Monday, August 18, 2014

Tips for Freelance Magazine Writers

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        For well over a decade, I have been a magazine editor working with freelance writers. Some have writing experience, some don't. Some with writing experience have never interviewed people and written feature articles.

Before giving these writers assignments, I give them all tips, style formats, and answer their questions.

The tips include: have at least a dozen questions ready to go before the interview; make sure to ask for the correct spelling of every person's name, title, and organization; ask follow up questions for clarity; elicit detailed answers with specific questions; and also ask some open questions like: "What is your favorite part of your job or of the event?" and "Is there anything else you would like the public to know?" The last two questions can lead the interview into new territory—more personal when discussing what they like as well as more valuable information about something you didn't know to ask about. 

In-depth interviews can take 45-60 minutes. People with public relations backgrounds and experienced interviewers can finish in 20-30 minutes. Every interview is different. The key is to be prepared with questions, extra pens, and batteries if you are taping the interview.

Style formats vary from publication to publication. Some examples: write out zero through nine, but 10 and up are numerical except in quotes; people's titles are capitalized before their names, but are lower case and encased in commas afterwards; songs are always in quotes, movies and TV shows in italics. There is usually a guide book or style sheet to refer to when writing the articles.

Writers' questions and concerns vary.

If a bit nervous about questioning strangers, I tell writers that genuine curiosity and interest will put the interviewees at ease. These people love what they do and enjoy sharing their knowledge and insights with others (as my publications only include positive articles). Generally, the more you are interested in the answers, the easier the interviews get.

Also, respect the other person's time--be on time and don't waste time during the interview.

Do word counts matter? Yes. There is a finite amount of space in printed publications. If the word count is too low, a filler (jump text, pull quote, extra photo, etc.) must be found for the empty space or the article may be moved to the back of the publication where space is tighter. If count is too high, the article may be cut down to fit the space.

Editors have their own sensibilities when cutting text. Articles may lose what the writer thought was the best section or quote. It's professional to meet word counts.

For ideas on self-editing to meet word counts, see my post dated October 1, 2012. (Please note: I occasionally go over my self-imposed 500 word count for posts if the topics warrant it.)

What about leads? Lead sentences set the tone and direction of articles. They can be funny, serious, or factual. They need to make readers want to keep reading. Many times leads are written last. Once articles are completed, leads become clearer.

How important are deadlines? Exceedingly. Editors have a limited amount of time to edit before the magazines have to be laid out by page along with the ads and then proofed. The printing schedule has to be met or the issues will not be out in time. If a writer cannot meet the deadline, tell the editor as soon as possible so he/she can make other arrangements to fill the space reserved for that article.

What do editors love?

Well-written and well organized articles sent in on time with few, if any, spelling or grammatical errors. A piece with a strong voice that is informative and entertaining and has great quotes is the goal.

Articles with headlines, captions for photos, and suggestions for pull quotes are always well received. Working together makes the article and, therefore, the magazine shine. Editors may make changes to your suggestions or use their own ideas, but the extra effort is appreciated.

Share ideas for future articles. Editors welcome them. Every month there are pages to fill and if the writers are interested in certain topics, it makes for better articles. Not every idea will be approved, but sharing your ideas keeps you in mind when those topics come up in the future.

Communication is the key. Stay in touch with the editor. Ask questions. Share ideas. Be professional and you will receive more assignments.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Inspired Visit to Macmillan Publisher's Headquarters

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I was a junior in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer.  There was never any question in my mind that the dozens of journals I’d kept since I was in middle school would pave the way to a Pulitzer-prize career in journalism.  Though I had complete faith in my ability to earn a few bucks in this capacity, my guidance counselor had other thoughts on the matter—“forget it, you’ll never make a good living by writing.”

That was back in 1981, and I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It was a cool, crisp fall day and the last of the jewel-toned leaves of amber and scarlet clung to the near bare branches.  After I was advised to steer clear of a writing career, I completed a career survey which ultimately pointed me to a path more suitably matched with my strengths and likes.  Are you ready for the result?  Sit down now, because you just might not believe it.  A forest ranger!  My interests and strengths would serve me well as one of Smokey the Bear’s companions.

I’ve got nothing against forest rangers, but I just couldn’t picture myself wearing an olive green jumpsuit to work every day.  Luckily, I didn’t follow that path, but sadly, I didn’t pursue my writing passion for nearly 2 decades after I graduated, but let me tell you—it was worth the wait.

Many of my writing goals have been accomplished during the past ten years, and one of my biggest achievements, which came quite unexpectedly, was met two years ago when I was hired by one of the world’s largest publishers—Macmillan. 

Macmillan Publishers, a distinctive group of publishing companies, has a rich history in the book industry and offer publishing in a broad range of quality works—including award-winning fiction and nonfiction, and inspired and much-loved children’s books.  Not only that, they have a significant presence on-line.  I was hired by their Quick and Dirty Tips community to be their parenting columnist.  (Having 8 kids in one decade sort of qualified me!). 

Quick and Dirty Tips (QDT) offers short, actionable advice from friendly and informed authorities that will help you succeed at work and in life. Whether you want to manage your time and money more efficiently, communicate more effectively, observe the correct rules of etiquette, or improve your performance in other home and workplace endeavors, Quick and Dirty Tips shows you that education and entertainment can go hand in hand.

Hosts like Get-it-Done Guy, Money Girl, Domestic CEO, Get-Fit-Guy, the Clever Cookstr and perhaps our most famous host-Grammar Girl give helpful snippets of advice via a weekly podcast and column.  My host name is “Mighty Mommy” and each week I share parenting tips and tricks that will add a bit more balance and perspective to your family’s busy life.

Though I do most of my work from home, I also visit their headquarters in New York City, and last month I had the pleasure of spending a very full day in the Big Apple with my Macmillanfamily.
Traveling to NYC is a snap thanks to the convenience of Amtrak right here in our own backyard.  I grabbed the 7:11 AM train out of Kingston and was in Penn Station just three quick hours later.  Though it was a gray, rainy day for my visit, I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying my commute.

I’ve been to New York a handful of times, but always with other friends or family members.  This was my first time going solo, and I wasn’t going to let a little rain get in the way of navigating the city all by my big girl self.  Just in case, however, my oldest daughter was on standby should I get lost—she’s lived in NYC for two years now so I knew she was only a phone call away.

The frantic, high-paced energy of the city could be felt the minute I stepped into Penn Station, but as the mother of 8 kids it didn’t deter me, and instantly gave me a jolt of excitement.  Dressed in summery white jeans, a cobalt blue blouse and my most comfy sandals I stepped out onto 8th Avenue and 34th St. and giddily headed to Macmillan’s home office in the infamous Flatiron Building.

For more than a century, New York City’s famous Flatiron Building has occupied a piece of curiously shaped real estate at 175 Fifth Avenue, sitting on a small triangular island at 23rd Street and Broadway, facing Madison Square. It is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, appearing in numerous movies and on countless postcards and posters. Aside from the ground floor retail space, Macmillan Publishers is the sole tenant. The Flatiron’s interior is known for its strangely shaped offices, with walls that cut through at an angle on their way to the skyscraper’s famous point. These “point” offices feature amazing northern views that look directly upon another famous Manhattan landmark, the Empire State Building.

I cannot tell a lie—I did get lost!  I went the wrong way on 8th and had to walk a couple extra blocks, in the humidity, drizzle and rain and soon discovered that comfy pair of sandals I was wearing weren’t so great after all and my sleek hairstyle of 6:30 AM was now long gone.  Still, my adrenaline was rushing at a very constant pace so I didn’t notice the beginning blisters or that my hairstyle now resembled that of George Washington’s.

My editor was waiting for me in the entrance way with a big hug and a small piece of advice—never wear sandals to New York!  Still oblivious to the welts startingaround my toes (who am I kidding, I knew those sandals were a mistake when I put them on—I have only myself to blame!) I headed up into the Macmillan suites where I finally got to meet many of the production and editorial team I’ve known via phone conferences, e-mails and texts for the past two years. 

My first impression was how peaceful the office was.  There were dozens of people working in small offices, each strategically handling their own important tasks that ultimately resulted in an article or book getting published.  Some were really scurrying to meet a deadline, while others were laid back and casual about their workload.

I immediately noticed the neat stacks of books throughout the floor I was visiting.  That was a sight to behold.  There were magnificent hardcovers, soft and crisp paperbacks, and colorful audio book covers nearly everywhere I looked.  I stopped, took a deep breath (book paper has always had an intoxicating effect on me), and just pinched myself.  Gratitude poured out of me as I sat in my editor’s office and was treated like a VIP for the entire day.

I was introduced as “Mighty Mommy” everywhere I went that day and although I know it might not be the equivalent to an Academy Award winning actress or a New York Time’s Best Selling author (yet!) I felt like a rock star the entire day.  We worked on some of my short and long-term goals with Quick and Dirty Tips and I also shot 4 videos for the “Mighty Mommy” channel that will be airing this summer.  

I got a glimpse of what other authors were working on and saw the publishing world in a whole new light—behind the scenes—so by the time my day too quickly came to an end, I was revitalized and more excited than I’ve ever been about my career as a writer.  And to make the day even more fantastic, my daughter met me at Macmillan and we had dinner in Times Square—where the sun finally broke through the overcast clouds and made the day complete perfection.

Tired but still on Cloud 9 I returned to Penn Station to board the 9:30 PM train home.   I clung to my daughter for what seemed like forever (those good-bye hugs never get easier) and breathed in that NYC air one last time. It was then that I finally saw the pitiful shape my feet were in but even all those blisters couldn’t burst the sincere joy and appreciation I was exuding after my quick and dirty trip visiting my place of employment—Macmillan Publishers in New York City!  Learn more at

Which of your writing dreams has come true?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda

From Kate's Writing Crate…


        Looking for inspiration? Flip open The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

        His questions don't have answers per se; they make you consider. Ponder. Laugh. Think. Feel.

        A few of my favorites from pages 3, 14, 20, 40, and 47, respectively:


                Tell me, is the rose naked

                or is that her only dress?


                Who shouted with glee

                when the color blue was born?


                And why did cheese decide

                to perform heroic deeds in France?


                What do they call the sadness

                of a solitary sheep?


                In the middle of autumn

                do you hear yellow explosions?



        Think of some questions of your own or write down your thoughts after reading some from the book. The author was playful with many of his questions including on page 32:


                Is there anything sillier in life

                than to be called Pablo Neruda?



Thursday, August 7, 2014

7 Habits of Amazing Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Hello Writer's Crate Friends!

It has been several LONG months since I've contributed a blog post to The Writer's Crate!  After a spring full of illness (pneumonia and bronchitis) as well as my starting a full-time job right as my children got out of school for their 10-week summer vacation, I am finally a bit more like my organized self and am ready to get back to joining my blogging partner, Kate, with regular contributions here at The Writer's Crate!

I've missed my regular postings here on Thursdays.  As I gently get back to the basics of posting on a topic I'm completely passionate about--all things writing--I thought I'd share the 7 habits of some Amazing Writers that were shared in an article I just read by Leo Babata that will hopefully help inspire you with your writing as much as they've inspired me as I venture back into blogging.

1. Stephen King. In his book On Writing, King says that he writes 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. That’s a lot of writing each day, and it has led to some incredible results: King is one of the most prolific writers of our time.
2. Ernest Hemingway. By contrast with King, “Papa” Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. That’s not bad, though. Hemingway, like me, woke early to write to avoid the heat and to write in peace and quiet. Interestingly, though Hemingway is famous for his alcoholism, he said he never wrote while drunk.
3. Vladimir Nabokov. The author of such great novels as Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada did his writing standing up, and all on index cards. This allowed him to write scenes non-sequentially, as he could re-arrange the cards as he wished. His novel Ada took up more than 2,000 cards.
4. Truman Capote. The author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” claimed to be a “completely horizontal author.” He said he had to write lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on. He wrote his first and second drafts in longhand, in pencil. And even his third draft, done on a typewriter, would be done in bed — with the typewriter balanced on his knees.
5. Philip Roth. One of the greatest living American writers, Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claimed to walk half a mile for every page he writes. He separates his work life from personal life, and doesn’t write where he lives — he has a studio built away from his house. He works at a lectern that doesn’t face the view of his studio window, to avoid distraction.
6. James Joyce. In the pantheon of great writers of the last century, Joyce looms large. And while more prolific writers set themselves a word or page limit, Joyce prided himself in taking his time with each sentence. A famous story has a friend asking Joyce in the street if he’d had a good day writing. Yes, Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? Three sentences, Joyce told him.
7. Joyce Carol Oates. This extremely prolific writer (see her bibliography on her Wikipedia page!) has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award. She writes in longhand, and while she doesn’t have a formal schedule, she says she prefers to write in the morning, before breakfast. She’s a creative writing professor, and on the days she teaches, she says she writes for an hour or 45 minutes before leaving for her first class. On other days, when the writing is going well, she can work for hours without a break — and has breakfast at 2 or 3 in the afternoon!
What writer's do you admire?  Have you ever checked into what their best writing habits are?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing Senses

From Kate's Writing Crate…

         I sit at my desk to write every day. Technically, all I need is my computer and inspiration; however, inspiration isn't always around so also on my desk are:

·       Binoculars;

·       Diminutive animal figurines;

·       A round, yellow glass disk stamped with "Be true to yourself—do what you love" given to me by a college roommate;

·       A Lip Smacker;

·       Two small aqua ceramic vases: the tall one filled with pens and pencils, the shorter with dark blue glass pebbles;

·       TV remote; and

·       Wintergreen mints.

When I find myself not writing, I pick up one of the figurines and gently rub the turtle's shell or look at the face of the owl, or I run my fingers through the glass pebbles in the vase, or flip the glass disk while I ruminate. Sometimes I use the Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker. Inspiration often appears as I distract myself with tactile experiences.

Then I see a flash of color outside the window and I grab for the binoculars to watch the cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, and other birds fly in for the black oiled sunflower seeds in the feeder outside my office window. More exciting is when the hummingbird is darting among the orange blossom-filled Trumpet Vine wrapped around the nearby 40-foot pine tree. Sometimes he sits on a branch for five or six seconds so I get a good look before he is gone again.

I turn the TV on for music or news. It doesn't matter which as while I am writing I no longer hear it. But before I am writing, it, too, can provide inspiration.

Once I'm writing, I may as well be in a dark, windowless basement. All my senses are attuned to my thoughts—capturing them, describing them through my senses—but having no sense of where I am until I take a break and pop a mint while looking out the window again.

Writing seems like a simple act requiring only my computer and imagination, but all my senses are involved when I sit at my desk to write.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Dan Brown Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.


        Although published sixteen years ago, Digital Fortress by Dan Brown could not be more current. It's a thriller about codes, code breaking, the NSA, and espionage.

        Don't start reading the book unless you have time to finish it as the plot is a masterclass. You will be annoyed if interrupted and almost incapable of putting it down. It's fast-paced and fascinating.

        I don't want to ruin it for anyone so I dare say no more.


Monday, July 21, 2014

My Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist


From Kate's Writing Crate…

         Ellen Gilchrist lives her life on her own terms. She married four times, gave birth to and raised three sons, and has twelve grandchildren. She studied writing with Eudora Welty. She lives alone happily writing, teaches college students to write better, and then immerses herself with family and friends for balance.

She started writing seriously at forty, winning a National Book Award. To date, she has written novels, essays, short stories, and novellas including a collection of over 50 essays entitled The Writing Life which captures both her joy of writing as well as teaching writing.

On page 68, Gilchrist states: "Why do I come back to the typewriter so headily each morning? Because it feels good. The brain is easily addicted to feeling good and nothing on earth, with the exception of great sex, feels as good as having written well and truly in the morning. Actually it is better than sex because you control the whole activity and the afterglow can last for years if the work is published and other people profit from it. The lasting pleasure is not in their praise but in your knowledge that you have contributed something of value to the culture from which you derive your being."

        Gilchrist lives with √©lan as we all should.

In her essay "How Books Still Change Our Lives," Gilchrist brings you into not only her cul-de-sac neighborhood, but up the hill into her home made mostly of glass. The description of her house, the music she loves, and her reverence for art and her artist friends/neighbors give readers a look into her delightful, creative life.

        In her essay "The Shakespeare Group," she shares that seven or eight friends—poets, writers, an actress—meet at her home every Sunday afternoon to read the plays of Shakespeare aloud. One play every Sunday from beginning to end. Just for fun. Three times through as of the writing of this essay.

        As she notes, "…need to read all thirty-eight to learn that even the greatest writer who ever lived was a novice to begin with, and then got better, and better, and better and better, until he became the best, past, present, and forevermore." (page13) "No one could tire of them. They are not only plays. They are great poetry and they contain novels, essays, stand-up comedy routines, satire, metaphor raised to the tenth power." (page 14)

        As a writing teacher, Gilchrist considers the writing profession from a new perspective. How to inspire students? She highly recommends reading On Writing by Ernest Hemingway. She notes, "If you want to learn how to make characters move around and do things, open up Huckleberry Finn to any page and start reading. No one does it better than the old master, Mark Twain." (page 122)

        Other creative advice from Gilchrist: "Create characters. Think up something for them to do. Start writing. Tell the story and be sure to make it ring true. Believe in the story your imagination gives you. Stick to it. Don't worry about what anyone is going to think when they read it." (page 125)

But she also reminds her students that "Love and marriage and children and broken hearts and disappointments and dreams that don't come true are the stuff of poetry and fiction." (page 139) "…you have to be living a life full of other interests besides writing at the same time that you are writing every day whether you are inspired or not." (page128)    

        The gift she gives writers, besides her books, is the knowledge that we can give ourselves a creative life like hers. We can write in the mornings to give our days an afterglow; we can read Shakespeare plays aloud and in order, along with reading other classics, to appreciate and learn from great writing; we can listen to music we love; gather together with other writers and artists; and be inspired by the happenings in our own lives.