Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two months since my last post, eh? Well, I guess in terms of blogging, I've gone on early maternity leave. I have been working my butt off on other things, trying to scrape together as much money as possible before #2 comes and I have to stop. I abandoned my previous policy of only working for Demand Studios when I didn't have babysitting help, and have been raking a fair bit of cash. I figured I might as well since getting a plum assignment from a magazine I've been chasing would stress me out beyond belief right now. With DS I can write or not write whenever I feel like it.

To be honest, I've also haven't posted because I've been rather frustrated with my progress in determining what makes for a successful expat freelancer. My "expat mom's writer's group" has not met since that first time. I have sent out emails trying to set up dates for meeting....and when I got no responses, I sent an email asking whether anyone was still interested and to (at least) confirm that they had received my emails! Only one person responded - she was still interested but was busy writing a novel and wouldn't be available to meet until fall. So...looks like I'll have to find new expat freelancers to meet with. Hopefully ones that aren't beginners and are serious about making a career of it. Where I'll find them I don't know....

Another frustration I've been dealing with is the lack of access to my target magazines. Any writing guidebook will tell you that you should know a magazine inside and out before querying - but for an expat, that's a tall order if you don't have regular access to magazines that you would like to write for. I got a "good" rejection for a magazine that I'd like to write for, wherein the editor gave me her personal email address (not just the general one for the magazine) and told me to send her more ideas. I have more ideas, but I don't know whether they've been covered recently in the magazine. It would be horribly embarrassing and unprofessional to pitch something that has recently appeared in the mag. How do other expat freelancers get around this dilemna? I would love to hear any suggestions.

Still, it's not all bad. I'm still receiving checks for articles written in the past year. And in addition to DS, I've been writing the occasional travel article for the blog at Venere.com , which has been good for making a little extra money and learning more about Paris. And most fun of all, since I've decided to not send out anymore queries until well after the baby is born (which should be next week, God willing), I've been working on a few fiction pieces. I just sent one in to the Write to Win! Contest with Writer's Journal. I guess some freelancers would say just focus on either fiction or nonfiction, but it felt great to do something different. Plus, I say that a freelancer has to be flexible about how she earns her dough! One day I think I'll do a blog post on the various ways a freelancer can earn money...but probably not until after the baby is born!

Wish us luck over here!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making fast, easy money...a price.

*Yawn* Oh boy, am I tired. I guess I haven't mentioned here that I am seven months pregnant. And being heavily pregnant, running after a toddler, trying to build/sustain a writing career, and doing all the other stuff that one must do, is really taking its toll on me. I used to be a monster of efficiency during the 12 hours of babysitting I have a week. Now, I find myself trying very hard not to spend most of that time napping.

Because I'm getting close (sort of) to my due date, I've slowed down on writing queries. Usually, I spend most of my time working on pitches for features for my dream magazines. Now, I am afraid that one of these magazines might actually pick up on my pitches. Wouldn't it figure if I get my first dream assignment right around the time my baby is due? Ugh, I get all tense and quivery at the very thought. So, instead of pitching feature ideas, I'm working on "front-of-the-book" pitches, articles which don't require as much research and have a low word counts.

But I've been working on something else lately that doesn't require much time and that I can stop and start whenever I want: writing articles for a website that funnels your content to other websites. I write for Demand Studios, which I think has one of the most reliable and well-paying programs of all the content sites I've looked into. You're not going to get rich writing for them - a 400 word article only pays $15 - but it has been great to have some spare cash, and to see my bank account increasing on a regular basis. Plus, the articles are easy to write and you don't have to spend much time thinking about what you're going to write, as DS provides the titles for you.

This is how it works: you apply by filling out an online application, providing a CV and three short writing samples. After your application is accepted, you are allowed check out the thousands of titles of the writing assignments available. There are about 15 broad categories, including subjects such Animals, Computers, Business, Health& Fitness, Sports & Recreation, Science, Weddings, Travel, and hundreds of subcategories for each topic. When you see a title you're interested in writing, you click on the assignment and it goes into your personal queue. Initially, you are allowed 10 assignments in your queue and have one week to complete them. Each article is reviewed by an editor after your turn it in, and either it is approved or you are required to do additional work.

Some articles pay a flat-fee of $5-15, others are valued through a revenue-sharing program. This means that you get paid a portion of the revenue that the article brings in, presumably from advertising. The idea is that the article will eventually earn more than the $15 flat-fee you would have been paid up front. But it’s definitely a gamble. Me, I prefer receiving the money upfront rather than getting it in dribs and drabs. (Then again, I’ve only been doing it for about six weeks. I’ll be watching my revenue-sharing articles closely to see how much they earn – so far, I’m not wildly impressed. )

I have always hesitated about writing for such websites - and now I see my hesitation was well-founded. First, writing for DS threatens to be a huge distraction from my “real” writing. It’s so nice to see cash flowing into my bank account on a weekly basis that I am tempted to write for them more and more and more. Writing queries gobbles up far more time and energy that writing these short, easy articles. And even as I write the queries, I know that I might get absolutely nothing in return from all my hard work. No money and not even a rejection letter from an editor. So, working for DS provides a certain satisfaction that my other writings don’t: I’m guaranteed to be paid for my work and words. But it’s not the writing that really thrills me. I write on topics like, “Urinary Tract Infections in Infants,” and “How to Establish Revocable Trust,” and “The Health Benefits of the Goji Berry.”

My second reservation is that writing for DS does not produce great writing. You write in an extremely stylized way (basically, you’re just plugging information into a prepared form)* and the work can’t be used as a writing sample for a reputable magazine. Sure, you have to be grammatical and interesting, but let’s just say that no one will win a Pulitzer for such content. The gig is only profitable if you write as fast as you can, and fast writing usually doesn’t equate quality writing.

On the whole, I can recommend Demand Studio as a solid way to earn money. And it’s a gig you can do it as an expat freelancer as long as you’re an American citizen, have an address to which they can send a tax earnings form at the year-end, and have a PayPal account. But be careful! Don’t let the money distract you from your larger writing goals.

As a compromise, I almost never write DS articles when I have a babysitter. I write them early in the morning before the kid wakes up, during his naps, or when he’s playing quietly by himself (ha!), or after he’s gone to bed. My babysitter time is reserved for complex, career-advancing work. And naps.



*I know there are other online content websites, such as Associated Content, where you have more flexibility in how you structure the articles you write. AC pays less up-front (from $2-15 an article, with most articles averaging around $7), but also pays you a share of revenue earned through the number of page views your articles receive. So, it’s in your interest to promote your AC articles heavily to make money. But I don’t have time for that. Moreover, it's still not a great writing sample since the editors accept pretty much anything that is grammatically correct. Magazine editors like to see writing samples that have met stringent standards.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yet another way to find markets!

For me, one of the most aggravating aspects of being an expat freelancer is not having ready access to most of the magazines for which I'd like to write. I'm always stocking up when I go home, or asking friends visiting Paris to smuggle some over when they come. But recently I had an experience that showed me a new, simpler way to find/obtain markets: ask your source.

Earlier this year, I sent a query to four popular pregnancy magazines - and got dinged from all of them. (Though I did receive a rather nice rejection from the editor Pregnancy magazine, who explained that they were already running an essay on my intended topic.) Anyway, I searched and searched on the internet for other appropriate magazines, but nothing seemed to fit the bill. Finally, I gave up. But a few days ago, I received an email from the secretary of one of the sources I'd interviewed for the query, wanting to know the status of the article. I told her that it had been passed over by four magazines, that I'd run out of ideas on where to submit it, and did she have any ideas?

Well, she did.

She gave me the name of three regional markets that clearly fly under the radar of most big magazine databases and offered to send me a copy of the magazines. So, now I'm working on revamping the query for these local markets. Fingers crossed that something comes of it. But even if these pubs don't work out either, I'm really pleased to discover that there's no shame in asking a source for ideas on where to submit a pitch. As a matter of fact, I've decided to ask all my sources for this query about pregnancy magazines in their regions!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Non-Fiction Writing Prompts

Okay, this is just a drive-by post*: I wanted to share a really cool blog I recently discovered that offers non-fiction writing prompts. We've all had those days where we've had no idea what to write about - well, this clever person who runs All Writing Ideas offers writing prompts on a daily basis. Some are for fiction and poetry, but there are plenty for articles and blogs.

A great idea, no?



* This is a post is copied from a blog of mine that I abandoned for this one. Just so no one thinks I'm plagiarising my own work!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Travel Writing Markets Tips

Ah, travel writing. The lifeblood of an expat freelancer – well, I guess. Travel writing hasn’t been my primary focus since I started freelancing. It would make sense if it had been, though. We who live abroad have tons of material right before our eyes. Even if we’re not actually travelling around our country of residence (haven’t done too much traveling since the birth of the kid), we can reveal all the cultural and social secrets of the place in which we live, plus offer practical tips: to the rest of the world, we’re travelers.

After reading an article in the Writers Weekly newsletter about not overlooking potential material in your own backyard, I decided that I need to spend more time developing stories about Paris and France. I culled together a couple of ideas and started looking around for places to submit manuscripts or queries. Writer’s Market was largely unhelpful and doing a random search on the internet was slow going, until I found this: it’s a list of travel magazines, and their writers guidelines. The list is ever so kindly provided by Transitions Abroad, itself a travel magazine.

So, if travel writing is your thing (or you want it to be), check it out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nine things to consider when forming a writers' group

Today I had my first writers' group meeting. Oh, man....I wish I'd done this years ago. (OK - actually, I did do this years ago, but everyone in my group left France - yet another hazard of being an expat freelancer.) It felt so good to break away from my computer and actually talk to other struggling freelancers face to face. Within the first twenty minutes, I learned of three new English-language magazines in France, got several more ideas for relevant blog posts, and felt generally cheered by the fact I was in a circle of people who understood what I'm up against - being a mom, wanting to write, wanting to earn money, living in a foreign country. I really hope it works out. Not all writers’ groups do.

What does it take to form a successful writers’ group? My last writers’ group was great. But we were only four people and friends beforehand, which made a huge difference in how we communicated and the degree of trust we had in one another – key elements, I think, to having a successful group. We also knew what each of us wanted to gain from the group, and were equally comfortable discussing fiction and non-fiction. At the outset, we discussed some basic guidelines for how we wanted the sessions to be structured and how to handle critiques, but it was nothing formal (I know that many writers groups write down their rules).

This new writers' group will be quite different. I’d never met any of the women before and it’s almost twice the size of my previous group. We seem to be on the same page regarding what we wanted from the group, the type of work we wanted to do, and how often we wanted to meet. But, as I was walking home, it occurred to me that there are still some issues that are worth reflecting on at future sessions. Take a look below – these considerations are not particular to our group and will be useful for any freelancer wanting to form a successful writers’ group.

1. What is the ideal size of the group? Personally, I feel that a group of 7-10 would be an ideal size. Conversations are easier if the group isn’t too large, plus you can better understand each person’s writing objective, writing style, and weak spots. All of this will make for more thoughtful critiques. Today we were six people, although more than six expressed an interest in joining. We'll need to think about at what point we'll need to cut people off.

2. How long are most of the members sticking around? A key question for us expat freelancers. I was completely bereft when my previous writers’ group broke up because all the other members left France. My productivity plummeted and I really floundered for awhile. I would advise that a core number of your group will be around for at least 1-2 years. (Of course, if you're all leaving around the same time that would work too!)

3. What is the primary goal of the group? Is it a group that focuses mainly on critiquing work? Or will it be primarily about how to develop your freelancing career? Our group seemed to be more interested in the latter at this point, but it could change as our meetings become more regular. I, for one, would like a mixture of both.

4. How often will the group meet? For me, it is important to meet in person and in a perfect world, I'd love to meet twice a month. But I know that for most of us, myself included, that will be pretty much impossible. We're all moms and live in different parts of Paris, so it's really tough to find a time that's convenient for all of us. And how much work could realistically get done in the two intervening weeks? Not much. I think it'll be once a month for us, hopefully not much longer than that. We'll see...

5. How should each meeting be structured? We discussed having one person to lead each meeting and each meeting having a different theme. We didn't discuss how we'd work critiquing into this, but I supposed we could allot a certain amount of time for discussion of the theme, and then have the rest of the time be for critiquing. This is something we'll have to talk about further.

6. How should the group establish rules regarding the confidentiality of our work? No writers' group can be successful if its members fear having their work stolen or shown to/discussed with people outside of the group. It must be made clear at the outset that the work seen within the writers' group must stay within the writers' group. We agreed that confidentiality was important, but we should probably be explicit about what that means.

7. What kind of rules should the group have for the critiquing of work? (Both for the person offering a critique and the person receiving the critique). Again, the success of a writers' group depends upon the level of trust among its members. For some groups, no-holds-barred critiques may be welcomed. Other groups may insist upon a light touch. Before the first critique session, the group should discuss how the critiquing process should go -- both for the people giving the critique and the person receiving (after all, undue sensitivity and defensiveness will help no-one!)

8. Is there a place for between-meeting support? Maybe having an email list will suffice for some writers' groups, but I started a "Google Group" for ours. I've never belonged to one of these groups before, but I imagine that it's an easy way to keep in touch, immediately post relevant articles or leads, and discuss group-related things without cluttering up everyone's in-box. You can form groups with 'Yahoo' as well - I didn't use Google for any particular reason.

9. Do the rules of the group need to be written down? Seems like most serious writers groups put their rules and objectives in writing. But is that really necessary? At first, I thought it seemed too anal and extreme. But upon further reflection, I decided that it's probably a good thing. Having the rules decided and written at the outset can stave off potential in-fighting and disappointment. (Even though nobody likes to think of discord at the beginning of a relationship, the lawyer in me knows that we all probably should.) In addition, written rules would also be helpful for new or potential members. If they feel they can't adhere to the rules, they can bow out early before anyone's time is wasted.

So, those are my thoughts on this topic -- what are yours? Feel free to add comments in the box below!

Friday, April 10, 2009

How to Find Anglophone Markets

I don't know what other expat freelancers moan about, as I don't yet know any. So, I'm going to write about the thing that bugs me the most about freelancing from abroad -- finding good markets to query.

I like writing about pregnancy and parenting since that those are the things on my mind these days. But as many pregnancy and parenting magazines as I know are out there, it can be tough to find anything beyond the big name glossies. I'm insanely jealous of those freelancers who can spend an hour or two browsing the magazine racks at B&N or who stumble across local or regional magazines in their dentist's office. Potential markets just rain from the skies for them! What's an expat freelancer to do? How can we tap into lesser-known Anglophone markets from abroad?

Here's the way I decided to go about it:

1. Subscribe to as many magazine databases as possible. Currently, I'm subscribed to Writer's Market, Wooden Horse Publishing, and Media Bistro. The three are quite different from one another, and I feel like I have many bases covered by checking-in at all three. I also check-in at Freelance Writing, which is free and not only lists magazines and their guidelines, but also articles, job postings, writing contests, and more.

2. Sign-up for as many newsletters as possible. I've lost track of how many newsletters I've signed up for. But among my favorites are: Writing For Dollars, Hope Clark's Funds for Writers, Writer Gazette , and WritersWeekly. Each of these has its own magazine database, and highlights new magazines and guidelines every week.

3. Persuse online magazines directories. These directories won't give you submission guidelines and the names of editors you'll need to contact. However, you will get the names of magazines as a point of departure. I check-in with www.amazon.com, Yahoo's Magazine Directory, and http://www.allyoucanread.com/.

4. Do Random Online Searches. I once read about a magazine called, "Chicago Parent." A few weeks later, I came across a magazine called "L.A. Parent." A lightbulb went off (came on?). I started doing searches for parenting magazines under titles like "D.C. Parent" and "New York Parent" and suddenly, I have a wealth of new magazines at my fingertips that I haven't ever seen in the magazine databases.

5. Pay attention to where other writers have published. Usually, when writers publish an article, they cite two or three publications where their work has appear in their bio. These days, I find myself studying bios as if they were articles themselves, and jotting down the names of magazines that interest me. In fact, that's how I came across "Chicago Parent" which was the magazine tipped me off to so many other parenting magazines.

6. Ask other writers for recommendations. We're all on the hunt for new, potential markets, and in a good online writing community, fellow writers are almost always willing to suggest potential markets when you're stuck for ideas about where to submit a query. I participate in Absolute Write and find the people there extremely helpful and supportive.

7. Ask your friends for recommendations. My poor friends. They are so involved in my writing career. I'm always pestering them to share their pregancy and parenting experiences to create more writing fodder for me -- and now I've begun to bug my U.S. friends to share with me their favorite local and/or regional magazines. I also ask my expat friends here which pubs they subscribe to and ask for their cast-offs when they're done with them.

8. Go to the Library. Okay, in Paris we're pretty lucky that we have an American Library that subscribes to many U.S. periodicals. Most of them are big-names, so it doesn't really help me in my search for smaller profile mags, but still, it's a great resource. I didn't even know about The American Library until I'd been living here for three years (of course, I wasn't freelancing then, so it wasn't on my radar screen, but still - you never know!). If you think that your adopted country doesn't have such a library, double check. And also check out American Universities and cultural centers - you might have luck there.

If there are any readers out there with additional ideas, let's hear 'em!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hey

Hey - I'm Barb, the expat freelancer. I've been freelancing for two or three years now, but I have to admit for most of the time, I was only dabbling. In the past year, I've gotten quite serious about it (the recession is a great motivator) and have been very diligent about researching, writing and sending out queries as often as my schedule will allow. But it's tough. For one thing, I have a 20-month old that needs lots of attention and love. And for another thing, I'm all the way over in France: that's hella-far from Barnes & Noble, NYC's 5th Avenue library, and all those other researching perks that U.S. freelancers have. But I know that other expat freelancers have made a living this way! I just don't know any personally... (heh).

I'm hoping that through this blog, we can develop a supportive community of expat freelancers who are willing to share their tips for success. Of course, non-expat writers are welcome as well. The tips and insight I intend to share here will be slanted toward those writing from abroad, but I'm betting that there'll be lots of overlap.

So, here we go!