Posts Tagged ‘magazine’

Time to Write — But What?

September 25, 2012

So I just finished a huge project for a magazine that assigns me stories about four times a year. The projects are crazy complicated, involving tons of emails and phone calls, long interviews, close examinations of product features, and surveys of prices at a range of retail stores and websites. I may have a byline when the issue comes out, but truth be told, there’s a lot less writing and a lot more research when it comes to this particular magazine. 

Anyway, it’s kept me tied up — no exaggeration — since mid-June. And when things felt a little tedious during the long, hot summer, the thought of free time to write my own stuff kept me going. No more assignments at least until winter, I promised myself. September through November would be my time to work on exactly what I wanted to work on.

But, now that September is here — what, exactly, do I want to work on?

It’s not that I have no ideas — it’s just that I’ve been imagining so many projects since June that I don’t know which to concentrate on. Now I’m not saying that any of these ideas are good or will eventually be completed (or deserve to be completed, for that matter); but even though I’m not now on someone else’s clock, time is still limited, and I want to make the most of the time I have.

So…do I work on the novel that’s nearly done, on the theory that this idea takes priority because it’s (arguably) the easiest to complete?

Or do I work on the idea that’s got my imagination going, even though, at least for me, new ideas always take the most time and show the least progress. 

Do I leverage my research from this summer to develop some new magazine queries, since these ideas are the most likely to find their way into print?

Or do I play around with some genre — romance? paranormal? — that I’ve been tempted to try for a while?

Lately I’ve taken to doing a little of everything, hoping that one of these ideas will emerge as the one I truly want to pour myself into.

But I don’t know if that will actually happen — and for now, none of these ideas is gaining any momentum. And November is not that far away.

With life so busy, how do you decide what you want to work on? 

Another undecided day in the life of just another working writer. 

Why Do Essays Feel Soooo Good?

May 1, 2012

Okay, I know the facts. It’s less than 1,000 words. It’s appearing in a regional magazine with a relatively small target audience. It’s not highlighted on the cover. And I didn’t even get paid that much to write it.

Still, I am so, so happy to see my personal essay in print!

It’s funny, isn’t it? I write a lot of research articles for a variety of publications, and I do love those assignments. It’s fun interviewing experts and learning new things–and like every other writer I know, I get a kick out of putting words together to make a great lead, a satisfying conclusion, or a clever headline. I like watching an article come to life, and I feel pride when I email a finished product to an editor–especially if it’s been one of those article that resisted getting written.

But nothing gives me the kind of charge that I get when an editor publishes an essay of mine. And the fact that it doesn’t happen that often makes it even more special. That email from an editor to tell me “Yes, yes!” is like the ultimate pat on the back. It’s the universe telling me, “You did it!” No–it’s the world saying, “We love you!”

Take this latest essay. It started with my plan to spend some alone time with my daughter by taking a weekend trip and exploring the home-turned-museum of one of our favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott.

Driving to Concord, I got that spark that writers all know so well–the sudden thought, “Hey, this would make a great article!” What followed, of course, were days and weeks of self-doubt and stagnation. “Nobody’s going to want to read this,” I told myself. “It’s all been written before; it’s all been written before–and better!”

And then, throwing caution to the wind, I plunged into deep and unknown waters–playing with words and memories, daring to feel that the work taking shape would actually have merit, whipping up a query that presented my heart and soul in a mere five-sentence paragraph, and then hoping for response from an editor who really “got” me.

Maybe what it comes down to is this: While most other types of articles are mostly about the work, a personal essay is also largely about the author. It’s the author’s opportunity to say, “This is what I think, and this is what I feel. This is what’s important, and this is why. This is who I am and who I want to be. This is a piece of my life.”

How about you? When did you publish a personal essay, and how did you feel? Are you working on a personal essay now? What are your hopes for it? And if you’re not working on one–why not?!

Another grateful day in the life of just another working writer.

 

Article Interviews: Why Do They Talk?

February 16, 2012

A few years back when I was on staff a at trade magazine, I set out to interview a key merchandising executive at Bloomingdale’s. Susan K. was glamorous, sophisticated, powerful, and notoriously press-averse.

“Everybody already knows who I am and what I stand for,” she told me. “Manufacturers and designers all want to get their products onto my floor.  The only possible thing that could happen if I do the interview is I could say something wrong and get people mad at me. Why would I consent to that?”

Why indeed? Why take the risk?

I was thinking about this situation not too long ago, while I was writing an article for a regional magazine about the pros and cons of living a rural life. I had contacted a writer friend of mine who lives in the country, and she spoke eloquently–almost lyrically–about the joy of driving home on winding roads after a long day at work.

“If you quote me, do you have to use my name and hometown?” she asked.

I did. That was the magazine’s policy. She told me that she didn’t like being so exposed in print — but then she said she would do it this time, and she looked forward to seeing my piece.

I wondered: Why did she agree to be published? Was it because I was her friend and she didn’t want to disappoint me? Had I gotten her to do something she didn’t want to do? Did that make me a bad friend?

Another time I was working on an article about developmental delays in children, and through a friend of a friend, got in touch with the mother of a severely disabled preschooler. The child had motor issues and language problems, and Mom’s entire life revolved around doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Worried that she would regret being so open, I offered to hold back on anything she preferred to remain unpublished — but no, she said, she was fine with my printing everything she said.

Why did she agree to be published? Did she really want to be as open as she claimed she did? Would the right thing be to hold back on some of her more personal quotes, as a way of protecting her from her own candor? Did I exploit her to write a good story?

Now, my interviews don’t always proceed this way. Some people ask to see their quotes before the article is printed. Some people even ask me to repeat their quotes two or three times, as though their whole world might collapse if they used the word “this” instead of “that.” Sometimes it’s because they’ve been misquoted by others in the past, and sometimes it’s because they have never been quoted, so they don’t know what to expect. And some people just don’t like to relinquish control.

And what of my Bloomingdale’s friend? She ultimately and unexpectedly called me back and agreed to the interview — and enjoyed the whole process so much that she thanked me whenever she saw me for months.

Why did she talk?

Truth be told, I’ll never  know exactly why anyone I’ve contacted decides either to speak to me or not to. But if my years as a writer have taught me anything, it’s that being interviewed for publication entails consequences — and when people decide to do it, I want to make sure that they’ve reached that decision without being manipulated, and that I quote them accurately, objectively and in the proper context.

How about you? Have you ever tried to interview someone who felt conflicted about whether to talk? What did you say and what did they say? What finally happened?

Another diplomatic day in the life of just another working writer.

And P.S….my fellow blogger Nicole Cloutier (http://nicolecloutier.me) nominated my blog for a sunshine award. Now it’s my turn to spread the sunshine, so stay tuned for my great blog pics!

Why I Went Freelance: A Cautionary Tale

February 7, 2012

So I work on a kitchen table; my stapler and print cartridges are never where I left them, thanks to my thieving children; I have no steady income and am always out trolling for my next gig; and nearly all my telephone interviews are accompanied by the sound of my dog barking or the UPS deliveryman pounding on my door.

Why do I continue to believe that a freelancer’s life is the best writing life?

Let me tell you my story.

My first journalism job was as a reporter on a trade magazine that covered the furniture industry–a job I thought was the greatest that a person could ever have. I traveled all over the country, attending trade shows and press conferences, sniffing out mergers,executive shakeouts and other juicy bits of intrigue. I was wined and dined by marketing and PR folks (on nearly limitless expense accounts) trying to prove that their brands deserved coverage. I was the toast of the publishing team, my editor’s best reporter…

And that’s when they stabbed me in the back: They promoted me.

Now it was my reporters who traveled all over the country, while I stayed back in the office, correcting grammar, checking facts, and making nice  to hysterical sources who claimed my writers had misquoted them. My good friend at work suddenly hated me, because she wanted the promotion I got, and the rest of my staff hated me too, because they thought I was too young and inexperienced to be their boss (and truth be told, they were probably right).

And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse…they promoted me again.

This time, I was editor-in-chief of a monthly trade magazine–which meant that much of my time was spent accompanying my publisher on sales calls, a sign to prospective clients that if they bought a lot of advertising from him, they’d own a good piece of me. On the personnel side, one of the higher-ups stepped in to hire an acquaintance of his as a reporter — but when we realized that she couldn’t string together a sentence, I was the one who had to show her the door. Another day, another enemy. And finally, on the eve of a trade show, I got word that the company was considering closing my magazine unless I beefed up our reporting so more ads would come in. I pushed all of my reporters — even M., who had just come down with a nasty case of bronchitis — to work nearly round the clock to shore up our reputation.

The magazine was closed down the next week anyway. Then I had to call M. at home, where she lay feverish and miserable, to tell her that I had been saved but she was out of a job.

So I say to my family–give me your worst. Hide my stapler and steal my print cartridges. Let the dog carry on, and let the UPS guy pound from today until doomsday.

A staff job? I’ve been there. And I’m never going back!

What do you think? Would you rather join a staff or be freelance?

Another grateful day in the life of just another working writer.

Freelance Writing and the Long Goodbye

February 1, 2012

I’m afraid the time has come for me to talk about goodbyes.

Not too long ago, I scored a steady gig with a regional, glossy magazine. I had spent months painstakingly querying the managing editor, pitching ideas, and following up on emails, trying to be polite and firm but not annoying or pestering. Finally, she got the green light from her boss to give me an assignment — and that led to a regular quarterly column.

I loved writing for that magazine. I loved its luxurious photography. I loved its thick, glossy paper and the charming graphics that accompanied my articles. Mostly, I loved the relationship I formed with the managing editor–the greetings we’d send as my manuscripts went through various revises, the banter about clueless or too-talkative interviewees. I learned that she had a big house in the country, as well as a big, sloppy dog and a couple of kids, and she was planning to take a cruise on the new QE2. She was kind of a friend, although I never saw her except on the photo on the magazine’s masthead.

And then, last summer, after more than two years of steady writing, the email came, informing me that my beloved column had been canceled. “It’s nothing against you,” my editor-friend said. “It’s just that the editor-in-chief wants to scale down on the amount of copy we’re running and add more photo spreads.”

Sirens went off in my ears and red alarms started flashing in my brain, spurring me to act fast and salvage the relationship. Reminding myself that her company had two other publications in addition to the one I had been writing for, I fired back a response. “I completely understand,” I wrote, “and actually, I have a few ideas for your other magazines that I’d like to share with you. Do you have some time later this month? I’d love to stop by your office, or even buy you a cup of coffee.”

“Hmm, coffee sounds good,” she wrote back. “But we’re putting out the next issue, and things are a bit hectic. Let me call you in a month or so.”

No, she never did.

The bookshelves in my office are lined with magazine holders storing publications I used to write for but no longer do. Back when my kids were infants and toddlers, I wrote all the time for Parents and American Baby, using my own experiences as a source of ideas. But my kids started growing up at the same time that one of my favorite editors left American Baby to become a nurse, and those gigs sort of drifted away. I also used to be a book reviewer for bn.com — but my editor there left as well, and her successor decided to write the reviews in-house. I really miss those assignments.

Of course, there have been plenty of new gigs to take the place of those that went away. One of my long-term clients has kept me so busy lately that he’s changed my bio in the magazine from “freelance writer” to “regular contributor.” I’ve found great opportunities at online publications, and a few editors I thought I lost touch with have found me through the Internet and given me assignments from their new berths. Scouting out new opportunities is part of being a freelancer. It’s what makes freelancing fun.

Still, I can’t help wondering how my editor-friend’s big, sloppy dog is…and whether she enjoyed her cruise.

Another sentimental day in the life of just another working writer.

The Art of the Quote: A Cautionary Tale for Freelance Writers

January 24, 2012

Not too long ago, I was working on a 500-word article for a local, glossy magazine about backyard decks.The focus of the piece was on sun management, and my assignment was to give some options for — and discuss my personal experience with — cooling down a deck that gets too much sun in the summer.

The most familiar and popular option, of course, is to install an awning — but because of the angle of my deck relative to the sun, I found that there was no way an awning could provide me with shade during hot afternoons. Instead, I got a builder to create an inexpensive pergola — a simple wood structure with vertical poles and latticework — and installed sun-blocking shades on the sides and the top.

To round out the article, I interviewed the owner of a major local awning retailer to talk about the types of awnings and their benefits — and then called the owner of the small company that manufactured the shades I bought, to ask her about the benefits of outdoor shades.

Now, my editor doesn’t like a lot of quotes in an article. She typically just asks for one overview-type quote, because she feels quotes slow down the flow of a piece. So I used a quote from the awning guy, because it was clever and succinct, and  awnings are a more widely used product. Then I discussed my own experience and praised the shades for being well priced, easy to clean, and effective in blocking the sun.

When the article was published, I emailed the shade manufacturer and sent her a link to the online version of the article. I expected her to be pleased with the nod that I gave to outdoor shades, so was completely unprepared for her snarky email response.

“I’m not sure why you sent this,” she wrote back. “Is something missing? I don’t see my quote, only the quote from the awning store.”

What? Couldn’t she read between the lines? Didn’t she see that while I quoted the awning retailer, the experience I described showed that shades were a better option? Didn’t she realize that I may have opened people’s eyes to a product they didn’t even know about? Wasn’t that more important that stroking her ego by including her name and her exact words?

I haven’t responded, because I don’t know what to say. Should I apologize for not quoting her? Blame it on my editor, who discourages quotes? Or try to explain to her that I actually did her a bigger favor by describing my success with her product?

What would you have done?

Another defensive day in the life of just another working writer.


%d bloggers like this: