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Pop Quiz: Melissa Walker

melissawalker.jpgToday I’m chatting with a colleague of mine who I met after we both realized we’d contribued How to Pitch pieces for mediabistro. She’s written for and edited a plethora of publications, including ElleGirl, Rosie and Glamour. Currently, she’s working on a young adult novel and giving full-time writing a shot after the untimely demise of ElleGirl, where she was features editor.

How is freelancing full-time comparing to having a full-time magazine job?

I like setting my own schedule and sometimes working
in my pajamas (I even get back into them after the gym). I dislike buying stamps, upgrading my phone plan to allow for more daytime minutes, and only having contact with the mailman (he comes around 2:17pm every day) until I go out at night to meet the working world for drinks.
What do you find more enjoyable, writing or editing?
I really love both, but now that I don’t do much editing, I miss it. I’m sure the opposite would be true if I were only editing and not writing.
You’re working on a Young Adult book right now–did working for ElleGirl prepare you at all for writing for that age group?
ELLEgirl had me thinking about that age group almost 24/7, so it surely helped the idea grow. But I’ve been trying to write a teen novel since I was about 8. That one was about an overweight high school junior who really, really wanted a date for the prom. No lie.
You’ve worked for a few publications that folded while you were working for them. Can freelancers/employees sniff out what pubs might not live long or is it a crapshoot?
I like to think of myself as a loyal person–I’ve never left a job; they’ve all left me. But it’s true. With ROSIE, of course, there was something in the air for months, although at first the venture seemed solid.
ELLEgirl was fantastic, but we never had the staff or the budget we needed, so a perceptive fold-detective could have probably known that it was a pet project for Hachette that may not be a long-term investment.
Based on your experience as an editor, what tended to be the most frequent reason for turning down freelance pitches?
Lots of pitches aren’t targeted enough, or they’re not well thought out. I hate having to package an idea for a writer–they should be packaging it for me! Tailor your idea to a section, following the word counts, sidebar formats, etc. Do the work for the editors (that’s what they all want).
As a stringer, do you have any tips on assembling a well of potential sources/resources to draw from?
I ask all my PR contacts to be on the list, as they have access to their clients, etc and are generally glad to be included. Otherwise, I’ve just built a list of around 700 women through friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends. every year or so I send out a “want off this list? know anyone who might want ON this list?” email to get new blood in and let people opt out guilt free.

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