Monday, April 19, 2010

Do You Workshop? A Writer Conference/Workshop Round-up

A good friend of mine is a fiction writer who is always attending this conference or that workshop. I’ve listened to her experiences enviously: she always seems to come away from these gathering enriched, refreshed and excited to continue with her work. Despite my envy, somehow it never really occurred to me to seek out conferences and workshops for freelancers or non-fiction writers. But after reading this post at the Writer Abroad blog, I decided that it was time to take action.

Even a cursory search on the web revealed scores of writer conferences all over the world for journalists and non-fiction writers. Though I have yet to attend a conference or workshop, from everything I’ve read, it’s clear that these gatherings can be especially valuable for expat freelancers. Here’s why:

1. Conferences provide opportunities to meet editors and agents. Many conferences have panels featuring editors and agents who discuss the latest trends and news in the publishing industry as well as describe the kind of articles and books for which they’re searching. Afterwards, writers have the opportunity to meet the panelists (in some instances, in an organized fashion) and get their ideas heard and names known. This is a special boon for us expat freelancers, whose far-flung life means we can’t do a lot of face-to-face networking with many of the editors for whom we write. (I don’t know about you, but it’s complicated for me to even schedule a phone call! But that’s mostly the kids’ fault.)

2. Conferences/workshops offer opportunities to meet other writers. It’s so easy to make connections with writers online that sometimes we may disregard the need to meet writers in real life. I know I’m guilty of this. But…call me crazy…seeing an avatar or photo of someone online just isn’t the same as meeting someone in the flesh. Conferences /workshops strike me as a great thrust into real life – and we can meet all kind of writers that maybe would have flown under our radar online. You never know where connections with other writers will lead you.

3. Conferences/workshops can introduce you to new genres and markets. I’m always bitching about the difficulty of finding new Anglophone markets/magazines as an expat. Conferences often offer seminars and sessions across all fields and genres and a variety of magazine editors attend. This makes for a great opportunity to develop new angles and interests for your writing.

If you’re concerned that the cost of travel might be an obstacle, consider this: your travel expenses, registration fees, and a few other related expenses are (most likely) tax-deductible! That’s a nice little perk that you can't ignore.

So, are you with me? Here are links to 12 conferences/workshops that take place all around the world. And as a bonus, here's an amusing (and helpful) link that offers seven ways to make the most of a conference.

If you can recommend any other good conferences for freelancers or non-fiction writers, please feel free to share!

Workshops & Conferences for Non-Fiction

1. The Paris Writers Workshop This 5-day workshop in Paris appears to be open to writers of all levels who have the requisite manuscript. Workshop sizes are limited 15 participants so register early!

2. The Geneva Writers' Group Conference In addition to an annual conference, the Geneva Writers' Group offers Saturday workshops for a variety of kinds of writing (including personal essay, opinion, travel, etc.) on the 3rd Saturday of every month.

3. Abroad Writers Conference Has multiple conferences a year, each in a different location in the world. Upcoming conferences/workshops are in France, Italy, Scotland and India.

4. Doha Writers Workshop Offers help to writers of all experience levels in Qatar.

5. San Miguel Writers Workshops Though at first glance this workshop (in Mexico) seems to be all fiction, it isn't. They offer workshops for a variety non-fiction writing, including memoir, travel, personal essays, and even blogging!

6. The International Writers' Workshop This workshop takes place in Ghana. Its non-fiction compenent mainly focuses on travel and memoirs.

Conferences & Workshops for Freelancers

7. Surrey International Writers Conference This Canadian conference can benefit writers of all stripes, fiction, non-fiction, freelance, poets. The conference provides an opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with agents, editors, and other professional writers.

8. American Society of Journalists and Authors Writers Conference You have to be a member of ASJA to attend this intense NYC conference. To be apply to be a member, you must submit 6 articles of 1,000 words or more that have been published in major national magazines. If you are book-writer, you must have written at least two non-fiction books, or have written one and are under contract to write another. A committee will notify you if you have been accepted. A conference to aspire to, I guess!

9. Writers and Editors: One-on-One To attend this conference in Chicago, you must submit to a committee 3 recent clips from national or regional magazines. As the title of the conference suggests, you get one-on-one time with editors from a variety of publications.

10. Travel & Words Writers Conference A one-day conference in Tacoma, Washington that welcomes all travel writers and freelancers.

11. Travel Classics Writers' Conference Another twice-yearly conference for travel writers that offers one-on-one meetings with editors. If that's not incentive enough - the conferences take place at reaaaally luxurious-looking spa hotels.

12. Blog World & New Media Expo This looks like a conference useful for every freelancer or writer, no matter what your specialty. The conference isn't just about blogging, but how to use social media to maximum effect in your writing career.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

EuroWriter - a new magazine database

Drive-by post: Just wanted to alert all you expat freelancers (and regular freelancers) to a new magazine database that features English-language magazines published in Europe! EuroWriter is a site updated and maintained by Alistair Scott, a freelancer living in Switzerland. The site not only offers contact information and links to writers guidelines, it also features English-language writing competitions in Europe. Go check it out!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with expat freelancer Heather Stimmler-Hall

You'd be hard-pressed to find an Anglophone expatriate in Paris that hasn't heard of Heather Stimmler-Hall. For those newly arrived to Paris -- and even for many of us old-timers -- her Secrets of Paris website (and blog and newsletter) is a fantastic resource that covers all aspects of life in Paris, from where to find organic pet food to which grocery stores are open late. She is also author of the award-winning book Naughty Paris: A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City, and you'll inevitably find articles written by her in most English-language magazines about France.

I've been a subscriber to Heather's newsletter for many years, and I have admired her evident success as a freelancer abroad. So, I was delighted when she agreed to share details of her journey as writer with The Expat Freelancer.

EPF: What prompted you to move to (and stay in) Paris?

HSH: I came to Paris as a student in 1995, and eventually met and married my (now ex) husband, who was British and also living in Paris, in 1999. He's the reason I stayed initially, and after 10 years of living here I didn't want to leave, so I'm still here!

How established was your writing career when you moved here? How did you get your start?

I had taken four years of journalism classes in high school, where we produced a weekly newspaper. My senior year I worked at the daily Phoenix Gazette (now part of the AZ Republic) and did summer classes at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. In college I worked for the school's news bureau for four years, so I already had a lot of clips and formal journalism training when I arrived in Paris. I was an editor at ELLE.com in 1999, then went freelance in 2000. It was the dot com boom, so I started off with a lot of web clients, but the crash hit right after I went freelance, so it was a tough start to the millennium.

The majority of your writing work is travel-related. Did you become a travel writer because you were in Paris, or was travel writing the niche you always wanted to work within?

I never planned on doing travel writing. I was going to be a White House correspondent (I majored in political science in college). At ELLE.com I was in charge of the travel section, and when I went freelance it was the easiest topic to sell (I had moved to the French Riviera at that point, so there were only a few low-paying freelance news jobs for English-speaking journalists). Unfortunately it's a topic that many non-professional writers are willing to do for free, so it's hard to find well-paid freelance travel writing jobs. Guidebook writing is a thankless slog of a job for little pay, but if you make your deadlines and do a good job, you can find consistent work.

When you first started writing, were you worried about your ability to earn a sufficient income as a writer abroad? In your opinion, what’s the best way, writing-wise, to earn your keep?

Ha! I took journalism in school because I wanted to make a living and being a novelist didn't seem practical. But I've always known what the average income was for my line of work, so I had no illusions going freelance. It helped that I was married to a supportive husband when I started out. The first five years as a freelancer I didn't make enough to live off. I think I make enough now because I have a few editors who hire me over and over because they know I'm professional, make my deadlines, and turn in consistently good content. (I have friends who do technical writing or business writing. They make more, but they usually tell me they hate what they do. So there is a trade off, for sure.)

What was your biggest breakthrough as an expat writer? How did it shape your career?

I think getting the job at ELLE.com (when it was still based in Hachette's Paris HQ) opened a lot of doors for me, even though I only got the job because I knew HTML (back in 1999 Paris this was incredible); I knew nothing about fashion, which is why they had me editing the travel and decor sections. When I went freelance I could easily contact the editors of major magazines because I had the name recognition behind me. It probably moved me into feature/lifestyle/travel writing and away from news/political writing, which has obviously shaped my career. I probably only write one or two non-travel articles per year now. It also helps that I've been doing my Secrets of Paris newsletter (now a website and a blog) since 1999. Putting in your time shows you are a reliable, hard working writer. Most freelancers don't last that long! ;)

What has been the biggest disadvantage of being an expat writer and how have you worked around it?

My French isn't good enough to write in French, so I can't find many jobs that pay in Euros (99% of my writing jobs are in US dollars, ugh). But I also have a private tour company, so I make Euros from that work.


Your book Naughty Paris hit the bookshelves in 2008 and you’re always hard at work on uncovering the "Secrets of Paris" for your website. What else are you working on these days?

Naughty Paris second edition and Naughty New York. I'm also always trying to improve my websites and make them more useful for the people reading them.

Do you have any advice for other expat freelancers?

Although it's possible to pretend you aren't legally living in France if all of your clients are abroad, the benefits of being in the French system (I'm covered by AGESSA) outweigh the costs, and make your life soooooo much easier in the long run. If you're living in France and writing about France (basically, "making a living off France"), pay your taxes and contribute to society and the upkeep of this beautiful city like the rest of us. ;)

Heather Stimmler-Hall is an American freelance writer living in Paris. To learn more about Heather's writings and Paris tours, visit her website: www.secretsofparis.com.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The positive side of rejections

Last night, I got a rejection email for a pitch that I sent to a national glossy a couple of months ago. Addressing me by my first name, the editor thanked me but said they’d decided to cover the topic in a different way. As far as rejections go, it was pretty neutral. There was nothing in it to make me hopeful about future pitches (though previous rejections from this editor had encouraged me to send more queries) nor did it make me want to curl up and cry. When I turned off my computer and went to bed for the night, I thought about the rejection again and felt strangely content.

I often feel this way about rejections.

I don’t know how it is for most of you freelancers out there, but I don’t receive a response of any kind for more than half of my pitches. This annoys the crap out of me. I put a lot of effort into each pitch, gathering expert quotes and sources, and make sure to suggest an appropriate department of the magazine for the story. I know editors are swamped, but how hard can it be to type a quick “no thanks” as a courteous nod to the work the pitch entailed? I could understand ignoring the query if it was topically off-base or full of misspelling and grammatical errors, but my queries aren’t.

As I lay in bed, I started thinking about why rejections bring a certain satisfaction to me and came up with the following:

1. Rejections bring closure. I dislike the tired word “closure” but it’s accurate here. I appreciate knowing when a query is officially off the table and I’m free to shop it to the next pub. Of course, since so many editors don’t bother with rejection letters, most of the time I don’t wait for a rejection to send a query off again. Still, it’s nice to know that I can send it elsewhere without any potential awkwardness.

2. Rejections are a form of acknowledgement. A rejection means that my email got to where it was supposed to go (I always fear that it is sitting unread in someone’s spam folder). It also means that someone read it and gave it at least a few seconds of thought, possibly much more.

3. Rejections bring opportunity. Rejections are a good opportunity to contact the editor again. After receiving last night’s rejection, I quickly sent an email to the editor thanking her for her response and promising her another query in the near future. I spent this morning researching other topics so that I can send her another pitch later this week. At the very least, this will help to keep me on her radar screen. Even if she rejects the next pitch, at least I’m taking steps towards becoming a familiar name to her. The more familiar I become to her, the more willing she might be to take a chance on one of my proposals…assuming, of course, that I’m presenting her with good work.

4. Rejections are part of the writing life. To me, rejection is the flip side of publishing an article –a kind of badge of courage. A few years ago several freelancers on the writer's forum that I frequent made goals to receive a certain number of rejections a year instead of acceptances. I thought that was pretty wise. If you’re getting rejections, it means you’re putting your ideas and work out there. It means you’re trying. It means you’re writing. Rejections are an inevitable part of a writer’s life. And somehow it’s the teensiest bit satisfying to receive this confirmation that a writer’s life is indeed mine.

How do you handle rejections? Have you ever had something positive arise out of a rejection?