Freelance Journalism Course #4 and 5

18688409-office-writing-woman-with-paper-note-illustrationIt’s all about the art… the art of writing. Turning words into a compelling story readers can’t tear their eyes away from. This is really all we have talked about in the last two classes of my Freelance Journalism Course at the University of Victoria.

Once you study the way a certain publication works, you understand the tone and the theme of that magazine. I don’t think I will be able to read anything the same again. Now I’m not just reading it but I’m also dissecting it, tearing it apart piece by piece like a science project unfolding. There really is a science behind it.

Our instructor Greg gave us some homework to do over the last two weeks which included: writing a practice article about a tuna delivery truck driver, whose hillbilly quotes made him look “not so bright” shall we put it? And we also had to write a pitch for a magazine. Practice makes perfect so I was pretty excited to write these two pieces for Greg to edit, even if he did rip them apart.
😉 It’s the only way to learn!

Some of the suggestions Greg had for my article were:

-be aware of factual errors and get all the facts straight
-there are no exclamation points is great journalism (oops I get excited)
-read the story out loud to find sentences that don’t make sense
don’t use words that end in -ly: it borders on opinion writing
– stick to present tense
-always use a persons last name throughout the story after introducing them
-headings: you have to make the reader want to read on

Reporter

We also read some incredible pieces of journalism from different writers and studied them bit by bit. Two of the most fascinating stories were:

Animals by Chris Jones
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The Fighter: The Life and Times of Merle Haggard by Jason Fine

I was absolutely captivated reading both of these pieces. Both are quite lengthy but I could not put them down. They are both very different in so many ways. The journalism is just astounding and the emotion that is portrayed in them is very admirable.

What makes great journalism? Fine tuning your work and always practicing the craft.

Greg went into a lot of detail about targeting a specific audience with tone, what works and what doesn’t and how to use descriptive words and phrases when reading someones body language. The moments when the writer takes your breath away by utilizing an emotional moment. A blank stare. A brief pause. A short silence.

Greg shared some of his work as well:

That’s Just the Way it isIsland Parent
Goo Goo Dolls make Victoria women scream for limp rock– Nexus
Shopping Hub Redevelopment- Douglas magazine

He’s a talented writer and so versatile. Each article is different from one another and going through them, seeing the way each piece is written and realizing that words are extremely powerful… it’s humbling. Greg inspires me to become a great writer and definitely has the right tools to apply to this field of writing. Without any university training, Greg has mastered the art of freelance writing and knows the ins and outs when dealing with editors. With only one class to go I feel I have learned so much from him.

As you can imagine, he has also had his ups and downs with his writing. In the articles above he writes from a dads perspective, voicing his opinion about technology. He then writes about middle-aged women singing at a concert and comparing it to dish washing. And lastly he shares a story of a handful of unfortunate events that happen to local business owners when a mall is being reconstructed.

Opinion writing is tricky. You really have to know how to present it properly so it doesn’t come across as something other than what you’re trying to say. Sometimes people get offended or take things the wrong way and it’s hard, as a writer, to have your words misconstrued or the message mistaken. Writing “snarky” pieces full of sarcasm are difficult and Greg has had issues with upset readers, negative feedback and even harsh comments at times.

In the end, I learned a lot about techniques and how important your headline is. Greg made a joke that I wont repeat but I’ll tell you, it was pretty funny when he explained what he was really trying to say when he wrote “limp rock” in the title of his Goo Goo Dolls article. Whoops… a secondary editor is always a good idea when you’re an editor. And Greg says that will haunt him to this day that he published that one a bit prematurely. I guess he got excited too 🙂

Words pack a punch!

John Threlfall also made a guest appearance in yesterdays class and gave us the rundown on the do’s and don’ts of working with an editor and what kind of writer he would work with again and again. You can check out his marvelous blog here 🙂 He has an unbelievable story himself and I think I may just have to write about it! He’s an animated speaker and I really enjoyed listening to his tales of success.

Stayed tuned for my next article… and I will go over some of those do’s and don’ts of writing I’ve learned throughout this wonderful class!

Happy Wednesday! xo

Building an online presence to BOOST your SEO

ball-142738_1280~This week I’ve really been focusing on building an online presence and let me tell you, it’s a job!

I have spent countless hours following pages on Twitter and Facebook, reading a ton of great material, connecting with a lot of talented writers and entrepreneurs… and of course, commenting on posts and having discussions with people about writing.

Here is my new confession: I am a bit obsessed with social media right now!!

It really sucks you in once you get momentum going on multiple social networking sites, but it is definitely an essential tool when building your business. It’s also incredibly exciting hearing feedback, gathering followers and gaining knowledge on many subjects. I’ve met some really interesting people and they are all on their own journeys, which is a wonderful way to learn the ins and outs of networking. You must follow and connect with like-minded people to grow, and the experience is really fun once you really dive into it.

Sharing is caring ❀

Now, this is just my own opinion as I am diving into a few different writing outlets including novel-writing, copy writing and freelance journalism. In all the research I’ve done, I’ve found that most agents will look for a strong online presence when working with writers. It’s the best way to promote ones self when your publishing a book, building your portfolio or for any kind of web writing. Social media sites are a fabulous source for finding publications and clients.

Some people don’t agree though and it’s really up to you how far you want to take it. It can be overwhelming and time-consuming which some people don’t like. I’ve had a few friends say, “I could never do something like that….” and that’s fair enough. This magical world of social media is not for everyone. I have to step away sometimes and remember that there is a real world out there that needs to be cherished and loved. The best way to do that is make a social media schedule.

social-media-400854_1280Greg Pratt, my instructor at Uvic, doesn’t really use social media to build his freelance business. In Freelance Journalism it’s not always necessary to have a huge following online because most of the time freelancers are communicating with specific editors and using the perfect pitch to land a publication. Also, Greg works as an Editor himself so he has an actual “day job” taking up a lot of his time. He’s been quite successful without using a large amount of social media.

It really depends on what you want to do with your writing.

Do you want to publish ebooks?
Would you like to build a travel blog?
Will it benefit your website to link it to another social networking site like Twitter?

I have answered YES to these questions so now it’s time to take my SEO to the next level. Following the most popular trends, I’ve learned that Twitter and Linkedin are the two major social networking sites most people use to connect. Link ’em all together and BAM!!

SEO at full throttle! 🙂

Here are some great links I’ve found that cover SEO information quite extensively:

http://www.acronym.com/bebrilliant/seo/5-ways-you-need-to-use-social-media-to-boost-your-seo/

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/social-media-seo/

http://blog.sumall.com/journal/8-ways-social-media-affects-seo.html

and if you work with WordPress.org and use plugins you can really optimize your site:

https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-social-seo-booster/

Thanks Google!

Certain plugins aren’t available for WordPress.com users apparently, which I just found out through… you guessed it, Social Networking 🙂

Thank you to my fellow bloggers who have helped me out with optimizing my website. I am very much enjoying this whole process.

The internet is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

How about you? Is their anything about SEO I’ve missed that you have learned about in your journey?

What are your thoughts on Social Media?

I would love to hear from you! I am just learning all of this myself so any feedback would be great. Let’s connect!

Happy writing xo

Freelance Journalism Class #3

I was so excited to attend this weeks Freelance Journalism Class because it was about how to write the perfect pitch when sending out queries to magazine publications. Researching on the internet  can be helpful but it is really overwhelming at times and can make for “lazy” mass pitching.

Our instructor, Greg Pratt, gave us some great pitch examples from one of his colleagues and mentors: John Threlfall, who is also a Journalist himself and an Instructor at The University of Victoria. Check out Johns profile here.
John is the ex-Monday Magazine editor-in-chief so he has a lot of experience in pitching and what the perfect pitch should look like.

In the examples of good work and bad work, John made some very important points about pitching:

-Know your market- finding the magazine you want to write for and knowing that publication in and out. Reading it cover to cover is the best way to find the tone of the articles and how you should structure your writing. Even reading a few of their past issues will give you some great insight into the writers who consistently write for the magazine.

-Never underestimate the power of politeness- when addressing an editor you should be casual but not too casual in your first inquiry. Also if you say you’re going to get back to an editor with something like an article example, than do so even if you haven’t heard back from your first letter.

-Never bother an editor with obvious questions-before you pitch a magazine you should already know if they actually hire freelancers or if they only have staff writers. How often does the publication go out? What are the writers guidelines?
Do the research and already know the answers to these kinds of questions. Which brings us to the next point:

-Do your research and prove you’re worth their time!

and lastly…

-Pitch first, write later- Greg says this is the most common way freelancers write, but not in ALL cases. Interviewing usually comes after you’ve sealed the deal with a magazine to write an article for them. It’s not likely you will interview someone first in hopes you get the job, but some publications do take articles that are already written. Again, this is something you should know from the writers guidelines.

A great pitch should always be short, specific and to the point and informative. Having a proven track record does help, but you can leave that out if you’re a newby like me 😉 Make sure to include your contact info as well since you want that editor to get in touch with you.

Apparently some people don’t include stuff like that… so don’t be one of those
“lazy pitchers”.

softball-422331_1280You want to pitch all the way to the mound and strike ’em out!!

Stay tuned for next weeks class details and I hope you enjoy!

Happy writing! xo

Freelance Journalism Class #2

street-sign-141361_1280~2 things happened on Tuesday of this week. My new fitness studio job didn’t work out. I guess I’m not fit enough or something.

Then I had my 2nd Freelance Journalism course that night. So, as much as it hurt to be totally humiliated and all, I am still a writer and I want to move forward with that. Looking on the bright side of things, I now have time to focus on my writing and hone in on its many opportunities.

During our class, my instructor Greg Pratt discussed:

The art of interviewing
Writing stories vs. writing promotion
Finding your market : local, national, international… websites/magazines/newspapers?
and…

Writing for free?- no no no. You are worth more than that!

As you can imagine there are MANY ways in which you can apply your writing skills other than airing out your dirty laundry through blogging rants like I did yesterday about my many failures in life.

So what kind of writing do you want to do?

A lot of material I’ve researched has stated that you should always start locally, but Greg disagrees with this logic. Why would you go to local publications when you want to write about international issues?

This makes perfect sense to me as I want to be a travel writer, so approaching international magazines and websites may be a good place to start!

We talked about one very important thing when it comes to writing stories:

Emotion.

aggression-487274_1280

Greg shared a story with the class called:

Regret, divorce, compromise. It’s not all good times with the New Kids on the Block which he wrote for Monday Magazine. You can read his article here.

He had the class read the story and then he included a “fake” story to go along with it. The fake story was basically a promotion story that was really dull and listed boring questions like: “So what can Victorians expect at the show?”

“It’s going to be a good time… we can’t wait…” blah blah blah. Not engaging at all.

The purpose of this story was to show us the lack of emotion. Promotion writing is not as relatable to the audience because there are no feelings involved, just a list of facts and general information about the show.

The difference: the types of questions being asked.

Greg explained that during the interview process when you’re working as a journalist you have to ask specific questions that will engage the reader. He made a joke about his fellow journalists who roll their eyes when he asks “feeling” questions.

“Oh, Greg’s talking about feelings again…” which I found quite humorous because that’s all I ever talk about. But this does make sense.

When you ask these types of questions it goes into a deeper realm and hits certain nerves that set off a lot of emotions. As you can see in the article, Donnie Wahlberg speaks about his divorce and it really hits home for him… his true feelings are revealed. The reader can then relate to the story and really get a sense of what that artist, or whoever it may be, is feeling about life and past circumstance. It makes them more human in a way.

So whether you’re writing for a local newspaper or international magazine, you have to get all of those “feelings” involved when interviewing for an article.alive-444540_1280

Really drive those questions into the deepest part of the gut.

For example: If you were to interview me about Personal Training and ask me how I feel I would probably say something like…

“I’m done Personal Training. I don’t feel like chasing after clients anymore and I certainly do not want to work for a gym. I don’t really make any money and I’m definitely not loving that profession. I threw out all my PT business cards, smashed my PT plague, ripped up all my certificates and basically gave up… how’s that for emotion?”

No, I’m not bitter at all. That is just an “example”

Have you ever had that feeling? 😉

Happy writing! xo

~T

Freelance Journalism Class #1

home-office-336581_1280Yesterday I started a new evening course at the University of Victoria called “Freelance Journalism in 2014” and as promised I’m going to share what I’ve learned with all of you! It is a bit of a recap of what I’ve already been learning about becoming a writer, but I really enjoyed speaking with a successful writer in person and learning from his own experiences.

My instructor, Greg Pratt, is a local freelancer here in Victoria. He has worked his way up the writing ladder and is now the managing editor for Nexus Newspaper at Camosun College: http://www.nexusnewspaper.com/about/

Greg also works as a freelancer fairly consistently for Douglas magazine, Island Parent and Alternative Press… and that’s just to name a few. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable when it comes to freelancing, he is clearly an expert on the writing process and what it takes to become a successful writer. You can view his detailed online portfolio here: http://www.gregprattfreelancer.blogspot.ca/

During our first hour together Greg shared his story with the class and laid out the details of his job as a freelance journalist. By the sounds of it, Greg had a lot of luck on his side when he was just starting out and was basically just “winging it” when he was discovered. Naturally my first question was: “Do you need a degree to land a job as a freelancer?”

Greg: “I don’t have one.” So no.

This doesn’t surprise me at all. Especially after reading so many others articles that say the same thing. You don’t need a 4 year degree and a $30,000 debt to be a freelancer… you just have to come up with interesting ideas or “hooks” for stories and then write them. It seems so simple right?

Well, Greg was also very blunt about actually “making it” as a freelancer. It’s not easy. In fact it is quite difficult to make a full-time career out of freelancing.  The 3 things we discussed were finding your niche, why you want to write and differentiating between different kinds of journalism. Then we basically jumped 3 classes ahead of ourselves and started talking about pitches and opinion writing.

This is where I got a bit confused.

Opinion writing vs. Neutral writing

Apparently if you want to be a freelancer you have to learn how to write in a neutral tone. Magazines don’t want opinion pieces on your personal viewpoints about a specific topic, nor do they want articles about people you have relationships with. The writing has to be factual and unbiased. That to me sounds incredibly difficult as blogging is the complete opposite. Blogs are mostly opinion based articles so this is a completely different way of writing. It’s something that didn’t even cross my mind because all I write about are my personal opinions and experiences. This will definitely be a bit of a learning curve.

We also discussed different types of journalism such as time pieces, interviewing, feature articles and ratings. In the end you really just have to do your research. What kind of publication are you looking for? Who would you want to write for? What have other freelancers done in the past for that magazine? These are all questions you want to ask yourself when seeking out your future prospects.

Each publication is going to be different so reading previous issues and finding the overall tone of the magazine or newspaper is going to determine your pitch.

Resume vs. Portfolio

Walk-in vs. Email

My next two questions were, “Do I need a resume?” And, “Would you walk in to a publication and hand an editor your portfolio?”

Greg: “Nope.” so no and no.

Looks like I’ll be throwing away my envelopes with my “writing resume” that has absolutely no relevant experience on it, and my amazing articles that have never been published.

Newby mistake! I’m glad I held off on that idea.LJIZlzHgQ7WPSh5KVTCB_Typewriter

Editors don’t want your resume… especially if you have no experience. And they are way to busy to have time to talk to you face to face when you walk in to their office.

I actually just received an email today from “The Writer’s Life” that mentions the exact question I asked Greg next:

How do I get experience and writing samples? was the title of the email.

“At first glance, it may seem like a catch-22…

‘How will I get experience, if I don’t have a portfolio of samples to show prospective clients? And how will I get samples, if I can’t get any experience?’

Yet in reality it is just a misunderstanding many new writers have when getting started in this business…”

And it goes on to explain the same thing Greg said to me and the rest of the class: you don’t need experience. You just need an interesting hook and to demonstrate the ability to solve problems and achieve a particular goal.  If you can control the conversation then your experience is totally irrelevant. That is if the editor likes your pitch and responds to you.

So to wrap things up I leave you with my last Q&A with Greg:

“Would you recommend I shadow a journalist like yourself?”

Greg: “Yes sure you could, but it would basically consist of you watching me sit at my computer all day.”

Enough said.

🙂

Great class and great information. I’ll keep you posted on the details from my next class!

Happy writing!imagesFT8MWWC2