Tips & Resources

Guest Post: How-To Ace your Work Experience gig

A guest post by Beth Keamy
A guest post by Beth Keamy | Image Source

So you’re about to venture into the glossy world. It’s exciting, it’s petrifying and if you let it, has the ability to be the best week of your life. Remember that 98.64% of the girls who have secured their place on the masthead started their venture as you are now: as a workie.

Use these tips, a sprinkle of ingenuity and a bucket of confidence to rock your work experience. Have fun and be sure to pack a pair of flats in your handbag!

The 10 Workie Commandments

#1 Do your homework

An unprepared workie is her (or his) own worst enemy. Before the big week you should have memorised the masthead, stalked the Twitter account and asked any and all connections for their words of wisdom. Walking into the office knowing who you’ll be working with, what you’ll be doing and what’s news around the magazine will not only give you more confidence but will also demonstrate that you have a vested interest in the title and those who work there.

#2 Smile, no matter what

At times your placement will be breathtakingly amazing, but at others mildly lackluster. It’s important to remember that amazing or not, your smile wattage should always be at maximum. If you’re asked to photocopy? Smile. File invoices? Grin. Take the rubbish out? Beam. A smile is the best way to convey that you’re enjoying your time and who doesn’t love another happy face around the office?

#3 Put in the hours

The workday may officially start at 9am, but you can bet that when you walk in at 9am the office will already be in full swing. Dedication is key in the magazine industry and the simplest way to prove yours is to show up early, stay back late and make sure you’re on time for your lunch breaks- especially if it’s deadline week.

#4 Make your intentions known

So you want to write features? Are a self-confessed beauty addict? In love with styling? Let your Editorial Coordinator know! More often than not, they’ll ask you on your first day and this is your chance to speak up and get every opportunity to work within the department you love. It’s also worth thinking about what you want to achieve from your placement. If you want to secure an internship, ask what it takes to score the gig. As the saying goes you’ve got to be in it to win it.

#5 Learn as you go

It’s important to remember that the Editorial Coordinator has a job to do –  a job that does not entail babysitting you. Once you are taught how to do something, remember it. Take notes if you need to. On day one you’ll learn how to collect and distribute the mail. This means on day two you should be able to master the mail run without instruction. Remember your routines, coffee orders, mail call, recycling runs; your autonomy and forethought will not go unnoticed.

#6 Initiative: take it

There’s a lot of down time during a placement, so rather than hover awkwardly as you await your next task why not create your own? Don’t try to tackle anything too drastic without consent but do make an attempt to complete little jobs. Empty the recycling bin. Tidy the delivery desk. Organise the back issues into chronological order. It’s the small tasks that will be appreciated the most and prove that you can work independently to benefit the team.

#7 Have ideas? Voice them

Every workie has their place, but if you get offered the opportunity to speak up then do so! Whether it’s offering to help with a quote for a feature, a vox pop or completing some extra research for a story the Beauty Editor is compiling, chirping up and chipping in is a great way to prove your value. It paints you as a thoughtful, committed workie who is willing to go the extra mile. And it’s that extra mile that could score you a permanent internship!

#8 Say thank you

As your week progresses you should be thanking various members of staff. If you loved helping the Fashion Editor on her shoot, say thank you and let her know. Not only is it basic manners but if gives you yet another opportunity to convey how much you are enjoying your placement. And when it comes time to say goodbye, a personalised hand written thank you note never goes astray.

#9 Make friends with the interns

The interns you come across in your travels can be your most valuable contacts. Firstly, they’re generally more approachable and have more time to chat with you, which means they can impart all kinds of wisdom. Secondly, interns are also usually first in line for any magazine positions that open up across they board so it’s an easy way to make friends who can keep you in the loop in the future.

#10 Follow up

So you’ve had a fabulous week, fallen in love with glossy-world and can’t wait to get back there. So what now? It’s time to make contact. There is a fine line between keeping in contact and stalking so be wary, but do keep your contacts in the loop. Send an email through to the Editorial Coordinator and anyone else you worked closely with. Keep it genuine and express your gratitude and desire to return one day.

How to Invoice for your freelance work

Although writing is a labour of love, there’s a certain joy that you experience when said labour warrants a little extra cash in your bank account. Which is why you wouldn’t want to stuff up said joy by going about collecting your funds in the wrong manner. And by wrong manner, I mean something along the lines of an email to the ed which says nothing but “Bonjour ed, Here are my bank deets, merci!” You see, if you are going to take yourself seriously as a writer, you need to be able to get serious and professional about everything. Invoicing included.

I would never have had the idea to write this post up if it weren’t for some emails from the likes of you guys asking for information on invoicing. Apparently, it’s not something we know a terrible lot about, even though it is one of the most important things. It’s going to be a little hard for me to explain how it is done, but I am going to do my best, albeit in very basic terms. Here goes:

1. You need to ensure that all your details are on the invoice, including ABN and contact information, and the date that you sent the invoice to the payer.

2. You also need to include the details of the payer, including the name of the company, the contact person, and maybe their address and phone number.

3. Below all this, I tend to itemise my services and the charges. If you make over $50K (this figure is subject to change) per year from your ABN use/freelancing (lucky you!) you ought to register for GST, and add that to the total. However, I am not too concrete about all this (since I make nowhere near that mark) so it’s best you ask your accountant on such matters. I itemise these in a table, but it’s up to you how you’d like to do it. I’ve just done it in a generic manner below, but I still think a table looks better.

4. And then perhaps most importantly, you add your banking details – the name of your institution, name of the account, and BSB & Account Number.

5. Finally, it’s a good idea to add a payment term like “all invoices must be paid within 14 days” or something, but I’d always give them a month or so. HOWEVER, make sure that you take their payment terms into account too – they might have mentioned that they don’t pay until the article is published/issue goes on sale, instead of when you send off the copy. It is absolutely imperative that you clarify all this before you more forward, as you would not want to damage your relationship.

6. Sometimes you might want to add a final message: “Thank you for doing business with First Name Last Name/Company Name”. But that’s entirely up to you.

In case all this does not make sense, I have tried to draw up a basic version for you below. Obviously this is not in word or excel for you, so there’s not really a lot for you to go by, but hopefully it will give you more of an idea of what’s expected (though please excuse my fake names, I couldn’t think of anything more interesting). And speaking of payment, Rachel Hills has blogged about negotiating payment here, so put these two post together and you guys will be set. Happy invoicing!

 

MOCK INVOICE

Jane Doe || Freelance Writer

 j.doe@gmail.com

http://www.janedoewrites.com

0412 345 678

PO BOX 123, Mockville, NSW, 1234

ABN: 652 759 814

CLIENT: MOCKVILLE MAGAZINE C/O MOCKVILLE PUBLISHING

45 Mockville Rd, Mockland, NSW 1235

Attention: John Citizen || 02 8425 9876

SERVICES RENDERED:

1 x 800 Word Opinion Article for the Mockville Tribune at 50c per word: $400

1 x 1500 Word Feature for the Weekend Mockville at 50c per word: $750

TOTAL: $1150.00 ONLY

PLEASE MAKE PAYMENT TO:

National Australia Finance, Account Name: Miss Jane Doe

BSB: 042 534

Account Number: 456 9856

***NOT REGISTERED FOR GST***

PLEASE NOTE: INVOICES MUST BE PAID WITHIN 14 DAYS

THANK YOU

How to Interview your case studies

At the moment, I am working on a piece that is not really going anywhere. My problem of course, is not lack of motivation, or laziness, but the fact that every interview I have conducted has just not panned out. No quotes have been right enough to make a good article idea a great one, not to mention an article that is worth reading in its entirety.

So what’s the big deal with the interview? Well, considering its results become the spice of the story, its fair to say that an interview can make or break your piece. An interview with an expert/professional on your chosen topic will add credibility to your argument/discussion, providing you with a backdrop to explore issues further and to of course branch out into other bits of evidence that will solidify any claims that you are making. This is because your interview with an expert will always present you with trends or certain findings that you might then find in case studies in everyday life, giving your piece a personal touch that will actually resonate with your readers – because they see that people experiencing symptom X and feeling Y actually walk about in society, or whatever. That said, your case studies do not always have to support what the expert or study says – and that’s all the beauty of writing/journalism.

As such, it is important to ensure your interviews are the best that they can possibly be (especially so you don’t end up in my sort of pickle). Some of my own tips for interviewing include:

  • The most important thing to remember is that, even if it takes you a long time to get in touch, it is best to interview the best available person for the job. There’s no point in interviewing a dietician who specialises in the eating habits of newly-arrived migrants if you’re writing an article for Girlfriend mag on eating disorders prevalent among girls aged 13-17. This is something which is currently plaguing me now, because I just so happened to pick an essential-to-know topic, but which is limited in scope and not necessarily a matter of interest. I have held three interviews to date and none seem right – just because these people are experts in their field, doesn’t mean they are passionate about it. Said passion always brings a bit of flavour to the interview and thus your story. So even if you have to search far and wide, I suggest you do it [ pending time constraints of course].
  • Always prepare yourself before conducting the interview. Read up on the issue and familiarise yourself with matters of research, other case studies or people who have experienced it in some way or another. If you’re interviewing an expert, read up on their background, the studies they have conducted to bring them to this point of expertise, and check out where and how they have been quoted before.
  • Arm yourself with a load of questions. More than you think you will have time to ask, because inevitably, they might answer something as they are going along anyway. That said, it’s also very likely that you’ll come up with more questions as they are responding to original ones, so ask those too. Go over your questions a few times before you conduct the interview as well – just to make sure some don’t sound similar to others etc.
  • Give them a chance to talk. Always give them time to muse over the questions and answers, and always ask if they’d like to add anything before you leave.
  • Be polite and professional. They are not your best mate, they do not owe you anything, and you are not on a criminal investigation. A little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T always goes a loooong way.
  • Always double-check the name, spelling and title of the person you are interviewing. You can spell really basic names in a variety of ways, and it’s not cool crediting someone from the School of Technology in Art at the University of Sydney, when in fact they are from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney. (I just made these schools and faculties up BTW).
  • Get them to elaborate. Don’t accept yes or no answers – ask hows and whys. Better yet, stick to open-ended questions and you’ll have more room to move, not to mention the chance to venture off on tangents that might give you a better angle from which to write with.
  • If you’re interviewing for a bio sort of piece, always take into account a person’s gestures, surroundings, clothes. Look at where their attention is focused. If you’re at their home/office, describe it. Make little notes about their belongings and assess them later. If you’re in a park, observe how they behave around birds or children. In a restaurant? Their comments on the menu, or better yet what they order and how (are they friendly?) will tell you a lot. Not to mention whether or not they leave a tip!
  • Tools are just as important as questions. If it’s an in-person interview, have your phone, their contact details and the corrent instructions as to the meeting point on hand. Give them your phone number prior. Have your recording device ready, plus extra batteries. Have a spare pen/extra pencils to avoid any easy-to-arise issues.
  • Interviewing over the phone? The same rules as above apply. And this might sound stupid, but make sure you have a sound connection, and do not eat while you are doing it.
  • Via email? The thing that sucks about email interviews is that you can’t branch the interview off into a certain direction. This only happens in person. Plus via email, a person always has the opportunity to edit rtheir responses. It is so much better when they are tumbling out. Though that said, email interviews are already transribed. Easy option, but not exactly the most fruitful.
  • Don’t get too caught up in the business. In Release the Hounds: A guide to research for journalists and writers (Christine Fogg, Allen & Unwin), Roger Patching says that you should never leave an interview with an unanswered question, that you should always listen to what you are being told instead of just asking away, and present all sides (essential objective of all good journalism, of course). Patching also advises against asking double-barelled questions, as these can often be confusing.

I think (and hope) that I have just about covered all bases – or ones that have come about in my short term experience. 

Happy interviewing!  

 

HOW TO WRITE A PITCH LETTER

The pitch or query letter is one of the first and most crucial steps to getting an article/idea published in a publication. Not only is it your opportunity to sell your idea, but often, it is also the first point of correspondence between you and the editors concerned. As such, it is imperative that it is done properly, so that even if you are unsuccessful on this occasion, you would have stood out at least professionally and paved the way for future (hopefully) some more pitching opportunities.

It is a good idea to view your pitch like a business transaction, for it is, essentially, a proposal for delivering a product, which you are then (depending on the publication) paid for. As such, a pitch should always be succint and to the point, communicated effectively and with all the necessary information to back up your claim, and highlight why you are perfect for the job, and why the article belongs in that publication and no where else.

In light of this, I have looked at one of my first articles published to help mock-up a pitch letter. The black parts are the often necessary elements to the pitch, the red is how I have roughly incorporated them in there. Please use as a rough guide and tailor to your pitches and publications accordingly for maximum success.

ELEMENTS OF THE PITCH LETTER

1. A great lead, similar to one that you will use in the actual story, and one that will immediately draw the edtior’s interest:

Dear X,

Imagine bringing home the perfect guy, only to have your family forbid the romance because you’re from two different cultures. If this sounds like a scenario from an ancient, far-off land, you’re mistaken. In our own backyard, first generation Australians are fighting a new form of relationship demon – the pressure to conform to traditional ideals that seem foreign and out-of-date. Yet inter-racial dating remains a major issue of contention among young Australians and their migrant parents, and it is slowly driving families apart.

2. A proposed title, and word count – though they will inevitably decide on this matter, it is always good to give an indication as to how you see it:

As such, I would like to offer you ‘I do, but they don’t” a 1,500 word article discussing inter-racial relationships in Australia, and how, with the onset of multiculturalism, they are affecting family dynamics in a way traditional cultures could have never imagined.

3. A rough plan for how you perceive the story to go/flow:

This article will look at U, V and W concerning inter-racial relationships, digging deep into Y and Z to determine why X occurs, and how.

4. The sources/case studies/experts you plan to cite in the interview to prove your point and explore your themes and ideas further: 

For example, this article on inter-racial relationships might have a sociologist from a university discussing the trends in such relationships, the dynamics of how they are for those involved compared to how they are viewed by other members of society, and how this has changed over time. You might also quote a couple in one of those relationships to see how it has worked out for them, as well as a person whose relationship with someone of another culture ended because of cultural/religious differences. To vary it up a bit, you could also suss out family attitudes, look at some stats as to how these have increased/decreased over time etc

5. Why this article suits their publication and why; and maybe, if you know it well enough, what section of the publication you would like to pitch it to:

I think this article would be a great addition to the ‘issues’ section of X Magazine, because it discusses issues that are not only relevant to your demographic, but ones that are likely to affect them, their friends or a family member sometime in the future. You are a publication that discusses relationships with a heavy focus on those involved, and the factors that determine the dynamics of their relationships with others, as well as how they see them themselves

6. A very brief bio of yourself, and any previous writing experience you have – if you don’t have a website, it might be good to attach a couple of clips (aka pieces – and not too many) of your work:

I am  a freelance writer and I have been published in X, Y and Z. Some pieces of a similar styles that I have written include A, B and C, and I have attached them for your convenience/perusal.

7. And of course, a clean ending with your contact details, and a hope that they will get in touch with you shortly regarding their response to your idea:

Thank you for considering my article idea, and I look forward to hearing from you soon on 04XX XXX XXX or on sarah@blabla.com

And with that, your pitch is ready to go. Just remember that it is always a good idea to know exactly whom you ought to be pitching to. Sometimes, a quick phone call to the front desk of the publication might save you a lot of hassle, and the label ‘unprofessional’. At a lot of magazines, it is usually the Features or Deputy Editor that handles submissions, whereas at a smaller, or online publication, they might have a generic email address for all pitches to go to.

Make sure you really know the publication that you are pitching to – look at past issues, especially recent ones, so you don’t pitch similar articles to ones they have recently ran. Learn about their style; familarise yourself with their layouts and word limits (ie, you would not pitch a 1500 word story for a one page article in Cleo); and check out/request their contributor guidelines if they are available.

As hard as it may seem, try to keep the pitch short. Under 400 words always works a treat, because it also demonstrates that you are able to stick to a limit. Waffle is your worst enemy (unless its the pancake-like type that you can eat, in which case it is delicious!) so read, re-read and re-read again! And do check your spelling a hundred times over if necessary, it may seem straight forward, but you’d be surprised at how many typing errors will weed their way into your pitch (this happens to me all the time, I ought to take my own advice. In fact, you might have noticed the mistakes in my posts already).

If you have any questions, place a comment through on the post and I will do my best to respond to them in due time.

Best of luck!

10 TIPS ON MAKING IT AS A WRITER

At the end of May 2009, I was honoured to be a panellist at the Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne, Victoria. I had the time of my life meeting amazing people who loved words and writing more than I could have ever imagined, and who implemented this love in ways I would have never comprehended – zines, comics, speeches, novels, blogs and more. It made me realise that writing for pleasure & profit is never as simple as it sounds, and there’s always a little niche that you could explore to make yourself stand out – and that niche could be as simple as combining your life’s great loves with the written word.

The Panel I was speaking on was called  ‘crashing, bashing and smashing through’ and I was freaking out about it, because not only was I the only one who had NOT written a book, but I was also the only one who had actually WRITTEN DOWN a solid speech and planned to recite it there, word for word.

Crashing, Bashing & Smashing Through the preparation for that speech was hard enough, but in the end, I decided that I would put the audience in my shoes so far, and share with them the lessons/advice I thought would be most beneficial to them. To give you a little indication of what was expected of me, I’ll quote the program guide for my panel’s description:

How do writers move forward in their career – finding the time to write, and make money to have the time to write? What are the secrets to breaking down the walls that stop us from calling ourselves a writer? Is it worth having an agent, and how useful is networking?

I ended up getting a little bit of good feedback after the panel, and so I thought I’d share my speech on Wordsmith Lane for those who want to break into writing, and are unsure of where and how to begin. It’s not going to help on its own, but coupled with some regular reading of Wordsmith Lane (blatant self promotion here, I know), you’ll no doubt make it happen. So here goes:

Writing is both my torment and my triumph. Being unable to write plunges me into moodswings PMS just does not compare to, seeing my name in print is the fuel to the fire I have had in me since I was ten years old. It was at that time that I first decided that I wanted to be a writer, and 13 years later, I am still trying to write out that career path, let alone write for it.

When I was younger, I had friends who shared that dream with me. Friends who shared my writing classes with me at university, friends who deliberated with me regarding what article should be pitched to which publication and why. But slowly, one by one, the ability to move forward in that career path, and the ability to move forward in life financially as a result of that career choice, became far too much to bear, and writing the dream (and the dream of writing) was abandoned in favour of more ‘concrete’ career paths: teaching, chiropractics, fashion, PR.

So how do we keep on the dream, the career path, the plan? How do we crash, bash and smash through the barriers? This is something I am still trying to figure out if the goals list taped to my closet door is anything to go by – but I am fortunate enough to have learnt a few lessons along the way. And I am hoping that, by sharing them with you today, you will also be able to write out the career path of being a writer, and crash, bash and smash through everything that stands in your way.

1. Call yourself a writer

If this is what you want for yourself and you are 100% certain of this, then you have made it through the first hurdle of indecisiveness. It is up to you to make the decision of who you are and what you want to do, and whether or not you are published will not change the fact that you can call yourself a writer. This realisation came to me in the very unglamorous spot of a university tutor’s office: I said I ‘wanted’ to be a writer, and she said ‘wanting is not being’. Her advice to me was simple: Call yourself a writer, put together a portfolio and decide where you would write and what rates you would charge. I have been a writer ever since.

2. Showcase your work

Blogspot, WordPress, Typepad, oh my! Embrace these avenues with all your might. Share your writing with the online community and you are well on your way to your next step. Whether it is a blog that will make you a name because it is fantastic in theme and content, or an online portfolio of your published clips/pieces of work – even if they are just from the uni newspaper (which is, FYI, how I started out) – it is one step closer to the dream.

3. Find yourself a mentor

Writing is the most competitive of competitive sports. That article idea is a ball in your hands – how you pass it and to whom requires a planned strategic play that ought to be rehearsed with a coach. When you arejust starting out, the process can be daunting. Find a few writers whose work/career path you find really inspiring and get in touch. It requires some courage, and they might not all get back to you, but it is definitely a risk worth taking. Someone is bound to help you – if it were not for one of the ambassadors present here today, I would have taken double the time on my writer’s journey, and I still count my lucky stars for her and all her great advice.

4. Swallow your pride and network shamelessly

Tell everyone you meet that you are a writer. The whole six degrees of separation thing proves you never know who they are connected to and how. Join writers groups on Facebook, follow other writers on Twitter (and read their bios on their personal websites and blogs), go to writers festivals and forums, and constantly scan websites for information relevant to your style of writing [like this one!]. If you have a blog, create a Twitter account for it and let people know you’ve updated it so they can read your latest. Post links to your online work on Facebook too – anything to spread word. Also check out Author Tracker by Harper Collins to find out where your fave authors are at – it will give you a little bit of an idea about their method, writing life etc. Another thing about swallowing your pride is work experience. I interned in magazines two days a week for two years, and it helped me get my first job. Sure, you start by grabbing coffees and photocopying articles, but a lot of magazines don’t advertise their roles and recruit internally, so being in their face is always a plus. Do remember that even work experience is a competitive market, so put in the hard yards and do not think anything is beneath you. The only way is up, and everyone has to start somewhere.

5. Know the game

It may seem straight forward, but read every submission guideline for every publication you want to write for. If it is a magazine, it’s also a good idea to read its media kit (usually online) because, even if its written for advertisers, it gives you a great idea about who the mag perceives its target reader to be and with this, you can tailor your pitches accordingly. This is as close as you can get to rejection proofing your work. For aspiring novelists, a lot of publishers have information about the submission process, and manuscript guidelines as well as advice, posted on their websites for your perusal. And always spare a thought to joining a writer’s centre. They are an invaluable tool.

6. The importance to figuring out its importance

Finding the time to write is a difficult one if you don’t do it full-time, and doing it full-time can be difficult if you want to live, because often, writing is a labour of love. It is up to you to assess how and when to factor it into your life. It might be setting aside time to write on the train to scrawl ideas, or waking up an hour earlier to write, or locking yourself up all day on a weekend to get some work done. They are all methods that have worked for me, but they might also mean that you will find yourself constantly praying to God for a time machine. Find one that works for you, and if the whole writing thing is important enough, you will find a way to make it happen one way or another.

7. Use it to your advantage

Once you have figured out its importance, and how you are going to work towards it, its easy to use it to your advantage. If you need money to support yourself until your career takes off, use your skill as a starting point. Writing your company’s newsletter will give you copywriting experience – as will preparing background info for launches and products and writing webcopy and the like. This all seems quite boring when compared to the thrill of feature writing or fiction, but they will earn you a rep and soon, the copywriting gigs could be pouring in, possibly freeing you up to freelance full-time/work part-time, and thus, do more of what you love.

8. Be open to the fact that there’s always something to learn

Sure, you might find yourself discussing writing on a panel at a festival, but when one of your topic questions is ‘Is it worth having an agent?’ and you have no idea, then you know you do not have the whole lot down pat. This will continue to ring true because the game keeps going, so stay on the ball and focused on your training.

9. Remember that life is material

And fantastic material it is too! Let every aspect of your life help you crash, bash and smash through the hurdles. Things I have learnt as part of my uni research have formed a niche for my opinion editorials and society features, while a Hate List I wrote in high school has formed the basis for my YA novel. Note that I have no prospect of a publishing deal at present, but the fact that I am not keeping this novel to myself and actually putting it out there just gets me closer to the dream. [Good advice me thinks, considering a YA publisher approached me afterwards and expressed interest in reading my draft]. People who have successfully implemented this include Melina Marchetta (Italian background, Australian home) and Lauren Weisberger (Devil wears Prada, rumoured job as Anna Wintour’s assistant).

10. And finally, when the lords of the publishing industry close their doors, it is up to you to open a window

Every writer faces their share of rejection, often on many occasions. JK Rowling and Marc Cherry (of Desperate Housewives fame) are good examples. You will inevitably face rejection also. But if you think your work is worth it, just keep going at it. Some of my rejected pitches formed the basis of Trespass, the online mag I co-started last year, because I felt that they needed to be out there. That mag has [at that time] now been around for six months, and it enjoys a phenomenal growth in readership as every month goes by. So if this is the life you want to make for yourself, you have to exhaust every possible opporunity to make it happen.

Because while rejection will be your torment, finding a way out of it will be your triumph. And there will be, as I have personally experienced, many an episode of torment and triumph. But getting on with the dream might be that next bit of material for your next fabulous piece of work. And that realisation is your personal silver lining – and what crashing, bashing and smashing through is all about…