Archive for October, 2008

Track Your Writing With Google Alerts

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Google Alerts are email updates of the latest Google results based on a “search term”. For example, I have a Google Alert set up for “Writer’s Residence” and get an email whenever a blog or website mentions that phrase.

Writer’s can also use Google Alerts as a handy way to see when their articles are published on websites. Susan Johnston at Urban Muse has this tip:

Here’s how to do it: Go to Google.com/alerts and create an alert for “Your name” Site:website.com. For instance, I could set up an alert for Experience.com by typing “Susan Johnston” site:Experience.com. Then, once I find a new article I’ve written, I bookmark it in Delicious for future reference.

Tip for Tracking Your Writing Online

Writing Samples Demystified

Sunday, October 26th, 2008
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“You may be the most brilliant writer in the world, but if you don’t have a clip to show me, I won’t know that.”
– Rachel Clark, deputy editor of Premier magazine

Writing samples, or “clips”, are a critical part of the writer’s marketing machine. They demonstrate to editors proof of your abilities and should be included with all queries and pitches unless otherwise noted in the publication’s guidelines.

This may sound simple enough, but it’s not always clear what qualifies as a “sample” or how to send that sample in an email query. In this article, I attempt to demystify writing samples by defining what they are, how to format them, and how to send them with an email query.

What is a Writing Sample?

Writing samples, also called “clips” or “clippings”, are samples of your published work. This is sometimes confusing, because “published work” can take one of many forms:

  • Text, PDF or Word document
  • Scanned image of a magazine tearsheet or newspaper clipping
  • Blog post, either on your blog or someone else’s
  • White paper
  • Academic thesis

In some cases, unpublished material can also be used as a sample if you haven’t been published before.

So you have a newspaper clipping in one hand, a blog post in the other, and a magazine article dangling off your big toe. How do you put this hodge podge together into a tight package that won’t give editors a headache?

How to Make Your Writing Sample Email Friendly

The easiest way to make your writing samples suitable for email is to host your writing samples and clips in an online portfolio website. This allows you to simply include a link to your portfolio in your email pitch to editors. Here is an example of how to do this:

I am a full-time writer with numerous online and print credits, including The Daily Telegraph, The Hackney Citizen, and SmarterFitter.com. You can read samples of my work at at http://monicashaw.com.

Alternatively, you can include links to individual writing samples that are targeted to the publication.

A general rule is: don’t send clips or writing samples in an attachment unless requested. As Jenna Glatzer points out in her book Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer

Many editors will delete attachments unread because of the risk of viruses, and many spam filters will toss them out before an editor even has the option of making that decision. I can’t emphasize this point enough; I’m amazed by the number of writers who continue to ignore this advice and have their queries deleted because of it.

How to Format Your Writing Sample in Your Portfolio

All of your writing samples should be hosted on their own web page and include the sample title, name of the publication, and date it was published.

Whenever possible, include the text of your writing sample on the webpage itself (click here to see an example). If copyright issues prevent this, here are a some tips for dealing with specific sample formats:

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  • Newspaper and Magazine Clippings: First, scan your clipping as a high-resolution jpeg file. Then create a web page that includes a smaller, thumbnail image of the clipping, plus a link to an image of the full-resolution scan OR to the full text article on the publication’s website (click here to see an example).
  • Documents: Documents are risky because you can’t be sure the editor will have the right software to read it. So if you must contain your writing sample in a document, make sure it’s in a standard format such as Word (.doc), text (.txt) or PDF (.pdf). As with all writing samples, host your document on its own web page that clearly displays the title, publication and publication date. It’s also a good idea to include some text that summarizes what your sample is all about (click here to see an example).
  • Blog posts: If copyright issues prevent you from including the full text of the post in your portfolio, then include a link to the original blog post. As with documents, it’s also good to include some text that summarizes the post.

General Rules for Writing Samples

  • Keep it to no more than 500 words
  • Do not violate confidentiality (i.e., make client names anonymous)
  • When sending links to specific writing samples to editors, make it relevant to the job (i.e, if you are pitching to a food magazine, send a sample of a restaurant review or a published recipe)
  • Check for correct grammar and make sure your work is typo-free
  • If your sample is contained in a Word, PDF or text document, make sure it’s easy to read. Use Times New Roman font, double space your lines, left align the text and use 1-inch margins

Featured Markets: Health and Fitness Magazines

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Health and fitness writing is a booming market and great place for freelancers to strut their stuff. This post contains an overview a few health and fitness magazine that welcome freelance submissions.

Common Ground

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Website
Writer’s Guidelines

Description: Common Ground is a San Francisco-based magazine dedicated to healthy living. They cover “the environment, progressive nonprofits and activists working in the Bay Area, socially responsible businesses, stories about spirituality and personal growth, healthy food and living, organic farming, innovations in education, cultural creatives, music, as well as art and photography spreads, particularly those related to our core themes and story areas.”

What they want: Stories should be based in the SF Bay Area. They are looking for: “pithy”, local news shorts for Mindful Living (350-450 words) at the front of the book; longer features (1500-2200 words) in a strong, lively narrative style; profiles of local visionaries and community activists who are making a difference in Northern California; short 1st-person essays (850 words)

Who they want: Journalists and freelancer writers with a track record of published magazine and/or newspaper articles, books etc.

Payment: Fees vary according to the type of piece and the amount of reporting or research required.

How to pitch: Common Ground asks for a short 1-2 paragraph précis of your article ideas and a brief bio. If you have published clips, send no more than one or two samples, or refer them to a website where they can review them. Submit pitches by e-mail or snail mail.

Eating Well

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Website
Guidelines

Description: EatingWell is a U.S. bimonthly food magazine that focuses exclusively on eating healthfully. Their readers are interested in cooking and nutrition science, the origins of food and social issues related to food networks. Their voice is “journalistic and authoritative” and covers nutrition with a “newsy, science-based approach”.

What they want: Articles for their front-of-book sections on food and nutrition – seasonal picks, trends in nutrition/health, food culture, and timely nutrition topics with a service-based slant. Read the guidelines for details on freelancer-friendly columns.

Who they want: EatingWell welcomes new writers for their front-of-book sections. They also accept food/culture-based travel stories and food stories from established writers.

Payment: Up to $1/word.

Tips:
New writers should start off pitching front-of-book ideas.
They prefer pitches via e-mail.
Describe your idea in two-to three paragraphs.
Be sure to explain “why now” and where the story fits in the magazine.
Share a few sentences about your experience.
Do not attach clips; sell them with a great pitch.

How to pitch: Read the guidelines for the appropriate editor.

Her Sports

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Website
Guidelines

Description: Her Sports is a bi-monthly magazine for smart, active women who use sports and fitness to balance their busy lifestyles. Readers are “strong, independent women who participate in a variety of active sports or who are motivated to adopt an active lifestyle and are looking to Her Sports for the encouragement to get them out the door.”

What they want: Feature and department articles.

Payment:
Payment will be determined on a per-article basis based on the research requirements and story length, as well as the proven experience of the contributor. Her Sports buys all North American serial rights, and payment is made on publication. General fees range from $150 to $450.

Tips: “The voice of Her Sports is one that is intelligent and lively, while also motivational to women athletes of all ability levels and ages. Please keep in mind that creating a “motivational” tone can be tricky. Stories should encourage women to lead active sports lifestyles through compelling language and stories that avoid clichéd approaches to writing.”

How to pitch: Query letters via e-mail are preferred. Send queries to editorial@hersports.com.

Sacramento Fit

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Website
Guidelines
Editorial Calendar

Description:
Sacramento Fit Magazine (SFM) is a health and fitness magazine covering the Sacramento Metropolitan area for people who crave an active and healthy life. SFM covers topics on nutrition, fitness training, healthy living, local athletes, regional sporting events, product reviews, the latest gear, as well as a comprehensive calendar of local activities and events. Published bi-monthly, SFM also features regular articles dedicated to Sacramento style and life, because being fit means more than just working out, it means feeling and looking your best.

What they want: Unique, creative ideas that are “original, though not outlandish.”

Who they want: Writers from all ages, types and backgrounds. “More important than journalism experience is knowing a subject very well and being able to write clearly about it. Good candidates include degreed health professionals and/or freelance writers who have experience writing health and fitness-related articles for other publications.”

Payment: $250 for feature articles and $50 for department articles.

Tips:
Read their guidelines for example articles and detailed instructions on how to pitch. “Remember, we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for–if we did, we’d simply assign it or write it ourselves. Show us something we haven’t seen. And please–no boring “How aerobics is good for you” type stories, and make sure your cliché filter is turned on before you start writing.”

How to pitch: Visit their website and fill out one of their query forms: query form for departments or query form for features

Yoga Journal

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Website
Guidelines

Description: Yoga Journal covers the practice and philosophy of yoga.

What they want: Queries on the following themes: leaders, spokespersons, and visionaries in the yoga community; the practice of hatha yoga; applications of yoga to everyday life; hatha yoga anatomy, kinesiology, and therapeutic yoga; nutrition and diet, cooking, and natural skin and body care.

Payment: Payment varies, depending on length, depth of research, etc.

Tips: “Keep in mind our editorial department’s three E’s: Articles should be enlightening, educational, and entertaining. Please avoid New Age jargon and in-house buzz words as much as possible.”

How to pitch: E-mail queries to queries@yogajournal.com.

Can Writers be Purple Cows?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

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I just finished reading the book Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Seth argues that the only way to sell a product in today’s overcrowded marketplace is to create something truly remarkable.

My goal in Purple Cow is to make it clear that it’s safer to be risky –to fortify your desire to do truly amazing things. Once you see that the old ways have nowhere to go but down, it becomes even more imperative to create things worth talking about.

I recently reviewed his book on SmarterFitter, where I wrote that many Purple Cow ideas can also be applied to health and fitness. Strangely, I’m having a harder time applying these rules to freelance writing, an actual business!

Can writers be Purple Cows? In the freelance world, it seems difficult, especially for new writers. Can we really afford to pass up paying jobs waiting for something remarkable to come along? Or is the whole concept of “remarkable” simply relative to the competition?

Seth actually discusses how Purple Cow thinking applies to freelance writers on his blog. He writes about “Bradley”, a freelance writer, who told Seth that Purple Cow thinking didn’t apply to his profession because all of his clients want average work. In response, Seth observed that there are loads writers out there who seem to get paid way too much for the effort they put in. How do these writers get those gigs?

It’s because they stand for something. Because they are at the edges. Because if an editor wants a ‘Bob-Jones-type’ article, she has to call Bob Jones for it… and pay Bob’s fees. Bob would fail if he did average work for average editors just to make a living. But by turning down the average stuff and insisting on standing for something on the edge, he profits. By challenging his clients to run stuff that makes them nervous (and then having them discover that it’s great), he profits.

This is scary. It’s really scary to turn down most (the average) of what comes your way and hold out for the remarkable opportunities. Scary to quit your job at an average company doing average work just because you know that if you stay, you’ll end up just like them. Scary to go way out on an edge and intentionally make what you do unattractive to some.

Which is why it’s such a great opportunity.

Seth added to this in an recent comment on Renegade Writer, where he suggests “If I could offer one idea, it would be to become ultra-specialized.”

Interestingly, other commenters point out that simple professionalism is rare enough in the writing world that simply adhering to deadlines and running spell-check is enough to be considered “remarkable”.

“Get articles in on time, according to spec, and error free,” says Brian Westover of WriterSpot, “that alone will purple your cow considerably.”

Cathleen of LoudWriter adds, “it’s not just any kind of professionalism that will make you go far. I’m talking about sincere, stick-to-your-word type of professionalism mixed with a healthy dash of spirit.”

I can’t argue with the importance of professionalism, but I do wonder how practical it is to be “ultra-specialized”, especially for new writers. At the moment, I spend about half my time writing for a client who isn’t in my target area of specialization, but who does send me a paycheck every month. I spend the other half chasing my specialty – pitching ideas, research, and occasionally writing an article or two. But it’s slow going and I can’t afford to give it my all.

Where do you draw the line between being a Purple Cow and making enough money to pay the bills? Is it possible to have both, even early in a writing career?

Updates to Writer’s Residence

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

We perform routine maintenance and upgrades weekly on Saturday mornings between 7am and 8am London time (GMT+1 at the moment). Today’s upgrade took 5 minutes. Future upgrades should take about the same time, all going well, but it is good to have some headroom on changes like these. Thanks for your patience, we want to keep making the site better for you.

Tim and I have had a busy week! We’re delighted to see how many new people have signed up to try Writer’s Residence but we’ve noticed that some of you folks were having a little trouble getting your websites off the ground. So we decided to put in some extra help features to hopefully make it even easier to set up your online writing portfolios.

Here’s a run-down of the changes…

Checklist in the dashboard

When you sign in to Writer’s Residence, you’ll now see a checklist on the dashboard that contains a list of all the things you can do with your website. We listed things in the order that we think makes the most sense, but you can certainly do things in any order you wish.

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Improved guidance in the management screens

The management screens now contain a few extra tips and suggestions to help you fill in the required information. Once you get the idea, simply click the upper right hand corner of the box to close it forever.

More obvious notifications and easier navigation

We’ve also added some extra notifications and links to reassure you that your changes have been saved and to make it easier to see your changes.

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A website address is now required

We’ve integrated the website address process into the sign up page so that customers choose their website address when signing up. From now on you’ll always have an address like http://monicashaw.writersresidence.com, you can also set up your own domain name like http://monicashaw.com.

Any questions?

In addition to the site changes, we’ve also changed our UK support telephone number and added a USA number. Give us a call if you need any help! Or send an email to support@writersresidence.com.

UK: +44 (0)20 7558 8654
USA: +1 (312) 239-0765