A Writing Lesson with a Visual Twist

When I was asked to speak at the annual Get Smart conference sponsored by Austin Association for Women in Communications, I knew I needed to avoid a PowerPoint snooze-arama. After all, I was talking at 8:45 a.m. and my topic, “Strengthening your Online Writing,” needed to deliver some pop for this audience of sharp Austin communicators.

So I was pleased when I found this free infographic template and thorough instructions from HubSpot. I have little experience creating graphics, but I was able to follow directions!

As a writer, I found the exercise of preparing my text very helpful. Not only did I have to break down my pages and pages of notes into five highlights, but I was forced to figure out the best bullet items to support them. I think bullet points are a great way to organize your online writing or to convey information in a breezy way. Try it!

I hope you find my writing tips helpful and feel free to share the infographic if you like it.  You can find more infographics and some handouts from the talk at my website WriteAustin.com.


Sandra Kleinsasser has more than 30 years of experience working for multiple news organizations, the state and running her own business. Currently she is editing a weekly newsletter for the Health and Human Services Commission and running her business,  WriteAustin.com, which provides content strategy for small businesses. Previously, she was executive news editor at the Austin American-Statesman.

 

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Are writers undervalued and underpaid?

Today’s post was provided by an individual who, for obvious reasons, prefers to remain anonymous.

Any writer who has been looking for a job recently knows that many employers – primarily those who want website content — don’t think very much of us. Are we really underpaid and undervalued or just paranoid?

Some employers want writers to work for free or, at most, pennies on the dollar while producing SEO content at a maddening pace. Other employers want a new generation of writers proficient in website design, video content and myriad other non-writing skills, and they still want to pay pennies on the dollar. It feels as if the gap between what employers are willing to pay and what we deserve is wide and ever widening.

 

A true story

In mid-September, I responded to an advertisement on Craigslist for a “Feature Writer for Multiple Content Sites.” This Internet marketing company was “looking for writers to create medium to long length feature articles in the following niches: Technology, Small Business, Finance, Statistics.”

My detector of all things that stink was activated when I came across this gem in the ad: “Basically you need to be able to … have the pulse of the market.” Since I didn’t expect this job to be lucrative, I figured I had nothing to lose in emailing to ask if they would prefer a writer who has her finger on the pulse of the market.

When I send out these snarky, modestly provocative “cover letters,” I always expect the person on the receiving end to take offense and trash my email, and wish that  I could hear the satisfying sound of my resume being tossed in a desktop garbage bin. For that reason, I’m always stunned when I get a response. This employer responded.

“More content samples?”

In my cover letter I included a link to my portfolio which contained more than a dozen individual writing clips and several more links to projects, blogs and packages that I’ve worked on. The COO responded:

September 9, 5:09 a.m.
“more content samples?”

I was slightly annoyed but not surprised. This was, after all, the genius looking for a writer who has the pulse of the market. I wrote back to explain how the online portfolio works (click on the tiles to see samples), provided another link to a less technology challenging online portfolio, and waited.

Next day, 7:27 a.m. 
My wife walked on in as I was reading one of your articles : P
anyway would you like to give it a try? What are your rates?”

Round and round we go

September 10, 9:17 a.m.
“I need more information about what you’re looking for. I can charge hourly – from $30 to $50 or so. I can charge by post: $.50 to $1.00 per word, or from $50 to $500 per post. It really depends on how time/research intensive it is. Whether you need interviews or if it is online research only.

9:18 a.m.
say interviews of professors and such?”

 My frustration was activated in full.

9:21 a.m.
“I feel like you’re not being very forthcoming — making me think that this is not an authentic job offer. In order to price the deliverable you advertised, I need to know the topic, word count, where you’re publishing.

A 400 word blog post runs $200; I can also charge $30 p/h.”

I did not expect to hear from this man again. I had intentionally spiked my going rate because I was aggravated and wanted to see what a little provocation would do. This is what it did.

 9:23 a.m.
“a 400 word blog post is $200???? No thanks.”

9:29 a.m.
“You can pay $5. You’ll get $5 writing. Good luck.”

9:30 a.m.
“I don’t pay 5, I don’t pay 200 either. god bless”

 9:40 a.m.
“Then perhaps you should tell applicants what you pay so you don’t have to go through this again. Then, only the people interested in working for that rate will apply.

Even for $20, you will get writers who have the pulse of the market. For writers who have their finger on the pulse of the market, you may have to pay a livable wage. Writing is a career. Not a hobby.”

I figured that that would shut him up, but in six short minutes … ding! Another email. I must have tipped the scales in favor of struggling writers everywhere.

9:46 a.m.
“If I want interviews with people in the criminal justice industry; Interviews that typically run 500-800 words, how much? This would be professors, heads of organizations etc.”

Lesson learned

I never did respond. With every step forward I tried to take, this schlub took two steps back. I doubt  that I would have ever convinced him to pay a living wage to a writer. I can picture him forwarding this correspondence to his bowling league, getting a real kick out of some outrageous writer’s gall at asking for so much money for such an easy assignment, work that anyone who can write a birthday card could manage, if only he had a spare six hours.

The other reason I didn’t respond is that I honestly don’t believe that this guy would know good writing if it jumped off the page and slapped him in the face. Copy populated with passive voice and awkward syntax would go unnoticed, so much so that I even entertained the idea that doing bad work for bad pay might be a legitimate option. Maybe this employer actually taught me a valuable lesson. Perhaps online marketers like this one aren’t really undervaluing writers. Perhaps the writing they want requires so little skill and talent that it really is worth $5 to $20 per page.

I have no doubt that this COO will find a writer with the pulse of the market. He’s going to pay his writers next to nothing and he’s going to get bland, awkward writing. I’m sure he’ll be very satisfied.

Turning Words into Music: How to Become a Successful Music Writer

Over the past two decades, I have been lucky enough to combine my two great loves—music and writing.  I have been a music aficionado since babyhood when my parents used to blast The Supremes, The Stones and The Beatles’ White Album over and over again. When I decided I wanted to become a journalist during my sophomore year in high school, writing about music seemed to be my destiny.

I used to leaf through Rolling Stone and Spin and dream of interviewing bands like REM, U2 and The Cure.  When I moved to New York and went to college, I was captivated by the city’s live music scene. I headed to the Village several nights a week to check out shows at legendary clubs like Bowery Ballroom, Sine, and Nightingales and to hear artists like Jeff Buckley and Sinead O’Conner before they became wildly famous.

In the twenty years since I graduated, I’ve interviewed some amazing artists, from Bela Fleck to YACHT to The Polyphonic Spree and written for some incredible magazines, such as Eleven Magazine, LICNotes and Examiner.com. In many ways my progression to music writer was a natural one.

Since so many writers have asked me how I broke into the business, I wanted to share some hard-earned tips I learned along the way.

Work it

The best way to learn this business is to immerse yourself in it.  Before I wrote my first review, I began promoting music for a national company called Universal Buzz, where I was involved with everything from marketing festivals like Garage Fest and Vans Warped Tour to getting radio play for local rappers.  Working for a music promotions company is not only a great way to see and hear about new bands, it will teach you how to appreciate and talk about different genres of music. Smaller firms like Randolphe Entertainment Group are always looking for new talent to help market their artists.

The next step is to find a band you love and offer to promote them, develop a press kit, write a review, or create a press release. You will gain invaluable experience.  Most bands, especially new ones, are low on funds, time and they are looking for all the exposure they can get.  Most bands also have street teams that help them publicize their gigs and new releases. Working for one or two of these will help you make invaluable contacts.

Train your ears

One of the keys to writing about what you love is to know everything you can about it.  Take the time to stay current with the latest bands and find undiscovered ones.  Subscribing to websites like bandcamp and ReverbNation will help you stay abreast of the hottest musicians as well as the most obscure.  Also, finding hidden gems is crucial for a music writer.  If you discover and write about them first, you’ll also make a name for yourself. The most successful writers like Bill Holdship of Creem Magazine and Mark Brown of MSNBC.Com and The Rocky Mountain Times have always been on the cutting edge of finding the best musicians first and have built brilliant careers as a consequence.

Being in Austin gives you even more of an opportunity to discover the next big thing. Check out the next few bands at Antone’s, Mohawk, or The Beauty Ballroom, especially if you’ve never heard of them. You may just discover the next Spoon or Jimmie Vaughan.

Develop your taste and your credentials

Being a music lover is a lifelong process and of the most crucial parts is developing your reputation as tastemaker. Developing your own preference is essential but having an eclectic musical palette is even more critical. The best reviews and interviews always involve comparing musical styles and influences. Even if you’re writing a review of The Strokes’ latest CD, you will need to know about bands like The Velvet Underground and The Heartbreakers to fully understand and convey the feel of the songs you’re writing about.

One mistake some aspiring music writers make is getting overly technical or colorful. When writing about a song or an artist, you want to capture a feeling rather than analyze every note or make every band sound like it’s the greatest you’ve ever heard.  Be honest and detailed and your piece will be more effective.  Music is visceral and you need to capture your reaction to what you’re hearing in your writing.

Build your portfolio

With so many music blogs and websites out there, it has never been a more opportune time to become a music writer. Blogs and sites like BrooklynVegan, Vents Magazine and The Deli often advertise for writers to cover local shows and write reviews for national bands. The more varied your pieces are, the better, and the greater your chances for writing about the band you’ve always dreamed of interviewing.

Do you aspire to become a music journalist? Have any specific question about breaking in to the field? Sigillito is taking your questions in the comments below. If you have any juicy stories to share about your own music writing adventures, bring it on!


Gina Sigillito is a writer and experienced music promoter. She is also the author of “The Wisdom of the Celts” and “The Daughters of Maeve” and a member of The Authors Guild.  She is currently the owner of Ginaraq PR, a public relations company dedicated to promoting artists and musicians in Austin and around the world. You can contact Sigillito through her website at www.ginaraqpr.com.



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Your first published article: You’ll never forget your first time

As a writer, nothing is as exciting as the first time you see your work in print.  Once our work has been published, many of us can’t wait to share it with those who encouraged us and believed in our ability to spin words into beautifully crafted sentences.  Their reaction to what we have done is priceless…and confidence building.  Sometimes, showing our work to those that doubted us is even more fun (but for an entirely different reason)!  It feels good to show them how wrong they were in their flawed assessment of our skills.

For me, seeing my work in print for the first time was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  I spent many years not writing and doubting my abilities.  Being able to move past the negativity and finally seeing my words on someone else’s website was fantastic.  It felt like a small victory.

I sent the weblink to my article to all of my friends and family to show them what I had accomplished.  Afterwards, my best friends took me out and we celebrated with laughs, nachos and margaritas.  It was a great time!  It took awhile to wipe the goofy smile off of my face.  In my head, I kept thinking “yeah, that’s right , I’m a published writer.”  I felt that I was finally on the right track.

I knew that I wasn’t the only writer who had their head in the clouds after being published.  Surely others felt just as elated as I did after doing something this major.  Or did they?  I was curious about what other writers felt after seeing their work in print.  Was I the only one that got that gushy feeling when seeing their words out there?

I asked a few fellow writers how they felt when they were published for the first time.  Here is what they said:

Hipstercrite blogging badass, Lauren Modery, said that while she had several pieces published before becoming a full-fledged freelance writer, she was most excited by her current column on CultureMap.  “That was the moment when I thought to myself, “Hey, it’s finally happening!”, said Modery.  “I’m still relatively new at all of this so anytime I get a freelance assignment, it’s pretty thrilling (and terrifying).”

Local author, Ken Hart, had his first novel, “Behind the Gem”, published in June 2010.  “When I first started writing “Behind the Gem”, it was not with the intention of being published, but to write a story for my personal entertainment.”  According to Hart, the novel took on a life of it’s own and went from being an ebook to a print contract rather quickly.

Author Bowie V. Ibarra had his first book, “Down the Road: A Zombie Horror Story”, self-published almost a decade ago and recalls feeling proud and humbled by the experience.  “I wasn’t looking for fame and fortune. I just wanted to tell a zombie story my way without anyone’s hands on it. It all paid off, as I wrote two follow ups for Permuted Press: “Down the Road: On the Last Day” and “Down the Road: The Fall of Austin”.”

And how did they feel when they saw their published work for the first time?

“It was super exciting and was well received, which has helped give me the confidence to keep at this,” said Modery.  And of course, she called her mother with the thrilling news.

Hart said that when he was published he “had a hard time believing it.”  He went on to add “I had to ask myself how a man with only a high school education could possibly write a novel.  The answer to that was – who cares?”  He decided to simply enjoy the moment and signed his contract.

After his first book was picked up by Simon and Schuster, Ibarra said, “I was proud, but knew I had a very long road to travel to become a great writer.”

As writers, we put so much time, effort and heart into what we do and seeing it out there is pretty amazing.  In the end, seeing our work published for the first time is a huge milestone and a great accomplishment.  It’s a proud moment that we should revel in because we’ve earned it.  Let’s not forget to encourage our fellow writers so that they can experience that feeling, too!

How did you feel when you saw your first piece published? And now, looking back on it, are you just as proud? Has your growth as a writer made you feel like removing every trace of that first article would be appropriate and sound justice? Let us know!  


Valeka Cruz is a freelance writer and blogger living happily in Austin, Texas with her three fur babies. Her weekly blog, Running On Heavy, provides motivating health and wellness advice along with life lessons. Cruz recently completed a draft of her first novel, “Kissing Frogs.” She loves chocolate, hiking, laughing, hot tea and, especially, writing (the order of which depending on the kind of a day Cruz is having).

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Austin International Poetry Festival begins September 27

Today marks the first day of the 20th anniversary celebration of the Austin International Poetry Festival. When I spoke with festival director, Barbara Youngblood Carr, she emphasized the importance of tradition in festival planning. “If you want to make big changes, do it on the 21st anniversary,” she said. This year, they’re paying tribute to their origins.

All four of the original founders — Herman Nelson, John Berry, Sue Littleton and Festival Thom — will be in attendance this year, along with many local, national and international poets. The celebration spans four days (September 27th to the 30th) and the whole city of Austin, with readings and events at various local establishments. An official festival schedule is available online.

From a Remembrance Reading at the Crystal Auditorium headquarters, to the launch of a Capital Metro “Poetry on Wheels” project, the festival is planning to celebrate a number of special occasions, featured poet readings and open mics all over town. Events are scheduled at coffee shops, including Hot Mama’s and Monkey’s Nest, bookstores, like BookWoman and World Spirit Books, and other venues.

The launch of AIPF’s annual 100-page anthology, Di-vêrsé-city, will be held Thursday night at 7:00 pm, at Huston-Tillotson Auditorium. (Author’s note: I’ll be reading in this event, as one of my poems has been selected for the anthology. Wahoo!)

All events are free and open to the public, so come be a part of the “largest non-juried poetry festival in the U.S.” For more information on becoming a member of Austin Poets International, a non-profit organization, go to their website.

I hope to see you out there! Come support poetry in your community, and all over the world.

Are you going to the poetry festival? Let us know how the festivities are going. And if you know of any poetry events coming up soon, keep us in the loop!


Erin Coffin is the contributing poetry editor for Professional Writers of Austin, and very excited to announce her publication in Austin International Poetry Festival’s anthology, Di-vêrsé-city. Also, send her an email at erin.rose.coffin@gmail.com if you want to be a part of a new poetry networking group. Let’s get together and help each other write better poetry!

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Reviewing Austin cafes for the working writer, Part II

In July, we presented you with a list of coffee shops around Austin that writers can frequent to get some work done. We also presented a few that aren’t so great for making those deadlines. Since Austin is a hotbed of brew houses, we wanted to cover as many possible locations in every corner of the city.

Here is part II of Reviewing Austin Cafes for the Austin Writer:

Strange Brew

“You can see ACC’s campus if you’re standing on the street,” says regular, Montrez Fields. “I love this place because I can come here and cram in a quick study session right before taking a test,” he added.

Located in south Austin, Strange Brew is a primary working environment for both students and professionals. Open 24 hours, this coffee shop has all the essentials for an ideal study spot.

Strange Brew is large. It has three rooms and a large patio. The front is mainly for ordering your drinks and food. The second room is reminiscent of a university study hall with long tables and ample outlets. From what I can tell, most folks are there for the sole purpose of getting work done.

The third space has is separated by a door with a sign warning customers that talking and socializing are welcome — making this cafe a one-stop-shop for work, solitude and catching up with friends.

Strange Brew also hosts events from time to time. As long as you’re aware of the times and dates, it shouldn’t be too much of a bother.

5326 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78745, (512) 828-7636

 

Thunderbird Coffee

Although I have been to this café a few times, I thought I’d check out Yelp to familiarize myself with what others had to say.

I found roughly 90 percent of the reviews mentioned the awesomely cheap beer, which is great if you are going there to drink, but if you’re trying to hit a deadline or work on a serious project, the beer and wine list may not be appealing to you. For me, I’d be too tempted to drink, which is why I’m ruling out Thunderbird.

That said, this coffee shop/bar has really good food and tasty non-alcoholic drinks. The patio is cute with ceiling fans and the inside has generous seating and outlets. If you live in the area you may want to ride your bike because the Koenig location has a parking lot suitable for fewer than a dozen vehicles.

1401 W Koenig Ln., Austin, TX 78756, (512) 420-8660
 

Jo’s

Jo’s downtown location has great food, fast WiFi, and an awesome atmosphere. Is it a great spot for working? No. But if you are looking to finish something quick and you’re in the area, go to Jo’s, but make sure your computer is fully charged because finding an outlet is challenging.

I come here often on my break to get my daily iced turbo and relax on the front patio. Whipping out my laptop has never crossed my mind simply because the place does not cater to such a thing. Jo’s is geared more toward a fast-paced crowd looking to grab a bite to eat or a coffee on the run.

1300 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, (512) 444-3800
 

Spider House

I was told this is the place all the UT kids go to study so I thought it would be an awesome location to battle my procrastination syndrome and actually write — this was not the case at all. In fact I got absolutely no work done at Spider House; I didn’t even manage to take out my computer.

Instead of ordering coffee or tea like I should have, I ordered a beer in which my time then was spent wandering around with a friend chatting with strangers.

My first impression was that Spider House is a bar. The inside is very dark and the staff was not all that friendly. However, it is a very cool and trendy place to hang out.

The outdoor area amazed me. It’s very colorful with lots of character and more than enough seating. There were a few individuals deeply engaged in their work; my hat goes off to them and their ability to avoid  the temptation of the cool atmosphere. But Spider House simply is not the place for me if I wish to actually work.

Oh and don’t order the salsa, it is absolutely rancid.

2908 Fruth St., Austin, TX 78705, (512) 480-9562
 
After two posts reviewing coffee shops in Austin, from Ben White to Koenig Lane and MoPac to east of I-35, we’re pretty certain we left out one or two amazing Austin java stops. Where do you go to hit your writing deadlines while getting a caffeine fix? Do you like working in cafes that serve alcohol or is it just a deterrent? Tell us below!
 


Alisha Thomas graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay University in 2010 year with a BA in human communications. While studying for her postgraduate degree in London, Thomas interned at Runner’s World UK and Gaz7ette magazine. In 2010 to 2011, Thomas served as art director of Kingston University magazine, which was shortlisted by the BBC for Best University Magazine in 2011. Thomas came to Austin in 2012. Her goal is to work in publishing, marketing or communications.

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7 Tips on How To Maintain Professional Relationships, and Reap the Benefits

This is part II of a series about burning bridges.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or in search of a new career, remember that networking could lead to your big break. Job opportunities are more likely to arise if you network with a healthy number of career-oriented peers. Managing connections is not hard. It entails making a conscious effort to stay in touch with colleagues — and especially the people you came up with. Finally, always make an effort to establish new professional relationships.

Use these 8 tips to help you make and keep professional contacts.

  1. Always leave a job on a good note. Send your personal email address to your peers and bosses whenever leaving a job. According to one Austin-based professional, headhunters look at your LinkedIn page for letters of recommendation from previous managers and other professionals. “I’ve given out referrals for former colleagues and have received them as well,” he explained.
  2. Maintain old contacts and always look for new ones. You never know who you will meet at a dinner party, café or happy hour — socialize, have confidence and never fear swapping business cards. Aligning yourself with other career-oriented individuals is crucial, especially when transitioning into a new job.
  3. Check in every now and again via email with former colleagues and other professionals in your field. Meet with them at events such as those hosted by Writers’ League of Texas; a specialty organization like the critique group for science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction writers, SlugTribe; or BASHH, a networking organization for social media professionals. You might end up with a job lead.  “It important to pass job leads to your peers as well. If you help someone get a job, they may feel indebted to you and will likely pass leads on in return,” says Riki Markowitz, PWA founder.
  4. “Write a follow-up email after hearing the news that you didn’t get the job. Let the hiring manager know that you appreciated his time and the opportunity to interview,” says Kindall Heye, a recruiting manager in Austin. This not only shows professionalism, it is also a display of interest. By doing this, more often than not, recruiters will hang onto your resume and remember you for future openings. 
  5. Use social media outlets. They are one of the most important tools you can utilize to connect with other professionals and learn about different companies. “I know a lot of people who use LinkedIn and say they have come into contact with peers who have been beneficial to their career,” said the Austin professional . Sites such as Twitter and Pinterest can benefit you in the future but always remember to curate your personal content. Anything you put on the internet is public and could be seen by a hiring manager.  
  6. Keep lines of communication open with those who may have helped you in the past. They are a great source for recommendations and just might surprise you one day with a job lead.
  7. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get the first job you applied to.  One Austin recruiter said, “Don’t be discouraged from re-applying for the same or other positions in the company. If I see your resume again and liked you the first time around, I may offer you a different job.” He added, “In the past, I’ve recommended people I’ve interviewed for other openings within the company. When an opening comes up, I always first consider candidates I’ve already interviewed.”

Alisha Thomas graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay University in 2010 year with a BA in human communications. While studying for her postgraduate degree in London, Thomas interned at Runner’s World UK and Gaz7ette magazine. In 2010 to 2011, Thomas served as art director of Kingston University magazine, which was shortlisted by the BBC for Best University Magazine in 2011. Thomas came to Austin in 2012. Her goal is to work in publishing, marketing or communications.

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A writer of no trades: Life after graduation

Writing is in my blood. My childhood is marked by long afternoons spent curled up on the windowsill with a book in hand, basking in the sunbeams streaming through the window. When I began my first journal at the age of 8, I found a home in writing and never looked back. Both my writing and I have changed remarkably over the years, and it only makes sense that we should both evolve.

Questions, struggles and fears

There are so many professional writing careers that one can pursue, and to the uninitiated, the choices are overwhelming.  As I went through my second year of college, I struggled to narrow down what it was that I actually wanted to do with my degree after graduation. I wondered if I should pursue journalism, grant writing or publishing. But honestly, not feeling very passionate about these options, it occurred to me I could be wasting my time pursuing a degree that I had no idea what to do with.

I flip-flopped between ideas, and my enthusiasm for each one never failed to fizzle. I thought about grant writing for a long time before realizing it is a profession that would please others more than myself. I wanted to be a published author, but didn’t want books to be the only outlet for my writing. Copywriting was an appealing option, but still didn’t seem like the right path. How was I going to write about the things I loved if I got paid to write copy that promotes someone else’s dream? Isn’t the beauty of the written word to fully express oneself? To impact lives with ideas so great, the reader is a different and better person for having been exposed to them? If I couldn’t do that, why even bother pursuing this type of career?

Career goal checklist

I had no answers. All of my options lacked the one thing my soul desires most: freedom of creativity, location and financial burdens.

I didn’t oscillate for long. I came to realize that I’d been thinking of professional writing as a means to a career. But what if it was the other way around? What if my career could be a means to my writing? Perhaps I didn’t have to write to live; at least not in the sense I was thinking. Instead of getting paid expressly for my writing, what if I simply used my writing as a tool to attract people to my end game?

I could be my own copywriter and sell myself as, well, whatever I wanted. My mind was made up. I would blend the two things I loved most: writing and helping people. I’ll use them to build a coaching business. Cue the trumpets! Release the doves!

I don’t have everything figured out, but I have a starting point. I’m on the right path and my energy is now being directed towards building something that feels right. It’s something I’ll feel good about no matter what. Even if one of those doves decides to poop on me.

We’ve all been on this path at some point. What career did you ultimately choose? And once you chose that career, did you stick with it? Let us know in the comments section below what you did with that seemingly nefarious Bachelor of Arts degree.


Micaela Barrios is an aspiring author and life coach living in Austin, Texas. Barrios is in her junior year at St. Edward’s University, where she is majoring in creative writing. Barrios enjoys discovering new restaurants, soaking in Austin’s thriving music scene and spending quality time with nature in Texas’s many beautiful state parks.

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Burning bridges: 5 professional mistakes that writers should avoid

Having a hard time landing a job? Is it difficult finding someone to write you a letter of recommendation? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may have unknowingly done one or two things to interfere with your professional advancement. Here are a few ‘what not to do’s’ from hiring professionals.

Mistake #1: Poor Interview Etiquette

Dressing appropriately is the cardinal rule for any job interview. Dressing provocatively, or, on the other hand, showing up to an interview underdressed, can make for some amusing stories around the office. It’s definitely not a good look for you, the interviewee. Not only will you jeopardize your chances of getting hired, word of your brand of professionalism can spread rapidly in small cities like Austin.

Here’s what one hiring manager had to say about interview sabotage:

Q: As a recruiting manager, have you ever come across an applicant that bombed their interview before even speaking a word?
A: “I once had an engineer show up to his interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt,” says Kindall Heye, Aerotek Account Recruiting Manager in Austin. “Needless to say, this guy did not get hired, nor will he be considered for future positions.”

Q: What was the most awkward interview that you have ever experienced?
A: “I held a panel interview with a candidate who asked to remove her sweater, revealing an inappropriate top. She claimed it was hot (in an air conditioned room). It was an uncomfortable situation for me and my colleague and the interview was swiftly terminated. Suffice it to say, she wasn’t the candidate we were looking for. – UK Creative Professional

Mistake #2: Not Respecting the Business

Treating recruiters or colleagues like they have the intelligence equivalent to Peter Griffin may not be the best thing. In towns like Austin, everyone is connected in some way or another, especially in the writing community. Word of one mistake can easily spread and result in you developing a reputation that can get you blacklisted.

Q: How easy is it for someone to be repudiated in a small community?
A: “Recently I saw an ad on Craigslist writing gigs. This guy tried to come off nonchalant, asking someone to write him a letter of recommendation,” explains PWA founder Riki Markowitz. “He wrote, ‘I could get anyone to sign it. [I’m] just feeling too lazy to write it.’ He even offered to pay for the forged letter. I forwarded the listing to a popular job blog and several recruiters talked about responding to the ad to find out who would have such huge cojones. If his identity is ever discovered, he could be blacklisted from the industry for life. No kidding.”

Q: What is a sure way to lose professional recommendations?
A: “I hired a freelance ‘picture professional’ to cover me for a week while I was going on vacation. At the time, I was working for a major advertising agency. All his credentials were checked and I was happy with my choice. On his first day, I received an emergency call late in the morning from the studio director asking where my cover was. No show, no cover, no contact. I managed to eventually get in contact with him shortly before midday and it turns out he was sick — a simple phone call from him would have sufficed. After chatting with my colleagues, we decided not to ask him back. It was unprofessional and he put my office in a comprising/difficult position. I have not recommended this person since.” Creative Professional, U.K.

Mistake #3: Lying

Hiring managers can see through the B.S. When attempting to make a great first impression, it’s always best to be honest. Being untruthful — lying — is a sure way to taint your name in this industry.

Q: Have you ever caught anyone in a lie while interviewing them?
A:Definitely. One tip I have is to be straight forward about the things you do and don’t know. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers or haven’t done something before, but if you try to get one over on me and I know, I won’t hire you. I’d rather have someone that doesn’t know everything and is willing to ask questions and learn than someone that will fake it and does it wrong.” -Solar Power Systems Engineer, Austin

Q: Have you ever found intentional inaccuracies or fabrications on a resume?  
A: “One time, after interviewing a prospective candidate, I found out that two of the full time jobs he had included on his resume were actually internships. He didn’t get hired.” -Head of Business Development, Creative Shop, S.F.

Mistake #4: Thinking ‘Out of Office’ Means Out of Office Behavior

Going to happy hour or dinner with a superior is not the same as going out with a buddy.

Q: Can you a recall a time when you let go of someone based on their demeanor outside of the office?
A: “I took a group of candidates out for dinner and drinks one time and there was one girl in particular that quickly took the night to the next level. She acted like your typical party girl and drank far too much. I never helped her again.” -Head of Business Development, Creative Shop, S.F.

Mistake #5: Not Filtering Your Social Media Sites

It’s a well-known secret that recruiters Google applicants. My advice: if you intend on posting personal photos,

videos and messages, create two accounts. One that is private and one that is strictly public and professional. This way, you can have your fun and remain professional at the same time. Be sure to double-check your security settings. Even the founder of Facebook, Marc Zuckerberg, learned the hard way.

Q: How crucial is it to maintain professionalism on social media sites?
A:Recently a few candidates came into the office to interview for a position underneath our Customer Experience Manager. After the interviews were over, the office communicator asked me to come to the manager’s desk. With a grin on his face, he told me to check out this guy’s Facebook page. The first thing I saw was an oversized photo of the candidate. We couldn’t help but to erupt with laughter. It wasn’t inappropriate, but he looked like a cross between Zoolander and a Ken doll. We looked further into the candidate’s page and we realized that every photo was of him — it screamed arrogance. Our customer experience manager chose not to hire him. The applicant may not have had inappropriate photos on his page, but the feeling the hiring manager got from it was enough for him to skip over this fellow.” -Solar Energy Company Receptionist, Austin

Have you ever been passed over for a job you were certain you were qualified for? Any thoughts on what could have gone wrong? Or have you ever interviewed anyone who turned out to be a wrong fit — in more ways than one. We want to hear your stories below!


Alisha Thomas graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay University in 2010 year with a BA in human communications. While studying for her postgraduate degree in London, Thomas interned at Runner’s World UK and Gaz7ette magazine. In 2010 to 2011, Thomas served as art director of Kingston University magazine, which was shortlisted by the BBC for Best University Magazine in 2011. Thomas came to Austin in 2012. Her goal is to work in publishing, marketing or communications.

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Thanks or no thanks? A thank you note can’t hurt your chances

Once upon a time, long, long ago, it was customary to send out these things called “thank you notes” to express appreciation of assistance or acknowledgement of a thoughtful gesture.  Cards and stationery were embossed or embellished with designs and contained handwritten words of thanks. The card was mailed out with a stamp and was delivered by a postal carrier.

Times have changed. We now live in a fast-paced world where time is of the essence and personal touches aren’t as commonplace as they once were.  As a result, many folks have moved away from handwritten notes of thanks after being considered for writing opportunities or jobs in general.  Most people feel that sitting down to write a thank you note takes more time than they have available, especially when punching a few keys and hitting ‘send’ takes so little time (after all, we are semi-permanently attached to our computers and smartphones, no?).

I began to wonder if the art of writing thank you notes was gone for good or if it was on the verge of extinction.  I spoke with a publisher, a former editor, a former hiring manager and a representative at an employment agency to get their thoughts.  Here is what I found out, and it may surprise you!

Put it in writing

When posed with the question of whether or not a thank you note would make a difference in helping a writer to be considered for future assignments or contributions to a magazine or publication, the answer was a resounding YES from Denninger Bolton, publisher at Javelina Books, and Mary Anne Connolly, former executive editor at Austin Woman Magazine and founder and CCO of M.A.Communications.  They agreed that a well-written thank you note from a writer would be a welcome and pleasant surprise.  “It is such a rare occurrence now, it would make a real impression on me.  I love handwritten notes, especially in the age of emails and texts,” said Connolly.

Thank you notes may also help to get your work a second look…sometimes.  Both Connolly and Bolton said that while a writer may not immediately receive an assignment or chance to be published, a thoughtfully crafted note would encourage them to revisit and reconsider a writer’s work. One staffing agency representative (who preferred to remain anonymous) said that because they hire talent for different clients with specific needs, thank you notes don’t really impact whether or not an individual gets reviewed again.  They focus on whether or not the person is qualified — all else is secondary.

On the other hand…

Beth Sample, a former hiring manager at Holt, Rhinehart and Winston stated that notes did not sway her selections either.  “My decisions were based on experience (resume) and interview (connectability). The cover letter and the thank you notes never altered my decision.”  Sample also added “I didn’t hire an admin or event planner, or any position where that could be an ‘external influencer.’ I hired for technical and interpersonal skills.”

Timing is everything

Now that we know that sending a thank you note is, in some cases, potentially helpful to getting you noticed, what should the note say and when should it be sent?  Across the board, the consensus was that a thank you note should be honest, thoughtful and state appreciation of the publisher, editor or interviewer’s time.  Bolton felt that thank you notes should be sent out within a week of contact.  He suggested sending out the note while you are still in the publisher or editor’s mind.  Connolly agreed and added that after publication, up to two weeks would be appropriate to send a note unless there had been a discussion about communicating at a later specified time.

In the end, depending on the work you are doing, thank you notes may help you get a second chance.  Living in a world where we work and live online, it’s nice to do something that is personal.  “To me, thank you notes help build relationships rather than just doing the usual networking,” said Bolton.  “It may seem old-fashioned but it makes you stand out and shows that you are genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be considered (for a particular job).”

Ultimately, it can’t hurt

As a writer, taking a few minutes to personally thank someone for looking at the work you have devoted hours, days, months or years to is a small price to pay.  Even though it may not always get the results we are looking for, it can’t hurt to send out a note.  It’s something that can set you apart from the masses and, with so many other writers out there, who doesn’t want that?  This week I’m sending out thank you notes to those that gave so generously of their time so I could write this article.  It only seems fitting.



Valeka Cruz is a freelance writer and blogger living happily in Austin, Texas with her three fur babies. Her weekly blog,Running On Heavy, provides motivating health and wellness advice along with life lessons. Cruz recently completed a draft of her first novel, “Kissing Frogs.” She loves chocolate, hiking, laughing, hot tea and, especially, writing (the order of which depending on the kind of a day Cruz is having).