Monthly Archives: January 2011

Tips to break into “green” magazines — a guest post

In my opinion, one of the smartest things writers can do is specialize — to find a niche in one or two areas they’re passionate about and hope to write about regularly. Not only does it keep work interesting, but editors often prefer to hire those who have deep knowledge of  certain subjects. And we know what that means — $$$.

Along those lines, freelance writer Wendee Holtcamp has penned a guest post for Write Around It All on writing for green magazines. Wendee started out with a degree in wildlife ecology and turned it into a writing career after her kids were born 15 years ago. She’s published in Audubon, Sierra, National Wildlife, Smithsonian, Scientific American and other magazines and also for Discovery Channel and Animal Planet online.

On with the tips! Thanks, Wendee!

1. To come up with ideas for articles, get outside!  Hike. Explore. Travel. Photograph. Bird-watch. People-watch. Meet folks involved in grass-roots conservation as well as biologists working on research in your area. Keep up with local conservation efforts and current research in the news, so you can take some of these local stories and pitch them to a broader national audience.

2. An editor at OnEarth magazine, said, “I don’t regard environmentalism as some arcane, specialized field where you have to have a PhD to get in. If you’re a good stylist, or an enterprising investigative reporter, or have a strong sense of social justice, or whatever, there are a million environmental stories to which those skills can be applied.”

3. To improve your chances of breaking into a magazine, understand their audience. Read several back issues. Sit down with a single magazine and go over it with a fine-tooth comb. How long are the articles? What percentage of the articles get written by contributing editors/writers on the masthead, by editors themselves, or by freelance writers? What types of advertisers are there? What catchy titles do they use on the cover?

4. Here’s a great tip from an editor at High Country News. “I’d like to see more essays about finding nature and its rewards in unexpected places – – strip malls, hospitals, graveyards, who knows.” Although this is specific to this magazine, it’s great advice. Think unconventionally.

5. As with any magazine or online publication, the best way to break in is persistence and understanding their market. Search the publication’s archives to see what similar stories they have done, and also look at similar, competing publications. Having similar stories to your idea does not kill the idea, but you have to be able to explain how yours differs, and why you are the right writer to do the job, so they don’t dismiss that particular idea out of hand.

6. Take a “green writing” class in order to understand green markets, improve observation skills, and practice writing a query. I  teach  a 6-week online green writing class that meets writers where they’re at – whether an aspiring writer or a veteran wanting to write about “green” topics, including environment, animals, health, science and travel. For more information, visit http://www.wendeeholtcamp.com/nature.htm or email at bohemian@wendeeholtcamp.com. You can also follow me on twitter — @bohemianone.


The not-so-invisible line between work and home

On most days, I have six uninterrupted hours to work while my kids are in school. Blessedly quiet hours. Usually the only sound in the house is the humming of the clothes dryer, and I try to get my toughest tasks out of the way before my daughter gets off the bus each afternoon, quickly followed by her older brothers.

My kids are all old enough now to be relatively self-sufficient. I have no toddlers to chase, diapers to change or preschoolers to entertain. But I used to delude myself that kids past a certain age (say, 10) would pretty much take care of themselves. Nice theory, isn’t it?

I forgot to factor in the incessant bickering two siblings can produce, or the constant clanging of plates in the kitchen by sprouting boys who never stop eating. Forget the blaring TV, which mysteriously hits its peak just as you get a source on the phone, or the neighbor kids who repeatedly ring the doorbell looking for yours.

With a snow day and a national holiday, I was reminded twice this past week just how thin the line between work and home can become. And I wondered yet again how I would manage to maintain a professional image in the midst of all the noise.

Surely I couldn’t let that researcher from Harvard know that my daughter was boring her eyes into me, waiting for me to see the next cool app on her iPod Touch, while I interviewed him on the phone. Surely I wouldn’t miss my 3 p.m. deadline while my son and daughter squabbled five feet away from me, begging me to intervene.

Surely I wouldn’t want it any differently, would I? This is why I work from home — so I don’t miss a thing. But, oh — I DON’T MISS A THING.

Except a soundproof office with a door.


When your editor goes MIA

Editors. Gotta love them, right?

I do, at least most of the time. I’m blessed to have some truly wonderful editors. The vast majority of those I work with are pleasant, professional and respectful. They don’t edit the crap out of my writing until it barely resembles what I originally wrote, and the changes they do make only make my work better.

And when I call or email them, they answer — prompt and ready to act. But I had to know that this streak would end somewhere. Certainly I’ve heard the horror stories from other writers whose editors ignored emails and phone calls, who made them wait weeks beyond anticipated assignments. Who treat them shoddily because they’re in a position of power.

Who go MIA, like one of mine has recently.

I was excited to get the attention of this particular editor a few months back. I really liked his publication and the pay was far better than average, so I smiled from ear to ear when he called me and said we could work out a regular schedule of assignments.

I dug into the first one with zeal, smartly targeting sources (I thought) and amassing reams of supporting info. I turned in my article error-free and on time.

And then . . . nothing. My story wasn’t on the site, but no one had contacted me with suggested edits. No one responded to my repeated inquiries. And the promised schedule of regular assignments never materialized.

What happened? This is one of those times I think it’s accurate to say, “It’s not me — it’s him.” Other freelancers I know who’ve written for the guy tell me they’ve gotten the same treatment, and I’m not special. Hmmph.

So I wait, and wait some more. I don’t want to give up on keeping this pub as a client, but I surely can’t count on it as a steady source of income. And because I’m lucky enough to never have experienced this, I don’t really know what to do next.

Any suggestions? Clearly I’m not alone. Tell me some of your experiences with MIA editors and how you lured them out of their foxholes.


Interpreting the “free” in freelancing

The juggling act that is Christmas usually finds me hunched over the stove as I simultaneously attempt to actually interact with some of the 20 guests spilling through my house. (No wonder I couldn’t wait to get back to work this week.)

One of those guests this year was someone I’d never met before, a tag-along with my eccentric uncle who often brings delightful people that for one reason or another have nowhere else to be for the holiday. This lovely, refined woman quizzed me a bit about my life as I tried (and failed) not to burn myself tending to trays of hot hors d’oeuvres, expressing surprise when I told her I write many articles each week.

“Oh, I thought freelancers just write one article at a time, then wait to get a new assignment, then write another,” she said. I filled her in on my 8-5 daily schedule and the rolling bundles of assignments I regularly tackle from various websites and magazines, and she seemed impressed. This is a business, I thought, not a hobby.

I’m quite sure there are freelancers out there that do work from assignment to assignment with no idea if and when the next one will come. But I will venture to say that these freelancers are probably part-time at best and don’t earn a significant income from their writing.

Practically all of the “successful” freelance writers I know (and I’m aware this word means different things for different people) toil more than full-time hours and have a stable of publications that expect work from them on a regular basis. We surely don’t work for free, and we have little free time. So what exactly does “free” mean in the context of our business?

For me, it means I can stop working to get a hair cut later this morning and pick my daughter up from voice lessons this afternoon. It means I can say no to an assignment when I don’t have time for it or don’t feel it meshes with my skills and goals.

But it often means I’m free to keep working until 9 or 10 at night just to catch up from the freedom of doing those other things. It means I’ll probably spend next Sunday afternoon finishing a bundle of articles due on Monday. It means that I alone have final say over the hours I work and the clients I accept, but also the more pressing responsibility of maximizing my bottom line under these circumstances.

What it doesn’t mean is being free to get up each day and decide if I’m going to write. It doesn’t mean being free of worries over how to grow my business. And it certainly doesn’t mean being free of the complications of running my business and my home at the same time.

I was glad to be able to educate one more person about the reality of freelance writing — at least, what it means for me. What does the “free” in freelancing mean to you?