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Friday, July 30, 2010

Coming Next Week: The Biggest Mistakes Freelancers Make

Tune in next week when we'll be talking about common freelance mistakes...and how to avoid them. Til then, have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trade Publications: The Overlooked Magazine Market

When you think of writing for magazines, chances are you think of consumer magazines--the "glossies" you see on newsstands. You may be overlooking an even bigger section of the magazine publishing industry--trade magazines. (My recent survey of more than 100 fulltime freelancers found that only 13% are currently writing for trades.)

Trade magazines serve a specific niche--they're aimed at people who work in a particular trade or industry and are typically sold only on a subscription basis. While a few don't pay, most have rates ranging from about $.20 to 50/word and higher. The editors aren't inundated with queries the way consumer mags are, and they're usually looking for people who have some knowledge of their industry--and can write.

One of the best parts about writing for trades is that once you have your foot in the door, your editor is likely to come back to you again and again. A single query to Chamber Executive, the magazine for the ACCE, led to a three-year relationship (until a new editor took over). A letter of introduction to IGA Monthly again led to several dozen assignments. Another bonus? Often your editor will provide you with the sources she wants you to interview, which slashes your research time. And I've found that edits tend to be minimal, which boosts your hourly rate.

To locate trades, check your local library for Bacon’s Magazine Directory, Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, and The Standard Periodical Directory. Bacon's lists more than 55,000 markets; the later two, more than 70,000.

When pitching a trade, I suggest you use an LOI, use industry lingo, think about the audience of the market, and show that you're up on the business the magazine is about. A well-written letter of introduction is likely to pay off if the editor needs writers, so if you know about a particular industry, why not consider branching into this overlooked market?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There's Still Time to Learn about Ghostwriting...

If you missed today's Write Now! Mastermind call on ghostwriting and coauthoring, you can still listen to your convenience! Sign up with Write Now! Mastermind by Monday, August 2, and Rochelle will send you a link to the recording:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Get in on Ghosting: Free Write Now! Mastermind Class Wednesday, July 28

Just a reminder...if you're interested in learning more about ghostwriting, this Wednesday, July 28, I will be appearing at the Write Now! Mastermind Class to talk about ghosting--and making money doing it. If you want to know how ghostwriting works, what’s in it for you, and whether it's a good fit for your freelance career, please visit and sign up for the call. And stay tuned for a big announcement of my own in a similar vein...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

One Last Query...This One's Mine

Thanks for the feedback on last week's Query Critique Week...I hope you found it helpful. I have one last query to share that demonstrates some of the tips I talked about last week. This is a pitch I sent last year to one of my regular markets; my comments appear in blue:

Dear Tamara:

I’m an admitted “type A.” I think fast, do chores fast, and make decisions fast. Even when faced with a tough choice, I usually feel compelled to make up my mind as soon as I can. I feel weak and powerless if I don’t “know” the right answer, even if the question is a biggie—like whether to work after my son was born, or whether we should try to sell our house (in a down market) and move up to a bigger home. In these situations, I seek advice from my mom, whose counsel never wavers: “Give yourself time. You don’t have to make a decision today.” [I’ve written for this editor before, and I know she likes first-person leads—the magazine has a friendly “mom-to-mom” voice.]

In fact, my mom is onto something. (Hey, she has 65 years’, 4 kids, and 3 grandkids’ worth of experience.) Procrastinators have always gotten a bad rap, but putting off decisions—especially hard ones—may actually pay off. A study published last year found that making choices depletes your self-control, as the same area of the brain controls both self-regulation and making choices. That means that means that making even a minor decision may affect your ability to stick to your diet or read with your seven-year-old the way you promised. And so-called “active procrastinators” are anything but paralyzed by indecision to act. Instead, they make a deliberate decision to put things off as they thrive on working under pressure. [Here I’ve started with my personal experience but broadened it to show that my mom's advice may be on the money. (Of course!) I've also mentioned a recent study--without giving away the store, so to speak--in support of my hypothesis that procrastination can be a positive thing. This is what I call a counterintuitive pitch—a story idea based on the opposite of what you would think. That’s a great way to “reslant” an evergreen topic—editors are always looking for “fresh” ideas.]

“Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow: The Pros of Procrastination” will describe the multiple benefits of delaying decisions and/or tasks, and show readers how what they’ve thought was a personal failing has surprising benefits. I plan to interview experts such as psychologist and stress expert Alice Domar, Ph.D., author of Be Happy without Being Perfect (Crown, 2008), and will a couple of “real women” anecdotes as well. A possible sidebar will include a quiz to let readers determine their own “procrastination personality.” Although I estimate 1300 words for this piece, that’s flexible depending on your needs. [Note that I’ve told her who I "plan to" interview—if I can’t get Alice Domar, I’ll get someone of her caliber, and I’m happy to find some “real mom” sources as well. I’ve also suggested a working title, possible sidebar, and proposed word count—the piece was assigned as I pitched it. I haven't mentioned the section of the magazine I think the piece belongs in, but that's because I've written for Tamara before. She knows I read her magazine.]

Tamara, let me know if you’re interested in this topic for Chicago Parent. I’m getting back into the work swing and looking forward to working with you again soon! I’ll be in touch soon, too, with some other story ideas. [Tamara knows me, so I don’t bother running down my background and qualifications—she knows who I am. Otherwise I’d say something like “I’m a fulltime freelancer and mom whose work has appeared in 50+ national magazines including Parents, Parenting, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Runner’s World, Self, and Health."]

All my best,
Kelly James-Enger

For other query examples, check out Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize, both of which include lots of queries written both by me and other successful freelancers.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Query Critique #5: De-Clutter your Home

Welcome back, readers! Time for our last query of the first-ever Query Critique Week. I hope you've found the analyses helpful, and I plan to do it again in the future. My comments appear in blue:

People are hoarders. It's part of human nature. We feel better about ourselves with the more goods we have. Even more so when they have designer tags on them. It doesn't matter whether it's the latest perfume collection, a pair of jeans, some pots and pans in the kitchen or the latest edition of the LCD or Mac. We want it. Living without stuff isn't an option in today's consumer driven society. [This may be true for the majority of us, but I'd like to see more specific examples here...e.g. iPad or other timely, recognizable big "brands." This reads too generic to the writer just came up with this off the top of her head.]

So what happens to all this stuff. According to some researchers too many things cluttering your home can have adverse affects on your health. You can suffer from a lack of concentration, too much procrastination and excess stress. All those utensils, things you rarely glance at let alone use, or clothes that are developing moth balls are ruining your health. [First sentence should have a question mark, not a period. And I want some specifics here. Cite some recent studies, and tell me more about what exactly these "adverse effects" (not affects) on your health are. Doing so will strengthen this query, and show the editor that the writer has already done some research (and so will be prepared to write the piece). Otherwise the writer is making some assumptions with no backup, which isn't likely to appeal to an editor.]

Your home should be your boudoir. The place where you can rest, relax and recharge your batteries. The more clutter you have the harder it becomes to unwind and recuperate. How do you feel when you walk into a messy room? Or there's a full sink of dishes in the sink? How do you feel when you come home and all the kids' toys are strewn across the living room floor? Do they really need them all? It's exhausting just thinking about it. [There are some grammatical mistakes in this paragraph, but my bigger concern is that as I'm reading it, I'm thinking, yeah, so? I'd rather see a study that links clutter and stress here than some fairly obvious observations (at least if clutter bothers you). This paragraph also is a bit wordy.]

I'd like to propose 'De-clutter Your House, Improve Your Life' for All You magazine.

In the article I will include information from professional organizational psychologists who help people with their clutter at home and in the office. I also propose speaking to individuals who have gone through the de-cluttering process to get their experiences.

The article will contain information on how you can de-clutter your own house within a few short days by focusing on one area at a time.

No need for multi-tasking here. The article will answer questions such as, Why does clutter stress us out? How can we avoid accumulating stuff? What are the benefits of having a clutter free home? Learning to live with less things? How you can help someone in need with all the clutter in your home? [I think the writer could fold all four paragraphs into one, and I'm not quite sure what the actual focus of this piece is...the query reads like the writer is figuring it out as she goes. It's a bit wordy, too. Here's one way to approach it: "De-clutter your House, Improve your Life" will describe the connection between clutter and mental health, report on recent research in this area, and explain how having fewer things can actually make you happier in the long run. The piece will also include tips for readers about how to de-clutter their own homes. I plan to interview experts such as TK and TK and can also interview people who have pared their possessions for this piece." Also, I'd like to know what word count she's suggesting and what section of the magazine she thinks it's right for.]

Would you be interested in this article for All You magazine? [Unnecessary; cut this line.]

I am a freelance writer and TEFL teacher currently based in Poland. My writing has appeared in Real Travel and among others. [I'd like to see her pump up her ISG. Does she have experience de-cluttering her own life, for example? What kind of unique connection does she have with this topic?]

Thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Warm Regards

Readers, I hope you've enjoyed this week's worth of query critiques! Is there a writing-related topic (please limit ideas to what I cover in this blog--namely making more money as a freelancer in less time) you'd like me to cover in the future? Drop me a post and let me know...and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Query Critique #4: Memoir Pitch for an Agent

Hi, readers! It's day four of Query Critique Week, and I hope you're finding it helpful. Today's query is from a writer looking for an agent for her memoir. As usual, my comments are in blue.

Dear Ms. Alspaugh,

I read about you in Writer’s Digest, and then wandered through a delightful interview with you on Novelists, Inc Blog by BlogMistress. I liked how you identified as an agent that would be approachable to your clients and that you were looking for writers “who love to write and who can’t not write. Writers who look forward to the promotion process and who have lots of great ideas about how to promote themselves and their work, writers who think about not just writing books, but articles, short stories, blogs, and more.” [I like that the writer has shown that she's done some research on the agent, but it's not necessary to quote so much from the interview. I'd prefer she include a line about books similar to hers (i.e. memoirs) that the agent has repped; this shows an additional level of research, and that the agent is more likely to be interested in this particular book. Personally, I don't like the word "wandered" in the first sentence, either, but that's just me.]

I’d enjoy working with you on my memoir, Grief Shadows: Young, Pregnant and Widowed. [Unnecessary...I'd strike this line.]

Three state troopers came to my front door at five o’clock in the morning and told me my husband was dead. He had fallen asleep driving on his way back to the National Guard base on Cape Cod.

I had just seen him four hours before. Smelled him. Kissed him. And told him we were pregnant. And now, all at once, I was a widow.

I was twenty-six years old. [Great opening, great lead. I'm intrigued.]

But how could I be a widow? Widows were old, with white hair and sensible shoes that cushioned their bunions and who waited for people to visit them in assisted living homes. Or maybe they were fifty-five and had lost a spouse to cancer. Someone with grown children. Not pregnant, like I was. Not with a toddler who’d never heard the word death. [Nice writing, and already we're getting a feel for her voice.]

Grief Shadows: Young, Pregnant and Widowed is more than a legacy of memories; it’s a way to reach out and connect to other grieving souls – to let them know they aren’t alone. Though Grief Shadows isn’t a “how-to” book, as a memoir it is a great practical guide for working through one’s grief. It shows those faced with grief what to expect, what is normal in the grief process – which is everything – and how to emerge from the darkness, stronger, wiser, and more whole. [Because I suggested we cut the line about the book being a memoir, I'd refer to it as a memoir here. I like that she's pointing out that it's more than just a memoir, but that may throw some agents. If she's pitching a book that's a blend, she should include some well-known memoirs that have taken a similar approach so the agent will have an idea of what she means. Reading through this paragraph a second time, I think the writer may be overstating her book's promise--I'm not sure it can deliver as a practical guide for working through grief. Typically what makes a great memoir is a great story and great writing...we don't expect a "how-to" takeaway. The writer may want to think about this more.]

I now live in Eugene, OR with my husband and two children. I’m a writer, an urban-homesteader, a book glutton and a dabbler in theater. In recent times I’ve been a massage therapist, a grief counselor, a home-schooler, and a potter. I’ve been published in my local city newspaper, write in two blogs, do monthly readings at a local theater group, and utilize social networking and marketing. [The writer has an interesting life, but the agent isn't likely to care. What she is likely to care about is her platform--how often does she blog? How many followers does she have? Has she been active in grief support groups? Does she speak to groups? Has she been interviewed, and when and were? How *exactly* does she utilize social media and marketing? Any agent is going to want to know how her client is going to SELL the book once it comes out because the publisher will want to know the same thing. She needs to pump up this paragraph...playing up her connections both online and IRL (in real life).]

Thank you for your time, Ms. Alspaugh. I certainly appreciate it and would be happy to send you my completed proposal. I’d enjoy any comments you have for me. [Typically with a memoir, as with fiction, you'll send the completed manuscript because the writing is what sells it. Unless this agent wants a proposal for a memoir, I'd ask if she's interested in seeing the first couple of chapters or the entire ms. And if it's the entire ms, she should mention the word count of the book. I also want to know what time span it covers--she's remarried now, so is this is the first year after her husband's death? The first five years? I feel like I don't know enough about what the book is about to decide whether I want to read it...more detail about the book would be helpful in this query.]

Respectfully yours,

Readers, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Query Critique #3: Street Harassment Pitch

Welcome back to Query Critique Week! The below query is from a reader who already has some clips but wants to crack bigger magazines. (It has already led to a book review and an interview from smaller markets.) So let's take a closer look:

Dear Katharine,

It isn’t uncommon for me to shouted at while walking down the street. “Wooo, hey baby!” is pretty typical, and my retort is often in the form of an obscene hand gesture. Several times, I’ve been groped on the subway or followed home. While violence in the home and harassment in the workplace have long been against the law, public space laws about harassment are much more lenient, and in many states, so-called “street harassment”—gender-based verbal and physical harassment in public space—is completely legal. In her forthcoming book Stop Street Harassment!, Holly Kearl notes that up to eighty percent of women experience some form of unwanted harassing attention in public at least once in their lives. Kearl goes on to explain that without a concrete definition for street harassment, women are once again battling against a problem with no name. [Very nice lead--though I'd break it into two paragraphs, starting the second with "While violence in the home..." But she definitely got my attention and has obviously done her homework. And if it affects 80% of women and this is a women's magazine, it's going to affect 80% of those readers, too.]

Stereotypically associated with construction workers and low-income men of color, street harassment occurs across all racial and socioeconomic lines, in cities as well as rural areas, and women of all ages and all sexual persuasions are targeted by a variety of men from all walks of life. Street harassment creates a hostile, fear-based public environment for women and LGBT people; moreover, it devalues equal participation in and ownership of public spaces that belong to all people. In rare cases, it can even escalate to physical violence, sexual assault, and several women have been killed in the past few years for ignoring their harasser’s advances. [Excellent "why write it" section--it tells me as the editor reading this how serious, even deadly, this problem is. I'm intrigued, and readers will be too.]

For an upcoming arts and culture piece for The WIP, I propose a 1,200 word interview Holly Kearl about her forthcoming book Stop Street Harassment! (August, Praeger). Kearl has conducted numerous surveys on this issue and worked to synthesize several decades worth of existing data on the prevalence of gender-based harassment and what legal actions can be taken. She has also recently written for publications like The Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine that the best solution to ending street harassment will involve legal intervention. [The writer is missing a word (with) in the first sentence and a dash between 1,200 and word; otherwise I like this paragraph.]

Kearl’s activism is only one part of the national coalition forming to fight street harassment. Therefore, I would contextualize her work within the larger anti-street harassment movement and explore the work of groups behind websites like HollaBackNYC/ and the Street Harassment Project, as well as programs like New York City’s RightRides, which offers complimentary safe rides home for women who wish to avoid predatory taxi drivers and the subway system. I would additionally question Kearl about the ways U.S.-based activists can learn from feminist organizers abroad. Particularly in Egypt and India, anti-harassment activism is gaining traction, and legal remedies are being explored. [Very good; I'm just wondering how she's going to get all this into a 1200-word interview. Why not pitch this as a piece on street harassment in general and how to fight it with Kearl as a source, as opposed to a Q and A with Kearl?]

As a former anti-street harassment activist in Boston, I’m particularly well-versed on the subject and already in contact with many organizers and scholars working to end the prevalence of gender-based harassment and violence in public space. I’ve spoken about street harassment in the Boston public schools and have been interviewed about my own work for The Boston Globe and other national media outlets. Kearl and I have previously collaborated, and my personal connection to her would ensure a thoughtful, in-depth interview. I would aim for an early August deadline as the book will be published in late August. [The ISG is excellent--this writer has personal experience with the subject. But I think the problem lies (at least for many magazines, especially the biggies) with the pre-existing connection between Kearl and the writer. Editors may worry that the writer won't be objective, or that this is more of a PR pitch (where the writer is trying to get Kearl exposure) as opposed to a truly objective piece. That's another reason why a more general piece as opposed to a Q and A would work better. The writer can use Kearl as a source for the story, but should disclose her previous relationship to her editor. In that case, it's probably not going to be an issue the way it would be in this pitch.]

A previous contributor to The WIP, I’ve written for a variety of progressive and feminist publications including Bitch, Herizons, RH Reality Check, truthout, Campus Progress, and In These Times. I’ve previously written about anti-street harassment activism for Make/Shift and Bitch, where I was also a recent guest blogger. I currently blog for about poverty and women’s rights, where I’ve also written several recent stories about street harassment. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to the possibility of writing for you again. [Excellent. This writer's query is smart, thoughtful, and well-researched. I am sure she can write a piece that matches this caliber of writing.]

Sincerely yours,

What do you think? Do you see how strong this query is, yet how a different spin, taking the focus off of this one source, might work better? And do you agree that an editor might infer the writer's piece might not be truly objective? I welcome your comments!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Query Critique #2: Swiss Chard Pitch

Welcome back to Query Critique Week; here's the second query. Once again, my comments are in blue:

Dear Ms. Sweeney:

Even though I live in the middle of nowhere, I believe my garden should look pretty for anyone that happens to drive by. But, if I still lived in the city, I definitely would take extra pains to make it not only neat and tidy, but colorful. [This isn't enough of a lead--I can see an editor saying, "so what"? I think the hook is actually in the second paragraph.]

I planted Swiss Chard for the first time last sping because I saw it in my friend's garden and liked the pretty colors. I had no intentions of liking it. I was pleasantly surprised. [Here is more of a hook for the article--that the plants in your garden can be not just eye-pleasing, but delicious, too. I like the idea of plants being "double-duty," but I want to know more than the writer was "pleasantly surprised." How was she surprised? Was it delicious? Better than what she'd bought at the store? Did she put it in salads, or make soup from it, or serve it as a side dish, or what? If I'm the editor, I want more here--namely, why will my readers care about this story? Another important detail--is this a plant that's easy to grow or requires little space? If you're an apartment dweller, you might have limited space, so if Swiss chard can be grown in a small container, that would be a nice aspect to play up. And that's the last thing--I don't think chard should be capitalized.]

I would like to write "The Colors of Chard" for the readers of Urban Farm. Hovering around 1,000 words, this article will discuss different varieties of chard, the details of planting and growing chard in the urban setting, some nutritional information, and, of course, how to harvest and eat it. I could also include a sidebar of sources for purchasing chard seed. [Here we get into some more detail, but she can do better. First, she should suggest the section of the magazine the story belongs in, to demonstrate she knows the market. Second, I'd add some more detail here--how many varitites of chard are there? What does it taste like? How versatile is it? Still, I feel like the "hook" of this story--that gorgeous plants can also be delicious meals--needs to be brought out a bit. This query feels a bit like it was written off the top of her head, and more detail, research and a more compelling hook will help sell it.]

My articles have previously appeared in BackHome Magazine, Grit, and Home Education. [I'd like to see the writer play up her gardening experience here, and claim herself as a freelancer. "I"m a freelancer and long-time gardener, and believe my personal experience will help me bring a unique perspective to this piece. My work has been published in markets including BackHome Magazine, Grit, and Home Education." Remember, you need to sell yourself and your experience in the ISG paragraph.]

If you would be interested in reading "The Colors of Chard" on spec, you can reach me at this e-mail address. [Too weak--and don't offer to write on spec, or speculation. You want an assignment. How about, "I hope you'll find this piece appropriate for an upcoming issue of TK magazine; please let me know if you have any questions about this pitch." And I'd make the working title "The Colors (and Flavors) of Chard" to play up that hook again!]


Back to you, readers--what do you think? Do you agree with my suggestions? Do you have other ways to improve this query?

Want to get in on the game? Send me a query you'd like to see critiqued to kelly [at] and you may see your work posted (anonymously, of course). More to come!

Query Critique #1: Pitch for a Fitness Magazine

Welcome to the first-ever Query Critique Week! Our first query is aimed at Oxygen, a fitness magazine the freelancer has written for before. The query appears below, with my comments in blue. "TK" is a publishing term that means "to come" and means that the writer should replace the TK with the relevant information.

Here's the query:

You started out wanting to lose a little weight and tone up a few areas; never thinking you would take to the gym so quickly. Before you knew it, you exceeded your goals in record time and you’ve built a well-defined body you’re proud to show off in a bikini. So why stop there? Figure competitions are held around the world several times a year and chances are there’s one coming up in your area. Maybe it’s time to set a new goal and strut that buff body of yours on stage. It could even be the start of a great new career! [I've actually written for Oxygen before, and the writer has the readers of the magazine pretty well-pegged. They are serious about their bodies and getting (and staying) in shape, and they definitely like to show off their hard work. But specific numbers--e.g., how many figure competitions are held a year? In what locations?--would strengthen this query and show the editor she's done her homework. She could also include the number of fitness competitors to show what a popular sport this is. If I were writing this query, I might play up the idea of competing in a fitness competition as a training goal--that's more likley to apply to more readers than becoming a full-time fitness pro. One last thing--the semicolon in the first sentence should be a comma.]

I would like to write an article tentatively entitled “Making the Jump from Fit to Figure” for an upcoming issue of Oxygen Magazine. As an avid reader of Oxygen, I often wonder how the women you feature on your pages got to where they are today with the help of competing and how it’s shaped their lives. What advice do they have for those who would like to follow in their footsteps? [Although I've used language like "I would like to write an aritcle..." in the past, let's be more direct. How about "Interested in an article, 'Making the Jump from Fit to Figure' for your TK section of Oxygen? "TK" refers to the section of the magazine the writer thinks the story will fit in--it reminds the editor that she is in fact an "avid reader" of the magazine. I like the rest of the paragraph, and that's she's bringing in her experience as a reader to the query itself. I love the working title, too.]

Here are some of the points I’d like to cover in the article:

Requirements – What exactly are figure competitions all about and what basics do you need to get started? What do judges look for? How dark should your tan be and how important is a great bathing suit?

Diet – What should you eat, months, weeks, days before competition and how to ensure you stay healthy while you compete?

Should you get a coach? – A figure coach can save you time learning all the basics and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses from an objective point of view. On the other hand, many figure competitors go it alone and still get great results. What would be better for someone who is just starting out? Maybe some tips from top coaches would make a good sidebar?

Good competitions for beginners to enter – There are reputable contests and there are just as many that are scams. How can a beginner tell what competitions are legitimate and are well respected in the industry? [I like the way she's set out the areas she plans to cover in the piece; I'd probably bullet-point these out. This list of elements shows that she knows what she's talking about. I can tell you, though, that each of these elements could be a separate article! This is a lot of material to cram into a piece. If I were an editor reading this, though, I'd definitely be intrigued. In the coach section, I'd change the last line to read: "A possible sidebar could include figure competition tips from top figure coaches such as TK" instead of what she has.]

I plan to interview recent figure winners at your recommendation or I could research a few, figure coaches and women who are at the novice stage and preparing for their first big competition. It would be fun to follow someone through prep, her experience competing and where she places. I see this article running 700 to 1,000 words. [First, I'd like to see her included some examples here--"I plan to interview recent winners such as TK and TK (and am open to your suggestions for possible sources) for this story. Or, if you prefer, I'd be happy to locate a few women at the novice stage preparing for their first big competitions." But I think the word count is way too short...if Oxygen runs features of say, 1200-1500 words, I'd pitch it as 1500 words. You want to ask for as many words as possible--you get paid by the word! And the editor can always assign it shorter, but let's shoot high.]

I am a freelance writer and have written for Oxygen before (Destination: Energy, Nutrition Special 2005) and have been published in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Alive and The Writer. I am a Tosca fan and a Clean Eating fanatic! [This is what I call the ISG, or "I'm-S0-Great" paragraph, and she's done a good job here. She's reminding the editor of her earlier work, and mentioning Tosca (one of the regular contributors--who happens to be married to the magazine's publisher!--is a smart move.]

Thank you for your consideration and I hope to hear back from you soon. [Typical closing; it's fine. I'd probably add something like, "I hope you'll be interested in this topic and would love to write for Oxygen again in the future. I'm working on some other ideas for you and will be in touch soon" to underscore her interest in the mag.]

What do you readers think? The writer of this query has a great start, but with some tweaking and specifics, this query will be a lot more compelling--and likely to net her an assignment with this magazine.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Coming Next Week: Special Query Critiques!

If you want to freelance for magazines, you cannot overestimate the importance of a compelling query letter. The query is your calling card, your letter of introduction, and almost always the first impression you'll make with an editor who's new to you. Yet freelancers struggle to master the form--or worry that when their queries are rejected (or receive no response), it's due to their quality.

So, for next week, I'll be offering some query critiques here on Dollars and Deadlines. I'll select a few (I'm sure I won't be able to do them all!) from the ones I receive, and post them here on the blog, along with comments on how to improve them. Don't worry--I'll omit names so there's no reason to feel shy about submitting your work.

Want to play? Send me a query (make it a good one!) to kelly at and put "Dollars and Deadlines query" in the subject line, and tune in next week for critiques of fellow freelancers' work. Even if your don't participate, you're likely to learn a lot about how to improve your own queries as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Money Test: Say Yes--or Not?

When I started freelancing 14+ years ago, I said "yes, please!" (think Austin Powers) to any paying work that came my way. I was trying to make money. My financial goal my first year was to make...wait for it...$10,000. I have no idea why I chose that number, other than it was a nice, neat one and seemed realistic for someone launching a freelance business with no connections, no experience, and no clue.

However, having a financial goal (even a small one) made me focused on money and it meant that every assignment I took that first year had to pay something--even if it was just $25 or $35 for a short piece for the local paper. Even the "small stuff" did move me toward making my income goal that first year. and I actually made more than $17,000 my first year of freelancing.

Today I can't say yes to everything, or even most things. And over time, I've developed a four-part test I use when I decide whether to take on work:

1. How much money does it pay? (If you're freelancing to make a living, or at least make some green, this is obvious.)

2. Less obvious--how much time will it take? I've found that the work I've done for national magazines takes far more time (including the pitching and follow-ups) than the work I do for smaller publications. Yes, the big magazines pay more, but I'm always looking at my hourly rate, not just the size of the check. And sometimes the magazines that pay less per word, actually pay more per hour.)

3. What's the PIA factor? My regular readers know that PIA is my shorthand for "Pain In the..." Some clients and editors are just...annoying. I'm thinking of an editor I work with who takes forever to respond to queries, then assigns stuff with ridiculously tight deadlines. I love her, but there's definintely a PIA factor to working with her. And if that PIA factor on a particular project is high, I'm either going to get more money...or I might even walk away.

4. Will this work further my career--and if so, how? So, for example, when I wrote my first book, Ready, Aim, Specialize, I received an advance of $2,500. And I interviewed 56 people for it! Looking at my hourly rate, I made more as a teenaged lifeguard. But I wanted to start writing books, and I had to begin somewhere. So I said yes to the book, added "author" to my CV, and even made royalties from it. My first book led to many others, which made the first deal worth it.

What about you? How do you decide to take on work? Is it just about the money or do you consider other factors as well?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Started as a Ghostwriter

So, you've got at least one book under your belt and you think you'd like to start ghostwriting. That’s great, but now you need what every writer who works for money needs—clients.

Clients for ghosting and collaborating range from book publishers, literary agents, book packagers, corporations, associations, subject matter experts, and people who just want to write books. In this post, I'll focus on the most “basic” of ghostwriting client, the people I call "Everyday Joes" (or Janes), or EJs.

EJs run the gamut from dream clients to time-sucking remoras. The typical EJ believes his book will be a bestseller. That’s great! What isn’t is when he expects you to be paid when it becomes a bestseller. Be very afraid when you hear phrases like “Everyone says I should write a book,” “No one would believe the story of my life,” and “I’ve got the makings of a bestseller right here” (pointing at his head).

If you're going to work as a ghostwriter, you should care less about your client's story and more about his budget. EJs must have cash to be viable clients. And most don’t. But some do, and will pay (even pay well) to get their words in print.

So how do you find EJs? Take a broad approach to marketing yourself and let everyone know you're a ghostwriter as well as a freelancer. (You do need to have published at least one book on your own to get into the biz.) Your website or blog, your email signature, your bionote on the articles you write, word of mouth, and social media can all help you find clients. Checking and responding to advertisements on and other sites may also turn into work, and teaching classes or leading workshops on book publishing can also raise your profile and help you find ghostwriting clients.

Want to know more about ghostwriting? On July 28, I will be appearing at the Write Now! Mastermind Class to talk about Ghostwriting. If you’re interested in hearing about how ghostwriting works, what’s in it for you, and how you can earn money as a ghostwriter, please visit and sign up for the call. It will be well worth your time!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Five Ways to Work While You're Not Really Working

Confused by the title of this post? Let me explain. I've been self-employed long enough to know that there's working...and then there's working. The latter means that I'm chained to the computer. I don't check email. I don't answer the phone. I don't log in to Facebook. I just pound out the words on the keyboard and get as much done as quickly as I can.

However, most of my work time is the former...when I'm working, yes, but not with that intensity. Yeah, I'm working, but I break up the time with other things. I check my email. I read forums. I check my Amazon ranking. I throw in a load of laundry and stop downstairs to say hi to my kiddos. I take a lunch break. I screw around.

But there's a third category of "work," too, which I call WWYNRW, or Working When You're Not Really Working. WWYNRW is what I call it when I watch reruns of America's Next Top Model or Chopped with my laptop on my lap. While WWYNRW isn't actual "work time," I use it to do things I might not have time for during my work hours--and that makes those work hours more productive. Here are five things I do during WWYNRW time:

1. Scout for reprint markets. I make between $5,000 and $10,000 a year selling reprints to regional publicitions, specialty magazines, foreign publications, and other markets. The majority of them I find through Google; I then send a brief LOI to the relevant editor. A five-minute investment may pay off with a new reprint market.

2. Touch base with my regulars. I'll scan through my email, and send a "just checking in" note to editors I haven't worked with in a few months. I just did this last week and sold a reprint for $200, plus have the promise of more work from several other clients.

3. Search on Medline for the latest journal articles on a specific topic--say, sleep and health. I did this several days ago and incorporated new research into a query, which I wrote the next morning. It's already been assigned.

4. Send "FU" (that's for Follow-Up, not what you're thinking!) emails on queries I haven't had a response on, giving editors a week or two to reply...and make a note of where to resub, or resubmit the query next. Then I'm ready to strike if the editor doesn't respond.

5. Brainstorm blog posts. I don't like to burn worktime to come up with and write blog posts, so I do most of my social networking stuff in front of the TV...or while at the pool. In fact, I came up with this post idea while watching my son do cannonballs off of the diving board!

What about you? Do you work, work, and WWYNRW?