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.
>Recently a correspondent sent me a link to her blog. It is a beautiful blog, filled with terrific articles and photos, the kind I’d like to see in a good newspaper. She is working on getting paid assignments, but meanwhile, I worry that she’s giving the good stuff away. Every freelancer ought to know that most publishers consider material that has been placed on a writer’s blog or website as published. Used goods. If they don’t take reprints, they won’t consider the work at all. Perhaps you can do a revision that makes it a new story, but beware of giving away articles that you could sell for money. Your ideas and articles are your inventory, and your time and energy is limited.
Now why, you might ask, do I publish two blogs? Why does anyone do blogs? Some people are just happy to express themselves online. But I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to draw attention to my books and classes, as well as my website. I also love to teach and this blog allows me to do that. After every live class, I come home chattering to myself about all the other things I could have said. The same applies to my book. There’s always so much more to say, so I blog to keep the conversation going and to bring things up to date.
What’s my other blog? Childless by Marriage, part plug and part research for the book I’m currently working on. Having to write something every week keeps me on task, and it does draw some attention, which in this business is vital to success. If you want to publish books, you’ve got to have a platform, and a blog is part of that.
So blog away to advance your career, share your experiences and opinions, or simply because it makes you happy. Just beware of giving away the store. Before you put it into a blog, ask yourself: Could I sell this as an article? If so, offer only a small taste, not the whole entrée, or blog about something else.
>The other day I was guest-lecturing a class at the local community college, talking about opportunities to sell their work in magazines and newspapers. As I looked out at the sea of young faces, I felt that what I was saying had minimal relevancy to their lives. Studies show that people under age 30 rarely read newspapers anymore.
I asked the class what they read. A couple of eager writer wannabes said they did read the paper all the time. One said she read science fiction novels. Others mentioned blogs, facebook, myspace. I gave my usual spiel, but as I thought about it over the weekend, I decided the next edition of my Freelancing for Newspapers book ought to have a new title, something like: Freelancing for Newspapers: Print and Online.
I don’t think the print media are ever going to completely disappear. It’s too nice to be able to carry the paper with you to read on the beach or on the bus or at breakfast. I like to cut stories out and save them. And I especially enjoy long narrative articles that I can settle in with for a good read.
So why add the online component?
1) When I want to know what’s happening right now, I don’t look at the paper; I go online. For example, I just read that Hillary Clinton won the Kentucky primary. These days, I don’t want to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to find out; I want to know now. Online news is faster, plus you can choose what you’re interested in and skip the rest. It also saves all those pages that wind up in the recycle bin.
2) Most newspapers publish online as well as on paper. In fact, I just found a site called www.onlinenewspapers.com that will link you to thousands of newspapers. My Google search turned up other sites, but this one site will give you plenty to do.
3) More and more publications are trashing the print version and publishing only online because it’s so much cheaper. Some so-called newspapers never were in print; they only publish online.
4) Newspapers, magazines and broadcast media frequently refer their audience to extra content, including music, videos, photos, resource lists, and expanded interviews, on the Internet. If you only read the print version, you only get half the story.
5) Staff writers are blogging these days. Again, if you only read what goes in print, you miss half the story.
We freelance writers cannot ignore the Internet. We need to include it in the markets for which we write. Sometimes the pay is low, but the exposure is worldwide, and you can publish more stories more quickly. Do a search for online newspapers and start looking at the guidelines. I plan to do the same.
Newspapers are not disappearing, but they are doing a little shape-shifting. For more information, go to www . . . no, that’s 30 for today, which in old-time newspaper talk means “the end”.
>A triangle has three angles, a rectangle has four, a pentagon has five, but an idea for a newspaper article can have as many angles as you can think of. I’m currently in the process of creating articles, blogs and other outtakes from the pet-related chapter of the book I’m writing on childless women. So far, I’ve got 19 angles about people’s relationships with their pets. I haven’t even gotten into choosing pets, training them, feeding them, breeding them or health concerns.
Some ideas may be more viable than others. For example, what will I do with the note about dogs watching while we have sex? Hey, doesn’t yours? Our dog gets this sappy grin on her face, and I don’t know what that’s all about. But there are angles with stronger legs, such as pet custody in divorce cases and why pets are easier to raise than children.
Think about something you love or that at least fascinates you. How many ways can you spin it? Brainstorm awhile and you’ll be surprised.
>Do blogs help you write and sell freelance articles? I have just completed an article that will appear on writing.world.com sometime in the near future. In my Freelancing for Newspapers book, I don’t touch much on blogs, but if I had a chance to add a chapter, I would write more about blogs because they are becoming so popular. Paul Gillin’s book The New Influencers says there were 50 million in mid-2006, and the number is increasing every day.
I think blogs are helpful for the exposure, the research possibilities and the connection with newspaper editors and reporters who blog, but I would love to know what other people think. Tell me how you use blogs in your work. If you don’t use blogs, is that by choice or because you’re not sure how to go about it?
Let’s blog about it!
>I found some great advice for journalism grads and wanna-be reporters on a UK blog at this address: http://onlinejournalismblog.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/advice-for-journalism-graduates. In summary, j-school professor Paul Bradshaw advises: 1) Get a job, any kind of job. It looks better to potential employers, plus it gives you access to information, ideas and contacts. 2) Start a blog where you can practice writing, create samples of your work, prove you can commit to working on something, and expose your name and work to the world. 3) Get involved in the area you want to report on. 4) Buy a phone that takes pictures and audio so that if you find yourself in the middle of a story, you can send it in. 5) Develop an eye for news. Always be looking for stories, writing them up and sending them out.
Bradshaw specializes in Internet-based media. You and I may not be as high-tech as he is. We may still be figuring out our word processing programs. But I second his advice to keep your eyes open for stories at all times. When you find one, don’t sit on it. Write and send a query, an article, an editorial, with pictures if you have them. Do something with it. Do it today. As someone who used to have printers literally take the pages out of my hands, I can tell you newspapers don’t wait for anyone and news spoils faster than potato salad left in the sun.