Archive for December, 2007


December 28, 2007

Breaking in as a Freelancer: Have Confidence

Are you desperate to get published, to get your first byline and clip to show friends, family, and especially editors you’d like to write for? Don’t be. And don’t let publishers make you feel like you should be.

No doubt, it can be hard to get your first magazine article published. Many editors like to work with previously published writers. The pressure to get that first byline is legitimate, even for published writers who are trying to break in to a new market.

photo of billiard balls breaking - do you need a big break?

Breaking in is hard to do

It’s the age-old question, but it’s not unique to writers: How am I supposed to get experience if no one will hire me? We all have to get that first job/clip/whatever for our resumes, regardless of the field.

That’s why unpublished writers should exhibit confidence when they interact with editors; in no way should they assume or behave as if freelance writing is different from other professions. We all need to get our foot in the door at least once.

Don’t Let Editors See You Sweat

To a certain degree, I’m echoing sentiments expressed a short while ago by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer Blog. Linda notes that writers should never let editors see them desperate for work. No matter how empty your bank account, Formichelli cautions, always present yourself in a positive, “how can I help you?” light.

That advice holds true whether you’ve published 200 articles or none. Editors shouldn’t see you as someone who so badly wants that first clip that you’ll accept just about any terms they toss your way.

As I mentioned in my previous post, in a recent call for submissions, a magazine editor announced that she needs several articles for her next issue. Unfortunately, it’s a nonpaying market. As compensation for published articles, writers will receive two subscriptions to the magazine, a $55 value.

I’ll write more about weighing the decision to write for free in another post. For now, let’s just say that writing for free does sometimes, under the right circumstances, have benefits.

But this editor also wants writers to work on spec, to submit articles that she may then hold for as long as six months before making a go/no-go decision. That means a writer could spend tens of hours researching and writing an article that never had a chance of being published in that magazine. And while the editor takes up to six months to decide whether she wants to publish it, the article is worthless to the writer, who can’t shop it around to other markets.
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December 26, 2007

Our Own Winter Holiday

Because all holidays have been created by humans and are, therefore, made up, our family decided that we not only could but should make up our own winter holiday. We haven’t finished figuring out just what our holiday will be, but we do seem to have agreed that any quality holiday should at the very least include:

  • chocolate
  • comic books
  • family
  • food
  • music

Those items aren’t listed in order of importance, although I would argue that chocolate does, indeed, rank first.

Happy winter holidays, no matter how/if/why you celebrate.

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December 20, 2007

How to Handle Publishers Who Don’t Want to Pay Writers

Remember, writers:

  • Beware editors/publishers asking for free content.
  • Beware editors/publishers who want you to help them get their publication off the ground (by way of your free labor).
  • Beware editors/publishers who try to convince you that they’re doing you a favor or that you need a break to get published.

A call for submissions to a nonpaying magazine market appeared on a Yahoogroups writers’ list I subscribe to. Unfortunately, work-for-no-pay is not terribly uncommon with new, small magazines. Thumb through the Writer’s Market and you’ll find plenty of consumer magazines claiming their budgets are too tight or their businesses too new to pay writers for their work.

You’ll also find that most nonpaying markets have awfully high standards for work they want done for free. What ever happened to “you get what you pay for”? (Kidding — we should always put our best foot forward.) I’m amazed at the arrogance of some of the ads — you’d think that they’d be begging for submissions and kissing writers’ butts.

But they’re not. And that’s because they don’t have to. There seems to be no bottom to the pool of writers willing to give someone else’s business free stuff in exchange for seeing their name in print or pixels. The call for submissions that came through last night was particularly ballsy, though. The editor/publisher wants writers to:

  • Blindly submit completed articles of up to 2000 words (who needs that pesky query process?)
  • Submit their work by January 5 (the post was written on Dec. 18)
  • Accept two annual subscriptions (two subscriptions for one year, not one two-year subscription; $55 total value), a byline and brief bio, and two copies of the issue as “payment” for their professionally written article(s)
  • Wait up to six months to find out if the article will be published or rejected
  • To “sell” (somehow, without any money exchanging hands) first North American serial rights to the publication

Obviously, the magazine is offering very little in return for someone’s hard work. The burden lies entirely with the writer, while the publication will commit to nothing, not even a quick turn-around on their go/no-go decision. And they don’t seem to value the query process — they expect writers to hurry up, write a long, quality article, submit the work, and then cross their fingers that the article will be accepted and published. All of this for not a single penny.
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December 16, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: Rex Libris: I, Librarian Volume I

Forget the image of the tight-lipped, bun-haired, aged, school-marmish librarian. She’s gone. If the Shifted Librarian hasn’t sufficiently stuffed her worn, tattered butt into the relic bin, Rex Libris will drive a stake through the old stereotype’s barely beating heart.

Rex Libris, the invention of illustrator-turned-comic book creator James Turner, is, according to the cover of my book, “The World’s Favorite Kick-Ass Sesquepedalian Librarian.” I don’t know what “sesquepedalian” means because it’s not in Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary. “Sesquipedalian” is there, though: it means “having many syllables” or “given to the use of long words.” Those definitions make some sense given that our hero, Rex, is incredibly well read and tosses out words like “floccinaucinihilipilification” willy-nilly.

Maybe that’s because he’s kind of old: he was born in ancient Greece (or was it Rome?). With his dark suit and tie, thick, dark-rimmed, bottle glasses and puffed-up torso, he looks like Clark Kent on steroids. But he’s no alien in tights; he’s the the weapon-toting, universe-trotting, several-thousand-year-old head librarian at Middleton Public Library. His job: to protect the collected knowledge of civilization by tracking down every last overdue book, no matter how many galaxies away it might be or how strong the forces of evil or ignorance that stand in his way. Or even how much brute force he has to use.

Volume I of Rex Libris follows Rex on his quest to recover an overdue copy of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica from supreme warlord Vaglox of the planet Benzine Five. Rex accepts his assignment, given by his boss, the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, who lives in the bowels of the library, by saying, “You got it boss. I’ll get the book back an’ give him a few lumps for good measure.” Lucky for me my librarian still just charges a fine for overdue books.

But by this point we already know that Rex is no ordinary librarian. In fact, Chapter One opens with Rex doing battle with a demon spirit samurai who has come to the library looking for the book, Evil Made Easy. Rex will let the samurai can read the book in the library but won’t let him leave with it. Why? Because the demon spirit has no library card, of course! A fight ensues, naturally, and Rex lures the samurai the mythology section where he picks up Demon Samurai and How to Defeat Them, where he learns the best way to, well, defeat the demon samurai.

Knowledge is, indeed, power.
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December 15, 2007

Confessions of Book Snob, or, How I Started Reading Comic Books and Graphic Novels

I‘m somewhat new to the medium of comics in general and graphic novels in particular, which is odd because for 15 years I’ve been married to a guy who owns hundreds, if not thousands, of comic books. They’re all bagged, boarded, and stored away where the kids can’t get their sticky little fingers on them — unless they ask first. I admit I’ve been a bit of a book snob, looking down on comics as a lesser form of storytelling, as genre unworthy of my precious little free time, rather than as a legitimate storytelling medium or format that works well for many genres. Until recently, I not only had no interest in comics, but I actively stayed away from them. I mean, really, aren’t comic books for kids?

Why, yes they are! Some of them, anyway. (But many, if not most, are not.) And miraculously one day my kids started reaching the age where they could appreciate comic books. And poof! I was seeing comic books lying around the house. Turns out, comic books are a fantastic medium for my son because he’s still learning to read. He can follow the basic storyline of a decent comic book even if he can’t read the text. And comic books don’t make him feel like he’s reading a “baby book,” as some of the cute-little-bunny-laden early readers make him feel. Plus, even after he’s read a comic book to himself, he still wants me or my husband to read him the book from cover to cover, so he eventually understands the entire story.
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