Monday, April 27, 2009

Travel Writing Markets Tips

Ah, travel writing. The lifeblood of an expat freelancer – well, I guess. Travel writing hasn’t been my primary focus since I started freelancing. It would make sense if it had been, though. We who live abroad have tons of material right before our eyes. Even if we’re not actually travelling around our country of residence (haven’t done too much traveling since the birth of the kid), we can reveal all the cultural and social secrets of the place in which we live, plus offer practical tips: to the rest of the world, we’re travelers.

After reading an article in the Writers Weekly newsletter about not overlooking potential material in your own backyard, I decided that I need to spend more time developing stories about Paris and France. I culled together a couple of ideas and started looking around for places to submit manuscripts or queries. Writer’s Market was largely unhelpful and doing a random search on the internet was slow going, until I found this: it’s a list of travel magazines, and their writers guidelines. The list is ever so kindly provided by Transitions Abroad, itself a travel magazine.

So, if travel writing is your thing (or you want it to be), check it out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nine things to consider when forming a writers' group

Today I had my first writers' group meeting. Oh, man....I wish I'd done this years ago. (OK - actually, I did do this years ago, but everyone in my group left France - yet another hazard of being an expat freelancer.) It felt so good to break away from my computer and actually talk to other struggling freelancers face to face. Within the first twenty minutes, I learned of three new English-language magazines in France, got several more ideas for relevant blog posts, and felt generally cheered by the fact I was in a circle of people who understood what I'm up against - being a mom, wanting to write, wanting to earn money, living in a foreign country. I really hope it works out. Not all writers’ groups do.

What does it take to form a successful writers’ group? My last writers’ group was great. But we were only four people and friends beforehand, which made a huge difference in how we communicated and the degree of trust we had in one another – key elements, I think, to having a successful group. We also knew what each of us wanted to gain from the group, and were equally comfortable discussing fiction and non-fiction. At the outset, we discussed some basic guidelines for how we wanted the sessions to be structured and how to handle critiques, but it was nothing formal (I know that many writers groups write down their rules).

This new writers' group will be quite different. I’d never met any of the women before and it’s almost twice the size of my previous group. We seem to be on the same page regarding what we wanted from the group, the type of work we wanted to do, and how often we wanted to meet. But, as I was walking home, it occurred to me that there are still some issues that are worth reflecting on at future sessions. Take a look below – these considerations are not particular to our group and will be useful for any freelancer wanting to form a successful writers’ group.

1. What is the ideal size of the group? Personally, I feel that a group of 7-10 would be an ideal size. Conversations are easier if the group isn’t too large, plus you can better understand each person’s writing objective, writing style, and weak spots. All of this will make for more thoughtful critiques. Today we were six people, although more than six expressed an interest in joining. We'll need to think about at what point we'll need to cut people off.

2. How long are most of the members sticking around? A key question for us expat freelancers. I was completely bereft when my previous writers’ group broke up because all the other members left France. My productivity plummeted and I really floundered for awhile. I would advise that a core number of your group will be around for at least 1-2 years. (Of course, if you're all leaving around the same time that would work too!)

3. What is the primary goal of the group? Is it a group that focuses mainly on critiquing work? Or will it be primarily about how to develop your freelancing career? Our group seemed to be more interested in the latter at this point, but it could change as our meetings become more regular. I, for one, would like a mixture of both.

4. How often will the group meet? For me, it is important to meet in person and in a perfect world, I'd love to meet twice a month. But I know that for most of us, myself included, that will be pretty much impossible. We're all moms and live in different parts of Paris, so it's really tough to find a time that's convenient for all of us. And how much work could realistically get done in the two intervening weeks? Not much. I think it'll be once a month for us, hopefully not much longer than that. We'll see...

5. How should each meeting be structured? We discussed having one person to lead each meeting and each meeting having a different theme. We didn't discuss how we'd work critiquing into this, but I supposed we could allot a certain amount of time for discussion of the theme, and then have the rest of the time be for critiquing. This is something we'll have to talk about further.

6. How should the group establish rules regarding the confidentiality of our work? No writers' group can be successful if its members fear having their work stolen or shown to/discussed with people outside of the group. It must be made clear at the outset that the work seen within the writers' group must stay within the writers' group. We agreed that confidentiality was important, but we should probably be explicit about what that means.

7. What kind of rules should the group have for the critiquing of work? (Both for the person offering a critique and the person receiving the critique). Again, the success of a writers' group depends upon the level of trust among its members. For some groups, no-holds-barred critiques may be welcomed. Other groups may insist upon a light touch. Before the first critique session, the group should discuss how the critiquing process should go -- both for the people giving the critique and the person receiving (after all, undue sensitivity and defensiveness will help no-one!)

8. Is there a place for between-meeting support? Maybe having an email list will suffice for some writers' groups, but I started a "Google Group" for ours. I've never belonged to one of these groups before, but I imagine that it's an easy way to keep in touch, immediately post relevant articles or leads, and discuss group-related things without cluttering up everyone's in-box. You can form groups with 'Yahoo' as well - I didn't use Google for any particular reason.

9. Do the rules of the group need to be written down? Seems like most serious writers groups put their rules and objectives in writing. But is that really necessary? At first, I thought it seemed too anal and extreme. But upon further reflection, I decided that it's probably a good thing. Having the rules decided and written at the outset can stave off potential in-fighting and disappointment. (Even though nobody likes to think of discord at the beginning of a relationship, the lawyer in me knows that we all probably should.) In addition, written rules would also be helpful for new or potential members. If they feel they can't adhere to the rules, they can bow out early before anyone's time is wasted.

So, those are my thoughts on this topic -- what are yours? Feel free to add comments in the box below!

Friday, April 10, 2009

How to Find Anglophone Markets

I don't know what other expat freelancers moan about, as I don't yet know any. So, I'm going to write about the thing that bugs me the most about freelancing from abroad -- finding good markets to query.

I like writing about pregnancy and parenting since that those are the things on my mind these days. But as many pregnancy and parenting magazines as I know are out there, it can be tough to find anything beyond the big name glossies. I'm insanely jealous of those freelancers who can spend an hour or two browsing the magazine racks at B&N or who stumble across local or regional magazines in their dentist's office. Potential markets just rain from the skies for them! What's an expat freelancer to do? How can we tap into lesser-known Anglophone markets from abroad?

Here's the way I decided to go about it:

1. Subscribe to as many magazine databases as possible. Currently, I'm subscribed to Writer's Market, Wooden Horse Publishing, and Media Bistro. The three are quite different from one another, and I feel like I have many bases covered by checking-in at all three. I also check-in at Freelance Writing, which is free and not only lists magazines and their guidelines, but also articles, job postings, writing contests, and more.

2. Sign-up for as many newsletters as possible. I've lost track of how many newsletters I've signed up for. But among my favorites are: Writing For Dollars, Hope Clark's Funds for Writers, Writer Gazette , and WritersWeekly. Each of these has its own magazine database, and highlights new magazines and guidelines every week.

3. Persuse online magazines directories. These directories won't give you submission guidelines and the names of editors you'll need to contact. However, you will get the names of magazines as a point of departure. I check-in with www.amazon.com, Yahoo's Magazine Directory, and http://www.allyoucanread.com/.

4. Do Random Online Searches. I once read about a magazine called, "Chicago Parent." A few weeks later, I came across a magazine called "L.A. Parent." A lightbulb went off (came on?). I started doing searches for parenting magazines under titles like "D.C. Parent" and "New York Parent" and suddenly, I have a wealth of new magazines at my fingertips that I haven't ever seen in the magazine databases.

5. Pay attention to where other writers have published. Usually, when writers publish an article, they cite two or three publications where their work has appear in their bio. These days, I find myself studying bios as if they were articles themselves, and jotting down the names of magazines that interest me. In fact, that's how I came across "Chicago Parent" which was the magazine tipped me off to so many other parenting magazines.

6. Ask other writers for recommendations. We're all on the hunt for new, potential markets, and in a good online writing community, fellow writers are almost always willing to suggest potential markets when you're stuck for ideas about where to submit a query. I participate in Absolute Write and find the people there extremely helpful and supportive.

7. Ask your friends for recommendations. My poor friends. They are so involved in my writing career. I'm always pestering them to share their pregancy and parenting experiences to create more writing fodder for me -- and now I've begun to bug my U.S. friends to share with me their favorite local and/or regional magazines. I also ask my expat friends here which pubs they subscribe to and ask for their cast-offs when they're done with them.

8. Go to the Library. Okay, in Paris we're pretty lucky that we have an American Library that subscribes to many U.S. periodicals. Most of them are big-names, so it doesn't really help me in my search for smaller profile mags, but still, it's a great resource. I didn't even know about The American Library until I'd been living here for three years (of course, I wasn't freelancing then, so it wasn't on my radar screen, but still - you never know!). If you think that your adopted country doesn't have such a library, double check. And also check out American Universities and cultural centers - you might have luck there.

If there are any readers out there with additional ideas, let's hear 'em!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hey

Hey - I'm Barb, the expat freelancer. I've been freelancing for two or three years now, but I have to admit for most of the time, I was only dabbling. In the past year, I've gotten quite serious about it (the recession is a great motivator) and have been very diligent about researching, writing and sending out queries as often as my schedule will allow. But it's tough. For one thing, I have a 20-month old that needs lots of attention and love. And for another thing, I'm all the way over in France: that's hella-far from Barnes & Noble, NYC's 5th Avenue library, and all those other researching perks that U.S. freelancers have. But I know that other expat freelancers have made a living this way! I just don't know any personally... (heh).

I'm hoping that through this blog, we can develop a supportive community of expat freelancers who are willing to share their tips for success. Of course, non-expat writers are welcome as well. The tips and insight I intend to share here will be slanted toward those writing from abroad, but I'm betting that there'll be lots of overlap.

So, here we go!