Writer Aid celebrates ten years of advice for writers

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.


Contrary to Reports, the Newspaper Business is Not Dead

It has been seven years since my book Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market was published. The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I wrote that book. Last week, I wrote about some of the changes that have occurred in the newspaper business since 2007. Today we’ll look at some more.

The newspaper business took a huge hit from the recession and the increasing move to digital media. Some papers folded, others went to all-online versions, and others just printed fewer pages. Most decreased staff dramatically. The Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project reports that we have gone from approximately 1,500 daily newspapers in the U.S. to 1,382. Full-time editorial staff is down 29 percent, from 56,900 in 1989 to under 40,000 by 2012. A lot of unemployed staff writers have now become freelancers, increasing the competition for assignments, but in many cases, more newspapers are using freelance work.

In my book, I quoted the Newspaper Association of America as saying 8 in 10
American adults read a daily newspaper. That number has gone down and where they read it has changed. According to the NAA, 7 in 10 adults access content from newspaper media each week. They read newspaper content, but it isn’t always on paper. They read it on their computers, iPads and smart phones. The good news is that the 7 in 10 figure applies to all age groups. Despite dire predictions, young people are reading the news. For us writers, who cares if it’s on paper or on a screen? Somebody still has to write it, and that’s where we come in.

So, are newspapers still a great source of freelance opportunities? Yes. And as I note in the book, they still offer more chances, especially for beginning writers, than magazines do, simply because they come out more often and publish more articles. You might earn more money with magazines, but you’re more likely to get published in newspapers. True story: last week, after almost a year and several emails, I finally got a response from a magazine to which I sent an article. The response: Can’t use it. All of their articles through 2015 have already been scheduled. 2015?

Grab a newspaper and think about what you might write for it. Are other freelancers getting published there? Why not you?

Now go write.

P.S. Freelancing for Newspapers is a helpful resource for all kinds of article writing. Its chapters tell how to write, submit and get paid for the most popular types of articles. I will happily mail you a copy for $10, including postage. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested. Or you can order the book in print or e-book form from your favorite bookseller.

P.P.S. If you’re already tired of hearing about newspaper freelance, please let me know.

 


Are newspapers still a great source of freelance opportunities?

It has been seven years since my book Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market was published. The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I wrote that book. Last week, I wrote here about my college journalism textbook, published in 1971, and the changes that have occurred since then. Well, the changes keep coming. As I lay awake last night trying to figure out what to write today, I realized it was time to open my own book and take a good look at what might be out of date.

So if you have a copy, open your book to the introduction and follow along. If you don’t have one, I have numerous copies of Freelancing for Newspapers. It is still a helpful resource, and I will happily mail you a copy for $10, including postage. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested. Or you can order the book in print or e-book form from your favorite bookseller.

People do still read newspapers, but they don’t always read them on paper. I’m thinking about my brother, an attorney who devours several major papers a day. Since he bought his iPad, he is more likely to read them online than in print. I’ve been known to read the news on my phone. My dad, who is anti-computer, still reads the San Jose Mercury News in print. So you might have a stack of newspapers, or you might just have your e-readers. You will probably find extra stories online that are not in the print versions—and you might find more opportunities for freelance articles online as well.

In the book, I mention two sources of market listings, Writer’s Market and American Directory of Writer’s Guidelines. I rarely use my Writer’s Market, and I never use the other directory. Print directories go out of date as soon as they’re published. Mostly I go directly to the publication’s website. For news about publishing opportunities, I subscribe to the Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWROPPS, a Yahoo group), writingcareer.com, The Practicing Writer, and writing-world.com. I get tips from other writers in various forums, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I also subscribe to the online version of Writer’s Market, but I’m finding its listings too limited; I always end up following the links to the publication anyway. If I’m looking for a particular type of market, I just look it up on Google. Writer’s Digest Publications puts out some great market directories, not just for articles, but for poetry, fiction, and other genres. You might start with these, but to get the latest information, you’ll need to go to the publications’ websites.

Every editor will tell you to study the market before you submit a story or a query. It’s still true, except that now you can do your studying online without seeking out a print copy. Look for areas where your interests might fit their needs, and look for freelance bylines, identified by tags like “Special to the Oregonian” or short bios at the end of stories that identify the writer as a freelancer.

Many newspapers have gone out of business or ceased publishing in print. Most are considerably thinner than they used to be. Fewer pages mean fewer stories. Lots of local papers have been purchased by giant media companies that use fewer local writers. Many reporters and editors lost their jobs in the double whammy of the recession and the increasing shift to Internet media. But there are still opportunities for freelancers, especially in specialty publications. Newspapers for particular hobbies, religions, occupations, interests or disabilities are still being published and using freelance work.

My own situation has changed since Freelancing for Newspapers came out. I’m not writing for newspapers these days. When Freelancing for Newspapers was published, I had just become the baby boomer correspondent for Northwest Senior News. I’m proud that the baby boomer section is still there, but I left that newspaper when my assignments kept shrinking so that I only had 500 words at most to tell my stories. I started writing for Oregon Coast Today, which paid well and gave me a chance to do some great stories. When a new owner took over, however, they decreased their freelance budget to almost nothing, and I was out. I was busy with other writing projects anyway. Since 2007, I have published two more books, Shoes Full of Sand and Childless by Marriage.

Is freelancing for newspapers still a viable thing to do? Or course. But if I were writing that book today, I’d give it a different title to reflect the need to include the many new ways one can publish in our multi-media world.

Next week, we’ll check out chapter 1.

But for now, don’t worry about publishing and all that. Write whatever needs to be written. For example, I’m working on an essay about ice cream. I invite you to write about ice cream, too. Take it in any direction you want. Let me know what you came up with.

Ready? Ice Cream. Now go write.


How do I get my article published?

I received an email request recently from a reader named Ron. He tells me he has been journaling and writing letters to pen pals and to newspapers for years. He has also self-published a book which sold all 500 copies. What follows is an excerpt from that letter, as well as my reply.

I have a small, painless favor to ask for which I’d be very grateful for help with. I want to write a newspaper article on the upcoming 30th anniversary of the passing of a legendary singer who is often over-looked and forgotten. The date is in February but I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject. I don’t know anything about freelancing or the business but I want it to be one of those articles that gets picked up by papers all across the country. I don’t know where to begin on how to make that happen. But if you could point me in that direction with step one or step two I’d be forever grateful.

Dear Ron,

I’m going to respond to your letter both here and in my blog because your request is a common one, and many readers would be interested in the answer.

First, congratulations for your life-long love of writing. All those journal entries and letters have no doubt made you comfortable with the written word, and that’s a wonderful thing. Congratulations on selling 500 copies of your book. That’s quite an accomplishment.

However, what you ask is not “a small, painless favor.” What you are asking me to do is to distill the entire contents of my Freelancing for Newspapers book into one email. That’s neither small nor painless, especially right after Christmas when I’m typing in my sleep because my day job (and yes, like most freelance writers with bills to pay, I have one) is playing and singing music at church.

I hate to say it, but it would take a small miracle to get the article you describe published. First, you have a blatant grammatical error in your first paragraph. An editor reading “I must have wrote” would stop reading right there.

Second, journal entries and letters to the editor do not qualify one to write newspaper articles. Neither does a self-published book unless it’s on the same subject that you want to write about.

Third, when you say “I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject,” you have totally cut off any chance of being accepted. A good article takes time and effort, and your lack of humility is a real red flag to an editor.

Fourth, when you say you don’t know anything about freelancing but you want your article to get picked up by papers all across the country, you show that you have no clue how that happens.

If you truly want to sell this article to an editor, you must:

1) Research the market and find a suitable newspaper to approach

2) Write a query letter that includes an attention-getting opening, an explanation of why that newspaper’s readers would be interested in your article, a description of why you’re qualified to write it, and some samples of your previous work

3) If you get the assignment, you must research, write and revise until it’s the best article you could possibly write, following whatever guidelines you get from the editor, and hope that it’s published in ONE newspaper.

You might approach some of the syndicated news services listed in Writers Market, but only a few take one-shot submissions, and they won’t assign a piece to a writer with no experience writing articles of the sort they use.

I don’t want to burst your bubble on the day after Christmas. There are all kinds of writing, and it’s good that you’ve done well with letters and with your mom’s obituary. That’s a real gift. I’m impressed with the success of your book. But that doesn’t necessarily qualify you to write a newspaper article. You can learn, you can get experience and clips and move into article-writing, but you have to work your way up.

If you’re still determined to try, talk to a local editor to get a clear picture of what you need to do to write an article they will publish. Send out some queries and see what happens.

Don’t stop writing.

Best of luck,

Sue

I welcome your comments and questions.


Does this advance my writing career?

I just finished and sent an article to a local newspaper for which I freelance. Last week, I sent them another one. The editor was short on copy, so she suddenly needed stories NOW, which I meant I had to change my plans for both weeks and put a rush on it. After many hours of research, driving around to do interviews and take pictures, transcribing notes, dealing with photos, and actually writing the things, I look at the list of tasks I had planned to accomplish and wonder if I should have taken the assignments.

I didn’t do anything to sell my books, both the published and the unpublished ones, didn’t  send any of my writing out, and didn’t write anything new except these articles. Yes, these articles are pretty good, I learned about some cool stuff, and I love that people where I live will read them. I appreciate the money and the clips, too. But is this what I should have been doing?

My week would not have been so clogged if my “day job” as a church music minister didn’t also ramp up with a special service, a liturgy meeting and a funeral, but there’s always something calling our attention away from writing, isn’t there?

Did I use my time well? Several friends have died lately, showing me all too clearly that none of us knows how much time we have. So what is better, taking the easy-but-time-consuming assignment or taking a risk on something bigger?

When you’re starting out, you publish wherever you can, paid or not. There’s value to everything we write, but as the years go by, we have to ask ourselves: Is this moving my career forward? Is this taking me toward my goals? Or am I just treading water because the next step scares me?

At a long-ago writers conference, one of the speakers said that every day we should write something and do at least one thing to advance our careers. I think it’s good advice for all of us.

Driving home through the rain after an interview in Lincoln City, OR, I found myself thinking that writing is like making taffy. Sometimes you have to gather, mix, and boil the ingredients, sometimes you have to let the taffy cool, sometimes you have to stretch, pull and shape the taffy, and sometimes you have to cut, wrap, and sell it. Does that make any sense?

What do you think about this?

P.S. Later in the day, as I closed the office for the night, I realized I had been more efficient, more productive and more confident than I had been in ages. Sometimes completing an assignment and knowing that it’s going to be published, even if it’s not a career changer, can put you in the right frame of mind to do other work that is. Just be careful that it doesn’t take all of your time and energy.

 


>Have you seen these sites?

>Dear friends,
I admit that I have been missing in action lately. In addition to being sick (still), I’ve been dealing with my husband’s illness, which is very bad and has me commuting 140 miles every other day. So, today I am sharing some sites that will give you plenty of good reading and resources while I’m off dealing with life beyond the computer.

If you don’t know about the Society of Professional Journalists, SPJ, check it out. This link,http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/freelance/?p=575 tips on freelancing for newspapers, will give you tips on freelancing for newspapers. From there, you can easily click to the home page and find out about the many benefits of joining SPJ or just reading their website.

Marcia Yudkin has been offering wonderful advice to freelancers through her books, articles and blogs for years. Her Freelance Writing FAQ is just loaded with information.

One of Writer’s Digests top 10 websites for writers is Michelle Rafter’s WordCount:Freelancing in the Digital Age. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy there.

Enjoy. See you when the smoke clears.
***
Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?


>Freelancers don’t get sick leave

>I’m sick this week and don’t feel much like working. If I had a regular job, I could call in sick and maybe even get paid for my time off, but freelancers can’t do that. I have managed to meet my deadlines this week, but I’m not likely to work on anything new until at least next Monday. Even this blog post is five days late.

So what’s the lesson in this tale? Know that sometimes life will take you out of the game for a while. Work when you can, and don’t wait until the last minute to start on a story. Sure, everything will probably be fine and you thrive on deadline pressure. Me too, but things happen. So like a Girl Scout or Boy Scout, be prepared. Start early, plan ahead and build a little space in your schedule just in case.

See you next week.

Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?