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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip#10 - Getting the evidence

In the previous tip, I suggested that freelance writers have a recording device and a notebook at every interview. These are basic tools for any writer.

Recording devices are relatively easy. In the old days you used a tape recorder. Now you can choose from a range of devices, including minidisk recorders, mp3 recorders and digital dictaphones. My choice at the moment is my Palmone Lifedrive, because it has a whopping 4GB of storage and I can transfer recordings onto a Secure Digital (SD) card and from there onto my computer. That makes it easy to back up recordings. The reason for recording is twofold. Not only does it help you to remember what happened, but it's a good backup in case of any challenge from the interviewee. That is not as rare as you might think. When I was writing articles as a staff writer, occasionally someone would ask to see the article before it went to print. Our policy was always that interviewees were allowed to check for factual errors only. But many people would see something they didn't like and claim that they'd never said it. My response was always: 'That's strange, because I've got it on tape. Would you like to hear it?' Nothing like having the evidence to make people back down from a fake claim.

A more difficult decision for a freelance writer is which notetaking system to use. Once upon a time, reporters were trained in shorthand, of which there are two main varieties. Pitman's is the one with all the squiggles. I've tried and failed to learn this. Some people can do squiggles, others can't - and I'm one of the latter. A slightly easier system is Teeline shorthand, where the characters are based on real writing. I don't know this one either, but it's probably the one I would recommend learning if you're starting out.

Since I went into journalism via a language degree, I never learned either system and had to rely on my own note taking system, using semi-phonetic spelling and abbreviations that would only make sense to me (abbrevs that wd only mk sense 2 me). You will need a system because there's no other way to get down what people say verbatim. I did have a thought recently, though. In the last few years I've sent more and more SMS messages on my mobile phone. As this involves shortened forms of words, maybe that's the way forward for note-taking. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #9 - The Art of the Interview

As a freelance writer, if you want to be published in a magazine or newspaper, sooner or later you'll have to talk to someone. Sorry, but journalism is not about sitting in a dark room and making up stories in your head. If that's what you want to do, write novels or short stories and use blogging as a publishing outlet.

People want to read about other people, so if you want to write a really interesting article, you'll have to learn how to do a good interview.

Preparation is key. You should go into an interview having researched your topic or interviewee and should already have a good idea
of the answers you are likely to get. You should also have prepared a list of questions you'll need to ask. At the very least, these should include the who, where, what, why, when and how of the story (I'll look at these in more detail in a future tip). Your question list should also include any facts that you need to check.

Having said all that, be prepared to go with the flow. If your interviewee goes off at a tangent, let her (or him). But make sure you've asked all the relevant questions before you leave the table. While it is professional to check any facts you are unsure of later, it is unprofessional to conduct a whole new interview over the phone. After all, you had your chance.

How you handle the interview will depend on the time allocated and the interviewee's personality. If the person is warm, friendly and used to being interviewed, you can wade straight in with the difficult questions. If you've got more time or your interviewee is nervous, start with the easy, fact-checking questions before moving on to more difficult issues. Remember to listen to the answers so you can decide when or if to change direction.

I always ask people how to spell their names, mostly because I have a terrible memory, but it's a good discipline.

Make sure you have a recording device (with spare batteries and power cable), a notebook and a couple of pens. Use both the notebook and the recording device, so you don't come away with nothing in the event of a technical failure. This has happened to me before and my article was much weaker because I couldn't quote directly.

Three final points: ask open-ended questions, rather than yes/no questions. You'll get more information that way. Establish whether anything that's talked about is off the record (I usually say that if they don't want it printed, they shouldn't tell me).Most importantly, don't be afraid to look stupid. It's better to show your ignorance in front of the interviewee than in print.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #8 - Copyright: rent, don't sell

Copyright protected works (see the previous tip for a definition) are known as intellectual property. Intellectual property is a bit like real estate - it can be bought, sold, transferred and inherited, though only with your written permission.

The key thing to remember as a freelance writer is that ideas themselves are not protected but the way ideas are expressed is protected. So if you think of an idea for an article, that isn't protected; when you write it, it is. It's the information you select and the way you arrange it that makes it unique.

When you give someone the right to publish your writing, you are assigning that right temporarily (a bit like renting out your house). As a writer, you'll want to avoid signing away any of your rights permanently. Instead, be clear on what rights you are assigning. First serial rights are normal. This gives the publisher the right to publish your material first in whatever country or region (for example, the UK or US) the rights apply to. Once the material has been published, all rights revert to you. Some publishers will also request online rights and the right to keep your work in an online archive. You'll want to make sure these rights are for a limited period or are non-exclusive, so you can make the most of your material.

A key term to be aware of is moral right. This is the right to be credited as the author (have a byline) and to object to alterations or errors which might damage your reputation (known as derogatory treatment of your work). It also includes the right not to have work falsely attributed to you. In other words, no one should say you wrote something if you didn't.

So what do you do if someone tries to pass off something you've written as their own work? If your copyright has been breached you can take the infringer to court and try to get any offending material seized or destroyed. However, there are two things that could damage your case. The first is if the person commits innocent infringement, which means the person genuinely didn't know you owned the copyright; the second is if you have previously allowed someone to use copyrighted work without complaint. This is known as acquiescence

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #7 - Copyrights and copy wrongs

As a freelance writer, you'll need to be aware of the legal protection your work enjoys so you don't sign away rights that you should retain. Here are some some key aspects of UK copyright law you should be aware of.

In the UK, copyright is an automatic and unregistered right. That means there's no need to apply specially or fill in any forms. Copyright takes effect as soon as protected material is produced. Copyright protected material is known as works and there are nine types of work that are automatically protected. These are literary work (including newspaper articles), dramatic, musical, artistic (photos, drawings, diagrams, maps etc), sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes and published editions of works.

In order for material to have copyright protection it has to result from independent intellectual effort. In other words, you must have put some work into it. You'll need to be able to prove this if challenged, so although it's not obligatory, you can protect yourself by sending a copy of your work to yourself by recorded delivery and leaving the envelope unopened. Recorded delivery post is date stamped so you'll be able to prove that your work existed on a particular date.

Copyright lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years for literary, dramatic or musical works. Different periods apply for films (70 years after the last to die of the director, screenplay authors and musical director), sound recordings (50 years) and published editions (25 years). People are allowed to publish excerpts from your copyrighted work for the purpose of news, review or criticism. This is known as fair dealing. Works used in this way should be properly acknowledged.

More on copyright in the next tip.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #6 - Get Paid

When an editor agrees to hire you to write an article, try to get the details of the commission in writing. If the editor won't send you a letter confirming the details of the writing assignment, then you send one confirming the agreement you've made. That way, you'll have some comeback if there's a query later.

Once you've got that freelance writing commission, be professional and deliver on time. If you let an editor down once, you won't be hired again.

Finally, if you want to get paid on time, find out who's responsible for paying you (it may be an accounting department rather than the editor) so you can send your invoice in as soon as the work is delivered.

A final word of advice, though. Some editors will try to use your inexperience as an excuse not to pay you for your writing. Remember, if your article is good enough to go in the magazine, it's good enough for an editor to pay you. Don't work for nothing unless it's absolutely unavoidable.

Good luck!

Read reviews ofhistorical novels.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #5 - Be A Tease

You're a freelance writer and you think you've got a killer idea for a magazine or newspaper article. You've identifed the person to address your query to. How do you nail that writing commission? By writing the perfect query letter. It's the first chance an editor has to appreciate your writing skill - and if you don't get it right, it might be the last.

Your query should lead the editor into your article. My advice is to write the lead and then say how you would develop the story. Remember to include any information about specialist sources you may have access to or areas of expertise that you are particularly qualified to write about. This will help to convince the editor that you are serious. However, don't give away so much of your material that the editor can commission someone else to write the article. Think of the extras you can provide - sending photos and material for sidebars will make the editor's life easier.

Remember to keep the query short, ideally a page (two at most). Editors are busy people - your query should be a teaser to entice them to give you that all-important commisssion.

Read reviews ofhistorical novels.

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #4- Groundwork

As a new freelance writer, how do you get an editor to give you a try? Once you've decided which magazine or newspaper you want to write for, you'll need to do some research. Read the magazine or paper to see what kinds of articles they publish so you can suggest articles that you think might be appropriate. Look in the archives to make sure your idea hasn't been written before. Send a query to the editor (by email or snail mail depending on his or her preference) suggesting that you write the article. Do a bit of legwork (by phone) and find out the editor's name so you can address your query to the right person. I'll give more detail on the query in my next tip.

Read reviews ofhistorical novels.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #3- Take It Seriously

It sounds ideal, doesn't it? Freelance writing lets you work from home, set your own schedule and still have lots of time to see the bight match. Sorry, but freelancing is not an excuse to have lots of snack breaks or sit in the garden. Treat it like a job. Set some time aside each day to look at newspapers and magazines, look at job sites and, most importantly, do some writing. Keep copies of your articles, of correspondence (whether email or snail mail) and of all relevant bills so you can claim any tax relief or expenses due to you. If you take freelancing seriously, you might be able to make some money from your writing.

Read reviews ofhistorical novels.

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #2 - Ideas

As a freelance writer, ideas are your bread and butter: keep having them. Have you got any interests, hobbies or obsessions? Has anything unusual happened to your friends or members of your family? These are all good starting points for writing articles. Look for work in new magazines that don't have established links with freelancers. They are more likely to give new writers a chance.

Read historical novel reviews.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip #1 - Structure

Making it as a freelance writer is not easy, especially if you haven’t been published before. However, with a bit of persistence you can be successful. Here's a tip to get you started.

As a minimum, you should know how to structure a news story or feature article. With news writing, you'll need to include the who, what, where, why, when and how of the story. If you're writing a feature, you'll need to flesh the story out a bit and tell it in an interesting way - and in the way that's most appropriate for the readers you're trying to reach. After all, you'd write very different stories for the New York Times and the Surfing Times, wouldn't you?
Make sure you have the right equipment: telephone and mobile phone; PC or laptop; a dictaphone or other recorder for recording interviews; a printer and a scanner. A digital camera is also useful, as you'll be able to take pictures to go along with your article.

Read historical novel reviews.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ghostwriting - money matters

So you're ready to tell your life story and have decided to find a ghostwriter who can make the words sing on the page. But how much time does ghostwriting cost and what are you going to have to pay?

How much does ghostwriting cost?

Each job is unique and that makes it hard to give more than general guidelines. The length of time the project is likely to take and the amount of research the ghostwriter will be required to do will affect the final cost. Many ghostwriters will charge a small up front fee, followed by payments at each stage of completed work. Unless you're a major celebrity with an iron-clad publishing contract already signed and sealed, a ghostwriter is unlikely to work for nothing. Ghostwriting for you offers a brief guide to the fees that might be involved.

What does a ghostwriter's fee cover?

It covers writing, research and any communication, but not usually travel or accommodation.

How long will it take to ghostwrite my material?

That depends on the material. Anywhere from 2 to 6 months is average depending on the type of book and how much work you've already put in. A short article may only take hours while a longer research report may take a year. You'll be able to discuss this once you've hired a ghostwriter.

What about publication?

Some ghostwriters help with publication as well, by sending query letters and so on. This will probably cost you extra. Other ghostwriters see the writing as their job and leave you to find your own publisher. Consider which option you prefer before signing the contract.

How do I know the ghostwriter is experienced?

Ghostwriters generally have to keep clients' names confidential, but you can look at other examples of their writing. If you enjoy reading these, then chances are that others will enjoy reading your material too.

See you in print!

Ghostwriting: a quick guide

If you have a story to tell but no time to write it down, maybe you need a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter will do all the work while you get all the credit. Some common questions about the ghostwriting process are answered below.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter edits, writes, collaborates, and researches on behalf of someone else who becomes their client. Many biographies of celebrities and television personalities have been ghostwritten.

Why would I need a ghostwriter?

Many people feel they have a story to tell or an experience to share. Not everyone knows how to or has the time to turn an idea into a book. A ghostwriter is a professional who has the time to turn your thoughts into a polished manuscript.

How does ghostwriting work?

You give the ghostwriter your ideas; s/he tells your story. Most people provide notes or recordings. Some may even have drafts of chapters or the whole book and ideas about characters and dialogue. The more information and material you provide, the closer the final product will be to your original idea. The ghostwriter turns your idea into something that people will enjoy reading.

Will the ghostwriter steal my idea?

No, that wouldn't be professional. Any ghostwriter who did that would soon be out of a job. A reputable ghostwriter will usually be happy to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement.

Who gets the credit for my finished book?

It's your idea, so you take the credit. Many ghostwriters work behind the scenes. Of course, in some instances, you may want to share the credit - that's why many biographies are credited like this: Major Celebrity with Ghostwriter or Major Celebrity as told to Ghostwriter. But you call the shots and can opt to take all the credit.

See you in print!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Writing for ezines - a good way to build site traffic

Let me say up front that I have nothing to gain from this recommendation. Ezinearticles doesn't even have an affiliate program yet. But when they do, I'll be one of the first to join.

This is a site that features free to reprint content for websites, ezines and email newsletters. I use it mostly as an author. Creating an account with ezinearticles is as simple as filling out the one page signup form and replying to the confirmation email. That gives you a basic membership which allows you to submit up to 10 articles (again on a one-page form).

Each article is vetted by an editor and then uploaded. You can create a brief bio of yourself and can put a writer's resource box with a link to your site.

This site is fantastic - a week after uploading my first article I was able to find my site on Google - and is a must if you want to get your name known and build traffic to your website. There are two additional levels of membership: Basic Plus (up to 25 submissions) and Platinum (unlimited submissions).

Other features on the site include a weblog and members forum (which isn't accessible from the members' site for some obscure reason). As a publisher, you can link to the articles, pick up rss feeds in various categories and make use of the content.

I have found several of my articles reprinted on other sites with a link both to ezinearticles and to my own site - a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned.

Freelance writing - how much to charge?

That's the question I needed an answer to when I was submitting a bid for a writing project that would not accept an hourly rate. As usual, I turned to Google for an answer and found a few useful resources. An article by Neil Tortorella suggests a good way of working out what your overheads are so you can make sure you're not the one absorbing the hidden costs of doing business. Even better, he's created an Excel calculator which automates the process. More good advice from Neil is available on his site.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Freelance writers - four reasons to get on the net

If you're starting out as a freelance writer, it's no longer enough to ring up a few editors and distribute a few business cards. You need to make sure you have a place that showcases your writing talents and makes it easy for editors to find you. Here are four reasons why you need a website.

1. Branding

Your name is your brand. People will like or hate your writing, trust or distrust your opinions. Your job is to build editors' and readers' trust in your writing and the brand of you.

2. Business

Every reputable business has a website that showcases its products and services. You should too. Show off your writing skills. Include a resume, references, services (types of writing) and samples of work.

3. Efficiency

Think of your website as an online writing portfolio. Instead of lugging around a case full of writing samples, you can upload examples to your site and link to other places where your work has been published.

4. Skills development

The discipline of editing your writing for your website will be invaluable in showing off your talents. You can also upload any unsold material - articles, short stories, poetry, novel chapters and so on - so that visitors to your website can see the full range of your creativity. You never know when someone might get in touch to find out about publishing something you've written.

So what are you waiting for? Get your writing on the net and start building the brand of you.

Read historical novel reviews.

Get Paid To Write - Introduction

I've got another freelance writing blog, but the site has been experiencing some problems recently, so I've decided to backup all the posts here. Of course, the dates won't match but they will all be here. I'll be adding them over the next few weeks. Let's hope the old site lasts long enough for me to get through them all.

Read historical novel reviews.