Thursday, December 28, 2006

It Takes a Care

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2006

Writers are usually an empathetic and helpful lot. I’ve always tried to be helpful to new writers who find my name in the phone book or on the Internet and contact me to ask how they might get started – even the one who called me the other morning at 3 a.m. thinking she would get an office voice mail. I helped her because I had been there, in the middle of the night, with a desire to get a story on paper so strong that I couldn’t sleep.
Empathy is what makes us truly appreciate being in another person’s shoes. Bertie Daw and I know each other from the Kansas City Writers Group and more recently, from a board of a literary organization to which we both served. We talk at the groups, and exchange funny (and often times not so funny) emails on the country’s current political situation. But we had never socialized at any function outside of our writing community.
Last week, when I dropped my board service, citing the need to finalize going through the remainder of my mother’s belongings after she moved to a senior center and then needing more time for her care, I immediately got a note from Bertie asking what she could do to help me. In short, she spent the better part of a Saturday morning helping me sort through my mother’s family room and craft workshop, getting things ready for sale. Bertie has severe allergies, but that didn’t even stop her from forging ahead in a room that had sat virtually untouched since my mother’s heart attack two years ago. While we were working, Bertie explained that she had been there for her father and for her stepmother in their golden years’ as they grew old and sick. She knew the emotional, as well as the physical and financial toll of the situation. She had the help of her family and through her experience, she learned that it does indeed, take a village.
A few weeks ago, Marli Murphy wrote about this very subject in The Kansas City Star. She wound the theory around a friend who was taking on the care of an elderly parent. Twenty years ago, I probably would never have read the column, being too young to even comprehend the day when my mother would be old enough to need care. Ten years ago, I might have glanced at it. Five years ago, I probably would have read it with the dread that I knew it would happen sooner than I hoped. A month or so ago, I read it knowing I was in the middle of it. The experience has me already feeling empathy for others in the same situation. It has made me appreciate even more the concept of “it takes a village,” not just in mentoring writers, but also in living life. We will all need help in at least one situation in our lives. Taking on the care of elderly parents is one of those times.
When Bertie left my mother’s home, the last one in which my mother will ever hold a family dinner, decorate elaborately for the holidays or create any of her crafts, she thanked me for having her over. At first I thought that was a joke, but she was sincere. “It was a good experience. I feel like I got to know your mother a little by being here,” she said. “A creative person who enjoys the holidays.”
I smiled because only a writer or another creative would look at spending part of a Saturday going through someone else’s dirty basement like that. And only someone who knows first hand that it takes a village would have come in the first place.
I will indeed, try harder to pay it forward.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hold On - Life is a Wild Ride

I'm really not working this week (see my post about the week between Christmas and New Year). It's my week to take a retrospective look at my business and plan for the coming year. In that spirit, I'll be posting this week my favorite musings from the past year about the writing life.

Friday, January 20, 2006:

Riding high after releasing my first book, I reveled in the first two months of the attention it was receiving. I especially celebrated the fact that an accomplished screenwriter in Hollywood had requested a copy for review. Well, that was then and this is now. I’ve been shocked into the reality of how hard it is to sell books by the first two month’s sales statements from my publisher. The book is no longer receiving daily or even weekly media attention and the screenwriter sent me a ‘nice’ rejection letter.
The writing business can only be described one way – when you’re up, you’re way up and when you’re down, it’s a very low place. That’s why I have to keep reminding myself how I ended up freelancing in the first place.
When I was JD’d (the internal corporate speak for Job Discontinued), from my lucrative and comfortable corporate job, I probably was the only one rejoicing in my luck at a chance for a second career. Three months later, with the clock running out on my severance package, I found myself at the end of another interview for a staff position at a magazine.
I had been offered a copy editor job at a publishing house in Topeka, Kansas, an hour’s drive from my home. The pay was low, the drive was unappealing and the editor told me the job would afford me limited chances to actually write.
However, my husband was becoming nervous and my freelance writing to that time had only netted me $25. It was Friday afternoon and I told the editor I would let her know on Monday. An hour’s drive on the Kansas plains can offer little opportunity other than thinking and I started weighing the pros vs. the cons as soon as I got into the car.
Finally, half way through the drive, I decided to give my strained brain a break and I turned on the stereo.
The band, “Kansas” had always been one of my favorites and the song, “Hold On,” came on immediately after I turned the dial. I listened to the words of the song… “Hold On, you’re closer than you think. You’re standing on the brink. Hold On, baby hold on, there’s something on the way, tomorrow’s not the same as today.”
I felt like the band from Topeka was speaking to me. I took it as a sign and that’s how I ended up a writer instead of a copy editor/writer-wanna-be at a regional magazine.
The following Monday, I followed up with the editor of the magazine by sending her a thank you and declining her offer. The next day, I had five publications lined up ready to buy articles.
What got me started has always kept me going.
Thank God this Friday is much different than last when I had nothing but a week full of rejections and dreams of a movie made from my book dashed. I have assignments and promises of more reviews for the book.
The song is right, not just about writing, but life in general. There’s always something on the way and tomorrow’s never the same as today.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

'Twas the Week Before Christmas and New Year

A fellow creative friend of mine last night told me she was taking Monday and Tuesday off this coming week, returning to her corporate job on Wednesday and Thursday and then taking off again on Friday.
“What bother?” I asked her.
Turns out that her boss felt her department needed “coverage” at least part of the week. We both agreed, given her plans during her clocked in time, that all companies should just shut down the week between Christmas and New Year.
We self-employed creatives have the option of doing that – shutting our businesses down or using the time to regroup, catch up and plan. That’s exactly what Barb Adamski, a freelance writer in Canada, intends to do. “I'll take a couple of days off (25, 26) and about three days off for new year's. The rest of the time will be spend finishing up a few projects (a HUGE one is due mid-January), catching up with people over coffee, lunch, etc. And in my "free" time, I plan to tweak my website, create a promo flyer, and work on my marketing plan for the New Year. I also want to read one darned good novel (book to be determined).”
I’ve been doing all of the above. My husband gets paid a bonus for taking his vacation anytime in December-January, so we’ve always taken the week between Christmas and New Years. I’ve already caught up with a few friends over coffee and lunch this month and plan on catching up with the rest over the course of January. But this next week will be about doing all of the things I can’t squeeze into a normal workweek.
1.I plan on revising my business plan and goals for 2007. My New Year’s resolution will include a plan for reviewing my goals once a quarter.
2.I plan on taking all of these loose papers stuffed in a “possible markets” folder and researching them more carefully for possible reprint sales. Reprint sales are a part of my business that I haven’t taken advantage of to the fullest. This will be included in my business plan. I’ll also be thinking about query ideas for new stories to some of these markets.
3.Reading at least ½ of the stack of magazines that make up my dream markets. They’ve been gathering dust since, oh, August.
4.Finishing that novel Barb mentioned. I decided this winter to read “The Shining,” the first and truly still the scariest book I ever read. I read it upon its release (after my mother was done with it) 30 years ago and slept with the lights on for a year, even though I was nearly a teenager. I couldn’t help myself and started it a week ago when a box of Christmas presents I ordered from B& arrived.
5.Take lots of afternoon naps followed by walks through the woods.
What will my husband do while I’m pursuing my market research and reading? He’ll be pursuing his hobby of cooking (which he doesn’t have time to do when he is working), fishing and complaining about our dog Emma, jumping into the lake after his lures. And yes, we will be taking those long afternoon naps and walks together.
This is one of the weeks that freelancing is truly “free” for me.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How To Calculate What You Need

I posted this to SPJ's Freelance blog yesterday (
On the surface, it may seem discouraging to most independent writers that the top rate at $1 per word hasn’t changed in the least since the 1980s.
Don’t be like me and get hung up on what you’re making per word, it will only lead you to frustration.
Calculate what you’re making per hour. I started working smarter this year, calculating my per hour rate and employing more basic business principles and as a result, my writing business is flourishing.
When I finally wrote up a business plan this year, I knew I wasn’t making what I wanted to make and barely making what I needed to cover the monthly bills and business expenses. I was discouraged that I wasn’t making the $1 per word I had heard other professionals talking about on writer’s forums. That’s when I changed my business model and started calculating my projects by the hour. It not only made me work smarter, but it allowed me to weed out and turn down lower paying projects.
Here’s the formula I use: Income Goal (this could be what you made on your last job or a rate you need to make you comfortable – I took last year’s gross income and added 25% to come up with my income goal – I do want my business to grow) + Expenses (include all of your bills and projected business expenses). For example, let’s say your income goal is $30,000 and you have $20,000 in bills and projected business expenses. $30,000 + 20,000 = $50,000. This is the number you have to make to reach your income goals.
This doesn’t mean this is all you will make. It just gives you a number to shoot for. Let’s say you work on average, about 50 hours per week. But how many hours do you want to be working to make what you need, leaving the rest of the week to pursue projects such as writing books, essays or maybe working for lesser paying markets because you enjoy that type of work?
I decided I only wanted to be working 20 hours per week making what I needed to survive. The rest should be gravy.
So, taking 20 hours x 48 (the number of weeks I’m working per year less vacation and holidays) = 960 billable hours.
$50,000/960 = $53 per hour. This is the hourly rate you need to make for at least 20 hours per week.
Now, let’s say you have a really steady gig with a publication that pays $300 per 600 word article. That’s only 50 cents a word. Discouraging? Not necessarily. You’ve calculated that interviewing all your needed sources for a usual article takes you at worst, 2 hours. Writing and going through edits, another 1-½ hours. That’s a total of 3 ½ hours on a $300 piece. Your hourly rate = $85.71 an hour, more than enough for the needed calculated hourly rate above.
You’re ahead of the game if you can secure enough assignments like this to make up 20 hours of your workweek. The faster and smarter you work, the more time you have to pursue other interests.
If you have a gig that pays “top” at $1 a word, but it requires multiple interviews, research and possibly even observation and the editor is a PIA with regards to edits and multiple rewrites, you may not make your per hour rate.
This formula worked for me this year. What are formulas others use?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good Copy Write Skills Wanted

I just couldn't help but stealing the above headline from a Craig's List Ad that's appearing on many of the city sites seeking writers. I wonder if he wants an attorney who has copy right experience, a writer who can write copy or an editor who can edit copy?

I like this one too: "I need a shadow writer to write few stories (biography and fiction). the pay would be 15% of my compensation."

I've heard of ghost writers, but shadow writer? It was a new one on me, but I did find the term when I googled. That's almost as bad as referring to ourselves as "free" lance writers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Signature Line

I thought it interesting that yesterday the Renegade Writer Blog also addressed how writers brand themselves, only Linda was writing about what to include in her signature line ( - or go to the link on this page). I had thought about a lot of ways to change/improve my business this year, but altering my email signature line wasn't one of them. I don't use my signature line if I'm sending a LOI (letter of introduction) or if I'm sending a query, but to colleagues and editors with whom I've worked before. My signature was long, it included my 2 most important professional organizations to which I belong, my book title, website, blog and email. I worked with it, tried some funny ones - none worked. I finally ended up creating, without difficulty, 5 different ones I can use depending on who I am sending the email to. My main signature or default signature includes my name, the line "Write for You since 1998," website, email, blog and phone. I'm happy with it for right now, but I'm interested in what other writers use so I'm looking more closely at my emails.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What's in a Name.....Only Your Brand

Our German daughter, Steffi, is currently in a quandary about changing her last name when she marries next summer (on 07-07-07). She told me she is just too lazy to go and have all the paperwork done, but I suspect its much more than that – because I was once there. Like Steffi’s fiancé, my husband wanted me to take his name. “If we have kids, it will only confuse them and what name will they take,” etc. I think my mother, who always signed her name as “Mrs. Frank J. Fivecoat,” advocated on my husband’s side. I finally gave in.
Steffi told me her beau is traditional Bavarian and would be “disappointed” if she decided not to take his name. I told her what I told our Australian daughter – “If you have doubts, hyphenate it or keep your maiden name, because you will always have regrets.” Since this is a blog about the writing life, I won’t go off on a soapbox tangent about some women feeling as though they’ve given up their identity when they assume someone else’s name – especially if they don’t feel particularly close to their in-laws whose identity they’ve assumed.
But it does bring me to how I came up with my writing name, which is currently not the same as my legal name. When I had my first piece published, I automatically wrote my name including my maiden name – Fivecoat – because my first piece was an essay about growing up in my blue-collar town of Turner, Kansas. I realized that my writing identity came long before my married name – or even before I met my later-to-be husband at 15.
Besides, I thought Fivecoat-Campbell was kind of cool sounding…and I don’t know how many times people tell me how cool it is. For me, it was a marriage of my life as my parent’s daughter and my life with my husband – the best of both worlds.
It made me wonder how other people came to their writing names. My mother, who briefly wrote features for a community newspaper several years ago, told me to choose one for her (we could probably go into all kinds of psychoanalysis of a woman who didn’t even want her own name used on her byline). I chose Elizabeth Charles for her, it just came to me out of the blue, but I later found out there was an Elizabeth Charles who was an English writer either in the 18th or 19th century. Maybe it was a subconscious thing from high school or college English.
Lisa Waterman Gray, another KC based writer, chose to use her maiden name for the same reason as did I. “During the first couple years that I wrote for pay I used my married name, Lisa Gray or Lisa W. Gray in my byline. But it somehow didn't sit quite right and I finally realized why. I felt the need to include my maiden name as part of my 'writing name' because I actually first loved and dabbled in the printed word long before I met my husband,” Lisa said. Now she is gradually changing it to be her legal name as well.
Thomas Bosch, a writer living in Germany, choose this as his pen name to protect his privacy and that of his significant other and her family. “There's too many nutcases out there who want to argue with something you wrote and I have changed my phone number so many times in my life when I wrote something someone disagreed with. So now all my private details stay private and I have carefully constructed aliases in their place.” As for how he came up with Thomas Bosch: “Well, I like the name Thomas and Bosch comes from a detective character in the Michael Connelly novels,” he said.
Stephen King even used a pen name before he became famous, but his name is a brand now.
For my girls, it’s mostly the mental baggage that has or will come with their decision about their names. For writers, we have the additional anxiety because our names become the brands we are selling.
So, choose wisely.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What's a Movie Writer to do During the Holidays?

My friend, Jane, is a movie critic and entertainment writer. Unfortunately, she's had the flu and now has whooping cough at the height of the movie season. Here's what she says:

I'll definitely be working next week and through the holidays, trying to get caught up on stuff that's lapsed. I did drop one PITA (Pain in the Ass) client during this evil illness, which lightened things up considerably. In the movie writing biz, there really is no down time, since there are always new movies coming out to review. So I'll be working on previews of upcoming movies in January, doing my usual weekly column for family pubs, and scouting for good celebs to interview with movies or tv shows coming out in January and February.

Jane Boursaw

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Testament to Deadlines

On Tuesday, Anne wrote that the best way to keep to her writing schedule in December is to have deadlines. This just in from another writer:

"I'm writing on deadline this week. I was planning to use this time to organize and get tax documents together, but I got lucky and landed a temporary steady gig. So, I'll be busy writing through the end of December, with a few days' break for Christmas."

-Allie Johnson

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Giving a Well-Deserved Gift to Yourself

This time of year, we're bombarded by messages urging us to give. My mailbox
is full of requests from charitable organizations, all worthy causes. Bell
ringers outside of shops and malls remind me daily of the needs of those
less fortunate. I've got e-mailed lists from my daughters indicating what
their Christmas gift preferences are, and I've sent them mine as well. It's
what Christmas is all about we're told, and I think it's true. Although
retailers exploit it, and charities capitalize on it, the idea of thinking
about the needs and wishes of others is at the heart of this holiday, and
the idea itself is noble.

So, giving a gift to myself might seem a bit selfish during a season so
filled with the message of thinking about others. But this holiday season,
I've decided to do just that, by giving myself the gift of time and energy
devoted strictly to my writing. I am by nature a procrastinator, so having
an excuse like Christmas to put off writing projects is perfect for avoiding
what I know I need to do: write.

The fact is, I believe that the desire to write is in itself a gift (though
it sometimes feels like a curse) and I have a responsibility to use it to
the best of my ability. One year, a friend gave me a gift card to a local
department store. I carried that card around in my wallet for over a year
before taking the time to go in and shop. At that point, the card was worth
only half of the original amount. I felt so guilty that I'd wasted the money
of a well meaning friend, and also missed the opportunity to get something
nice for myself without spending my own cash. I've come to believe that
squandering a creative drive is just as wrong, and just as wasteful.

Some personal losses this past year, have driven home to me the message that
we only have a certain amount of time to pursue our dreams and fulfill our
destinies. I now think of my writing just like that gift card. Each day that
I neglect it, I know I'm chipping away at the value of a precious gift. That
is why the most important Christmas present for me this year is from myself.
It is simply to make sure that with all the activity of this season, I still
keep writing.

-Kathy Winn

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Turn the Page

When I was 6, my brother introduced me to a guy with a cool cartoon cat on an album cover. The Cat sang about a Peace Train on the edge of darkness and I rewound that cassette until I wore it out. My brother caught a lot of trains as a homeless veteran, but he never found the peace in life that the Cat told us about in that song.
Little did I know then how prophetic music would be for me.
I grew up in the corporate rock era and to my brother’s horror, I turned my young ears away from his definition of “pure rock.” People embrace many religions and New Age theories that allow the universe to speak to them, but since the Cat it’s always been the music - especially during critical moments in my life.
It was a Yellow Brick Road that lead me to the final conclusion that Santa really lived in our hearts rather than the North Pole – since my mother had to admit the reason Elton wasn’t under the tree was that she couldn’t find the extremely popular album, the must-have on my Christmas list that year.
I cried myself to sleep over the loss of my first love wailing You’re the One That I Want and later danced to I’m Alright because I finally realized I was – or at least would be.
Steve Perry got me through the summer my dad died by repeating Don’t Stop Believing as many times as I hit replay and Hold onto to Your Dreams was the song – and the mantra my high school class grasped when we graduated. Me and my husband vowed to love each other Faithfully at our wedding 20 years ago and a band from Topeka told me to Hold On when I couldn’t decide if I should take a copy editing job in that city or wait for my writing business to take off.
I closed a chapter in my writing life last night, and like most endings, it was a mixture of emotions – fear, anxiety and sadness. I facilitated what will probably be the last in-person group or class that I do for awhile and with the exception of an occasional conference workshop, maybe forever.
My decision was based upon our planned move next year to the Ozark Mountains. I probably could have done it one more semester, but figured I would be overwhelmed trying to empty our house in the city, pack my mother and rid our lives of excess things. All the while keeping the house clean as it sits on the market and juggling construction loans and contractors 400 miles away.
I love teaching and guiding new writers. I enjoy reading their creativity and seeing their proud faces as they pass around copies of their often first-published works. But everyone always knew in my groups/classes that being published doesn’t make a writer.
They are writers if they believe it and practice it - and all of them, at least in my eyes, are very good ones.
I told my writing goal buddy yesterday that turning off the light and walking from that room last night would be like a bad ending to a sitcom…like Mary Tyler Moore saying goodbye forever to a piece of her life that brought her so much happiness.
And it was. I fought to hold back tears as I walked into the frigid night to my truck. When I glanced back one more time while turning the key in the ignition, a band of my youth told me Don’t Look Back through the stereo.
I smiled, looked forward and drove away to the next chapter of my writing life.

Note: I'm currently putting my passion for guiding writers into my online classes and mentoring. For more information, go to

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Holiday Tip From Anne

Here’s my only tip for writing during the holidays (actually this applies year-round for me, a mom of a three-year old): Have a deadline. There’s nothing like an approaching finish line to make my brain cells work harder and fingers type faster.
-Anne Hooper

A Project Annointed by God

From Craig's List:
"Blessed Editor to Edit an Anointed Book! (Comp: will be paid) (Chicago)
Ok! I have written a best seller self help book for the youth of america and all I need is for a skilled editor to handle the editing portion. Email me asap if your interested! ALso anyone who decides to help me promote this book by being apart of the book team God will bless your life in a way that you have never seen before!"

Not only has this been annointed by God, it will be a best seller among the 1 million or so books that will be published next year. Better get to the resume.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Querying in December Leads to Good Start in January

Good advice from someone who's been there:

Last year I don't believe I queried in December and it took me until March to reach the income level I needed so I wouldn't have to withdraw from savings. So I plan on querying furiously in December and am hoping that the assignments I get will have January or later deadlines, but if not, I'll do my darndest and get those articles done. I seem to work better under pressure anyway.

-Heather Larson

Finding a Literary Agent on Craig's List - A Noble Cause?

Found this listing on Craig’s List over the weekend- This literary agent, Michael Noble, with Noble Literary Agency is looking for these book topics “HUMOR: Any topic is fair game except smut. REFERENCE, YOUNG ADULT FICTION, ADULT NONFICTION, ADULT FICTION.”

In other words, he is looking for anything. I did a Google search and like other writers who were posting questions about this listing on writing boards all over the Internet, I couldn’t find anything negative about him. There are, however, several warning signs. First of all, most literary agents do not advertise on Craig’s List. They usually have more submissions than they know what to do with and don’t need to solicit. Also, this agent’s website does not boast that he is a member of the Association of Authors (AAR), which is a signal that it is a legitimate agency.

His website also has this disclaimer: “By the way, we don't sign NDAs. We recommend to those with concerns about confidentiality and ownership that they copyright their intellectual property at”

NDA’s are non-disclosure agreements. A little strange, I think. I sent him an email asking if he was a member of AAR and to please send me a list of titles he’s recently published, but I haven’t received a response yet.

In the meantime, I suggest if you’re seeking a literary agent, you do so by going to “Writer’s Market,” where all of their agents are members of AAR, or do it through writer referrals or find them at conferences.

Friday, December 08, 2006

December From A Jewish Perspective

My writing routine doesn't change in December because Chanukah is not a holiday when I feel the need to be at the synagogue or with family each day. This month, life goes on as usual - kids' activities, taking care of the house, working on interfaith efforts and getting my writing in.

Some think Chanukah is just as important to Jews as Christmas is to Christians. Actually, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath are the most holy for us. I put my writing on hold during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth and Passover because there is so much to prepare and do.

Jews celebrate Chanukah to remember our freedom from people who wished to destroy us. Chanukah falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Because Jews follow a lunar calendar in determining the holidays, Chanukah will always fall on the 25th day of Kislev but it will not be the exact same day every year on the secular calendar. Therefore, some years, Chanukah may fall closer to Thanksgiving. Other times, it's at the beginning of December, or like this year, ending close to Christmas Eve.

Because of the Christmas hype at shopping malls, we feel pressure to buy presents, especially when Chanukah and Christmas fall within days of each other. However, the traditional Chanukah gift is money. In our family, we try to play down the gift-giving. We focus on lighting candles, letting our children pick the candle colors and lighting their own Chanukah menorah. We start with one candle the first night, two the second night and so on until all 8 candles are lit by the eighth night. Playing dreidal (a spinning top with Hebrew letters) is fun. Frying up latkes, potato pancakes and eating them with sour cream and applesauce is a treat.

While many around us are celebrating Christmas, what do we do on Christmas itself? My husband usually covers for the other doctors in his practice. He will make rounds at the hospital and be on call for emergencies. (His partners cover for him when it's a Jewish holiday.) As a family, we might go to the movies. Some years we have delivered cookies to firefighters who have to work on Christmas or we have delivered for Meals on Wheels.

Some of the best things I like about Christmas: the stores are closed, there is not much traffic, it is a time when everyone can just relax even if we're not celebrating the holiday. These aspects remind me of the Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat was meant to be one day of rest every week. When we don't drive around, we give the environment a Sabbath. When we don't shop, we concentrate more on our spirituality and family. When we don't work, we can be stress free and reflect on what's important in our lives. When our whole country is taking a day off for Christmas, it feels like what the Sabbath was meant to be every week.

- Sheila Sonnenschein

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hope For Sticking to Your Writing Schedule

During the holidays, I still try to sit down at my keyboard at the same time each day. Not only does it keep me writing, but it also helps destress the day by returning me to a comfortable routine. No matter the season, the week, the month or the day, I know where I'll be around 7 PM each night...writing. If I'm anywhere else, I feel like I am missing a piece of my day.

C. Hope Clark
Editor, FundsforWriters,
Creator of amazing market ebooks for writers!
Writer's Digest 101 Best Web Sites for Writers - 2001 through 2006

Common Ties is Legit

I know I've had questions about this site and other writers have too. Common Ties is advertising for people's stories. I contacted them and asked them if they would do a Q&A and they sent me this note:

Thank you for your interest in Common Ties! You are correct in deducing that we are a legitimate site, and when anyone asks (apparently there are loads of Internet scams out there) we simply encourage them to Google our site as well as my own name, Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, to see if any of our writers are complaining about lack of payment, etc.

In the meantime, I must respectfully decline your interview request as we are not conducting any interviews at this early stage of Common Ties. I hope you understand and that you continue to stay involved, and do feel free to ask specific questions by email should you have any.

Kind regards,

I don't know why they would decline the Q&A, but it doesn't appear there are writers complaining about not receiving payment and the site says it will pay $200 or even up to $1,000 and you keep the rights.

As for the Redbook ad, I never heard back from the PR people, but I wouldn't apply. It does appear this is someone just trying to get some writing for free.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not Meeting Year End Goals - Amp it up a Bit

Another take from a writer who is also the mother of two young ones:

I knew I needed to get some work in before the end of the year to get close to meeting my goals, so I took anything that came my way. I didn't slow down on querying, in fact, things were slow over Thanksgiving, so I amped it up a bit then.

I have been spreading myself thinner during this time of year, but I get through it by planning to go easy after the holidays. I just try to make sure I really focus on what I am doing and get the most out of my hours during the day when the kids are at daycare. Typically I do some cleaning and errand running during the day, but now I leave that to be done later when my husband can help. Then I can relly devote my days to work and evenings and weekends with my family.

-Tammy Worth

Writers Wanted for Redbook Post Legit?

A recent ad on New York's Craig's List caught lots of attention because it is supposedly a call for writers for Redbook, "one of the country's leading women's magazines," (their words). The post is at:
But there's several red flags (pun intended here) about this ad - first, we're talking about the mega-giant, Hearst, who could easily afford to advertise for writers elsewhere. These consumer women magazines are hard to break into and I find it difficult to believe that even if they were looking for "real women" (meaning women who are not writers by profession), they would advertise on a free service. Next, when companies such as this advertise, they usually list at least a general mailbox at the corporation to add legitimacy. This ad has you responding to the general job email at Craig's List.
The ad is seeking women who have been out of the workforce for awhile and who are returning to work. Redbook or scammer or potential stalker?
If you see this ad, just beware this may not be Redbook. I sent an email to Redbook's PR person. I got an auto-reply that she's out of the office. Hopefully, I'll have a definitive answer tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chief Executive Blogger (CEB) and Writer Wanted for Labor of Love

To the novice writer, this might look like a great opportunity, selling what you love to write or have an expertise in and actually being paid. Here’s an ad I found on Craig’s List:

AC is looking for writers to contribute articles, essays, interviews, videos and more. You chose the topic and submit for publication online.

These online content sites buy your work, typically for very low pay and turn around and sell them to companies. I went to the website in this ad, where you really have to dig to find out how this works. The pay is terrible. $3- $20 per piece and you’re selling all rights. Seller beware.

Here’s the excuse of the week that you, as a writer, could give your creditors who want their money.

A new travel website is seeking photos and articles. The pay?
“Sorry, no pay, this is still a labor of love. We'll send you a t-shirt if your article is chosen for publication.”

So, tell your creditors that you are working on a labor of love, but they can have the t-shirt if they like.

And there’s a new category of writer these days – CEB’s or Chief Executive Bloggers. Sounds pretty important, I was wondering if it came with one of those big corner offices, leather chairs and a hefty parachute should the company go under. It’s a safe bet the company will probably go under, but your compensation for being the CEB is $5 per accepted entry. Hardly enough for a Starbucks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

No Blaring Music From Across the Pond

Thomas Bosch, a writer in Germany, tells us how he sticks to his writing schedule during the holidays and everyday:

I've tried lots of things in an attempt to best optimize my writing environment and I have found that the best things are as follows. First, I need the apartment to be very clean. If the place is a complete mess, then I just don't feel comfortable and relaxed and that affects my concentration. Instead of writing, I am eyeing the big pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen. So a spotless home can do wonders to relax you and relaxation helps the writing inspiration flow. Next, I've found my best hours of work to be between midnight and 4.00am. Some people swear by getting up at 6.00am and working throughout the morning but I have found the best hours to be VERY late at night. Why? Probably because the rest of the world is sleeping so there are no interruptions. No girlfriend asking for attention, no phones ringing, no demanding clients with pressing it's strangely comforting to work in the dark. Just pop on a small desk lamp to illuminate your keyboard but apart from that, work in the dark.

One last thing - try to avoid listening to music before you start. When I hear music, the song gets stuck in my head in one continual agonizing loop and that totally wrecks my concentration.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Stay at Home Mommy vs. Daddy Wars

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole stay-at-home mom perception that people have of women freelance writers. Don’t get me wrong; I believe being a stay-at-home mom is a noble profession in itself. But when it is used in the same sentence with the words “freelance writer,” it is usually meant to imply unprofessional or someone not really dedicated to her writing.
A comment left on the blog by a male writer in a previous thread had me wondering what men experience when they tell people they are writers. Do people then assume they are stay-at-home dads?
Thomas Bosch, a British citizen currently living in Germany and working as a freelance writer has been called everything but a stay-at-home-dad: “I have been asked if I am a lazy slacker who likes to live off his partner.”
In fact, none of the male writers I asked had ever been asked if they were a stay-at-home dad.
And I found it interesting, in my little non-scientific survey, that the perceptions people had of writers seemed to take root in how we define ourselves. Dr. John K. Borchardt, Ph.D, a science and business writer, says how he identifies himself depends on the situation. “When covering science conferences or writing science articles, I introduce myself as a science writer and note that I have a Ph.D. in chemistry. When I introduce myself to sources, I note that I have written more than 125 peer-reviewed articles published in research journals and hold 30 U.S. patents. This isn’t to brag but to reassure them that I will understand what they tell me and not screw it up in the published article. I introduce myself as a business writer when appropriate and mention the business magazines and newspapers where some of my articles have been published. When writing a job-hunting or career management article, I cite the book I wrote on the subject, “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” as well as some of the magazines that have published my articles on these subjects. When introducing myself as a corporate technical writer, I cite some of my clients and published articles relating to the subject or technology in question.”
John said when strangers ask what he does, he tells them he is a “writer,” and doesn’t introduce the word “freelance” into it. Some people have even told him that he “must be smart.”
Thomas Pellechia (, a wine, food and business writer and author in New York agrees. “I never refer to myself as a freelance writer. I refer to myself as a writer. In a subtle way, using the word "freelance" shows the power of language. The word becomes an adjective in front of "writer." Like so many adjectives, "freelance" weakens, rather than strengthens, the word that follows it.”
Where does the word freelance even come from? According to a website “In medieval times, when warlords needed extra power for their armies, special mercenaries could be called upon. These mercenaries – called free lance warriors – would receive payment in gold, or in ground property rights when a certain area was conquered.”
Pellechia noted that he’s noticed that sometimes writers will answer queries about what they do with reservation. “I've heard many people respond to a question about their profession with that "end of sentence" question mark that sounds tentative, and drives me crazy about American discourse. You know:

’So what do you do for a living?’

With an over-exaggerated inflection, ‘I'm a freelance writer?’ or ‘I'm sort of a writer?’
Could Bosch’s self-description as a “Freelance writer, Frustrated Scribe, Saucy Scribbler and Wannabe Author,” lead to the reactions he’s received?
When I was in the corporate world, one of those buzz phrases of the month was “Perception is Reality,” which is the only one of thousands I was exposed to that stuck with me.
Using a term that equates to being an ancient mercenary probably is not the best idea. It seems that maybe the answer for bringing professional recognition to our craft may be to change not what we are, but how we describe ourselves.
And maybe when we are able to view ourselves more professionally, everyone else will too.