Archive for July, 2009

Writing for Radio: Three Ways to Freelance for Radio

Laura Bridgwater

By Laura Bridgwater

Freelancing for radio means writing commentary, creating scripts, and reporting the news. As a writer, you will benefit from freelancing for radio by adding audio clips to your clip file. Here are some ideas about how to get started with these three freelance options.


Commentary usually runs less than 700 words, or four minutes of airtime. It offers opinion or insight like pieces on the Op-Ed page in the newspaper.

National Public Radio (NPR) airs commentary from freelancers. Two NPR news shows to pitch are All Things Considered and Morning Edition. NPR works with commentators from any location and pays $250 per commentary. For guidelines about how to pitch these two news shows visit this NPR submissions page.

Some of the 900 local public radio stations that are affiliated with NPR also air commentary. Local stations usually only work with commentators who live in the station’s listening area. These stations pay less than NPR or not at all. Visit this NPR station finder to find a station near you.


Whether it’s a comedy or a drama, scripts rely on literary elements to tell either a fiction or a non-fiction story. Scripts can range from two minutes to an hour.

The radio show This American Life is known for telling stories. You don’t need radio experience to write for This American Life. You just need to be able to tell a good story.

For information about how to pitch This American Life, read these submission guidelines . Also, check out this five-minute YouTube video titled  Ira Glass and Storytelling #1. It’s the first of four videos. Glass is the host of This American Life and considered the Pied Piper of public radio.


Just as newspapers have stringers, radio stations have freelance radio reporters. You will need your own equipment like a quality microphone and a recorder. For information about affordable equipment and resources about how to use it, check out .

For a list of radio outlets that work with freelancers, your first stop should be this pitch page Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern. This book also has a chapter about commentaries.

You won’t get rich freelancing for radio but you never know where your radio experiences might lead. Being on radio has helped commentators attract the attention of book publishers, and radio reporters can sell their expertise to non-radio businesses that create podcasts.

Remember that just as you need to know a print publication before pitching it, you need to know the radio show you are pitching. If you never listen to the radio, tune in.

But if you are an avid radio fan, jump in. Combine your knowledge of radio with your passion for writing. The experience and clips are good for your writing resume.

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Mind If I Lede?

Lori Russell

By Lori Russell

Lede or lead, however you spell it, the opening paragraph of your profile draws the reader into your story and whets his or her curiosity to read further.

Having developed the profile idea and angle in your query, focused it through your research and interview, and outlined the article from start to finish, you already know what the story is about.

What aspect of the story almost tells itself?  Open with the best and truest material-the most dramatic information-and your story will take off and keep running until the last paragraph. Don’t pressure yourself to “grab” the reader. Just aim to tell your story from its heart.

Here are six examples of ledes from profile articles I’ve published to get your creative juices flowing.

1.  Anecdotes: A telling anecdote from your interview can encapsulate what the profile is all about. It introduces your subject, contains irony or drama, and makes the point you will cover in the rest of the article.

“Bright-eyed and sporting a yellow T-shirt, the young red-tailed hawk hops around its cage flapping its one good wing. It is one of the lucky ones.”

2.  Information: Start with statistics and facts that put an individual’s story in context.

“In 1948, women made up 2 percent of the US. military. Sixty years later, more than 182,000 women-11percent of the troops deployed-have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region. As this new group of veterans returns to civilian life, each has her own story to tell about how the military has changed for women and how each woman has been changed by service to her country.”

3. Description: A telling scene that you observed can set up what is to come.

“Just east of Thompson Park, Dan Richardson dons a pair of hip waders, stuffs a dish scrubber in his back pocket and steps into the cool water of lower Mill Creek. He is on the lookout for aquatic macro invertebrates-more commonly known as bugs-that live in the streambed.”

4. Quote: Use a great quote to introduce your subject.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Ken Karsmizki tells visitors to The Dalles Discovery Center. That advice comes from a man whose life changed the day he asked about a wooden stake driven into the Montana soil.”

5. Comparison: If the theme of your profile is two ideas, forces or trends in opposition, write it into your lede.

“When most people look at a handful of cherry pits and a couple of candle stubs, they see trash. Not Bryan Molesworth. Despite being born with a rare metabolic disorder that left him legally blind and confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, he saw an opportunity to craft a simple, yet useful, product-and to earn a buck or two.”

6. Delayed lede: Introduce the subject before her significance is revealed.

“Anna Monkiewicz’s dreams for her future took flight the day she heard that aviator Charles Lindberg had completed his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. At the age of 8, the daughter of a railroad man from Natick, Massachusetts, decided she, too, would one day fly above the clouds.”

Assignment: Write two or three different styles of ledes for your profile. Choose the one you like the best.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

The Amazon Spike Day for Kristin Bair O’Keeffe & Cindy Hudson is Tuesday, September 15th

Please Mark Your Calendars!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press on October 1, 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? To find out, buy Thirsty on September 15th as part of Kristin’s Amazon Spike Day!

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S first  book is nonfiction. Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming on October 1st from Seal Press. (Yes, that’s right, Kristin and Cindy’s books share the same publication date.)

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog. You can read the complete interview here.

Even if you don’t have a daughter yourself, Book By Book makes a great gift for a mom who does. I hope you will join me in supporting Kristin and Cindy’s Amazon Spike Day on Tuesday, September 15th!

Getting Your Poems on the Page: Sense and Nonsense

Sage Cohen

Don’t know what a poem means? Not sure if you’re interpreting it right? Well, let me let you in on a little insider secret: the poem means whatever you believe it means.

Maybe a poem doesn’t “mean” anything to you. That’s ok, too. Not all poets are striving to make literal sense. Maybe the poem made you feel something, but you don’t know why. Maybe the way the poet arranged three words in a line was so surprising that it gave you a new idea for your own wordplay. Regardless of what the writer of that poem may have intended, it becomes something uniquely yours in your hands.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that there will not always be something for us to love or admire in the poems we read. Sometimes a poem will mean nothing to you and offer no particular delight or revelation of any kind. This comes with the territory. Just as you probably don’t enjoy every person you’ve ever met, not every poem you encounter is likely to click with you, either.

Chances are good that along the way, you’ll write a poem or two or more that you don’t understand (or couldn’t explain) yourself. When I am writing a poem that doesn’t make literal sense to me, I think of how Michelangelo described his process of discovering the shape of a sculpture that awaited him as he chipped away at his marble block. I believe that there is some truth that exists whole, and when I get a glimmer of such a possibility, I strive to find its shape in words. This requires a very different kind of knowing and trust. Like groping my way in the dark and deciding which structures feel as if they will hold my weight.

Maybe the most difficult thing about poetry is the fact that there is no definitive right and wrong way to write it and no single, universal way to interpret individual poems. There is no authority beyond ourselves to confirm that we’ve arrived and that we did it right. Not-knowing (when writing or reading a poem) is the point at which many people throw in the towel and decide poetry is just too difficult.

However, I’d like to propose that in the realm of poetry, there is no failure in the absence of an absolute. Not-knowing offers a kind of limitless potential. Poetry has taught me that life and language can be far more meaningful when we get beyond the strictures of literal meaning into the endlessly possible place where poems live!

Your turn!

* Find a poem you don’t understand- preferably one you have never liked. Find three things to admire about it, whether it be the sound of a phrase, the quality of an image or a line break choice.

* Write a poem that imitates something about this poem that you don’t understand. Don’t worry about writing a comprehensible narrative. Just have fun with the language and see where it leads you.

* Wait at least a few days. Then revisit both poems- the one you found and the one you wrote- and decide what each of them means to you. You don’t have to be sure. There’s no right or wrong. Your own interpretation is your exact truth.

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit

What’s the Best Way to Publish Your Work? Come Find Out at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC This September

Use my conference discount & get $50 off: Code = KatS8

The Writer’s Digest Conference:  The Business of Getting Published is designed to guide any author through the new dynamics of today’s publishing world.  This three-day event takes place Friday, September 18, through Sunday, September 20, 2009, at the New York Marriott Marquis, on Times Square in New York.

With emphasis on platform, networking and social media, The Writer’s Digest Conference is an innovative and ground-breaking conference, featuring the industry’s top forward-thinking speakers, leading sessions on topics relevant to the current and future state of the publishing world.
Chris Brogan, social media genius, is the keynote speaker.

Other speakers include Kassia Krozser, editor/publisher of;  David Mathison, whose online sales success is the new business model;  Mike Shatzkin, the industry’s top publishing consultant, Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, whose own podcasts and videocasts have made them superstars in the business;  and many more, plus the editors of Writer’s Digest!

Complete program information, including speaker bios, special events related to the conference and registration is now available here.

Hope to see you there!

Fiction Writing Workshop: The Seven Shoulds of Subplots

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Real life doesn’t happen in a single straight, neat line; neither should life in a novel. If you want to create a realistic story that captures and keeps the attention of your readers, you’ve got to weave subplots into it that add depth and texture. Subplots are stories within the main story, and they can sprout from any aspect of a main character’s private or professional life. Once in place they can (and should) deepen the text in significant ways.

Think about Homer’s The Odyssey. The main plot is: against crazy odds, man struggles to get home. But there’s a heck of a lot more going on in this story, thanks to the subplots. Remember Penelope, who is at home waiting, weaving, and fending off suitors? Telemachus, who is trying to grow up and do the right thing by his long-absent father? The gods who are conspiring against Odysseus? The gods who are trying to help him out?

Without these subplots, even The Odyssey would be a little boring and flat. Instead it reads like a modern-day soap opera (with a few Cyclops here and there).

Now apply this to your own work.

If your story is about a woman who loses her job and has to redefine herself in the professional community, you can add a subplot in which she secretly takes a night job to learn new skills and develops a crush on Hank, her new, sexy, younger boss. Suddenly you’ve got a little romance and an interesting secondary character.

As you take another look at your novel with subplots in mind, remember that they should:

  1. connect back to the main plot (and intersect with it along the way)
  2. happen for a reason and make sense in the story
  3. occur simultaneously with the main plot
  4. introduce secondary characters
  5. reveal characteristics about the main characters that readers wouldn’t otherwise get to see
  6. be fully developed (Subplots will not be as in-depth as the main plot, but you don’t want to skimp either. They should have a beginning, a middle, and a resolution all their own.)
  7. affect the resolution of the main plot

It’s important to remember that you don’t want to overload your story with subplots. Your goal is to enhance and create a three-dimensional story that feels realistic and balanced.

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit

Summer Signed Book Promotion & Prizes

Do you have signed copies of both of my books? If not, please consider this “prize inside” signed book promotion offer.

I am selling ten signed copies of each book at the cover price plus shipping.

My husband, Jason, has taken these copies and slipped prizes into six of the twenty  books.

When I receive an order, I will pull a book out of the pile (I don’t know which books have the prizes in them), custom inscribe it, and pop it in the mail.

Six random winners will get two of each of the following prizes at no extra cost:

  • A one-hour writing career phone consultation
  • A half-hour writing career phone consultation
  • A free, signed copy of my other book

When your book arrives, check page 150 to see if you are a winner!

More details are here (for Writer Mama) and here (for Get Known).

Offer expires July 31st or once all twenty books are sold, whichever comes first.

Thanks for spreading the word to your friends who might not yet have a signed copy of their very own!

Understanding Personal Essays: What’s Your Opinion

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green

Think op-ed pages are all angry letters about parking meters and people spouting off about politics? Think again. The op-ed pages of many newspapers are great places to publish timely, topical personal essays.

Depending on who you ask, op-ed is short for “opposite the editorial page” or “opinion-editorial.” Either way, it’s often a spot that’s open to non-staff writers of first-person pieces.

Yes, sometimes these essays offer up a political viewpoint, but not always. I’ve published essays in the op-ed section on topics including my imaginary conversation with Jennifer Aniston following her break-up with Brad Pitt, and going to see the Sex and the City movie.

The key is that your essay has to be timely. If you breed Portuguese water dogs, you would have been in like Flynn with an essay on that topic when the Obamas chose the White House pet. Of course, you also have to beat other writers to the punch. That means if your piece is about the American Idol finale, you’d better write that sucker the minute the show’s over and fire it off to the editor that night. If you wait a couple of days, it’ll be old news. This is one instance where simultaneous submissions are fine.

Essays on the op-ed page are often in the 500-700-word range. Your best bet is to study the print version (at a library if you don’t subscribe), since essays can be hard to find on newspaper web sites. It should be easy to find the right editor’s e-mail address. Pay can range from nothing to several hundred dollars. If a piece has the potential to be reprinted, you may come out ahead.

More and more these days, newspapers don’t have the budget to pay for unsolicited freelance submissions. Consider whether the clip and the exposure are worth it. I once negotiated with an editor who couldn’t pay for my essay to print my blog address in my bio at the end. That was worth it to me. Besides, the topic was so time-sensitive that I couldn’t possibly have sold it to any weekly or monthly publication.

If you’re an opinionated writer with a finger on the pulse of current events, the op-ed page may be just the place for your personal essay.

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at

Early Fall E-mail Classes Begin on August 12th & Run Six Weeks

Writing and Publishing The Short Stuff
Especially For Moms (But Not Only for Moms!)
With Christina Katz
Class Begins August 12th
Prerequisites: None
Finally, a writing workshop that fits into the busy lives of moms! You will learn how to create short, easy-to-write articles-a skill that will make it easier to move up to longer, more time-consuming articles when you’re ready. Try your pen at tips, fillers, short interviews, list articles, how-tos, and short personal essays-all within six weeks. Now includes markets!
Cost: $250.00
More/Register at

Platform Building 101: Discover your Specialty
(Formerly “Targeting Your Best Writing Markets”)
With Christina Katz
Class Begins on August 12th
Prerequisites: None
Identifying your writing specialty is one of the trickiest and most necessary steps in launching a writing career today. This class will help you find your best audiences, cultivate your expertise, manage your ideas, develop marketing skills, claim your path, serve editors and become portfolio-minded. You’ll learn how to become the professional you’ve always wanted to be and, most importantly, how to take your writing career more seriously.
Cost: $250.00
More/Register at

Writing for the Web
With Jennifer Applin
Class Begins August 12th
Prerequisites: None
These days virtually every business and industry needs to have an online presence. With a growing trend in Internet marketing, e-commerce and online publications, the need for creating well-written web content is more important than ever. If you are looking to make a name for yourself, and a living, writing for the web, then this course can help you. Students will learn how to develop a writing style that is suitable for the web; provide a variety of services (online articles, website content, blogging, editing, etc.); establish a fair rate and avoid scams; find paying assignments and secure steady accounts.
Cost: $250.00
More/Register at

Invest In Your Writing Career Today
& Reap Greater Rewards Tomorrow.

Ask Wendy: Your Writing Questions Answered

Wendy Burt

By Wendy Burt-Thomas

Q: What is the difference between writing for print vs. online publications?

A: The main difference is in the rights that you’ll be selling. When you write for online publications (e.g., you’re selling electronic rights (often referred to as “e-rights”). This can make it more difficult for you to resell that article to larger print publications because they view it as work that is already accessible to…well, the world!

For the most part, larger consumer magazines want to purchase AT LEAST First North American Serial Rights (meaning they’re the first to print it in North America) or First World Rights (first to print it in the world). In addition, many large print publications now have their own online version that uses many if not all of the same articles. In other words, a print publication like Men’s Health that wants to buy your article on “Why Your Heart Loves Dark Chocolate” also wants to run the article on its website. Men’s Health is paying you $1/word because they want ALL rights: First World Rights, electronic rights, reprint rights and the rights to OWN your article.

Smaller-circulation magazines and newspapers (such as local, regional and trade), however, may not have online versions of their publications. This means that you’re likely only being asked for one-time or regionally exclusive rights (i.e.,”don’t sell to any other publications in Boston”). So you could sell the same article (at say, $100 each) to a 55+ newspaper in Houston, New York City, Boca Raton and Atlanta while still retaining ownership of the article.

Selling to online publications and websites is fine; just make sure the money is worth it. Once your piece is on the Web, it may be more difficult to resell.

The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-ThomasWendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as,, Family Circle and American Fitness. She is the author of three books: Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One (McGraw-Hill, 2001); Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick (McGraw-Hill, 2003); and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (Writer’s Digest, 2008). Visit her at or her blog,

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