Today’s interviewee and I frequent the same writers message board, and I knew her as the editor of the helpful and witty Renegade Writer blog. She is quite the Renaissance freelancer on top of this, as a published author, active freelancer and writing teacher amongst other things.
I’ll be teaching a course on blogging for mb in a few weeks and I’ve never taught a seminar on my own before. Any advice on how to be a good teacher in general, and how to be a good teacher in this subject?
I think part of the reason that my students like me is that I spend wayyy more time on the course than I should given how much I charge! I give well thought-out critiques of ideas and queries, I help students brainstorm markets to target, I try to think up motivational tactics that will work for them, and I also remember my students when I’m at the bookstore reading magazines. For example, this week I was reading Body + Soul and saw that they ran an article similar to an idea that one of my students is working on, so I zapped her an e-mail telling her to check it out. I even do this for former students; if I discover a new magazine that might be a good market for one of my former students, I’ll send her a note about it.
Another tip about teaching that you can use: Before each session, I ask every student to send me information on their writing background, their interests, what writing challenges they face, etc. That way as the course progresses I can keep each student’s details in mind as I answer their questions and critique their work. For example, if a student tells me that his challenge is dealing with rejection or that he wants to break into parenting magazines but has no clips, I can tailor my advice accordingly.
A course on blogging, eh? I don’t know much about blogging (Diana set up our blog) so I can’t think of what the best way to teach it would be. I have success with my course setup, but I’ve heard of other teachers who set up Yahoo groups or similar groups so that students can interact with one another. Also, maybe it would be helpful to have a list of links to blogs you think do it well — and to some you think DON’T do it well?
What’s your advice on how to make dry subjects interesting for readers?
I’m all about the humor. I try to think up fun comparisons to make the info more relevant and understandable to readers. For example, in my latest trade magazine article I compared online customer preference centers with Starbucks, and took the comparison to an almost silly degree (but of course the comparison still made sense). I also naturally have an edgy voice to my writing (which I can amp up or tone down depending on the magazine), which readers seem to like. I think that you don’t always have to be dead serious — even the most dry topic can be made funny.
Have there been one or any particular things that the ‘query letters that rock’ have in common with each other?
The one thing they have in common is that they’re all different! By that I mean that each writer let her voice and personality shine through. One writer started her query with a shocking sex fact, another used a funny title, and a third writer ended his query on a blues radio show host with, “If you don’t give me this assignment, I just don’t know what I’ll do.” And, believe it or not, some of the best queries contained typos! So it seems to me that grabbing the editor with a strong voice and passion is even more important than being technically correct.
Most of the queries were also well-researched. Some contained quotes and some didn’t, but you can see that each writer spent a lot of time researching and thinking about the topic. One writer, who has written many huge adventure stories for the likes of Smithsonian, submitted to his editor a very long, heavily researched query. I know lots of writers balk at researching queries — but I think that if this guy needs to do research, so do the rest of us!
Any advice on how to run an interesting and informative writing blog?
I’m so new to blogging that I don’t really have a “system” yet. I do try to vary the types of posts — for example, a product recommendation, then a Q&A with a successful writer, then a contest, then a rant, then some writing advice. It’s funny: I think the rants get the best response!
What’s been your most challenging project of late and how did/are you handle it?
I’m working on an article for a national woman’s magazine about transient tics in kids, and I’m having a heck of a time finding a mom for the lede anecdote — even though experts estimate that 10-20% of kids get transient tics. I think it’s because you don’t know if tics are transient until they go away and stay away. If a mom has a kid who had transient tics — and the tics are now long gone — she’s not likely to be in a place where she’ll see my request for interviewees, such as Tourette’s forums, movement disorder discussion groups, etc. Another issue may be that moms don’t want to publicize their kids’ medical issues in a national magazine! So I’m working with my editor on defining the piece, and have been contacting Tourette’s clinics to see if they have any former patients whose moms may be interested in participating.
I also just finished writing a report on a very broad topic: What’s going on in the book publishing industry. Of course, that topic could fit into several books, but I had only 2,500 words. I did a bunch of interviews with publishers, editors, agents, and industry experts, and then, in the article, I focused on those things that many of my sources pointed out as important in the industry today and tried to find an overarching theme that connected all these facts that would pull the article together.