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Posts Tagged ‘freelance writing’

The writer’s week: Skyping Holland, grading papers, waiting for news of….

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, life, work on September 21, 2014 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

For those of you new to Broadside, every six weeks or so I describe my working life as a full-time writer living in New York. I write for newspapers, magazines, websites, anyone whose pay is sufficient, whose work is challenging and can use my skills; details and samples here.

Email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com if you’ve got some!

Monday

Juggling three assigned stories, two for the financial website Investopedia and one for The New York Times, for whom I’ve been writing freelance for many years. Having a terrible time sourcing the Times piece though and have shaken every tree I can think of: my LinkedIn contacts, LinkedIn groups, Facebook friends and Twitter. I need to find couples living, or soon to live outside the U.S. and reach out to my many friends worldwide, from Austria to Germany to Bhutan to Britain.

Finally! I find a couple who fits the bill and schedule a Skype interview with them from Holland for next week.

An editor I’ve been working with for years, but have yet to meet face to face, offers me a rush job for a very nice fee. Luckily, I have a spare few days in which to take it on. Another story with elusive sources finally comes together as I find enough people and pitch the editor; we haggle over money and I now await the assignment.

It’s a constant balance of how much time to invest in putting together a pitch (i.e. an idea for a story, not the finished thing) and when to hit “send” to an assigning editor.

"It's the one with he goats in front"...Pratt's deKalb Hall, built in 1955

“It’s the one with the goats in front”…Pratt’s deKalb Hall, built in 1955

Tuesday

I teach two classes this fall at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and 3pm Tuesday is the deadline for my writing students. It’s interesting to see who sends their work in soonest and who waits til the very last minute. I’m really enjoying their writing, but it’s also strange to be so vulnerable to their subjective opinions of me and my teaching — their evaluations  will determine my fate.

Pitching more stories to Cosmopolitan, USA Today, More magazine. Reached out to editors I was last in touch with a few months ago to see if they have anything for me to work on.

Check in with a Toronto writer whose agent is supposed to pitch a collection of essays, mine among them. The book proposal still hasn’t gone out yet; it’s nice to be enough of a “name” that my inclusion might help sell it.

And yet…I share a name with a younger writer at The New Yorker. A Manhattan headhunter emails me to tell me about a job opportunity. Sweet! Several emails later, it’s clear the headhunter has no idea who I am and thinks (!) she has been emailing the other one. For fucks’ sake.

Our rings

Our rings

Wednesday

I hear about a terrific editing position — in Toronto. I live in New York. I apply for it and my husband says, of course; a great job is a rare thing in my industry these days. Most journalism jobs don’t pay enough to justify a commuter marriage, but you never know.

Awaiting the results of a fellowship I’ve applied for in Chicago. The topic I’ve proposed — to study gun violence there — interests me, as it was the subject of my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.”

I go for my usual Wednesday morning walk with a friend, who thinks there’s money in writing books. Sadly, there really isn’t for most writers.

Today is my third wedding anniversary, so Jose and I meet for drinks and dinner in Manhattan at The Lion, whose back room is gorgeous and welcoming. The room is buzzing, filled with 20-somethings.

In a table near the front sits actress Susan Sarandon — almost as pleasant a surprise as finding a free/unpaid parking spot directly in front of the restaurant, saving me $30 or so for a garage.

The New York subway is more....interesting...but driving is quicker

The New York subway is more….interesting…but driving is quicker

Thursday

It’s a good two hour drive from our home to Pratt’s campus. We live north of Manhattan, and I drive down the FDR, the highway on the East Side of Manhattan, intrigued by the city’s mix of poverty and wealth. Under one of the bridges, homeless people still sleep in their blankets and sleeping bags while helicopters arrive at the helipad, gleaming Escalades waiting to ferry the 1% crowd to wherever they’re headed. Police boats and barges and working vessels pass on my left on the East River.

I climb the four flights of stairs to reach my first classroom.

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Lunch in the college cafeteria, meeting with a student, then 2.5 hours’ downtime before I teach blogging there at 4:30 to 6:20. Tonight is a faculty reception at the president’s home, which is spectacular, the original mansion built for the founder of Pratt, a 19th century industrialist. I chat briefly with two other professors then head off into the night — and get lost. I swing around Prospect Park twice in frustrated, exhausted horror. I can’t read my map, (the print is too small), and just keep driving until — finally — I find my way to the highway I need.

Friday

Into Manhattan for a meeting of the volunteer board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can grant up to $4,000 within a week to a non-fiction writer in financial crisis. We were getting many requests in the past few years but, luckily, many fewer these days.

Long discussion, with no clear resolution, as to what now constitutes a “freelance writer” — when so many people write for so little payment or even none at all.

I hop a city bus downtown to the East Village and discover that my Metrocard has expired; the driver kindly lets me ride anyway.

It’s a gorgeous sunny fall day and I wander East 9th Street, only to discover that one of my favorite shops has closed.

Gone!

Gone!

I drop into another, a fantastic vintage store where I scored big last winter, and decide against a chocolate suede hat for $88. In a sidewalk cafe, I watch European tourists and models and just….sit still for a change, enjoying calm, carrot cake and mint tea.

Fresh mint tea. Perfect!

Fresh mint tea. Perfect!

Finally meeting a source — an American woman living and working in Bahrain — for dinner. I interviewed her by email a few years ago, and we’ve been following one another on Twitter. We’re meeting in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street, once a legendary hangout for writers but now a more-polished upscale version of itself. I’ve been coming here for decades and have seen it through three (so far) renovations.

The evening is a bit of a blind date for both of us but we’re laughing like mad within minutes of meeting one another as we discover a raft of unlikely common interests. Like me, she’s a quirky, feisty mix of ideas and entrepreneurship.

It’s rare to become friends with a story source, but it’s nice when it happens.

 

Meta post: my webinars, classes, blogging schedule — welcome new followers!

In behavior, blogging, books, journalism on August 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua

On assignment this year in rural Nicaragua

Just a few housekeeping notes, for followers both longtime and new (thanks!)…

For the past five years, I’ve been posting faithfully three times a week, sometimes more.

Pooped! (Hint: please spend some time poking around the archives, where you’ll find plenty of material, often on books, writing, publishing and freelancing, often titled The Writer’s Week.)

For the nex few months I’ll likely be posting once every four or five days — not every two days — as I’m now teaching three college classes and will be spending a lot of my time preparing for them, teaching and grading students’ work.

So please don’t feel neglected and/or abandoned!

I also offer six webinars on various aspects of writing, blogging and freelancing, details here. They cost $125 for 90 minutes via Skype or phone and satisfied students have come from, literally, across the world — New Zealand to Germany.

I can schedule these any time that suits you, including days, evenings and weekends.

I also coach other writers individually, answering pretty much any question you’d like to throw at me about journalism, writing, publishing non-fiction commercially, memoir. Happy to read your pitches or work-in-progress, be a “first reader”…

I charge $150/hour (with a one-hour minimum), and will be raising that rate to $200/hour in January 2015.

My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)

My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)

I’m teaching writing this fall at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and at the New York School of Interior Design; I have also taught writing at Pace University, New York University, Concordia University and Marymount College. As the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, for places like The New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, I know what it takes to succeed in this highly-competitive business.

What can I do to help you? Please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Time to step up your writing game?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism on July 8, 2014 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua this year for WaterAid

Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua this year for WaterAid

Many of you — welcome! – are new to Broadside, (now at 10,759 followers).

And many of you are writers, would-be writers or fellow bloggers.

This is a reminder that I offer writing and blogging webinars that have helped students worldwide — from Australia, New Zealand, England and Germany to many in the U.S. — write more effectively, launch or boost their freelance careers, better engage their blog readers and/or develop their ideas into posts, articles or books.

The six webinars are narrowly focused and each one is 90 minutes, allowing 30 minutes for your questions and comments; details here.

My goal is to get you to the level you want to reach — whether more readers for your blog, running a profitable freelance business or even just understanding how reporters think about ideas and how to develop them into stories editors are eager to buy.

I’m happy to work with you individually; for the moment I’m not scheduling them on fixed dates but one-on-one, working via Skype or telephone.

I also offer individual coaching — reading your work-in-progress and offering my comments and insights, helping with your thesis or just brain-storming whatever you want to focus on! I charge $150/hour, with a one-hour minimum; clients tell me they find tremendous value from it, usually with a two-hour session, the first spent reading your work, then analyzing it and discussing it in detail by phone or Skype.

“Thank you for sharing valuable insights, irreverent stories and revealing travel tips with us…Your enthusiasm for your work is infectious.  And you are… fun!”

That’s an email I received a few weeks ago after teaching eight interior designers in Manhattan how to catch an editor’s eye.

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

I really enjoy teaching, and will be doing so this fall in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute; with decades of experience as a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, two-time non-fiction author, magazine editor, reporter for three major daily newspapers and now a full-time freelance writer for publications like The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and many others, I can help you raise your game.

“As a journalist with only a few years experience, I appreciated her willingness to share her expertise and experiential wisdom. If you have a chance to take a class with her, don’t hesitate. Great value.”
– Lisa Hall-Wilson

Hope to work with you soon!

Five reasons to freelance — and five reasons not to!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, photography, work on June 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

I went freelance, for the third time, in 2006 after losing a staff job at the New York Daily News — but I also freelanced, by choice, full-time for four years right out of college, so it wasn’t a terrible shock to lose an office, colleagues and a paycheck.

I grew up in a family of freelance creatives, people who wrote for print and television and my father was a film director. No one had a steady paycheck or pension to look forward to and rely on. So it all felt normal to me.

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

Five reasons to go, or stay, freelance:

You’re very intrinsically motivated (i.e. you don’t need a whip over your head to get it done)

Autonomy ‘r us! Some people are just a whole lot happier not having a boss. And any organization, no matter how small, is going to impose policies and procedures, some of which are usually inane and some of which you might deeply disagree with.

All of which come with someone else’s paycheck.

You want more control of your work/life scheduling

Maybe you have children and/or pets and/or an ailing loved one who needs your attention as well. Maybe you prefer to work from 4pm to midnight or 2am to 8am…or whenever it suits you. Freelancing allows you tremendous freedom, within limits, to set your own hours and schedule.

I take a jazz dance class on Monday and/or Friday mornings, from 9:30 to 10:30 or 11:00 a.m — and no staff job I know of would allow for that. It’s fun and social and gives me tremendous pleasure and keeps me healthy. And I like knowing this is a bonus no job would offer.

I also take as much vacation, whenever possible; my husband, even after 30 years at the Times, must request his vacation time in early January and defer to those (!) with more seniority than he.

This was a workday for us in rural Nicaragua. Sweet!

This was a workday for us in rural Nicaragua. Sweet!

You can choose a wide variety of clients and projects

Staff jobs, de facto, have set roles and responsibilities they have hired you to perform. Freelancers can freely pick and choose our clients and types of work, from quick 300-word stories to 3,500 word features to 100,000 word books. We can fly to another country to do some reporting or spend a week at a conference meeting cool people who can help our careers.

If you’re getting bored or have a difficult client, switch it up!

Intellectual challenge is up to you

If your personal life is crazy and all you have energy for is lighter projects, that’s your call. That’s a huge benefit when our personal lives go haywire and we need to lighten our loads for a while. When you work for someone else, it’s all up to them. Plus, your professional opportunities for advancement and growth (and pay) are largely within their budget, schedule and control.

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

Your income is your choice

Key! If you want to double or triple your income — or even just boost it by 22.3% — that’s also within your control, not something at the pleasure of your boss or company CEO.

Freelancers see a very direct and satisfying correlation between our energy, stamina, skill and experience, and the zeros on our tax returns — with no office politics and no bullshit excuses why you still, somehow, don’t deserve — or just won’t get — a raise, commission or bonus.

Five reasons to stay on someone’s payroll

You’ve got huge overhead you can’t quickly and easily reduce

If you’ve got multiple children expecting you to pay for their educations, freelancing is going to be tough. If you’re crushed by student debt yourself already and/or credit card debt (especially with a high APR), freelancing — i.e. not having a reliable income each month — can be really stressful, certainly as you are just getting started and cannot command the highest fees.

And many clients pay late (45 to 60 days after invoice) while some try to screw us out of our fees.

I know some people earning $100,000 to 130,000 a year freelancing, but they are not, certainly as writers in journalism today, in the majority.

You need someone telling you what to do, and when to do it, and how to do it right

If you’re the sort of person who craves routine and a structure and people making sure you have done the work correctly, freelancing may feel too loosey-goosey. Every single day’s productivity is completely your own responsibility, so if you’re someone who likes to watch daytime TV or Candy Crush, good luck with that.

Your ability to make enough income to gas the car, feed your family and take your dog to the vet are often the primary or exclusive measure of your success. Your primary goal is to find, nurture and keep ongoing and profitable relationships — not please your superiors and colleagues.

A lovely gift from my former assistant. Someone cared!

A lovely gift from my former assistant. Someone cared!

You really need the company (and input) of other people

Working alone at home is lonely and isolating. If you treasure your office pals and going out for margaritas with them, freelancing all day by yourself may drive you nuts. Yes, you can rent a co-working space, but you’re still there to work and paying for additional space, and not necessarily surrounded by like-minded folk.

Hustling scares you (to death)

Freelancers eat only what we kill. No, not literally! But we start many weeks, or years, with no clear, definite idea what our income is actually going to be. Sure, we set income goals — but clients die, turn into insatiable monsters we have to fire, publications suddenly close or trim their budgets and mayhem just happens sometimes.

Yet those monthly bills keep coming! If the idea of constantly seeking out, and nurturing, new client relationships fills you with dread, keep the day job.

You crave the validation of “I work at…”

A phrase that drives me crazy is “Who’re you with?” I’m with myself, actually.

The constant status-check of ascribing your value and prestige to your Big Name Employer seems, to me, sadly antiquated now that 30 percent of Americans work for themselves, or as temps or contract workers only.

But if you really like saying “I work for BNE”, then get and keep a job there.

The downside? If or when you’re laid off from a staff job, your identity — and your income, of course — may take a serious and unexpected whack.

How about you?

Which lifestyle suits you best?

Come, learn! My next webinars are May 10,17: blogging, interviewing and more

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, work on April 22, 2014 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

For those of you fairly new to Broadside, welcome!

A career journalist, winner of a National Magazine Award, author of two well-reviewed works of non-fiction, each on complex national issues, I now offer webinars a few times a year, designed — after consulting you — to offer the skills you’ve told me are most helpful.

I taught journalism to adults at New York University for five years, and find this individualized approach  fun, and practical. If you need more information on my background and journalism credits and credentials, please visit the about and welcome pages here, or my website, caitlinkelly.com.

Students signed up for my fall webinar series, and individual coaching — thank you! — from Australia, New Zealand, London, Chicago, D.C., California and Connecticut; one student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase as soon as she made the simple change I suggested; more testimonials here.

Even if you enjoy only one webinar a year, ($10.41/month), your sharpened skills can markedly and quickly improve your productivity, audience and satisfaction.

My classes are also friendlier, more affordable and much more personal than sitting in a classroom or the cost and hassle of attending a crowded conference. (I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.)

These are the six 90-minute classes, each priced at $125:

 

BETTER BLOGGING

Better Blogging

May 10, 10:00-11:30 a.m. ET

This practical, lively seminar offers more than 30 steps you can take – right away — to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers; Broadside has more than 10,000 followers now, and grows every single day. To win writing jobs, freelance or full-time, your blog is your best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times and chosen as one of 22 in “culture” by WordPress worth reading. Let’s do it!

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

I’ve freelanced full-time since 2006, this time, for local, regional, national and international clients. You can too! In this super-focused, tips-filled webinar, we’ll discuss how much you really need to earn, negotiating, how to find (and keep!) clients and how to maximize your productivity. My clients include Cosmpolitan, Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times and on-line sites HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

 

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10, 4:00-5:30 pm ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! This class teaches the tips and tricks I’ve gained from working as a staff reporter for three major dailies, including the New York Daily News — and freelancing for The New York Times since 1990. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? Every reporter knows these basics, and if you hope to compete with them — whether you’re blogging, or writing for on-line or print or broadcast or video — this is the stuff you need to know.

 

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview

May 17, 10:00 a.m. to 11;30 a.m. ET

No ambitious non-fiction writer, blogger or journalist succeeds without knowing how to conduct probing and well-controlled interviews. I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure an interview? Should you tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter, author of two-well-reviewed books of nationally reported non-fiction — one of which included 104 original interviews — and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

 

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17, 1:00 p.m – 2:30 p.m. ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl, Aeon and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

 

 

IDEAS

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of potential story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them into salable pitches — is the topic of this helpful webinar. And every non-fiction book begins with an idea; developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and determine who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Feel free to email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here; I won’t be offering these again until fall 2014, possibly in October.

I look forward to working with you!

Help! I need somebody…

In behavior, books, business, domestic life, journalism, life, work on February 28, 2013 at 12:05 am
A group of security guards in Hong Kong lined ...

A group of security guards in Hong Kong lined up (fall-in) before on duty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you work for yourself, alone, you tend to think you can — and should — do it all. You get used to not having a boss, or colleagues or tech support or a janitor or security guards, any of the other people that normally surround us in an office or work setting.

You’re the CEO, CIO, CFO, R & D….and the janitor!

So hiring and paying others for their skills is something I have to force myself (Ms. Cheap) to do, while knowing it’s going to help me do my work better and faster. We all need a few smart brains to help us think through a problem that just stares us in the face sticking its tongue out…

And there’s a fun, honest piece on outsourcing grooming and fashion help from the current issue of American beauty magazine Allure, (which they offer no online link to):

I wish the tech nerds would get together with the fashion nerds and invent a company that would not only body-map the exact topography and physique of my physique, but also take it a step further and send me the following items in my exact size — hosiery, socks, T-shirts, jeans and bras.

Here’s a lovely post from mashedpotatoes about how much her husband does for her…

And another, from one of my favorite blogs, by singer Jessie Veeder, (which always has spectacular photos of her life on a ranch):

for all the Valentines Days I’ve been able to share with with a cute and thoughtful boy who turned out to be a man who makes the coffee nice and strong, searches for his clothes in the early hours of the morning with a headlamp so he doesn’t wake me, knows his way around a kitchen, unclogs the clogs, fixes broken things and promises he will be there tonight when I sing again, no matter the hours and miles he has to put in at work today.

A few of those helping me get it done these days:

The redoubtable C

It seems too unlikely to find and hire a terrific assistant through reading her blog, and vice versa, but that’s what happened. (A well-written blog lets readers know who you are and how you think and what your values are, so I felt no fear asking her to work with me as a researcher and general dogsbody.) She lives very far away from me and always will, although there’s a chance we’ll meet this summer. Her energy, enthusiasm, smarts and humor are a godsend. Here’s a link to her blog, Small Dog Syndrome.

Ricky

Ricky comes to our apartment every two weeks to clean it. I pay her $55 for about 90 minutes’ work, a fee some of my friends consider a lot of money. Not me. She’s quiet, efficient, meticulous and allows me to focus on high-value work. And she’s nice.

Alex

My hairdresser of more than a decade.

Ilda

A local hairdresser in my suburban town, she’s happy to meet me at 7:30 a.m. to do my hair, necessary when I’m asked to do a TV appearance. No, I can’t begin to approximate the quality of a professional blow-out! (And it’s a business expense.)

Yujin

He created my main website, caitlinkelly.com, which is due for a major re-do. We spent a good hour on the phone recently — as he now lives in Portland, Oregon — trying to figure it all out. I’m grateful for someone who’s known me so long and watched my career and skills morph since we put the site up in 1995, when very few writers even had one.

Jim

My financial planner in Toronto. OK, he’s not mine — he handles 100 accounts, mine among them. I’ve heard his gravel voice for years, but finally met him face to face recently and we chewed around some ideas for my portfolio. Given that mine may easily be the smallest he manages, I’m lucky he’s as gracious and helpful as he is.

Peter

My accountant for more than a decade. Even in my scariest, nail-biting, can-I-pay-the-bills years, and there have been a few, Peter has been encouraging, warm and proud of my ability to save 15 to 20 percent of my income — as a percentage, far more, he tells me, than clients earning much, more more. He even makes filing my taxes pleasant!

Tony

In May 2010, it was he, a massage therapist who knows me and my pain threshold all too well, who figured out something was seriously wrong with my left hip due to the sort of 24/7 pain I was suffering. After another MRI, at Tony’s urging, the dismissive surgeon who had given me steroids that destroyed my hip bone, said those three fateful words: “We missed that.”

Assorted helpful colleagues

The one serious drawback of working alone at home all day? Loneliness, isolation and brain-freeze. With no one across the desk or in the next cubicle to ask for help or advice or to brainstorm with, you can quickly burn out. My friend K, in Nova Scotia, always makes me at least 32% smarter after every call, no matter what the subject. G, in upstate New York, is high-energy and optimistic, and W., a new friend in Montreal, brims with fantastic ideas and helpful connections.

Roy and Yvonne

Every time I do a local event for my book, the owners of The Village Bookstore, one of only seven bookstores left in our large and affluent county, come out with a box of books and the hope that, after my presentation, we’ll sell some. Sometimes the drive is 45 minutes each way. No matter what the hour or weather or day, they’re there and cheerful and I’m grateful!

My brother

I have two. This one is ten years younger and runs his own software company, a fact that leaves me awestruck. The other day I needed all sorts of advice on creating and protecting IP — intellectual property — for a new project I’m working on. He totally got it and referred me to his patent expert and an IP lawyer. It’s really helpful to have someone I know, like and trust who sees all the issues and had dealt with many of them already.

My husband

I had neglected (!) to include him in this initial list, which proves how ungrateful utterly reliant I’ve become in 13 years on his good will, good humor, generosity and energy. I hate buying anything to do with technology — I’m cheap, hate making major financial commitments and yet appreciate every single thing he’s bought for me/us, including the coolest thing ever, a MiFi, the size of a credit card which turns anywhere, (short of the Grand Canyon), into an instant wi-fi spot. He also does all the laundry, some cooking and, far more safety conscious than I, thinks of things like — “Hmm, we’re driving up to Canada in the winter. Maybe we need new snow tires.” Which we desperately did. I’m lucky that he, too, has been a journalist, (albeit on the photo side), since his freshman year of college as I did, so he’s helped me many times with work dilemmas.

Who is essential to helping you run your life better or more easily these days?

If you ever speak to a reporter…

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, television, work on February 14, 2013 at 12:24 am
The Interview

The Interview (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who have never spoken to a reporter, or been media-trained, here are a few basic ground rules that might be helpful.

This first one is a new and — to a veteran like me — really egregious problem:

Pre-publication, social media are off limits! Do NOT tweet or Facebook giving any hint of who is coming to interview you, what about or for which media outlet.

I’ve been working in journalism since 1978 and younger public relations people, as well as journalists and photographers, have done this to me and to Jose, my husband who assigns photographers for The New York Times, causing us personal and professional embarrassment or worse. They seem to have no understanding that journalism — more than ever! — is a highly competitive industry. The second you tip my hand to any of my competitors, I’ve lost the whole point of my story, which is to beat them, possibly handily, to a great piece they have yet to notice or work on themselves.

If a reporter wants to interview you, ask them a few questions before you agree, or begin speaking:

How long is the piece? What section is it running in, or, if a magazine, which issue? What’s your deadline? What’s your angle? Who else are you speaking to? (They may not tell you.) It’s helpful to understand how your comments or views fit into the larger picture.

Don’t insist on reviewing your quotes before publication.

This is taboo for almost all reporters. It wastes their time, it slows down production and — most importantly — it shows ignorance of journalism norms. Many magazines still employ fact-checkers, people who will call you up later to ensure that what is said by or about you is factually accurate. Freelancers tightly budget their reporting time and may be speaking to a dozen sources or more, not just you. We don’t have time!

You can speak on background, off the record, not for attribution or on the record. Make sure you are clear before the interview begins and that both you and the reporter have agreed.

On background means they will never name or identify you in any way. You’re helping them better understand a complex issue and possibly pointing them to other sources, but you won’t be named as the referral source. NFA means I can broadly identify you: “A highly-placed White House source” or “A 20-year employee”, i.e. your name and title are not used, but your credibility or authority is established. If you speak on the record, every word you say can be used and attributed to you by name.

English: Ft. Pierce, FL, September 16, 2008 --...

English: Ft. Pierce, FL, September 16, 2008 — FEMA Public Information Officer(PIO) Renee Bafalis and Community Relations(CR) Specialist Rene Haldimann speak on camera with WPTV-TV (5) reporter Bryan Garner at a manufactured home park which was affected by Tropical Storm Fay. George Armstrong/FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can ask for questions in advance — but it’s annoying.

Yes, you want to prepare. But we expect you to know your stuff well enough to anticipate most questions.

Every good interview will also go off on a few tangents. We don’t want to — and won’t — stick to a pre-determined list.

Don’t put us on a choke chain.

It’s annoying, but common, to have a press officer in the room or on the phone with us during an interview, but if you don’t give us enough time, or interrupt us, we’ll just pester you and your staff later.

Don’t haggle or harangue about attribution after you’ve spoken.

Once an interview has begun, unless you say “This is off the record” before you say it, it’s on, and usable. Same with phone interviews. If doing it by email, mark these comments off clearly.

During a phone interview, ask if the reporter is taping or taking notes.

They’re likely doing both. A note-taker (like me) may need additional time to catch up.

Ask how much time they need, and make sure you have no interruptions.

Some may only need five or ten minutes, others an hour or more. I’m suspicious of any reporter who wants only a very brief interview as most issues are too complex for a sound bite. Television and radio interviews demand precise, quick answers — but print interviewers may want a lot more detail, and time.

Research the reporter beforehand.

Everyone is findable now: Google and LinkedIn being the two quickest and easiest ways to get a sense of who you’ll be speaking with. Are they fair-minded? Experienced? Well-regarded in the industry? If you can spare the time to read a few things they’ve written — and can genuinely compliment them on one — why not? It shows us a little respect as well.

What have I left out?

Related articles

It’s tough to be original

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on October 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm
Our Policy - Originality

Our Policy – Originality (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

Interesting piece in The Globe and Mail on this by Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, (a Florida-based organization that helps to improve American journalism):

Originality is elusive today in every place that people write – not just in journalism, but in academia, professional writing, book publishing, speech writing and politics.

In our panic to keep up with a changing world, we’ve failed to identify new methods for originality. We need to look to the writer-editor relationship, to the community of writers and thinkers and to the very process that writers use to go from nothing to something.

We’re mystified by the prospect of building a culture that breeds original thinking and writing in today’s digital world. Yet, we can look to writers who are successfully hitting the mark of originality and imitate their methods.

McBride points out that many writers now feel compelled to read everything already produced on their subject before diving into it themselves:
“There’s so much that’s been written about any given topic because writing now is mostly the continuation of a conversation already in play.”
So the challenge is real. Read (too much?) and risk the very real disaster of even unconscious plagiarism or start out fresh and blind, making it up as you go along.
In the old days, it was pretty clear that producing quality journalism meant GOYA (get off your ass) and leaving the newsroom. Talking to people face to face. Working your beat and your sources to hear something new and unheard of.

I try to find stories people haven’t yet heard and/or to tell them in a way that’s fresh and new. Of course, some stories are bread-and-butter, straightforward assignments that pay my bills, with a very clear brief from my client or editor.

Being original means taking a risk — of looking foolish, of being so far out ahead of everyone that they’re laughing at you, of getting it wrong, of positing a theory no one agrees with. It’s safer to stay tucked into the middle of the pack.
Unless you choose to self-publish, (not a paid option for most serious journalists), you  have to please a pile of editors, who can each shrug, dismiss or deny the value of your ideas.
So “originality” becomes a matter of consensus, a committee effort.
In my efforts to create original work, I try to conceptualize and thereby report differently from others, who often rush the process. For my most recent New York Times story, I spent an hour with almost everyone I interviewed, 12 sources in all. That’s a lot of time, (plus writing and answering editors’ questions) and, arguably, not the most efficient or profitable use of it for a freelancer who gets only one set fee, no matter how much time it takes. Many reporters devote 10 to 20 minutes to an interview and end up with rote, shallow answers.
Which might be why so much of today’s journalism is useless, a regurgitation of the same five ideas.
When I wrote “Malled”, I read ten other books about retail, labor and low-wage labor before finishing my manuscript. I didn’t worry about plagiarizing as I’m careful to attribute and give credit. I needed to broaden and deepen my understanding of these complex issues. An academic would argue that reading only 10 books was hopelessly insufficient.
Given the size of publishing’s current paychecks, it’s a constant battle between being thorough and engaging, making a living or sticking to ramen. I knew few writers who can afford to spend the kind of time we’d ideally prefer on our work.
Being original? It’s hard to find the time, literally, to step off the hamster wheel of production to ponder, read widely, talk to people not part of our day-to-day income streams. It’s necessary though.
It’s also a rare editor, in journalism or publishing, who’s willing or able to defend a story that’s truly off the margins. The easiest way to sell your new book proposal is by comparing it to three best-sellers just like it, which reassures nervous publishers. (Even then, it’s still a crapshoot, they all admit.)
Do you struggle creatively to produce work that’s original?
How do you achieve it?

Exhausted and overwhelmed

In behavior, blogging, books, business, domestic life, journalism, life, Media, women, work on September 13, 2012 at 12:32 am
Hong-kong, from Kow-loon.

Hong-kong, from Kow-loon. I hope to make it there! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

E and O, kids!

The past few months — probably like many of yours as well —  have been an emotional and financial roller-coaster:

– a new-to-me client decided my story was unacceptable. I lost $1,300 of the income agreed to and expected.

– another new-to-me client assigned an on-line slide-show that sounded easy-peasy, even though I’ve never done one. Hardly. Learning how to work quickly and efficiently for web clients is a learning curve.

– I’m on my third New York-based assistant since May and she’s getting busier with competing projects. Bright, ambitious people, (bless them!), move up quickly. My Toronto-based assistant is good, but really busy and costs $3/hour more.

– I decided to up my speed while walking to burn more calories, (the endless weight loss drama), and woke up crying in pain at 4:00 a.m. I’m fine, but it meant a week of zero exercise while my new hip calmed down again.

– My gynecologist put me on the scale and I hadn’t lost an ounce since my GP told me to shed lots o’ pounds few months ago. I’m torn between frustration/anger and fuckitIdon’tcarenanymore resignation. I loathe dieting and am so scared to injure myself by pushing my new hip too hard, with another five months before it’s 100% healed.

– I’m applying for a competitive annual journalism fellowship again, fearful I won’t even make the finals. But you can’t win what you don’t try.

– I decided against applying for a local award that required a $100 entry fee. Sure, I’d like that line on my resume, and I had a great story worth entering. But $100?

– I’m really getting fed up with the old-school thinking in my industry. Several of these awards and fellowships refuse to accept book chapters in lieu of printed clips from magazines or newspapers clips. Few freelance journalists can afford to write much for print anymore. We’ve had to migrate to writing for the web to make steady, ready cash.

– My toughest challenge? Guessing when, how often and how hard to push, whether for payment, a sale, higher rates. For every editor who says, gratefully “I’m so glad you reached out. I’ve been too busy but I’ll get back to you next week” another snarls “We’re closing three editions at once.” With 90% of our interactions by email, not phone, establishing any sort of a more personal, collegial relationship sometimes feels impossible.

Push too hard, lose a client. Play doormat, go broke.

– Late payments make me insane. I have a five-figure line of credit, at a usurious APR, which I try to avoid using. So I try to schedule my workflow and payments to insure that every single month, enough checks arrive, (they’re almost always on an out-of-state bank) in time for me to pay my bills promptly. One check arrived recently almost seven weeks after invoice. None of my creditors will wait, but I’m expected to.

– Balancing my short-term, medium-term and long-term goals often feels unmanageable. On any given day, I’m juggling all three: make money, line up more work, apply for awards and fellowships with hard deadlines, manage two assistants, squeeze in a personal, social and athletic life, keep a home that’s clean, tidy and attractive, keep my marriage happy, nurture professional and personal relationships. Oh, yeah and lose a ton of weight.

– Promoting my book to keep it visible and selling. Between October 24 and January 24, I’ve got five speaking engagements, one in a distant state. Every day I spend a few hours trying to think of other venues for this, preferably ones that pay. I was so o and e I managed to fill out and return the wrong contract to one group. Boy, that looked professional!

– Still, a year later, trying to finish the proposal for (what I hope will become) my third book.

– Trying to figure out when and how to re-balance our investments so we might actually, one day, be able to get off this hamster wheel and afford to retire.

– Reading newspapers, magazines and on-line to know what’s happening in the world and what markets I want to sell to as a writer have already published.

– Another freelance friend, 10 years younger, tells me she’s putting away $20,000 to $30,000 a year for retirement. How is this possible? Our expenses are cut to the bone as it is and we have no kids, while she has two.

– Trying to re-sell “Malled” to a Hollywood agent to snag a film and/or television deal. My agent is handling that, but I need to keep on top of her activities.

– Coming up with ideas for stories (see: cashflow.)

– Refining and developing every idea into something salable, with emails and phone calls to make sure that sources are on-board, available and interested (all unpaid time), before I make the pitch.

– Planning (hah!) a long foreign vacation for 2013. Hoping to hike the Grand Canyon with my Dad in May, then Europe with my husband in June. The money for this will come from….? Freelancers get no paid vacations, so every non-working hour has to be earned/saved in advance.

So, I’m fleeing!

I’m heading back up to Canada next week for 10 days alone in the desperate hope of some true relaxation. I’ll house-sit for my Dad (off sailing [sigh] with my two younger brothers in Turkey.) I’ll go biking. I’ll head into Toronto to see dear old friends and enjoy a few good meals.

How’s your life these days?

Are you equally E and O?

Can you offer any coping tips?

The writer’s life, this week anyway

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 12, 2012 at 12:09 am
English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An ongoing occasional series on my life as a full-time writer in New York. Maybe surprisingly, little actual writing is involved — and much rejection (and patience) is pretty standard. This week included two writers’ deaths and the loss of $2,000 income.

Monday

Exhausted by attending BlogHer, a 5,000 participant conference in Manhattan on Friday and Saturday, I took the day off for R & R. Slept in the sun by our apartment pool. Bliss!

Tuesday

Started researching the weekly personal finance blog I write for Canadians, focused on the move by one bank to shut down accounts of Iranian Canadians, in order to comply with federal regulations. Knowing that bank and government PR people are slow to return emails or calls, best to start now — my deadline is Friday.

I need to order books for my Neiman-Marcus event in September. Since I have to pay for these books myself, even with a 40 percent author discount, I don’t want to get stuck with unsold merch and a credit card bill. Sigh.

Phone meeting with a new-to-me client who is, (blessedly highly unusual), unhappy with the 2,000 word magazine piece I just handed in. We spend 30 minutes wrangling. Not fun.

Call an agent who’s seen my third book proposal, but didn’t like it as is, to determine if he wants to work on it with me anyway. Check in with my assistant in New York and assure my assistant in Toronto I’m really not ignoring her. I am, though. I’m swamped and feeling really distracted.

One of my toughest daily challenges is setting priorities for what’s urgent as I constantly toggle between meeting deadlines, finding new work, marketing my book and doing the work already in hand.

Wednesday

I get a last-minute email invitation to attend a presentation in Manhattan by a Harvard Business School professor writing a book about retail work, as I did. But she’s getting inside access to senior corporate executives. There are 29 people in the room, from retail workers to reporters to union reps. It’s fascinating work and she’s a lively and personable speaker. I’m honored when she asks if she can use my book as part of her research.

I’m meeting at 6:30 with a very senior editor at a major newspaper, ostensibly to be social, but I’m also curious if I’d fit there as a staffer. I have four hours to kill before the dinner, so I go to a French movie. It’s a hot, humid day and sitting in the cool darkness eating popcorn and being transported to early 20th century Provence is heaven.

Thursday

Scrambling to finish my personal finance reporting.

I sit on the volunteer board of a writers’ group offering emergency grants to those in need; I learn that one of our board members, 76, has died.

Checking in with colleagues and editors and a possible new agent to see where things stand with my book proposal.

Had the idea to create a new conference for women over 40, so I’ve been emailing and calling a few people to see if they’d be willing to brainstorm it with me. I go to the local hotel and get their rates for renting a room and meals for a meeting — sobering! Immediately see why conferences need sponsors!

Get an email from the Decatur Literary Festival wanting me to update my site on their website. Need to send bio, headshot, cover of my book and a brief description of it. I’m really looking forward to this event, but nervous that — as can happen — no one will show up to hear me speak or to buy my book. I have several friends living there, one of them author of a terrifying book about MRSA, who want to get together socially. Will I have time? Have to check the website to see how many parties I need to attend! It’s a rare, fun chance to meet a lot of other authors.

I wonder if getting another fellowship would help me, financially and professionally and check out the Knight-Bagehot, which offers $50,000 to study at Columbia University. Everyone who’s won in the past two years is 20 years my  junior and has a staff job. I email the program director to ask if applying is even worth it.

I call a local library to ask if I can do a reading. They say no.

Friday

Drop off the car for repair — $200.65, $100 less than I’d expected. Yay!

A friend emails to ask my advice about how to choose an agent — as the Olympic athlete she has written about has won a gold medal and is now on everyone’s mind. I steal an hour of work-time to watch synchronized swimming, cheering loudly for the Canadians. As someone who used to do synchro, I’m in awe of their skills.

Awaiting word on pitches to Monocle, The New York Times, Marie-Claire, Hispanic Business and others. I read a few stories in Bloomberg Businessweek and now want to send a copy of “Malled” to the CEO of Ann Taylor, a women’s clothing retailer here, and to the new head at J.C. Penney.

A friend has suggested I update my website to attract more paid speaking engagements, so I have to start reaching out to people for testimonials.

I need to request a copy of the raw manuscript from a client whose thriller I edited last summer to possibly get more freelance editing work from an agency.

Talk to my personal finance blog editor, who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Typically, I often work for years with editors or clients I never meet. It’s our first personal chat in the three months I’ve been writing for him.

Learn of the premature death, of cancer, of David Rakoff, a fellow Canadian writer in New York – at 47. Sad news, and another terrific talent lost.

The magazine editor who hated my story kills it with no offer of a kill fee for my time and work. I’ve just lost $2,000 of income I’d counted on. Haven’t had a story killed in years. Nice.

Call five regular clients to see if I can snag some assignments to make up for that lost revenue.

Referred a colleague in Seattle to one of my editors.

Invited my assistant to come for dinner. She’s been working hard on a tedious set of tasks for me, cheerfully and well. In addition to two part-time assistants (one at $10/hr, one at $13/hr) I have a cleaner in twice a month ($25/hr.) When I hear the phrase “job creators” I look in the mirror. My income may have many fewer zeros than Corporate Kings, but it’s also paying others for their skills.

Head to the gym, where I actually have time (on the elliptical) to read magazines.

How was your week, my dears?

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