• Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    My 2019 EOY Writing Wrap-Up

    It’s Dec. 31, and a lot has happened with my writing this year. Because I’m such a fanatic about listening to EOY wrap-ups from other entrepreneurs I follow, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the accomplishments and setbacks I’ve experienced this year. Let’s get right to it.

    2019 started with a bit of a quandary. To be honest, I was working in a job that made me question my skills and talents on a regular basis. I think a lot of it was that it was a structure (the company was a nonprofit organization) that didn’t have a lot of built-in support for my position, in addition to converging project management timelines, which have never been a strong skill set for me. By spring of this year, I was feeling unaccomplished, unappreciated and my self-esteem was so low that I was having a hard time writing creatively, despite the fact that I had a lot of projects in the pipeline.

    In May I was approached by a local magazine I’ve freelanced for frequently in the last 10 years, and when I had the opportunity to interview for the editor position, I jumped. Even though the job would bring its own set of challenges, I knew most of the people that worked there already and knew the tone and style of the publication like the back of my hand.

    However, because I’m always so concerned about not burning bridges in the publishing industry, I gave a long notice to my job and had the first magazine deadline overlap with my last two weeks at the job I was leaving. My editorial job is remote, but juggling e-mails, phone calls and planning meetings while trying to introduce myself to the writers and photographers and work on transitional documents proved to be quite challenging. The first deadline of the magazine also coincided with our annual family vacation (which we had booked with some family friends at a beach house in Florida) so I felt like I was editing stories and proofreading pages almost the entire time I was on vacation. That was a tough time and I still feel like I never got a proper vacation, although I did get an extra paycheck out of the overlapping job duties I did for two weeks. I’m not sure it was worth it, though.

    Here is a breakdown of everything related to writing/publishing I worked on this year:

    Since August, I’ve produced six issues of the magazine I work for, Lake Norman CURRENTS, and one newcomer’s guide that the company also produces for that magazine. I’ve personally written two advertorial articles, six Editor’s Letters and 23 feature articles ranging from 250-650 words and 11 business profiles, in addition to various calendar of events sections and product spreads.

    For WOW! Women on Writing, I wrote 26 blog posts, interviewed 13 writing contest winners and finalists, helped judge two flash fiction contests, and wrote one e-zine article in October about my experience attending MurderCon.

    For Writer’s Digest, I helped judge one of their self-published book contests, which required me to read and review 22 books.

    Writing Contests: I didn’t have any luck with writing contests, but I entered six short story contests and two creative non-fiction contests. I also entered two pieces in literary journals, where I received one rejection and am still waiting to hear back from the other. I also published my young adult novel, Between, on Wattpad back in August, and it has received almost 500 reads at this point.

    I’m also in the process of developing a true-crime podcast, and have purchased some of the equipment already and have my first episode’s script written. I hope to get that off the ground by the end of January, so stay tuned!

    I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged, because I had wanted to accomplish more with my creative writing last year, but considering I’ve made slightly more money in my actual career this year, and produced a heck of a lot of valuable and helpful content and human-interest stories, I think I can settle back and give myself a much-needed pat on the back. I’ll do a future post soon on some of my goals for this coming year.

    How did you do with your writing projects this year? I’d love to hear some of your accomplishments, goals, and “never doing that again!” stories!

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  Lifestyle,  writing advice

    A New Decade of Writing

    It’s hard to believe we’re about to conclude another decade. I’ve been reflecting on this a bit, and marveling about how far I’ve come since I graduated from college, with a stack of credit card bills and student loans to pay off, and working two jobs so I could support myself. And even then there were plenty of days where I was eating pasta with plain tomato sauce for almost every dinner. If I wanted to get fancy I would throw some feta cheese on top.

    Back then, I never dreamed I could make money writing from home, and that research for a million different topics would be right at my fingertips. I took any and every job that came my way, even when it had nothing to do with my communications degree that had a concentration in print journalism. Slowly, I worked my way into the industry, starting with a job cranking out press releases and editing a university alumni magazine for a small public relations firm to freelancing for websites and regional print magazines. I’ve now been writing professionally for almost 20 years, and have my dream job of being a magazine editor while still writing creatively on the side.

    The last few years have been good to me–by keeping me employed while opening up different paths that are better suited to my skills. I’ve been able to develop long-standing relationships with other writers and editors, and we all help keep other encouraged (and employed) at the very times we need it most. (I encourage you to check out my latest post over at WOW! Women on Writing on why you should be networking over on LinkedIn.)

    I’m also ready to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a child dreaming of a being a DJ on a radio station. I will be venturing into the podcasting world, combining my love of missing persons cases with a journalistic approach. I’ve purchased the equipment and am preparing the content as we speak. I’m blessed to be able to follow my passions, wherever they may lead me.

    I’m happy to be a part of this community and feel many more great things ahead in 2020. Cheers to you, my friends, and thank you for continuing to read and support my work.

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    Setting My Intentions Each Day by Journaling

    A few months ago, I heard a podcast episode that pitched the product, the “Start Today Journal.” I started to shrug it off at first, because as much as I love writing, I haven’t had too much luck with journaling over the years. But as motivational speaker and entrepreneur Rachel Hollis began explaining the methodology behind this journal, I grew more interested.

    What a lot of us fail at is having too many goals at one time, which can lead to overwhelm, causing us to beat ourselves up time and again when we don’t achieve any of them. Hollis developed a practice that focuses on writing down ten goals over and over. And here’s the kicker—you write down those goals as if they have already happened.

    This practice starts you out by doing an exercise where you envision what you want your life to be like in ten years, down from the kind of home you live in to what kinds of vacations you take. Then you envision what types of dreams you need to achieve in order to accomplish that type of lifestyle.

    I’ve been journaling with this method for almost three months, and my goals are starting to become so ingrained in my mind that I do things to work toward them without even putting much thought into it. I start out each day by writing down five things I’m grateful for, and these vary depending on the day. Then I write down the same ten goals, in the exact same order, and at the end, I write which one I’m going to achieve first. I do this with my first cup of coffee, so you can see that it isn’t a process that takes very much time out of your day. But it helps set the day on the right path.

    I’ve written things like what my annual income is (again, as if this has already happened), how much money my podcast is generating per month, that my kids went to college debt free, etc. At the very end of the page you write down which goal you achieved first. This changed for me after the first week, when I thought realistically about what goal I have the most probability of achieving first. My podcast is still in development, for example. So every day on that line, I write, “I’m an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.”

    I didn’t realize it when I first ordered the journal, but each one has enough pages for 90 days worth of goal-setting and dreaming. This helps you flip back pretty easily and see what kind of progress you’ve made in a short amount of time. My husband was so encouraged by watching me use my journal that he already bought me a thick, lined blank journal with a cute cover that I can use for my next 90 days worth of goals. I’m ready to start 2020 off with a bang!

  • freelance writing,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    Make Money Writing for Magazines

    The following is a talk I prepared for a writers’ group panel discussion I participated in a few years ago. It’s the story of how I got my first cover story for a magazine, as well as a little back story on how my freelance writing career began. Enjoy!

    Hi there, my name is Renee Roberson, and I’m so excited to be here with you all this evening. It will probably come as no surprise to you, but I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I didn’t really care what I wrote when I was a child, and let me tell you, I wrote a little bit of everything. Song lyrics, poems, essays, “pretend” news stories, book reviews, short stories. You name it—I probably wrote some pretty embarrassing versions of it.

    While I’ve always loved reading magazines, I didn’t really believe I could actually write for one until after I had my daughter back in 2003. At the time I was working at a public relations firm, but really wanted to figure out a way to work from home. I started by reading a few books on the topic.  Then I visited writer’s forums that discussed freelance writing. I didn’t know much about how it worked, but I knew I wanted to learn more, especially if it meant I could work from home. I started out gradually by sending some story ideas (otherwise known as query letters) to local magazines, and was surprised to make a few sales pretty quickly.

    I then pitched a website called iParenting, and they also hired me as a contract writer. The Walt Disney Internet Media Group eventually purchased iParenting, which resulted in an increase in my per article rate and looked great on my resume. Those clips helped me get job as a freelance  correspondent for the Lake Norman bureau of The Charlotte Observer, and eventually a few regular columns.

    I’ve been a freelance writer since 2004. I’ve written for newspapers, websites, magazines and blogs. Sometimes I still can’t believe people pay me to write.  I’ve also spent time in the editor’s chair for two local parenting magazines, so I’ve seen my fair share of what types of query letters work and which ones don’t. But if you have ideas and you know how to execute them, magazine editors will notice you, and they are always happy to find reliable and creative freelance writers. I highly recommend giving it a try if you haven’t yet. If you dedicate the time to regularly pitching your story ideas, you can make a living as a freelance writer.  It may take a few years for you to earn the income you want, but it can happen.

    I have short blog post I wrote a few years I ago I would like to share with you. It gives you an idea of what kind of legwork you might do before pitching a magazine feature. Granted, not all article queries will require this much work beforehand, but you should always be willing to put a little research into whatever story it is you are pitching.

    The Hunt for a Human Interest Story (WOW! Women on Writing)

    A few years ago, I was working out my frustrations at the gym, trying to figure out where my writing career was going and brainstorming a few new magazine article ideas. As I was leaving through the front lobby, I noticed a flyer about an upcoming swimming fundraiser. For some reason, even though I’m not a big swimmer, I picked it up and skimmed it on my way out to the parking lot. The flyer mentioned that a local woman named Lizi was competing in a series of races in honor of her upcoming 40th birthday. The flyer had her blog address printed on it so I investigated further once I got home.

    There, I discovered Lizi had Type 1 diabetes and learned more about her birthday challenge. She was signed up to compete in a variety of races, involving swimming, sprint triathlons, cycling and running, by her 40th birthday, which she called “Forty 4 Forty.” I knew I had to somehow get in touch with this woman, because I thought her story would be perfect for one of the regional magazines I had been trying to break into.

    But her blog didn’t have any contact information. I figured she was local but still needed more details for a query. On a whim, I e-mailed a personal trainer I had been working with at the time and asked if she knew who the woman was. I was in luck, she did! She quickly e-mailed me back with the woman’s e-mail address. I e-mailed Lizi, who also turned out to be a nurse, to let her know I was interested in pitching a story about her, and she responded happily and graciously. We chatted on the phone so I could get some pertinent details to include in my pitch, and I let her know I’d be in touch.

    Not only did the editor I contacted respond to me quickly, but she also complimented me on my story pitch. In the end, I got to meet an inspirational member of the community by contacting Lizi, and as a bonus, my article ended up as the cover story of the magazine a few months later. Lizi called me and laughed about the fact that she had become a local celebrity and all the nurses at her doctor’s office were telling her that the magazine with her cover shot was sitting in the waiting room.

    These days, I work with several local magazines regularly and have tackled some tough human-interest stories, but I still get a thrill watching the story come alive and to fruition. If you come across a story that intrigues you, I say to always go for it!

    Here are a few do’s and don’ts for pitching magazines:

    Don’t send out scattershot query letters. Meaning, don’t write up one query letter and send out to multiple magazine editors at once. Editors are much more likely to consider you for an assignment if you are familiar with the magazine you’re pitching and make your query personalized. Spend a little time skimming through some recent issues of the publication, and get a feel for how it is laid out. Mention recent published articles that you connected with to show your familiarity.

    Do have an interesting lede (or hook) pertaining to your article topic that illustrates why it would make a good piece for a magazine. You only have a few seconds to catch an editor’s eye. Make them count.

    Do pitch different types of magazines, both big and small. It’s a great experience, and over time, you’ll become more comfortable crafting your ideas and hitting the send button.

    Don’t send your ideas to the wrong person. Study the masthead of the magazine you are hoping to query. Publishers typically focus on the sales side of a magazine and aren’t really connected to the editorial side. Your best bet is to address your query to a specific editor.

    Do pick up a copy of the latest version of The Writer’s Market. You will find listings of magazines you never even knew existed, including editorial contact names, pay rates, and what types of articles specific markets are seeking.

    Below is an example of a query letter that resulted in the sale of the article to The Writer.

    Dear Ms. (Name of Editor),

    As a freelance writer, I do not hide the fact that I am a magazine junkie, and I particularly enjoy reading magazines like The Writer that offer helpful, informative tips for my career in a straightforward format. In recent issues, I enjoyed Julia Tagliere’s article on how to write about friends and families without alienating them in the process (October), as well as Debbie Geiger’s advice on how to use social-networking sites more efficiently in freelance writing (August).

    After I had my first child six years ago, I began reading every book I could get my hands on about freelance writing so I could learn how to develop a career that would allow me to set my own hours. Like many aspiring parent writers, I sent off a few article ideas via snail mail to the big parenting publications like Babytalk, Parents and Parenting. For the most part, I never got any responses back, except for one horribly photocopied stock rejection letter that almost crushed my dreams of writing about parenting forever.

    However, I took some of those same queries and sent them out to a few local regional parenting publications, and within a few months, had made several sales. For the next few years, I wrote locally and even got a job as a stringer for the daily newspaper. Eventually, I took a job as an associate editor at the regional parenting publication that had given me my first break, where I made a startling discovery — there was a lot more opportunity for publication in regional parenting publications than I had originally thought.

    I always take a special interest in the “Market Focus” of your publication, and I’ve noticed there is one market in particular that hasn’t been profiled in the past two years — regional parenting magazines. Like me, many writers think if they don’t live in a city like Atlanta, they really don’t have any business writing for Atlanta Parent. Not so, I realized. Regional parenting publications may have a much lower pay scale than the nationals, but most writers have a better shot of getting published in these magazines, and if they market themselves properly, they can generate a steady reprint income. I’d like to propose a 1,200-word article titled “Writing for the Other Parenting Magazines” for your “Market Focus” section. In the article, I will discuss the types of articles and essays regional parenting publications seek, the importance of checking editorial calendars, lead times, reprint possibilities and evergreen topics many of these publications seek each month. “Writing for the Other Parenting Magazines” will also include a sidebar titled “Five Ways to Sell a Parenting Article in a Regional Publication.”

    I am a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous regional parenting publications. I am a former associate editor of Charlotte Parent and also a contributing writer at www.iParenting.com.

    My article, “Alternative Treatments for Autism,” recently took first place honors in the magazine feature article category of the 2009 Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition. I am including the clip in the body of this e-mail.

    I look forward to hearing from you regarding this article idea.