Friday, June 18, 2010

Turn Awards Into Cash

Awards to a writer are like gold. And while some may even be made of gold which you can cash in at any one of those “Cash-for-Gold” shops, most are far more valuable.

While writing awards come in all varieties, the ones that hold the most value are those given with minimal input from you, the writer, and usually from a group of other writers. After winning such an award, especially one given by a group of writers or editors, your credibility soars–at least for a while.

Soon after you’re presented with an award, everyone rushes to congratulate you. But not unlike when a loved one dies and the sympathies fade away after a few weeks, so it is with an award. How soon they forget!

So it’s up to you to make sure they don’t. Whatever type of award you win, you need to milk it for all the promotion it’s worth. Prominently display it on the Home Page of your Web site. Post it on your Facebook Page, tweet all those Web birdies out there. But most of all, let your editors and publishers know about it.
First and foremost, use your award to get more work. Make sure you update your resume, especially on your Web site. Don’t be shy. And mention it in your query letters. The more prestigious the award, the longer its residual effects will last.

And be sure to display your award(s) where you can see them every day, so that they’ll inspire you to write more. Remember, the fact that you received an award in the first place means someone thought you were better than the rest. The award just proves what you knew all along.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Turning One Published Piece into Many

I’m absolutely amazed at how many beginning writers get published for the first time, then turn to a completely different subject, marketing that to a different editor or publisher instead of building a relationship with the first.

Writing is not just about words, it’s about relationships. No matter what sort of writing you do, you need to build on past successes. If you begin at the top, you have no where to go but down, so it’s important to begin slowly and build relationships with your editors. This can be either by getting to know what a particular editor wants or building on new contacts, using an award you’ve recently received.

I believe the first time I had an article published in a national magazine was a fluke. While it wasn’t totally an accident–-I had sent the piece into the magazine, Popular Mechanics, after all–-it was by happenstance that it appeared between the covers of this national publication exactly one year later. The article showed readers how to build turn an ordinary compact station wagon into a “chuck wagon” for use on a cross-country camping trip. It wasn’t particularly in my field of interest, but it was something I actually did construct. I didn’t publish anything again for six years.

Oh, I tried. I sent pieces all over the place, but I failed to send another idea to the editor of Popular Mechanics. That was my mistake.

As soon as you achieve publishing success, immediately send several similar ideas to that same editor. In fact, while you’re waiting to hear back from that publication, assemble a list of salable ideas that you can send along later.

Perhaps the editor liked your writing style or perhaps your subject. What probably happened–as in my case–was that the editor liked the timeliness of my subject. At the time, gasoline prices had begun to rise dramatically, and this offered families an affordable way to go on an extended vacation and eat well at the same time. But even though you may have just gotten lucky doesn’t mean that you couldn’t sell something to that same editor.

It’s important to build a rapport with your editors. The longest I worked for the same one was 14 years. That’s because she remained in her position, and I gave her consistently good material she could use. The second longest was seven years.

Editors flit from publication to publication about as fast as hairdressers do from salon to salon. If you have a good relationship with an editor, he or she will often take you with them to their new publication. It’s usually an upgrade to a better position for them, resulting in a marketing upgrade for you, which can mean higher pay and more prestige.

The same holds true for getting awards, but I’ll tell you more about that next week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Getting Organized

When computers first came on the scene, manufacturers said they would lead to a paperless society. Obviously, they didn’t mean writers. Even though I’ve been using a computer for my work since 1989, to look at my files, you’d never know it. That’s because writing of any sort–except perhaps poetry–requires some degree of research. So to keep from going insane, I had to get organized.

At first, I used manila envelopes that I rescued from mailings. Into these I placed brochures, notes, etc. on various topics, then stacked them on their longer sides on shelves with the topic lettered on the at the bottom. After these filled several shelves, I switched to a filing cabinet. Now six filing cabinets later, I ran out of room. Sure, I periodically go through the material, but it still piles up.

Ordinary manila folders became the basis for my filing system. Every article I write–to date about 4,000–has a corresponding file folder containing an brief outline, research notes, and any other pertinent information about that topic. When writing a book, I use a separate file folder for each chapter, plus extra ones for appendices and the general concept and outline.

Each article and book chapter also has corresponding computer files–several for research, one for the rough draft, and successive additional ones for revisions and rewrites, each numbered in succeeding order.

In addition to all the writing files, I also have a well-organized library of several hundred books. Most of these I use for reference in researching my work. When I’m working on a book, I place all the books I’m using to research it on one nearby small table, making it easy to go back and find a specific reference.

My office also contains several stackable trays that I had planned to use for sorting current material. Unfortunately, other folders and such tend to clog them up, so I periodically have to clean them out.

It’s also a good idea to keep everything you use most often closest to your desk. This can be article folders, notes, a scheduling book, etc. And, yes, I also keep a calendar with automatic reminder alerts on my computer.

To organize my current writing project folders, I use two plastic former record album racks. The folders stack nicely into them, allowing me to finger through them to find what I want. To keep different types of writing projects separated, I use sheets of cardboard, cut higher than a file folder, then paste a large label with type of writing project across the top. These allow me to place folders between them, keeping everything organized. I have folders divisions for Assignments, Columns, Courses and Lectures, Web Site Updates, and Writing Out. As I finish a project, its folder gets filed in that last category. Every six months or so, I take all those folders and file them in the appropriate box or filing cabinet.

NOTE: I’ll discuss specifics about some of the organizational methods above in future blogs. Stay tuned.