Archive for the 'Agents & Editors' Category

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jane Friedman, Publisher & Editorial Director, Writing Communities, F&W Media, Inc.

Jane Friedman

By Lori Russell

Writers must keep up to date with trends in the publishing industry to know how to best market their work to agents, editors and readers. In this interview, editor, publisher & editorial director Jane Friedman shares what writers need to know-and do-to advance their careers in this time of change. Ms. Friedman is publisher & editorial director at Writer’s Digest Books in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the editor of the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book and has a blog, There Are No Rules.

What does it mean that magazine and book publishers are becoming businesses based on content rather than print?


Consumers (or readers) should be able to access content in a way that is most convenient, makes the most sense, or is most cost effective for their needs.

Media companies-to stay viable-have to deliver content in a variety of ways, beyond a one-time print use. A piece of content might become an audiobook or podcast, a promotional download, a daily message sent to a cell phone or an email address (see DailyLit), a blog post, etc.

The question to ask (whether you’re an author or a publisher): What value does a certain format or package deliver to a consumer? Does a print (physical) form deliver the best value? Does it make the most sense given the nature of the content?

To really hit this home, consider that editors will become “content strategists” and writers will become “content providers.”

How do the trends toward digitization, social networks and customization affect writers?

Digitization is driving the change we’re seeing in media. There’s also an increased consumer desire for instant gratification and personalized, customizable experiences or content. In book publishing, you can see this particularly in educational markets. If a publisher has all of their content digitized and accessible in a content management system for anyone to manipulate/edit/aggregate, then that can allow teachers to select only the material they need, as well as add their own unique materials.

Social networks help everyone not only stay in close touch with friends and family, but also create very specific networks of people that have never before existed. So it’s very possible today to channel your communication and content to a very focused group of people, for a relatively low cost.

Writers must be involved with online life and expect to provide online content, and have an online presence. I’d say your career will come to an abrupt halt in a few years if you’re not willing to participate, market, promote, or engage in online activities and audiences.

Writers have to stop perceiving their work as a one-time effort, sold to publishers, that is then released into the world grandly, in print form. They also have to stop seeing the print book as the end-all-be-all of their efforts. As Seth Godin says, the book will become the souvenir, a by-product of all your other efforts. What will become valuable in the future is not necessarily a physical object (which is tangible and can be copied, in some respect), but the intangible things you offer (your time, your authority, your network/community, your expertise).

What do writers need to know-and do-to advance their careers during this time of transition?

This could be a book in itself, so I’ll give a quick-and-dirty list:

  1. If you’re not yet comfortable with all things digital, get comfortable. I’m not saying lose your life to the Internet and buy every last gadget, but be savvy about the scene. Editors and agents are seeking-and will demand-writers who know this stuff.
  2. If you don’t already have a website, build one. This may or may not include a blog.
  3. Build your social and professional network, both offline and online. This includes participation on relevant social networks or being connected to your audience. It is essential you know and continue to grow your potential readership and/or client base.
  4. Things are changing fast. This interview will probably be out of date in six months. Keep up with change by reading blogs by thought leaders: the O’Reilly Tools of Change blog, ChrisBrogan.com (an expert in social media), PersonaNonData, and BookSquare.
  5. Strengthen (and sell) your knowledge of various media, your knowledge of your audience and your reach to your audience/readership. Focus on how you can craft content or feed communities with your special expertise and know-how.

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Lori RussellLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.

In the Spotlight: Marilyn Allen, Agent with the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency

How does a writer find the right agent for his or her book project? What’s the difference between a query and a pitch? This month, literary agent Marilyn Allen demystifies the what, where and how of author representation.

A partner at the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency in Connecticut, Ms. Allen is an advocate for innovation in the marketing and selling of books. In her 25-year tenure at publishing houses, she directed sales and marketing teams for Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and Avon Books before becoming Associate Publisher and Senior Vice President of Marketing for Harper Collins.

The Allen O’Shea Literary Agency is an author-centered boutique agency that works closely with its clients throughout the publication process from developing proposals and manuscript materials to creating marketing and publicity campaigns.

With so many agents working in the industry, what suggestions do you have to help writers to find the right agent for their project and their career?

They should ask other writers for suggestions. Reference books like Literary Marketplace and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents are a great way to find those working in their fields. (Literary Marketplace can be found at most public libraries or online at http://www.literarymarketplace.com.) Writers’ conferences can also be a wonderful place to find and interview agents.

How many of the authors you represent are referred by other writers or colleagues in the industry? Contacts made at conferences? The result of a query letter without a referral?

About 85% of the authors I represent are referred by other writers and colleagues; I meet about 10% at conferences. Only 5% are the result of a query letter without a referral.

Many conferences offer writers the opportunity to pitch a book concept to agents face to face. What are the elements of a successful pitch?

A successful pitch includes the ability to provide a great keynote for the project and quick highlights of a smart marketing campaign, a competitive analysis and potential audience. Pitch with passion and then LISTEN to the agent.

Is the information in a pitch different from that of a query letter?

I think they are basically the same.

What is an average response time after sending a proposal that an agent has requested? If the agent has not responded in that time, is it okay to contact him/her or should one assume the agent is not interested?

We get hundreds of submissions. Wait four to six weeks and then a polite email is appreciated.

What are you currently looking for?

I am always looking for talented nonfiction writers who are experts in their fields. We keep a lot of resumes on file and frequently pair writers and experts together on projects.
I am looking for health writers, especially MD/experts on healthy world cultures, cancer nutrition, aging benchmarks experts and basic practical health topics. I also am looking for fashion biography writers and someone to write an introduction to sociology. I like to do business, cooking and pop culture titles, too. We don’t handle fiction, science fiction or children’s books.

When looking through your slush pile, what do you wish you would see more of?

Narrative nonfiction and intelligent history proposals.

Best piece of advice on something we haven’t discussed?

Be professional in all your work and communications. Remember writing and publishing are different.

For more information on the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency, go to: www.allenoshealiteraryagency.com.

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Lori RussellLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.

In the Spotlight: Colleen Sell, Editor of A Cup of Comfort Series from Adams Media

Interview By Cindy Hudson

When Colleen Sell is not editing one of the many books in the popular A Cup of Comfort book series (published by Adams Media), this freelance editor spends her time writing for magazines as well as editing and ghost writing for other clients. Plus, she always has an idea for a project or two she would love to develop if she had more time. With over 25 books under her belt in the A Cup of Comfort series and more on the way, there’s precious little free time in Sell’s life these days. She took a moment out of her busy schedule recently to talk about what she strives to create with A Cup of Comfort and to give readers of Writers on the Rise tips for submitting their personal essays.

When you first started as editor of A Cup of Comfort, what did you want to bring to the series?

One of the things that was important to me is that the stories we included were not homogenized to have the same tone and the same voice. I wanted variety and I wanted to allow as much literary influence as possible. I wanted the stories to read like fiction; but I wanted them to be absolutely true. I wanted the stories to capture readers and pull them in.

How many submissions do you usually get for each book?

It varies on the topic but between 1,500 and 3,000. I select about 50 for each book, but I will not take a lesser story over a better story just to get that number. For me, the quality of the book is always the most important thing.

Does each A Cup of Comfort volume have its own personality?

Yes, definitely. There’s commonality with each volume, but each of the books I’ve worked on has a very distinctive personality as well.

What do you look for when you’re selecting stories to include in a particular A Cup of Comfort volume?

Authenticity is really important to me. It’s been said that there are no new stories. But your perception of what happened in your life and how it affected you is unique. And there’s always something that’s unusual, that’s specific to your life and your situation that’s different from everybody else’s and that’s what I want to see in stories. I also think the best stories have a universal truth. Something in that story needs to resonate with just about everyone who reads it. And it needs to have a nugget of truth, that thing that makes us human coming through in the story without actually saying it. When a story lets readers come to that conclusion themselves, that is an excellent essay.

If you choose an essay from a writer for one volume will you consider something else they’ve written for another?

I consider the essays individually every time. And we have published more than one essay from a writer in the same volume. People can submit as many stories as they want for as many volumes as they want. Our policy says that I cannot publish more than three stories from any author in any single book. It’s usually better for the reader if there’s variety. But sometimes the very best stories that provide the most variety and flavor and different points of view are by the same author.

Do you choose essays from people who haven’t been published before?

About 25 percent of the essays in each book are by people who have not been published before. If I see a good story, even if it needs a little work, I’m going to grab it.

Do the authors participate in the promotion of the books?

They do, but it’s not required. Many of the contributors set up signings at bookstores. We also have authors who participate in local art fairs that feature local authors, library events and charitable events.

When submitting to A Cup of Comfort, what can authors do to make their writing stand out?

I’m a firm believer that you’re going to write the best story if you write what you know and write from your gut and not think too much about what we want. A lot of the stories deal with challenging and painful events in life. Write honestly about that, but for our purposes it’s about comfort, hope and inspiration. So keep that in mind. No matter what you write about it has to resonate with a large audience, it has to have some kind of insight or redemption quality or something that’s uplifting.

What kinds of stylistic and submission no-no’s should people avoid?

One of the common tendencies in writers is to overwrite, to say too much. Make sure every word counts. Also, preachiness doesn’t work for A Cup of Comfort. And, believe it or not, I get submissions with no contact information, no name. So if I want to publish the story I don’t know how to contact the author.

It’s not a good idea to submit something, revise it and submit it again. Sometimes people submit something because they’re excited and then after a couple of days they think, “Oh shoot, I have a mistake in there so I’m going to resubmit it.” It happens a lot with new writers. Sit on it a couple of days and make sure you want to submit what you submit. And if you find something you’d like to change after you submit, don’t worry. Editors don’t expect every submission to be perfect. We can tell if a story is close to what we need, and we’re accustomed to fixing things later.
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Cindy HudsonCindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her website and its companion blog, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at http://www.cindyhudson.com.
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An Interview with Julie Bennett of Ten Speed Press

Julie Bennett, Ten Speed PressIn the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published

By Cindy Hudson

Julie Bennett has been acquiring titles for Ten Speed Press out of Berkeley, California for eight years. One of the largest independent publishers in the U.S., Ten Speed Press publishes about 150 titles a year through all its imprints, which include Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, as well as Tricyle Press, its children’s imprint.

Bennett’s advice to authors hoping to successfully pitch a book proposal to a publishing house can be summed up in one sentence: Put in plenty of preparation time. Here she elaborates about what she looks for when reading a proposal and what writers can do to increase their chances of catching the eye of an acquisitions editor.

What can writers do before sending in a book proposal that will increase their chances of having it read?

One of the more important things is to research a publishing house and its imprints and send in what they want to see. If you look at one of our catalogs or browse our Web site you start to get a sense for the kinds of books we publish. If your book fits, great! Send it in! If it feels far off it’s probably going to get rejected quickly and there’s probably a different house that would be more appropriate. Try to familiarize yourself with the publishing house and submit accordingly.

How does reading a proposal help you decide to take on a project?

Writing a book and promoting it takes a lot of work. You may have a good idea, but you have to be willing to talk about that idea, think about that idea, write about it and come up with ways to promote it for a couple of years. It’s a huge part of your life, and I want to see that people have dedicated time and effort and resources to that idea before they decide to write a book about it.

What do you like to see in a proposal?

I want to have an overview that tells me, “This is my idea, this is how it fits into the marketplace and here’s my outline for the book.” But I also need to see that outline annotated with chapter summaries and at least one sample chapter. The other part of the proposal includes the marketing platform and the competition. What other books like this are out there and how is yours different? Who are you, what do you have to offer, what are your ideas for sales and marketing, how can you help promote the book?

What catches your interest?

I get excited when I read the basic concept for a book and think, “That’s a great idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.” As I continue reading it’s a combination of how it’s executed, if the writing makes sense, if it’s well supported and if the author has a platform.

What role does platform play when you’re looking at projects?

It’s hugely important, especially for non-fiction. We’re looking for authors who are well known in their field, and who are going to help us reach their audience. But Ten Speed is a smaller house so we’re not necessarily looking for a national platform. It depends on the book. The author could have a really strong regional platform or a strong academic background or something else that will be interesting enough based on the topic of the book for the media to be excited about.

What questions do you ask yourself as you consider a project?

I think about sales and how we could position the project. Would I buy it? Are there people I know who would buy this book? Is there a fit for it on our list? Are there other books on our list that are similar that we’ve been successful marketing and selling so we have good contacts into whatever those markets are? Is the proposal clear? Are we really going to be learning something? Does the author have a good platform?

Is there anything specific you’re looking for now?

Because we’re a particular kind of publisher, we publish lifestyle non-fiction, so we’re always looking for the same thing. For Ten Speed it’s very practical, kind of quirky, how-to books. Most of the books we take on teach people how to do something, make a recipe or find a new spiritual path, get into college or find a new job. Because I’m also working with Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, I’m looking for inspirational, spirituality, health, nutrition, and parenting books as well. Celestial Arts publishes books on things like alternative medicine, natural pregnancy or organic approaches to feeding your kids. Crossing Press is really edgy, and that’s where you’d find things like energy healing, charkas or vibrational healing; things that are a little bit less mainstream.

We’re also dipping our toe in the craft-publishing world, and that’s been really fun. We’re looking for somebody who is doing something different with traditional craft.

Cindy Hudson

Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.


An Interview with Literary Agent Rita Rosenkranz

Rita Rosenkranz

Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Lori Russell

A little research can take a writer a long way. This month I talked with agent Rita Rosenkranz about what authors need to know before they send a query letter to an agent.

A former editor at major New York publishing houses, Ms. Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. She represents adult non-fiction about health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality and general interest titles.

What groundwork should a writer do before contacting an agent to pitch a book idea?

I’d suggest that authors investigate thoroughly the competition for their book, which includes the titles that are now considered classics and that all readers interested in this subject will buy, as well as the titles that are fresh on the market and are drawing attention. I handle non-fiction and most of the time I sell a project on the basis of a proposal and not a complete manuscript. When an author pitches me, either at a conference or through a query letter, I expect the author to understand the book’s place in the category, with the competition in mind. I prefer that the proposal is ready (or at least close to ready) to submit if I’m interested.

Finding the right agent can mean different things to different people. What suggestions do you have for writers who want to gain a deeper knowledge of the agents they are pitching?

I think many authors don’t consider the nuances of the agent/author relationship beforehand. More than to simply know they want an agent, authors should identify what matters most to them. Do they want an agent who will simply get them the most money or one who will help them become better writers and who will be available for matters large and small? More than ever, writers can learn about agents thanks to the Web. On many sites authors exchange experiences––offering recommendations, sob stories and everything in-between––undiluted and uncensored. Writer’s Digest, as well as other print and online venues, regularly profiles agents, offering writers a deeper sense of the agent’s personality, taste and approach to the author/agent relationship.

You advertise that you are interested in “familiar subjects presented freshly and less-known subjects presented commercially.” Can you give some examples?

I was instantly moved by Betty DeRamus’ Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad. While the Underground Railroad had been mined extensively, no one had written about it from the lens of love, a mainstream and commercial perspective.

Harrison Monarth and Larina Kase are co-founders of TheConfidentSpeaker.com, a public speaking and communication coaching Web site. Monarth is the founder of GuruMaker, a professional speaking consultancy. Kase is a peak performance and anxiety management expert. Though there are many public speaking books on the market, in The Confident Speaker: Tap into Your Hidden Power to Communicate at Your Best, together these authors offer a uniquely informed perspective and can reach a wide readership.

Jim Kane’s Western Movie Wit and Wisdom gathers more than 2,000 quotations from more than 1,100 western movies. Iconic characters of the American West offer advice, words of wisdom, humor and an occasional historical fact. Although they were uttered in a western setting, they were about life. Jim’s approach makes the material popular and fun, helping to broaden the audience for this work.

Once a writer signs with an agent, what type and what frequency of contact can she or he expect?

It’s impossible for me to generalize, since writers have different needs and agents handle business differently. I personally want my authors to be in the loop in a real-time way, whether it involves rejections or other matters that can play a part in their well-being. At the same time, I’m sensitive to authors’ individual personalities and preferences. While maintaining my basic approach to the relationship, I’ll adapt wherever I can. This might mean not sharing rejections but only letting the author know when there is an offer.

You have worked in the publishing business for more than 20 years, first as an editor and then as an agent. How has the business changed over time? How has it stayed the same?

The business has changed tremendously thanks to the Web, where an author can cultivate and connect regularly with readers. The marketing potential is phenomenal. Many thousands of books are published every year and it’s harder to gain a foothold for a book that isn’t launched with any fanfare. Independent bookstores used to be able to build a book based on hand selling. Now there are significantly fewer independents to make that happen. Despite the extreme changes in the world over the last two decades, publishing remains a business built on relationships, a people business.

What is the most important thing for writers to know about agents?

There is great variety among us, in the kinds of writers we’re attracted to, our approach to the author/agent relationship, our editorial sense, our publishing connections, and our stick-with-it-ness, even when a project doesn’t win a publisher’s interest right away. This should give authors hope that within the large and diverse community of agents, there will be a perfect match.

Writers may query Ms. Rosenkranz via e-mail at rrosenkranz@mindspring.com.

Lori RusselLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.

An Interview with Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary

Lilly GhahremaniIn the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Cindy Hudson

Many authors count on literary agents to sell their books to publishers so they can be sure they’re getting the best offer possible for their writing. But if you’re unfamiliar with the world of literary agencies, finding someone to represent you can be an overwhelming process that delays the publication of your work.

Recently I talked with Lilly Ghahremani, co-founder of San Diego-based Full Circle Literary, about what agents are looking for when choosing authors to represent, how a writer can select an agent who’s right for her, and what writers can expect an agency to do for them.

Since launching FCL with Stefanie Von Borstel in 2004, Lilly has represented authors of cookbooks, craft books, parenting, pop culture and lifestyle books as well as multi-cultural children’s picture books. Here’s what she has to say:

What do you look for in a book proposal?
I skim through the overview, but what I really need to know is what makes this person the perfect author to write the book. I am definitely guilty of flipping to the author’s section and starting there. I want to know who’s writing this proposal and what their inspiration is for it.

Are you talking about platform?
Yes, although I believe that word makes authors nervous. Platform is not just about academic credentials. It can largely be self-made, especially in the age of the Internet. You don’t necessarily need to be the biggest person in your field writing about a topic, but you need to have an authentic and unique take on a topic. Publishers aren’t looking to start a wave of publicity for you; they’re looking to ride a wave that you’ve already started.

If an author already has a publisher interested in her book, is there still an advantage for her to work with an agent?
I’m so glad you asked me this. Ideally an agent will do a lot more than just get a book deal. That’s a large part of what we do, but it is not the reason we earn our commission or earn the right to be part of an author’s writing career. An agent’s job is to negotiate the business side of the relationship, which gives the author freedom to deal with the publishing house on a purely creative basis. An agency can oversee what’s going on with publicity and marketing and smooth out any bumps in the road. It can help authors keep on top of deadlines and manuscript editing. We also give advice on how to build a platform. It’s almost like having a life coach.

How long do authors typically work with their agents on book projects?
Authors should count on working with their agents for at least a year, probably longer. Generally, I don’t send things right out the door, because I have the author edit some first, which takes a month or two. From the time a book gets pitched to a publisher, on average it takes about two months to find a good home. Then there’s the contract process, and books usually don’t publish until a year after signing. So the cycle may be a year and a half from the time an author comes to us until her book comes out in print.

How does an author decide which agent is best for her?
Look at other authors an agency has represented. Chances are if an agency had success placing a certain type of project it means they’re savvy on that angle of the market. And I always tell authors, “Pick someone you really like.” You’ve got to choose someone you feel confident can speak for you so you can get back to work, because the bottom line is, the agent’s words go into the editor’s ears, not yours. Finding the perfect fit is worth the wait.

Do you see an advantage to working with a smaller agency over a larger one?
I absolutely do. The amount of personal attention an author gets from a smaller agency is extraordinary. Generally, with a smaller or younger agency you’ve got agents who are thirsty for success, and they’re going to put in extra hours for you. My clients sometimes get e-mails from me at two in the morning. That’s because I’m still making my name in this industry, and they are reaping the benefits of that.

How do clients approach you?
We attend a lot of writer’s conferences, and many authors approach us at those. Happy clients refer other people to us, which means our list has grown very aggressively. We also welcome e-queries. Authors often need a quick answer as to whether something they have would be a fit for us and e-queries can do that quickly.

Note: Queries to Full Circle Literary should be sent to query@fullcircleliterary.com or kidsquery@fullcircleliterary.com for children’s, middle reader and young adult projects. Before submitting, check out the submission guidelines at http://www.fullcircleliterary.com/.

Cindy Hudson

Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.

An Interview with Amy Wang, Assistant Bureau Chief at The Oregonian

amy-wang.gifIn the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Lori Russell

The Oregonian, a daily newspaper with more than 300,000 subscribers in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington, purchases hundreds of freelance articles every year. Assistant bureau chief, Amy Wang, edits a weekly news magazine for the Metro Southwest bureau that focuses on community-level coverage of three Portland-area suburbs. In this month’s column, she shares what freelance writers need to know about pitching and writing for a daily newspaper.

What kinds of articles and/or subjects does The Oregonian look for from freelancers?
As a general-audience publication, we are interested in all sorts of articles and subjects. The sections that use freelancers the most are A&E (arts and entertainment), Books, Travel, FoodDAY, Homes & Gardens, Commentary (opinion) and Living (daily features). As a regional newspaper, we prefer articles and subjects with strong ties to Oregon and Washington. Our five suburban weeklies are even more narrowly focused.

What should writers keep in mind when considering story ideas to pitch to a daily newspaper like The Oregonian?
Unlike magazines, which often work several months ahead, newspaper editors typically work no more than two or three weeks ahead. Many sections that use freelancers go to press a day or two before the actual publication date. Deadlines are tighter and the turnaround from the query to publication can be very short, sometimes just a couple of days.

Before querying, make sure no similar stories have been published recently. If you are serious about freelancing for newspapers, buy a subscription to the Nexis online database, which archives hundreds of English-language newspapers.

Newspaper editors are unlikely to purchase a piece just because the topic is interesting. We’ll ask, what’s the news peg–that is, why publish this piece now instead of two months ago or six weeks in the future? A successful query will explain that your piece about a hair salon just for children is relevant now because it is about to open a branch in our area, or that we should buy your interview with Sarah McLachlan because she is about to perform in Portland.

What are the top two or three things you look for in a query letter?

In addition to what I described above, I also expect some familiarity with my section, which is available online. The articles I publish typically run about 500 words, so a much longer article is not going to get the go-ahead. Plus, more than one typo or grammatical mistake is an instant turnoff for me.

What would be a usual response time for an editor to respond to a query letter?
I generally respond to queries within a day or two; other editors may take up to a week. If a writer hasn’t received a response after a week, I would recommend calling the editor.

Once a writer has had an article published in The Oregonian, are there long-term freelance opportunities available?
If the writer had trouble making deadline or did not respond satisfactorily to an editor’s questions/concerns, or the piece required a good deal of revision or was much longer or shorter than agreed upon, the editor would probably not be inclined to purchase another article, let alone discuss long-term opportunities. If all went well, the editor would be more open to discussion. For instance, a freelancer might pitch the idea of a monthly feature and the editor might agree to plan for that feature while reserving the right not to purchase any one installment.

What current or future trends in the newspaper industry should freelancers be aware of?
Probably the biggest trend right now that affects freelancers directly is toward moving content online. Freelancers should be aware that when they sell a piece, the first-time rights that a newspaper purchases typically include publication on the paper’s Web site.

Do you have any other advice for freelancers wanting to break into
the daily newspaper market?

The better you understand newspapers’ procedures and priorities, the better off you’ll be. We don’t have fact-checkers, so we need freelancers to take accuracy seriously and not rely on us to save them from errors. I would much rather work with an unknown average writer who’s obsessive about accuracy than with a well-known talent who’s sloppy with facts. Also, after I finish a story, I send it to the copy desk, where it is read by at least two more editors who may make further revisions. Finally, newspaper editors are eternally grateful to freelancers who know and abide by the Associated Press Stylebook.

The best way to contact an editor at The Oregonian is by e-mail. For a complete listing of the paper’s staff, go to http://biz.oregonian.com/newsRoster/. Writers can also e-mail a query to: newsroom@news.oregonian.com and include in the subject line, “Freelance query for (name of section).” An editor checks that e-mail account regularly and will forward the query.

Lori RusselLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.


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