Getting the details right – mixing personal experience with historical facts

When writing for newspapers, magazines, or other non-fiction market, it’s important to get the details right. I hope that’s not a surprise.

I’m currently working on a destination piece for a regional magazine. This particular piece is a mix of my personal experience and history I’ve learned about the location. The goal is to draw people in and inspire them to visit, or at least be aware of a place they hadn’t known about before.

I’ve lived in this a wonderful little town in New Hampshire for a year now. Before that, I had driven through a few times and hiked here before, but I wasn’t aware of the history. There is a lot (of course), and it is enthralling me more every day. I’m thrilled to be writing about even this one small aspect of the town.

The Uncanoonuc Mountains August 2012

The Uncanoonuc Mountains, Goffstown, NH

The article has a 1,000 word cap. It has to include my personal story and some history.

When I need to research a place, I start with the historical society and local library.  If neither of those places have what I need, they usually have recommendations. Newspaper archives are also fantastic and research librarians make the searching easy.

Of course, the Internet is full of information – but it has to be vetted as having correct facts, and that takes time.

So, for Internet research:

  • I start with a general search on the topic and hone the search as I find more information.
  • I create a folder in my Favorites and save relevant websites to that folder so I don’t lose them (it took me a long time to come to this method!) When finding a Web page of interest, I save it right away. *Most* pages will allow you to ‘go back’, but sometimes they don’t. And there’s nothing more frustrating than finding a page with several links, knowing it’s going to be a resource, clicking on one of those links, and then not being able to ‘go back’ to that first page.
  • I do my best to track information I find online back to a solid resource – a book, newspaper, or person, otherwise I’m leery to use it.

Getting quotes from real people also helps with a non-fiction piece. Any subject matter expert, whether they call themselves that or insist, “I just grew up and remember, I’m no expert,” are fabulous. Direct quotes from a couple of people make the piece more conversational and appealing to the reader.

Important: Keep track of all the details and give credit where it is due. I’ve obtained a lot of photos from my local historical society and if the magazine uses them, the historical society needs to be acknowledged. For quotes, first and last name, and town are relevant.

South Uncanoonuc - track remnants

South Uncanoonuc – remnants of former train track up 33 degree incline

And your personal experience, if the piece calls for it, is what all the details of the article should be wrapped in. For this particular article, I went to part of the historic site and took photos of remnants that still exist today. They’ll complement the images I have from the historical society.

These articles – the ones where I can participate today and learn about yesterday – are my favorites.

What methods or resources do you use when writing non-fiction?

 

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She loves writing about New Hampshire for local papers or regional magazines, like New Hampshire ToDo.  She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

Randomness of details

As a writer of any sort, details are important. In journalistic pieces, the correct details are critical. In fiction, the details can be parts of patterns, clues for the reader, used to set the scene, and to have fun with.

In real life, there is a randomness to details at times and this is one fun tale I wanted to share.

Recently, I was spending a Sunday with Little Sis (I’m part of Big Brothers Big Sisters), and in telling me a story (she’s 16), she mentioned that she has little kids call her Peanut Butter. Of course I asked why. She giggled and said because most little kids can’t pronounce her name, but they all like peanut butter and can say that.Peanut butter

Okay. We continued with our day. One stop was a used book store. As we were checking out, the booksmith randomly mentioned an article in a recent magazine for writers that talked about a particular writer’s passion for peanut butter.

All we had said to him before that was, ‘hi, thanks for having the AC on today.’ I wasn’t purchasing a magazine, hadn’t mentioned the author he brought up, and there was no way he could know about us and peanut butter. So random!

Later, Little Sis and I headed to a pet shop (it’s so fun to check out the cats up for adoption and roam the aisles to meet the dogs who get to shop with their owners.) As we’re driving to the pet store, we passed a Salvation Army location. On the sign, I can’t make this stuff up, was “Donations needed: peanut butter and ” (I can’t remember the second item).

Three times in less than 4 hours. What were the odds? I laughed, told her what I saw (we drove past too fast for me to read the sign, tell her, and for her to turn around to see it). She just said, “You’re weird, Lisa.”

We’re then at the pet store. We ooh and ahh at the cats and I read the details. No joke, one of the cats was named Peanut Butter. I threw up my hands, said “no way,” told Little Sis to check out the name, and then we both lost it to laughter. The cat was black and white.

Of all the places to run into ‘peanut butter’, I feel those are 4 unique ones. And they did all happen on 1 day. I haven’t seen any references to peanut butter out of context since.

I could write a fun children’s story from this, don’t you think?

Can you recall a time you had this type of randomness with something? Was it in real life, or something you read? Or maybe something you wrote?

 

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She’s been a Big Sister for over 7 years and enjoys time with her Little Sis. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

An essential for freelance writers – the business card

Business cards are just one essential tool freelance writers should have in their marketing toolboxes.

Business cards can be a way to start branding yourself. The colors, fonts, and designs are just a few ways to start discovering yourself as a business.

Think of how you’d react to these examples – plain white cards, no images, standard horizontal placement:

Business Card A is entirely in blue script (cursive) font.

Business Card B is entirely black Arial font.

Without know anything about either cardowner – you already have an impression about each one, right? So when you design your card, play around and find what feels right for you.

As for what to include on your card, here are a few recommendations:

  • Your name
  • Your business name (if you have one for your freelance writing business) or a tagline that says “freelance writer”
  • A business telephone number (I use a Google Voice number so I don’t have to share my personal phone number)
  • A PO box address (instead of a home address) if a mailing address is required for your business
  • Your e-mail address

[You never know where your business card may end up, so keeping your home address and personal phone number private are ways to stay safe.]

I use Vistaprint (and am in no way compensated by anyone for saying that). Over the years, I’ve found them to be the most reliable, reasonably priced, and of consistent good quality. It also doesn’t hurt that even when I ask for ‘standard shipping’ (up to 2 weeks), I always receive my order much sooner.

Where do you hand out your business cards?

  • In-person networking events for business owners, chambers of commerce, industry-specific organizations, and so on
  • Bulletin boards in places where your target market visits
  • Speaking engagements
  • Conferences
  • Basically, wherever you meet people you want to work with or who may be able to connect you with someone you could work with

And, remember, just because you hand someone your business card, doesn’t mean you’re done marketing. People need to get to know you a bit before hiring you. So make sure to develop (and follow) a process for following up with people you meet – that is, if you truly want to build a career as a freelance writer.

What do you think about using business cards as a freelance writer?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She has several business cards to suit different needs. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

Writing as a business

We talk a lot about writing, but we haven’t really touch on the topic of formally creating a writing business.

This post lists types of business structure options you have, at least in the U.S., for categorizing your writing or (self-) publishing business.

Since I’m neither an accountant or an attorney, please seek out someone who is one or the other, to help you determine the best structure for your needs. All states should have (at least) similar categories; these are for New Hampshire businesses.

The full definitions (these are paraphrased) can be found via the NH Division of Economic Development site:Sole Proprietorship description

  • Sole proprietorship –  is a business with the least amount of legal formalities and simplest to form. You assume sole responsibility for the operations and finances of the business, including profit or loss.
  • General partnership – is an agreement between 2 or more individuals, or entities/businesses, to jointly own and operate a business. Profit, loss, and managerial duties are shared among the partners, and each partner is personally liable for partnership debts. As entities, partnerships do not pay tax, but must file an informational return, while individual partners report their share of profits or losses on their personal returns.Sharing risk of profit or loss
  • Limited partnership – offers some of the partners’ limited liability. It includes a general partner who organizes and manages the business and its operations, and limited partners who contribute capital, but have limited liability and assume no active role in day-to-day business affairs.
  • LLC vs LLP graphicLimited liability partnership (LLP) – is organized to protect individual partners from personal liability for the negligent acts of other partners or employees not under their direct control (i.e. licensed fields like law or medicine). Not every state has this category. Partners report their share of profits and losses on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited liability company (LLC) – combines the corporate and partnership entities. Parties in an LLC control shares and their operational liability of the company is determined by their level of investment. However, like partnerships, income tax is not paid at the LLC level, but rather it is “passed through” and taxed at the shareholder level. It’s not an easy entity to explain or understand.

Two others categories are “C” corporation and “S” corporation. Each of these has shareholders and for the purposes of this conversation, aren’t what a writing or (self-) publishing entity would need – at least not immediatly.

But again, each of the above business structures has legal, tax, and other consequences. I’m a writer, not an attorney or accountant, but I think these details can at least give you a start if you’re considering turning your writing into a business, or you’re thinking about creating an entity to self-publish under.

Have you thought about turning your writing into a business at some point?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She’s a sole proprietor and solopreneur. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

Mastheads are information goldmines

With so much information online, it’s getting rare to go low-tech for information, but in researching magazines and newspapers lately, I’ve come to appreciate the up-to-datedness (I made up this word) of an actual masthead.

The masthead (also referred to as a nameplate) is the portion of a magazine or newspaper, generally within the first few pages (just before, after, or with the Table of Contents) that lists the name of the publisher, contact information, subscription rates, and other pertinent stuff readers and writers want to know.

As a writer, your goal is to find the person who manages the department of the newspaper or magazine you want to submit an article to. With a small publication, this could be the editor-in-chief. For a larger publication, you may have several names to choose from.

The masthead is the place to start because it gives you some combination of these elements (and more):

  • Logo (very small, obviously, if it’s there)
  • Name of the publisher, editors, contributors, designers, and other staff responsible for the publication, sometimes with their e-mail addresses, at a minimum
  • Address, phone number, and other contact information for the publication in general, and sometimes by department/area of focus

    Parenting NH Magazine masthead

    Masthead for Parenting New Hampshire magazine

  • Date and volume number
  • Subscription information, if relevant, and/or details on how to obtain prior copies, sometimes a customer service contact
  • Information on how to submit to the publication

You can click on the image to the right to see some masthead details for this NH-based magazine.

Of course, having the information and deciphering that information can be two different things. You don’t want to submit queries or articles to the “editor-in-chief,” “contributing editor,” or “editing assistant,” at least not without research first. You want to find the best internal resource for your article.

Resources, such as WritersMarket.com, have publisher/editor information, but it is collected at least 12 months in advance of distribution, so the information may not always be relevant by the time you find it. Even if the resource sites are updated regularly, unless someone submits the changes, contact information can be outdated until the next print version.

I recently found a valuable online source for masthead details for newspapers across the country. The US Newspaper List (USNPL) lets you see newspapers and magazines by state. Details vary, of course, but sometimes you can get Twitter and Facebook contact info, along with editor names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

Of course if you’ve searched print copies and magazine/newspaper websites and are still unsure who to address your query to, librarians are a great resource, or calling the main number of the publication and describing the contact you need can lead to an answer.

I believe it’s best to address a query/letter/e-mail to an actual person whenever possible.

Is this information helpful? (It’s also relevant to print and e-newsletters, blogs, and book publishers.)

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

5 ways to increase your exposure

You’re a writer who needs to get her name out in the world. You want magazines, businesses, and organizations to discover how talented you are and hire you to write for them. Here are five ways to get you started on a plan that will get yourself and your business better known.

Network, network, and network some more
You’re making writing your business, and like many businesses, it’s more about who you know than what you know, at least to get in the door. Networking, both in-person at events and online through social media, is a solid way to add new clients. Make sure to at least know who your target client is and what makes you the best writer for their needs. You can also think of who can introduce you to the person who can introduce you to the contact you really want to meet.

Ask for referrals
Sure you need to have clients to be in business, so you can’t ask for referrals until you have some satisfied customers, but referrals are a powerful way to build your credibility. When a client compliments you on a job well done, take that moment to ask them for a recommendation or referral. It’s nice to assume that that client will tell a friend who will tell a friend, but ask, and you’ll make sure it happens. Or it may be more comfortable for you to could offer a future discount to clients who refer new clients to you.

Publish content
You’re a writer, so, write something and publish it. It’s the best way to get exposure. You can publish online, through your blog or online article directories (as a way to start). Get your writing published in print newspapers or magazines. Starting with local and regional publications is fun (at least I’m enjoying myself immensely writing for community papers and a regional magazine). And then you can move up to  national and international publications. And a lot of print articles also end up online, so that multiplies your exposure.

Offer a freebie
Everyone loves giveaways, especially those that are relevant and helpful. Free reports can help you accomplish two goals at once. Report content can help establish you as a good writer and as a solid, credible source of information. Offering a useful freebie can entice prospective clients to your Web site and motivate them to hire you for your services.

Blog
Having a blog helps drive traffic to your business and your business site, and it builds your brand. Your writing ability will shine through in your blog’s content, but don’t make it all about you all the time. Make sure to include useful information for your visitors. Of course you want to share what you can do, but also offer helpful links to other sites, links to resources, ways for your reader to find events local to themselves, and other similar things.

What do you do to get your name out there and showcase your writing?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a solopreneur who works hard to take her own advice. She’s also a New England region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom

Time management – scheduling e-mails in Gmail

Did you know e-mails can be scheduled ahead of time like blog posts? Do you have a need to schedule e-mails? Do you ever create e-mail drafts and then send the e-mails when you need to? I’ve tried the drafts technique, but the busier I get, the easier it is to lose track of when an e-mail needs to go out.

Scheduling and forgetting is a great option.

There are some e-mail programs that allow scheduling, such as Microsoft Outlook, but if you have Gmail, scheduling isn’t an option…without a plug-in. And I recently found one with everyone’s favorite price tag –> $0.

It’s called Boomerang for Gmail. It’s compatible with Firefox 3.6+Chrome 5.0+ and Safari 5.1+ and it works with Gmail and Google Apps e-mail.

In addition to scheduling, you can also set up automatic reminders on any e-mails. For instance, I schedule a lot of author interviews for my Reviews and Interviews blog and I ask that interviews be to me at least 7 days before the scheduled date. With the scheduling option, I can have the confirmation e-mail returned to me if the person doesn’t reply to the e-mail by the date I specify.

This definitely saves me time. I don’t have to:

  • check my calendarBoomerang for Gmail Reminder Hear Back
  • determine which person I haven’t heard from
  • search for the last e-mail I sent to them
  • and then forward that e-mail asking the person to reply.

With scheduler, if the recipient doesn’t reply by the date I specify (for myself, which is called ‘boomerang this message‘), I’ll have my last note to them pop up as a new message that I can then easily forward again. Definite time saver! This is great to use for any e-mail that you need a reply to by a specific date.

Do you and your friends say, “We should schedule lunch some time?” Now you can say, “Pick a date. If I don’t hear from you by next Thursday, I’ll get back in touch.” User ‘boomerang this message’ and get that lunch scheduled!

A bonus I found with this plug-in is that if you have multiple Gmail accounts, you only have to install the plug-in to one of them.  I did one simple and quick install, and all my accounts now have the scheduler.

In related news, I saw an article yesterday about Google Chrome passing Internet Explorer as the most popular Web browser. I’ve been using Chrome for less than a year and am just starting to get used to it. What browser do you favor?

Do you see any benefit to scheduling e-mails?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is an independent editor and writer who is still striving to find the perfect combination of technology that makes her life most efficient. She’s also a New England region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom