Monday, April 27, 2009

"Two Tips for Beginning Freelance Writers"

Guest Post for "Dialogue"
by Anne McClure

Google “Freelance Writing Markets” and you get 908,000 hits. Try “How to Become A Freelance Writer” and you get over 5 million. With such an overwhelming number of directions to head, you’ve got to focus your approach if you want to get your freelance career off the ground.
First, find a niche. Are you an engineer? A science enthusiast? A gardener? A pet owner? A cook? Do you live in a big city? Run a family farm? Determine your area of expertise and query publications within that genre. It’s possible—and probably a fun process—to become an expert in a new area through study and exploration. If freelancing is part of a desire to switch careers, this may be a path to follow. For most people, though, the quickest way to finding your freelance market involves analyzing what you already know or what you’re already doing.
You don’t have to determine this niche immediately. In fact, you probably won’t. As you write, pay attention to the way you feel. Even within a general niche (i.e. the Catholic market) you will need to find more specialized submarkets (i.e. Catholic parenting, Catholic commentary on politics, Catholic apologetics). Note the stories and genres that feel the most organic as you are writing—the ones that seem to pour out of you and materialize on the page. As you proceed, remind yourself that you preferred devotionals to political commentary, poetry to prose, tech manuals to movie reviews. Then pursue similar opportunities. Instead of just writing to write, you’ll be accumulating a body of work centered on an area of personal interest or expertise.
Second, make connections and rely on the connections you have already made. Did you receive helpful advice from a writing coach while attending a conference? (Hi Patricia!) Did you work closely with an editor, tweaking several drafts of a piece before it was finally approved? Did an author at a book signing kindly offer to give you a leg up? However you established a relationship, treat it as the source of invaluable advice that it is. Of course, be respectful of the time and obligations of experienced writers and editors; but once you’ve developed a working relationship, don’t be afraid to approach them with questions and send additional queries their way. Ask for resources and accept feedback humbly and honestly. Use their words of wisdom to reflect on your progress and make decisions as you proceed.
I’ve just started down this writing path myself, and I’ve made every mistake I just advised you not to make. I’ve wasted my time writing about politics when I should have been reflecting on my faith journey as a mom, and I’ve queried big name publications when smaller ones were looking for the kind of work I could do. I’m finding that if you try to be what you’re not or start somewhere unfamiliar, your writing will lack a depth of knowledge and experience that lends credibility. Finding your niche and accepting help from experienced professionals will free you to write from your heart and jump start your entrance into the world of freelance writing.

Anne McClure taught high school until her son was born and now works as a mom and freelance writer. Read more at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Libby's Books

Libby Malin is the author of the soon-to-be-released romantic comedy FIRE ME (Sourcebooks) and the 2005 chick lit novel LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT (Harlequin). Writing as Libby Sternberg, she’s the author of four teen mysteries, the first of which was an Edgar finalist. A Baltimore native, she now lives in Lancaster, PA. More info about her can be found at

What is a day like for a professional writer?I usually rise early (by six) and linger over coffee and chatting with my husband before he goes to work, reading the Wall Street Journal (our son writes for the Asian edition) and watching morning news. By eight, I’m ready to tackle the day’s tasks. If I have any freelance writing assignments, I might start on them, either organizing the work or actually beginning to contact folks I need to interview for articles, etc. Because I bill by the hour, I carefully note the time spent on these tasks in an ever-present ledger.
_If I’m writing a book, I might carve out several mornings where I start work on that project—my best writing time is usually in the morning. If I’m on a deadline—for example, if I have a full manuscript due to an editor by a certain date—I make sure to stick to a daily page quota.
_I usually quickly review what I wrote the day before, maybe tweaking it but not doing a full-fledged edit, and then plow forward.
_If I stall, I try to figure out why. If it’s because I’m unsure of direction, I might write in one direction anyway, just to get something on the page. I will write notes to myself in ALL CAPS, things like INCREASE TENSION BETWEEN CHARACTER X AND Y or something similar that I know will need to be included.
_If I’m in the editing stage of a manuscript, things move pretty quickly and I can find myself at the computer almost all day, with short breaks, usually because I’m too excited about the project to leave it.
_I will make notes on paper as I go – characters’ names and descriptions (I don’t want to have one start the novel with blue eyes and finish it with green!), important plot points and maybe even timelines (to make sure I don’t include eight-day weeks).
_I usually do at least three edits. If I have a book about to be released, I devote a portion of my days to actual promotional tasks, such as writing blog entries for the “virtual tour” set up by the publicist, cleaning up my personal mailing lists and preparing a mailing of promotional postcards, setting up a book-signing, etc.
_Finally, in the afternoons I will read….but not for pleasure! I read manuscripts for a publisher, making recommendations for purchase. So I’ll set up my laptop in my sunny living room, put a small notebook and pen nearby to jot down observations, and start reading!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meet Jennifer Zeman

You sit down to write, and then you remember – you wore your last clean bra to work today, and what will you do in the morning? As you are delivering the dirty underwear to the laundry room, you notice that the bathroom sink looks actually disgusting. It only takes a minute to spray, wipe and shine. But then, you might as well empty the trash while you are there, and why empty just one wastebasket? They are all overflowing. The washer buzzes, the phone rings, there are dirty dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher, and nobody has vacuumed the living room carpet since Halloween. Oh, no, there is neither bread nor milk in the kitchen. As you eventually lay your weary head on the pillow and collapse into dreamless sleep, you tell yourself that tomorrow for sure, writing comes first.

Jennifer Zemen, a pre-published writer who lives and writes in Rising Sun, Maryland, has solved the problem of making time to write. We could all learn from her. Now approaching the moment when she will release her first book-length manuscript into the publishing wilds, I think she would say that the sun is rising on her writing career.

Growing up, Jennifer always enjoyed the arts. She would probably call herself a right-brain personality. She originally found her outlet in graphic arts, but as an adult dealing with the consequences of family tragedy, she discovered the art of words in journaling. It provided a way to talk about the loss of her mother, the stress of adjusting to a blended family after her father remarried, and the depression that accompanied these experiences. As she wrote, her journal became an important tool for clearing her thoughts.

There came a time in Jennifer’s personal growth when she felt that her story needed to be published. Not just for her, but for others. Anna Quindlen’s essay about the death of her mother resonated profoundly with Jennifer’s own experience. Reading Ann Hope’s book Comfort, Jennifer also discovered a great deal of common ground with her own life. Yet Jennifer saw that she had something unique to say, something that would not only share her grief but also provide help and hope for others.

Jennifer found that journaling led very naturally into the writing of her memoir, but writing a book did not fit naturally into an already busy life. When she began writing the memoir in 2006, it was a venture into the unknown. Jennifer’s full-time job meant that weekends were the natural time for her to write, yet in the early days, the weekends came and went with little or no time for writing. Every writer can relate to this problem. Few of us can simply decide to write without interruptions. When there was time for writing, Jennifer tried to make the most of it, and when the time slipped away, she felt discouraged. Eventually she decided it was time to take action. If she were ever to finish her book, she had to build a wall around time for writing. Her strategy was to declare weekends off limits for household tasks. Trips to the grocery store, housecleaning, laundry, and the thousand and one things that always loom large the minute a writer sits down to write were confined to weekdays. No more trying to write between laundry loads. No more last-minute trips for bread and milk on Saturday morning.

Her strategy paid off. Today she is completing the second draft of her book, and she says she expects in the near future to be ready to submit her manuscript to publishers. Time management is not, however, the only tool in her writer’s survival kit. Jennifer is a member of a critique group, and this group helped her to hone her first draft. It was through the critique group that she met Patricia Punt, the hostess of this blog, and Patricia provided her with editorial guidance to begin her second draft. Along the road to success, Jennifer subscribed to Writers Digest, devoured articles in Writers Market, read books and articles on writing and picked the brain of a writer friend. She found an opportunity to write for a blog where she can grow her skills and start building her platform.

Being a guest blogger is only one plank in Jennifer’s platform. She has pages on MySpace and Facebook, and she has a blog of her own. She is still feeling her way to the right balance of platform-building and writing. For now, writing takes center stage, but she expects to be more involved in platform-building as she moves closer to the sale of her manuscript.

I always ask writers what they would say to someone who wants to be a writer. Jennifer’s answer was typical: Write. It is a simple, yet profound truth. If someone wants to be a writer, it is necessary to write. As Jennifer suggested, it is also a good idea to read what other writers are writing, to read books and articles about the craft of writing, and to connect with other writers, online and in person. Putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, is a big hurdle; nothing promotes commitment to good housekeeping like the sight of a blank page. Above all and before all, a writer must write.

It is always a great pleasure to meet someone who has found her fulfillment in life. Like most of us, Jennifer did not start writing until adulthood. After telling a few people about her goal, she discovered that some people thought it was frivolous, silly or even hopeless. Everybody felt completely comfortable to tell her that success as a writer was not worth the effort. Jennifer’s response was to ignore them and follow her dream. Jennifer’s advice to others? Do what fulfills you and makes you happy. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from becoming what you were born to be. If you dream of becoming a writer, don’t spend your evenings telling friends what you would do if you were a writer. Get thee to the computer and write. One day you will be telling all those naysayers what you have written, and then they will be saying to you, “You write? I could never do that.”

by Katherine Harms