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Posts Tagged ‘writing books’

This week’s webinars: How Reporters Think, Finding and Developing Ideas

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on February 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

How do reporters think?

It seems mysterious to some, but — whether through training, school or experience — we process the world in specific ways. I enjoy journalism because one of its principles is challenging authority and questioning received wisdom.

We ask “Why? a lot.

It also means breaking many of the accepted rules of polite society: interrupting, demanding answers from the powerful, revealing secrets. That alone can be difficult for some writers to get used to.

Anyone who hopes to sell their journalism, non-fiction or books also needs to know how to quickly and efficiently find sources, decide which ones are worth pursuing and understand the underlying principles by which all reporters, and their editors work.

These include a deep and fundamental understanding of ethics, knowing when to push (and when to back off) and how to frame a story.

Having worked as a staff reporter for The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News, and a regular freelance contributor toTHINK LIKE A REPORTER The New York Times, I can help you hit the ground running. To compete effectively with trained veteran reporters, you need to think as they do. We’ll talk about how stories are shaped and edited, and how to balance the need for accuracy, great writing, deep reporting — and hitting your deadlines!

The webinar is 90 minutes, at 2pm EST Saturday February 8.

Details and sign up here.

And anyone who’s blogging, writing and hoping to develop longer narratives for print — or for new digital websites like Longform, the Atavist, TakePart and others — needs to find and develop timely, compelling story ideas.

Ideas surround us every day, sometimes in the same room with us, at work, at the gym, at work, in your community or place of worship, or in conversation with friends, family and neighbors.

How to know which ones are worth pursuing? First you need to recognize them as potential stories, and know when, why and how to develop them into salable material.

Some of the hundreds of ideas I’ve conceived, pitched and sold:

putting my dog to sleep, (The Globe and Mail), the use of carbon fiber in yacht design, a devastating side effect of a popular medication, (Chatelaine magazine),  Google’s meditation classes, women car designers,  (New York Times) and returning to church after decades away. (Chatelaine.)

PERSONAL ESSAY

Finding great stories is like birding — once you know what they look like, you’ll start to see them everywhere!

Here’s a testimonial from Leonard Felson, a career reporter who took this webinar last fall to help him move from selling only to regional or local markets to national ones:

As a coach, Caitlin Kelly is like a doctor sending you on your way with just the right prescription. She read my clips and zeroed in on what I could do to up my game. It was time and money well spent, and well worth the investment in my career.

The webinar is 90 minutes, at 2pm EST Sunday February 9.

Details and sign up here.

Questions or concerns?

Please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

What writers really wish you knew

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Media, work on August 22, 2013 at 12:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Attention Icon.

English: Attention Icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fun life being a writer, which is why so many people are lining up, still, to do it.

I just spent a fun/tiring eight hours in Manhattan at a freelancers’ conference. But if you make your living at it, (and or dream of it), some frustrations become routine.

Here are a few things writers really wish you knew:

– It’s not a hobby. We attend conferences and take classes, (or teach them), and network and spend time and money and attention improving our skills. Assuming it’s something cute we do “just for fun” is ignorant and disrespectful.

– Working alone at home can be really lonely and isolating. Come meet us for coffee or a drink!

— We need feedback on our material, especially works-in-progress, aka WIPs. If we get up the nerve to ask you to read or review it, that’s a big gesture of trust on our part. Please say yes, please offer specific feedback and please do it.

– We need blurbs for our books. If you have a connection to A Big Name who might help us, please make the call or send the email. Asking for blurbs can be one of the hardest parts of writing and publishing a book.

— If you ask me for help, do not blow off the phone call I booked time for. Let alone twice.

— If you ask me for help, be classy enough to offer me some as well, if not today, then down the road.

— Don’t ask me to hand over the names and contacts of my editors. If I feel like that’s the right choice, I’ll offer.

– Don’t ask me for an introduction to my agent. I may not think you’re ready for prime time. I may not think you are a good fit for their list or their personality. Don’t put me on the spot. If I think it’s right, I’ll offer.

– Don’t ask to “pick my brain.” It’s annoying and presumptuous.

– Don’t ask me how much my advance was. It’s really annoying. I don’t ask your salary!

– Don’t whine about how hard/lonely/difficult/poorly-paid it can be, especially at the beginning. I know. Go do something else…like retail or fast-food work. That’s misery, kids. Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon; a messy, necessary part of every working day. Get used it or don’t be a writer.

– We’re insecure. Did you really like that story/pitch/book/screenplay? Say so!

– Repeat business is the sweetest. When you find a writer whose work you like and you enjoy working with, throw them as much work as they can handle. You’ll win our loyalty.

– If you’re a client, and we bill by the hour, don’t cheap out and ask us for a 30-minute consultation. It can take that much time to even read your two-page material thoughtfully, let alone formulate helpful ways to improve it.

– If you’re an editor, and like what we’ve done, say so! We’re hungry for praise and enthusiasm, no matter how experienced we are. The check is what we work for. A thank-you or other additional thumbs-up is what we hope for.

– Just like you, we’re all juggling multiple projects every day, some competing for the same time you think you’ve bought exclusively. Don’t demand immediate replies, revisions or turn-arounds on a moment’s notice. If you need our undivided attention, say so, explain when — and pay properly enough that we’re willing to back-burner other things for you. Snapping your fingers at us just means we’ll never work for you again.

– Pay us promptly with no excuses! There is nothing more irritating than meeting every deadline, even beating it, then waiting weeks or months for payment. You got paid. The lights are still on in your office. The office rent got paid. Our turn!

– Make the time to get to know us, even a little bit. We, too, have kids and hobbies and new puppies. The more we know, like and trust one another, the better our working relationship is likely to be. We’re not robots. We don’t want to be treated like one.

– Let us get to know you a bit as well. We don’t need or want to be your BFFs, but people work best with those they like and respect. You can’t like and respect a cipher. I recently found out all the jobs one of my editors is expected to do. Jesus, no wonder she sounds so stressed and tired!

– Follow up. If we’ve pitched you an idea after a meeting or phone chat, or we’ve been introduced to you by your boss or someone you trust, don’t ignore us. It’s rude! These weren’t cold calls. We’ve done our due diligence to get a good referral. You’re dissing them and us.

– Be explicit about what you need, expect and in what order. If your publication normally expects three revisions, say so at the outset and we’ll budget that time, or not work with you. But insatiably grabbing more unpaid time on a set fee is greedy.

– If you’re my agent, and we’ve agreed to work together, please answer my phone calls and emails promptly. I won’t drive you mad, but I expect you to pay attention; you’ll be claiming 15% of every check I earn from our books together, so I expect you to earn it.

– If you wish to sever our working relationship, do so. Don’t be passive aggressive and neglectful. Just get it over with.

Here’s a great post, from Freshly Pressed, (which inspired this post), by a theater veteran about what actors really feel but are often afraid to say out loud about their working conditions.

Want to study writing/blogging with me? Please take my brief survey!

In blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, work on July 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

By Caitlin Kelly

This has been an idea of mine for a while — offering my services to you as a teacher or one-on-one coach.

As some of you know, I’ve taught feature writing at New York University’s School of Continuing Education, where I created a class still being taught there, legal and ethical issues in journalism, and to undergraduates studying journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and Pace University in New York.

With more than 30 years’ reporting, writing and editing experience, my credentials and awards are on my website.  

My magazine work includes More, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Ms., Marie Claire, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Art & Antiques, Town & Country and many more.

Thanks to my staff work as a reporter for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily newspaper; the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News, the 6th-largest newspaper in the United States, I can help you quickly gather useful sources and produce lively, accurate copy, whether 500 or 5,000 words.

New York Daily News front page on August 9

New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written two well-reviewed non-fiction books on complex national issues, both of which required many original interviews — 104 for my first book, about women and guns. Where do non-fiction book ideas come from and how do you develop one? Let me tell you how to “save string.”

I’ve interviewed everyone from Olympic athletes to Prime Ministers to convicted felons — and can teach you how to talk to anyone within minutes, put them at ease and gather great information and quotes. How do you structure an interview? When do you lob the hardball questions? People think interviews are easy. They’re not! But they are essential to every non-fiction project.

I’ve sold my personal essays to The New York Times, USA Today, Marie Claire and others; one of which won a Canadian National Magazine Award. Let me help you shape yours!

This blog grows daily, now with more than 6,000 followers worldwide. I’ve been Freshly Pressed six times, a goal for many of you. Let me help with that.malled cover LOW

Feel free to email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com.

I’d like to start teaching this fall, but would like to get a sense how many of you — if any! — have interest in this, and in which topics.

If so, please take this survey! The results are for my use only.

Thanks!

On The Desperate Need To Not Write

In behavior, business, culture, Media, work on October 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm
A lake surrounded by trees and some wood

Image via Wikipedia

When you lie in bed — seriously — and are blogging in your dreams, and writing the headline.

I’m in northern Ontario for the moment, staring as I write this out the window at pine trees overlooking a lake. Two grizzled black dogs snooze on their beds. The sweetie is snoozing in a chair by the woodstove and our host, my best friend from high school, is making ribs for dinner.

The sweetie planned to play golf but (really!) came home after running into snow squalls, only to discover all the carts were being put away for the season.

So it’s a blessed afternoon of eat/sleep/read/repeat. Pat dogs. Stare into fire. Admire the autumn colors.

Not writing!

My brain is frazzled and fried: finishing up the final revisions of my memoir; blogging for four sites; planning events for the book’s release next spring. Like a farmer’s field that needs to just lie farrow for a while to re-generate its fertility, this week is desperately needed downtime for my weary head.

Soon…within three or four days…I’ll be up and running again.

Ten Reasons Rejection Won’t Kill You

In behavior, business, culture, design, entertainment, Fashion, Media, Money, music, photography, Style, women, work on October 7, 2010 at 2:32 pm

 

Photograph of American poet Walt Whitman in th...

Mr. Whitman. Image via Wikipedia

 

It’s interesting watching how people react to criticism of their work or their ideas.

Too often, they mistakenly conflate a rejection of these for some more general loathing of them as people, whose real and enduring value to the world extends far beyond their professional definitions or creative aspirations.

Here’s a wise take on it from a fellow blogger on WordPress.

We all, as Walt Whitman wrote, contain multitudes. When someone (other than an editor paying me for it), hates my writing, I laugh. It’s one opinion, even if shared by thousands.

I’m still a loving daughter, a generous friend, a loyal partner, a talented photographer/athlete/cook/artist, world traveler, formerly nationally ranked athlete. My words aren’t (only) who I am.

Hate my words? It happens. They’re one part of my identity, and as carefully chosen and edited as any other of my public presentations.

If someone swoops in and flays you for yours, then what?

The same idea can be applied to virtually any creative endeavor, whether poetry or photography or cooking or designing a room.

A creator or innovator expresses their vision. Theirs. But it’s easy to forget that:

You are not your ideas. If you can’t divorce the two, you’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Your choice. What will you do and how will you feel when people reject them/you out of hand and possibly very rudely?

People have no idea what to make of the truly original. If an idea is so new or radical or game-changing as to challenge the current paradigm, it will scare, theaten, piss off or annoy people currently deeply invested — emotionally, intellectually, financially or all three — in it. They will shred you. This “rejection” is quite possibly then, about them, not you.

Rejection of an idea may require re-tooling it. Just because this iteration isn’t working out, maybe the next version will. (See: The Wright Brothers.) That’s why artists working on paper have A/Ps — artist’s proofs — to see how it actually looks. It might be lousy. Maybe you need to re-think or fix it.

Are they rejecting the idea or its execution? Many people now, unwisely, conflate effort with success. They did X so X must, simply because you made it, be amazing. No. Some Xs require training and practice to be(come) truly excellent or appeal to a wide(r) audience.

What (hidden, unknown) obstacles lie in its path? I had a brilliant new idea, (I hoped), and ran it past some people in that industry who know its specific obstacles. They liked the idea but explained why it might never fly — not because the idea is weak but because the execution of it is far more expensive that I realized. Now I know!

Feedback is merely information. Take it or leave it. Freaking out is a total waste of time. Take what will help you achieve your goal most effectively and leave the rest. Don’t personalize feedback.

Define your goals clearly and with a timeline and a measure of progress. You want to show your photos or art in a commercial gallery or local library? What steps have you taken on that path? Rejection along the way stings far less if you have aimed for a specific few goals, can be a little flexible about “success” and keep on plugging.

Timing matters. A lot. Many stunning works of fiction and non-fiction simply disappeared from public view, criticism and potential success because they were published on…Sept. 11, 2001. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that, but it hurt many people’s longed-for dreams as the world shifted focus.

You may be offering your work to the wrong audience. Every community has deeply held beliefs about what is valid, important, worth listening to and validating. If your ideas are consistently rejected and demeaned within a community you thought worth joining, find a better fit. Others exist. Make one!

You need the courage of your convictions. Allowing total strangers on-line who shout, shriek, curse — and rally others to their cause to join the chorus — to intimidate you gives them way too much power. Unless they can cost you your livelihood, health, home and/or the safety of your loved ones, (which is when lawyers and law enforcement come in handy), why surrender your peace of mind to the bullying of a bunch of ghosts?

I was lucky. I grew up in a family of people who earned their living — and a good one — through writing, directing and producing material for print, television and film. No one has a pension. No one had a “real job.” We all had agents, learned to negotiate, to live within or below our means because a steak year — success!! – could easily be followed by a hamburger year.

We all know the marketplace is fickle and frightening and so we all developed thick skins, back-up plans and f—k you funds so we can walk away from work and projects that are a time-suck and talent-killer.

Rejection? Hah!



Read My Book! Watch My Video! Authors Turn YouTube Promoters, Ready Or Not

In business, Media on July 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm
Death found an author writing his life..

Make that video -- or else!! Image by ephemera assemblyman via Flickr

So much for the garret.

As authors today now know, or quickly learn, whether you can produce a publishable manuscript is only one piece of the puzzle. How are you on YouTube?

From The New York Times:

“But people who spend their whole lives writing and people who are good on video turn out to be two very different sets of people,” said the best-selling author Mary Karr, who last year starred in her first book video for her memoir “Lit.”

When, at her publisher’s request, Ms. Karr created the trailer, “I looked like a person in a studio who had never been in a studio.” She scrapped the footage and asked her son to shoot her in their living room instead. The final version opens with Ms. Karr drawling, “I’m Mary Karr and I’m here to talk about my new book, ‘Lit.’ ” She goes on to say, in her trademark twang, that the book “took me seven years to write, and believe me, I would have made more money working at McDonald’s.” Featuring Ms. Karr’s languid wit and reluctant half-smiles, punctuated by family photos of the author, the trailer is actually pretty good.

But don’t tell that to the author. “It is, in a word, humiliating,” Ms. Karr said.

For many authors, it was bad enough when, once every book, you had to slick on makeup, hire a photographer and adopt a writerly pose — hand on chin, furrowed brow — for the book jacket portrait.

So true!

I saw this when I sold my first book, on a cold wintry day in 2002, summoned to the headquarters of Simon & Schuster to meet several executives face to face. I knew this was my audition: Could I handle public pressure? Tough questions asked face to face? Was I fat or spotty? Did I stutter? Wilt under pressure?

I wore navy blue wool, my power uniform — anything that airline pilots or cops wear makes me feel safe and strong.

When I sold my second book, in September 2009, I sat in a very small room with, once more, my agent and three executives who would decide if I was worth their investment. This time I wore black, to hide the sweat rings. I knew how I comported myself there could kill the deal. This is the author’s lot now, donning a cool, calm, engaging public face.

It demands a very different set of skills to be able to chat lucidly and wittily to a camera, whether on YouTube or on CNN, or to do live radio or public events than to write prose of any value. Writers, by their nature and/or training, look inward or observe others. Many find such preening abhorrent, simply not who they really are.

Yet, authenticity sells.

Love the irony.

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