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What do editors do when they get laid off? (Or, if you prefer, leave to “pursue other options.”)

They freelance.

Bad news for freelancers: There’s going to be more competition than ever. Heads are rolling in the publishing industry even more than they normally do this time of year. (Holidays = layoffs, didn’t you know?) The carnage seems to be coming early this year, and it’s across the board, judging from recent posts on Media Bistro as well as several writer’s organization newsboards I read regularly. (Sorry I can’t cite specific stats to specific sites due to confidentiality policies. So take the numbers I’ve compiled below with a grain of salt, but heed the overall trend, which is glaringly obvious no matter whose numbers you use. Bottom line: It’s ugly out there, and it’s getting worse.) 

Conde Nast is cutting back on both print and Internet staff positions, letting go of dozens of staffers in its Internet division, which includes such well-entrenched and well-trafficked sites as Epicurious.com. Forbestraveler.com was reported to be closing up shop (although you wouldn’t know it to visit the site: Chances are they can keep rotating content and collect ad revenue well into the future. A big “darnit” from me, since it was one of my new markets this year and I liked the editors there). (11-17/08: Update on Forbestraveler.com: There are conflicting reports about its demise. There have been layoffs, assignments in process have been canceled, writers have received notes from editors saying the on-magazine has ceased publication (I’ve seen copies), and I myself received a note from an editor that they are not accepting queries. However, the official line is that Forbestraveler.com is still up and running, if curtailed for the time being. So let’s put a hold on that death knell and hope they make it through….Until and unless they do, though, it’s probably not a promising market.)

And on with the list: Active Interest Media, which publishes Yoga Journal and Backpacker, is letting go 10 percent of its workforce. Time Inc. has cut at least 15 editorial positions at Entertainment Weekly.  Even old stalwarts like National Geographic and The Economist Group are affected; both cut out a dozen staff.  And a raft of newspapers have cut back, eliminated, or are consolidating their travel sections.  

Most disturbing to me are the cutbacks at –and sometimes, the downright failure of — major Internet sites. You’d have to be living with a bucket over your head not to know that print is suffering, but a lot of us writers have been looking to the Internet for new opportunities, new markets, new ways to connect with readers, new income streams, and more control of our work. If well-funded well-visited sites chockfull of advertising are sinking, who IS making money on the Internet?  To paraphrase an oldie but goodie, and with apologies to Frank Sinatra, “If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.” (And haven’t we been through this before? Remember the first sound of the Internet bubble popping? To me it sounded a lot like the sound of paper being shredded, as thousands of dollars of stock options turned into packing material and fire starter.)

Meanwhile (speaking of shredded paper): Pink slips are falling like confetti, and editors newly liberated into the freelance life are trying to figure out who and what and how to pitch in an ever tightening market. 

From a freelancer’s POV, we’ve got a bright side/dark side thing going when editors join our ranks:

Dark side for freelancers: Not only are these editors more competition, but they arrive with a head start. These are people who have current contacts into all the markets WE want to write for, and current info about editorial needs and plans.  And many of them are highly skilled, with good access to sources and an inbred understanding of not only the publication they recently worked for, but also its competition. 

Bright side for freelancers: These newly minted freelancers (at least, some of them) will learn how hard it is to wait months (yes, months) to be paid for work they did well outside the realm of short-term memory. They will learn how frustrating it is to be assigned 1000 words on subject X, write it, then have another, more senior editor — someone with whom they’ve never even communicated – decide that really, she wants 500 words on subject Y. They will learn that a buck a word really doesn’t cover the time it takes to do seven interviews, two rewrites, and a tweak or two on a 500 word piece. And they will learn that no, you can’t expect a writer to shell out $2000 or $3000 or $4000 and a few days of time to go examine a new luxury hotel, forbid them from accepting any comped airfares, rooms, meals, or cups of coffee – and then ask them to sell all rights to the resulting story for $500. (If you’re a travel writer, you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, no, I am not making this up. And if you are an editor who forbids writers from taking press trips but you don’t pay expenses, let alone pay a fee that covers the cost of the trip: Yeah, I get the thing about supposed objectivity (more on THAT in another post) –But how exactly do YOU justify asking your writers to pay for the privilege of working for you?) 

Okay. Everybody breathe. I’m off my soap box. For now.

An even brighter side about editors taking a ride around the pond in the leaky little boat we call freelancing:  Most editors-turned-writers will jump ship and turn back into editors as soon as the luxury cruise ship called “Staff Job” sails back into their home port. Once aboard, they’ll be pampered with 401(k) plans and health insurance and sick leave, until their voyage on the dinghy known as “The Freelancer” becomes just a dim memory of misguided and thankfully finished adventure. And that will leave us freelancers where we were before –  bobbing in their wake, watching them sail away, and hoping that perhaps a few of them will remember what they’ve learned about the care and feeding of freelancers, while they gorge at the all-you-can-eat midnight-buffet. 

At least, we can always hope.

And by the way, no, I don’t wish I was on that staff job cruise ship. My little freelance dinghy suits me just fine. I know how to work it, and it hasn’t sunk yet.

Meantime – and on a serious note — I wish these editors the best. And I KNOW their jobs aren’t easy. I was a magazine editor for two years and a book editor for five — so yes, I know what life is like on the other side.  (Selfishly: I know I NEED editors — not only to buy my stories, but to help me make them better. The copyeditors who have worked on my 12 books are my personal heroes.) We freelancers know that one of the great benefits to our work is that it’s unlikely that we lose ALL our markets (our paychecks) at the same time. That’s not true for ANY employee, except for tenured professors and people in the civil service. Job security is a thing of the past and personally, I can’t think of anything more terrifying than being employed and solvent one day and out of work the next. This is a difficult time of year in a difficult economy. Cross fingers it soon passes. For all of us.

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Let’s say you’ve got your event listed in all the newspaper calendars (which you learned how to do at http://createworklive.com/2008/10/15/getting-in-print-local-listings/). But now you think it deserves a bit more print than a teeny mention in 6-point type. You want an article about it. Maybe even a picture. After all, newspapers and magazines are full of articles about just such events as yours: You want a share of the page.

What you need is a press release. A press release is a short article (usually no more than 500 words) that you send out to editors and writers telling them the basics of what’s going on and giving them a reason why they should cover your event. Sometimes, they will publish the press release exactly as you wrote it. Sometimes they will revise it; they may expand it with additional research, or (more commonly) they might shorten it.  And sometimes they’ll send a reporter to follow up and do a whole story on you. 

The job of a press release is to get media coverage for your event.

As with community listings, you need to start with a list of media, contacts, and lead times, with specific addresses. Press releases MUST go to the appropriate person; otherwise they are usually deleted. (You’d think a reporter would just hit the forward button and send it off to the right editor, but usually they don’t. Everyone is too busy, and they get too many releases.) So check the paper to find out if they publish the right e-mail address for press releases, or call and ask. You can also network into this information; for example, a community college administrator once gave me her press contact list. However, double check your list with a phone call, since @ddresses change and go out of date. A press release that goes to the wrong e-mail address might as well have never been sent.

Timing is important, too. Some papers have a little burb buried somewhere that tells you to send material two weeks (or whatever) before the event. With magazines, you can pretty much assume at least a three to four month lead time, more if you want them to do a feature on you.  (Magazine lead times for features can be up to a year in advance, and sometimes much more.)  

Press releases follow a traditional format; you want to stick with that. Anything that deviates too far off the expected track will usually get tossed.   

  • Headline: As any writer/reporter knows, our e-in-boxes are filled to the rim every day with press releases, most of which have nothing to do with what we write about. In fact, the first thing I do every day when I check e-mail is delete irrelevant press releases. I decide what’s relevant based on the headline: Unless the headline makes it clear that what I’m getting means something to me, I delete it. So headlines should include ANY information that shows how your press release targets that publication.  For local and regional publications, two key ideas are “local” and “timely.”  Tie ins with charity events, festivals, and seasonal tourist attractions are also eye-catching.
  • Title: Inside the press release, there should be an informative title for the release. If you opt for cute and quirky, balance it with a sub-head that makes it clear what’s going on.
  • Release date: The release date tells the reporter when the information may be published.
  • Contact info: Make sure that whatever contact info you give is easy to find (right at the top of the page) and that it is “live.” If a deadline-stressed reporter calls (and what other kind of reporter is there?), he or she wants an answer, not a machine. Give both a reliable phone number (not your cell if you never answer it), and an e-mail address. 
  • First paragraph: You can get a away with ONE clever sentence or teaser in your first paragraph, but that’s it. The rest should be crystal clear: Who, what, when, where.  
  • Voice. Do NOT write in the first person. This is not a personal essay! It should sound like you hired a PR firm to write about you.  
  • Hook. The hook is where you get creative and show what’s unique and newsworthy about your event. Anything to do with timing is good (perhaps you’re playing a Mozart sonata on the anniversary of its permiere); perhaps this is the 10th annual jam concert your band holds. Awards, local connections (your novel is set in the region), seasonal tie-ins (Your poetry is Halloween-themed and you’re asking everyone to come in costume; your autumn pottery exhibit includes cups containing impressions of leaves that fell): Anything that makes a connection between you, your work, the reporter, the place, and the people who will be reading is a plus.   
  • Just the facts, ma’am. Skip the adjectives and adverbs. Don’t call your work “beautiful,” “interesting,” “revolutionary,” or “ground-breaking.” That’s for others to say. Instead, describe in as few words as possible what MAKES it groundbreaking: Perhaps you were the first person to combine Japanese print-making techniques with collage, or you have figured out a way to write a blues songs using a 12-tone scale.
  • Keep the jargon out of it. Using the example above, you can’t talk about a 12-tone scale unless you have reason to believe your reporter and his or her readers will know what it is. (Yes for a music magazine, no for the Podunk Gazette.) If you can explain it quickly, that’s fine. But no reporter wants a music theory lesson with his morning coffee.
  • Endorsements. If your work really IS “astonishing,” “gorgeous,” “revolutionary,” and “cutting-edge,” chances are someone has said it. Feel free to quote them in your press release, but pick the quotes that contain the most informative content — not just the high-flying adjectives. Unless someone really famous said it; then go with it. (Celebrity trumps content.)   
  • Details: Include addresses, cost, parking info, and any other practicalities at the end.

One final suggestion: The Internet makes it easy to personalize your releases. Come up with a boilerplate — but then feel free to add a little something if you think it would be particularly relevant for a certain publication.

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When I started teaching, some of the first advice I got from other teachers was to implement a “studio policy.” I’d never heard of a studio policy, and at first it seemed a little unnecessary: Like everyone else, I started with only a few students. It seemed ridiculous to implement and enforce a rigid policy when in fact I had plenty of open slots to offer if a student wanted to reschedule. Additionally, I like to at least think of myself as helpful and flexible. So I rescheduled lessons right and left. As long as I only had a few students, there was no problem.

But then the studio grew. It grew so much, in fact, that every after-school slot was booked and I was turning students away. And as the studio grew, I was depending more and more on that income. At the same time, I felt that I had to reserve the time I needed for my own practicing and writing: I didn’t want to be available to teach just any old time of the day. At that point, excessive cancellations started becoming a problem because I didn’t have times when I could make-up the missed lessons without encroaching on my own creative work. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred one week when 19 (yes, nineteen) students requested scheduling changes. Clearly, that was impossible to accommodate, and now I had the problem of explaining to parents why all of a sudden they weren’t getting make-ups any time they wanted. 

Anyone who teaches or tutors independently needs a studio policy to address issues such as payments, refunds, and missed lessons. While you may be able to be flexible when you first start and have an empty schedule, the earlier you get on board with this the better: It’s easier to have a policy and be flexible with it than to try to enforce a new, stricter policy after people have gotten used to your accommodating ways!

At the minimum, policies should cover the following issues: Your payment schedule, materials fees, late fees (if any), attendance expectations, and cancellations, refunds, and make-ups.

Some teachers’ policies run for many pages and include additional issues such as practice expectations, parental involvment and supervision, requirements for summer study, recital attendance, and notice required to stop lessons.

Really, you can put anything in there that you want: Personally, I like to keep my policy as short and simple as possible, covering only the major points of contention and headache. Otherwise it starts looking like a fine-print legal contract, and that’s not the image I want to project.  (And my experience is that people tune out if you give them too much information all at once.) Other teachers, though, like having everything all spelled out in one place. 

The following website  (http://www.toddfamily.com/policies/Policies/Policies.htm) contains links to dozens of studio policies. While this is a piano teacher’s page, the policies can be adapted by anyone who teaches or tutors ANYTHING (not just music) in a private setting. If you read a few of them, you’ll soon see what’s typical and what’s not. You’ll see some of the issues other teachers have found it necessary to address (some of which you may never have thought of; others that may not apply to you). And you’ll be able to cut and paste and mix and match so that you have a policy that works for you. 

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So, how do you get a teaching gig?

First of all, have a clear idea of which kids of gigs you want to go after: A school, private teaching, community college, whatever.  Imagine your ideal situation: Would you do your creative work in the morning? Or are you a performer who needs to work nights? When and where are students available? (If you are hoping to teach kids, you’re pretty much limited to after school and weekends, unless you can make an arrangement to teach inside a school. Adults have varied schedules. Seniors and homeschoolers may be available during the day.) 

Then it’s time to start reaching out.

Not every strategy works in every community, but here are some to try: 

  • Call other people who do what you do and introduce yourself. Some may not teach, but they may get inquiries they can refer to you. Some may teach, but may have overflow. Some may teach only advanced students, but be willing to send beginners your way.
  • You’ll need business cards and brochures. They don’t have to be fancy, but they should look professional. Brochures should include statements regarding what you offer (a group writing workshop, private lessons, a one-day seminar), your training and expertise in in your field, and perhaps a few words about your teaching philosophy. 
  • Stop in at all the stores in your area that sell materials pertaining to your art. For example: Booskstores (and also libraries) for writers, photo equipment stores for photographers, music stores for musicians, art supply shops and galleries for artists. Leave a stack of cards. If you are targeting parents of small children, stop in at locally owned children’s stores, as well. 
  • Send letters of introduction to people you may not feel comfortable calling (or who are very difficult to reach), but who you would like to make aware of your presence: This list could include school teachers in various arts or department heads at the college level.
  • Check out the local papers and see who’s advertising programs and classes in your field. Could you fit in somewhere?
  • If the community college is offering a beginning writing class, could you take on a “how to get published” class?
  • Find out what the effective local advertising media are and use them. In my town, it’s not the daily paper or the weekly community paper, it’s the advertising-only “Shopper’s Guide” that people read to find out who is selling and offering what.
  • Check out local bulletin boards where you can post notices: These might include boards outside some businesses, and in supermarkets, libraries, and coffeehouses, and bookstores. Ask first: Some are limited to non-profits.
  • Neighborhood brochures can be effective.
  • Give a free introductory program at a local library. 
  • Use the Internet. If you are already using social networking such as Facebook or Linkdin, use it for this. Develop a website (A free one-page site using blogging software is simple to set up).
  • Advertise or list your name on free Internet services ranging from the general (Craig’s List) to the specific (A list solely for people who give writing seminars, or music lessons). 
  • SHOW UP. Benefits, concerts, gallery events are all places where you can meet someone who might hire you.
  • Solicit and generate word of mouth.

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Artists seem to fall into one of two categories: Either we are at home in front of the footlights, flirting with interviewers and seducing audiences, or we are nervous wrecks, cowering in the back of the room hoping no one will call on us. Some of us are both: I am completely comfortable giving a prepared talk to an audience — it doesn’t matter how large — or being interviewed on radio or television. I am also perfectly happy to be up on stage in the back of the band, hiding behind my piano. But ask me to patter with an audience between songs, or to make small talk during a sound check, and I fall apart: I can’t think of a single thing to say, and it all sounds ridiculously stupid (never mind that sound checks ALWAYS sound stupid…) And I don’t much care for being the ONLY musician on stage, either. Solo piano performance gives me the hives.

Well, we can’t all be performers, but we do ALL have to be able to articulately answer questions about what we do. At least, that’s the goal: After all, radio and television interviews drive public awareness and sales.

Good news: You’ll almost always have plenty of notice before you have to go on stage or talk about your work into a microphone. Examples might include: A class you teach, a public library event, a bookstore signing, a school classroom, a meeting of a book club or another group that folllows your work. Radio and television interviews are also pre-scheduled, giving you plenty of time to prepare.

Here’s how:

  • If you are absolutely terrified by the prospect of speaking in public, practice. A local Toastmasters group is a great way to get comfortable speaking in front of others. Other low key, low-stress entrees include classroom visits to local schools, a book club, or an interview on local radio.
  • Organize your “talking points” and write them down.  These are the things you want your audience to know: The name of your new book, the place and time of your next concert, the opening date of the gallery show. While a radio or TV host is going to get pretty annoyed if you plug your gig every 10 seconds, it’s understood that that’s what you’re there for. Find out if they’ll be plugging the product or event for you when they introduce you. If they do, you can lay off, otherwise try to work it into the conversation in the least self-promoting and obnoxious way possible. “That’s a great question, Gary; In fact it’s one of the reasons I wanted to write “Create, Work, Live in the first place: So many people were asking me blah blah blah. Here’s how I look at it.”
  • Consider using visual aids such as slides, a Powerpoint presentation, or props: it engages the audience, takes the focus off of you, and helps keep you on track.
  • You are not a professional radio announcer, and you don’t have to sound like one. You DO have to sound like someone who can string a whole sentence together.   Words like “totally” and “awesome” should be eliminated, as should “uhms” “likes” and “you knows.” (If you really think something you expect to be asked about is “awesome” try to think of another, more specific, adjective — and have it ready.) Tape yourself speaking about what you do.   
  • Eliminate verbal tics.   I was recently on a trip where a group of us travel writers were being shown around museums. In one, the guide said “Truth is….” about every second sentence, regardless of whether the information she was about to impart deserved any kind of special introduction. “Truth is, we all really like working here….blah blah  blah, Truth is, we close at 5:00.” The other guide kept sayng “if you will” at the end of every other sentence. In both cases, the speaking tics almost over-rode the content of the talk.
  • Don’t try to use the biggest words you know to sound “smart.” Most of us trip over our tongues when we try to fancy-up our everyday speech. You are much better off trying to sound “real” than trying to sound “smart.”  
  • Edit yourself on the fly: Most of us talk in circles, using far too many qualifiers. Try to simplify your speech to get your basic points across.
  • Practice answering the questions you expect the interviewer to ask. A good interviewer will throw some curves, but hopefully they’ll give you a chance to warm up on some standard questions.
  • When answering questions, don’t get caught up in long stories: Bring your answer back to your main points. 
  • Decide in advance whether to take questions during the talk or hold them till after: Be aware that many questions people ask during the course of your talk may address topics you plan to cover.  Beginning speakers are often more comfortable holding questions till the end so as to avoid getting thrown off course.
  • If it looks like you’re going to be spending a lot of time in front of a camera, consider media training. You might be an excellent speaker, but that’s only part of the equation: Knowing how to dress, look, stnad, and gesture are important, as well as knowing how to pace your speech and emphasize your main points. It’s a whole other craft! No, you don’t need it for local cable access T.V. — but if Oprah calls? Probably worth it. 

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First a disclaimer: We’re not really talking about web design here. We’re talking about something much more simple: Getting your stuff on the web, using resources that are readily available and inexpensive.

It’s easy to be intimidated: professional web design can be a complex art form, incorporating visual design elements like type, color selection, text blocks, widgets, pictures, charts, and illustrations. It can also incorporate elements from the film and music worlds: video clips, moving images, animations, and sound files.  And then there is the organization of content, and the ability to sell products (and collect money).  Not to mention test driving your site on different browsers to see how it looks when it’s loaded with Firefox versus Internet Explorer, etcetera.  And correcting any coding mistakes that make things go kablooey.

But take heart: Most of us don’t need a website that is all that complex. Moving graphics, music, and video clips may not only be unnecessary; they may actually detract from your message. (I remember reading that the fastest way to drive someone AWAY from your site was to have music on it when it loaded. It’s okay to have music clips someone can CHOOSE to listen to, but background music on a website was in most cases a turn-off.)

What most of us DO need (if we have our own business) is a website that acts as an electronic brochure. A website makes you FINDABLE, and it gives you a chance to define yourself and your product or service.  It gives YOU a chance to showcase as much, or as little, of your work as you like, and to talk about it — or not.  It gives people a chance to get to know you, if only virtually.

There are two basic ways small business create a web presence: Traditional websites and blogs. (Social media such as Facebook and Linkedin are a whole other issue; we’ll talk about those in another post.) Neither of them is all that difficult: In fact, I built each of my three websites using standardized templates, and I promise, computer stuff is emphatically NOT my strong suit. if I can do it, so can you. 

Traditional websites tend to be more static than blogs: For an example, my travel writing site, www.KarenBerger.com is a static site with a simple purpose: To establish my credentials as a travel writer to editors who might want to hire me.  The site contains only a few pages: some writing samples, a bio page, and pages describing some of my other writing. The sidebars contain links to the blog you are reading and my outdoor writing website, along with a list of magazines and Internet sites I’ve written for.

I see my travel writing site as an electronic brochure: It doesn’t need much updating, so I visit it quarterly to add information about new markets, or to add a recent clip or links to recent Internet articles.  I’m not trying to drive traffic to it, but if you Google me, it comes right up on the front page. 

My outdoor writing site (www.hikerwriter.com) has a broader purpose, so it’s a bit more dynamic: It’s function is to showcase my expertise as an adventure/outdoors writer not only to editors, but also to readers who might buy my books and to members of the media who might interview me. There is a page on this site where readers can ask questions. The site also has some “service” information intended to be useful for people planning an outdoors adventure, including links to outside resources such as trail organizations. The front page includes information about my new projects and publications. 

Both of my websites, incidentally, use proprietary software provided to writers who are members of the Author’s Guild, and they are both hosted by the Author’s Guild. (“Hosting” is a service you buy from a company that puts your site up on the web.) The software I used to build my site is similar to a lot of software you’ll find at various website services. Basically, you choose a template you like, choose the color scheme, and make other decisions as necessary, such as what information you want in the columns, how many pages you are going to have and what their titles will be, and which widgets you will put where. Then you just start typing.   

Blogs use similar software, but they are more dynamic than websites, meaning that they change more often. They have a different purpose: you can think of a blog as an electronic newspaper for a specialized audience. The posts stay up as long as the writer wants them to, but the fact is that most visitors to your blog start with the new stuff on the front page. While some readers may dig around in your archives, yesterday’s blog is a lot like yesterday’s news — except you can’t use it to line the bird cage or wrap the fish.

This blog, for instance, is updated daily. Some bloggers update two, three or even more times a day, but I’ve decided that I prefer doing one meaty entry a day, rather than two or three skimpy ones.  

If you’d like to experiment with blog-building software, you can go to any of the blog hosting sites and play around with their templates. (This blog is hosted by www.wordpress.com).  You can even use blog software to make a site that contains both static website pages and dynamic blog pages: For example, I could have chosen to set this blog up with a static front page (a welcome page). I could have then included links to other pages, including static pages such my biography and dynamic pages containing blog posts.

So what do YOU do?

  • Assess your needs: Do you need a website that is fairly stable, or one that changes daily? Do you want to sell products? Engage the public?  Or simply  tell the world what you do?
  • Buy your domain name. (For example, http://www.YourName.com). You can do this through some of the host companies, or through domain-name companies such as http://www.GoDaddy.com. If the name is taken, try variations such as Your-Name.com or Your-Name-Studios.com.
  • Check out the competition. What kind of websites do your colleagues and competitors have? Can any of them recommend a template, a hosting service, or (if necessary) a website designer?
  • What kind of features will you need? A shopping cart so people will buy things? A Paypal account so you can collect money? Blog statistic widgets so you can tell potential advertisers how many visitors you have? Links to companies that will sell products for you (such as on-line bookstores, which give you a commission for every sale you refer to them)?
  • You don’t have to get the whole thing right the first time: Start with simple design. You can always add on the extras — and you can always migrate the site to a different host if the old one turns out to be too inflexible or cumbersome. 
  • If you find you enjoy web design, take a community college class in HTML, the code that is used to change the way things look on a page. With “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (WYSIWYG) programs, you really don’t need a lot of HTML, but I’ve found that a very basic understanding helps solve problems and increases flexibility .
  • Include a line in your e-mail signature giving the address of your website or blog, and put it on your business cards and business stationary as well.

The best advice I got? I was fretting over which host to use to start this blog, when a colleague said “Jump in. You can always migrate the site. But first you have to get started.”

Just do it.

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“Writing is dead,” A business major once told me. “Who cares? I’ll just have my secretary do it.”

Fast forward a few years:

“I was wrong. I wish I knew how to write better. We don’t even HAVE secretaries anymore.”

Yes, IMing and text messaging have created a new sub-language. But computers have not led us to the death of literacy (even though it sometimes seems so). In fact, more of our business communication is done in writing than ever before: When I wrote my last book, I spoke to my editor ONCE on the phone! We did everything else, from proposal to revisions to contract negotiations to art to cover design to editorial queries to proofreading, via e-mail.

The need to communicate clearly in writing has never been greater.

Three things every creative enterpreneur should be able to do:

1) Write a press release.

2) Answer questions in an e-mail interview.

3) Write text for a brochure, an Internet site or a blog. 

Non-writers have funny ideas about writing (I get to say this: I’ve been a published writer since 1980, and I’ve taught writing classes). Non-writers think they have to sound fancy. Smart, even. They think bigger words are better (and smarter). They think they have to use a metaphor every sentence or to, or say something profound. They think the passive voice sounds formal and erudite (note the big word.) They think they have to distance themselves form the material so they sound inellectual. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

In fact, the absolute worst writing I have ever read was from a woman who was on a board of directors with me: She had some legal training, including legal writing, and every time she wrote something, she used the biggest words she could think of and the most convoluted sentences; she sounded like George Bush II on a bad day. Anyone with half an education wouldn’t have taken anything she wrote seriously: Not only was she  trying too hard, but her muddled words betrayed muddled thinking. 

I can’t write a whole book on writing on an Interent blog. But here are some tips:  

  • Get a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. This short, easy to digest book has been teaching the basic of clear, concise, and grammtically correct writing for two generations.
  • Learn the appropriate format for what you are writing. A press release, for instance, should have a title, a release date, and a contact person. It should start with the basic who-what-when-where info, and then give short, factual information. Opinions — ie adjectives — shoud be minimal. 
  • Use the active voice. In other words: “Karen Berger writes this blog;” instead of “This blog is written by Karen Berger.” 
  • Avoid adjectives and adverbs; Show, don’t tell. Your point is to get information across; the simpler the better.
  • Use your spell check. Grammar checks are more problemmatic because they sacrifice readability in favor of sometimes stilted correctness.
  • Read the piece out loud. if it sounds stilted, silly, or too formal, revise it. 

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You know the stereotype of the artist: We musicians, painters, or writers are locked away in our garrets, obsessively making music, slapping paint on a canvas, or struggling to come up with the perfect metaphor. 

Sometimes I WISH that’s all we had to do!

As we all learn, all too soon, creating our art is only part of the equation that adds up to successful self-employment. Business skills (keeping track of income and expenses, marketing and public relations, networking, billing and budgeting ) are essential, as are teaching skills. But as it turns out, many of us also need to borrow the skills of OTHER artistic discplines. At the very least:

1) Writing:  We need to be able to write about what we do. We should be able to send out a literate, publishable press release to our local papers and radio stations, write brochure copy about our products and services, and provide coherent text for an Internet site. More and more interviews are being done via e-mail these days, as well: If you are answering questions in writing, you want your answers to be readable, interesting, and smart.  http://createworklive.com/2008/09/24/essential-skills-for-artists-writing/

2) Photography: No, your pocket-sized mini-digital camera is not a substitute for a professional rig; nor is your eye the equivalent of the eye of a pro photog. But there are plenty of times you might need a picture on the spur of the moment. Visual artists and designers might need to send a quick picture on a tight deadline to an editor, journalist, or TV producer.  Writers are often asked to send “scouting” shots for a potential story (so the editor can evaluate its visual appeal); we also may be expected to send actual field photography from places where a magazine or book publisher can’t afford to send a “real” photographer. Even if the picture is of you — say you’re an author, an actor, or a dancer – having the skill to set up a shot of yourself can be invaluable. http://createworklive.com/2008/09/26/essential-skills-for-artists-photography/

3) Public Speaking: You may not be an announcer, an actor, or an entertainer, but you should be able to speak in clear, direct, sentences in front of a microphone or a camera (without a lot of “uhms” and “you knows” and “likes” cluttering up your speech; it wouldn’t hurt to drop the “awesomes” and “totallys,” either). For high profile appearances on television, media training is a must. http://createworklive.com/2008/09/28/essential-skills-for-artists-public-speaking/

4) Web Design: Putting up a blog or an Internet site has gotten easier and easier in the last ten years (Hey, even I am doing it, and if you knew me personally, you’d accept that as final, inarguable proof that ANYONE can do it). You don’t have to be a pro designer to put together and update a website or a blog. Fortunately, the templates that are available, and the free hosting, make this ALMOST a no-brainer. http://createworklive.com/2008/09/27/essential-skills-for-artists-web-design/

I’m not implying or suggesting that every artist needs to be (or even would be able to be) an expert in all or even any of these other fields. We can’t ALL be professional writers AND photographers AND speakers AND web designers. When we take on these tasks, we should realize that we are not going to be able to immediately produce professional results; most of all, we need to keep things simple. As our businesses grow and as our needs become more complex, we can bring in (and pay for) the pros. But in the meantime, “Do-It-Yourself” is the name of the game.

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How exactly do you get that first magazine assignment? Get paid to travel the world? Get an agent to look at your book proposal? If you’re a specialist in another field, or another art, can you really get someone to publish you?

If you’re wondering, check out this series of classes, offered by the Renegade Writer.

I’ve got no connection with this program, but it looks good to me. Why? Well, first, look at the credentials of the instructing writers; most of the the writers have been published by many of the most prestigious magazines out there. And second, some of them are members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which requires some heavy chops for membership (www.asja.org). Many have won awards; all of them can be Googled; they’ve written books and articles and Internet stories, and some of them have been at it for 20 years.

Anway, if you’re interested in e-classes on topics ranging from travel writing to writing a book proposal to ramping up your writing business to just getting stared in magazines, check this out:

http://therenegadewriter.com/new-renegade-writer-classes/

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Over the weekend, I was at a reunion for a summer camp I used to go to, and inevitably, there was a lot of updating of information: where people had ended up, who had kids (and grand-kids, even), who still was in touch with whom, and what work people were doing. “I’m a writer and a music teacher and a piano player” I answered more than once, and in one case, the response to THAT was a cheerful “Oh! So you’re poor!”

Not so fast, buster.

Coincidentally, I just stumbled on a National Endowment for the Arts study, which was released earlier this past summer. The NEA compiled data, starting with the 2000 census and continuing on to more recent economic data generated through 2005. They examined artists working in eleven areas: actors; announcers; architects; art directors, fine artists and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; entertainers and performers; musicians; photographers; producers and directors; writers and authors.

Here are some interesting nuggets from the study:

  • There are almost two million working artists in the United States; taken together, we make up one of the largest occupational clusters: 1.4 percent of the workforce — only slightly less than military personnel.
  • We like to hang out together. More than one-fifth of all U.S. artists live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston. Half of all of us live in 30 metropolitan areas.
  • We also cluster by occupation: New Mexico has the highest share of fine artists, Vermont has the highest proportion of writers, and Tennessee, the highest proportion of musicians. 
  • We are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed than non-artists.
  • We generally earn less money than workers with similar education levels, but we work less: One third of us work for only part of the year. 
  • Our median income — from all sources — in 2005 was $34,800; which is higher than the $30,100 median for the total labor force, but lower than the $43,200 median income of other professionals.
  • We are twice as likely to have a college degree as other U.S. workers, and this percentage is rising.
  • Writers, producers, and architects have the highest education levels among artists.

Material in this post is abstracted from the summary of the NEA report, “Artists in the Workforce.”  For the  summary and the executive summary (which has a whole bunch of cool charts and graphs where you can find out the musicians per 10,000 people in Tennessee, or see which states have the highest percentage of writers) go to www.nea.gov/news/news08/ArtistsinWorkforce.html. You can also download the full report, which gives comparative earnings information, among lots of other things. 

Bottom line: Yeah, we might earn a bit less than people with similar levels of education who work in other professions. But look how we get to spend our time!

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