Posts Tagged ‘freelance’


Active vs. passive in finding freelance work – a website isn’t enough

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, www.writerruth.com, “I can write about anything!”®

In a recent LinkedIn group post that had me shaking my head, someone recently said, “I found it very hard to get anyone to respond to my web site for editing. How do you all do it?”

That was it – the entire post. Not even a URL for her site so group members could take a look and offer advice based on how she presented herself, which might be a big piece of her problem.

My response was that a website by itself isn’t enough to find freelance work, whether it’s writing, editing, proofreading – or plumbing. I said: “I had a few years of in-house writing and editing jobs that gave me, in addition to skills and experience, an excellent networking base. Once I was freelancing full-time, I made a point of being active in professional organizations that provided job listings, among other services, and expanded my networking range. Most of my current projects come from people finding me, rather than my having to find them, but I still get new projects through listings from professional organizations. I also get some from being active in LinkedIn groups.

“The key is ‘active.’ A website is passive. You have to be active. You can’t sit there and wait for clients to find you. That means joining, and being visible in, professional organizations. Maybe joining a local writers’ group or writers’ center to meet potential clients, if you want to edit books. Sending cold queries to publishers and being willing to take their editing tests.

“You also have to tell prospective clients why they should hire you – what skills and experience you have, which style manuals you know, what your approach to projects and clients might be, etc.”

I also should have mentioned that, once you have a website, you have to make it as active as possible. That means refreshing, revising and adding information to it regularly – every time you do so, you improve its visibility in rankings. You have to learn a little about search engine optimization (SEO) so you can use language that will help the site do well in searches. You have to focus its content not just on how great a writer you are, but on what you can do for clients with that writing skill and experience. You have to take the lead in making the website work for you by doing something to drive people to it.

Readers of this blog, as members of SPJ, already have figured out the value of joining a professional association. Many of you also have figured out the value of not just being what I call a checkbook member, but of being active and visible. If you’re planning to freelance, you have to make sure that people know who you are and what you can do, and colleagues in SPJ are a good place to start. Just as you can’t just pay your dues and wait for SPJ to make you a better or more-successful freelance journalist, you can’t just sit there and wait for prospective clients to stumble over your website and hire you for freelance work.

It’s easier for freelance writers to find new business than it is for editors, in a way – it isn’t that hard to find publications to query with article ideas, while editors may have to be more creative in finding and connecting with prospective clients. Proving our experience may be easier for writers as well, because we can usually point to our published work, while editors and proofreaders often can’t display their projects – a lot of editing/proofreading work is proprietary, and a lot of clients don’t want the world to see how badly their projects needed our editing skills!

The key to getting more work is to be seen and heard. That means not just having a website, but being active in places like SPJ chapters and online groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook – and not just with questions or requests for help, but with the occasional answer, tip and help for colleagues. You can’t always be taking; you have to give a little, too. In fact, SPJ itself is a good starting point – contributing to the Freelance Committee and its blog will help get your name out there as someone with a writing voice, style and substance that is worth recommending and hiring.

It also can’t hurt to let everyone you ever worked with, and even everyone you know in the personal realm, know that you’re freelancing and available for projects. Keep it low-key and professional, but you have to get the word out about your freelance business, at least initially. You can’t assume that people who might hire you, or know of potential clients and projects, will magically know that you’re available.

Getting the word about your business isn’t easy, but no one ever said freelancing would be easy. Having your own business never is – it’s fulfilling, rewarding and often exciting, but it isn’t easy.

For your website to be an active element in your freelance business, you have to promote it and use it; it can’t just sit there waiting for people to find it. Overall, for a freelance journalism business to gain traction and succeed, the freelancer has to move past the “Build it and they will come” mentality and move into one that’s more of “Here’s who I am and what I can do for you.” Don’t be afraid to make the first moves in getting the word out about your freelance business. Once you establish that groundwork or foundation, work will start coming to you by referral, word of mouth and other passive outlets, including that website, but you have to make those first moves.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has made presentations on freelancing, editing & proofreading, and websites for national SPJ conferences. In addition to her freelance writing, editing and proofreading business (www.writerruth.com), she is the owner of Communication Central, which presents an annual conference for freelancers. SPJ members are entitled to a colleague’s discount for the conference: http://www.communication-central.com/2013/events/2013-conference/

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Make a resolution to do better on social media

The Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year’s fireworks are going up. Also around this time, long lists of New Year’s resolutions go up, too.

Diet and exercise top most lists, as do stronger finances and better personal relationships. One thing also worth reviewing among freelancers and maybe revising for 2013 is the way they present themselves through social media.

Numbers are why. As 2012 wound down, Twitter users churned out 175 million tweets daily. An estimated 625,000 new users joined Google+ daily. Facebook garnered about 850 million active users monthly. And LinkedIn added 50 million members in one year; it needed six years to get its first 50 million.

In other words, social media has skipped well past the point of novelty and entered the realm of necessity, especially for freelancers intent on attracting attention. So then, it pays for freelancers to paint a clean, clear portrait of themselves online, if they haven’t already, to keep that attention coming.

A few crisp strokes can do that. These should encompass:

Profile photos — There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Nevertheless, a lot of serious people trying to do serious business still hide behind the faceless default icon all social media platforms employ, the result being they don’t gain digital friends or, more importantly, win jobs, says Nicholas Salter, a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He led a recent study that found those people on LinkedIn with profile pictures are more likely to get hired than those without.

Susan Gunelius, a marketing communications executive who is the author of “Google Blogger for Dummies,” underscores the value. “It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you for the first time.”

Headlines — In a newspaper or news website, headlines are concise declarations of pertinent information intended to announce, inform and attract. In a freelancing proposal, job application or social media campaign, writing with the crisp prose of headlines brings focus and adds clarity to one’s message. Studying the way headlines are written and following their form can do wonders at putting that message ahead of others.

Keywords — And speaking of headlines, keywords give those headlines punch. These keywords are the distinguishing terms lacing online business reports, blogs, and especially job postings, that search engines pluck out for categorization. Special attention paid to keywords helps turn heads and boost Web and social traffic. But keep them relevant; don’t trot out trendy terms just because everyone else has.

Research — Like the way a drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet can be distracting, so too can social content designed to make more noise than sense. The best, most memorable content reflects an understanding of the intended audience and an appreciation for what that audience finds interesting. Invest time online in 2013 researching audience behavior and trends. Start by getting to know Google Analytics and Google Trends, and reading reports from Gartner, the Pew Research Center, and Poynter.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Widbook: A tool for collaborative journalism

As the market for freelance journalism grows, so too has interest in the evolving tools for that job.

That interest is acute where collaborative journalism is concerned, because simply pitching PDFs of Word documents back and forth via email tends to be a clunky way of doing business in this demanding age of digital interactivity. Now, no matter the distance or purpose, teams of people with shared goals all want to work together as if sitting in the same room.

A relatively new website called Widbook tries to provide that goal-oriented environment and foster a social network to supplement it. Widbook is a writing and editing space that lets people alone or in groups craft book-length projects and shorter stories; insert resources such as photos, videos and animations; and add to or augment contributions by other writers.

Widbook also invites writers and readers to share and tweak favorite developing works, and create libraries of published works whether self-written or from other authors.

Early reports on Widbook, still in beta, call it a “YouTube for books” because of its heavy emphasis on interactivity. The central theme and interface are better suited for collaboration on projects. Writers who prefer to work alone can use Widbook as well, but they’ll miss out on many of its features.

And Widbook is free of charge to register for and use — surely the most attractive feature to freelance writers and hopeful novelists working with meager budgets. The only things that first-time visitors to Widbook need to get started is to create a user name and password. Options include creating a personal profile, linking with Facebook, and selecting favorite literary genres from which to build a library. Members also can send messages and “follow” one another through the site.

Because it’s in beta, Widbook has limitations and quirks. For one thing, it’s not possible to export a finished project to another platform, though that’s expected to come later as the site matures, and it’s not obvious to early users how the social media aspect will supplement the collaboration tools. The interface is also a tad balky with projects of more than a few chapters.

Still, for collaborative writers and editors, Widbook presents an intriguing new way for journalists to exchange ideas and bring far-flung talent together in the same room.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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Assignmint promises to change freelancing

There’s a new player in the marketplace promising to change the way freelance journalists do their jobs, and the results are supposed to be spectacular.

But so far, it’s only a promise.

Assignmint.com is the Web address for this ambitious operation and Jeff Koyen, a former New York Post writer, is the person said to be in charge of it. According to the early media buzz, Assignmint intends to consolidate all aspects of freelancing — from pitches to payment — in a cloud-sharing model designed to streamline the business in such a way that freelancers have more freedom to be productive.

The site and Koyen’s plan gained attention last week in articles by Fast Company and Mediabistro’s FishbowlLA. However, for now, the site itself only asks visitors to submit their email addresses if they want to be included in the limited beta release in June. Assignmint tentatively launches in a broader format later this year, and at least the basic memberships will be free, Koyen says.

Ideally, once registered with Assignmint, member freelancers can “filter and manage incoming pitches, issue assignments and then handle all related fulfillment (e.g. contracts and invoices) right from their dashboard,” Koyen explained in FishbowlLA. Assignmint is even expected to have features for matching freelancers with prospective clients.

Premium accounts meanwhile will have a broader selection of workflow and sharing tools, as well as advice on 1099 tax filing.

Assignmint is targeting writers and editors first, other media later. And if that relationship works as intended, the site will expand to include academia, and financial and IT services, among others, Koyen says.

Surely though the most interesting part about Assignmint will be its attempt to minimize hassle from payment collection. Assignmint proposes to act in the freelancer’s interest in exchange for a yet-to-be-determined service fee, sort of the way sites such as eBay and PayPal handle e-payments.

At least that’s the general idea. For now, however, Assigmint is like a story pitch that’s a long ways away from payout.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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Is there such a thing as ‘idea theft’?

Picture yourself in this situation, if you haven’t already: You’ve pitched a story idea to a newspaper, magazine or online editor, received a nod of acknowledgement either in person or by correspondence and words of praise but not commitment, was thanked for your input and then left with the impression the editor would get back to you for follow-up. Days, weeks, maybe months pass without that follow-up.

Then, forewarning aside, the same story idea turns up, in almost the identical context as your pitch, in the editor’s publication.

The first natural thought is, “That (insert your favorite insult here) stole my idea!” A grand display of teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching and floor-pacing follows, and soon after arises the notion to give that editor a piece of your mind.

But before you do, consider two things. First, if you intend to give someone a piece of your mind, remember to leave enough for yourself. And second, the likelihood that the editor “stole” your idea is indefensible and improbable.

The truth is, nobody “owns” a story idea. Those thoughts swirling around in our heads afford no collateral by themselves. We like to think they do because of the inspiration they give us and the biased belief that nobody else had them. But unless an idea is written down, it doesn’t technically exist. And even then, it must be copyrighted before the owner can pursue and expect compensation for theft.

When an “original” story idea winds up flowing from someone else’s pen or keyboard, a few factors probably came into play:

It wasn’t original — Across decades and thousands of publications, assorted story themes have been hashed and rehashed, with tweaks made here and color added there as freshener. Arguably, the idea you’re pitching took root the same way it did for another writer, and another writer before that. Inspiration takes many forms, one being the unanticipated reflection of another person’s inspiration.

Bad timing — Chances are, too, the publication had an idea much like yours on its calendar. Publications of all sorts stockpile ideas and schedule them well in advance to keep their production on track; your idea might have been on the docket or in process long before it became “your” idea.

Editor’s prerogative — Part of what editors do daily is determine the optimum bang for a publication’s buck, and that includes finding the best writers and reporters for particular story ideas. Experience, talent, resourcefulness, enterprise — these all factor highly when editors assign a story to one person instead of another. Bear in mind though, this does not imply greater general competence; rather, it points to specific competencies certain stories need to shine.

Lack of expertise — Along that line, for freelancers, this suggests they develop and hone special skills and have a “niche” they can call their own. An editor shopping a story idea on mutual funds or needlepoint, or seeking and editor who can easily clarify either story, will choose talent they know has better-than-average knowledge of those topics before tossing it up to the crowd. When making a pitch, prove not only the story idea’s value but yours as well.

Of course, not every editor or publication possesses sterling intent and unassailable character. Because ideas lack easy protection, it’s possible for editors to plumb for ideas after their dependable reserves of material dry up, or their motives are unmasked, but this is bound to bring them detrimental long-term results. The various publishing industries, whether print or electronic, are close-knit environments made tighter through the nation’s economic tumult over the past four years. That and the rise of social media have forged both direct and relational connections between writers and editors that were once unimaginable.

So basically, editors who lift others’ ideas too often risk their reputations and their jobs, an unwise tactic to take in a shrinking marketplace.

But to be sure, writers can employ tactics of their own against the concept of “idea theft”:

Research — Look into a publication’s background regarding freelance work. Learn the publication’s policies and practices, and try talking with other freelancers to see how they were treated. Above all, read through as many back issues as you can find, to see what ideas have been done and how they were presented.

Confidentiality — Ask editors to keep ideas confidential and extend the courtesy of a reply once they know whether to go with the story. No editor is obligated to do this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. And if the pitch is submitted in print, clarify the confidentiality concern with a line or two making the same request. Furthermore, keep story sources out of written proposals where possible, if for no other reason than to protect their confidentiality as well.

Contact — Stay in touch with editors, but don’t hound them. A call, email or note after a couple of weeks to remind them you’re eager to get to work is OK. Maybe mention, too, that other editors have expressed interest in the story, but say this only in honesty. Don’t make allegations or claims that editors can verify but you can’t.

Patience — Most editors, no matter the publication, are swamped with offers and ideas amid their other work. Weeks may pass before they’re able to give a response. So, scrutinize the calendar and plan to give pitches well ahead of the events they address. Harried editors will appreciate it.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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Back to the Future: Advice for Those Who Hate the Whole Personal Branding Thing

By Carol Cole-Frowe

There’s so much advice out there these days about personal branding, also known as “Keeping Your Name Out There.”

You know what I’m talking about. You need to Facebook, Linked In, Google Plus, Pinterest, ad nauseum. Who has time for all that? I’m lucky if I can keep up with Facebook and play the occasional Words With Friends game with Alec Baldwin. Maybe update my website every other month if I’m lucky.

I get exhausted thinking about keeping up with all the social media sites, especially if you’re working crazy freelance hours and trying to have a decent family life. And when you’re freelancing –  trying to humor a few beloved pro bonos who think you can write their newsletter in no time flat? Every freelancer I know gets pitched at least once a month for pro bono. I don’t know about you, but I like to get paid when I write — except for when I don’t — and I prefer to choose those things, not have them choose me.

My advice is if you want to put yourself out there with the least amount of effort, I’d advise that you do these few things. First, I know what you’re saying. Gosh, Carol, I’ve never heard “get a website” before. But humor me for a minute. Here’s a couple of reasons you need these tools, and I’m just betting you don’t have one or you wouldn’t be reading this. In order of importance:

-       A Website is like leaving around a brochure about your wonderful self. It’s static, just sitting there working for you, and waiting for some lovely editor who’s interesting in reading your work. And then if it’s good, it will sell you while you’re napping. You can make one easily with GoDaddy.com,   FatCow.com or several other good hosting sites. I’m reasonably technologically challenged and I used FatCow and Drag and Drop Builder to build my website-work-in-progress at carolcolefrowe.com. And tracking my stats, I know a bunch of folks check it out. Categories to consider: About Me or Bio, Portfolio, Photography, Buzz, Blog, Contact Me. If I can do it, you can do it. Bare minimum — get a website.

-       List Yourself in the SPJ Freelancer Directory. It works.  In fact, I got a stringing job for the New York Daily News only yesterday from the Freelancer Directory that will pay my Society of Professional Journalists memberships for several years to come. List your new website on it.

-       Get Professional Business Cards. There are several sites on the web where you can get inexpensive business cards, like VistaPrint. Even better, see if you can trade out your favorite graphic designer some writing for their website for their talents on your’s. Or save up and get a really special individualized card. Make sure you note that you’re a SPJ member and your brand-spankin’-new website, mobile and fax if you have one.

-       Blog. I hear the collective groan from here. You don’t have to blog about stuff about your  job (unless your boss makes you.) Write about what you love, like hiking or recycling or gardening. Make it a habit to post at least once a week, then post the link on Facebook and Twitter (see below.) When I started seriously blogging at the first of this year about my gastric sleeve surgery and offering compatible recipes, I thought I was writing to myself for awhile, especially since I’m a newbie and still learning. Then all of a sudden I have thousands of visitors who’ve found me from several dozen countries including Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and Australia, and I was the most shocked person out there blogging. Then I monetized it and I’m actually making money writing a blog. Building it is easy and self-explanatory on WordPress or Blogger. Once again, pictures or graphics are key to keeping interest.

-       Suck It Up and Get on Facebook, minimum, even if you just use it to occasionally promote something your particularly interested in or your latest freelance article, book or blog. I’ve gotten freelancing jobs from people who wanted to find me and couldn’t figure out any other way than messaging me on Facebook. 160 million users? Not a bad potential audience. I recommend posting pictures, they’re the best point-of-entry into any article and that hasn’t changed. Folks love to look at pictures.

-       Twitter. I used to hate Twitter until I got the hang of it. It’s all in the hashtags, which is putting a number sign aka “#” in front of your key word, and you can find anything, complain about anything, reach out for any info, all in 140 characters. When I recently complained about an airline on Twitter, I got a personal letter apologizing for their “glitch.” Do I need to tell you to post pictures?

That’s the bare minimum for “Those Who Hate the Whole Personal Branding Thing.” Now go out and do it. In order.

What are your ideas for personal branding and marketing without sitting all day in front of your laptop?

Carol Cole-Frowe is a full-time independent journalist, based in Oklahoma and North Texas, and vice president of the Oklahoma Pro Chapter of SPJ. Her website is carolcolefrowe.com. Reach her on Twitter at @carolcolefrowe.

 

 

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Additional tips on better self-editing

Ignorance is one of those things that doesn’t improve with practice. Yet a lot of writers in all corners of the craft insist their prime obligation is committing ideas to words, and whether it’s the right word is not always their concern.

“The first draft, I’m just trying to get everything down,” a book author told me. “After that, I leave it up to my editor most times to clean it up.”

This approach is fine for getting ideas down as fast as they come to mind; in fact, I endorse it. Lately though, I’ve seen more blogs, short stories, novels and non-fiction works come out in final form that suggest the commitment to clean-up was abbreviated or lacking altogether. What these shoddy pieces portend is embarrassment for the author, the publisher, and potentially the readers who expected professional work in the first place.

Blame this boom in boo-boos on the ease of electronic publishing, which has reduced the gap between writing and marketing to a barely perceptible slit and goads us into stream-of-consciousness creativity. We are all just a keystroke away from fame and fortune, we’d like to think. Thus, we’re inclined to rush the process.

In a previous post I broached a few basic tips for freelancers to improve their editing. Here, I offer more to consider, such as:

Creating a “mission statement” — Have reason and focus when writing. Don’t hang the hope that “something will come to me” on protracted banging of the keyboard. A goal can guide thinking, and clear thinking guides creativity. Establish goals at the beginning so that your purpose is obvious at the end.

Thinking about brevity when writing briefly — Writing space always is at a premium, even online. So, too, is the readers’ attention. Research has shown that readers flip through Web pages faster than printed ones, which means writers have less time than ever to make a good impression online. Short, punchy words tend to help in this regard. Long words can trip up readers and force them to stumble through one’s prose, if they bother staying around long enough to finish.

Using active verbs — And speaking of brevity, active verbs take up less space than passive ones, because the passive ones are bigger and heavier and need modifiers to carry them along. Active verbs can stand alone and bear their own weight. Sure, passive verbs have a place in English — wherever slow, ponderous writing is a premium.

Avoiding redundancies — There’s really no reason to say the same thing more than once in writing. Let me repeat: There’s really no reason to say the same thing more than once. Unless you’re doing it for effect.

Trimming fat — Closely related to redundancy is excess verbiage — usually, the adjectives, adverbs and prepositions that pad our speech. Though it seems when first written that they help drive home a particular point, they in fact delay gratification or they overstate an idea. Use adjectives sparingly, limit adverbs to those times when it’s absolutely necessary to alter the verb’s definition, and make sure prepositions are always in their place, which is very close to, if not next to, the object they’re supposed to modify.

Doing the math — Just about all the journalists I know drifted into writing as a career in part because they were poor mathematicians, or had a natural aversion to numbers. Words were their passion. The thing is, good reporting often relies on making sure things add up the way they should, whether the scale of measure is math or logic. Take time to check the math. Or get someone else who’s good with numbers to do it for you.

Paying attention to personal quirks — This speaks broadly to everything said above. Our shortcomings are characteristic of our personalities. Detail-oriented people may miss seeing the big picture, while big-picture people may gloss over subtle distinctions. Still others have trouble in general with spelling or grammar or word usage. Subdue your ego long enough to gain perspective of personal writing or reporting flaws, even if it means asking other people about them, because those flaws could be the first things readers see in your writing.

Pacing yourself — Speed is essential in typing tests but not in thoughtful writing. Sure, deadlines constrain our penchant for doing things in free-form ways, but taking care to prepare for a writing or editing project can eliminate scheduling and organizational obstacles that slow us down. With careful preparation comes time to think clearly and carefully about what we’re writing, and given adequate time we can pace our production.

Editing more than once — In my line of work, however, speed counts. Newspapers never are casual places, and the closer to deadline my colleagues and I get the more prone we are to hurrying through our edits to news copy. This is not acceptable behavior, mind you, just one of the vagaries of deadline journalism. Freelancers, on the other hand, have rather more control over their schedules, and fortunately, more control over the editing process. They should understand that one re-read does not constitute a good edit; two, three, even four re-reads is much better. Because our minds slip into comfort zones as our bodies do, we’ll easily read past some errors while we’re keyed in to finding others.

If it helps, edit a piece at least three times taking three approaches: first, editing for story structure and clarity; second, for spelling; and third, for grammar. Dividing your focus on purpose improves the chances you’ll catch more errors and heighten your credibility.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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Be sensitive when conducting interviews

The toughest task in good journalism no doubt is staying true to the facts.

The next toughest: getting them.

Whether coming from paper or people, information-gathering affords certain challenges not apparent on its face. Myriad nuances present both opportunity and obstacles; the clinching detail may drop easily within a journalist’s grasp, only to become suddenly unreachable due to a computer glitch or an administrative oversight. Or, maybe, the people holding that key detail in their heads decide at the most inopportune moment to keep it to themselves.

For the first two problems, calling a tech-support specialist or a knowledgeable and sympathetic administrative staff subordinate may shake the facts loose. For the third, a finely tuned sensitivity in conducting interviews tends to do the same.

That sensitivity is not an emotional one; it’s rooted in preparation and in paying keen attention to the interview subject, two things that require time and commitment in advance of the interview. So, before sitting down to question anyone at length for a story or news report, take care to prepare:

Do research — This, more than anything, makes a good interview. How much you know about the person you’re interviewing and their expertise will be reflected not only in the questions asked, but also your attitude. There’s a saying that goes, “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge also evokes confidence, and a confident interviewer is a disarming one. Besides, doing the research also is a show of respect to the interviewee, and a little respect can leverage a lot of information.

List discussion points — Subsequent to the research, the pertinent questions become clear. But to be sure that clarity carries through to the interview, take along a list of discussion points or questions, if for no other reason than to help maintain the interview’s focus should digressions or distractions crop up.

Put people at ease — A comfortable interviewee is an open one. So, if time permits, start off by explaining how the interview should proceed and encourage the interviewee to ask questions about it. Another good ice-breaker: mining one’s natural self-absorption. Typically, our favorite discussion topic is the person we see in the mirror. If that isn’t already the interview’s central theme, start there to show you’re interested in more than just the reason for the interview.

Once they’re at ease, let them talk — Along that line, interviewees may wish to unburden themselves of pre-interview stress or whatever else they have pent up that makes them tense. This could require letting interviewees ramble until their defenses come down. Again, if time is short, the easing period will hinge on one or two key questions designed to hasten relief. Good research will determine what kinds of questions these ought to be.

Don’t finish sentences — Patience is a virtue, and it’s best to appear virtuous when plumbing for personal or sensitive information. Let people avail themselves of silence between questions to organize their thoughts and cultivate answers to questions. Filling in blanks for them only fosters ill will and frustration, and may close people up after you’ve worked hard to get them open.

Record the interview – Another distraction is note-taking, for both the interviewer and the interviewee. Scribbling forces interviewers to try doing two things at once. The interviewee, meanwhile, sits waiting for the pen to stop scratching before finishing their thought, during which they may forget what that thought was. Moreover, note-taking reduces eye-to-eye contact. Give the interviewee all your attention, the better to also stay tuned to changes in facial expression that clue you in to answers possibly going deeper than words. However, feel free to jot down occasional details you’ll want to revisit in the interview or make special mention of while writing the story later.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Four tips for better self-editing

The life of a freelancer can be a lonely one, especially when it comes to editing one’s own work and trying to polish it until glowing. Hours, days, weeks spent on a project can infuse a sense of entitlement regarding the content, with every word in every line considered sacrosanct, and pruning too painful to contemplate. After all, these words came from a place deep within, we think to ourselves, and they are as much a part of us as our own skin and blood.

Which is why Thomas Wolfe said what he did: “Writing is easy. Just put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and start bleeding.”

But prune we must, for as Wolfe and other writers of his ilk knew it’s the editing that makes fair writing good and good writing great. Rare is the successful writer who commits an unalterable thought to print. Rarer still is the one who does it without embarrassing himself.

Trouble is, for freelancers, effective editing first requires a sense of detachment from the work so as to develop a crisp perspective attuned to bias and fault. And when it’s just us writing and nobody else is around with either the skill or patience to perform a quality edit, seeking that detachment can be difficult.

However, there are a few tricks available to put freelance writers in the frame of mind they need to get the job done:

Walk away — That’s right, walk away from the story for a while. Put it aside and go do something else — exercise, house chores, yard work, whatever — for 20 minutes to an hour, deadline permitting, and don’t even think about the story during that time, the notion being that separation helps the brain reorder its thinking regarding what it has digested repeatedly over a long period of time.

You see, our brains are capable of filling in gaps in logic and order, so that many of us can read this …

It dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm.

… with little trouble, when in fact the corrected jumble says this …

It doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem.

Because of this trait, even seasoned editors misread once in a while. That’s why they pour over their work two, three, four times to make sure they see what the writer intended to say. And that’s why the best among them take short breaks between re-reads, or longer ones before tackling another editing project.

Change the background — After writing in a black-on-white writing environment on a word-processing program, change the program’s settings to alter the colors, transforming the background to, say, blue, and the type to yellow or pale green. This, too, fools the mind into believing it’s seeing something entirely new and organic. Altering the screen font and font size also has somewhat the same effect.

Read aloud — Eyes alone are not the tools we use for reading; we also “listen” to words as we read. However, during the writing process, either the eyes or ears take over and subsume the other half of our collective perspective. Then, upon reviewing what’s written, certain words don’t “sound” or look right, or the sentence context deviates from what we thought we were typing. Reading a story aloud in the editing process helps the mind both see and hear the gaps and inconsistencies that developed while we were busy trying to get the idea nailed down.

Read backward — In other words, read the story from the end to the beginning, going against the flow of the intended narrative. This practice works remarkably well for parsing the true meaning of sentences and whether they were constructed well enough to make sense in the first place. It’s also effective for fact-checking, as backward reading tends to bring out whether there’s too much or too little of something in the overall narrative.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Dress for Success

Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg told me one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about being “ready-to-go.”

Shortly after 9 a.m. on the spring Wednesday morning of April 19, 1995, Bragg got a call from the New York Times, his employer at the time. How fast could he be on a plane to Oklahoma City, his editor asked, to cover the aftermath of the smoldering ruins of the Murrah Federal Building, which had been blown up a few minutes earlier?

Bragg dropped everything and drove to the Atlanta airport, where he caught a flight almost immediately — back when you could still buy a ticket and walk right onto a plane. He was in Oklahoma City for one of the biggest stories of his career, bringing his wondrous way with words to describe the terrible human tragedy.

The point is that Bragg had a plan to be able to do such a thing. He grabbed what he could in a couple of minutes and planned to buy anything he forgot after he got to Oklahoma City.

He wasn’t freelancing at that time, but his story brings up the point of being a full-time freelancer who is ready to go when needed.

I’m a firm believer that you can wear sweat pants and a T-shirt while you’re writing in your home office or writing spot. But you need to be able to drop what you’re doing, have clean, professional clothes you can change into at a moment’s notice and enough gas in your car to get you at least an hour’s drive away.

And I shouldn’t have to say this, but you need to be well enough groomed while wearing aforesaid sweat pants and T-shirt to not have to get in the shower and do everything, like wash hair, shave, do makeup — you get the picture.

Even better, you’re ahead on your current assignments, so you have the ability to drop everything for a rush job or a breaking news story.

It’s a frame of mind. You’re ready for that call, e-mail or text.

And I firmly believe readiness translates to being more businesslike on telephone interviews and treating yourself more like a business.

Probably my best example was about a year ago, when I got a call from an editor at Agence France Presse, an international wire service based in Paris.

How fast could I be at the federal court building in Oklahoma City to cover a hearing for AFP on a lawsuit regarding Sharia Law? And even though I live about 20 miles from that building, I was able to change quickly, get there in about 45 minutes and I got the AFP story moved to the wire minutes after a decision was announced. My work clothes were cleaned and pressed (so was I for that matter,) my car had gas in it and my laptop was charged. It helped that I already knew my way around the federal court building, but I would have been fine regardless. I have no problem getting help from anyone who looks remotely helpful, including the friendly guards up front, who usually know where the action is.

I subscribe to the FlyLady e-newsletter that focuses on how to have a clean, uncluttered house and that definitely translates to having a more focused mind. Here’s her Flying Lesson on why she wants her followers to get completely dressed in the morning including lace-up shoes:

“Since starting this group, I have continually harped on putting your shoes on your feet each morning. I want you to do this, and you are not the exception to the rule. Here is why.

“Several years ago, I worked for a direct sales cosmetics company. One main rule for that company was that you could not make a single phone call in the morning unless you were totally dressed, and I mean really dressed! All the way to dress shoes. The reason behind this duty was that you act differently when you have clothes and shoes on.You are more professional. The customer can tell when you don’t feel good about the way you look, even when you think you do. So if getting dressed makes that big of an impression on someone that can’t even see you, what is going to happen to those that can see you? Mainly yourself.

“Putting shoes on your feet that lace up are better than slip-ons or sandals, because they are harder to take off. Instead of kicking your shoes off for a quick snooze on the couch, you actually have to go through a bit more trouble to get them off. Maybe in that short instant you will realize that there is something more that you can do. With shoes on those feet of yours, your mind says, “OK, it’s time to go to work.” You have no excuse for not taking the trash out or putting that box of give-away stuff into the car. You are literally ready for anything. Believe me, when you get that call from school that your child needs you or that dear friend calls up and says that she needs to talk … you are ready! Including shoes.”

Her complete Flying Lesson on the subject is here. The other tip — if you need help excavating your office or workspace, check out the rest of the FlyLady site.

And when you get that call to cover breaking news or do a rush project … you’ll be ready to go.

Carol Cole-Frowe is a freelance journalist, who splits her time between Oklahoma and Texas. Her website is carolcolefrowe.com.

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