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If You Don’t Market Yourself, How Will Anyone Know You?


gmGeneral Motors will spend more than $3 billion advertising its cars around the world this year. Wendy’s will drop $200 million advertising its burgers.

While your spending isn’t in those companies’ league, it’s just as important that you be conscious of what you’re doing each time you market yourself. Marketing is making yourself known, getting the word out about who you are and what you do. It’s networking with potential clients or editors, staying in touch with existing ones. When was the last time you called an editor or publisher just to shoot the breeze, or sent a holiday or birthday card? Do you ever send business cards or clips to new prospects, or even to existing client editors? Have you put your best clips online? That’s marketing. The process doesn’t have to be as formal and daunting as an advertisement in a journal. It just has to work.

You’ll need a marketing plan, or strategy, for conquering new business, according to Jeff Reilly of Bossa Conference. In it, you will identify: who you are or what your product, service or specialty writing niche is; who your target audience is, from publications, publishers or markets; how you’re going to reach that audience (the tools you’ll use to reach them); and how much you’re going to spend to do so. This is a critical step in your checklist for starting a successful business.

Sometimes marketing Continue Reading

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Writer’s Groups Can Crack Your Creativity Wide Open


writersgroupSeveral years ago, I started — with the most noble intentions — a local writers, group. I envisioned a civilized collection of intelligent souls providing support, companionship and, most important, illuminating evaluations of each other’s work.

The reality was something quite different: We had support, companionship, critique sessions and shouting matches, near-fistfights and flying sexual sparks. It was the Peyton Place of writers’ groups.

Why bother?

Because eventually we distilled into a faithful, harmonious core of six to eight serious writers who had learned to graciously accept helpful criticism and to consider the works of others with wisdom and compassion. (Well, most of the time.) Our writers, group’s members discovered, through trial and error, how to put aside the personal stuff and focus on what we really needed to gain from each other.

As a result, we’ve all benefited. At least three members found enough encouragement to finish full-length novels, while others are branching into types of writing they hadn’t considered before joining the group.

Perhaps you’ve reached the why bother?” stage with your writers’ group. Or maybe you sense the group isn’t living up to the promise you envisioned when you joined. One solution may be to find a …

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Get Smarter With Deadlines


columbusIf you’re singing the deadline blues, here’s a formula that’ll have you humming a happier tune.

I should have written this last weekend. But the weather was nice, the games on TV tempting, and somehow the weekend slipped away without my sitting at the keyboard. Now here I am–writing on deadline.

Plenty of writers claim to do their best work “on deadline.” They bristle with creativity when the clock is ticking–or so they say. The truth is, I suspect, that they don’t do their best work under the gun–that’s the only time when they write. Ah, rationalization.

Nonfiction writers are particularly prone to deadline woes and rationalizations, because so much of our work is done on assignment. But when you’re late it delays the editing, the design, the copy-editing–until somewhere along the production line somebody makes up for your lost time and (usually) the magazine makes it out before the presses roll. Having been on the editing end, I can assure you: That somebody will remember you.

Because we all procrastinate, coping with deadlines may be the nonfiction writer’s most important survival skill. And you need a better plan than merely “thriving under pressure.

Where to, Columbus?

Start with a …

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Pry That Valuable Information Out!


crucialinterviewWhen you can’t sell a piece without conducting a crucial interview first, but the source won’t give you the time of day until you have the assignment, how do you convince potential sources to help flesh out a piece that might never even see print?

You can lie, of course, telling sources you’re under assignment. But if an editor finds out you claimed to be working for her magazine when you weren’t, kiss the market goodbye. And if word spreads you’re untrustworthy, well, good luck in your next profession. So what’s a poor freelancer to do? Try these four tips.

* Re-evaluate how much information you need. Is it necessary to write the entire story before contacting editors? Unless your target markets refuse to accept query letters, it’s unwise to devote a great deal of time to a piece before receiving editorial feedback. Odds are good you’ll glean enough information for a solid query from secondary sources and library research. This backgrounding will also serve as great preparation for the major interviews you’ll conduct after nabbing the assignment.

Sometimes an editor will hesitate to give your story the nod unless you can deliver a specific expert, official, movie star, …

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Sportswriting Can Be A Helluva Hobby, But A Better Job!


sportswritingIn sports, as in life, it seems that bad things come in threes. Three strikes and it’s back to the bench in baseball. A football team can be dragged into last place by a three-downs-and-out offense. And being whistled for a three-second violation is one of the worst ways to lose the basketball in an NBA game. So it should come as no surprise that a trio of the juiciest recent trademark squabbles have come straight from the fields of play.

Leading Off With a Hit

Purple passions flared in court when the owners of Barney, the Madonna of kid-vid, sued the Famous San Diego Chicken for trademark infringement. Chicken Ted Giannoulas ruffled the feathers of Texas-based Lyons Partnership by staging fake fights at baseball and basketball games in which he pummeled a Barney facsimile to the cheers of cynical fans across the nation, the Associated Press reports.

“Specifically, Giannoulas would punch, flip, stand on and otherwise assault the putative `Barney,”‘ contends the suit, which was filed in Texas in late 1997. The brouhaha has been brewing since Lyons told the Chicken to knock off the knockoff display in 1994. But Giannoulas allegedly kept on beating the stuffing out of …

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Writing History Is All About Solid Research


writinghistoryBestselling author James Alexander Thom immerses himself so thoroughly in the background of his historical fiction that readers swear he jumped into a time machine to write it. But his time machine is research.

To James Alexander Thom, the story of Mary Ingles had all the elements of a great historical novel. A 23-year-old woman living in Draper’s Meadows, Virginia, Ingles survived her settlement’s massacre by Shawnees in 1755, only to be captured by the war party and taken to the Indiana Territory. Escaping after four months, she made her way home on foot through a thousand miles of wilderness by following the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Along the way she endured incredible fear, doubt, hunger and pain, which ended in a bittersweet sort of triumph.

“I stumbled on the Ingles story while researching George Rogers Clark when he was a young surveyor on the Kanawha River, for my first historical novel, Long Knife, in 1976.” Thom kept finding accounts of Ingles in material about Clark, and the story intrigued him. More research led him to Roberta Ingles Steele, a great-great-great granddaughter of Mary, who had an old manuscript about her ancestor.

Reading that manuscript and others on Ingles’s life …

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Writing For The Web Can Be Easy


webcanbeIt’s not paperbacks 21st century writers are working on. Here’s what you must know to make your Web dreams come true.

So, here we are, at the turn of the millennium. Fantastic technological change surrounds and affects nearly all of us–yes, writers, too. But while it’s possible to be a writer in the 21st century and look pretty much like a writer of the 20th (having work published on paper), there are opportunities for cutting-edge writing that are far more interesting and … well, modern.

This monthly column, debuting as the calendar makes its momentous turn, is about writing sans paper. There’s a whole new and fast-growing community of writers whose words never touch paper–unless they hit Print to get a hard copy before e-mailing their work to their editors. These scribes pound out words (on a computer, of course) that will never be set permanently on paper, never end up at the county recycling dump.

We have entered the age of the online writer.

The Internet changes everything, the pundits are fond of saying. We say that, too, and it applies to the craft of writing. When you think about it, the Internet is the largest publishing medium ever …

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Persistence Wins With Most Editors


magazinefreelancerWhen you’re fishing for assignments, a good idea and a sharp query letter are essential bait, but it may take several phone calls to reel in the editor. Seven years as a magazine freelancer have taught me a secret that “how-to” books don’t often disclose: Be persistent!

Calling etiquette

Editors are chronically swamped, and your query probably isn’t a high priority for them. Although some editors do respond without prodding, many will never answer at all. Your letter may have arrived on the busiest day of the month. It might be buried under a mountain of unread mail. Why leave it to chance? A quick phone call will remind the editor that you–and your idea–exist.

I’m not suggesting writers put an editor’s number on speed-dial or pitch a tent outside his or her office. There’s a line between persistence and pest, and as a writer, you don’t want to cross it. Deciding where to draw that line is a judgment call. After I send a query, I like to wait about six weeks before picking up the phone.

When making followup calls, I keep my query letter handy, just in case the editor answers her phone. If she does, I …

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Get Paid, Above All, Or Risk A Lot Of Pain


womensmagazineLinda Marsa was assigned a story by a major women’s magazine. At the editor’s request, Marsa wrote an outline, which was approved by the editor’s superiors. Marsa turned the story in on time, then did two rewrites. Six months passed and Marsa asked about payment. The editor said the story had to be approved by her superiors before she could pay Marsa, then offered a kill fee, which wasn’t part of the contract.

When Ardath Mayhar’s novel Battletech: The Sword and the Dagger was published, she received her advance on time. Several years passed and no royalties appeared, despite the contract she’d signed.

Leza Lowitz and her partner were hired to write a Japanese-to-English translation of a novel. They did it for less money up front than they usually received, with the agreement that if the novel found an English publisher, they would get royalties. They discovered that the author posted their translation on a Web site, even though Lowitz and her partner owned the English-language rights.

Even experienced writers like these get into situations where they complete the agreed-upon work, but don’t get paid. How can you avoid the same problems?

“Writers need to view this as a business …

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Revise Your Poems And Succeed!


reviseyrpoemsUse these four revision keys to unlock the gates between you and the poem that already exists.

A poem often arrives as a persistent knocking from the heart. A mystifying or intriguing line pops into our heads. A feeling just won’t go away. One image starts greeting other images like someone arriving alone at a party, only to realize she knows others in the room.

Often when we sit down to write this poem so strong within us, we are disappointed. Something gets in the way of our transcribing the poem’s wisdom and beauty. Louise Gluck describes this in Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry. She says it seems like the finished poem already exists somewhere and is like a lighthouse, “except that, as one swims toward it, it backs away.” After we engage in concentrated work on the poem, however, and we are finished, the poem reveals itself as it “was perceived to be, a thing always in existence.” In revision we come full circle and recognize our poem.

We seem to be performing a kind of magic doing this, but there are techniques to this performance. Here are four:

Key 1: Get down to brass tacks

Look for …

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