Sunday, December 30, 2007

Punctuation Points

You know why punctuation is such a thorn in our sides? (Besides the fact that it seems to be engulfed in an arbitrary set of really picky rules, I mean.) This is why: when you get it right, no one (except your English teacher) notices, and when you get it wrong, people point it out.

OK, not a lot of people. Mostly, people like me. But (stomping my foot) it matters!

For example....Christmas cards. (I know it's a bit disingenuous to critique holiday greetings, but goodness - such a broad target!)

Folks, "Merry Christmas from The Smith's" is wrong. The Smiths are the Smiths. Putting in an apostrophe is fine if you're referring to the Smiths' dog, but if you refer to the Smith's dog, I'm going to have to assume you mean the BLACKsmith's canine. Get it? If the dog belongs to the Smith family, also known as the Smiths, it's the Smiths' dog. Ergo, it's the Smiths' greetings. And I'm sure they were merrier than this...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Proofreading - still not a computer's job

I've been reading a lot of government publications this week, and even though my eyes glazed over long ago, I had to stop and laugh at the "wise variety of legal issues" that one of the documents cited.

I realize some may see having a proofreader on the government payroll as a waste, but folks, if that little gem slipped in the document, don't you wonder what else may have been overlooked?

I do.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Permalancers Need Health Benefits, Too

Wanna be a freelance writer? You'll probably have to take care of yourself, or get a REAL job, too, if you want benefits. I highly recommend you read this about the situation that's boiled over at Viacom. Yep. Viacom.

You might have heard of a few of the company's brands, like MTv. Nickelodeon. Comedy Central. Ah yes, THAT little company. I'm a freelancer/permalancer for Viacom, and was delighted to sign up for my 401K a few months ago. Last week, I found out through several hard-to-decipher e-mails that there's no more 401K for me, and virtually no health care coverage for me and my fellow 'lancers.

We're ticked off, of course, and I sincerely hope the company takes notice. If The Nation's article is accurate, about HALF of Viacom's creative juices flow from a pool of "permalancers." I happen to know that's a pretty good estimate of the company's IT staff, too.

Look, if a company wants to claim its people are freelancers - people who are REQUIRED to put in a regular 20, 30, 40, or more hours per week, people who get regular performance reviews, and who have ongoing duties related to BRANDS, which the company chooses to call "projects" - that's between the company and its lawyers, and a judge if the case goes to court. But there's no way to deny an entertainment company derives its revenue from the creative juices of its people - and therefore, usurping the option to be in a 401K plan is pretty damned petty. And greedy. And stupid.

If you freelance, or just think this doesn't sound fair, I urge you to send a message to Viacom. And maybe forgo the MTv until this little matter is resolved. On behalf of several thousand folks who work pretty darned hard, regardless of our "employment status" with the entertainment behemoth, I thank you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Payment Varies

Hmmmmm. Hmmmmm. That's the sound of my brain cells trying not to calculate the hourly rate I'm really earning at this job called "freelance writer." I start to prepare my taxes each year about this time, always with the same reaction: THAT'S ALL I MADE?!

The good news is (I always tell myself this) that I'm not in it just for the money. This year I've learned about solar integrated roofing panels, EEOC audits, retail security systems, campfire cooking, and a few other things I wouldn't have set out to learn, frankly, if I wasn't getting paid to write about them. Ahhhh, well. I like to tell people "it's like getting paid to get an education." You just can't be too picky about WHAT that education will cover...

For what it's worth, a number of professional organizations have weighed in on what writers "should" make. Most suggest "professional writers" should charge a minimum of $1-$2 per word. That sounds like a lot, I know, but the fact is an 800-word article may take a week to research and a week to write. And even if the client provides all the research, the writer still needs to do quite of bit of reading/learning before the article can begin. So even at the top end of things - two bucks a word - the writer is making $800/week... and yet, folks are clamoring to break in to the biz, even writing for nuthin.' Go figure.

To see what ASJA says about fees, see the organization's website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

But I got this great pen!

I wrote a poem, fell in love with it, thought it would make a great picture book. So I submitted it to a small press in Ohio. Four-and-a-half years ago. Forgot all about it, until I got the rejection letter...last week!

I won't name the press (maybe I'll submit again, when I have some time on my hands) because hey, we're all busy. Or maybe they were thinking about my poem. Really hard...

Anyway, after I stopped laughing - rejection really loses its sting after a few years - I thought, hey, it's like a GIFT! I'd forgotten entirely about the poem, having lost it between computer upgrades, a hard drive failure, and an unfortunate anti-virus cleanup utility.

But before I started revising that little gem, I just had to share my story with my critique group. I was surprised at how many stuck up for the publisher! "They're really busy," said my fellow scribes. Well, geez. Me too. But FOUR YEARS? It's not War and Peace, it's a 200-word poem!

Anyway, those folks do have a sense of humor. At our local SCBWI publication brunch, they honored me with an award for the 'Oldest Rejection on Record.' And I got a great pen, too! (Thanks, guys!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Simultaneous Submissions - Or, can you do two things at once?

Are simultaneous submissions OK?

Here I venture into an area already covered by thousands of scribes.

Is it OK to submit the same manuscript to several publishers at once?

The answer is yes, no, sometimes, and well, it depends.

The latest discussion I've read on the subject was one of the sanest. It boils down to this: When submitting a manuscript, follow the publisher's rules, use common sense, common courtesy, and good communication skills!

Recently, when I submitted to a small publishing house, I intended my manuscript be for that house only - for a while. But, I failed to say so in my cover letter. (Whoops.)

So, a couple of weeks after sending the ms, I followed up with a letter to the editor stating (a little more professionally than this, I hope), "this is for your eyes only - until the week of Thanksgiving. If you want more time to "digest" the submission, let me know."

See, there are oodles of publishers and billions of oodles of writers out there. And that's just taking into account the good ones ;) Everyone has their own rules.

Some houses will consider ONLY exclusive submissions; others are cool with knowing their transom is just one of many a manuscript may cross - on the same day.

Some writers (I suppose) are content to wait for a response from one house before moving on to another house. I'm not. But common sense must prevail.

In the case I described above, there were extenuating circumstances. Let's face it; there always are. That's why common sense, good manners, and clear communication is critical in the writing/publishing game.

In my case, I think I did a good job selecting a publisher where my manuscript would "fit." I had queried long ago, and received a note of interest - so I felt I "owed" the publisher a period of time to review the manuscript in its entirety without feeling I'd offered the (fabulous) idea to another house.

And of course, I think it's really fabulous. I can't wait to see the thing in print. On bestsellers' lists, even. So, while I'm content to wait (about six weeks) for a reply, I'm not going to wait around forever.

After all, there are readers waiting to hear from me, right?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Newsletters, Sales Letters, and lots of letters

Seriously, it's a job.

When I meet someone, whether at a party or a PTO meeting, it seems the "what-do-you-do" question always comes up. And when I answer, "I'm a freelance writer," reactions vary.

The most common one is "Oh, really?" which I think means, 'Ah, so you're unemployed.'

Well, hardly. I'm much busier than I want to be. I'm not complaining, I'm explaining. When I hung out my shingle as a freelance writer more than ten years ago, I hoped I could build it into a "nice little part time job" on a schedule that would allow me to spend a lot of time with my kids. I wasn't too picky about the type of work I'd do. From newsletters and sales letters to editing some pretty dry manuals, it was all fair game.

Turns out, a lot of businesses need someone who can, and will, watch their p's and q's - and other letters - and who can meet deadlines, too.

Turns out, growing the business wasn't the hard part. Managing it on my kids' schedule is a much greater challenge. But I'm up to it.

Want to hire a writer, or get a better idea of what freelance business writers do? Visit my work website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Imagination is Where It's At

For the past few weeks I've been writing sales letters, newsletter articles about very dry subjects, and retyping a lot of press releases. Such is the exciting life of a writer-for-hire.

But like a lot of things, creativity comes in spurts. The most creative periods in my life so far have been (1) while I was in the messy middle of a divorce, and (2) while I was pregnant with my son. (The pregnancy was pretty hard, but I'd still pick it over the divorce.)

I should learn from this, shouldn't I? Apparently, I'm most creative when I'm completely unsettled.

Maybe I should quit my job and move to Alaska or Timbuktu. Or take up skydiving.

I'm not bored; I may have to look up "bored" in a dictionary to remember what that word means. But, I am in a groove... these days, the groove is filled with a lot of press releases and newsletters. I know surprises tend to find us when we're in a groove, and surprises of all kinds seem to lead straight to creative bursts of energy. On that note, I'm ready for another day. And I'll be on the lookout for surprises. I hope a few nice ones come your way...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gettin' the Lead Out

What do you?

I'm a writer.

Oh, what do you write?

And that's where the conversation usually fizzles. "I'm a writer" is a great conversation starter. But it's usually a short conversation. It's hard to gauge your audience's interest.

Usually, I aim for the shortest version of the truth. "Mostly newsletters and press releases, things like that." Frankly, it's enough for most people. If I get a raised eyebrow or a glimmer of interest, I'll add, "And I wrote a hiking book."

Some are obviously relieved that I don't fancy myself the next Stephen King, JK Rowling, or Dr. Seuss. Others are disappointed that I'm a 'commercial' writer. They WANT to hear about the fun stuff. So here I am, baring my soul: I write fun stuff, too.

One of my poems (Monster Lunch) appeared in the July/August issue of BabyBug. I'm writing a nonfiction book about vegetables for middle grade readers, and a couple of YA novels.

If you're interested, keep reading. :)