Thursday, March 22, 2018

Former New York Times Writer Recommends

After recently setting a monthly earning goal, I've begun reaching out to successful writers to learn their stories and pick up some tips along the way. This week I asked to chat with an acquaintance who's involved in university writing. Instead of accepting, she introduced me to a former New York Times freelancer she knows (by email), and then asked him if he was willing to share a couple of his contacts with me.

First, let's get this out of the way:  NEW YORK TIMES employee!!

Second, how embarrassing is that? What kind of person asks a random stranger for their contacts? Why in the world would he be willing to share them with me? I would've let it die right then and there, but he responded with an "available anytime" email along with a phone number. was the most uncomfortable writer spot I've been in for while. I really didn't want to reach out to him knowing he thought I was only after his contacts, and yet I didn't want to let pride prevent me from talking with a successful writer. In the end I decided to email that I'd love to chat about writing (NOT get his work contacts), and let him know the day that I would try calling.

The Phone Call

He asked about my writing goals and any niche interests, then talked a little about how he landed all of his writing jobs. His main interest is in advertising and marketing, and he was able to get all of his work through networking, with current projects leading into other projects. Because he writes for large companies, legal & educational institutions, the pay is good ($400 for 500 words). It turns out the New York Times job was working on the newspaper's advertising campaign and included writing promotional material that went into the paper. He landed his current full-time job as the senior copywriter at a university, through a client he picked up at

The Recommendation: 

He highly recommended Contently, which offers free space to include your profile, and then has its own talent search team to sift through profiles and match writers to well-known, national clients. That means they're often looking for well-established freelancers with a quality portfolio - but it's possible to get in sooner with the right referrals and contacts. Here are a few writer bios at Contently:

Find more info here

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Keep Writing When Your Stuff is Criticized or Ignored

Glennon Melton has been blogging since 2009 and has managed to not only keep it up, but to grow her readership and publish a NYT bestseller. Here's some unique and sincere advice from her.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How to Accomplish a Year's Worth of Progress in One Month

When a businessman - let's call him Tony - took a beginner's public speaking course, most of his classmates were booking one gig per month. But Tony was excited to develop his skills and decided to do things a bit differently:  he gave three talks per day. After one month, his classmates had developed the skills and related experience equivalent to one gig. After a year at that rate, they'd progressed by 12 gigs. Because of his aggressive approach, Tony had improved more than that in one week. After one year, Tony Robbins was a sought-after speaker booking large audiences, and his former classmates were telling him how lucky he was to be blessed by all of that "natural talent". 

As a life coach of sorts, nowadays Tony's answer to people who ask, "How long is it going to take me to get there," (wherever "there" is):  

How long do you want it to take you? 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Writer's Doubt: How NOT to Enter a Writing Contest

(This is an entry for the "Overcoming Writer's Doubt" contest held by Positive Writer.)

Head over to the writing blog you recently discovered, and spot an “Enter! Writing Contest!” link. Feel hopeless and excited. Hopeless because you don’t stand a chance. Excited because, well, maybe you’re wrong.

Mentally add “award-winning writer” to your bio and envision a rash of new, engaged readers on your blog. Click the contest link.  

Scan the page and find out that you’ll have to write about, of all things, overcoming writer’s doubt. Wonder how in the world you can write an inspiring “I did it and so can you” essay when you have no major writing accomplishments:  no books, no glossy clips, no awards.

Decide you’ll wait until next year’s contests, after all. By then you’ll have success stories to share.

Expect relief, but instead feel let down. Channel the less than desirable voice of your four-year-old:  I don’t wanna wait another year.

Admire the writers who had the courage to enter despite their own insecurities. Make use of your amazing writer’s procrastination skills by spending the next hour reading through their essays about doubt, courage and success.  Feel instant compassion and affection, as if you’re all in this together.

Desire to be one of them.

How to Enter a Writer’s Contest

Remember what Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way:  in order to be good, you first have to be willing to be bad. 

Think about how awful it was when you moved to Austria and couldn’t speak German. The German students who progressed the quickest were the ones who put themselves out there, and took chances speaking terrible, indecipherable German everyplace they went. Sure, some locals laughed. But in the end, those students were the ones who learned to speak fluently.

Tell yourself that no matter how your essay turns out, you should put it out there. Not to win a contest or for confirmation that you’re a good writer, or even for that sorely needed cash—but to build your skills and get involved. To practice BEING a writer.

Recall the day that you truly became a writer, when you bought the dark poet’s frames at the eye doctors and wore them for everyone to see. Realize that overcoming doubt is like that, too:  you just have to hear the inner voice that says you’re not ready, not knowledgeable enough, not good enough.

And then ignore it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lag Time, Eat My Dust

Awhile ago I wrote about why we shouldn't quit, even when it looks like we're not getting anywhere. Honestly, I wrote it to encourage myself as much as anyone - I'd submitted an article to 17 magazines and hadn't heard back from one. I should've known better, but still I wondered:  was the article that terrible? Had I offended editors in some way?

Then I submitted it to a few more places. And a 2nd article to 38 markets; and then a 3rd piece to 20 markets.

Finally, it appeared in my inbox:

RE:  Submission

One acceptance came. Then a second. And a third. I even received an acceptance for an article I'd sent out 5 months earlier. And that lag time is the unfortunate (and amazing) thing about writing - that you can FEEL like you're just running in place and know in your gut that you're never going to get anywhere - and with one editor's email find out that you're a total dunderhead who's been obsessing for no reason. In fact, I just read about a whole book dedicated to Writer's Doubt.

The trick is, well, to trick ourselves into moving forward, despite "knowing" that we're not getting anywhere. That could mean keeping tabs on the positive progress you've made by marking it on a chart, or meeting with a writing group weekly.  Whatever it takes, to keep moving forward and working towards that goal.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Right From The Editor's Mouth: What She Wants

Of course we spend time thinking about how to make articles more appealing to editors. Common sense (and a thousand writing books) say to write to the interests of imagined "readers," or on topics and in styles requested by publications.

But the email I received today from the editor of a regional parenting publication suggests a whole different criteria for how to pick good-selling article topics:

"Articles that lend themselves to being a "sell-around" for advertising are usually of greater interest. So, anything that would generate a business to advertise on an adjacent page would be great. An example may be a Tutoring Center, Children's Book or Craft Store, etc. for the article you will be sending." 

I'm not suggesting anybody should write articles simply to sell advertising space, and am not sure how I feel about this editor asking for articles in this way...but do appreciate her honesty. And also wonder now:  how many publishers of these RPP's and other publications don't say anything, but also look for topics that will appeal to advertisers?

If I have a helpful and informative article, and adding in a related sidebar or paragraph to sell ad space makes it more tempting to business-savvy publishers, I'm okay with that.

How about you?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Um, How Do I Write An Author Bio for Magazines?

This week an editor requested something both exciting and terrible:

“I include a writer's column each month to introduce the writers. So, please forward a short bio (a paragraph in size) to introduce yourself.

Exciting, because I’d be one of those professional, interesting writers in the “about our writers” section.

Terrible, because I needed to write something that made me sound both professional and, well, interesting. Thankfully it only took two days of research and anxiety to put together something only slightly cringeworthy.

I’m far from an expert, but did find a few things that helped me figure out what the heck to include – and might help you, too.

Plagiarism is a Great Place to Start

Okay, not plagiarism exactly.  More like getting ideas by scanning other writers’ bios. Because I couldn’t find examples in the target publication or similar RPPs, I scanned the magazines that are overtaking our hall closet. Discovery:  different magazines focus on different aspects. For example, the Oprah issue I had asked contributors random interview questions. The writers’ answers are put on the “about our writers” page, in lieu of bios. Other magazines included bios with mainly personal information;  professional designations & memberships; or connections to the issues’ articles.

One thing that would help is to have a collection of memorable bios clipped and saved.  It feels presumptuous to do that before somebody actually wants a bio. But it’s so much easier to whip out a few shining examples, than it is to frantically scan the internet and dig through years’ worth of magazines accumulating in the closet while you imagine The Editor sitting on the other end of the internet, waiting.

After reading through many bios, I noticed the ones that stood out had the 4 H's in common:
  • Hi - they give the one-liner intro information, although not necessarily all together or in one sentence:  name, home state, job, sometimes mention of family
  • Human - they tell you something that makes them relatable (hooked on the Housewives, eats a gallon of ice cream in a sitting, etc.)
  • Humor - often at their own expense
  • History - they give you related experience and education, and share interesting things they've done
Because I couldn’t find examples from the target publication, I decided to include four "H's" that their readership (other parents of young children) would be interested in.

Ask the Google Goddess

Unfortunately, Google is decidedly sparse when it comes to telling writers how to write things, such as their own resumes and, well, author bios. Now, there’s plenty of info out there about how to write author bios for book jackets, but not many about writing them for magazines. Luckily, a lot of the guidelines that apply to writing other types of bios also apply to these. 

One helpful piece was author Anne Allen's How to Write an Author Bio When You Don't Feel Like An Author...Yet. She gives a template for short bios, and guidance on what to consider when choosing content. Author Richard Ridley suggests that bios range between 25 and 125 words, and that unknown writers should try for ~75 words (this is for books, of course, but the word counts seem to apply to the magazine bios I saw, too.) And finally, there was this article that gave tips on how to write "an enchanting author bio".

All of this information definitely made the process more manageable, if not comfortable. I hope it does at least that for you, too.