and give me twenty, soldier!

Whatever branch of service — cookbooks, YA, memoir, biography, history — we earn those stripes! We all experience many of the same issues and challenges and — like veterans of battle — know that we all know intimately what others only fantasize about.

Writing books means joining a long ladder of success, with many rungs.

Some books become huge best-sellers, leaving the rest of us gnashing our teeth in envy. Others become films or television series. Many find their own niche, buzzing along through social media and word of mouth.

Some just…die.

Do you hope to write a book? What do you hope to do with it?

What steps are you taking to get there?

But I Deserve It!

In behavior, business, culture, design, Media, Money, work on September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am
TN Fernando Trophy Royal Thomian Regatta Overa...
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It’s that time of year again — applying to the two writing grants I keep hoping to win, one worth $10,000, the other either $17,000 or $35,000. They are given to writers of non-fiction and journalism and, with the recession driving 24,000 print writers out of work in the past few years, the line-up is getting longer and longer and longer.

The first grant is given to only 15 percent of applicants. Nice odds!

It’ll be my fourth time reaching for that specific brass ring and, because there is someone official at the organization to discuss it, I called her to ask how, if at all, I could increase my chances.

“You don’t deserve it just because you’ve applied four times!” she huffed.

“The work has to be excellent. It has to be art!

So the question arises.

Do I deserve it? I think so! Why else would I even bother applying if I didn’t?

Someone is going to win. Maybe one of these years it will be my turn.

A jury of only three people make those decisions. The official let slip that some writers are deemed so terrific they just keep winning year after year.

Oh, the gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments. They deserve it more than I do?

Sad truth is, when creative people in a specific field who’ve been plugging away at their game compete directly for limited goodies, it gets ugly fast. Among professional writers within each genre, we all know (of) one another — attending the same schools, MFA programs, workshops, conferences.

We may even share agents or editors or friends or teach in the same college just down the hallway.

I serve on the board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and at last fall’s board meeting was walking to dinner with two fellow members, both terrific women I really like. Turns out we had all applied for the same fellowship!

(None of us won.)

And when “art” and its value is deeply, hopelessly subjectively relative, who — really — does deserve any specific grant, fellowship or prize?

I don’t have kids, but kids today are being given prizes and ribbons and trophies for breathing. This is unwise.

As one disgusted Mom recently wrote in The New York Times:

My son’s trophy named him the 2010 East Brunswick, N.J., Baseball League Instructional 7’s “Most Valuable Player.” I was stunned. Had my skinny but baseball-addicted son really surpassed all his teammates? As the rest of the boys received their awards, the truth came out: The inscription was the same on every trophy.

Welcome to parenting in the 21st century. As Garrison Keillor says, all the children are above average. But is this really what we want to teach our kids?

I swear I’ve heard kids sneeze and a Mom coo: “Good job!”

It’s mighty tough out there once you start competing hard for the very small tip of the pyramid. Knowing — which some organized athletic competition often still does teach effectively — that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose is useful preparation for a lifetime of not winning.

No one is eager to lose.

But winning doesn’t define you permanently as a “winner” any more than losing means you’re a “loser.”

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At ASJA Today, Professional Development Day — See You Tomorrow

In business, Media on April 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

Today is the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, whose board meeting was yesterday — I’m on its board, along with a dozen others from all over the country, from a New York Times’ best-selling author from Virginia to an environmental writer from Florida to our president, who’s leading our good, endless fight against Google scanning our books — with no pay to us.

I’ll meet three new-to-me editors today, in a sort of speed dating kind of way, hoping to win assignments from them: two are from big national magazines and one website. Our group has almost 1400 members and I look forward every year to seeing old friends, some of whom I’ve featured here, whether Greg Breining, who writes about the outdoors in Minnesota or Maryn McKenna, whose terrifying new book Superbug is about MRSA. This year Greg was in charge of our mentoring program — for $50 you get 30 minutes with an accomplished writer to ask them anything you want; one of my former mentees, Lisa Palmer, is now too busy with work to attend!

If you’re ever looking for a place to make new friends, meet smart colleagues and learn a ton, consider joining us in Manhattan tomorrow at the Roosevelt Hotel or find us on-line.

Want To Join The Board Of The Met Or MOMA? Bring $10 Million

In art, culture on April 5, 2010 at 7:36 am
Photograph of the facade of the Metropolitan O...

$250,000 will get you in...to their board. Image via Wikipedia

So you like art and dress well and want to meet some of Manhattan’s most wealthy and powerful?

Write a check for $10 million, or maybe just $5 million, reports The New York Times:

“For those who can, we have an expectation and we try to be very clear about that expectation,” said Reynold Levy, the president of Lincoln Center, whose board members are generally asked to contribute $250,000 upfront and on an annual basis.

Sometimes the generosity of veteran trustees will exceed expectations. Consider the $30 million gift Ann Ziff made last month to the Metropolitan Opera, which simultaneously announced that she is to become its next chairwoman.

The pressure to raise money from volunteer boards has intensified as the economy slumped and broader charitable giving declined.

Yet even with weakened portfolios, many people of means remain willing to answer the call because a spot on a cultural board is among the most coveted prizes in a city of strivers and mega-achievers. And spots are limited: the New York City Ballet, for example, has 40 voting members; the Museum of Natural History has 56.

The rewards of service are many: social status, the personal satisfaction of doing good, the chance to rub shoulders with Rockefellers and Lauders, and a say in setting the intellectual course of the nation, if not the world, through a leading museum or performing arts institution.

I sit on two boards, neither in this social or financial stratosphere — but one that does require a financial commitment from me. It’s many fewer zeroes, but it requires me to pony up to work with fellow trustees for the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which gives emergency grants of $5,000 for first-time recipients to writers whose work qualifies. This terrible economy, which has decimated print journalism, has hit independent writers — even those successful for decades — extremely hard.

Every single grant application I read is a reminder to be grateful as hell we have insurance, my partner still has a job and, for now, we remain in good health.

The good news? We usually get a check out within a week.

I also sit on the board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, whose annual conference is this month in Manhattan, April 24 and 25.

Do you sit on a board? Why do you do it? What have you learned?

The Slush Pile Is Gone: What Ambitious Writers Must Do

In business, entertainment, Media on January 16, 2010 at 9:34 am
Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961

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Great piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on the death of the “slush pile”, where would-be writers once awaited rescue from their hard-working anonymity:

Getting plucked from the slush pile was always a long shot—in large part, editors and Hollywood development executives say, because most unsolicited material has gone unsolicited for good reason. But it did happen for some: Philip Roth, Anne Frank, Judith Guest. And so to legions of would-be novelists, journalists and screenwriters—not to mention “D-girls” and “manuscripts girls” from Hollywood to New York who held the hope that finding a gem might catapult them from entry level to expense account—the slush pile represented The Dream.

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won’t read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Web was supposed to be a great democratizer of media. Anyone with a Flip and Final Cut Pro could be a filmmaker; anyone with a blog a memoirist. But rather than empowering unknown artists, the Web is often considered by talent-seeking executives to be an unnavigable morass.

It used to be that you could bang out a screenplay on your typewriter, then mail it in to a studio with a self-addressed stamped envelope and a prayer. Studios already were reluctant to read because of plagiarism concerns, but they became even more skittish in 1990 when humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount, alleging that the studio stole an idea from him and turned it into the Eddie Murphy vehicle, “Coming to America.” (Mr. Buchwald received an undisclosed settlement from Paramount.)

The irony, she writes, is that the Web was supposed to make it easier. Not so. You must have an agent.

Her piece also offers a terrific sidebar on how to sell your material, but I saw some things she left out.

I’m now writing my second non-fiction book for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin; my first, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, was published in 2004 by Pocket Books, the paperback side of Simon & Schuster. In both instances, I easily found an agent eager to sell my work. How?

Be excellent. If that sounds elitist, too bad. The Web, and technology, has given millions of amateur writers the technical tools to produce a lot of material. It has also fostered the seductive illusion that, by banging out a lot of it — whatever it is — you”re now highly experienced as a writer and therefore must be really good and it’s your right to get published right away. Wrong.

Writers whom agents eagerly court are writers with a track record of excellence. We have, most typically, been writing for years, not weeks. We have been published by some of the toughest, most jaded and demanding of editors for outlets like The New York Times or The Atlantic or have passed through the gates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. We’ve been vetted.

Hone your skills. Every day. This is not a joke. The most skilled and ambitious professionals I know are deeply committed to their craft. We read, study, watch and listen to work we think inspiring and intelligent. We read/watch/listen to  — and analyze — everything vaguely similar to what we hope to achieve,  fully aware of how much competition is out there and how carefully they are sharpening their swords.

At every level of the game, even with decades of terrific experience and credentials, we take classes and workshops, some even pursuing MFAs or other advanced degrees. We apply for, and sometimes win, grants and fellowships to help us work on material that is perhaps less immediately commercial but helps us grow as artists and creators.  We spend time, money and attention on our skills and our craft.

Get to know other excellent writers. Other terrific writers have already been published and found an agent. If they decide you, too, are ready for prime time, they might share that contact data with you. They also may not. It’s an awkward moment when someone, as they always do, asks for the name of your agent. It’s like asking for your partner’s phone number. That writer may not be a good fit for your agent, in terms of their talent, material or personality.

You best get to know other skilled writers by joining an industry association or group and, best of all, giving of your time and energy so others have a chance to get to know and possibly like you. I sit on the board of the 1,415-member American Society of Journalists and Authors; a fellow board member had a Times‘ best-seller.

Be generous. No one likes a grabby user, and the writing world is filled with them. Just because you reallyreallyreally want to become rich and famous thanks to your astonishing talents doesn’t mean anyone else will rush to get you there — nor should you ever expect this. When you, too, can share a contact or some advice, and you feel comfortable doing so, do it. I don’t help everyone who asks, but I have surprised a few people by doing so. If you are a much younger/less experienced writer asking for help, think through what you can offer in return — maybe a mass tweet or access to your Facebook contacts, all 567,890 of them, when your mentor’s latest production comes out. 

Be strategic. Before you try to find an agent, think through carefully what it is you offer and why that agent, in particular, might be a good fit for you. Ask around. (See suggestion No. 1)

Be patient. Such an unfashionable idea! I wrote at least four unsold book proposals before I sold my first book, then wrote a few more before  I sold my second. It may be hard to fathom, but not everything you write is worth an agent or editor’s or producer’s extremely limited time and attention. If you find an agent, trust their thinking. If you don’t, find another. The world is filled with agents, many of whom may be a very poor fit for you and your work.

Timing is everything. Both of my books wouldn’t have been of as much interest to an agent or publisher even six months before they sold; the mood of the marketplace and the zeitgeist were, at that particular point, especially receptive.  No one wanted my  book about guns or self-protection pre -9/11, but it sold shortly thereafter, when Americans suddenly felt scared in a whole new way. My current book is about working a low-wage, low-status job, something millions are now doing in this recession.

The agent is not your Mom/lover/BFF. They are a skilled professional whose credentials and other clients and projects you will check out thoroughly. Won’t you? You wouldn’t just hand over the keys to your home or vehicle to anyone unfamiliar — but that’s what you’re doing with your hard-earned career when you commit to an agent. Check them out and, if you decide to work with them, and vice versa, respect their time. Don’t burn them out or freak them out by calling and emailing all the time for their reassurance or guidance. That’s what your therapist or writing group is for.

Slow, Late, Non-Paying Clients — How to Avoid Or Cope With Them

In business on December 17, 2009 at 7:55 am
Sand Dollars and Shells

Sand dollars are pretty, but they won't pay the rent...Image by Zevotron via Flickr

Here’s my New York Times story today about dealing with the bane of business, and one that is getting much worse in this recession — clients who refuse to pay you, now or ever.

Like many of my article ideas, this came out of my own costly experience last fall. First, an out-of-state, privately-owned start-up publication abruptly cancelled $20,000 worth of work, then tried to stiff me out of $5,600 for my work already in, accepted and invoiced for. Two months later, an in-state regional publisher sat on my check — my story already in the magazine, already published — for months, essentially thumbing his nose at me in emails.

My favorite read: “The squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease.”

At least they were answering my calls and emails. My solution, in both cases? Attorneys.

I found the first one — unusual for me, then very new to social media — through LinkedIn. I posted a simple request: “I need to find an attorney in X state to sue a deadbeat client.” I heard within hours from an attorney in San Francisco, referring me to someone he knew in the city where I needed help. Within a day. I’d hired a collections attorney; many other freelancers who had sold writing, photos or illustrations to this magazine, some of whom I was in touch with, said they preferred to be patient. I doubt they got a penny. Six months later, I got 50 cents on the dollar, minus 1/3 to the attorney. Better than nothing.

As for the New York loser, I turned to a friend I play softball with, a local attorney. His letter to this publisher managed to get me a check within days.

Tips:

1) Do your due diligence! If you are going to do business with anyone, find out whatever you can about their current financial situation and their reputation for payment. I’m on the board of the 1,400-member American Society of Journalists and Authors, and we have several mechanisms available to our members to help them recoup their payments and, perhaps most crucially, warn others away from trouble spots. Use any legal or ethical means necessary; anyone who’s recently done business with them (fellow members of an industry association or listserv) can help.

2) Don’t just wait if payment is late. I know one young writer who waited (!) almost a year for her money from a major New York publisher. Call, email, call and email, however politely. You’ve earned your income and you have bills to pay.

3) Use prudent caution if you choose to work with/for a start-up, a family-owned business and/or one that is out of state. All these can be red flags.

4) If you fear your payment isn’t going to arrive, look into small claims court or a collections attorney sooner rather than later. It takes time.

5) Document every deal: emails, contracts, faxes. You need proof there was a deal.

6) Do whatever you can to keep three months’ expenses in the bank, or a line of credit at a decent interest rate — which is also harder to get these days — as backup. Your mortgage, rent and other bills will not wait for these deadbeats.

Old(er) Women And Sex — With Or Without A Partner

In work on November 9, 2009 at 2:31 pm
Lamplit bedroom

Wherever works...Image by *Susie* via Flickr

Congrats to California writer Joan Price, whose website, which focuses on older women and sexuality, has just been named one of the top 100 sex bloggers. She’s a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, (on whose board I serve), a recent widow, and a fearless writer on sex and sexuality for women over 50. Yes, women over 50 have sex.

Recent blog posts include her rave review, with color photos, of the Snow Bunny, a sex toy – “no cervix battering!” — and a new book of women’s erotica. Typical of Joan, who’s as openly sensitive above the shoulders as below the waist, she also blogged recently about the loss of her beloved husband, Robert whom she met while line-dancing.

She’s now working on a new book, Naked At Our Age, and seeks people to interview who are ages 50 to 80 and currently celibate, whether happily so or not.

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