Web Writing Help, Anyone?

Laura at LDcopy.com has come up with a great request:

“I’m realizing I could use a refresher on web writing (everything from email blasts to web sites to whatever comes next) and I’d like to know if anyone has come across a conference or symposium somewhere on the subject…I’m of course searching the web but if anyone has any thoughts, post them!”

If you’ve ever attended a web-writing conference or symposium, or if you know someone who has, please post the details here. That information can be helpful to many of us.

Thanks, Laura, for your request, and thanks also to anyone who can provide help to Laura (and to the rest of us).

© 2008 by Laverne Daley
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Planning and Executing An Interview

A writer friend who has had several sales under his belt is getting a little nervous about an upcoming interview, his first big interview for a piece aimed at a national magazine. An email he sent me revealed that he is concerned “that I am going to forget something or screw it up.” He asked for suggestions for planning and executing the perfect interview.

I don’t know that I’ve ever planned and executed a perfect interview. I’ve had my share of disasters, including once when my digital recorder failed to capture even one word of the interview (which is why I now use my old reliable tape recorder only. I also take lots of notes on yellow legal pads during interviews).

I’ve learned these things about interviewing:

*Take along extra tapes and batteries.

*Do your homework ahead of time (birth places, dates, education, published items) so you won’t waste time with answers you can learn on your own.

*Prepare at least 30 questions for a 45-minute interview. Make them pertinent to the kind of article you intend to write. You may think of others questions to ask during the course of the interview.

*Start with general conversation to set the stage for the interview (the weather, mutual acquaintances, a picture on the wall, an award or other object on display).

*Don’t ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”

*Don’t be afraid to let the person being interviewed wander off the subject (some great quotes come up that way).

*If things get too far afield, don’t hesitate to bring the interview back to the subject you want discussed. If you lose track of a long tale he’s relating, ask him to put it in chronological order.

*Zero in on answers that could produce colorful details. Ask for specifics whenever possible — if he talks about his first car, find out the make, model and color and why he remembers it so well. If she has a pet, is it a Persian cat or a Jack Russell terrier and what is its name? Is his favorite food prime rib or down-home cooking? Who inspired her to take flying lessons as a teenager? If she hates camping, find out why. Details can make your interviewee come alive for the reader.

*Keep yourself out of the interview. The article you intend to write will be about the person you are interviewing, so there is no need to offer your personal observations. Stay focused on the other person.

*Near the end of the interview, I always ask, “Is there anything else I should have asked?” Sometimes the person being interviewed will volunteer information that I may not have thought of asking about.

*Don’t turn off the recorder when you stand up to leave. I’ve found that I get some of my best quotes after the interview seems to be over.

*Later, send a thank you note or email to the person who granted you the interview. Tell them the publication date (if you know it), and make sure they get a copy of the article when it’s published. Your editor can arrange for this but sometimes you have to remind them.

*Most of all, just be yourself during the interview. Remember, an interview is a conversation between two people. When you’re relaxed and enjoying the interview, you’ll get the best information and the best quotes. And that will translate into an article that readers will enjoy.

Please leave a comment.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley
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Writing with Precision: Watch Out for These Twelve Words

“If writing must be a precise form of communication, it should be treated like a precision instrument. It should be sharpened, and it should not be used carelessly.” Theodore M. Bernstein

In pursuit of precision, we offer here are a dozen word usages that sometimes trip us up. We often use them without realizing their precise meaning.

Demolish, destroy. You can’t partially destroy or demolish something. Demolish and destroy do away with completely. So there is no need to say something is totally destroyed.

Fliers, flyers. People who fly airplanes are fliers. Handbills are flyers.

Annual. It’s never the first annual anything. If something is happening for the first time, it can’t be annual yet. You can say you expect it to become an annual event. Use annual only for second and succeeding times.

Funeral service. The word service is redundant. A funeral is a service. (I know I was taught this in newswriting classes but I still have trouble remembering it, in writing and in speaking).

Imply, infer. A speaker implies. A hearer infers.

Over, more than. Over refers to spatial relationships (the plane flew over the city). Use more than with figures. More than 50,000 fans attended the game.

Reluctant, reticent. If we don’t want to do something, we’re reluctant to do it. If we don’t want to speak about it, we’re reticent to talk about it.

Temperatures. Temperatures may get higher or lower but they don’t get warmer or cooler. Temperatures may rise, but they don’t warm up. The day becomes warmer or the air becomes warmer as the temperature rises.

And while talking about temperatures, if you think you’re coming down with a cold and you feel warm, don’t say you’re running a temperature. You are not. You may be running a fever. Our bodies always have a temperature, usually around 98.6 degrees. If it’s above that number, you probably have a fever.

Unique. Unique means something is the only one of its kind. It can’t be very unique or more unique or most unique (all of which imply comparison with other objects). It’s either unique (one of a kind) or it’s not.

Drown. Don’t say someone was drowned unless another person held the victim’s head under water to accomplish the deed. Otherwise, just say someone drowned.

Please leave a comment.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley
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Making Time to Write

It’s not easy to find writing time. So many priorities demand our attention that we’re often juggling writing with carpooling, cooking, child care, maybe a full-time job. Still, it’s possible to carve out writing time if we’re persistent.

In a Writer’s Handbook article, freelancer Shirley Jump revealed how she managed to free up enough time to write dozens of articles, two books and numerous corporate materials a year while tending to two children and family responsibilities.

She woke at 4:30 every morning with the help of an alarm clock (placed across the room so she had to get up to shut it off), a coffeepot with a timer (and really good coffee), and a programmable thermostat (it turned on heat so her office was comfortable when she got there). Jump wrote five pages every day, then printed them out to edit throughout the day. She also kept a notebook with her for any other writing she was able to do.

Getting up early is one way to eke out writing time. Other writers eliminate time wasters like TV, videos, and junk mail, they combine errands to make the most efficient use of time and use the driving time for writing-related activities, or they check email once a day or less often, and sign onto the Internet only after reaching their daily page goals. Some write by talking into a digital recorder during the commute to and from their jobs, or carpooling (after dropping off the kids), or driving to the grocery store or cleaners.

Many say they cut down on the time spent on household chores and ask, do you really have to dust every week? Do you spend time ironing non-essential items? Can others in the household do laundry and fold and put away clothes? Can you hire someone to take over the most time-consuming chores?

Another way to free up time, says freelance writer, Moira Allen, author of Writing.com and editor of “Global Ink” is to “teach others to respect your time. Sometimes that means refusing to answer the telephone or even turning off the ringer.

“Protecting your time means cultivating the art of saying ‘no,’ ‘later,’ and ‘I have to go now,'” Allen said. “At first, this may seem the most difficult task of all, but eventually you will realize that your new attitude hasn’t caused the rest of the world to view you as an ogre — and you’re actually getting some quality writing done.” You can read more of Moira’s advice here.

Freelancer Kelly L. Stone, who has been published in Family Circle, Writer’s Digest and many other publications, began her writing career while holding down a full-time job. She carved out quality writing time by making, and keeping, writing appointments with herself.

In her article, “How to Find Time to Write Despite Your Busy Life,” she advised:

“Work hard to keep that writing appointment. Treat it like it’s ‘real,’ just like an appointment with the doctor or at your child’s school. The only way to do this is to exercise self-discipline and make yourself follow through.”

When you do manage to carve out writing time, it’s important to reward yourself, Stone said.

“You want to associate positive feelings with that self-discipline you’ve been practicing. It reinforces the behavior and increases the chances that you’ll do it again. So at the end of each week that you keep your writing appointments, do something nice for yourself. Take a bubble bath, get a pedicure, have a romantic dinner with your spouse, or buy your favorite author’s latest release. You can even reward yourself at the end of each writing session. For example, if I write for thirty minutes, I can watch General Hospital.”

Kelly has a wealth of other time-savers in her article. You can find it here.

Please share your time-saving tips here. We’d love to learn from you.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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Are There Reasons Why Your Submissions Aren’t Noticed?

If you’ve ever wondered why your submissions aren’t getting noticed, you might want to check out this: “An Editor Speaks Out,” a recent post by veteran writer Sally Stuart.

In her post, Stuart shared a letter from a magazine publisher who revealed candid reasons why many periodicals are no longer accepting freelance submissions. His revelations are an important reminder of why freelancers need to be aware of how we present ourselves and our work to editors.

One example:

“. . . They frequently e-mail simple questions that are clearly addressed in our guidelines. Manuscript mechancs? Forget it–most authors don’t even attempt to comply. Most distressing, however, is that most of the material received is not–even remotely–suitable for our magazine.”

The article covers other areas of what freelancers do, or fail to do, when submitting to magazines, and the list is substantial and enlightening. It is definitely worth your time to read Stuart’s entire post.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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What Not to Put into a Query Letter

When a young writer asked me to look over the query letter she intended to send to a national magazine, I was not surprised to find that the query started with the words, “I’ve never been published before.” A lot of never-published writers seem to think they need to announce their amateur writer status that way. In reality, editors are more interested in the article idea you are proposing than they are in your publishing credentials. A well-crafted, well-targeted query goes a long way in demonstrating your writing abilities and helping an editor determine whether to ask to see your proposed article.

So, “don’t tell the editor you’ve never been published,” was my first comment to the young writer. “Why would you get off on the wrong foot by including something that might cause an editor to stop reading your query right away?”

The problem was, I think, that she didn’t think of her query as a sales letter. But that’s exactly what a query letter is — an attempt to sell your article idea and your ability to write that article.

Can you imagine a car salesman starting his pitch with the 12-miles-per-gallon stats for the vehicle he’s trying to sell you? More likely, he’d hit you with his car’s most impressive feature up front. And that’s what a query must do for a writer, hook the editor with a compelling reason for reading your query and giving you an assignment.

A Google search turned up scores of other bad examples that writers have included in their queries. Two sites, Writer’s Resource Center and Suite 101 both listed very helpful advice about what not to do.

In her Suite101 article, “Don’ts for Query Letters,” Kimberly Dawn Wells advises: Don’t mention that your piece was previously rejected, and don’t talk about how good it is or how much work you put into it. And, she says, don’t apologize for not having written a better letter. If you don’t think you’re writing a solid letter, edit it until you’re proud of it.

She adds: “Don’t address the editor generally. This means, do not address your letter to ‘the editor.’ Take the time to find out what the editor’s name is, what their gender is, and spell their name correctly. Most editors won’t notice if the letter is addressed correctly, but they will definitely notice if it isn’t.”

In “How to Write a Query Letter,” the Writer’s Resource Center offered additional specifics on query-letter no-nos, including:

Don’t present ideas for several different articles in the same letter. This can be done after you’ve established rapport with an editor, but not in an initial query.

Do not say your piece still needs work.

Don’t include other people’s statements about your article.

Don’t say how thrilling it would be to be published.

Do not discuss the rights you wish to sell or discuss price or payment.

Don’t include your social security number or discuss copyright information.

Don’t ask for advice, criticism or comments.

Don’t send any query before studying the publication enough to know if your idea is appropriate for that publication.”

Let me end with advice found in multiple places on the Internet: Don’t give the editor a sob story. No editor is going to assign an article because you’ve just lost your job, because you’re having trouble making ends meet, because you’ve spent every weekend for nearly a year writing this article, or because you’ll have to give up writing entirely if somebody doesn’t buy your work soon. Keep your query professional and editors will applaud you.

We are indebted to the Writer’s Resource Center and Suite 101 for publishing their valuable tips for writers. If you know of other examples of “what not to put into a query letter,” please share them here. We’d be happy to learn from you.

Please leave a comment.

©2008 by Laverne Daley
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