Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Going Overboard With This Author

Today, I interviewed Sascha Zuger, author of the young adult novel "Girl Overboard." She talked to me about using a pen name for this genre and why she does it.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I spent ten years sailing around the tropical world as a dolphin trainer and PADI divemaster, before pursuing my current love of writing and being mom to a four-year-old-extraterrestrial, er, boy. Besides working on my novels, I am a freelance journalist writing for a number of national magazines andnewspapers and public radio commentator for NPR-affiliate KWMU.
Tell us about your new book.
"Girl Overboard" is about an American teen who goes for a Caribbean semester at sea to learn about marine biology. She works with dolphins, transplants seaturtle eggs, and swims with 40-foot whale sharks while sorting out some big life decisions. Avoiding the attentions of a cocky, but endearing, Aussie whitewater raft guide on board and salvaging her relationship with a longtime boyfriend left behind inVermont kind of add to the fun.
You use the pen name Aimee Ferris, why?
I'm also working on a women's fiction project as well as several works for younger children and wanted some separation between genres. All of my magazine work and essays are done under my real name.
What advice would you give to writers about pennames?
Be careful what you pick, which I would elaborate on, but due to my dopiness in picking, can't. (How's that for mysterious?)
What are the challenges of writing to the young adult audience?
I think it is important to make it fun without dumbing it down. Another challenge is the fact that a lot of kids "read up." I've gotten some really wonderful letters from readers 11-34, so writing in an appropriate way that keeps the attention of a widerange can be a challenge.
How do you market your books, is there any specialmarketing, such as MySpace pages to target your audience?
I have a blog http://aimee-ferris.livejournal.com/,which will feature interviews with women in the marine science field (starting next week with real life sharkgirl- Toby Engel). Other than that, my email is listed on the jacket and I respond to all the letters Ireceive. I was also blessed by the cover gods and the talented illustrator/cover designer team nailed the book's tone.
How did you find your agent/publisher?
I was fortunate to be offered representation by several agents so I had the freedom to make sure I picked the best fit for what I wanted to achieve. I'd lived all over the world so when I heard Angelle Pilkington was interested in authentic stories about other cultures, it seemed like a perfect match. I sent the basic storyline which Penguin Speak really liked- it all happened very fast.
Why the young adult genre, what about it fascinates you? It's such a great time of change and a whole world of possibilities opens up around that age. I think I like the idea of a "choose your own adventure" time of life.
What other kinds of writing do you do?
I write humorous personal essays, travel features,radio commentaries, nonfiction for young children, picture books to midgrade novels, general interest pieces for a dozen or so national mags and newspapers. I am almost finished with my grown up novel, my agent is currently shopping my next YA novel and I have a weekly column profiling green businesses for Plenty Magazine's website. I don't sleep much.
What's next for you?
After reading through the above - a nap.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Downside of Finding New Clients

Last week I had an extraordinary week in marketing and I must concentrate this week on reaching the sources and researching the articles for my new clients.
It was during one of these such marketing blitzes that I found another client I will be paying some attention to this week as well.
However, it's the kind of attention most of us business owners don't want to have to do - collecting on a past due invoice.
I enjoy writing the stories for this client and more important, the pay is fairly good. However, I'm working on my third issue for them and they've had problems paying me during every single one.
The first time, they were moving offices and I cut them some slack. The contract is pay within 30 days of publication and I did receive the first check within 60 days.
On the second issue, I was moving, so I made sure the editor had my new contact information immediately. I moved, went on vacation and came home - still no check. Still, although the publication officially came out at the end of May, it was the June/July issue, so I started the clock on June 1st, meaning technically, they were not past due until July 1.
I contacted them upon our return from Germany - when they were roughly 15 days late - and was assured (as I had been before) that the check was in the mail.
Having worked in the credit and collections industry for nearly 20 years, I should have known better, but at the time, I had other things to attend to - such as organizing my office and getting business to keep me in business through the fall.
Last week, however, I started the full collections process:
1). Another email detailing our contract went to both managing editors on the masthead.
This prompted another "I'll check into it" email.
2). Three days later, I sent the invoice via email once again with a bright red "past due" on it. I also printed "to avoid further collection action, please pay the amount due immediately." This is very important, by law, you cannot directly threaten to sue a debtor. I also made a phone call and left a message for the managing editor in Kansas City.
This prompted another "I'm checking into it email."
3). Today, I will call again. And my friend and writing goal buddy, Heather, suggested I get the check # this time if they say a check is in the mail.
4). On Wednesday if I don't receive the check, I will mail registered letters to both publishing offices, since both managing editors are in different cities and even I'm confused at this point who is handling payment. I will also notify writing watch lists at ASJA and through Writer's Weekly.
Unfortunately, this company's time clock starts ticking again on Wednesday, as the August/September issue, in which I have two more stories, will be out.
I have another assignment, as well as a contract sitting here waiting to be signed for the following issue, but I think I'll pass. First time, shame on them, next time shame on me. And the pay is only good if you don't have to invest additional time and money in collecting what's due.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Week of Marketing=4 Weeks of Work

My top priority this week was marketing myself to line up some work for the coming month. The results were even better than I expected.
When I'm doing a marketing blitz, I start by contacting former editors, then I send Letters of Introduction (LOI's) to new editors I want to introduce myself to and then query.
I didn't even make it to step 3 - querying this week because contacting current and former editors, as well as the LOI's paid off big time for me.
My first assignment is a rather large one which will consume at least one entire week with research and writing. This editor found me through a professional directory listing and contacted me while I was on vacation. We finally put our schedules together this week and set me up for my first assignment.
The second assignment also came from a professional organization - he had advertised for story title writers on jobs board with the organization. I had contacted him when he put the listing up, and he wanted me to read a story and write a title for it. I never got to it because our house sold that week and I had to complete other assignments before moving and heading to Germany. I contacted him on Monday and he instead gave me a nice story assignment for his trade publication.
The third assignment came from an LOI I sent this spring and followed up this week.
As well, two regular editors continued giving me assignments, which about fills up the month of August.
This week showed me that it usually isn't enough to just send blind LOI's. It was the combination of LOI's and networking through professional writing organizations that landed me such a productive marketing effort.
How about you? What did you accomplish in your marketing efforts this week?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Masters of our own Destiny

The thing I love so much about being a freelancer is that I'm the master of my own destiny. If I need some extra work (which leads to extra money), I just work that much harder at marketing myself and getting it. I don't have to wait for approval for "overtime" from a supervisor who resents she is on salary. I can work at 2 a.m. and sleep all day if I want. I can get up and take my dogs on a 2 mile hike up our road and not have to worry about punching a time clock.
I'm the master of my own destiny.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wow! A Whole 8 Bucks!

From Craig's List:

"Write for a great company. You write about anything you want to. They will pay you for your submitted articles. Your article must be 400 words to get payment. They say payment is anywhere between 3$- 40$. I usually end up getting about 8 bucks per article."

Woo-hoo! A whole 8 bucks per article? Sign me up today! Only 4 of those and I could take my husband out to eat!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This Author has Another Definition for S.E.X.

Today, I interview Mary Beth Temple, author of the new book The Secret Language of Knitters. In it, Mary Beth explains what S.E.X. means to knitters and today she tells us how she transformed her life long love for knitting into part of her writing business plan.

Tell us about yourself.
Writing is pretty much my third career. I spent my post-college days working in the theater and in film and television, first as a stage manager, then as a costumer. After my now ten-year-old daughter was born I ran an antiques business, because Broadway hours are not convenient for parents. I wrote my first book, Rescuing Vintage Textiles, in 2000 because the subject went along with my business, and the next one Touring New Jersey Lighthouses in 2004 because the opportunity dropped in my lap. In 2004 I decided to get out of the antiques racket because it was taking more and more work to make less and less money so I turned to the other thing I loved - writing. I got my early clips writing about theater and antiques - now I mostly write craft and shelter.

Tell us about your book.
The Secret Language of Knitters is a small format humor book. The entries are in alphabetical order like a dictionary (with printed tabs along the side, for which I worship the book designer!) and explains the jargon that knitters use, as well as some of the moments that knitters everywhere share. It can be read cover to cover like an essay book, or the reader can look up a word which puzzles them. I refer to it as a smart-aleck knitting dictionary. It was published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and has a list price of $9.95.

How did you come up with the subject - is there really a different language in the knitting world?
There really is a different language in the knitting world - and the word developments have been pushed along at high speed by the internet. One of the joys of being a knitter is that knitting is a community oriented craft - there are knitting groups both online and off, and knitters love to talk to and spend time with other knitters. But if you are new to the community, even if you have been knitting for a long time, you hear others talking or typing in these special words, and you feel left out. Sentences like "Oh man, I had such major S.E.X. last weekend I am now to the point of SABLE - the stash is totally out of control. Then I got so excited about the new yarns I screwed up my sweater back and had to frog back five rows, so I gave in to a fit of startitis instead" show up on blogs and bulletin boards and make a lot of people scratch their heads in confusion. And knitters don't want anyone to feel left out, we want you to join in! So I wanted to provide a "welcome to the gang" sort of book - new knitters find out about the words they hear and don't know, knitters who have been knitting for a long time find entries about my life as a knitter and smile in recognition - happy to know they are not the only obsessive compulsive sock yarn hoarder in the world.

You're a lifelong knitter, but did you find any surprises when doing your research?
I don't want to make it sound like I wrote this book in a matter of hours because that was not the case, but I didn't do a whole heck of a lot of research - this stuff really is my life. I guess the real surprise was how many words and phrases I actually found to write about.
When I turned in the first draft, the editor suggested I make the manuscript a little longer, even if that exceeded our original guesstimate on the word count, to better fit the proposed layout. I happily complied - I can go on and on about knitting with no complaint. But then it turns out I got a little too carried away and it was a stretch to make it all fit! So if you look at the book you will see that the acknowlegements, which were originally several very funny (if I do say so myself) paragraphs, are now three cramped lines squished in over the copyright info!

How do you come up with subjects surrounding the craft of knitting you know a publisher will buy?
That's a tough one - not only because I have to find something the publisher will buy, but something that I actually want to do - that I think gives value to the knitter rather than just something the publisher can sell enough of to make us both some money. Not that I don't want to make money - of course I do - but I also want to write books that are a welcome addition to the knitter's library.
We are batting some ideas around now about a possible follow-up book. I hope we can agree soon on the next book, but it is not nearly as easy as I had hoped - they don't love some of my ideas, I don't love some of theirs. But it an amicable process, and I hope to do another book for knitters soon. Thankfully I write on other subjects - I think it is very difficult to make a good living solely as a crafts writer or designer.

How do you successfully make the transition from writing magazine length articles to book length manuscripts?
This one wasn't too difficult - the final manuscript was less than 30,000 words, and much of it was written on the laptop late at night after too much coffee - there were no stats to confirm or interviews to do. I wanted to thank Starbucks in the acknowlegements, but as I said I ran out of room! The book I am writing right now is a whole 'nother ball game - 85,000 words with some technical information. In that case I spent a lot of time on the outline first so that I could attack each section on its own as if it were a longer, researched article. 85,000 words scares me, forty two 2,000 word articles do not.

Many freelancers have difficulty juggling the articles, which is usually what pays the bills, with writing books, how do you balance each world?
Well right now I am broke, but I hope not to be soon! Seriously though, that's another tough decision. There comes a point where you decided to tighten your belt another notch and hope that the investment you are making in your long term financial success (books over articles) is the right choice. If any of my books don't earn out the advance, well, I made the wrong choice. But I think to some extent it is like making a well researched investment in the stock market - you hope the long term gains that you are pretty sure will come outweigh the risks of turning down something with a set in stone return. But you can't just jump blindly, you have to do the research - in the case of books it's comparative titles and the track record of the publisher in marketing your type of work.
What I do when things get too tight is to keep up with my regular magazine clients, because while I have to spend the same amount of time writing articles, the marketing/pitching/waiting for an assignment time is much less. I will not pitch new to me editors unless I have such a sure-fire lightening bolt of an idea that I can bang out a query in minutes. I also drink a lot of coffee and work insane hours - I don't know what I would do without my laptop and internet coffee shops.

The mantra, "Write What you Know" seems to fit your niche, you've written on travel and on textiles/knitting. Any plans to jump to either another subject or genre?
The next two books I have coming out are about shelter topics - I write quite a bit for the log home consumer magazines which led to The Soapstone Book (Schiffer Publishing, summer 2008) and The Log Home Owner's Handbook (Storey Publishing, fall 2008). The soapstone title is in edits, I am still writing the first draft of the log home book. After that I would love to do another crafts book or twelve - they are much more fun to me to do. Not that I don't love log homes and soapstone fireplaces, but there is no yarn involved in those topics.

What's one quirky writing habit no one knows about you (yet)?
I write in bed - a lot - like right now. I have a major aversion to getting started working in the morning, so if I leave my laptop on the nightstand and roll over and dash off a few paragraphs or a bunch of emails as soon as I wake up, then my work day is started and I find it easier to keep working all day. If I get up and go right to running errands, dropping the kid off at school, going to the gym, it will be 3:00 in the afternoon before I know it and I will not have written a word. At which point I decide that it is too late in the day to get started and I should just go knit socks instead. So I trick myself into starting the work day before I wake up enough for my genetic laziness to kick in - it sleeps later than the rest of me I suppose.

Monday, July 23, 2007

When Real Life Comes a Knocking

My mom always said that solutions will come if you open yourself up. On Friday, I posted about the problem I had last week of my psyche still thinking this place we now call our home was the place we had created for an escape. As a result of it being too comfortable, I didn't get much work done last week.
Well, this weekend, reality came knocking pretty hard. On Friday afternoon, I learned a good paying and steady client was closing its doors. They emailed me to ask for my latest invoice and to assure us that freelancers would be paid for any outstanding stories.
I knew then the theme for this week was going to have to be some heavy marketing.
But after our water was delivered (yes, our water is currently trucked in as we couldn't afford a well when this house was built) on Saturday and we made a run to the big city to pick up a dog run for Sadie so she can pace her separation anxiety out in the yard instead of tearing my house apart, it was then on to replace the printer broken in the move, my headset that fell on the floor and broke last week and buy groceries - I got a huge dose that I can no longer treat this as a vacation. If that wasn't enough, yesterday, we received some figures on building the new house.
My marketing strategy will start simple - today I will be calling former editors and current editors looking for new assignments; on Tuesday, I will be writing queries and Wednesday and through the rest of the week, I will be cataloging stories I can use for reprint markets.
So, while this weekend was an expensive one, my wake-up call for my business was priceless.
Stay tuned, Friday I will let you know how my strategy paid off.

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's the Perfect Setting, so What's the Problem?

I have the mountains, the trees, even our own whippoorwill at night.
So, why couldn't I get much writing accomplished this week?
The problem with my perfect writing spot, I think, is that it might be too perfect. For nearly 4 years we used this house as a vacation cabin. A place to come and feel relaxed. A place to come and fish, write what I wanted when I wanted. I created the perfect haven for reading and vegging out.
Now suddenly it is everything our former home was - only smaller. It is bursting at the seams with clothes and stuff we couldn't live without while the bigger house is being constructed. Our tiny bedroom is now cluttered with a desk from the living room/kitchen, my office desk and computer, papers and files with no place to call home and clothes we have yet to buy storage containers for.
It's enough to make me retreat to my comfy chair on the covered front porch and read a book.
So today I'm looking for some advice. What can I do to put myself in a work frame of mind, instead of a relaxed frame of mind in my new digs?
I've already hung the "bill board," - the crafty creation my mom made me to keep bills in - above my desk to remind me I must work.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Seamless Freelance Life

From freelance writer Brette Sember:

"The best thing for me is that freelancing fits seamlessly into my life. I don't have"work" and "home", I just have a life that is filled with things I like to do. I can work when I want to - my hours are my own. I don't feel like I'm at work when I'm working, it's just me getting something done at home. And of course, being accessible to my kids is a huge, huge plus for me. And I must say, I do NOT miss pantyhose. Not one bit. I hated the stress of always having to fit my life around other people's schedules. I hated sitting in an office when what I really wanted to do was take my shoes off, have a snack and read a book."

Brette Sember is the author of over 30 books including The Complete Credit Repair Kit, The Divorce Organizer & Planner, and Your Practical Pregnancy Planner. Her web site is http://www.brettesember.com/.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sounds Good for Now

From journalismjobs.com:

BostonNOW, the new free daily newspaper, is looking for experienced freelancers to write LOCAL news enterprise stories. Rates: $1/word for 300-500 word stories. We’re talking HARD news, definitely not features; front-page, hard-hitting, investigative topics. Send resume and clips to: Managing Editor Mitch Lipka at mlipka@bostonnow.com. No calls, please.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Don't Wander Past This Great Read

Today, I interview Naomi Smith, author of "The Wanderers." Naomi has developed a niche of sorts writing about the afterlife. She talks about this and the writing process:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I began writing seriously rather late in life, when as a 29 year old mother of four, I sat at the kitchen table and penciled novel after novel in exercise books while my children watched Captain Kangaroo. I was 42 when my first novel, a romantic mystery, was published.
Tell us about your new book, "The Wanderers".
The story begins with several Americans in various parts of Europe who die on the same night. A gymnast falls during a practice session, a professor on sabbatical with her husband has a heart attack, a couple of teenagers wipe out on their motorcycle on the Autobahn, and two patients at a cancer clinic in Switzerland happen to die that night too. A bummer of a way to start a novel? Not at all. Eight Americans awaken in a hospital-like place where (most of them) soon realize they are in a world between heaven and hell. They become a band of 'wanderers' who travel about to explore this new world; in the process each discovers what kind of person he or she has become because of choices made while on earth.
Both of your books of fiction deal with the afterlife. The essay on your website is also one you wrote after your parent's death. What do you find so appealing about that topic?
I love telling a story about people in life altering circumstances. How much more life altering can you get than death? Seriously, the prospect of what comes after death has always fascinated me and as a life long reader of the theological writings of the eighteenth century scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, I've had access to the marvelous things he wrote about the spiritual world.
Tell us about the process you go through of developing your characters.
I know a lot about them before I start to write, but I learn much more as I write. Sometimes they develop quite differently than I'd planned, surprising me as much as the reader.
How did you find your agent/publisher?
I've had a couple of agents, one of whom was a lovely person, but neither sold any of my novels. I queried my publisher, Chrysalis Books of The Swedenborg Foundation, saying that while I knew they didn't publish fiction, the novel I'd finished was a natural for them as my suppositions about the afterlife were based on Swedenborg's theological writings. I gave them a synopsis, three chapters, and they asked to see the whole manuscript, and some months later they accepted my novel, "The Arrivals".
What single thing that you've done as a writer, has most helped your career? Joining an extremely talented group called "The Writers". It got me out of a stalled mystery writing period and into trying essays and articles. A good may of these were published and in turn helped my writing as a whole.
Some people think all writers have quirky habits - they have to have the right pen or sitting in a certain spot to write. Is this true for you?
Not really. I like to work in the morning, but if I can't, I'll do afternoon duty.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
About a year, but there are usually quite a few drafts after that. I think I've finished, but I haven't.
If you had a piece of advice for a new fiction writer, what would it be?
Mostly the usual - try to write every day. And as I mentioned, a good writers' group can be invaluable. If, however, you are writing novels and getting discouraged about rejections, give another, shorter form (short stories, essays, pieces for the neighborhood newspaper) a try. Everyone needs affirmation and seeing your name in print will do just that.
Give us your website address and where else can we find your books?
My website is: http://www.naomigladishsmith.com/ and you can get my books online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and of course The Swedenborg Foundation at Swedenborg.com., and from your local bookstore (though it may have to order them).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lucky Dog

I'm back!

As I start my new life on our land in the beautiful Ozark Mountains, I have to stop and think about how lucky I've been. This 500-square foot cabin was originally built as a writer's retreat for me and a fishing cabin for my husband. Located on Bull Shoals Lake in Northeastern Arkansas, high in the mountains and deep in the woods, it is the place I dreamed of when early writing instructors asked me to describe my perfect writing spot. It was a long road here and I wouldn't recommend losing a close family member, planning a major out of country trip and selling your house to pursue your dream within a 4 month time span, but we made it. And while the current home is a bit crowded - especially when all 4 dogs come into the kitchen when I'm trying to cook and the husband decides to join us - I believe it will provide the peace and quiet and inspiration I desire for my writing life (at least until the new digs are being constructed).
So, today, my freelance life will be about following up on editor's calls and emails that came in while we were on holiday, as well as continuing trying to find a place for everything - something so important when dealing with limited space. I have plenty of organizational caddys on hand and will make use of every inch of space.
In between, I'll take the dogs for long walks on the country road, not minding the risk of bug bites until later, and enjoying a cup of coffee on the deck while listening to the sounds of nature.
I'll bask in the fact that I'm finally home...not just physically, but in my writing heart.
Think about your perfect writing spot. What can you do at this moment to make your space feel more comfortable, more like the home where your inspiration will grow? It could be as simple as a change of scenery with new photos of mountains, a lake or the ocean. Maybe add a CD of the sounds of nature - or for you urban writers who long to live in the heart of publishing - a poster of a neighborhood in NYC. Maybe it's something more involved, like a big comfy chair that will swallow you whole. Whatever it is, make a note of it and work towards getting it. Start small with your wish list and then work your way up.
Enjoy your writing life wherever you are at the moment. That's what part of being a writer is all about.