Wednesday, February 5

Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume III

If you missed the first two entries in this series, catch up here:

Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume I
Adventures In Freelance Writing Volume II

Successful Query Letter Sample

As promised, I'm kicking off this edition with a sample of a successful query letter which got me my first assignment for Today's Parent. I had queried this editor several times, always with prompt and positive replies (even if the answer was no) and once she was interested in a story and we went back and forth for a bit, but it ended up there was no room in the issue. Here's what I sent her one day last Spring:

"I'd like to propose a topic for your Steps and Stages: Pregnancy section, dealing with truths and myths about second pregnancies (the physical issues). Have you heard that the second time around you'll show sooner, urinate more and feel movement earlier? Well, I've heard it all too, but that doesn't mean it's true. I would interview OB/GYNs for the facts (I have my own connections, but if you have certain medical experts you use that's great), and get anecdotal comments from second time moms. (I know I can certainly share that my second labour was quicker, afterpains stronger and engorgement was lighter, but why?)

While some first-time moms certainly read parenting magazines throughout their pregnancies, I would bet that the large majority of your readers already have one child, and would be very interested to read about how their second (and subsequent, for those brave souls) pregnancies may be the same or different. Since this topic isn't seasonal, you could use it any time of the year.

Please let me know if you're interested, or if you would like me to resend links to writing samples, etc. 

Thanks!
Kate"

She forwarded this on to the appropriate section editor that day, who replied the next day and said that she liked it, and just needed the Editor In Chief to approve the idea. I got the green light on April 24th - and the story ended up in the October issue (just as a reminder about how far ahead magazines plan!)

You can check out the completed article here:


 


You Got The Job: Now What?

They loved your pitch, and gave you the assignment. What do you do now?

Be clear on the details: Read the contract and/or any other communication (e.g. e-mails) carefully to make sure that you know exactly what you're being asked to do. What's the word count? Does that include sidebars? Deadline? I was mortified not to long ago to get back a draft with lots of revisions necessary, because I had gone a bit off track and not covered the angle the editor was looking for. Once you get rolling, it can help to refer back to your assignment notes occasionally just to make sure you're going in the right direction. I checked in with another editor recently just to touch base with how I was drafting up an article - I'll probably be paranoid about that for a while now - and the reply read: "PERFECT! I love the way you are developing it!" Whew.

Get started: Once I have the job, I immediately open a document and start brainstorming all of my ideas. I usually decide right away who I need to interview, and most magazines are fine with a general Twitter or Facebook callout for sources.

For locating experts, Google can come in handy (though you have to be careful that the person you find actually qualifies as an "expert" on the topic), but usually I already have an idea of someone I'd like to speak to based on previous contact or their work in the media, so I'll fire off some e-mails and see who bites. I know Toronto-based magazines are sensitive about trying not to over-represent Ontario and the GTA in particular, so when looking for sources for my article above, I did some Googling and contacted a Midwives association out west and a OB/GYN association out east and was able to find two fantastic sources to interview. It's important to get this ball rolling right away, as it can sometimes take a while to get chats booked. I also find writing less painful (yes, I said it) when it's spread out over time.

Be professional: Always. Make sure your communication is appropriate and positive (even - especially? -on social media). Ask the important questions, but don't expect editors to hold your hand. Thank them for the opportunity - even though hopefully they're seeing it as a win-win situation, it never hurts to use your manners.

While I think I'm a decent writer, there's a huge pool of people out there with talent, and the way you conduct business could be exactly what sets you apart...for better or worse. 

I've even been offered a couple of assignments I didn't ask for, one at a magazine I'd never even contacted, because editors talk. Both started with "Such-and-such an editor suggested that you might be interested in writing a piece on..."

How I Made My Blog Work For Me:

There's no requirement that freelance writers have websites or blogs, but it's certainly a great way to showcase your work, practise your art (is that an oxymoron?) and perhaps make a few bucks. Here's how I use This Mom Loves to my advantage.

Sharing links: Right from the beginning I have had links to my published print work in the sidebar.

Focusing just the right amount on quality writing: I definitely try to avoid errors, but not to the point of obsession. I would say 95 % of my posts are error-free, but I can still go back through them and find the occasional typo. I make an effort not to let it bother me.

Making contacts and running with them: Right from the beginning I knew I wanted to feature interviews with well-known Canadian moms (Momterviews), and Canada AM's Marci Ien was my first taker. After making that contact, Marci has been fabulous about contributing to other blog posts and magazine articles, and when I pitched her the idea of featuring her and her favourite childhood teacher in Professionally Speaking (the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers) she was game. The article turned out really well - they even did a photo shoot on the Canada AM set where they reunited Marci with that Grade 2 teacher, who still remembers her vividly! It was a great chance to mix my passions for education, writing and broadcast journalism, plus it was my highest-paying assignment yet. Marci also let me hang out on the set of Canada AM one morning, which was super fun.







Accepting review materials and sponsored posts, selectively: While I'm most interested in print publications, being paid for sponsored posts is still freelance writing work as far as I'm concerned, and while I realize you can't pay the bills with Build-A-Bears, being given products for review can still help a bit with the budget if they're the right items. Plus last summer we did Nashville for deep discounts as I was writing travel posts, and went to Centreville, Santa's Village and Legoland for free as promotional opportunities. Be very transparent and make it clear to your readers when products/services have been provided free for review purposes, or you were paid to write the post, and avoid any companies or products that don't jive with the values you hold or the image you want to present. 

Finding the right kind of advertisers: I chose the SavvyMom Media Collective, and I've been very happy with them. I just had to paste in some html code to get the ad spots running, and I have the power to veto any companies I don't want advertised on This Mom Loves (I think I've only ever turned down one or two). I receive cheques based on pageviews (which in my opinion is much better than pay-per-click revenue) which ads a little bit of income, and I'm occasionally offered well-paying sponsored posts with their advertisers as well.

That's it for this edition! As always, I am happy to answer questions from other new writers out there, so please don't hesitate to contact me! I'd also love to know what topics you'd like to see covered in the fourth volume of Adventures In Freelance Writing!


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