Thinking Globally and Writing Locally

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Visions of sitting on the couch with your laptop, tapping away a story and sending it off into the ether of the Internet only to receive a check in the mail a few weeks later are more fiction than fact. If you freelance, you’re a hardworking info junkie who spends nearly every waking minute thinking of angles, pitches and e-mail communiqués to send to the next editor. But bigger isn’t always better, and throwing stories to International publications to achieve fame, acclaim and cash, while fun to think about, doesn’t always work out. To be sure, it’s good to have goals and if you want to write for far away publications and editors with accents who sip French wine and wear Italian shoes, good on you. But start small before you think too big. Pitching to local area magazines, newspapers, websites and even corporations can really help you build a solid reputation as a reliable freelancer.

Here are five tips for thinking global and acting local.

1) Join local organizations: Becoming a member of your local Kiwanis, Rotary or Soroptimist group is a great way to begin networking in your local community. Already a writer? Join the Chamber of Commerce and attend as regularly as you can. This will not only give you a network to begin with, it will also become a breeding ground for stories you can pitch as you meet an ever expanding group of local movers and shakers.

2) Become a local expert: Do you live in a wine producing area? Then become a go-to information source on who grows what and how much? Have famous restaurants in town? Get to know the owners and chefs and talk to them often to see what they’re doing. Whatever your town or city has going for it, give yourself a running start at being the one who can give information about it.

3) Find your niche: For a freelancer canvassing the local papers and magazines, it may seem that just your ability to write will be enough. But local papers are becoming even more local—hyper-local, as many of them call it. What many editors need is a writer who can write about subject matter as well as tell a story. For me, it was wine and food that became my specialty. I wound up a certified sommelier and learned about organic and sustainable agriculture primarily because there’s so much of it where I live, yet few writers who understand and specialize in it. The more local you can be, the more valuable you are to a local publication.

4) Start a blog: The blogosphere is ever expanding. I attribute much of my freelance career to the day I took the advice of radio talk show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt and started my own blog. Blogging is the best way a writer can practice their craft and put it out in public for an audience to see, and other copywriting servcies to take notice. Hewitt, author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation, told me recently in an e-mail exhchange, “The “Big Bang” of blogging is still underway, even though there are lots of new platforms launching every month.  The market for the personal essay is still there and still beckoning any would-be writer even though it is harder to attract and maintain an audience.” He’s right. My blog is mostly a set of personal essays-but it’s been that for going on six years now and the audience has built over time. I’ve gotten e-mails from all over the world based on subjects that I have, over time, written about. The blog is also my own storehouse for articles I’ve published. When an editor asks to see my work, I can direct them right to my blog for a list of pieces I’ve written. Besides, as I learned long ago—writers write. They don’t talk about it, they do it and blogging is a great way to discipline yourself to write often and get recognized, especially if you blog about specific issues.

5) Write for your local paper: This is perhaps the most important point of all. Even if you’re a budding fiction writer, begin writing articles for your local paper. If you don’t want to report, then write a well-framed opinion piece that gets an editor’s attention. When one of my hero’s, historian Stephen Ambrose passed away, I asked our local paper if I could pen a tribute to him. I was allowed to do so and even paid a modest amount for it. Several years later, Ambrose’s brother, Harry, ran across the article and e-mailed me thanking me for my comments. That correspondence began an important connection that has taught me a great deal and earned me a new friend. Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway—the list of authors who started off writing for newspapers is endless. Add yourself to it.

 

How to Super Charge Your Freelance Career with a Goal Buddy

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As a writer, you want all the help you can get to stay in the game. But sometimes it’s hard to go it alone. That’s where a goal-buddy comes in handy.

Got a problem tracking down an editor’s email address? Ask your goal buddy. Seems impossible to locate a publication’s phone number? Ask your goal buddy, she’s probably already written for that publication.

Getting credible insider information from your goal buddy is so much easier than trying to second-guess editor’s current likes and dislikes. I should know, I’ve got a goal buddy. Karen, who lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is a former Associated Press journalist turned freelancer and I am an environmental journalist in Los Angeles. We became writing goal buddies following a discussion about a design magazine that began on a professional writer’s list five years ago.

Each week, we email each other our writing goal lists then we follow-up the subsequent week with the outcome of each item on the list.  Week after week as we complete each of our tasks on our “To Do” rewards continue to pile up week after week.

For my goal buddy and I, finding a new publication is as close as an email between the two of us. We simply trade publications back and forth.

When we need info, we would queries to each other’s sources. Karen got a first assignment from an editor I know, and an editor Karen knows assigned me a story.

Goal buddies work, and if you don’t have a goal buddy, get one. And, here’s how to do it—

1) Specify what type of writing buddy you want on your team. Look for a goal buddy who shares similar writing interests. Don’t pair yourself with someone who writes romance novels when you write about construction. Continue your search.

2) Look for someone like a technical writer who is capable of giving you honest feedback, not someone who is afraid to tell you what you wrote needs work.

3) Get a partner who is a knowledgeable and experienced writer. A buddy who can see the overall picture and offer constructive suggestions to improve your writing is a good choice.

4) If you are not on a writer’s list online or in-person, join one. There you will find a group for possible candidates.

5) Attend writer’s conferences or be that frequent visitor to the library or local bookstore? Look at the bulletin board for writer notices or strike up a conversation with another writer. Writers are everywhere so don’t limit yourself. The perfect goal buddy for you is out there, your job is to find that person.

6) Your buddy must be someone you like, whose opinion you respect, and someone you feel comfortable sharing your hopes and dreams with week after week.

7) When you find goal buddy, define your logistics. How often do you want to exchange goals, weekly, monthly or quarterly? Find a system that works well for both of you.

8.) Is critiquing each other’s writing part of your goal buddy arrangement? If so you need to make sure you are comfortable with that process.

9) Once you have a goal buddy you are accountable for your goals and your work. Be sure your heart is set on being that goal buddy. You don’t want to disappoint your goal buddy or yourself.

10) With a goal buddy, no more isolation for you. Now you have that goal buddy you know you have someone to support you through the hard times and celebrate your triumphs.

5 Skills That Make Freelance Writers More Marketable

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Gone are the days when simply being a strong writer was enough to earn a living. Nowadays, many editors and clients expect freelancers to have skills beyond writing a snappy headline or a poignant turn of phrase.

Here are five skills that will help set you apart from other freelancers and make you more valuable to your clients.

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How To Deal With Late Payments on Freelance Gigs

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If you’re a freelance writer, you’re also a small business owner. And that means you’ll deal with cash-flow issues. You not only have to be a journalist, but also director of receivables.Almost every article writer has horror stories about being paid months after he handed in his story or project. In the most extreme cases, the poor scribe never got paid at all, caught up in a bankruptcy or scam.You are thus warned. But there are some smart steps that can be taken before any payment problems crop up. It’s the same concept as prevention when disease is considered.And some skillful politics via e-mail or phone can move along a tardy check if you get surprised despite all your due diligence.

Scout out your employer
If you’re the good reporter you claim you are, you’ll not only scout out your employer’s trends in assigning projects, but also its payment policies. Ask others who have worked for the employer – that’s often how you get their work anyway, through references or connections.A good rule of thumb is an employer paying 30 days after they receive your invoice or an internal request for payment is made. Be wary of any employer who pays more than 60 days after receipt of the project. That’s an indication of their own cash-flow issues or inability to pay promptly. You should be paid in real time.  I recently left an employer that paid very modestly – and only quarterly. That’s not real-time pay. They’re holding onto their money at your expense.

Arrange for direct deposit into your checking account or PayPal
We’ve all heard “the check is in the mail” explanation of a tardy payment. Well, snail-mail does not work that inefficiently. Ninety-eight percent of the time, if a check hasn’t arrived within four days after an employer said it has been sent, it hasn’t been mailed. If possible, request that your check be direct-deposited into your account. Most legit employers prefer that system to save on labor, paper and postage. That means funds will be available quicker and the slow mail cannot be used as an excuse. If the employer uses PayPal or another intermediate system for payment, that’s just as good.

Re-confirm when you hand in project when payment is expected
Any good employer will not take offense if you ask when payment can be expected when you hand in your work. At the same time, you double-check if the employer makes the payment request or whether you need to send an invoice, and to whom.If the editor himself is not handling payment requests, find out what individual in the company processes payments. Obtain their contact information, including their availability to respond to phone calls or e-mails.
If payment is late, don’t delay your inquiries
Should you arrange direct deposit or a PayPal-type system, monitor the account on the day the payment is supposed to be made. If no pay shows up that day or two days beyond, contact the payment person to report the lack of deposit. Give four days for a check in the mail, but no more. Be diplomatic. Sugar works far better than vinegar. In some cases, there was an oversight. An individual may not have been working the day the day the deposit should have been made or the check was cut. Sometimes there’s a processing foul-up. It’s happened to me. If it’s a legitimate, financially-healthy company, they won’t take offense with business-like requests for payment and will take corrective action.

Take firm action in serious delinquencies
If repeated requests don’t yield action and payment becomes weeks or months late, do not hand in additional work if you’ve got a regular, ongoing relationship with the employer. You’re only putting yourself more at risk. If they’re depending on you, withholding your work can prompt action. And if that strategy still doesn’t work, you won’t want to continue to work for this employer.Still try to practice diplomacy until the last possible second. Attempt to reach a higher-up executive. If you are owed a lot of money and it is seriously delinquent, contact an attorney to determine your options. Don’t let the issue fester. I’ve continued handing in work for one employer for months without being paid, with promises of checks continually being made. The company eventually went bankrupt, and I never collected some $2,000 owed. The employer then re-incorporated under another name, and was never liable for the debts he incurred. Such are the loopholes and unfairness in bankruptcy laws. You don’t want to be on that kind of hook.

 

Slate French Edition Criticized for Naming Alleged DSK Victim, AP Stylebook Welcomes New Twitter Words, Space Shuttle Snapper Gets Media Hype

Stefanie Gordon

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For today’s roundup of journalism and media news, we have some controversy over Slate’s French edition and their decision to name the alleged victim of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We also have a reporter who reflects on covering the indiscretions high-profile men. Finally, we have a friendly welcome to some new Twitter terms to the AP Stylebook.

It’s all the news fit to blog at Ebyline’s Daily Dose.

Slate’s French edition under fire for naming DSK alleged victim

“The French edition of Slate has come under fire for publishing the name of the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim. Irin Carmon, a blogger at Jezebel, addressed Jacob Weisberg, editorin-chief of the Slate Group, on Twitter: “Why did you/Slate France choose to publicize the alleged rape victim’s name?””

Updated AP Stylebook Adds Geolocation, Link Shortener, Unfollow And Other Twitter Terms

“The Associated Press Stylebook, aka “the journalist’s bible”, have released their 2011 guide and have included some new social media terms, including Twitter-friendly words and phrases such as geolocation, stream, link Shortener and unfollow.”

Schwarzenegger and DSK: When Powerful Men Cross Lines

“The week’s news about the sexual conduct of politically powerful men gives me a queasy feeling of déjà vu. As the French agonize over whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s star power quashed past allegations, I can respond cynically: Yes, that probably happened. But we should not automatically assume that timelier reporting about Strauss-Kahn’s sexually aggressive behavior (including an alleged violent incident in 2002) would have slowed the 62-year old Socialist’s march towards the French presidency. I speak from experience. Eight years ago I was dragged scowling and complaining into an investigation of allegations that Arnold Schwarzenegger – the leading candidate for governor of California – had sexually harassed and molested women, including those who worked on his movies….”

Space Shuttle Twitpic Woman Gets Paid, Credited & Snubbed By Media

“Since snapping photos and a short video of space shuttle Endeavour’s last takeoff from her Delta flight Monday, Stefanie Gordon has appeared on MSNBC, CBS in Palm Beach and ABC in Miami. Her Twitpic photos got significant media exposure — popping up everywhere from Anderson Cooper 360 to The Washington Post.

“I told every news organization that contacted me, ‘as long as you credit me and spell my name right, you can use it,’” Gordon tells Mashable…”

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