Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2008

I received my Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2008 last week and found it to be a good time saver, but a little padded. The markets are not as plentiful as I would have liked, but that may be because I'm use to the enormous Writer's Market. There are simply fewer markets that cater to children, so the smaller number of markets is to be expected. However, the size of the book can give you a false impression of the number of markets it contains. The market sections are broken up, very frequently, by filler content that is so specialized that I found it useless.

Aside from the filler items, the book itself is a huge time saver for anyone looking to get into the children's market. It has extensive listings for agents as well, negating the need for two separate books. And, if you're an illustrator, there are book and magazine markets, and agents, for illustrators as well. The listings seem more or less evenly divided between those for authors and illustrators.

In all, I like the book and it's saved me hours and hours of searching through Writer's Market for listings that will accept children's fiction, and the agent information is invaluable. But, I would have liked it a bit better if some of the filler had been cut out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Print Press Releases vs. Web Press Releases

Beginning my press release experience as a reporter choosing press releases to run, there are numerous things I learned about getting a release carried. At every paper I worked for, press releases were faxed in daily, most of which were unusable. But, when we got the rare good one we would run it almost as is. The trick with those was to take out the PR speak and to convert it into AP style. Time after time I did this and finally wondered- why weren't they writing these in AP style? What exactly were they teaching in PR school that made them write press releases that had to be thrown out?

After leaving the newspaper industry, I put my ideas to work to help people around me to get the publicity their companies or events deserved. Every one of them was carried. Every single one. How? By doing what a PR writer should logically do when creating a press release. The object isn't to glorify the client and it isn't to create a ton of information that then has to be waded through and filtered down to its important points. Most reporters don't have time for that kind of nonsense. At least, I never did, so I assume that other reporters don't either. Then, I looked at the local market and considered what kinds of stories had been run lately, and what kind of slant they were usually given.

And lastly, I decided what kinds of markets the press release should be catered to, and how to cater the release to their specific focus. A press release for the city newspaper should have a strong news and/or human interest focus, one for the local entertainment tabloid should have more to do with what about the event will interest locals, etc. Then, I found the fax numbers for the local and regional media outlets that I wanted to utilize. That is ironically one of the hardest parts of print submissions, as many outlets make their fax numbers hard to find. I did find out that a PR book full of contact names and fax numbers comes out every year. That sounded pretty interesting until I noticed that it cost over $800. Without the book, the hunt took considerably longer, but it was accomplished.

Enter the online press release industry...
After changing careers and working in ecommerce for a few years, I came back to writing and PR, where I intend to stay forever. But, the trend now is for clients to commission online press releases. Great! I'll write press releases for the requested markets and email them instead of hunting fax numbers, right? Nope. Online press releases are an entirely different animal. The first few that I wrote confused the heck out of me, as there was no market to write for. So, the release is to be written to...nobody in particular? Pretty much. Many clients who want online releases don't really know who they want it targeted to, and they don't want it sent any further than PR Web.

The online press release is not, as a client recently told me "just an article written in a different format." It is still a press release, and should have many of the same hallmarks of the print release, some traits of the content article, and should come out as a sort of hybrid. To avoid having these releases being simply a resurgence of the useless releases that I once threw in the trash, I had to find a market to target the release to. The release can't be too generic, and must cater to a niche, as much as I hate that word. When writing an online release there is an analysis of the market, much like with print releases. What media outlet would do the company/event/person the most good? What are those outlets running? What are the people on those sites reading? The online market is fabulous because most media outlets display their most read stories, letting you know what their readers like and what they are likely to want to print.

To get the release seen my the right people, especially if the client just wants it sent to PR Web, it has to be SEO'd to the best keywords. If I'm not given keywords I check Overture and see what people are searching on that's related to the topic. You can't go too high, as those keywords present too much competition, and you can't go too low, as those keywords aren't searched often enough. Choosing some lovely words in the middle and getting them woven through the copy to ensure that it isn't too obvious is tough, but it's the best way to get that release out there.

Going back to my reporter days, I remember thinking about how valuable the free publicity from a carried release was. When you calculate the price per inch for advertising, the price of a press release is negligible. I did text ads for a local company last year, and while they got a response from the ads, they were not interested in commissioning a press release. It cost the company more than $800 a month to run ads in the paper- ads that likely didn't get the response that a press release could have gotten them. Getting carried isn't just free publicity- it's coverage that legitimizes the information and makes it more credible. An ad is an obvious sell. A news story is something else all together.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Competition from India

I see a lot of freelancers mentioning the competition from Indian writers and how that has made it necessary to write for very little in order to stay competitive. Many writers believe this, and I think in some cases it's true. But, I've never considered myself to be in competition with Indian writers. I am not competing against them, or Eastern European writers, to get the low paying, quantity-over-quality assignments. I am competing with other writers who are experienced, well versed in nuanced English and dedicated to high quality, and that's all.

I know that many, if not most, freelance writers get insulting offers like I often do. Sometimes they are aggressively insulting, often implying or outright stating that they have writers overseas who will work for less. It doesn't concern me what people overseas will write for. I wasn't concerned when a potential client insisted that he had writers who would write his blog posts for $1.50 apiece. He should be concerned that he's spending money on something that no one, anywhere, will ever read, but I'm not. Probably 80-90 percent of buyers are looking for the cheapest writers they can find- period. They don't concern me. My concern is finding the other 10-20 percent who will challenge me to offer my best work in exchange for reasonable pay. Indian writers can do what they do, circus performers can do what they do and cowboys can continue to ride across the plains. I'll stick to my own market.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing- Alive

There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.
-Doris Lessing

I was amazed today to hear that Doris Lessing was just announced as 2007's Nobel Prize winner for literature. I found this amazing first because I thought she was dead and second because apparently she's been writing science fiction for the past few years. Don't get me wrong, I love me some sci-fi, but it's rare to see the genre taken seriously as literature. I hope this signifies a change in its literary reputation. I took a creative writing class once, and the professor announced on the first day that science fiction was not allowed in her class. Really? What if a Nobel laureate was taking your class? Ha!

The thing about Doris Lessing, besides having some interesting short stories and essays, is that she has always been able to come up with these amazing quotes that sum up everything so neatly. Anytime you see a collection of interesting quotes, one of them is usually hers. Her ideas about writing and fiction are just as interesting as her amazingly accurate and sucinct observations about the world around her.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Uncharted Territory

It's weird, but I may be writing a screenplay. How did this come about? Funny you should ask. It's a long story, but it involves a bunch of people, some guy I've never met, a $35,000 camera and a new movie studio. The thing is, though, that I've never written one before and I'm not entirely sure how it's going to play out. Apparently there is screenplay software that can make it easier to get it all down. Normally I hate stuff like that, like novel-writing software that just takes a bite out of creativity. But a screenplay has to be in such a specific format, one that I'm unfamiliar with, that I'm likely going to use it.

My first strategy, however, is to study the way a written piece differs from the same item on film, since it's based on a work that I wrote years ago. That sounds pretty challenging, but basically I'm watching movies based on books that I've read and noting the differences. There are obviously many things left out of a book once it gets translated into film, but its amazing how pretty large plot points can be taken out, even when they are deeply intertwined with the main plot. Other things I've noticed:

  • Visual shorthand. There are numerous ways to make a point visually that time won't permit a deeper exploration of. One example is the latest movie version of Pride and Prejudice. In the book, the family wasn't poor, per se, they just had many components of the middle-class lifestyle that wasn't quite fashionable at the time. You can't very well annotate a film, nor can you spend 10 minutes describing how their lifestyle differed from those they were trying to impress. The visual shorthand was chickens. There were chickens and a few other farm animals running around, signifying that the family wasn't considered wealthy.
  • Tertiary characters. A book may have room for them, but a movie usually does not. I may keep a few tertiary characters in the background in non-speaking roles, or even give them a few lines, but there isn't room for a lot of background information on them. J.K. Rowling had a tremendous amount of background information on several of her bit players. She kept trying to find a place for them but there wasn't room for it even in her huge novels and they were reduced to extras in the films. To keep key plot points, these guys have to go.
  • Exaggerated settings. Books have a tremendous amount of room to let the settling subtly interplay with the plot and characters. Small aspects of the setting can be introduced throughout the book, making the tone of the setting and the tone of the plot become increasingly intertwined. In a movie, the setting is actually the first thing you see, and it's rarely possible to introduce aspects of that setting later in the work. The setting has to get attention right away and has to transmit a lot of the information. One of the guys has been going on and on (and on) about set design, and I'm probably going to have to listen to it eventually.
  • Movie people will want to expand the scope and add in a bunch of crap for different demographics. That's pretty noticeable in movies now that I'm looking for it. I've already been given a speech about adding in elements for different demographics, which is fine.
Before the thing gets written, I have to do a "treatment," which is just a long synopsis. If they like it, I get the go ahead for the long format. It's a little scary, but I've had scarier projects. I can do this. I hope.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The BellaOnline Classic Rock Site is Up

My BellaOnline site is now up! The site is going to be populated with information about classic rock- namely bands that I like. I set up an entire subject just for Donovan and began that content this morning. I think the Classic Rock site has a lot of potential and I just hope that people find music there that they wouldn't otherwise have heard of. Finding a "new" band that you click with can be exciting, even if that new band has been around for 40 years. Oh, and you get to see my ugly mug in bad lighting and in a weird sepia tone.