Dear writers and readers, this blog has been dormant since late last year, but I had to mark the 10-year anniversary of my first post by telling you that I have updated the past posts, revising where the information was no longer accurate and making sure all the links worked. Those updated posts are my gift to you. Because I think it would be good to have all the advice put together in one place in a logical order, I am also planning to compile my blog posts into an e-book. I will let you know about that as soon as it’s available.
In the beginning, the blog was called Freelancing for Newspapers. I started it to publicize my then-upcoming Freelancing for Newspapers book. I’ll be honest. Some of those first posts were so lame it hurts to read them now. I was just learning how to blog. Now I offer a class on it. (click on Classes above). Over those first few years, I offered a mix of my own experiences writing freelance articles, plus information about the newspaper business and advice for writers on everything from how to get an assignment to how to get paid.
But the publishing world changed, I changed, and so did this blog. It morphed from Freelancing for Newspapers to Freelancing for Newspapers +, the plus sign indicating I might talk about more than newspapers. Eventually it became Writer Aid so I could address all sorts of writing, including fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction (and also maybe lure readers into my servers for writers).
At the same time, the newspaper business was changing. With the double whammy of the recession and the Internet, newspapers were going under or shrinking. Longtime staff writers were losing their jobs by the hundreds. And freelance opportunities became harder to find. Our local daily, The Oregonian, went from a stuffed package loaded with special sections to a thin tabloid. How could one write for the garden or arts sections when even the decades-long editors of those sections were now unemployed?
My own life was changing, too. I was caring for my husband, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2009, he moved into a nursing home, and in 2011, he died. Through it all, I kept writing, but I was easing out of article writing and focusing more on poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. I went back to school and earned my MFA in creative writing. I started teaching. I published two more books, Shoes Full of Sand and Childless by Marriage.
All of these changes were reflected in the blog as I talked about self-publishing, poetry, plots, settings, characters, and selling books. For a while, the blog shrank down to three quick tips because that’s all I could manage, but I kept it going. Last December, I decided there were too many writers blogging about writing, and the world didn’t need me doing it. I would focus on my other blogs, Unleashed in Oregon and Childless by Marriage.
I’m still not sure the world needs me writing about writing. Writers are so inbred, and I think it’s important to talk to the rest of the world. But as I put together the e-book, I suspect I will find topics that I have not yet addressed, and I will write new posts to fill in the blanks. If you sign up to follow the blog, WordPress will let you know when that happens.
You can still buy the Freelancing for Newspapers book. Some of the information is outdated now, but the basics of writing and selling articles is the same. The steps in the book will lead you from idea to published story, not just in newspapers but in magazines and online publications. Order a copy.
Now go write something.
NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is all over the Internet right now. Are you doing it? The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel this month. That means 1,666 words a day if you write seven days a week. That doesn’t seem like so much for me. I can spew out words in profusion on the days that I choose to write, but seven days a week? Including Thanksgiving? No, no, no. That kind of schedule is a quick trip to burnout land for me. I purposely keep my hands off the computer keys on Sunday and sometimes another day of the week because it’s not just typing. The brain needs to recharge. It needs to go back to the warehouse for supplies. If I get an inspiration on my non-writing days, I may boot up the machine, but I’m more likely to scratch it out on a piece of paper so I’m ready to go in the morning.
For some people, NaNo works. The camaraderie and the pressure to report progress every day can really help get you writing. You can even attend “write-ins” in your community to pour out the words together. No critiques, no craft discussions, or worries about marketing, just writing. It’s all good. Just not for me. Not this year.
I have started NaNoWriMo a couple of times and pooped out because I realized the novel I had started to write wasn’t what I was supposed to be writing at that point. I already had writing projects I needed to get done, and NaNo was just a distraction. Plus I think it’s more important to write well than to write quickly. This year, I’m immersed in a nonfiction project and don’t really have a novel noodling around in my brain. I’m still trying to sell the last one I wrote. Plus it’s November. I’m as busy as a dog barking at squirrels under the woodpile.
Challenges can be good. I have gotten many poems out of Poem-a-Day challenges, and I enjoyed last year’s A to Z blog challenge. Anything that gets us over the wall between not writing and writing is good. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, go, go, go. God bless you. May your words flow easily into a great novel that we’ll all read and love. But don’t feel guilty if you’re not taking the challenge this year. Do your own thing. Make your own challenge that fits your life and your writing goals. Finish that book by Christmas. Send out a query a week, write 500 words of prose a day, or write a poem every Tuesday. Or just keep doing what you’re doing. That’s probably challenge enough.
Now let’s go write.
I got to thinking about this the other day after I talked to a freelance editor about working on my book. These days everybody says you need to hire an editor to fix up your book before you send it to agents and publishers. Critique groups are good, but you need to hire a pro to look at the whole book to help you shape it, cut the fat and find the “narrative arc.” Or so they say.
Years ago, an editor helped me with one of my previous books, and it was good. So I thought I’d try it again.
But here’s the problem. The editor I talked to charges $100 an hour. She thinks it would take 10 to 20 hours to do the job, which is only to look at the big picture, not to do any actual editing on syntax and sentences. That’s $1,000 to $2,000, for those who can’t do math without their calculators. I’m sure she’d do a great job, but that’s a lot of money. Her rates are on the high side. Others might charge less, but it’s still quite an investment. Check out this chart from the Editorial Freelancers Association.
My previous editor was expensive, $700, I think, but she did everything, from the big picture to the typos. If she edited the kind of book I’m working on now, I’d try her again.
It used to be that editors at publishing houses took your shapeless but promising manuscript and helped you rewrite it until it was perfect. That’s what happened with my book Stories Grandma Never Told, published by Heyday Books a few years back. The editor helped me make it much better, and I didn’t have to pay for the privilege. In fact, they paid me. Now, apparently editors at larger publishing houses don’t so much edit the books as advocate for them with the marketing folks.
So does this mean that unless you can afford to spend thousands on editing, you’re never going to get into a major publishing house? I pray to God it’s not true.
The cost of editing might explain why so many less-than-stellar books are self-published these days. And why we see so many typos in our books. Most of us think our books are fine after we finish our own revisions. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t, but I can’t believe we have to spend so much money to find out. Let’s go back to the critique group idea. Maybe we could trade manuscripts with each other to get the big picture view. You read my book, I’ll read yours, and we’ll compare notes.
I started out to write about the cost of being a writer. Editing is certainly not the only cost. Let me take a peek at my expense charts. The main expenses:
- Postage to mail my published books at $2.72 apiece via media mail. As for submissions, I rarely submit anything by snail mail these days so that cost has gone down considerably, but then there are . . .
- Submission fees. Not every publication charges a fee to submit, but more and more of them do, even ones that only pay in copies. It may be only $3 or $5, but it adds up, especially when I’m also paying . . .
- Contest entry fees. These keep getting higher. Most are $15 or more. I have seen book competitions with $40 fees.
- Internet-related fees. You’ve got to keep the Wi-Fi going, and it isn’t free. You may pay for a website or domain name (I have several). WordPress charges $18 for those domain names and that’s not even a premium account.
- Office supplies and office equipment, including computer gear, tablets and phones.
- Business cards, brochures and other printed matter.
- Professional memberships at $30 to $300 a year.
- Books and other publications (you don’t want to know how much I spend on this)
- Education: University degrees, conferences, workshops, etc. are not cheap.
You can keep your writing low budget, but not as much as in the days when all you needed was a pencil and some paper, envelopes and postage stamps. You can refuse to submit to contests with entry fees or publications that charge submission fees. You can skip the domain names and paid websites. You can get all of your reading material at the library or buy only used books. You can trade critiques with friends. But alas, being a writer is not free. Neither is anything else, however, whether you’re an artist, a quilter, a gardener or a golfer. If you love it, you find a way to pay for it.
I’ll figure out what to do about the book. Meanwhile, it didn’t cost me anything to put these words on the screen, and it doesn’t cost you anything to read them. Isn’t that wonderful?
Let’s go write.
Remember how we were talking a while back about following up on our submissions, how we should not be afraid to ask what’s going on with our stories or poems when we haven’t heard anything for a while? Well, sometimes you have to follow up on the followups.
I don’t want to scare you, but once in a while good news turns into less good news or silence. You told all your friends about your big acceptance and then . . . nothing.
Earlier this week, I wrote three followup emails on writing that had been accepted. One was for a piece that a big-publication editor asked me to write, which I did, in January. Nothing has happened. I had someone else who was interested, but I said no, I was waiting for the big-pub editor. I contacted her three times, was told each time that she was running behind but would get back to me soon. Nothing. My next email went unanswered. I tried again this week. Still nothing. Big-time publication and payment still in limbo.
One of my poems was accepted in March. No pay but a great outlet. I have heard nothing. Checked the website a couple times to see if the poem had been published without telling me. Nope. This week, I went to their website again and saw a notice that publication was suspended until March 2016. The staff is reorganizing and trying to catch up. But what about my poem? Message on the website: If you submitted something that has not been published and we haven’t contacted you, please email us. Which I did. No word yet.
A couple weeks ago, I received notice that I had won a prize for an essay, one of the most important essays I ever wrote. It will be published in an upcoming anthology. Fantastic. I sent them an email with my bio and picture and asked about rights, proofs, publicity, timing, etc. Nothing. I wrote again this week. The editor responded quickly, saying the information was in the contest guidelines and maybe her response to my previous email got caught in the spam filter. Nope. I check my spam regularly. Now I wish I had read those guidelines more closely. They’re taking only one-time rights, which is good, but there will be no proofs or editing; they assume the piece was ready to publish when I sent it in. They’ll sent me a press release to distribute when the book comes out. Okay. Not all the answers I wanted, but now I know more than I did before.
Lest you have decided by now to quit this crazy business, let me assure you that more often things work out well. Editors keep in touch, share information, send you proofs, and make sure you get paid. But sometimes you’ve got to be persistent. Don’t call or email them every day, but do keep in touch and let them know you refuse to be jerked around.
So follow up, and follow up again. If you never get an answer, take your business elsewhere. Their loss.
If you have been accepted by a publication, or if there’s one you really want to be in, check their website regularly, follow their blogs, and sign up for their email lists. Yes, you will get more emails than you like, but you will also know what’s going on with them. Then when you write your queries or cover letters, you can say, “I really liked that piece on X that you ran last month” or “That story you told about such and such inspired this” or “I heard you were looking for ____.” Showing that you know what they’re up to will help, I promise. And if they go silent on you, you might be able to find the answers for yourself.
Now let’s go write.